Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Grand Slam Club

My brother-in-law Nick was born a hunter. Growing up in Greece during WWII, where famine was the norm at the time, he learned how to survive at a very early age. When his family immigrated to the New World, settling in Southern California, I could only imagine what he must have felt like, as a child. He took to California and the American Dream like a duck to water.

All this as an introduction in the way of a comparison. Nick, being a hunter, is one of a handful of hunters who have made it into the Grand Slam Club. You can read about it here. The guy loves to hunt, fish, golf, win. I mean, we were sitting outside having lunch and I caught him stalking prairie dogs, it’s just in his blood.

Oh, and he likes wine. Italian wine, California wine, French wine. Good wine.

On a visit earlier this month at his and my sisters rambling Tuscan ranch house, on the 16th green of a PGQ gold course in Indian Wells, we got to opening a few bottles of wine. And talking about what makes a wine great. It got me to thinking about the way we collect our wines. Are they trophies to put on a rack and lay claim to bragging rights? Or is there a deeper meaning to the wines we have opened, enjoyed and appreciated over the years?

Is there an Italian Grand Slam for wines? And if so, what would they be?

In my mind I’d be putting Barolo and Barbaresco up on the wall. Brunello? Most likely, but these days, Brunello is bothering me. If you put it into the context of 50 or so years, then OK. But right now, I’d say Brunello is on probation with a lot of us.

The fourth wine? Amarone? A Maremma red, maybe from Bolgheri? Something from the Valtellina? A Taurasi? What do you think?

About ten years ago my brother-in-law and sister and I were having breakfast at a hotel. A few tables away Angelo Gaja and his field rep were seated. I mentioned to my brother-in-law that the gentleman about his age was a famous Italian winemaker. I went over to the table and said hello. After all I had first sold Gaja’s wines in 1981.

When I came back to the table, Nick seemed surprised that I knew and had done business with such a famous wine personality. I explained to him that once you enter into the field, most doors will open one day or another, no big deal.

But Gaja has not only entered the Grand Slam Club. In his winemaking ventures he also has produced the grand Slam wines if you see those four wines as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Bolgheri. So to him, hats off. I only wish I could taste through some of these wines once in a while. They seem to have moved to an arena where other wines that I used to enjoy, wines like Pomerols and Pauillacs, have also migrated to. The investor classes.

No doubt Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello are in my club. But the fourth wine? I’d like to think Amarone might rate high and Taurasi as well. Not yet with Sicily, nor Sardegna, sorry islanders. Not yet.

I do have fond memories of Chambave Rouge. But that is a wine for the ages now and the storytellers. I guess Neal Rosenthal and I are some of the few lucky chaps to still have a bottle or two around of the legendary 1961 from Ezio Voyat.

I’m sure my brother-in-law, if he was playing this game, would put Sassicaia on that wall of fame. And prior to the 1990’s I would agree. But that just gives the wine two decades to have proven itself. Is that enough? Is the wine still capable of evoking legendary emotions?

After last years trip to the Valtellina, I was hopeful. And while I won't rule it out, there’s still not enough time for those wines, in modern times, to have redeemed their once lofty status.

My mind seeks to focus my gaze through the crosshairs; focus. Is it even another red wine we seek?

What do you think?




5 comments:

D J R-S said...

The amazing thing, to me, is how valuations tend to converge as palates mature, regardless of youthful passion: I only tried my first Taurasi, a '98 Mastroberardino, I believe, with my cousin Carlos & his wife before leaving for Barcelona in '03. The slowly-evolving complexity was jaw-dropping for us. Thankfully, we were fairly ready, but it was Laura, my cousin's wife, that could pinpoint, without prejudice, there was a surprising Red Delicious, apple skin character throughout...y'know, I could go on about the fact Once Love of my Life Christalia was 2nd gen. Ellenida-American, her Dad (Kyrios Constantinos Volaitis) the parish priest in Astoria, Queens...next time...Yasu Parakalasu!

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of wines in mind to complete your list, but if i tell you, then you would think i am being a bit too partisan....
So I will throw you a curve ball: what about a Refosco dal peduncolo Rosso from friuli, or a lagrein from Alto Adige? And since I mention Alto Adige, i think of something else.... why only reds? One of the most special wine memory i have is with a bottle of 15 years old Sauvignon Blanc from Terlano....

Do Bianchi said...

Barolo and Barbresco only became such coveted appellations in the last thirty years or so... Through the 1950s and 60s, Valtellina and the wines made in and around Novara were considered the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo in Italy.

1961 Voyat? Alfonso, you're killing me! Marilena told me she has some of the Ambrato going back to the 50s but I don't think she has any of the rouge in her library... wow...

Happy holidays, man!

Tracie B. said...

i think discovery is the grand slam...that experience of excitement at trying something REALLY good that is new! easier for me, harder for you silverbacks...

buone feste :)

tom hyland said...

Alfonso:

I'd say to throw out the Bolgheri, only because the dominant grape is often (though not always) Cabernet Sauvignon, and as we're talking an Italian Grand Slam here.

I'd vote for Taurasi slightly ahead of Amarone. I had the '68 Mastroberadino Taurasi last year- it's in incredible shape!

Merry Christmas!

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