About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Super Tuscans

Our local wine group met once again at Sette Cucina Italiana, Bernardsville, NJ this past Monday evening.  Owner/chef Allan Russo was absent attending a wedding, however his sous-chef did not miss a beat in as he prepared yet another fantastic meal for us. New to the table for this dinner the chef prepared:

Perfectly roasted Jumbo Shrimp atop a bed of sautéd cabbage offered a balanced melange of flavors and textures that was applauded by all.

The shrimp were followed by Risotto Alla Crema Di Funghi.  The dish is made with Piemonte Vialone Nano Rice which produces the most creamy textured risottos of any grain.  A Béchamel Di Crimini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Black Truffle Carpaccio added an ethereal flavor to the dish. Like a fine wine, each bite seemed to evolve to a new level.

For our main course we were served a Stuffed Roast Porchetta with mushroom gravy.  All plates were cleaned down to the last morsel.

So what wines did we drink with these wonderful dishes...Super Tuscans.  Quite a departure for our group, but Emil, who was in the wine queue, decided to mix it up a bit.  He brought along a selection of some of Italy's biggest wine names.  Before getting into them we began with a bottle of 2015 Ronco del Gnemiz Friulano San Juan from the Friuli-Venezia region of Italy.  The estates vineyards are located on Friuli's prized sandstone soil ‘Ponca’ which comprises many layers of soil built up over millions of years making it rich in minerals and microelements which give the wine a highly distinctive character.  The wine showed bright acidity and a touch of viscosity to give in an added dimension of depth and character.

What does Super Tuscan wine refer?  The designation emerged in 1970 for a wine made outside the formal Italian DOC or DOCG regulations. Traditionally, the term has most often been used to describe wines made partly or wholly from international French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc.  Many of the wines, Sassicaia, Tiganello, Solaia and Ornellaia became “cult” wines, and as such command high price tags. In the reformation of the Italian classification system many of the original Super Tuscans now qualify as DOC or DOCG wines (such as the new Bolgheri label) but some producers still prefer the declassified rankings or to use the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification of Toscana.  While each of the wines we had tonight was its own unique blend of grapes, to my palate they were for the most part one-dimensional.   I attribute this to the more modern wine making techniques and the high amount of new oak (Barrique) used in making the wines.  I, for one, can not justify the high tariff one has to spend to acquire them.

2007 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Ornellaia DOC.   This wine is a blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc & Petit Verdot.  Fermentation took place primarily in oak barriques, 70% new and 30% once-used.  After fermentation the wine then remained in barriques for about 18 months. After the first 12 months of maturation, the wine was assembled and then returned to the barriques for an additional six months. After bottling, the wine aged a further twelve months prior to release. While the oak was present it was not as overpowering as I would have expected.  The one-dimensional palate was soft and velvety yet lacked complexity.  $230.  Wine-Searcher.

1997 Antinori Solaia IGT.   80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Sangiovese blend (the current blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc). The wine is aged in barriques, mostly new I believe, for about 12 months and for a further 12 months in the bottles.  The oak was very well integrated here and unlike the others displayed a bit of complexity and depth.  While it was my favorite of the evening, I'd be hard pressed to justify the very high price tag.  $350.  Wine-Searcher.

1971 Antinori Tignanello IGT.  This was the debut Super Tuscan wine and was a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc.  It was the first modern wine of Chianti to contain a nontraditional grape—Cabernet Sauvignon—while omitting white grapes, and the first wine to be aged in small new Barrique barrels.  Like the Solaia the wine is aged in barriques for about 12 months and for a further 12 months in the bottles.   I thought the wine had a nice bouquet for a 45 year old wine.  The palate was similar to the Ornellaia.  This vintage is no longer available, while current vintages will run you about $100.

1989 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia VDT. A blend of 85 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 % Cabernet Franc.  Sassicaia is a cuvée of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes from the vineyards of Castiglioncello, Doccino, Quercione, San Martino, Mandrioli, Sassicaia, and Aianova, all of which are situated on hilly slopes in a sub- zone of Bolgheri.  The wine sees 20 months in 40% new Barrique.  This lacked fruit, complexity and depth.  Far behind the others in my opinion.  $299.  Wine-Searcher.

1995 Gaja Sori Tildin Barbaresco.   While not a Super Tuscan wine, the modern wine making style of Gaja fits in with the Super Tuscan style.  Angelo Gaja is a major player in the high priced Italian "cult" wine scene.  Italian wine laws governing Barbaresco mandate that the wine must be made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes to include "Barbaresco" on the label.  Since Gaja blends 5% to 10% Barbera grapes into the wine he must forgo the "Barbaresco" name.  I found tonight's wine to be quite drinkable, and placed it just below the Solaia.  The wine was well balanced with nice complexity and well integrated oak.  $318.  Wine-Searcher.

1990 Quintarelli Amabile del Cere.  Emil brought along a half bottle of this remarkable dessert wine so that we could toast group member Jim on his birthday.  What can I say other than, awesome. A magical blend of Trebbiano, Garganega, Saoarin, Chardonnay and  Sauvignon Blanc that have been attacked by noble rot, it produces a sumptuous, rich and profound dessert wine.  $230 (375ml); $473 (750ml).  Wine-Searcher.

A great job by Emil and Sette made for yet another wonderful evening.


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