Thursday, January 02, 2014

Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part II

During the last two weeks I’ve had more than one occasion to dig into my wine closet and pull out some gems. Barolo, Brunello, Champagne, old California wine, Hermitage, vintage Port and some older whites from Friuli and Marche. And while the cellar is far from emptied, there is a little more room for some of the wines I left out in the first post I wrote on December 22, Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part I. So let’s venture forth.

Before that I must tidy up Tuscany, starting with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. In 1979 I had an epiphany over Italian wine. It was over a rather plain 1970 Vino Nobile from Melini. Melini is a big house, but the 1970 was blessed by the stars. It was rich, mellow, the tannins were firm but not searing, the fruit was ripe but not raisiny. I bought a case ($60) and got to know Vino Nobile. I fell in love with the rustic. And the unpredictable. Over the years I engaged with Avignonesi, Boscarelli, Dei, Del Cerro, Fanetti, Talosa, La Braccesca, Nottola, Sanguineto, Poliziano, Trerose, Valdipiatta and Vecchia Cantina. I root for the underdog, and Vino Nobile has long been under estimated. The wines are improving, the values are still noteworthy. If anything they embraced modernity as a reaction against the rap of rusticity they got in the 1990’s. Now they are like their big brother, Brunello, in that they have a more worldly appearance. But some of them can still be like the Tuscan beauty I once saw walking down a dusty road. Naturally beautiful and simply unforgettable.

Morellino – While my recent experience with Morellino proves the wines can and do age, I’m not collecting much Morellino. That’s not to say I’m not drinking it. I am, often. But they wine doesn’t sleep in my wine closet, except for the rare example.

Super Tuscans – I have some, from Petra, Il Borro, Podere al Palazzone, Montevertine (I hesitate to call this wine a Super Tuscan), Capezzana, Rocca di Frassinello, Brancaia and Antinori. These wines are all over the map. I keep some because I liked them when they were young and I want to see how they age. Hopefully some will age better than the Silver Oak and Caymus wines I let sleep in my wine closet for many years before I let them go to the trophy hunters. We’ll see. One note: these are not wines like one normally expects from Italy. No two wineries are alike. But these wines are creative expressions, experiments, poems. Not always good for the long haul. But they’re sexy wines and they have youthful energy. And that is good enough for me.

Veneto – I spend a good amount of time in the Veneto when it is very cool and have been exposed to Lady Corvina’s love. Amarone is less a true love than a love affair for me. Consequently, not a lot of important Valpolicella comes home. If I could, I’d put more Quintarelli inside. I have a little Viviani, and the wine is ageing well. Anything that Tenuta San Antonio makes will eventually land on my table. But Corvina is not my passion. I like the wines very much, especially in the region with the food and the friends I have made over the years. And that works out for me, every year during Vinitaly, same time next year scenario.

Umbria – I know I should love Sagrantino. But it doesn’t speak to me. Dry Sagrantino seems odd. Give me a Sagrantino passito from the likes of Antonelli and whisk me back to a time where my genes recognize and love the wine. The big, hard, tannic ones? Not my pill to swallow. I'm happy with Bea.

Torgiano is a place with many memoires and feelings. Down the hill from where my son took his first step, and where my wife Liz is buried. We stayed at Le Tre Vaselle and tasted the wines when Giorgio Lungarotti was alive. The old wines are amazingly fresh and unique. Every bit as important as Brunello to me.

Marche – a painting by Caravaggio that disappeared from the Marche eventually made its way to the national gallery in Dublin. I made a trip to Ireland see that painting. There is something about the Marche region that I am drawn to. But not necessarily for collecting. Yes I have a few Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conero inside. But, they’re a lot like Morellino to me in that they are good for early ( and regular) enjoyment. I’m not sure I’ve had enough experience with the great reds of the Marche. I do store older bottles of Verdicchio, especially from La Monacesca. And the wines age fairly well. But I think of seafood, maybe some lightly grilled meats, and when I do I think of white and rosé wines.

Abruzzo – I have written much about wine and people from this area. I still have loads of Illuminati going back to 1974. I like their older wines. Pepe, Masciarelli, Valentini (although now very expensive) are benchmarks for an appellation that is more often known for easy drinking, everyday wines. One of the great dessert wines I ever had was a wine called Clematis, from the Zaccagnini folks. Montepulciano is harvested in the vineyard and left to wither outside. The sensation in the nose is typical of Montepulciano – grapey, a little of the darker berry fruit aromas. Inky. And then there is this little thread of exotic perfume that wafts up, ever so gently. It is saying, “go ahead, take a sip, it won’t hurt you.” Tempting. So why not take a sip, a little bite? And then the wine is tasted and this incredible array of flavors woven together making a whole new experience. I never use the word synergy, but that would describe whatever happened when I tasted this wine. I can barely describe it (my notes simply had “wow!), but I love, love, loved that wine.

