Wise Beyond Their Years

This week, two of the wines that we sourced from VinItaly arrived. There is always a moment of anxious, anticipation when we pop the corks for the first time Stateside. Thankfully, the smaller producers that we work with tend to be on the up and up so we rarely worry that a different wine will show up (in the same bottle) than that which we tasted at the fair. That said, there are always other concerns. Did the wine really taste that good or was it the grandmotherly winemaker and her house cured Prosciutto that sealed the deal? Theoretically, the wine should taste the same in suburban New Jersey as it does in Verona, a town whose classical Italian beauty William Shakespeare deemed sufficient to set Romeo and Juliet. But theoretically, the cast of the Jersey Shore is also as qualified to serve in Congress as you or I.  The transatlantic voyage is hard on wine. It often takes a month for these products to “settle” into their new home.

Somehow everything tastes just a little better here.

Of the 20 or so new wines that we found this year at VinItaly, Le Potazzine’s Toscana Sangiovese 2008 was my favorite. Le Potazzine is one of Tuscany’s finest Brunello producers. Steve Tanzer has called its proprietor, Giuseppe Gorelli “the best of the young producers in Montalcino.” Parker has hailed him a “tour de force in winemaking.” We started our visit with a tasting of his 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, 2005 Brunello and 2004 Reserva. The Rosso had a richness that I hadn’t yet experienced with the 2008s. The Brunello was beautifully aromatic with ripe tannins and a very round mouthfeel. The Resreva was undoubtedly the nobility of the trio, developing leather and tobacco leaf notes that are built to age.

The best was yet to come. Almost apologetically,  Giuseppe produced a bottle that had been hiding under the table and asked if we would like a taste. Like his other wines it was made exclusively from Sangiovese Grosso but, as Giuseppe explained, the vines were too young to be used in the Rosso or Brunello. The wine was absolutely stunning, despite being lighter than his more expensive bottlings which are fortified by the years of oak treatment demanded of higher level wines in Montalcino. The nose displayed inviting red cherry fruit and an herbal quality reminiscent of a tomato vine warming in the sun. The palate’s bright acidity was joined by a faint tannic structure, illustrating the grand potential of what will soon be some of Italy’s finest grapes.

Old Vines are highly prized in winemaking circles. Generally speaking the older a vine the better its fruit. However, an older vine will also give you less to work with. For this reason, 80 year old vines can only be used sparingly as they don’t produce enough fruit to “keep the lights on at the winery. “Once a new vine is planted it takes about 3 years to produce enough grapes to be considered commercially viable. Most quality conscience producers will wait much longer, sometimes up to 15 years, to use the fruit in their flagship wines. These particular Sangiovese Grosso vines were planted around 2003 and I am guessing that it will be quite a while before they make their way into the Rosso di Montalcino barrels, let alone the Brunellos.

It is commonly stated that “great wine is made in the vineyard” and while this is absolutely true to a certain extent the roll of the winemaker should never be overlooked. Gorelli makes wines that are Tuscan benchmarks with his best grapes but the juice of his “lesser” fruit is pretty damn great too. Best of all you can enjoy three bottles of Toscana Sangiovese 2008 for every bottle of Brunello that, if you are anything like me, you are probably opening way too early anyway. At 3 to 1, I like those odds.

– Will Sugerman


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