The Wisdom of Wine!

The Wisdom of Wine!

Vincenzo dashed out to the simple barn that housed his tanks and barrels to retrieve two different bottles of the 2020 SATOR.

The summer of that year had been a mixed harvest in Molise, with hailstorms damaging large areas of the vineyard. Instead of giving up on the affected vines, Vincenzo had decided to separate the bunches and follow the same winemaking techniques to create two versions of his flagship red wine, SATOR.

Made from the rare Tintilia grape, this wine has been a favourite of mine since my first sip back in 2013. Ten years later, sitting at a small outdoor table in the afternoon sun with the winemaker, his wife Filomena, and their teenage children, to compare the two versions of SATOR was fascinating.



Vincenzo blind-tasted me so I wouldn’t be influenced by the assumption that hail damage would negatively impact the wine. The result was surprising. The healthy grapes had made a wine as delicious as I remembered, with notes of ripe red fruit, sweet spice and a smokiness typical of Tintilia. The affected grapes had created a wine that was more accessible and ready to drink three years from the harvest.

That’s the thing about wine. It can always surprise you and teach you something new.

A vintage with challenging weather doesn’t have to be a disaster. The winemakers I’ve been lucky to visit over the last 10 years, mostly in small family-run wineries all over Italy, have shared their stories from the vineyards and cellars about challenges they faced. Those stories are packed full of life lessons.

Perhaps that’s why this complex world of wine is so addictive. Whatever draws you in, you’ll be hooked before long. Both the history and the annual cycle of grape growing and winemaking has so much to teach us beyond simply the pleasure of a glass of vino.




Seeking the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed, courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other could be a daily mantra for us all. Even more so for the grape grower and wine maker!

Most winemakers that I’ve met have shared at least two common traits – passion and humility.

It’s the passion for wine that gives people the strength to face challenges in the vineyard where they’re at the mercy of mother nature, and the patience to await the results of all their hard work.

You also need humility to understand that nature is the most important partner in the process from vine to bottle. You can guide the process but must always be willing to accept what you cannot control or change. This delicate balance between playing an active and a passive role in the winemaking process is fundamental.

The ancient Greeks, those early oenophiles, promoted the idea of seeking balance in life. Many other philosophies emphasise this in one way or another. Taoism reminds us to pay attention to balancing Ying and Yang energies. Japanese philosophy talks of Chowa, or the search for balance and harmony.

In the vineyard it’s finding the balance between human influence and submission to nature. The final wine is all about balance. After all, what do the wine critics seek? A harmonious and balanced wine!




Heraclitus said that no one ever steps into the same river twice. The same could be said of tasting a bottle of wine.

Like the river, the liquid in a bottle of wine is always changing. The same is true of the wine drinker, who brings new perspectives to each tasting. The person who steps into the river or uncorks the bottle is on their own personal journey, never quite the same as before. It’s a specific moment in time to savour and never repeat.

As the wine in the bottle matures, so do we. As our experience of drinking wine evolves, so will our analysis of a wine we’ve tried before. On the day we open the bottle, we’ll be influenced by whichever wine has come before, or who we’re drinking with, or which food we pair alongside the glass.

If we’ve loved a specific bottle, we may hope to experience the same wine even in a different vintage, but great wines are rarely the same year-on-year. Each growing season and harvest will be different, and winemakers’ techniques are always evolving.

The consistency of a wine style can be comforting. This can be the case with most DOC or DOCG wines of Italy that follow strict rules on grape varieties, yields, and ageing. That said, it’s exciting to taste a new vintage or a wine where the winemaker has the flexibility to be more creative. There’s a secret in every bottle, waiting to be explored!

Nothing ever really stays the same. Not the wine and not the wine drinker.

Remembering the Persian adage this too shall pass can be handy when times are difficult – in the vineyard, in the cellar or in life generally. In good times, the same quote reminds us to “Carpe Diem”. Or at least seize that bottle of wine. The one you put aside for a special occasion.

Sometimes the right occasion is simply sitting outside a winemaker’s barn, as you watch the sun disappear over the Molise countryside.



That afternoon in Molise was memorable not only for the two special bottles of 2020, but also thanks to the warmth and friendship of the Cianfagna family.

After the tasting we toured the vineyards, which were sadly affected in 2023 by Peronospora. Unfortunately, due to tiny crop, this is likely to be a vintage with no red wine produced.



Leaving the vines behind, we headed to the small rural town of Acquaviva Collecroce to see an old building the family are renovating to host wine tourists. It is also the location that inspired their Tintilia wine labels, where an old stone displayed on the side of the masonic church has the five-word carving of the SATOR square – Rotas Opera Tenet Arepo Sator.

As a Latin palindrome, or magic square, it can be read in all directions – left to right, right to left, up and down.



Translations and interpretations vary, but it loosely says that the sower guides the wheel with care. It has been read as as ye sow, so shall ye reap or “the farmer decides his daily work, but the supreme court [the gods?] decides his fate.

However you interpret the SATOR square, it reads like yet another example of viticulture as a teacher of natural philosophy.




Finally, as the dusk descended on us, we drove an hour away from the countryside to the coastal city of Termoli for a delicious home-cooked meal.

Over dinner, we discussed the reduced Tintilia harvest that year, but Vincenzo was upbeat. He was determined to make some great rosato from those bunches he had saved from disease and focus his efforts on more experiments with their white Malvasia.

He also had an Aglianico metodo classico project in the early stages of testing. He insisted we try a bottle together. It was such a pleasure to be invited into his world and share a little of his winery’s history and journey.

It's a similar story at every winery I visit. An invitation to see through the eyes of the farmers who tend those vines and craft the wines that we are so lucky to enjoy.

Earlier in the day, before driving to Molise, I’d been in another vineyard in Abruzzo with winemaker Nicola Jasci.



He showed me the different plots for his Pecorino and Montepulciano vines. He wanted me to understand how the slight changes in elevation and position in relation to the breeze from the nearby Adriatic could influence the development of the fruit.

At the top of one particularly picturesque hill, we stopped at an abandoned farmhouse. Nicola plans to restore it and use it as simple accommodation for wine lovers keen to sleep amongst his vines. I’ll be first on his guest list. The view was stunning, and a great setting for another important lesson in wine (and life).

The incredible diversity of wines crafted from the same grapes has always amazed me. Studying at home about clones, soils, and climate, is never going to be as instructive as being in the vineyards.

A moment of clarity came standing at the top of the hill looking down on three different plots of Montepulciano, planted from different clones, in different years, on land facing different directions. Picking a few berries from each plot to taste the difference was a revelation.

Yes, the different techniques used later in the cellar would obviously influence the final wine, but if the initial raw material was so distinctive it was inevitable Nicola’s various Montepulcianos would all have their own special character.

I found myself looking off to the horizon, once again contemplating the life lessons we find in the humble vineyard. 

We all have our own unique beginnings and histories. Like those vines, we are very similar and yet also very different. We are shaped by our environment, our family, and friends. We are also tended by those same people, and can be encouraged to be our best selves with the right guidance and support.

We are ever-changing, like the wine that evolves in the bottle. The fluidity is both daunting and motivational.

Above all, life is short so let’s drink more great wine together!