Our Summer Saga continues with must-have wines, today featuring that nebulous term “Italian Wine”.
Saying that you like “Italian Wine” is like saying that you like “plants”: for the statement to mean anything a bit more specificity is required. Italy has been a unified country for less time than Canada has, and although there are several differences between here and Edmonton, at least the buildings are roughly the same shape. Driving between regions in Italy – each with their own autonomous histories - will result in dramatic changes of dialect, architecture, cuisine and, of course, wine. So, let’s throw some darts at a map and explore those differences, starting today with:
SICILY - As brave Wine Explorers from all over the world slowly and cautiously explore the untouched alien planet of Sicily, one indigenous grape variety in particular has been vaulted into the spotlight: Nerello Mascalese. It’s hard not to admire the fierce loyalty that Nerello shows to the volcano that birthed it – it makes brilliantly perfumed, elegant sculptures high up on Mt. Etna, but pretty much bugaboo everywhere else. Somewhat like Pinot Noir on MDMA, the bold wild strawberry and cinnamon notes pull you by the nose into a unicorn rainbow, which you discover is actually the Great Gatsby one the wine hits your tongue. Modern classics from ancient vineyards.
Pietradolce Vigna Barbagali 2014, Etna Rosso. From the 100-year-old Barbagali vines on the northern slopes at 900 metres – these vines give forth grapes like my grandpa gave hugs: rarely and with conditions. The grapes they do produce are intensely concentrated and somewhat resentful, only a nearly 2-year stay in French Barriques (with a light toast) could calm the beast down to get to this wonderful place. Floral notes and electric red fruit with licorice, menthol and vanilla – that’s just the nose – flow into a deep river of awesome – this drinks closer to a Cahors than the usual Pinot comparisons. Finishes with orange zest and a wisp of white heat. 97+ points Robert Parker, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $115.99 +tax
Terre Nere San Lorenzo 2016, Etna Rosso. This was the label that got me into this grape, I remember trying it at a downtown tasting and I’m pretty sure that everyone saw the light bulb turn on above me. Like watching a movie about Burgundy with the colour settings turned to red and the language settings turned to Strawberry. Geologically speaking, the Contrada San Lorenzo (Contrada is the local word for Cru) is one of the rarest terroirs in the world – a window to pre-history, of sorts. Contemporary Etna is a volcano built on the ruins of older volcanoes, one of which was Ellittico, meaning “The Elliptical”. As the eruptive centre moved away from Ellittico about 15,000 years ago the cone collapsed on itself, and its volcanic soils blended with various other soils, except in two spots. Caldera and San Lorenzo retain pure Ellittico volcanic soils, not found anywhere else on earth. Velvety rich tannins follow an elegant, fruit-rich deployment of flowers, herbs and crushed strawberries. Your bulb with go on too. #9 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2018, 95 points Robert Parker, 4 6-packs available, $85.98 +tax
Pelissero “The Long Now” 2015, Langhe. An unorthodox blend of 50/50 Nebbiolo/Barbera. Google the philosophical concept “The Long Now” if you want to spend the subsequent 20 minutes staring into space like I did. Only half of the Cascina Tolino vineyard falls within the Barbaresco delineations, which made Giorgio Pelissero very mad, but since shouting didn’t turn those grapes into Barbaresco, he decided to blend them with Barbera under the larger Langhe designation as a kind of protest. The resulting elixir was a hey-your-chocolate-got-in-my-peanut-butter kind of eureka, because this blend has taken off with critics and collectors big time, and it’s my clear favourite out of all his wines. The Barbera fills the holes that the frame-minded Nebbiolo creates, and the mouth-feel is so satisfying that it’s kind of surprising that no one really does this blend much. Blackberry, vanilla and dark cherries on the nose, a surprisingly expanding mid-palate and a rich, persistent finish of balanced tannin and minerals, Long Now is an accidental classic– much more delicious than important. 95 points Vinous, 95 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $63.98 +tax
Giuseppe Cortese Rabaja 1998, Barbaresco. A killer find from the Rabaja cru in Barbaresco, where Giuseppe Cortese makes the bulk of his wines from (well, his kids do most of it now). The Cortese winery is a largely traditional affair, the fermentation is accomplished by simply waiting, the various sizes of barrels used on every wine serve more as aging vessels than flavour generators, and the longevity is, well, long. This 21-year-old tonic is straight from the winery’s cellars, and the structure is still pretty much intact, but the nose is teeming with stories – licorice, soft spices, dried cherries, burnt orange peel. A real treat – right place, right time. 12 bottles available, $154.98 +tax
Until next time, Happy Drinking!