I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.

XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.

Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.

Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.

Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.

Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.

Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.

d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.

Randall Grahm sold the certified biodynamic Ca’ del Solo Vineyard in Soledad in 2009, so this Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, is the next-to-last vintage. The vineyard’s name is a pun typical of Grahm’s well-known wit; though it sounds Italian, the name refers to the state penitentiary at Soledad, outside of whose gates the 160-acre vineyard lay, hence, House of Solo. (Ca is short for casa; the locution is common in Venice.) The presence of the prison also gave rise to Bonny Doon’s Big House brand of inexpensive wines, a label of which Grahm divested himself in 2007.

Not much nebbiolo is grown in The Golden State. According to the annual California Grape Acreage Report, in 2011 there were only 166 acres of nebbiolo, accounting for a crush of 380 tons; total number of tons of all red grapes crushed in 2011 was 1.9 million, so we can see that nebbiolo is a specialty, nurtured principally by devotees, if not fanatics.

Nothing heavily extracted here, the color of the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is a lovely, limpid cerise-scarlet color with a faint garnet rim. The bouquet offers aromas of dried currants and black and red cherries with spiced and macerated aspects and hints of black tea and dried orange zest with leather and rose petals. About half the grapes for this wine were air-dried before being crushed, lending subtle notes of fruitcake in the nose and succulence on the palate, though the wine is completely dry and far more elegant than obvious. The wine sees neither new wood nor small barrels (aging in tanks and puncheons of French oak), and we wish that more producers in Piedmont would return to this old-fashioned way of making Barolo and Barbaresco from their nebbiolo grapes, instead of being slaves to the allure of the barrique. Anyway, for a wine as spare and reticent as this is, it delivers juicy black and red fruit flavors supported by smooth and slightly dusty tannins that provide a bit of earthy grip on the finish; otherwise, this nebbiolo goes down like warm satin. Nor is the grape’s legendary acidity lacking; the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is lively and vibrant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Production was 765 cases. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.

This wine was a sample for review.

We drank the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, with medium rare tri-tip roast cooked (with a slight variation) according to a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan, 2009). This requires you to coat the meat with salt, pepper, sweet paprika and piment d’Espelette, the latter made from ground chili peppers grown only in the French Basque commune of Espelette and which I could not find anywhere, so I substituted smoked sweet paprika, Urfa pepper and chili maresh. Anyway, you wrap the roast in plastic and leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours and take it out 30 minutes before it’s time to sear it in oil and butter with a smashed garlic, a sprig of rosemary and five thin lemon slices; the garlic, rosemary and lemon slices are placed on top of the roast and it all goes into a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Be sure to let the roast rest on a plate or cutting board for half an hour before slicing to let the juices redistribute. Tri-tip is not the most tender cut (which is why it’s relatively inexpensive) but it delivers a lovely, mild meaty flavor, enhanced, in this recipe, by the piquant spiciness of the coating. If you don’t have the cookbook, the blog Rocket Lunch reproduced the recipe here. We ate the tri-tip, sliced thinly, with roasted potatoes and a succotash of fresh corn, edamame and red bell pepper. A great dinner and bottle of wine.

I know, you’re thinking, “F.K., why don’t you just call this weekly series Saturday Wine Sips, since you seem to have so much trouble getting the thing written and posted on Friday?” Well, because Friday is the lead-in to the weekend, and I think of this series as brief reviews of wines My Readers would like to find for their weekend (moderate) drinking enjoyment. So I miss by a day here and there! So what!

