Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Hugh Pizzi, Apr 13, 2018.

  1. A few days ago I was looking for a wine to give to my dad, an Italian, for his birthday and I found a dry Italian port-style wine from 1945, the year of his birth. It was right on the edge of what was affordable, but it's exactly the style of wine that he enjoys and when I thought about the circumstances of its production and how closely they mirrored the circumstances of his birth I decided to jump (more later if you're interested).

    The problem is this: the supplier thinks it's probably Tuscan and I have no reason to doubt them as they have a very impressive reputation, but they can't give me any more than this, and ideally I want to know exactly where it's from before we open it. The wine is called "Royal Xantes", was produced by a family called "Ballor" and makes reference to "Castello Passatempo" on the label. The glass bottle was produced in Turin, which is stamped into the glass. I've used a range of search strategies and have found that Xantes refers to a Venetian family, the most famous member of whom ended up in exile and taught across northern Italy. Ballor is a family name common in eastern Piedmont, western Lombardy and Liguria. Castello Passatempo gets few hits, but they centre on northern Tuscany and Liguria.

    Does anyone have any ideas where to go from here to track down the origins of this wine?

    The puzzle ends here, but if you're interested in the circumstances around the purchase please read on.

    I get quite emotive around an unusual bottle of wine with a story, as grapes are a living thing and producing good wine takes considerable human effort. The reason I took the plunge with this wine is the story of the grapes. The vines surviving the second world war is quite impressive, but more important is that when the grapes began to form my father's family were starving. My grandmother was pregnant with my dad and she had two other children at the time, living near Milan. She and my grandfather were fighting for the Italian resistance and had been for years before WW2 started, objecting to the rule of Mussolini and taking some very direct action in response to his coming to power.

    They fought as resistance members for years and my grandfather was eventually taken by the Germans about a week before the end of the war in Europe. He survived and spent the final days of the war walking home from where he had been imprisoned and tortured. During this time the grapes were growing and this bottle of wine was taking shape. By the time the grapes were picked the war was over, the survivors in my grandparents neighbourhood had forgiven each other for whatever they had done, food was plentiful again and wine back on the menu.

    The labour needed to pick the grapes that year was substantial as fuel was in short supply, and yet wine was produced in abundance. In the meantime the Cold War had started, atomic weapons getting dropped on Japan and the world going from no nuclear weapons to a state of crisis in the time it took to harvest one batch of grapes.

    It feels as though this one bottle has been through so much that I need to know as much about its story as I can before it gets opened and enjoyed.
  2. What I find puzzling is that while this is variously described as a dessert or port-style wine, the label itself has both the words "Dessert" and "Dry". I can see no vintage on the label. A wine shop states that it is a "Very old and rare reserve of an italian port style dessert wine from the vintage 1945."

  3. Hi Hugh
    This article (if I'm translating it correctly) suggests that Ballor was bought out by the Folonari family in 1920.
    I Folonari, cinque generazioni, due secoli di storia e di storie tra vino, banche e impegno sociale
    It talks of the company being based in Brescia, but you may be interested in the section that talks of the devastation in the area ~ 1945 and the lacrima d'Oro wine that was made in Puglia and was popular with American troops. So they were making wines there, so that's a potential option.

    Ballor appear to have started as a vermouth producer, but this list from ~ 1950 suggests they were selling a variety of mainly liqueurs / fortified wines
    vendo vini liquori da collezione datati dal 1950 in poi, Arte e Antiquariato, Napoli, Annuncio TUTTOMERCATO Di Tutto di Piu' possibly at that point more of a brand / negociant?

    The (back) label in this picture suggests it's exclusively for sale by Freund Ballor, but I'm not sure that makes it a product of Piemonte/Torino. upload_2018-4-15_13-39-12.png

    The other angle that might be worth following, is contacting the Folonari office in Brescia. It's feasible they may have a paper trail.

  4. What an interesting story. I have nothing to add but please do share with us any further information you find. And of course some notes on tasting the wine itself,

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