By The Glass
Tuscan wines finally strut their stuff
THE 1997 vintage was hailed as one of the greatest in Tuscany, Italy, and helped generate a revival of interest in Italian wines. Super Tuscans like Antinori Solaia and Ornellaia were earning praise, high 90s scores from critics and headlines. The year was also considered a stellar vintage for Brunello di Montalcino.
Last weekend I organized a comprehensive tasting of 17 Tuscan wines from 1997 as a 10-year retrospective, to see how the wines were doing. I was very anxious because I had put away the wines eight years ago, upon release, hoping to conduct a tasting like this, and it has been hard to keep my hands off them. Master sommelier Roberto Viernes was our moderator and led our group of 16 enthusiasts, including some of the state's top wine collectors, through the wines.
The first flight were expressions of sangiovese: Volpaia Coltassala, Volpaia Balifico, Antinori Tignanello, Montepuloso Nardo and San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo.
The second flight consisted of six Brunello di Montalcinos: Antico Altero, Pieri Agostina, Lisini, Ciacci Piccolomini Pianrosso, Antinori Pian della Vigne and Frescobaldi Castelgioconda.
The third flight included some of the headliners of the vintage: Luigi d'Alessandro Il Bosco, Antinori Guado Al Tasso, Terricio Tassinaia, Macchiole Paleo Rosso, Ornellaia and Antinori Solaia.
HERE ARE some of my thoughts, after the tasting and a fabulous meal prepared by Donato Loperfido at his Pasta Basta in Restaurant Row:
It was especially interesting to see the different styles, with the sangiovese grape being the common denominator in most of the wines. We had traditional wines like Volpaia Coltassala, which had trademark red cherry fruit, herbs such as thyme and rosemary, and a good acidity to match with foods. We also had some newer style wines made primarily from sangiovese but with characteristics more similar to cabernet sauvignon with its richness, fullness and depth. These included San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo.
A lot of experimentation with grape varietals and blends is going on in Tuscany. We had some wines with a high percentages of cabernet sauvignon, some with cabernet franc blended in, and even a wine made primarily from syrah. Tuscany does seem to have the diverse microclimates to grow all these varietals well. Viernes pointed out that blends with Tuscany's traditional grape, sangiovese, and cabernet are good bridges for introducing Tuscan wines to new consumers.
The Brunello di Montalcino flight was outstanding, the best of the night for me. In the past I've found 1997 Brunello di Montalcino wines to be tight, one-dimensional and unexpressive, but these were completely different -- rich and complex -- showing why this vintage was so highly regarded. I suspect that the wines are just entering their peak drinking window and will be great for the next 20 years.
I think the consensus of the group was that the San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo, Ciacci Piccolomini Pianrosso Brunello di Montalcino and Ornellaia were the standouts, but all the wines were interesting and of good quality, which does confirm the greatness of the vintage. If you are lucky to have any in your collection, be happy.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org