A group of Italian wines today, whites and reds from Tuscany and Piedmont, including one of the best wines made from vermentino grapes that I have encountered; there’s also an excellent Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, even when I post on Saturday, I deliberately keep matters brief and decisive by striking to the heart of the thing and eliminating the usual data about history, specific geographical matters, winery personnel and so on. What you read is what you get. The Poggiotondo wines were samples for review; the others were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
La Scolca White Label Gavi 2010, Piedmont. 13% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale straw-gold color, faint green highlights; spiced lemon with a touch of lemon balm, hints of almond and almond blossom, peach and pear; crisp, lively, alert; pleasing texture infused with limestone-and-shale-like minerality; spicy finish. Very attractive for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
Poggiotondo Vermentino 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 100% vermentino grapes. Radiant pale gold; fresh and floral as a spring garden; yellow plums and thyme, roasted lemon and pear; clean, bracing sea breeze and salt marsh astringency; quite spicy, very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality supporting ripe stone-fruit flavors; long spice-thronged finish. Now through 2013 or ’14. One of the best vermentino wines I have encountered. Excellent. About $20, a Notable Value.
Poggiotondo Rosso 2010, Toscana. 12.5% alc. 40% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 30% syrah. I was not as impressed by the Poggiotondo red wines as by the Vermentino, but I definitely liked the Rosso better than the Chianti. Simple and direct and tasty; gushes with spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors balanced by bright acidity and sleek, moderately chewy tannins; the finish adds leather, briers and brambles. A decent quaffer for red sauce pasta dishes, pizzas and burgers. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11.
Poggiotondo Chianti Cerro del Masso 2009, Toscano DOCG. 13% alc. 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% each syrah and colorino. A curious marriage of bland and harsh; takes rusticity to the edge of roughshod. Sangiovese deserves better. Not recommended. About $15.
Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Dogliani “Papa Celso” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% dolcetto grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet-magenta cast; warm, fleshy, meaty floral bouquet, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, undertones of lavender and leather; quite earthy, with touches of moss and underbrush, a little spare and austere yet almost succulent in texture, almost velvety; a graphite-like strain of minerality through the finish keeps it in line. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba “Rinaldi” 2009, Piedmont. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby-purple; leather, plums and mulberries, briers and brambles, a little fleshy and floral; very dry, packed with dried spices and dried red and black fruit flavors; fairly foresty, burgeoning underbrush, austere from mid-palate back through the finish where it picks up some granite-like minerality and a bit of heat. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $30.
Marziano Abbona Nebbiolo d’Alba “Bricco Barone” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo grapes. Classic. Deep ruby-purple; tar, earth, violets and truffles, rosemary and its bit of resiny astringency, black currants and plums; full-bodied, dense, very dry, jammed with finely milled and sifted tannins, graphite elements and woody spices; touches of fruitcake, potpourri and bitter chocolate; long, spun-out finish. Demands rabbit fricassee, game birds, venison. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.

I included the Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006 in my Best Wines of 2010; I wouldn’t be surprised if the version for 2007 makes it onto my Best Wines of 2011.

There really is a marchesi at this property, and he is Alberto Cisa Asinari di Gresy, as charming and unassuming a personage as one could wish to meet or desire to emulate. The historic property. Monte Aribaldo (24.86 acres for dolcetto, chardonnay, sauvignon blamc), surrounds a 19th Century hunting lodge built by Alberto di Gresy’s grandfather in the commune of Treiso d’Alba. Alberto di Gresy, born in 1952, took over the operation of the property right out of university and began producing wine, instead of selling grapes to other producers, in 1973. Another vineyard nearby, Martinenga (59.28 acres, mainly nebbiolo, and the source of the wine we consider today), has been in the family since 1797; this is the location of the central winery. A third vineyard, La Serra consists of 27.21 acres of moscato, barbera and merlot, while the 6.38-acre Monte Colombo is for barbera and merlot.

My first note on the Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2007 is “how lovely.” Those are not the two words that one would apply to many Barbarescos these days, producers leaning instead toward hard tannins and blatant oak. And even though this wine aged six months in new French oak barrels and 14 months in Slavonian oak casts, it came out utterly smooth and mellow, balanced and integrated. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated red currants and plums and mulberries are wreathed with dried spice and potpourri, a touch of orange zest and black tea, and backnotes of violets and loamy earth. Lovely indeed. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, lending the wine engaging vivacity while supporting elements of dried black and red fruit, cloves and sandalwood and a hint of nebbiolo’s tarry depths; fine-grained tannins and any oak influence are completely absorbed, giving the wine seductive firmness and suppleness yet not overwhelming its spare elegance. A beauty for drinking now through 2016 or ’17 with small roasted game birds or fricassee of rabbit, though I sipped a glass most happily with my cheese toast at lunch this week. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent. About $50.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

