Sipping Wine With Francesco Moser
The Giro d’Italia-sponsored Gran Fondo Pasadena happens this coming weekend and the big star the organizers have recruited to ride the even is none other than Francesco Moser. Winner of the 1984 Giro; the ’78, ’79 and ’80 editions of Paris-Roubaix, the ’77 world champion and victor in scores of other great races, not to mention the hour record, Moser is a true badass.
Most cycling fans may not be aware of two other little details about this legend of Italian cycling. He is still exceptionally fit; he raced as recently as 2008, winning the journalist world championship. And for more than 80 years his family has farmed a vineyard and produced their own wines. In the run-up to the gran fondo, Moser and his con Carlo are hosting some tastings of the Moser family wines.
I had the good fortune to receive an invitation to a tasting that was hosted last night at Bike Effect in Santa Monica.
I should mention that I’ve known about the wines for a good 10 years. However, what I heard from friends was that you’d only buy them for the name; they weren’t good enough to write home about. But given the push that Soilair, Moser’s importer, is making to market the wines in conjunction with this visit, it would be suicide to host tastings at some of LA’s most exclusive wine stores and serve the Italian equivalent of Two Buck Chuck.
I’m pleased to report that either the wines have come a long way or my sources were wrong. We had the opportunity to taste three whites and one red and while I suspect the red needs more time to age, the three whites were ready to go. First was a Müller-Thurgau, which was a light, crisp white, perfect for a hot summer afternoon. Second was a Riesling, and while many Rieslings are made with a bit of sweetness, this was dry as British wit with clear flavors like pineapple and grapefruit and just a bit of tang. The final white was a Moscato Giallo, which is another wine that is often made sweet and is favored by drunk people spilling out of tour vans. Some wine makers, if you prod them, will tell you they make a sweet Moscato only reluctantly, that it is the wine equivalent of Coca-Cola—sweet, but not serious. But it can be an easy sell to those who won’t normally spend more than six bucks on a bottle of wine. I mention this to put in perspective the fact the Moscato was, like the Riesling, Arizona dry. These aren’t the wines of a dilettante. The red was from a grape that is native to Trentino, where Moser lives. It’s a medium-bodied red that, given the region’s mountains, probably struggles to fully ripen in most vintages. Nonetheless it is a very food-friendly wine. His importer is also due to begin carrying a sparkling white called 51.151, named in honor of the distance he covered in his hour record.
Moser speaks as much English as I speak Italian, which is to say negligible, but he was enthusiastic about pouring the wines. When images of some of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Rides came up in a slide show on a big-screen monitor in Bike Effect, he turned to me and asked, “California?” I said yes and there was a flicker of appreciation in his eyes. He then conveyed that he’d been following the Tour of California back in May and had been wowed by Peter Sagan. His respect and admiration for the youngster was apparent.
The real high point of the evening came when wine importer and avid cyclist Jeff Morgenthal (at right above in the sport coat) briefly interviewed Moser. Morgenthal raced in Europe and knows cycling the way he knows wine—in depth. He asked a few questions about Moser’s victory over Laurent Fignon in the ’84 Giro and which races he most loved. Moser’s son Carlo translated the responses. As it turns out, Paris-Roubaix doesn’t need any translation; the race remains both his favorite and a source of pain he’s happy to be free of. But hearing him tell how he knew he could win the ’84 Giro because he was consistently taking 3 seconds per kilometer out of Fignon in the time trials seemed every bit as exciting for him now as it was then. In describing his experience of winning the cycling journalist world championship (he rode in the television presenter category), he seemed a bit embarrassed and it admitted it wasn’t very competitive; of the other riders he said, “piano” which is to say, in his mind, they didn’t pedal so hard.
I envy those who will get to ride with him in the gran fondo, but by the look of it, he appears to be fit enough that he won’t have much company.