Friday, May 14, 2010

Tasting the Rock at the Center of the Wine

It was a gorgeous day. Gentle warm sun, cool breeze, no clouds and it was time for lunch. 

There was an Italian portfolio tasting downtown. I could go. Time was tight, I had to try to be back at the store on time. Transportation, parking, negotiating the changes of elevators necessary to get to the 42nd floor. Taste wines. The winery reps were there from Italy, you have to show some interest and respect and then there's always people you know. It's tough to be quick!

On the other hand, I had a sandwich, I could just go park my car in the sun and nap.

I fell asleep at my desk just thinking about it. Whatever it was that was in my hands fell on the floor. The noise woke me up and I went to the wine tasting. Good decision.

Emerging from the third elevator, I gave myself 30 minutes and plunged into the wines. The first table found Petra Egarter pouring the wines of Cantina Andriano from Alto Adige. What caught my palate was the Pinot Bianco. Very lean, very mineral with suggestions of green pears and apples barely defining the precise edges of the wine. Hello! I love this wine! Theme of the day.

Inspired, my next stop was Cantina Terlan, also from Alto Adige, where I saw an old friend, the Terlan Classico. I used to sell a lot of this wine when I first got into the wine biz. It's a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that's a fresh, clean alternative to the standard California expressions and especially to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. The brand has changed suppliers a couple of times and I'd lost track of the wine, which showed well, gentle aromatics, easy viscosity and the characteristic mineral finish.

But before I go on to the Pinot Bianco's, let me put these wines in their geographic context.

Alto Adige is located in the foothills of the Dolomites (Alps) in Northeast Italy. The vineyards are located on the south and east facing slopes of the valleys at altitudes between 800 and 3000 feet.  Soils are decomposed dolomite and calcareous rock. The high mineral content gives these wines their signature intense mineral core. The warm days gently ripen the grapes, the cold nights give them their brilliant acidity.

The Pinot Bianco Classico was very lean. Notions of lemon oil infused the hints of green apple and pear that surrounded the intense mineral core. Technical notes inform the wine: fermentation in stainless steel, no malolactic, aging on the lees in steel for six months. Very direct, very focused. (Now in stock at the store!)

The Pinot Bianco Vorburg was next. Fruit for this wine comes from older vineyards higher up on the slopes. Yields are lower and the juice more concentrated, the wine is fermented in large oak casks with full malolactic and twelve months aging sur lees. Again, the signature polished river rock provides the rich, mineral core. The wine is still lean but the acids are not as crisp and prevalent as the Classico. A thin veil of elegant richness wraps the tongue. A burnished patina colors the bottom of the rock.

Sales Director Klaus Gasser had a couple of treats under the table...

The 1993 Pinot Bianco was made from the same fruit as the Vorburg. Like the Vorburg it was fermented and aged for 1 year in barrel, but this wine had been racked back into steel and aged for 9 years on the lees before bottling. Aromatics were a melange of delicate floral perfumes. The wine was a delicate fusion of flowers, citrus and cream. Emphasis on delicate veil, the acids keep the wine from heaviness. As always these notions are wrapped around the rock at the center.

Klaus then pulls out a dirty, crusty bottle, a 1955 Vorburg, recorked about ten years ago. The wine is the color of old gold. Flavors and aromatics are difficult to analyze. Complex notions of toasted nuts, dried fruits and citrus peels inform the aromatics and expand on the palate where they, yes, they coat the rock at the center. It's a visual thing, this round rock, dark on the bottom where it rested in the soil. Years of handling impart an amber burnish and rich layered patina.

Tasting old wines is time travel. In 1955, in the Italian Alps, the grapes were transformed by the sun from earth and water. They were preserved through fermentation, then stored in cool, dark caves until they were revealed in Dallas, Texas on a glorious spring afternoon in 2010. In 1955, I was five years old. My youngest sister was born in October, about when the wine was being made. Elvis arrived in 1956 when the wine was bottled.

2010 finds us both alive. I don't know about the wine but I've had some dicey moments along the way. We both have replacement parts. I have a new kidney, the wine has a new cork! I only wish I was as alive, vibrant and healthy as the wine.

1 comment:

  1. a 1955, little moments like this in our business keep us alive! Cheers to a great weekend ahead! -TexaCali Ali