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Perfection, or When Everything Works Together…

October 1, 2018 11 comments

Il Poggione Rosso and EVOOIf you are into the wine and food (or food and wine, whatever your preferences are), I can safely bet you were looking for that climactic moment of combining the food and wine to reach the new, higher level of pleasure. Yes, I’m talking about that “oh my God” moment when your taste buds experienced that already exceptional bite of food becoming something beyond exceptional in combination with the sip of the wine. By the same token, if you were looking for that moment, I’m sure that more often than not (actually, a lot more often than not) you couldn’t find it – those beautiful pairings are often equally evasive.

Here I want to share with you my account of recent encounter with perfection, that climatic experience if you will.

A few months ago I got a box in the mail (one of the little perks of the wine blogger). Inside, there were a bottle of wine, a bottle of olive oil, a jar of sea salt and a recipe – for Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Bistecca all Fiorentina is a dish coming from the Tuscany (Florence) and depending on the historical account, it traces its origins either to the 16th or the 19th century – well, the history of Bistecca all Fiorentina is definitely not something we will be talking about here, so let’s move on. I’m sure you understand that “Bistecca” simply stands for the “beef steak”. However, the recipe calls not for any steak, but specifically for the porterhouse or T-bone steak, which should be simply prepared rare or medium-rare over the charcoal. As the recipe is very simple, here it is in its entirety:

Ingredients (serves 4):
2 (1.5″ thick) bone-in porterhouse steaks (3.5 lb)
1/4 cup Il Poggione EVOO
Tuscan sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs rosemary

Get the charcoal ready. The distance between the hot charcoal and steak should be about 4 inches (10 cm). The steak should be at the room temperature before you start grilling (it should be out of the fridge for about 10 hours to get to the room temperature). Grill steak on one side for 5-8 minutes, flip it with tongs (no forks of any kind!), salt the top surface with Tuscan sea salt and pour some olive oil. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, then stand the steaks on the bone and cook for another 5 minutes. Take it off the heat, put it down to rest, salt the other side and put some olive oil on it. After 5 minutes of rest, you can slice and serve your steak. See, can it get any simpler?

Now, it is time to talk about the perfection.

First, the perfection started from the exceptional meat. In addition to what I already described, the box contained a gift card for Pat LaFrieda. The story of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors started at the beginning of the 20th century when Anthony LaFrieda arrived at the USA and opened his first butchery – you can read the rest of the story on Pat LaFrieda website. Whatever the story is, the proof is always in the pudding – or on the fork in this case. I have to honestly tell you that I never had a better a steak than this – the meat was sublime and was simply melting in the mouth – a good start for the perfect experience.

The second element of the perfection was, of course, the wine – 2016 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino (14% ABV, $27, 12 month in large oak barrels). Tenuta Il Poggione is one of the oldest producers in the Montalcino area, started to make Sangiovese wines – now known as Brunello – at the beginning of the 1900s. Today, it is one of the largest wineries in Montalcino, with 1500 acres, out of which more than 300 acres are under vines and 170 acres planted with olive trees (that Il Poggione EVOO in the package was superb).

The wine actually happened to be one of the best Rosso di Montalcino wines I tasted in a long time. The key word to describe this wine is finesse – it had a welcoming nose of the tart cherries, medium intensity, and a hint of the herbs. That profile perfectly continued on the palate, where delicate fresh cherries were joined by sage and rosemary, with clean acidity and excellent balance. Definitely one lip-smacking, delicious wine (8+).

Let’s not miss any details – we are talking about perfect pairing here. As the devil is in the detail, there was one more element  – little, but essential – to this amazing pairing, besides superb meat and outstanding wine. The last element? Tuscan sea salt. This was not some random sea salt – this one was Tuscan Sea Salt from AG Ferrari, listing the following ingredients: “Italian sea salt, fresh rosemary, fresh garlic, sugar, fresh sage, ground black pepper” – this Tuscan Sea Salt became the bridge which connected the flavor of the seasoned meat with the perfectly aligned flavor profile of the Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino, delivering the genius pairing and an amazing experience.

I have to honestly tell you – I tried to replicate this experience two days ago – and failed. I used the same Tuscan Sea Salt, but I had a steak from the local supermarket butcher shop (1/3 of a price compare to Pat LaFrieda), and the wine was 2015 Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino. The steak was simply not good (happy to be blamed for it as a cook – but I cooked the one from Pat LaFrieda too). The wine was okay, but a lot fruitier than Il Poggione, thus the pairing simply didn’t work. Which once again proves my point about the evasive nature of a great wine pairing.

