Boot camp sucks, boots on the ground kill, boot licking is for losers. All in all, referring to Italy—Europe’s most celebrated culinary gem—as a boot, the same item consumed by the Donner Party right before they switched to the inner thighs of their relatives, is an abomination.
If it’s shape we’re going for, I opt for an alternate comparison—to a luscious, just-picked chanterelle.
Anyway, the best part of a chanterelle is the meaty funnel that opens up from the stem, and as it corresponds to a map of Italy, that means the six topmost regions. And from two of them, one from each side of Italy’s funnel, come two interesting, representative, minuscule production wines that are, above all, serious values for what the bottle contains.
Silvio Giamello ‘Vicenziana’, Barbaresco 2013, around $32
Tuscany’s Sangiovese may produce wines that are sensuous and savory in their youth, with fresh mint often offsetting the cherry-rich bouquet, but Piedmont’s Nebbiolo is the varietal you look to show the burnished maturescence of age. Young, even the tamest Barbaresco (an even earlier drinking Nebbiolo than brawny Barolo, its cousin) shows a tannic clout that effectively builds a wooden fortress around the fruit.
That astringency shows up primarily in the palate, however: When you nose a Barbaresco, the full complement of aromatics—vital to the long term stability of the fruit core of any wine—may be on display. Thus, purple flowers, juicy black cherry, licorice, raspberry and cinnamon are the qualities I look for in the nose of an underage Barbaresco, fully expecting their presence in the mouth to be overshadowed by a stockade of tannins.
In fact, Giamello’s ‘Vicenziana’ is that in a textbook format. Richly perfumed with all the vibrant reds of Nebbiolo’s color/fruit palette, the 2013 needs at least another few years of contemplation before the wood settles into the lushness and everything melds. As a wine, it is pleasant as hell to smell; to drink, unless you’re tucking into a side from Certified Piedmontese cattle, not so much.
From an atomically-wee parcel, scarcely five acres in total, Silvio Giamello produces about five thousand bottles of ‘Vicenziana’ annually. His land, in Barbaresco’s calcareous clay-rich soils, put the word ‘Nebbiolo’ in bold face, and when combined with a slightly cooler microclimate, tend to exemplify the Barbaresco breed: An exuberant and distinctive cherry nose followed by burly tannins on the finish.
To temper nature’s ferocious grip, Silvio Giamello and his wife Marina Camia vinify in stainless-steel tanks and then age the wine in 2,000-3,000 liter, Slavonian oak botti for two to three years. This minimizes the oak influence on the already tannic profile, and probably shaves a few years off its journey to pleasant drinkability.
Peter Dipoli ‘Iugum’, Alto Adige, about $32
Trentino Alto Adige, situated near the right center of Italy’s mushroom funnel, is known for the most part for Alsatian whites—Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco—and reds from the indigenous varieties Schiava and Lagrein.
A regional pioneer, Peter Dipoli spend years scouring Alto Adige microclimates to find one ideal for the cultivation of Merlot and Cabernet, finally settling on a zone with a milder climate and the clay/limestone foundation suited to these Bordeaux hotshots. In 1992, at an elevation of 1000 feet, he planted three acres of Merlot and Cabernet on the southeastern slopes of Magré, one of the warmest vineyard sites in the region, where grapes enjoy additional hang time to achieve maximum ripeness. As a result, this wine—called ‘Iugum’, the Latin name for the yoke of an ox—is polished, medium-bodied and fresh, loaded with spicy earth and fresh red summer fruit—plums, raspberries and cherries—wrapped in beautifully integrated tannins. Dipoli vinifies both varietals separately, blending after twelve months in barriques of varying age; he holds back the wine for four years to age in the bottle, thus ensuring that his wines, as this one demonstrated, are ready to rock upon release.
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