For the holidays, I was pressed into service ... cooking. My girlfriend's family came in from out of town, and I was responsible for cooking a Christmas turkey for the clan. Avert your eyes, dear reader - it was quite the production. At least, with the queasy discomfort that comes with being introduced to complete strangers who are appraising you with a rather critical eye, I could, in moments of stress, say: "Clear the kitchen!" She lives in Manitou Springs, 75 miles south of Denver, so I packed all the necessary kitchen equipment (I can't seem to cook without my knives, man), the necessary ingredients, two cases of wine, and not least, a turkey that I'd been brining for 5 days into my Mini Cooper and made my way south.
Hell might well be cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen with hordes of strangers running about, all of whom are interested in getting to know you on a deep personal level while you are trying not to get burned by hot pans and/or food. Imagine if J.P.S. had been employed as a TV writer. Lets take this idea, but instead of the hotel room with the nondescript corridor, we'll make it a kitchen - the turkey, of course, will represent the cook's existential quandary, broiling under the hot rays of attention.
A few of the wines we had over a few days of imbibing and great meals ...
2000 Aubry "Sable Rosé" Champagne
Lovely clear delicate mousse. Aromas of raspberry and strawberry, with nice orange peel and fresh peach and pear. In the mouth, good balance and harmony - excellent interplay of the freshness of the acid structure and purity of the fruit. (4.0+ nb)
2008 Cavalotto Langhe Bianco
This is a special wine - the Cavallottos have a small patch of Pinot Noir on their hillside in Castiglione Falletto. Some years, they vinifiy it as a "Blanc de Noirs" still wine. This bottling showed lovely freshness and peach/white currant aromas and flavors. It is not a complex wine, rather is it is simple and unpretentious, but very delicious. Sold only at the winery and at a few places in the Langhe. I carried this bottle back from Europe. (3.0+ nb)
2008 Campogrande Cinque Terre
A lot of Cinque Terre wines are insipid, flavorless, unstructured wines that taste good only because they are consumed where they are made - in the Ligurian villages that sweep down to the sea. I've had loads of these wines over the last 15 years, and in Cinque Terre they are acceptable, even tasty - the proximity to one of the most beautiful sea- and landscapes in the world makes just about anything taste good. The Campogrande is a bit of an anomaly, and if it is able to gain traction in the marketplace, may take the place that Didier Dageneau's wines have in Pouilly-Fumé: the role of shaming just about every other producer in the whole region into making better wines. There are lots of possibly insurmountable barriers to this happening: the Campogrande is considerably more expensive, the Cinque Terre is not known for quality wines, the lion's share of attention in the wine press for "Serious" wines is directed toward reds. One thing in this wine's favor: the brains and winemaking skill behind it is none other than the wildly talented Barolo producer Elio Altare. I'll write more about Campogrande at some point in the future, but for now, some thoughts on the wine: Lovely straw-gold color, aromas of super-ripe fruits and a briny minerality that makes me think of seaweed, very full in the mouth and layers of fruit and minerals that have excellent length and depth. A few cases of the 2008 or 2009 will come to the US through Altare's usual distribution in 2010 (Marc de Grazia Imports) and if you are interested in unique whites, I urge you to seek out a case. It's not cheap but worth every penny. (3.5+ nb)
1997 Fuglini Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
A great, still-brooding and backward wine from the excellent 1997 Tuscan vintage. Fuglini is known as a more traditional producer and this wine was quite lacking in sweet vanillin oakiness, letting the intense Sangiovese come through (this note is for the second bottle; the first bottle was completely corked, unfortunately). Deep black stone fruits, the edge of a metallic zing in the palate, the earthiness ... this wine had layers and layers of dark flavors and aromas that opened up over 45 minutes. Lovely long length, finishing with solid, ripe tannins and hints of dried fruits. This is drinking nicely now but give it another 3 years and it may yet improve. (4.5- nb)
2006 Sandrone Nebbiolo d'Alba "Valmaggiore"
This bottling is one I have had an up-and-down relationship with since first trying it in the mid-nineties. Some years I loved it, some years I was completely indifferent. Since the 2001 vintage I think this has been going from strength to strength. The 2006 vintage was a generally good to excellent vintage in the Langhe (notwithstanding all you may have heard, especially given the Giacosa winery's decision not to bottle their 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco) and the Valmaggiore Nebbiolo d'Alba is spectacular. In weight and structure, this most resembles a mid-level Burgundy from, say, Volnay. It has a fantastic nose of berries and dark fruit, good minerality and a firmness and clarity in the mid-palate that I really appreciate. It held up to the turkey dinner admirably and was a better match than the heavier Brunello. The 2007 of this wine looks to be excellent and the 2008 may be even better as it was not as hot. (4.0- nb)
1994 Rene Rostaing, Côte-Rotie "La Viaillère"
Black cherry and minerals, hints of brett (not unpleasant) and wood, rich secondary characteristics of mushrooms and loam, good acidity and length ... and yet, it leaves me cold. It is a good wine, but seems to need, for lack of a better word, emotion. (2.5 nb)
1998 Montepeloso "Gabbro," Toscana
A 100% Caberent Sauvignon cuvee from the southern Bolgheri. Good modern nose: lots of cassis and black fruit, pencil lead and oak. At 11 years old it still shows freshness and presence. On the palate, nice dark fruits, especially cassis and pear, well-integrated oak and good length. From the difficult 1998 vintage, this is a very successful wine. (3.5+ nb)