Sun 28 Jun 2009
Last night, of course, was Pizza & Movie Night around here, and by six p.m. I was fretting a bit about the wine. “We have tons of cabernets and zinfandels and merlots,” I said to LL, “but I want something a little lighter, a little more approachable, a little less alcoholic.”
“Like what?” she said.
“Oh, a carefree Dolcetto or Barbera, a Italian red with good acid and fruit, not too serious but not frivolous either.”
“You know,” she said, “you can always go out and buy a bottle of wine.”
Drum-roll. The earth stands still. Time stops.
Readers, you understand that I do not buy a lot of wine. I mean as a writer about wine and a reviewer of wine most of the wine I (and we) drink, taste, sip, comes to the house by UPS or FedEx. When I wrote a weekly national newspaper column (1984-2004), an ungodly amount of wine came to the building every day, I mean, cases of wine. I don’t get nearly as much wine now, but it’s a goodly number of bottles that can be handled very nicely, thank you very much.
Now, I’ll confess that for three years — 2005, ’06 and ’07 — I bought heaps of wine. I had my now-defunct website then and in December of ’06 started this blog, and I was always buying wines to “fill in the gaps,” and a couple of times a year I would host a blind tasting here at the house and I would buy wine, expensive wine, for those occasions. And Champagne, I mean, friends, you gotta have Champagne in the fridge! Finally, LL, said, “F.K., you’re outta control. We can’t afford this.” And she was right. You may say, “Wasn’t the wine you bought tax-deductible?” Well, sure, however the accountant could use the tax deduction to help out, but still, every month the old credit card statements come around, and they have to be paid.
So, the point is that I rarely buy wine nowadays, but when LL said, “You can buy a bottle of wine. What you’ll looking for should be pretty inexpensive,” it was like a revelation. Anyway, I got into the car and hied my way to The Wine Market, a retail store that’s about a 10-minute drive from our place. I’ve known the owner for years — he worked at another store for a long time, nursing his dreams — but since it was about 6:15 when I got there, he wasn’t around. I approached the counter and explained to the young people there what I was looking for. I did not say, “Hi, I’m Fredric Koeppel, world-famous wine-writer and blogger, blah blah blah.” What I did say was, “Hey, I need a wine for my pizza tonight, not a cabernet or zinfandel, nothing so big. The pizza is mainly marinated tomatoes and basil with a little pancetta. Maybe if you have a lighthearted Dolcetto or Barbera … ?”
A rather serious, even scholarly-looking young man detached himself from the others and said, “I think I can help you. Let’s go over here. We should be able to find something that will do. How much do you want to spend?”
“Oh, $15 to $20.”
I followed him to a section where a variety of fairly inexpensive Italian wines were displayed, and he pointed to a bottle of Colognole Chianti Rufina 2003. I am, I’ll admit, a bit leery of Chianti, a wine that too often turns out to be dried out and austere. Also, this was a 2003, almost six years old. In fact, I said, “This is a 2003, it’s almost six years old.”
“Right,” he said, “but the tannins have settled down really nicely and mellowed out. This is pretty smooth, and it’s got the fruit.” And it cost $17.
“O.K.,” I said, “I’ll try it.”
How was the wine? Let me put it this way: Basically, today’s post is in the form of a Thank You to the young man whose name I do not know for steering me completely in the right direction and, even more, for being courteous and accommodating.
Chianti Rufina is a region of Chianti production northeast of the city of Florence. Rufina was recognized as long ago as the mid-18th Century, before it became associated with the name Chianti, as an area capable of producing superior wines, because of the soil in the foothills of the Apennines and because the geography allows for cool temperatures at night. (Chianti was originally further south in Tuscany, around Siena.) Colognole, one of the best (and most picturesque) estates of Rufina, has been in the Spalletti family since the 1890s and is today operated by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti.
Colognole 2003 was exactly what I was looking for. Last night’s pizza was simple. I marinated three chopped tomatoes, red onion and basil in olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar for an hour, then drained the mixture carefully; we don’t want no stinkin’ soggy pizzas! I had a bit of guanciale — the pancetta I bought last month had turned so moldy that it looked like a science project gone horribly wrong — so I chopped that (I mean the guanciale, which is cured hog-jowl) and fried it. A few dots of fresh mozzarella and some grated Parmesan, and that was it.
The wine sported a lovely, warm medium brick-red color; aromas of dried red cherries and red currants with dried baking spices wafted from the glass. After a few moments, heady scents of lilac and rose petal began to weave their seductive way, followed, yet again, by elements of earthy minerals, moss and black tea. Those qualities, in a spare and lithe manner, make up the flavors too. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. The wine is indeed smooth and mellow, but it’s animated by a keen edge of acidity that keeps the package lively and taut (and that helped the wine work beautifully with the tomato-dominated pizza). What a treat! This is what old-fashioned Chianti is all about. Excellent for drinking through 2011 or ’12, and a Bargain at $15 to $17. Worth a Search.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.