Did you have any climactic food and wine pairing experiences you care to share with the world? Or maybe you want to recount the worst moments? Will be happy to hear about it either way. Cheers!

Open That Bottle Night – 2018 edition

February 25, 2018 11 comments

We all have THAT bottle. How I mean it, you ask? Simple. We all have bottles which have special meaning for us. This one was brought home from the vacation 5 years ago. That one was given by a generous friend with the recommendation to wait for a special moment to drink it. Those in the corner came from the parent’s cellar.  Ahh, these I found on a garage sale  – would you believe it? Oh yes, and those I got during a great sale – yes, one of each, as I couldn’t afford to buy any more of them.

Wine is a perfect vehicle for creating special moments. Maybe the best there is. But this also is a problem in itself. We get attached to those special bottles, always doubting if this is the right moment to open them and keep waiting and waiting for a perfect one. Yes, the wine improves with age, but nothing is forever. There is always a chance that at the proper moment, the wine might not be there for us anymore, and we might not be there for the wine.

To help people with THAT bottle dilemma, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, the journalists behind Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column at a time, created a special event which they called Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) back in 1999, celebrated always on the last Saturday in February. Now, almost for 20 years, OTBN helped wine aficionados around the world to ease the pain of parting with those special bottles and actually enjoy the wine in its prime time (or at least that is the intent and the hope). 

The OTBN is truly all about the wine, so the oenophile gets its chance to agonize about the impossible choice, going from one bottle to another bottle and finding the reasons why this is not yet the time to claim for it to be THAT bottle. I went multiple times through all my wine fridges, joyfully finding and immediately grudgingly rejecting my choices. Three days later, I just grabbed two bottles which jumped to my attention and said “this is it! no more!”.

Let’s talk about our OTBN wines – there should be at least some reason for the wines to be “it”, right? So the white wine was interesting in many ways. First, it came to our house via the Secret Wine Santa exchange, courtesy of inimitable Drunken Cyclist. The wine is made out of the rare grape (Malvasia) which is absolutely uncommon for California; the wine is Skin Fermented, which seems now to be a popular term for what was known before as “orange wine” – the grapes are fermented in contact with skin, which is not typical for the white wine. Lastly, the wine comes from the Suisun Valley, which seems to be an up and coming region in California – for example, Caymus, a California wine powerhouse,  recently released the new wine called Grand Durif (Durif is original French name for Petite Sirah), made from the grapes grown in the Suisun Valley.

2015 Onward Skin Fermented Malvasia Suisun Valley (12.8% ABV)  – light golden in the glass (nothing says “orange wine”), beautiful tropical fruit on the nose – guava, passion fruit. On the palate, initially showed light fizz which went away in about 15 minutes. Cut through acidity, peppery spiciness, white underripe fruit, there is a touch of funk or maybe rather oxidative notes which hint at extended skin contact; overall – different and delicious (Drinkability: 8). Also much rounder on the second day. Probably requires food.

Now, the red doesn’t really have a story. I have no idea how did it make it into our house. Yes, it is a Brunello, which is generally good (one of the 3 big Bs of the Italian wines – Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello); Argiano seems to be a good producer even though I don’t know much about them. Lastly, the wine has good age on it, however, it is not much of an age for any of the big Bs. Oh yes, and it was my only bottle, which squarely puts it into THAT category.

2003 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14% ABV) – needed a bit of help from the decanter to open up (about an hour) – dark concentrated garnet color, no hint of age, deep tobacco and roasted meat on the nose, leather, cherry, cherry pit and a touch of plums on the palate. Right after opening, the wine seemed that it was either at prime or maybe already even past prime – after 3 hours in the decanter and a glass, the wine started closing, with fruit disappearing and fresh, young tannins taking its place. This wine would probably last for another 10 years – but I stand no chance to find out as this was my one and only bottle. Still, the verdict is simple – delicious (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

That sums it up, folks. I love OTBN, as the wine is meant to be drunk, and OTBN helps us to get THAT bottle out and experience it before its too late. How was your OTBN? Cheers!

Benvenutto Brunello, or Notes from Brunello Deep Immersion

February 2, 2014 4 comments

This is not a quiz post, however – let me start with the question: what do you think of Brunello di Montalcino, the noble wine made out of the Sangiovese? Well, technically it is Sangiovese, but in practicality Brunello di Montalcino is made out of the grape called Sangiovese Grosso, sometimes simply called Brunello. When people need to provide an example of the best Italian wines, the triple-B, Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello, are the very first names which cross oenophile’s mind, so this is the Brunello we are talking about here. So, what is your experience with Brunello?

