Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Marchi Club

I played hookey on Tuesday to attend Decanter’s Great Winemakers of Italy tasting in London. I suspect that the Istituto Del Vino Italiano Di Qualità Grandi Marchi is little more than a good excuse for many of the great and good of Italian wine to get together, pat themselves on their backs and come up with new ways of inflating their prices, but if it means more tastings of this calibre then I suppose that I can’t complain too much.

Nineteen producers, representing twelve of Italy’s twenty regions, each showed four wines – a concise overview of all that they are. And Grandi Marchi (Grandes Marques) isn’t the overstatement you might at first believe it to be, with the likes of Angelo Gaja, Piero Antinori, Priscilla Incisa Della Rochetta, Jacopo Biondi Santi et al all in attendance and touting their wares.

Gaja, Sperss
Langhe Nebbiolo 1999
With only a few exceptions, such as Tenuta San Guido (who only really produce one wine plus three or four others which pay the bills), very few producers showed their top wines, although several wheeled out an older vintage or two to try. Most surprisingly, this was true of Gaja where a 1999 Sperss was available to all. Although only mid-table (albeit towards the higher end) in the Gaja portfolio, most other producers would kill to have this wine in their range and it was a rare treat to taste an older example. Still youthful, archetypal Nebbiolo red fruit shone through the austere structure. Maturing certainly, but ageing slowly; modern in style but undeniably aristocratic (14% ABV).

Other standouts included:

Ca’ Del Bosco,
Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta NV
Ca’ Del Bosco: as much as I enjoyed the Dosage Zéro 2006 (bone dry, toasty and citrussy but crying out for food, 12.5% ABV) and the Cuvée Anna Maria Clementi 2003 (rich, profoundly complex and flawlessly textured, 12.5% ABV), it was the non vintage Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta (12.5% ABV) that once again captured my heart. Fresh, with a wonderful white fruit and white flower character and a hint of vanilla, truly a magical wine that always makes me smile. One of the best wines I’ve tried in a long time was their still Chardonnay 2007 (13.5% ABV); so good was it that it is difficult to describe adequately. Refined and poised, with seams of beautifully elegant lemon fruit, mineral and gentle savoury oak flavours that lasted and lasted.

Argiolas, Is Argiolas
Vermentino Di Sardegna 2010
Argiolas: the strangely named Is Argiolas 2010 (14% ABV), a straight Vermentino, was not quite bone dry, with ripe white fruit, blossom notes and firm acidity rounded off with a long, white pepper and sweet spice finish.

Mastroberardino: the Radici Taurasi Riserva 1999 (13.5% ABV) had a garnet hue, indicating its maturity, and tertiary aromas of cherry/berry fruit, tobacco and balsamic notes. The palate had soft red fruit and a hint of spice, wrapped around a well defined frame. Great now, but will definitely keep.

Rivera, Il Falcone
Castel Del Monte Riserva 2006
Rivera: from the Castel Del Monte D.O.C., with its enigmatic octagonal 13th century castle, I was particularly impressed by two vintages of Rivera’s Il Falcone Riserva. Both were traditional blends of 70% Nero Di Troia and 30% Montepulciano to soften. The 2006 (13.5% ABV) showed ripe, savoury, dark fruit, tobacco spice and a minerally core – youthful, a touch austere and very good. The 1999 (13.5% ABV) had similar characteristics and had certainly mellowed with age but still had plenty of life left in it. Both needed food and both were very good.

Donnafugata, Ben Ryé
Passito Di Pantelleria 2006
Donnafugata: two vintages of its outsanding Ben Ryé Passito Di Pantelleria were the big hitters on this table. The 2009 (14.5% ABV), to be released en primeur in the next week or so, was a bright golden amber colour, with fresh juicy apricot fruit on the nose and palate. Excellently judged acidity meant that it was not at all too sweet. The 2006 (14.5% ABV), poured from a magnum, was a slightly deeper shade of amber and was noticeably more viscous than the 2009. Its nose had more of a toffee aspect and its fruit was a little more peach than apricot. The palate, too, showed a greater degree of development, being less vibrant yet more expressive. Both had very long finishes and beautiful balance.

Tenuta San Guido,
Sassicaia 2004
Tenuta San Guido: I’m sure that there is nothing I can say about any vintage of Sassicaia that hasn’t already been said. The 2004 (13.5% ABV) certainly lived up to expectations. It may be Bordeaux inspired, but its heart is Italian. Rich Cabernet fruit, integrated and judicious oak and a deceptively supple structure led into a long, long finish. Not cheap, but buy it now before the Asian market realises what a bargain it is compared to most of the Bordeaux currently heading east…

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