An unfamiliar grape, and unknown artist and an unexplained painting
Updated: May 7, 2020
Il Tramonto by Giorgione with a glass of Vignasilan
When people were stocking up on loo roll, dried pasta, cereals, tins of beans and frozen peas, I was stocking up on wine. I won't admit how many bottles I bought, but I did think it was important to support the smaller wine suppliers out there such as The Winemakers Club, Modal Wines, Tutto Wines to name just a few...
BUT there's more to drinking wine than just drinking wine. I like to pair wine I'm drinking with art, and therefore I feel that stockpiling wine is completely justifiable as there's not much else to do during Londons' lockdown.
The wine in question is Vignasilan from Vignaioli Contra Soara winery in Breganze, in the Veneto region of Italy. And I've paired it with Il Tramonto by Giorgione.
Vignasilan is 100% Vespaiolo, a pretty much unheard of grape and personally I've only had one other wine made from it, but it's definitely one worth seeking out. It's primarily grown in the north-east of Italy, and is often used for making passito style dessert wines but there are a few winemakers making a dry style like this one. It actually gets its name from vespa the Italian word for wasp as the high levels of sugar attract the creatures! So a pretty unknown grape paired with a pretty unknown artist...
Giorgione is an artist you may have actually heard of, but there's an air of mystery that always surrounds him. He was an artist during the High Renaissance in early 16th century Venice, a mere one hour drive from the winery of Vignaioli Contra Soara. He has come to be one of the most mysterious figures in European art due to the uncertainty surrounding the identity and meaning of his work, with only six paintings firmly attributed to him. The little snippets we do know about him are thanks to Giorgio Vasaris' Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (a must read for any art history lovers). He was born in Castelfranco, slightly inland from Venice (so even closer to the vineyards of our wine) and seems to have moved to Venice to serve as an apprentice under Giovanni Bellini. It's believed his talents were recognised early on, and in his early twenties he was undertaking major commissions for many important figures. It's understood that along with Titian he founded the Venetian school of Italian Renaissance Painting, Vasari tells us that he was actually Titians master, but others claim that they were both pupils of Bellini and worked together.
Art as this point was all about altarpieces and portraits, biblical scenes and classical stories. Giorgione did these too, but he also painted pictures which tell no story, or if they do, he fails to give the viewer any indication of it.
He died when he was just thirty years old, and is just one of the many European artists we lost due to the plague. People are unsure where he is buried, and there are still some who question whether he even existed at all.
Il Tramonto, the sunset, shows us a rocky landscape with two figures, believed to be Saint Roch and his attendant Gothardus, whose shown attending to Roch's plague sore on his leg. Roch is the patron saint of epidemics, plague, skin disease, surgeons, grave-diggers, apothecaries and pilgrims, as well as tile-makers, second-hand dealers, those falsely accused, dogs and Istanbul. He is often depicted with a pilgrims staff and a wound on his leg, both of which are seen in Giorgiones depiction, and this could have been commissioned to commemorate the apparent end of the plague in the Veneto in 1504.
Just down from them on the right is a rather sinister looking animal just coming out of the water. To me it looks like a evil Kiwi bird and is probably there to symbolise the devil. It's believed to be original (lots isn't) but the meaning is unclear.
Another strange feature is the hermit in a cave on the far right of the painting (about halfway - use the zoom feature on the National Gallery website here). He has been repainted, but it could have been a faithful restoration based on the original, but again its message is unclear. We also have Saint George on his rearing horse attacking a dragon which is a later addition, painted in to cover a damaged area, the same with the monster in the middle of the pool of water.
With this painting, I've paired it with a wine local to the artist from a very well known region in terms of winemaking - Prosecco, Valpolicella, Soave all come from the area, but I've chosen a grape that is very much unheard of. Vignasilan is 100% Vespaiolo, which is the main focus of Mirco and Gloria Gottardi at Vignaioli Contra Soara. On the nose it's fresh and delicate, with notes of juicy ripe lemons, with hints of apples, pear and white peach. On the palate it's more complex, more floral notes coming through as well as a touch of honey, yet still retaining a mineral acidity throughout. It's pure, elegant and great if you're looking for something a little different. I bought it from the lovely people over at The Winemakers Club, who are still delivering to zone 1 and 2 in London FYI.
So an unfamiliar grape, and unknown artist and an unexplained painting - cheers!
Heard in London
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