Monthly Archives: April 2010

Pinot Noir: the grape that makes the fabled wines of Burgundy. Unmatched in sensuality. Layered, aromatic; bemusement in a bottle. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just produces decent, tasty wines we can love casually, much like Mallomars.

The 2007 Silver Thread Pinot Noir, the first produced by this fine maker in upstate New York, falls somewhere between those two extremes. In or out of the bottle, it in no way resembles a Mallomar, but also reaches for humbler goals than the grand cru Burgundies people like me wish they could try, if only once. I hope not to offend the hordes of Mallomarian faithful with this statement. Anyone who adores the fine Mallomar can leave this posting content in the knowledge that I would love to walk the hills of La Romanée with a whole box in hand.
Moving on: I found this wine to be tuna or hibiscus red in the glass, with coppery undertones, decent clarity. Aromas of lilac and cranberry to dark cherry, jammy fruit, with earthy and herbal notes in the mouth. Lovely acidity, good balance, with very soft and subtle tannins, as expected from a cool-climate Pinot. Medium finish, with a nice texture and lingering fruitiness. Pair with roast turkey or duck, or herb-encrusted veal. Or Mallomars. $22.

Today’s post is about the 1999 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia,” but begins with a long digression.

Only one wine has ever brought me to tears. It is unfortunately not eligible for this forum due to its extraordinary price ($350-400 retail), but I name it now to establish my benchmark for truly great wine: the 2004 “Astralis,” the flagship Syrah from the Clarenden Hills collection. At first whiff it was the wine that will always haunt me, setting the bar for every wine I’ve tasted since. Huge, dark, brooding, pungent, rich – but it was an infant! Even then, I knew that the 2004 Astralis was a wine that would not be ready to drink until 15-20 years later; it is still barely approachable now. L’Enfant terrible. Shockingly good.

Which brings me to the focus of today’s post: the 1999 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia.” It has nothing in common with “Astralis,” not on the surface. “Astralis” is fermented from Syrah; this wine is made using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, a Bordeaux blend. Clarendon Hills is located 25 miles south of Adelaide, and northeast from the McLaren Vale in southern Australia; Serafini & Vidotto have their vineyards in Montello, a hilly area on the right bank of the Piave river in Treviso, a sub-region within Veneto (see photo).

“Astralis” is an ultra-boutique wine, a world-class luxury item made in a truly New World style. “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia,” on the other hand, is an exemplar of Cabernet Sauvignon in its Italian expression, but following the vinification philosophy and techniques of the great French makers. What do these wines share, what intangible quality? Easy: greatness. Why wax eloquent? It is greatness.

I opened the “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia” to celebrate moving to Brooklyn. It was to be paired with prime rib, roasted potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms, the first meal made in our new kitchen. If wine and food pairing could be considered a tango, this wine was definitely the leader. Textbook blood orange fading to pale rose-brown at the rim in the glass. On the nose, the first pour offered devious aromas, almost all secondary: rose petals, waterlilies, tar, olives, hung meats, and hints of dark fruit. In the mouth, “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia” felt like velvet. Over a decade of bottle-aging softened the tannins beautifully, giving it one of the finest textures of any wine I have tasted since “Astralis.” More dark fruit in the mouth, along with tobacco and a definite touch of balsamic spice. Long finish, echoing the completely even and balanced experience this wine provides. It touches greatness.

Normally a bottle retails for $80, but I found some for $16 at wholesale. Buying another half-case today. I do not think it will last another year, having just peaked, so find this wine immediately. Pairs with roast game of any kind, simpler fare; let the wine lead you.

I am a dessert wine kind of guy. Not a “give me some of that wine with my Snickers” guy, rather a “stop, wait – with dinner over, let us retire to the crackling fire and wait for the snow to stop falling with glasses of Tokaji” kind of guy. Noting that it had been some while since my last post, and noting I that almost never review dessert wines, I decided to try some port.

Port is a wine with an extremely dynamic and varied past. The appellation where it is produced, the Douro Valley region of Portugal, was demarcated in 1763, making it the third-oldest appellation in the world, after Chianti and Tokaji – two of my other favorite places. Usually a sweet red dessert wine, and is always the result of blending a wide number of grape varieties – up to one hundred types of grape are permitted, but principally Touriga Nacional (Tempranillo), Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa are used, as in the wine under discussion for this post. Fermentation is stopped using a neutral grape spirit called aguardente, which leaves residual sugar in the wine while also boosting alcohol content. The wine is then stored in oak barrels in caves, or cellars, for differing periods of time, depending on the final wine being produced.

It seems appropriate to briefly examine the most common types of Port available:

Tawny Port – this style is produced from red grapes aged in oaken barrels using the Solera process, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation, resulting in a golden-brown color. Aging in oak imparts nutty flavors and aromas to this type of port, which is blended to match the producer’s house style (like NV Champagne). Tawny ports are sweet or off-dry and generally considered a dessert wine.

Ruby Port – this is the cheapest and most widely-made type of port. After fermentation, it is usually aged in stainless steel tanks to prevent oxidation, and preserve its rich red color. The wine is fined and filtered before bottling, and is not intended for aging, as its quality will not improve. Ruby port often exudes fresh fruit aromas, and seems bright in the mouth. Meant for casual consumption, this serves as a decent “party port.” Like tawny port, this wine is also blended to match the house style.

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Port – Late Bottled Vintage port is wine that originally had been destined for bottling as Vintage Port, but because of lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned. LBV port wine is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a Vintage Port but without the need for lengthy bottle aging. This style can feature some great bargains.

Vintage Port – The finest style, representing only about 2% of a Port house’s total production. These wines are made from grapes grown in a single exceptional vintage year, showing the finest qualities that can be achieved by that producer and appellation. Vintage ports are aged in oak barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to thirty years of bottle aging before reaching maturity. Since vintage port wines are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby color, along with fresh fruit aromas and flavors. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to grow more complex and fascinating for up to a century after they are bottled. Clearly, not every year is a vintage year.

So, this particular wine, the 2004 Royal Oporto Vintage Port, merits attentive description.On the nose, it shows wonderfully full aromas of black fruits, such as cherry and plum with distinct undertones of hazelnuts and dark chocolate. I also caught some notes of burnt caramel and anise. It has a lush, silky mouthfeel, with well-rounded tannins and great balance. Delicious. $15 for a half bottle.