Porcini risotto isn’t very photogenic, but I’ll include an image of LL’s triumph anyway, because what it may lack in picture-power it more than made up for in the intensity of flavor. Most recipes assume that the home chef in the United States of America is not working with fresh porcini mushrooms, but LL had ordered a pound of porcinis from Mikuni through, and they were delivered by UPS overnight. For broth, she used veal stock, though veal is usually verboten in her food philosophy, and she apologized profusely to the Gods of Baby Animals, but, prego, did it ever give the risotto deep richness and flavors to bolster the deeply earthy mushrooms. I think this was the best version of porcini risotto that LL has made, at least in my experience.

To drink with the porcini risotto, I went to a nearby wine and liquor store and bought a bottle of Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007. I first wrote about this wine, also a purchase, in December 2009. (Marc de Grazia Imports, Winston-Salem, N.C.) Here’s that review:

The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007, from Piedmont’s Langhe region, represents the entry level wine for the Minuto family’s Moccagatta estate, founded in 1952. Made from 100 percent nebbiolo grapes (from young vineyards) and aged a scant six months in old barriques, the wine offers the typical nebbiolo aromas of tar, smoke, violets, spiced plums, damp leaves and moss and gravel. Flavors of macerated black currants and blueberries are draped on a spare, taut structure whose bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Nothing opulent or easy here; the wine is an eloquent expression of a grape at a level of purity and intensity that’s especially gratifying from vines that are less than a decade old. Dried heather and thyme seep through the bouquet after a few minutes in the glass, as the wine gets increasingly spicy, dry and austere, with touches of old paper and dust. While the Moccagatta Nebbiolo ’07 doesn’t display the dimension or detail of Moccagatta’s more expensive single-vineyard Barbarescos, it’s an admirable statement of a grape variety and winemaking philosophy. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 to ’17. Bring on the pappardelle con coniglio. Excellent. About $25.

The first difference between the bottle we tried at the end of 2009 and the bottle we tried a few days ago is the price; initially $25, now it’s $23. The second difference is a subtle shifting in balance toward gracefulness, clarity and balance. Make no mistake, this is a nebbiolo wine deeply imbued with the grape’s signature smoky, tarry, dusty graphite-laden tannins and earthy-herbal-rooty character, yet give it a few minutes in the glass — I should have opened it 45 minutes before we sat down to sanctify ourselves at the altar of porcini risotto — and it delivers a bouquet so alluring that it’s practically deliriously seductive. As far as aromas go, one feels almost a sense of physical size to these packed-in elements of lavender and licorice, violets and sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake that generously expand to include macerated plums and blueberries. This sensuous panoply seems to seep inevitably into the wine’s dense, chewy structure, modulating somewhat the rigor of its mineral-flecked tannins and elevating acidity. One might even call it elegant, while not neglecting its fairly severe, leathery finish. The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007 was perfect with the porcini risotto; it was as if two earthy and elemental modes of being were speaking to each other in their disparate ways. This is what good eating and drinking are all about. Still Excellent. About $23.

Label image (modified) from

Coppo made its reputation, from the early 1900s, with Moscato, the ubiquitous low-alcohol, lightly-sparkling sparkling wine of Piedmont’s province of Asti. Located in the city of Canelli, the center of Moscato production, Coppo chugged happily along also producing Barbera d’Asti) until the family’s third generation busted the traces in the 1980s and began growing the “international” varieties cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay and using French barriques for maturing their wines. Quel difference, n’est-ce pas? as they say in Italian. So many producers of Barbera wines have succumbed to the lure of French oak since Giacomo Bologna launched his Bricco dell’Uccellone 1982 (released in 1986) that the question whether aging in 225-liter French barriques actually makes a better wine or just a woodier and therefore more structured wine never arises. Still, whatever caveats apply to intention and method, I was impressed by these examples of Coppo’s wines made from barbera and nebbiolo grapes, both contemporary and respecting their heritage. (For the record, I tasted the range of Giacomo Bologna’s recent releases last year in Asti, and I found the reds undrinkably oaky and tannic, but, man, people were standing in line to try them.)