To carry the denomination of Brunello di Montalcino DOC or DOCG, the wines must be made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes, and age at least 2 years in oak casks, and then at least 4 month in the bottle (at least 6 month for Riserva designation), but many producers age it for a lot longer. First time Brunello wines can appear on the store shelves is 5 years after the vintage date.

There are tons of books and web sites with countless pieces of information about the region, the history of the wines, the food, the people – I’m not going to simply repeat all of that. However, I can’t resist to share this magnificent picture of the Montalcino, as it was shared by the Brunello Consortium – I generally only use my own pictures in the blog, but this is soooo beautiful!

MOntalcino Panoramica Source: Brunello Consortium

Montalcino Panoramic. Source: Brunello Consortium

To celebrate the release of 2009 vintage, The Consortium of the Brunello di Montalcino Wine (Cosorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino), an association of all Brunello producers, arranged the series of seminars and tastings in New York and Los Angeles, and I was fortunate enough to attend the event in New York – hence this post where I’m sharing my impressions. Before I will get down to the details and inundate you with tasting notes and pictures, let me share some general notes and observations (yes, you can call it an executive summary):

  1. According to the representative of the consortium, 2009 was a “4 star year” as opposed to the 5-star, such as 2007 or 2001 (or upcoming 2010). In 2009, growing season had rainy spring, but good hot and sunny September, which helped with overall quality.  2009 Brunello supposed to be more approachable at the younger age (my note: some were, and some were very far from being approachable).
  2. Some interesting facts:
    • There are 90 clones of Sangiovese used in the production of Brunello di Montalcino.
    • Montalcino is a large region, so different areas of Montalcino region produce different wines, due to vastly different soils and climate conditions (what is Italian for Terroir?) Unfortunately, those different areas are not indicated in any way on the label – you actually have to know the location of the vineyards for each respective producer to know what to expect. The special guide produced for the show had very helpful tiny maps showing the approximate location of each and every winery represented in the guide.
    • The use of oak (type, duration, etc) is changed from vintage to vintage.
  3. I actually think that while deemed approachable, 2009 still needs time. Few of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Brunellos which snuck into the tasting, showed up just magnificently.
  4. The 2012 vintage of Rosso di Montalcino, a simpler, typically less oaked wine, also made out of Sangiovese Grosso, is showing up in the stores. This wines should be ready to drink now (but many will age well too, depends on the winemaking style).
  5. Based on the tasting, I much preferred 2011 Rosso di Montalcino over the 2012 – don’t want to think too hard about the reason, but if you are looking for delicious bottle of a good Italian wine to drink now, 2011 Rosso di Montalcino might be “it”.
  6. Don’t know if this is a trend (and definitely don’t want to be spotting any trends), but in this tasting, there were surprisingly large number of corked bottles. I had to call out at least two bottles, and with another three I ate my words, only mumbling “aha, this is good”. I do attend trade tastings regularly, and this is not normal. I rarely drink Brunello, so if anyone who is reading this actually drinks a lot of Montalcino wines, I’m curious to know your opinion. Bottom line here – trust your palate. If you think the wine is corked, most likely it actually is!

Now, let’s talk about the seminar. Both the seminar and the tasting were, of course, about Montalcino wines. The difference is that during the seminar you are sitting down and listening to the presenter(s) as opposed to walking around with the glass and the book in your hand – but most importantly, you have enough time to completely analyze the wine – color, nose, palate – everything at your own pace, one by one. Here are my notes regarding the 8 wines presented during the seminar, in the order of tasting:

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2009 Capanne Ricci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $54.99, aging 3 years in large oak barrels plus bottle age). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet color
Nose: Very pronounced and intense, with cherries and leather
Palate: Austere, just powerful tannins, some good background acidity. Way too tannic to be appreciated at the moment.

2009 Col D’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $55, aging 3 years in Slavonic and French oak casks plus 12 month in the bottle). Drinkability: 7+
Color: Bright ruby
Nose: Touch of plums
Palate: Nice cherries, much softer than the previous wine, can be drunk right now

2009 Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (15% ABV, $75, aging 3 years in oak). Drinkability: 8-
Color: Dark garnet color
Nose: Spectacular, intense, with a lot of bright fruit.
Palate: Cherries and lots of bright fruit, has a lot going on. Still needs time, but very enjoyable already.

