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Malcolm Jolley: Casale del Giglio and the wines of Rome

Commentary

Before the summer holidays season slowed things down, I attended a dinner featuring the wines of Casale del Giglio, a half-century old winery outside of Rome near the coastal town of Anzio. Elise Rialland and Giovanni Silvestri from Casale del Giglio were in Toronto for the 2022 edition of the Tre Bicchieri wine show, which had not been staged since 2019. They and Giglio’s Ontario importer, Profile Wine Group—represented by sommelier Drew Walker—hosted the dinner of typical Roman food at Enoteca Social.

Casale del Giglio is an interesting winery because they are both very much on trend and very much against it. It was begun in the 1960’s by a Roman wine merchant, Dino Santarelli. His son, Antonio Santarelli, began an intensive planting project in the 1980’s to probe the potential of their coastal part of the region of Lazio, with the cooperation of several of the viticultural colleges across Italy. As was the fashion then, though frowned upon in some circles now, they planted a number of “international” varieties of grapes.“International” grapes are grapes native to France, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, when they’re grown outside of France. But they also planted indigenous ones like Bellone and Cesanese, which are in fashion now.

Over many courses, served family style, of Roman specialties like supplì, cacio e pepe, carbonara and Amatriciana we tasted through two of Casale del Giglio’s “international” wines and two of their indigenous grape-made wines. All of the wines were designated as simply “Lazio IGT”.

First of the internationals was the 2021 Viognier, which paired particularly well with Chef Kyle Rindinella’s house-made mortadella. When Viogner is made well, as this one was, it has the best of both worlds character of being weighty on the palate with peachy fruit and aromatic on the nose with white flowers. In any event, the wine worked particularly well as an aperitivo, being interesting enough to hold it’s own between nibbles of salumi and olives.

The second international wine we tried was the last of the meal: the 2017 Mater Matuta, Casale del Giglio’s flagship red. Named for the goddess of the dawn, the Mater Matuta is 85 percent Syrah rounded out with 15 percent Petit Verdot. It showed intense and inky black fruit finished with Mediterranean scrub, haloed by the aroma of violets.

Both wines drank as proof that fruit from all those French vines planted 40 or 30 years ago is really coming on line as the plants mature and yield diminishes in favour of concentration of flavour. Purists who, following the dogma of the cult of authenticity, eschew wines made from French grape varieties outside of France, don’t know what they’re missing.

After the Viogner, as the Pecorino cheese-based Roman pasta dishes began to come out, we tried the 2021 Bellone. Bellone is a white wine grape known to be native to the Lazio (or Latium) coast since at least ancient Roman times, as it was cited in Pliny the Elder’s natural histories. 

The hills around Anzio are subject to a near constant breeze from the Tyrrhenian Sea, and past the Casale del Giglio Bellone’s big stone and citrus fruit notes is a salinity. Combined with a racy acidity, that briny character evokes that elusive food-friendly and moreish characteristic known as minerality. Paired with cacio e pepe (literally, pasta with cheese and pepper), I was transported back to the sunny terrace of Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio.

After the Bellone we made the switch to red and tried the 2020 Cesanese. Casale del Giglio has very much been a part of the Risorgimento of the ubiquitous, if formerly under-appreciated, grape of Lazio. Cesanese has found a pride of place on 21st-century Roman wine lists.

The winemaker at Casale del Giglio is Paolo Tiefenthaler, who hails from the Alpine Trentino-Alto Adige region in Italy’s Northeast. It may have been my imagination, fuelled by the power of suggestion, but the 2020 Casale del Giglio Cesanese had an element of white pepper and a gentleness of red cherry fruit that reminded me of the reds found there, like Lagrein and Schiava.

