The story goes that the organizer of this event had been painfully hung-over from the youthful gallivants in the Tuscan night, and had stumbled across a wine shop owned by Cristian Brasini (see here). And in some twist of fulfilled promises she invited him to New York to share his wines. For this and other reasons, I escaped work for half a day to attend. There, I witnessed this animated wine merchant from Montepulciano passionately described the wines of his homeland. In a heavy accent, of course.
In a corner of what looked like a test kitchen behind a boutique wine store (see here), the rich and still youthful 30-somethings of New York City were jovial in the early Friday evening. At times the breezes of fragrant food brought out an exquisite hunger and made smelling the wines a chore. But there were always enough weaker wines to guzzle without much thinking. They tend to go along well with food anyway.
In the grand scheme of wines, Italy seems to play a supporting role to France. The famous ones are limited to two regions and maybe Veneto if you include Amarone. And the country is all but missing from whites, but for the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. Yet that surface level conclusion is clearly misleading. Arguably, the country has a decidedly wide range of wines unknown to the rest of the world. It takes a real expert to understand the range of wines in Italy (like the organizer of this event).
The food is in need of praise. It is surprising that such haute-cuisine comes out of the back of a wine shop. In an explicitly un-italian fashion, each ingredient is scrutinized, glorified and described. Herbs picked a few miles away, for example. Luscious scallops in a clam-like bowl, topped with fish roe. A smokey cut of pumpkin. Tender pork belly infused with peanuts – what a pairing for the wines – any of them. Delicious chocolate ganache with a confident bitterness. New York has a lot of very good and very bad food. No one came for the food but perhaps that is what people will remember.
Except for the few Michelin star experiences in Europe (Arzak, Geranium), this was the most extravagant (and wallet breaking) wine and dine experience of late. It had seemed like all the stars had aligned to fulfill this. Here is a description of the wines I had. I’ve decided to rate the wines out of 5, using the same idea as the restaurant ratings on www.randwalk.com.
- Inama Azienda Agricola Vulcaia Fume 2012 (Sauvignon Blanc). I thought this was a special wine. I don’t think I’ve had a fumé blanc from California before so I don’t have anything to compare it to. The oaking was done well – nice smoky flavor, some hints of vanilla but not overpowering. I can’t tell if it’s French or American oak but it seems to follow more of a new world style. The surprise was how sweet it was – which wasn’t a problem because of the bitterness imparted from the oak. I think this could benefit from aging to bring out more of the non-fruit flavours. (Rating = 5)
- Inama Carmenere. I don’t remember exactly what this wine was. I think it was Carmenere, which is surprising since I haven’t seen that outside of Chile. I remember thinking this was meaty / peppery and so thought it was a rhône blend. I find Chilean wines difficult to drink because of the eucalyptus (or mint?) characteristics so I thought this was a good instance of Carmenere. (Rating = 4)
- Bressan Pignol 2001 (Pignolo). This was easily my favourite wine. But I am a bit biased since I have a thing for lighter reds. The smell was intoxicating – very complicated and still fairly young, with lots of floral and red fruit smells. Some earthy and medicinal smells were starting to develop. The one smell I didn’t expect was the green pepper (or black pepper?), which I actually like a lot. I think this would be like an aged Chinon, which is more of a thought experiment than anything. The palate was a little light at first but it got more rounded after a while. (Rating = 5)
- Travaglini Il Sogno 2008. Ripasso with Nebbiolo seems sensible but I guess I was annoyed that it tasted closer to port than a Barolo. It seems like this wine was well received by the crowd but, of course, they are wrong. (Rating = 2)
- Passopisciaro “Passopisciaro” (Sicily, Nerello Mascalese) 2012. This was very average but maybe it would better with age. I thought it tasted like an Ontario pinot noir, which I would drink all day long. But I was already getting a bit tipsy and decided to throw most of this out for my health. (Rating = 2)
- Gulfi Nero Bufaleffj 2009 (Nero d’Avola). I can’t believe how good this was for a reasonable price. Reminded me of a rich Bordeaux blend but particularly liked that it felt more “precise” and less tannic. It was surprisingly easy drinking. (Rating = 4)
- Silvia Imparato Montevetrano 2011 (Campania, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Alglianico). This was not good as I’m sure we all agree. I think there are $10 wines that kind of taste like this. Tasted like someone put vanilla extract in it. It seems like this wine was also well received by the crowd but, again, they are so off (note average wine tasters prefer sugar and vanilla everywhere). (Rating = 1)
- Il Moro di San Giovanni 2007 and the other two supertuscans. I’m going to lump the three supertuscans together. I think these are literally the first supertuscans I’ve had and so excuse my ignorance. My least favourite was actually the 3rd one, despite it being the most expensive – I found it to be too sweet and the secondary flavours hadn’t developed enough yet to balance the sweetness. Between the first and second, it’s a coin flip. Both were very well made. I think (and you will disagree) that these lack the acidity that makes Bordeaux great. Probably the second super Tuscan was my favourite because of the stronger acidity. The primary flavours were all very nice and indicative of the grapes that went into these. (Rating = 3)
- Felsina Chianti Classico Gran Riserva Colonia 2007. I wasn’t terribly impressed with this but after 10 minutes in the glass, it developed very well and started to show a secondary flavor profile of leather and cassis. It’s nice to know that it can start showing in a reasonably young Chianti. (Rating = 5)
- Masciarelli Villa Gemma 2006. This tasted like a lot of Tuscan wines do. Not a terrible fan of this grape (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo). Tasted like a lot of stewed fruits. Slightly boring. Lacked precision. (Rating = 2)
- Isole e Olena Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2005. Powerful aroma of stewed apricots. Interesting they make this in Chianti. I don’t drink dessert wines so can’t comment much here. (Rating = 3)