2009 Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $70, aging 36-40 month in oak, 8-12 month in the bottle). Drinkability: 7-
Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Overall quite restrained, with a hint of cherries
Palate: Cherries and then tannins and only tannins on the palate. The tannins feel over-extracted – this wine might never open.

2009 Pinino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14% ABV, $50, aging 30 month in Slavonic oak). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet with brick-ish hue
Nose: The fruitiest nose of all. Cherries and blueberries.
Palate: Cherries and tannins. Tannins overly intense in front of the mouth, and somewhat uni-dimensional.

2009 Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $69.99, aging 12 month in new and old french barriques,  18 month in large Slavonic oak barrels, at least 12 month in the bottle). Drinkability: 7+
Color: Garnet.
Nose: Nice and balanced, with the hint of cinnamon and coffee.
Palate: Nice, open, with bright cherries and more manageable, but still aggressive tannins. Can be enjoyed now, but still needs more time.

2009 Il Grappolo Fortius Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $N/A, aging in oak barrels plus bottle age). Drinkability: 8
Color: Garnet with brickish hue
Nose: Very promising, elegant, with cherries and raspberries.
Palate: Beautiful, lots of fruit, ripe cherries, present but not overpowering tannins. Best of tasting.

2009 Tenuta San Giorgio Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $55-$60, aging 12 month in French oak barrels, then 24 month in large Slavonic oak casks, 12 month in the bottle). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet with brickish hue
Nose: soft and expressive, but shows off alcohol
Palate: nice fruit, sour (very sour) cherries, pepper in the back is a bit out of place. Aggressive tannins.

For the walk around tasting, I did my best to taste as many wines as possible, before my palate gave up (it is very hard to taste only red, intensely tannic wines – remember, there were no whites)  and the place got really really crowded. I used the same system of plus signs (+, ++, +++) as I do in the trade tastings – of course with few of the ++++ exceptions. Below is the list of most exceptional wines I experienced in the tasting:

2009 Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – beautiful! +++

2007 Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! ++++

2009 Belpoggio Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – very nice, approacheable

2012 Belpoggio Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful fruit, open, herbs

2011 Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino DOC – integrated, beautiful! +++

2006 Camigliano Gualto Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – beautiful! nice depth, density. +++

2011 Capanna Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful, open +++

2011 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino DOC – one of the most unusual. Intense strawberries on the palate.

2009 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – nice, good fruit +++

2007 Il Poggione Vigna Paganelli Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – excellent, powerful and balanced

2011 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino DOC – excellent, great fruit +++

2008 La Togata Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – probably the most delicate, beautiful fruit, tobacco in the back ++++

2008 Podere Le Ripi Lupi Sirene Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! beautiful! open! ++++

2006 Podere Le Ripi Lupi Sirene Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! ++++

2009 Podere Le Ripi Amore & Magia Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful! complex, Crème brûlée (no sugar!) on the palate ++++

2008 Podere Le Ripi Bonsai Rosso di Montalcino DOC – wow!

2007 Ridolfi Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – very good! needs more time +++

2009 Sasso di Sole Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – excellent fruit! +++

2004 Sasso di Sole Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – plums, cherries, wow! Perfect complexity, both nose and palate ++++

2011 Sasso di Sole Rosso di Montalcino DOC – spectacular nose, good fruit, tobacco, earthiness +++1/2

2012 Talenti Rosso di Montalcino DOC – tobacco, complexity, balance! +++

2009 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – sweat and beautiful! +++

2008 Uccelliera Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! stunning! ++++

2012 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino DOC – great! tobacco, fruit, exellent! +++

2011 Verbena Rosso di Montalcino DOC – wow! ++++

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino DOC – excellent! +++

2012 Voliero Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful! +++

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And we are done! But before we part, I have to leave you with the drool picture, the one which makes the oenophile’s heart race:

Old Brunello wines. Source: Brunello Consortium

Old Brunello wines. Source: Brunello Consortium

This was a great experience, and I’m already looking forward to welcoming Brunello 2010. I have a sneaky suspicion it will be pretty tasty… Cheers!

