This poor economy forces the need for wines to over-deliver value more than at any other time in recent memory. The local food movement helps – more aware at the market and more conscious in the kitchen usually leads to more informed at the table.
Wine continues to penetrate American culture on myriad fronts: there’s a plethora of new American wineries – now even vanity custom-crush joints. Just what we need, more wealthy amateurs playing at winemaker, wine tastings almost anywhere and everywhere. In one of my gigs, I bottle wines for a company who’s business is 100% dependent on in-home tastings – more food and wine magazines, sites, and television shows than ever, even whole networks can’t help but coerce some additional food and wine awareness.
Still sometimes, armed with their “insider information” from God and the Dictator, the already food and wine savvy continue to act superior to the rest of the world. Not all have grasped that wine is not The Vinous Edition of Trivial Pursuit.
But there’s been a shift towards wine education even in those publications that may have put the con in connoisseur and rode those elitist horses a little too aggressively. Their paths, or at least their in-house ads, now clearly point towards their own wine education business, and education usually helps erode elitism. Hopefully I’ll never hear another American wine magazine publisher at Vinexpo, obviously still in the throes of I am a player disease, announce, "I make or break wineries," while poignantly unaware that the Pessac-Leognan Blanc he’s sucking down is corked. [Adam Strum]
Could it be that they’ve discovered fruit? And I get the feeling that even a large portion of the press has caught on – elegance, balance and the wine’s contribution to the meal also appear to be attributes once again. We’re seeing unparalleled success with wines that no longer scream “look at me, I’m the most important thing on the table”, Gary Oldman instead of Tom Cruise. (Though I’m not naïve enough to think that the entire trophy wine/cult wine culture has fallen by the wayside.)
But since Italian and Spanish wines are perfect links to the fabric and culture of each country, and particularly since the Italian American communities in the larger cities have done a great job equating a specific neighborhood as a prime food & wine destination – North Beach, the North End, Little Italy, much of that food and wine ground work has been already done.
The current Northeast Italy features are perfect for today’s thinking wine consumer. The area fell out of favor among the cognoscenti as a huge portion of the region’s resources were devoted to Pi not Grigio. Meanwhile, like the rest of Italy (and Spain), improvements in the vineyards and in the winemaking process translated to better wines in the bottle – not coincidently, more accessible, more fruit driven and more international in style.
The success of Pinot Grigio allowed vintners to devote some of those resources across their entire wine spectrum. And there just may be something to prove in Bardolino and Valpolicella - certainly the once-hot-commodity-factor translates into extra value.
2007 Giarola Bardolino Saint Valery
The 2007 Giarola Bardolino Saint Valery is not your mother’s wine, unless she was drinking single vineyard local red from 40-year-old vines with 20% Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon augmenting the indigenous varietal blend. Everything except the IMDB entry that that most recent wave of affordable Pinot Noir fans looks for lurks in this bottle – this is one fresh, fruit driven wine exhibiting plenty of character and accessible-to-all tannins. This extremely food friendly libation is perfect house red that deserves to usurp the current $20 Pinot Noir market share.
2006 Desto Valpolicella Ripasso
The 2006 Desto Valpolicella Ripasso could liberate for itself a significant piece of the Zinfandel business. Gian Andrea Tinazzi, an undisputed master of the Ripasso technique, delivers the Amarone alternative, sans the collectors-only price tag. The unpressed skins of dried Amarone grapes passed over the fermented Valpolicella juice deliver weight, heft, dimension, complexity, structure and botrytis-like raisin hints to the already accessible blend of local grapes. Here, soft, plummy fruit proves affordable while profound.
Meanwhile, Spain remains hot, though the dollar is not, but, like Italy, the wines have continued to improve, so we carefully picked our fights.
2007 Loxarel OPS Penedes
The 2007 Ops D unfiltered, from the Penedes, hails from Spain’s spiritual and ancestral home of Cabernet Sauvignon, the land of Jean Leon and Miguel Torres. The wine’s model, named for the Roman goddess of plenty, appears to be the Super Tuscans, but at a fraction of the price. Indigenous Tempr anillo, blended with Bordeaux grapes. Obviously, the Cabernet component has the right pedigree, and Merlot also works well in Spanish Cabernet Central – think Bordeaux and California’s North Coast.
Brawny yet appealing, licorice, leather, tobacco, smoke, berries, vanilla oak cry out for big Mediterranean dishes, or if you’re a carnivore like myself, steak and mushrooms on the grill. And for you green scorekeepers, how many wineries do you know of that use sheep to trim their vines?
2004 El Lagar de Isilla Reserva
[SPA106, sold out!]
In the context of the prices fetched by Parkerized Ribera del Duero wines from Vega Sicilia and Pesquera, the 2004 El Lagar de Isilla, Reserva, Ribera del Duero, may be the steal of the decade. The 2008 Premios Envero Best Reserva winner is Miles Davis on “Flamenco Sketches” – it says so much a minimum of flash. You’re drinking a lush-while-light-on-its-feet velvety red and black fruit cloud. Elegance, balance, breed, finesse – ethereal plus power and sweep. And the wine will continue to develop additional layers of complexity in the bottle. 100% Tempranillo that’s so far beyond textbook it’s difficult to adequately describe.