Coppo recently changed American importers — now with Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. — giving me an opportunity to try several of their products, two Barbera d’Asti wines and a chardonnay from 2007 and a Barolo from 2005. There’s also a Moscato, but I’ll save that for a post on that genre — “Is Moscato the New Prosecco???” — coming soon or at least on a time-line that embodies in fitful episodes the concept of sooniness.
The Coppo L’Avvocata 2007, Barbera d’Asti, was made from 100 percent barbera grapes (as it must be by law) and aged six to eight months in 2,500- to 5,000-liter French oak casks, that is, barrels that are much larger than 225-liter Bordeaux-style barriques. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim (where the wine touches the curve of the glass if you tilt the glass). Scents of black currants and plums are packed with dried spices and flowers with a backnote of oolong tea, for an effect that’s intense and concentrated as well as being, in the mouth, smooth and mellow. Still, there’s a structure of firm, dusty, fairly chewy tannins; earthy, graphite-like minerality; and vibrant acidity wrapped around ripe and dried black fruit flavors permeated by lavender and potpourri. Quite attractive in a manner that blends seriousness with sensual appeal. Now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $15.
The Coppo Camp du Rouss 2007, Barbera d’Asti, on the other hand, matures in French barriques, 20 percent new barrels, for 12 months, and one feels more oak and tannin in the wine from first flush to final finish. The color is a little darker ruby, even unto ebon, than its cousin The Attorney, and the bouquet is amazingly fragrant with flowers, black olives, black tea and licorice, black currants and plums, all framed by woody spice that makes no pretense of nuance. Drenched with flavors of spiced and dried black and red fruit, Camp du Rouss 07 is vigorously earthy, notably dry to the point of some briery and underbrush-like austerity on the finish, and it certainly bears a more rigorous tone and sense of dimension than its cousin. While it’s no old-fashioned manifestation of the grape, with all the flaws and favors that old-fashionedness implied, this is a Barbera d’Asti of some class and distinction, best to drink from 2012 through 2015 to ’17. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $20.
While Camp du Rouss may be a modern interpretation of Barbera d’Asti, the Coppo Barolo 2005 is a relentlessly traditional model of the genre. The nebbiolo grapes for Coppo’s Barolo come from around the commune of Castiglione Falletto, whose soil tends to produce fruit that adds weight, vigor and longevity to the wines. Coppo Barolo 2005 fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged 30 months in 2,500-liter French oak casks. The wine seems a compound of ink and dust and granite and tar; traces of dusty potpourri, dusty fruitcake and dusty dried baking spices offer mitigating softness amid the intense and concentrated, macerated and roasted black fruit scents and flavors and the unassailable buttressing of (yes) dusty, shale-like tannins. It’s a wine of character and dignity, brooding but not truculent, enlivened by essential acidity and a few nuances — after an hour’s coaxing — of (yes) dusty rose petals, smoke and violets; an earthy wine, but clean and somehow fresh and invigorating. Best from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.

At the Barbera 2010 conference in March, in Piedmont, I tasted two barbera wines from — to render the complete name — Tenuta Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy. The Barbera 2007 and Barbera “Monte Colombo” 2006 from Marchesi di Gresy I found to be smooth, harmonious and well-balanced wines and not in the least afflicted with the searing acidity, scorching tannins and piled-on oak that marred many of the other wines we tried at the four-day event. The first ages six months in a combination of two- and three-year old French barriques and Slavonian oak casks; the second ages 12 months in barriques, but reveals its wood in a sensibly soft and subtle manner.

Two days ago, at a trade tasting in Memphis, I tried three different wines from the estate and also met Alberto Cisa Asinari di Gresy, as charming and unassuming a personage as one could wish to meet or desire to emulate. The historic property. Monte Aribaldo (24.86 acres for dolcetto, chardonnay, sauvignon blamc), surrounds a 19th Century hunting lodge built by Alberto di Gresy’s grandfather in the commune of Treiso d’Alba. Alberto di Gresy, born in 1952, took over the operation of the property right out of university and began producing wine, instead of selling grapes to other producers, in 1973. Another vineyard nearby, Martinenga (59.28 acres, mainly nebbiolo), has been in the family since 1797; this is the location of the central winery. A third vineyard, La Serra consists of 27.21 acres of moscato, barbera and merlot, while the 6.38-acre Monte Colombo is for barbera and merlot.