Taste Expectations, Or Notes From The Blind Tasting

February 28, 2012 2 comments

If you had been drinking wine for a while, I would expect that you have developed certain taste expectations. As you drink the wines from the different regions, you find that the wines from the same geographic locality made from the same grapes would have somewhat of a similar taste and style (yes, of course, I just described what is properly called Terroir without using the word itself). At some point, the associations between the origin of the wine and its expected taste become engrained in your mind. Looking at the bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you are expecting to find bright acidity and citrus flavor profile even without opening the bottle. Looking at the bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon you are expecting to find good amount of fruit with some explicit black currant notes and probably good amount of tannins – note that I’m really trying to generalize here, but you got the point.

This is the way the wine was for a very long time. However, when you taste modern wines, do you have a feeling that your expectations no longer valid and don’t match the reality any longer? I had this experience many times lately, when Amarone didn’t taste like anything expected (you can find my rant of pain here), or when unoaked Chardonnay tastes rather like Pinot Grigio – and there are many more examples of “taste confusion”.

Recently, I had another case of “broken” taste expectations – this time it was somewhat sanctioned, as we did a double (almost) blind tasting. The theme was set a bit ambitiously, as France and Italy. The “ambitious” part is coming from the fact that these two countries on their own have such a variety of wine production that it makes literally impossible to recognize the grape or at least the style of wine (either one of those countries would provide a plentiful selection for a double blind tasting on its own). Anyway, with the main goal of having fun with the wines, we actually had a great time.

We blind tasted 5 wines, which happened to be 4 reds and one white. For what it worth, here are my notes as we were moving along:

#1 – Very nice, a bit too sweet. I think Italy, Super Tuscan/Barbera/Dolcetto

#2 – earthy, nice, little green bell peppers, roasted notes? Bordeaux?

#3 – France, nice bright fruit, good sweetness, noit enough acidity? No idea about the grape.

#4 – interesting, lots of fruit, very nice – no idea.

#5 – great, round, good fruit – no idea.

While I understand that these a rather limited wine descriptions, would you try to guess what was what? Well, you can see the answers below in the picture (wines are set in the order we tasted them, left to right):

 

Here is an actual list: 2007 Comm. G. B. Burlotto Barolo Verduno; 1995, Chateau Haut-Corbin Saint-Emillion Grand Cru; 2009 Petracupa Greco di Tufo;  2005 Pascal Marchand Pinot Noir and L’oca Ciuca Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – now compare that with my guesses above…

In case you are curious – of course we voted for the favorite – Brunello (#5) was a clear winner, with Greco de Tufo (#3) trailing it closely behind (one point difference).

Where is the case of broken taste expectations? Fruit forward, bright and loaded wine with well masked tannins and almost non-existing earthiness, bright purple in color – 2007 Barolo? I’m very far from Barolo expert, but this doesn’t match my expectations of Barolo, albeit well decanted. Even winning Brunello was quite uncharacteristic, lacking earthiness and tartness, the traditional Brunello bite. I can’t comment on Greco do Tufo (it was actually quite nice), and the only varietally correct wine was 1995 Bordeaux. Am I making too big of a deal from varietal correctness and taste expectations here? It depends. On its own, both Barolo and Brunello were good wines, but if I would order either one in the restaurant with the goal of pairing with food, that could’ve been quite disappointing…

Okay, I can’t leave you with this sad impression of disappointment – it was not that bad at all. Also, we had a great cast of supporting wines, even with some pleasant surprises.

First, two sparkling wines. Chevalier de Grenelle Cuvee Reserve Saumur AOC, a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc with 10% Chardonnay was very good, full bodies sparkling wine, with good notes of apple and toasted oak. In addition to good wine, this was also a very special bottle – a magnum with metal imprinted label. Second sparkling wine was even more unusual – Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry – a sparkling wine from Russia, made by reincarnated famous producer of sparkling wines for Russian Tzar (original company was created in 1870). This wine had just a hint (a whiff) of sweetness, lightly toasted apple and nutmeg on the palate. Very refreshing and delicate. I suggest you will find a bottle and try for yourself – there is a good chance you might like it.

And for the last surprise – 2002 Fontanafredda Barolo DOCG. Why surprising? If you will look at the Wine Spectator’s Vintage Chart, you will see that 2002 was regarded as a very bad year for Barolo, with the rating of 72 and recommendation of wines being past prime. I decanted this bottle at some time in the late morning, and by the early evening, when we actually drunk it, it opened up very nicely – while it was lacking powerful tannins, otherwise it was quite enjoyable wine, very balanced with quite a bit of finesse.

Play with your wine, get friends together and do the blind tasting – I guarantee you will learn something new about your palate, your wine preferences and may be even your friends!

Cheers!