The 2012 Holiday Season has been full of highlights with plenty of curiosities to keep the mind working while melting. The easy part of the game is to taste interesting wines and avoid p-l-o-n-k. The harder part is to find value in the most interesting wines. However, the BEST part of knowing and drinking wine is finding a transcendental experience in a wine bottle. This event is rare and almost always unpredictable. We can make a good guess when it might happen but we never really know until well into the wine. At that point we just let it happen. Time slows to a crawl as we become enveloped in a meditative state of harmony and wonder.
Sounds stupid. But it is true. Some wines are so unusual and exquisite they can transport consciousness to a meta-sensory place. Does not happen often but it did happen the other night. Three of the original tBoW team tasters Ikorb, Dotoré and tBoW got together to watch a holiday football game. No intrusions. No others. Dotoré stepped up and brought the “best wine in his cellar:” a 1989 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. We have tasted the 1985 Monfortino Riserva twice in mag many pre-blog years ago and those bottles were transcendent. We have tasted a few other peerless wines on a few other occasions so we recognize when the unparalleled experience happens. It had been at least a decade for all since the last occurrence.
Ikorb contributed his 2002 Marc Colin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets to act as honor guard for the centerpiece wine. The Caillerets vineyard is considered one of the best for Chardonnay so its satellite role to a wine made by the “King of Barolo” was appropriate. Provenance was superb as both wines had been stored in our own cellars for a decade or near.
A White Burgundy seemed an appropriate accompaniment for serious old vine Nebbiolo made by a legendary old guard winemaker. And so it went…like this. Photos suggest the images one can have when tripping with Barolo.
1989 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia $595 (The Rare Wine Co in Sonoma): The color is brownish red and stayed that way over the next three and half hours. The first thing we notice about Barolo is the light weight and the transparency of the wine. This is the first place that Piemonte Nebbiolo matches up with red Burgundies. The flavors are hard. The nose is like a holiday fruit cake. Moist, gooey, dried. I think of Archie Moore in his mid 40s when he was still fighting and even though he was not the young boxer he used to be, he was still not someone to take lightly. Fists all tightened up waiting for an opening and pop your nose is bleeding! You might have to wait 4 or 5 rounds to see the old Archie, the smart veteran slip out of the shadow of time. So it will be this wine. This is the challenge of drinking old Baroli or any great old wine. The difference is that old wines like most old folks are simply tired. They never come around. Barolo wines are exceptional in this regard. They can live a very long life and show tricks you never knew were there in youth. This wine NEEDS TO OPEN. Second phase 45 minutes later: here come the tannins and a little more fruit. We are in a dowager’s salon on the Barbary Coast. The glass smells like some lavender sashay. Dusty sweet and coy. The new flavors are graham crackers and peanut butter. Is that truffles? Third phase 90 minutes later: Black truffles says the Ikorb and tBoW almost in the same moment. This exotic wine has donned its mountain shorts and is giving us sachertorte – the dense chocolate Alpine cake – in a glass. And the TRUFFLES are filling the room. From here to the end I prefer sniffing to drinking the truffles trapped in my glass. 13%
2002 Marc Colin et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets $85: Light golden clear color. Almonds and marzipan on the nose. Some baking soda. Flavors are muted initially. Emerging over an hour showing creamy vanilla, some acid. Tastes like steel fermented Chardonnay although we are confident it is not. No signs of premox. The absence of fruit stirred a brief debate on whether it would get to the late stage for white Burgs when they can come on like butterscotch syrup. Dotoré said no. tBoW said yes. Ikorb was appropriately neutral. As an entry in the tasting group this French Chardonnay provided a perfect foil while waiting on the 89 Conterno. Excellent. 13%
2007 Domenico Clerico Arte $40: Being somewhat impatient and/or sensing the greatness of the Barolo that was slowly coming around we opened this wine. It is Clerico’s proprietary blend of 90% Nebbiolo, 10% Barbera. There is plenty of Neb in the nose and the mouth. Its youth is a good contrast to the two older wines. Flavors and aromas are sharp. This is Piemonte wine and testimony to why one should not overlook Barbera blends from the region. The price/quality ratio can be very good. Domenico Clerico is one of the leaders among the “new wave” [ed. look it up] Barolo producers. He is just the guy to try something non-traditional like Arte. Very very nice. 13%
A rare and unusual evening, unhurried, unfettered, undiscovered…until now. It would be completely understandable to the tBoW team to base a wine cellar on Baroli, Burgundy and Riesling wines. Each regional star has character that is hard for other regions – and we would argue varietals – to match. Providing perimeter security would be Rhone wines red and white, selected Italian Sangios, Ornellaia anything, and selected Spanish Riojas. Can it happen 2013? If not for us maybe for yourself. Time will tell. If you would like to read more about Barolo wines from the 1999 vintage we recommend Ed McCarthy’s website.