The wines of Marchesi di Gresy are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca.

Made all in stainless steel, the Marchesi di Gresy Dolcetto d’Alba 2008 is as pretty a wine as you could ask for in a red that also provides deeper notes of tobacco and leather, black and red cherries, bountiful spice and a whiff of violets, all wrapped in a slight haze of shale-like minerality. True to its name, this is a sweetheart of a wine, almost translucent in its tone and balance, that’s perfectly suited for summer drinking with lighter fare such as fresh tomato pasta or vitello tonnato. Very Good+. About $20 to $22.

Just under an acre of the Martinenga estate is devoted to nebbiolo grapes bottled under the Langhe D.O.C. Also made in stainless steel, the Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Langhe 2008 displays the grape in simple purity and intensity. The color is mild medium ruby with a slightly ruddy interior; tobacco leaf, lilac and lavender, macerated cherries and plums distinguish the bouquet. The wine is quite spicy and fleshy, with notes of roasted red and black currants bolstered by lively acidity and a footprint of dusty tannins that dissolves into a touch of graphite and tar. This feels like a distinctly Mediterranean wine, with the unusual scent of damp roof tiles and dried herbs that one occasionally encounters. Mainly, though, the wine is a tissue of delicacies wound into a fabric of ineffable grace and balance. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $18 to $22.
No heavily extracted Barbaresco here, the Marchesi Barbaresco Martinenga 2006 is a medium ruby-rust color that fades to light garnet at the rim. The perfume is incredible: sassafras and cloves, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, a dusting of shale, violets and lilacs. The entire effect is seamless with a structure of impeccable poise and a sense of delicacy married to innate and almost invisible power; it would be impossible to say, “Here is tannin” or “Here is acidity” or “Here is fruit,” because of the complete permeation of balanced elements. This ages six months in French barriques and then 14 months in large Slavonian oak casks, but you would hardly know it except for a sense of supple and sinewy shapeliness that the wood confers. To flavors of macerated and roasted cherries and plums, add a touch of tar, a hint of balsam, a suggestion of cedar. Pure elegance and confidence. This drinks beautifully now but should mature equally beautifully through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

The Barbera 7 were busy on Thursday, March 11. In the morning we arrived at Palazzo Zoya at 9 for a blind tasting of 40 red wines of Barbera d’Alba, followed by a walk-around tasting of many of the other, non-Barbera wines of the same producers, which, on the fourth day of the conference started to feel a lot like work. Then we were allowed to eat lunch.

The conference, basically, was over, and we were heading out of Asti to visit nebbiolo properties that our leader, Jeremy Parzen, had set up, but the organizers arranged for us to have a van (adorned with the “Barbera Meeting 2010″ logo) for us to use in trundling around the countryside. It took longer than expected for Jeremy to pick up the van, though, and we didn’t get away from the square near the Palazzo Zoya until almost 2:30, headed, well, I didn’t exactly know where. It turns out that a young man hanging around with us was Enrico Rivetto, the proprietor of his family-run winery high in the hills of Loirano, near Alba. In his car, he led us through narrow winding roads, up and up, twisting and turning, until we reached a summit on which the winery perched, surrounded by a stunning landscape of snow-covered hillsides and vineyards and distant villages. Across the valley stood the hamlet of Sinio and the haunting Castello Serralunga d’Alba, dim and shadowy.

The heritage of winemaking in the Rivetto family goes back to 1902, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the family purchased the Loirano estate from the Counts of Vassallo. The winery is now surrounded by 89 acres of vines.

After a tour of the cellars, we assembled in the cozy Rivetto tasting room to try three vintages of the Rivetto Barolo Leon, made from vineyards planted in 1990 and 1975. Depending on the year, 10 to 30 percent of the wine is aged in small French barriques, the rest going into 3000-liter Slavonian oak casks. These were followed by the Barolo Riserva 1997.

