Thu 23 Oct 2008
Notice that I didn’t say “a great pizza wine.” The concept of a great pizza wine, I think, embodies a tasty and fairly straightforward quaff, rather rugged and rustic, that goes well with the hearty flavors of a pizza, full-bodied pasta dishes, burgers and so on. Not a damned thing wrong with that. This wine, however, the Nino Negri Quadrio 2004, Valtellina Superiore, was great with our pizza Saturday night but is essentially a versatile red wine that would shine and perhaps even ennoble many dishes, particularly small game, such as rabbit and squab.
Valtellina Superiore is a DOCG region (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in Lombardia, in northern Italy, lying along the right bank of the Adda (a name beloved by crossword puzzle makers) River within sight of the Alps. DOCG is supposed to indicate the highest level of Italian wine classes and regions, but — surprise! — since the system was first used in 1980, it has become highly politicized. The principal grape in Valtellina Superiore is chiavennasca, the local name for the nebbiolo grape that is put to such felicitous use in Piedmont, to the west. Wines from Valtellina Superiore must contain 90 percent chiavennasca grapes.
The Nino Negri Quadrio 2004 ages 18 months in 80-hectoliter Slavonian oak vats. How big are they? Eighty hectoliters equals about 2,112 U.S. gallons; by comparison, the standard French oak barrel holds about 59 gallons. The point is that such large casks impart very little wood flavor to the wine; instead they lend some spice and gentle shading and shaping to the wine’s structure. Quadrio 2004 contains 10 percent merlot grapes in addition to the nebbiolo.
The wine felt truly classic, like a cadet version of Barolo. The color is moderate ruby-garnet, not too dark or overly extracted. The bouquet offers notes of dried cherries, cloves and sandalwood, mulberry, leather and moss, with hints of fresh and dried flowers. In the mouth, flavors of spiced and slightly macerated black and red currants and raspberries lie over leathery and earthy elements bolstered by gentle tannins and a streak of vibrant acid. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+, and at about $21 a Good Value.
I think this wine, which would be so appropriate, as I said, with roasts and game, went well with last Saturday’s pizza because I have been working on getting my pizzas more simple and pure. No caramelized radicchio on this one; just tomato and green pepper and red onion, a bit of guanciale, fresh mozzarella and parmesan. I sliced the tomatoes and bell pepper as thinly as possible, so during the 12 minutes in the oven they would get a little roasted. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the pizza, its spareness, that matched so nicely with the Nino Negri Quadrio 2004.
This was my fault. For a snack on Sunday, I made open-face sandwiches by taking two ciabatta rolls, slicing them in half and spreading Dijon mustard on them. Then I layered a few pieces of baby arugula, sliced tomato and pieces of roasted ham, all this topped with grated Parmesan cheese, a dribble of olive oil, ground salt and pepper. I ran these under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese and the edges of the bread got nice and toasted, and then I served them to me and LL with a glass of the Simi Roseto 2007, Sonoma County. EEEERRRRNNNNGGGG! Didn’t work. The mustard tromped all over the wine. It would have been better if I just spread olive oil on the bread, or perhaps used some tapenade as the condiment, but the mustard was too powerful, too spicy.
There’s not a damned thing wrong with the wine, though. It’s a winsome rosé, a blend of 97 percent syrah and three percent viognier. It features bright cherry-berry flavors with touches of melon and rhubarb, subtle notes of dried herbs and flowers, hints of Bazooka Bubble Gum, and a mineral element that dominates the finish. Quite tasty and rated Very Good. About $11, more than fair.
This is not a big deal or anything, but we were having Chinese take-out last night, and I reached in the fridge, grabbing a bottle of, um, let’s see, what is this? August Kesseler, well it’s from 2004, an excellent year in Germany that produced nervy and dynamic wines, it’s from the Rheingau and it’s a Qualitätswein Trocken. No mention of a grape; in fact, the back label says, succinctly, “White Grape Wine.” There’s riesling here certainly, but it feels like a blend; perhaps some sylvaner? “Qualitätswein” (“quality wine”) is about as reassuring in a German wine as “premier” is in California, though Qualitätswein is an official government designation. So, I guess my point is that this rather anonymous wine, finished with a screw-cap, is, at four years old, clean and fresh and zesty, possessed of lovely ripe yellow and stone fruit scents and flavors and vivid acidity. No, it doesn’t offer much depth and structure, and, yes, it dries out along the circumference, flattened the spicy and floral qualities, but gosh, it’s really delicious. The problem is that I have no idea how much it costs or even where I got it or who gave it to me. If you have a notion — I mean about the price — or if you have tried this wine, let me know.