The wine world has been shocked more than once by unexpected achievements. In the 1970’s, a wave, described by some in Italy as an advance and others as a horrifying departure from tradition, shocked the wine world. In the last 30 years or so Italian wine has undergone huge improvements and won international attention in a way it never has before. The wave (the emergence of the Super Tuscans) added a new name and spurred this surge in quality of Italian wine.
Marketed by Antinori, these wines, in particular Sassicaia and Tignanello, won world-wide acclaim in a hurry. In 1978, Sassicaia won first place in a prestigious international tasting conducted by a no less prestigious magazine, Decanter. That Italy would beat French wines and those from 11 other countries created quite a stir. This is a highly priced wine, but the lessons we can discern from tasting it need to be learned, at least from reading — better still from tasting.
- Wines are built for aging or for immediate consumption and this wine, along with its counterparts in Bordeaux, is made for the long haul. I tasted it young and was not disappointed, but wait a few years and the wine will be much more giving. We can tell a wine is made for aging by the power of its tannins and the firm structure of the wine, among other things. When young it will usually be tight — a word tasters use to suggest the wine has much more in terms of flavor and aroma that is hiding behind the strong tannins and has not yet been released. When the tannins soften, the flavors will pop.
- When you encounter a wine that is tightly wound but you want to enjoy it now, serve it with some rich protein — in this case with a rib eye, perhaps — and the tannins will be softened somewhat by the protein, releasing more of the fruit.
- When you taste a great wine, the tannins will no doubt be fine, not course and rough in texture. Strength and texture are two different qualities of tannin to be observed separately. Compare this in your memory with a black tea that has been brewed for 5 or more minutes and you will not mistake the textural difference of the tannins in the wine and the tea. Fine tannins make for a better wine.
- This wine is a perfect example of a great European wine. It is not made to be a fruit bomb or even to focus on the fruit. Fruit, tannin, acid, and alcohol are all balanced beautifully with the obvious addition of minerality, which is like the finishing touch on an Old World wine. Therefore, it may seem to some to be a little more austere when it really is not. It is waiting for its debut a few years out. As it ages, the wine’s elements will marry, softening more and producing a wine that changes with its age much like humans mellow and change.
- Great Old World wines can also be said to be both soft and aggressive. This is one of the pleasures of drinking the best of the Old World. The wines both attack and soothe.
If you have a chance to taste this wine, note these lessons and any others that you might discover as you taste. You will have been treated to a measure of what a very great wine from the Old World is meant to be.
For those who are curious, here are a few of my notes:
Firm tannins and structure, tightly wound. Perfectly balanced and stimulates the mouth with a velvety touch. Citric and lactic acids dominate because of the malolactic fermentation. This also means the wine can be approached while young without pummeling your senses.
The flavors are many: blackberry, blackcurrant, toast, cedar, dark chocolate, and already hints of leather with some coffee beans and their slight bitterness (what the Italians call amore) from the tannins (but not in any way offensive). Cabernet Sauvignon 85%, Cabernet Franc 15%, 24 months in French oak barriques.
Emotional rating: 94 and rising! Salute!
You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my book, “Experiencing Colorado Wine,” and you’ll find the description of the pairing of several of them with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.
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