Structured by silky tannins produced by a long maceration on its skins, the Cesanese wanted food and went perfectly with its classic pairing of Amatriciana, giving contrast to the salty cured guanciale and harmonizing with the tomato and garlic. This time the wine glass time machine took me to dinner near the Trevi Fountain and the 1920’s wood-panelled elegance of the great Trattoria al Moro.“A stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain, it frees all the flavours of authentic Roman cuisine. A local restaurant with outdoor seating, where you can taste dishes prepared with the authenticity of fresh and local ingredients. Cheeses and cold cuts of our own production, fresh pasta dishes and homemade desserts, Trattoria al Moro is an ideal place for those who want a real Roman dinner, surrounded by the historical beauty of the capital.” https://ristorantealmororoma.it/en/

Given that Rome attracts so many tourists (and pilgrims!), it seems curious that its wines are not more widely known. One explanation could be that the Romans, and their visiting guests, drink most of what’s made, so not that much is put aside for export. If you have eaten well in Rome, it’s very likely you have drunk Bellone and Cesanese, and it’s entirely possible they were made by Casale del Giglio.

There is a point in all wine tasting dinners when someone (often me) needs to raise the vulgar subject of commerce and ask how much the wines being tried cost. Drew Walker explained that the Viognier and Mater Matuta were not currently in the market, but might be priced in Canada at around $25-$30 and $65-70, respectively, when they were.

The Bellone and the Cesanese, however, are or will be soon in the market and cost roughly $22 and $25 per bottle. I commented that I thought this was good value for well-made wines and asked if they were due to be sold at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario,“The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is a government enterprise and a responsible retailer and wholesaler of wine, beer, and spirits in Ontario.” https://www.lcbo.com/content/lcbo/en/corporate-pages/about-LCBO.html where I had seen them (and bought them) in the years before. They would not, I was told, but could be ordered online by the case from Profile Wine Group.

I am glad the wines are available, but the removal of the two wines from regular retail availability worries me. The wine trade is most profitable at its lowest and highest ends. The most money is made from selling bulk, or factory made wines at high volume for a low price (let’s say around $10 a bottle). And the biggest margins can be made by selling luxury wines for a high price (let’s say over $30 a bottle), mostly to restaurants, who view wine purchases as a business expense and an investment.

The individual wine enthusiast will treat themselves to luxury wines at whatever frequency they can afford, but most of us would like access to well-made wines at an approachable price that we can pour with some regularity. The good news is that the world is full of producers making lovely wines that fit into the $15 to $30 price range. It would be a shame if big retailers, especially ones that operate on a government backed near monopoly, got in the way between trade between the two.

More on this, and the danger of a “missing middle” in the wine world, to come…

Trevor Tombe: The higher educated are benefitting the most from Canada’s economic recovery

Commentary

A recent piece in The Hub by Sean Speer identifies what at first glance is a puzzling (and to some concerning) development: public-sector employment accounts for nearly 85 percent of the total employment growth in Canada since February 2020.

Instead of an L-shaped or V-shaped recovery, he writes, this G-shaped (government-centric) one “paints a different picture of the labour market’s recovery than is commonly understood.”

It is a very well-researched piece and written with skill and clarity. And as Speer does all too well, he raises important questions about difficult political dynamics that may result. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

But I have a slightly different perspective. 

Using the detailed Statistics Canada microdata on labour market conditions, I hope to shed more light on what’s behind the large growth in public-sector employment.

I’ll show that much of the increase is in areas where the “takers” versus “makers” distinction is particularly problematic. And the data reveals an even starker pattern: a massive gulf between employment growth for workers with higher education and those without. This is not only itself concerning but, it turns out, may account for much of the public-sector growth. I’ll explain.

The data

Statistics Canada makes available a wealth of labour market information to Canadians each month (see here). But there is another source that, while publicly available, is much more difficult to access and to work with: the raw microdata. But it reveals a lot.

First, who are these newly hired public-sector workers? I find the increase is mostly accounted for by young workers (56 percent are under 40) in professional and technical occupations (62 percent) who have a post-secondary certificate or degree (82 percent). 