Rivetto Barolo Leon 2001. The first impression is of amazing structure; the wine is sturdy and substantial but with a sense of fleetness and lightness from keen acidity. The color is medium ruby with a hint of brick-red at the rim; the nose teems with macerated black cherries and plums supported by roasted walnuts and walnut shell, somehow like a warm piece of toast. The wine is quite dry, dense and chewy, permeated by slightly metallic tannins and fairly austere on the finish. Try from 2011 to 2015 or ’16.

Rivetto Barolo Leon 2000. The color is brick-red with a touch of garnet at the rim; the bouquet is sedate, a sweet amalgam of dried spice and flowers and a heaping portion of dusty minerality like crushed slate and granite, slightly dampened by rain. One is, however, on the receiving end of a mouthful of soaring tannins, finely milled, perhaps, well-grained and integrated but almost impenetrable. Will they subside and become more tolerable in three or four years?

Rivetto Barolo Leon 1999. A ruddy brick-red/garnet color seems at one with aromas of spiced red currants, plum dust, potpourri and lavender with, as a sort of bonus, a fillip of dried orange rind. Flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and black cherries are enveloped in deeply rooted tannins and granite-like minerality that feel ageless. This is an ecclesiastical wine, packed with the elements of old wood, incense and ancient dust that we associate with silent country churches. If it didn’t possess such dignity, the Rivetto Barolo Leon ’99 would beg, on hands and knees. for a roasted pheasant. Through 2016 to ’20.

Rivetta Barolo Riserva 1997. At 12 and a half years old, this nebbiolo-based wine is warm, rich and spicy, very attractive indeed, but the structure of the wine is tremendous, with expanding tannins and swingeing acidity. One wishes it were a bit more generous.

When our visit to Rivetto concluded, the Barbera 7 piled back in the van and headed to Neive, a town that I’m certain has its charms, but the most we saw of it was a flat section of light industry, warehouses and railroad tracks at dusk; we could have been in Newark. We were looking for the office and tasting room of Bruno Giacosa, a renowned, indeed revered producer of Barolo and Barbaresco. Read what Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman write in the second edition of Italy’s Noble Red Wines (Macmillan, 1992): “Bruno Giacosa is without question one of Italy’s — make that the world’s — finest winemakers. A man of few words but eloquent talent, Giacosa has the ability to bring out a richness of flavor and intensity of character in his wines, to produce wines of meditation. The man is an artist.”

We didn’t meet the elderly Bruno Giacosa; he had a stroke in 2006. For an account of Jeremy’s visit to Giacosa in February to taste wines with the man himself (and Jeremy’s bride, Tracie P), see this post on Do Bianchi.

Unlike most of the winery tasting rooms we visited while we were in Piedmont — comfortable, homey, welcoming –the tasting room at Bruno Giacosa is about as amenable as a doctor’s office. Winemaker Giorgio Lavagna didn’t provide an array of cheeses, salamis and bread sticks; it was just us and four glasses of superb nebbiolo wines.

“Twenty years ago, Giacosa decided not to follow fashion,” said Lavagna, a man so modest and sincere that the thought of taking his picture seemed to me to be a violation. (Not so fellow Barbera-blogger Whitney, who posted this image of Lavagna on Brunellos Have More Fun.) “He doesn’t like modern wines. He’s a traditionalist and a classicist. He makes the wines he wants to make. The style of Giacosa is to have very clean wines with as little intervention as possible to show the grape variety and the terroir.”

Bruno Giacosa was born in 1929, but his family had been making wine since 1871. He went to work for his father and grandfather at the age of 13 and took over the business when he was 20. Since 1996, the company is divided into two parts. Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa makes wine only from the property’s estate vineyards; Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa makes wines from purchased grapes, benefiting from long-term relationships with excellent growers and vineyards. In fact, until 1982, when Bruno Giacosa purchased the Falletto vineyard, the firm owned no vines; now it owns 37 acres.