Apulia – my collecting is limited to Primitivo di Manduria. A long time association and friendship with the Pichierri family has wines going back to the early 1970’s in my wine closet. I am particularly fond of the “Terrarossa” Primitivo from them. Very old style wine, rich and cherry-like. The wine ages well, doesn’t really show much age, considering how much sun the wine sees. I know this wine isn’t for everybody. But at $20 a bottle, it’s a great collectable that doesn’t dent the wallet. And if you forget about the wine for 10 or 20 years, it will still be there, waiting for you to uncover it.

Basilicata – I love Aglianico as much as I love Hermitage and Barbaresco. There, I said it. I just never get to drink the old stuff as much as I would like to. This is a place that is inaccessible to the travelers who want easy entry and paint-by-numbers tourism. Fine by me. Re Manfredi is one of my favorite producers. This past month I had a bottle of the 2007 Aglianico del Vulture “Serpara.” The first time I had it was at the winery with an amazing array of home cooking. God, I love that wine, it’s as memorable as the 1989 La Chapelle I had yesterday. And at under $50 retail, what better way to spend $600 on a case of wine for the ages?

Campania – shall I dip my toes in the fire of Vesuvius? Can a man worship two volcanos? I think not. I am a child of Empedocles. Etna has me. But our young friend Antonio Galloni is more unbiased and his access is a little better than most. His recent tasting of the wines of Mastroberardino, going back to the 1920’s, is a memorable read. He says it better than me. I will not reproduce his review but offer a small tease:
“Mastroberardino is the royal family of Campania. The estate’s Taurasi, first produced in 1928, is a legendary wine that can rival the best from any region. The Taurasis from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, all made in a staunchly traditional style, remain benchmarks for the entire region. After a period of inconsistent results in the 1990s Mastroberardino seems to have found its way again with a largely traditional approach to winemaking”

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Calabria – I am not going to assume everyone will follow me here. I have said all I can for now about Calabria. This is where I had my St. Paul in Damascus moment with wine. I don’t expect everyone to understand. Those who want to can come to the wine closet and we will open the 1968 Ciro Riserva from Librandi that I have been holding onto for nearly 30 years.

Sicily – This really is another post by itself. To Bill Nesto it was a book. So what can I do? Nothing but offer up the wines I love and hope for a long life. Reds and sweet wines. First the sweet wines.

Malvasia from Lipari. Moscato from Pantelleria and Noto. Marsala. Hauner, Colosi, Tasca d’Almerita, Minardi, Donnafugata, de Bartoli. Once an altar boy, always an altar boy. Wines from my childhood and wines for when I return to a more childlike state. They will be waiting for me when I am ready.

And the reds. The great Rosso del Conte from Tasca d’Almerita. Again, if you have access to Galloni and Vinous, his report: Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte: 1979-2006 is worth the price of a yearly subscription. Antonio can write what I saw when I visited the property. I have my visual memories, along with the food and the wine, the air, the garden, the sun, the heat. Save up and subscribe. And find some of these wines to put away.

I’m only going to go to Etna before I finish. I won’t be going to Sardenga. That is the one region I have yet to go to.

Etna – I hate to even say this. But knowing that I’m not a Galloni or a Larner or a Suckling, so the Americans won’t really deplete all the great red wines of Etna from reading On the Wine Trail in Italy. Etna is safe. What I would grab would be anything from Salvo Foti and his I Vigneri project. I’d buy some Cornelissen, especially the ones Frank himself would tell me he thinks I should. He knows his wines best and the evolution of them. Tascante, of course. A new project, but so far everything I have had has gone into the wine closet. Who else? Terre Nere. Especially the small plots, the Santo Spirito, Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro delle Rose, Guardiola, the Prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino and Calderara Sottana. Listen, if you’re a lover of Produttori del Barbaresco, can you love more than Pora or Asili? I know I can and I secret away any number of those wines. Likewise with the wines of Salvo and Frank and Marc. There are more. But my wine room is too small. And I don’t have enough time on earth. Or on this page.

I haven’t covered wines from Liguria, Trentino and Alto Adige, Valle d’Aoste, Valtellina, wines from the Veneto other than Valpolicella and Amarone. Sparkling wines, ageworthy white wines. This might need a part III.

To be continued...?

Links: Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part I 

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Marco Minardi said...

We just had half a bottle of 2009 Poliziano last night during a raging blizzard. Extraordinary, the wine not the snow. We had some Valle dell'Acate Frappato leftover too. Morello cherries all over my palate. Went well with my mother's recipe for meatballs and fusilli. Too bad Quintarelli's prices are so dear. I'll have to stick with Zenato for now. These posts are invaluable. People pay consultants loads of money for things worth a lot less, IMHO.

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