In short, they’re young, early career, and highly-educated individuals. And mostly front-line. Only 7 percent of the increase is among those in middle or senior management.

They also largely work in the health and education sectors (nearly 60 percent). Growth in the health sector is, of course, not surprising. It is also likely to continue long past COVID is behind us as our populations age.

Even those classified as working within the “public administration” sector (32 percent) may not align very well with some intuitions. Only 12 percent are in Ottawa, for example, and there are over 12,000 new construction and trades workers and another nearly 10,000 new police and other front-line public protection occupations included in this category. 

And, finally, a large share of the increased public-sector employment may be temporary. I find well over one-third of the increase is by those hired on temporary or seasonal contracts. This compared to the 9 percent of private employees overall who are.

Takers versus makers?

Public-sector employment is not in and of itself a sign that a job is a drain on economic activity; often, quite the opposite. Producers of human capital, producers of health and wellness, producers of physical capital and infrastructure, producers of public safety, and so on, all add to productivity. These workers are clearly “makers”.

Instead of looking at public versus private as a guide, it may be better to ask whether the benefits of a particular job outweigh its costs. Some jobs in the private sector should not exist. Some jobs in the public sector should not exist either. 

All parties want to see higher public-sector employment in some areas and lower in others. 

Consider an example from a right-leaning government in Alberta, which increased government hiring in certain energy-focused public relations activities. This is in reference to the newly-created Canadian Energy Centre, sometimes referred to as the energy “war room”. The government, some argue, is better at promoting the interests of the energy industry than the energy industry itself. 

To be sure, the market has a natural (and usually well functioning) mechanism to destroy inefficient jobs while creating others: profits and losses. This natural pressure to employ individuals only where benefits exceed costs operates with much less efficiency in the public sector. 

Governments can and should review programs continuously—and some governments are more dedicated to this important task than others. They should also ensure compensation and work arrangements are appropriate. 

And, to be absolutely clear, we shouldn’t shy away from broader conversations about where public activities are warranted and where they are not. Exploring the pros and cons of additional private provision within our provincial health systems, for example, is warranted. 

But there’s another related development in Canada’s economic recovery that may be driving the public-sector growth, and one that should raise more important concerns.

An E-shaped recovery?

Even without the detailed microdata, one stark fact is clear in Canada’s recovery: those with higher levels of education have fared best of all. 

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

This reveals the entire employment increase since February 2020 may be due to workers with higher levels of education. An E-shaped recovery, perhaps?

This is true in both the public and the private sectors. Of the increase in private employment between February 2020 and June 2022, I estimate fully 79 percent are accounted for by those with a post-secondary certificate or degree. That’s a similar proportion to the 82 percent among public-sector workers. These shares are not seasonally adjusted like the data in the figure.

Some occupations require postsecondary credentials more than others, of course, and some occupations are disproportionately found within the public sector. What’s interesting is that there is a strong correlation between these two. Across the 40 occupations tracked by the labour force survey data, the correlation coefficient between the share of each occupation’s employment accounted for by those with a post-secondary degree and the share who work in the public sector is 0.6. Occupations in nursing or education, for example, have among the highest share of employees with postsecondary credentials and are almost entirely within the public sector. 

I estimate the rising overall employment for those with a postsecondary degree—combined with the fact that employment of such individuals is not evenly distributed between private and public sector occupations—accounts for more than half the total increase in public-sector employment.

There is growing evidence that differences in education levels are developing into a new political cleavage throughout the developed world. Whatever the underlying cause, the stark differences in economic outcomes experienced by individuals of different levels of education may only amplify these pressures.

To be clear, I’m not making a normative claim about the relative merits of different types of credentials or occupations. Nor do I believe governments should always and everywhere promote postsecondary education as the best route for all individuals—it is not. 

But this data suggests (to me at least) that education levels and Canada’s E-shaped recovery may be both a key driver of its G-shaped one and a source of even greater concern.