Here are my notes on the wines we tasted:

Bruno Giacosa Valmaggie Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008. This is a Casa Vinicola wine; it had been in the bottle three months. The color is moderate ruby with a slight garnet rim; an intoxicating bouquet of leaves and moss permeated by dried red currants and plums is laced with minerality akin to crushed gravel. The wine offers quietly spicy red and black fruit flavors, more spare than obvious, and is substantial without being weighty or ponderous; it is, in fact, quite lively, with terrific tone and presence, an engaging (yet serious) combination of personality and character. Still, after a few minutes Valmaggie ’08 is awash with dusty, grainy, chewy tannins that dictate a couple of years in bottle. Drink through 2018 to ’20.

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007. This is an Az. Agr. Falletto wine, from one of Piedmont’s greatest nebbiolo vineyards. Seductive aromas of dried spice and flowers are wreathed with smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries and deeper notes of briers and brambles. The wine is very young yet not awkward or adolescent; it delivers too much in the way of austere tannins and staggering acidity for any such foolishness. Sip by sip, it feels geological, as if it were moving at the speed of the vineyard or the pace of geography. Despite the tannic structure, though, the wine is lively, lithe and agile, a testimony to the marriage of detail and dimension. Drink from 2012 or ’14 through 2024 to ’27.

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santa Stefano 2007. The Wassermans write of Bruno Giacosa’s Santa Stefano: “It is, for us, simply the single finest example of Barbaresco today,” their “today” being some 20 years ago. Would there be any reason to alter that assessment now? Fanatics of nebbiolo could no doubt go to the barricades in defense of Asili or Santa Stefano; cooler imaginations might say that each is great and that they are different. Bruno Giacosa’s Santa Stefano ’07 is notably earthier and more girt with granite-like minerality than his Asili ’07; even the aromas, from depths of warm tar to elevations of spiced and macerated red fruit, seem layered in geological strata, with, at the top, an almost winsome filigree of dried rose petals, and that perceivable only after 30 minutes of coaxing. The wine is quite dry, leaning toward austerity, and with bastions and buttresses of tannins, though, as is the case with the wines of Bruno Giacosa generally, there’s also a quality of vivacity and transparency to the structure. Try from 2014 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30.

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Rocche del Falletto 2004. This wine spends 30 months in casks and two years in bottles; it has just been released. As a reserve wine, it gets what is usually called the “red label,” though the hue is more distinctively maroon. The color is brick red infused with glowing garnet; the bouquet, reticent at first, is warm and spicy, a little fleshy; macerated red currants, cherries and plums peel away to reveal licorice and mossy earthiness. And then, in the mouth, the tannins take over, not hard, woody, parched tannins — oh, poor Barbera! — but tannins that feel natural, authentic and essential to the character of the wine; nonetheless, they also feel unassailable. The paradoxical quality is that whatever the monumentality of this wine — and it possesses immense size and scope — it exerts a sense of ineffable delicacy and decorum, a presaging of its future.

Great wines destined for aging are balanced from the beginning of their existence in the bottle, through development into the accomplishment of maturity and into slow decline. The point is that the intention of the balance shifts, the wine’s gravity and focus are transformed through the cool, dark years into different aspects of inevitability; in a great wine’s beginning lies its end. If you manifested the fiduciary prowess to afford a case of this wine — $3,000 to $3,600 — and the appropriate cellar and the necessary patience, you could have a fine old time testing this theory for the next few decades, that is, through 2030 or ’35.

These four wines from Bruno Giacosa brought another impression, that they are not heavily extracted to produce deep colors or jammy flavors, that they are not induced or coerced into performing beyond the purposefulness of the grapes or the character of the vineyard. I don’t mean that the examples of Rivetto Barolo Leon we tried earlier in the afternoon fall into the manipulated category. I enjoyed those well-made wines, particularly 2001 (guardedly) and the irresistible ’99. There is, however, a degree of extra achievement, both in the vineyard and the winery, that lends to the Bruno Giacosa wines aspects of elegance and finesse as well as power that most wines do not reach.

The wines of Bruno Giacosa are imported in the U.S. by Winebow; they are expensive. The website for Rivetto indicates that their wines are available in a handful of states, but I cannot find who the importer or importers might be.