Thursday, January 31, 2008
Solaria Shines Over Brunellovillle
Funny how nuts people get over Brunello. I went to "Benvenuto Brunello," the industry tasting held at grand Gotham Hall on Jan. 29 by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, and it was packed. Worse than the Bordeaux tasting the week before. Elbow to elbow and the crowd simply never thinned. Perhaps the tons of yummy Tuscan-style food kept people rooted to some extent, and there certainly were lots of beautiful Italian women and dashing Italian men to look at, but I just think folks wanted to keep knocking back that juicy Sangiovese clone from Montalcino.
I like Brunello all right, though I not convinced that all of it deserved honor simply because it bears that name and the right zip code. Plus the prices invite criticism. And, many of the makers being of recent vintage, I think of lot of the wine apes the super-fruity, big international style. I know a number of the wines I drank on Tuesday were awarded in my notebook with the simple notation "Int" (for International, duh). A lot of smoothness, a lot of easy drinking. A lot of, you know, whoring around.
Of course, there were a gajillion wines there, so some stand-outs and trend-buckers came through. The Costanti was impressively individual in its character. The color itself was unusual. In a sea of deep ruby, it was a muted magenta; matte instead of glossy finish. It was an elegant glass, full, fruity, but also earthy and more understated. Just a class wine. The epitome of the traditional style.
The guy pouring out the Poggio Antico's two Brunellos sure thought a lot of himself, or the wine, or both, but I won't hold that against him. Both the Altero and regular Brunello were big and lovely, showing more maturity than their neighbors due to, from what I gathered, additional aging in both barrel and bottle.
Palazzo was pouring both a 2003 (what everyone else was serving) and a 2001. Both were excellent, dusty and resplendent of cherry, well-structured and balanced. Bingo! Barbi's every offering was impressive, juicy but structured, and the Vigne del Fiore possessed an intriguing coffee-scented nose. Next to Barbi, Banfi—well, Banfi had about a hundred people manning its table. Jeez, they're huge!
But the thing that will stay with me the most from the tasting—other than the bottles of Grappa di Brunello, which I turned to for a change of pace and nearly flamed out my nasal passages—is the wine from Solaria. This is a small, artisinal winery run by Patrizia Cencioni, who tends to her 50 hectares personally and only puts out a wine when she feels it measures up. The 2003 is only her second vintage.
The Solaria wines were easily the most elegant and dignified I tasted. The fruit was strong but understated. Everything was in harmony. It was almost Burgundy-like. You could taste the care that had gone into the wine.