Saturday, July 26, 2008

How a Barolo Took my Breath Away, Then I Had to Taste Southern Hemisphere Blockbusters

So here's what happened.

It was Friday, and I was scheduled to do an evening tasting of New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Argentina's best blockbuster wines. I came into work in the afternoon, started putting together my tasting sheet, which includes big names like Craggy Range and Cloudy Bay Te Koko from New Zealand, Penfolds RWT and Torbreck Run Rig from Australia, Don Melchor and Clos Apalta from Chile, and Achaval Ferrer and Catena Alta from Argentina - all my heavy hitters and top-notch producers from those four Southern Hemisphere countries. I was pretty happy with my line-up and looking forward to opening these high-end wines for my class of 24 participants.

But then lo and behold, my coworker and Italian wine buyer Ronnie opens his personal bottle of 1990 Borgogno Barolo Reserva, an aged Barolo that, when he bought it, was priced at about $169 a bottle, but now is being marked down to a paltry $132.99 in our big Barolo Blowout Sale. I had tasted the 1996 Borgogno Barolo Reserva with my family about a month ago when I went up to Canada and brought it up with me, and was at the time, not impressed. I dunno, we drank it but I didn't find it noteworthy and even doubted whether I even liked classically styled Barolo. I wondered at the time if maybe my tastes were more for the new modern styled Barolos that some people called "spoofulated" because I actually like Parusso.

But what I found when Ronnie so generously gave me a nice pour of his 1990 Borgogno was that this was a different animal from the 1996. A better vintage, I'm thinking? I don't know, since I'm not up on my Italian wine, especially in terms of knowing which vintages were good ones and which were not in the 1990s. Ronnie said that maybe the 1996 needed more time to be good. I wasn't sure about that since when I tasted the 1996 I thought maybe it was done. Who knows. Maybe another 6 years in the bottle would have done it good - there certainly have been times when I opened a wine possibly too early.

Anyway, back to the 1990. This was gorgeous, absolutely, with a nose that kept mine in the glass for a long, long time, inhaling its seductive bouquet. It had that perfectly aged wine nose, the one that keeps on inviting - a heady melange of smoked berry - if there is such a thing - fresh earth, and savory olive. The kind of aroma that makes one's mouth water. On the palate, the wine followed through without disappointing - the palate was rich without heaviness, like what I think a Burgundy of that age would do - give tons of flavor without tons of weight, but at the same time, not being thin at all. Know what I mean?

The wine was just fabulous. If it were a student, I would give it A+++.

Then, I had to start opening my wines for the evening class, and give them time to open up. And taste them to check if the order I was planning on serving them was okay. And I'm being honest here, I was not impressed with how the wines tasted, how they attacked my palate with extract and weight, how clumsy they felt against that elegant, mature Barolo. They were a bunch of unruly, noisy teenagers compared to a picture-perfect Supermodel with a PhD. But of course, I was not treating them fairly. The 1990 Barolo was a hard act to follow, for sure.

My saving grace is that the participants in my class did not taste a top-notch aged Barolo first, before tasting my line-up of Southern Hemisphere greats. They were happy, very happy with my wines, from the two starting whites to the New Zealand Pinot Noirs to the big bold Malbecs, Cabernets, and Shirazes. The other saving grace was that the audience was a group that already appreciated big, bold, yet well-made wines, so they knew what they were in for and liked that style. So they loved the wines. So all was well in the world and I was happy that the wines did what they were supposed to do. My audience's happiness made me happy.

The star in the line-up ended up being 2004 Torbreck Run Rig from Barossa Valley, which was our last wine, and a great way to end because it really did steal the show. Even I admit to liking that wine, especially later on the evening after this big boy had some time to open up. Also in its favor, I think being an '04 helped, because it has had some bottle time to mellow out and integrate. The wine was velvetty and showed off its lineage of being a wine made from old, old vines. There was a nice discussion that did ensue about how to tell when vines are old, and why are old vines better, and that was fun. Let's just say that the audience was great, and interactive and into the whole tasting. A tasting like that makes one love a job like mine.

So all ended well, even though in the afternoon about 4pm, I was a little worried! Great wine like Barolo, aged with care - I thought, man, my Southern Hems cannot compete! But in the end, all was well in the world of wine, where diversity reigns supreme, and everyone gets to have the wine they love. I'm not religious, but AMEN!


Michael Hughes said...

Great post! I love how you highlight the difference between an adolescent & a mature wine. Only one that has been cared for & nurtured the right way can truly be so moving. When you taste a wine like that its almost too much to describe. To attempt a description just doesn't do it justice.

Nancy Deprez said...

Thanks Michael. I totally agree. Trying to a tasting note on such a wine is really wrong! Like they say - describing a beautiful woman by her x-ray films!