"If you love elegant, age-worthy Sangiovese, then stock your wine cellar with 2012 Brunello di Montalcino." - Kerin O'Keefe We've had a few Brunellos from the classic 2012 vintage and by now you've hopefully had a chance to try a bottle. If so, you see why we (and Kerin O'Keefe and other Brunello experts) are so excited about the vintage. It's not a massive vintage like glories past—2010 or 2001. It's not a ripe vintage like 2007 or 1997. Instead, it is utterly classic in just the way that Sangiovese wants to be, interweaving Brunello's generous fruit with nervosity, ethereality, and savory notes. It's surprisingly approachable (the acidity really helps), but also with the structure and balance to age effortlessly. In short: 2012 is a killer vintage. So we couldn't be more excited to present one of our very favorite producers, a wine that has been on our shelves since the day we opened: La Torre's 2012 Brunello di Montalcino. The thing to know about La Torre is that it resides in a slightly different neighborhood. The classic houses, like Biondi-Santi, cluster in the village of Montalcino, proper. La Torre is five miles to the south in the DOC's highest corner, where the Sangiovese ripens slowly and evenly, often ready for harvest only in October. La Torre's style is really attractive. It offers the warming caress of any great Brunello, but also goes long on Brunello's savory side. It has Brunello's classic profile of "wild cherries," but here the cherries seem extra wild. It's always a giving wine, fine to drink young, a rare treat to drink old. And older Le Torre is both rare and a treat. This Brunello is definitely in that special category of wines that you just have to cellar yourself: they don't make much and it doesn't trade at auctions, so this is your change to stock up. La Torre, Brunello di Montalcino, 2012
Grilling season is now upon us, and a good grilled steak is just about the only excuse you need in warmer weather to open up a big red wine. But some red wines work with steak better than others. Here is a top 5 list, in no particular order: 1. Brunello di Montalcino. Anyone who has had Steak Florentine in Tuscany knows that Sangiovese is the perfect partner for steak, and Brunello is the grandest and noblest Sangiovese. Keep it on the young side, to ensure good fruit vigor and lively tannins. Consider giving your steak full Tuscan treatment: cook it rare but with a crusty exterior (which should be coated in salt, pepper and if you like some minced rosemary or sage), and then dress the sliced steak with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. My choice: Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino, 2012 ($56.99) 2. Argentinian Malbec. No, our shop is not known for its Malbecs and the category isn't my favorite in general, as far too many are made in a glossy, international style. But there are some made honestly and traditionally and they are simply perfect for the rich steak culture of Argentina. The best have voluptuous red fruit, gentle spice and velvety tannins that are harmonious with beef. My choice: Carmelo Patti, Malbec, 2013 ($29.99) 3. Ribera del Duero. If you've read Bill Bufford's great Heat, you know that the great beef of Tuscany actually comes from Spain. This has been confirmed by my own experience eating a gorgeous steak in Valladolid, the vibrant city that lies just at the western end of Ribera del Duero. The local wine was served, and as much as I associate these wines with lamb, it turns out it's also a pretty great steak wine. My choice: Pesquera, Ribera del Duero Reserva, 2012 ($49.99) 4. Right Bank Bordeaux. No, don't drink "clarets" or old Bordeaux with steak -- save those for more subtle meat preparations like braises or roasts. For your steak, open up some fleshy young Merlot from St. Emilion, Pomerol or, to save a little cash, Fronsac. It's got those same Malbec-like tannins that are round and velvety, seemingly designed with steak in mind. I would look at vintages like 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012. My choice: Chateau Valois, Pomerol, 2012 ($54.99) 5. California Cabernet. I'm saving the easy one for last. Go to any American steak house and you'll see that the wine list is filled with Cali Cabs. It's a classic. Be careful, as it's really easy to over-pay for some new-fangled brand just because it got a high score in a glossy magazine. To be safe, stick with classics, like my choice below. My choice: Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 ($57.99)
Amiot-Servelle has great holdings in Chambolle-Musigny, including some lovely village plots and vines in Les Charmes and Les Amoureuses. (not to mention Clos St. Denis). We recently had the chance to taste some ‘13s, ‘14s and as-yet-unreleased 2015s. Our lesson? The Domaine is doing great work! The wines are fresh and pure with beautiful fruit and terroir-specific aromatics. Their plot of Bourgogne Rouge is just across the RN from the heart of Chambolle-Musigny. It has seductive aromatics that, like all great baby-Chambolles, hint at the village’s classic perfume and elegance. But the soils are deeper and the wine is already a pleasure to drink, more fruit-focused than the village wine with charmingly rustic tannins and lovely transparency. The Bourgogne Blanc is at the southern end of the appellation. It has that wonderful 2014 white burg balance of great fruit and fine, fresh structure. Burghound wrote, “there is good freshness to the delicious, round and saline-inflected flavors.” These are delicious now but will improve with a little bottle age. We will drink some now but save a few to drink over the next few years, and to encourage you to do the same.
Piedmont is still, slowly, climbing its way its way into the ranks of great wine regions. It's a fun moment. There are still plenty of discoveries to be made. This is especially true in Barbaresco, a DOC with a remarkable number of small producers who make fabulous wines that only intermittently make their way over to the U.S. Why bother with exporting when you can sell everything you make to local restaurants? An example is Musso. Small and off-the-radar, Musso has only six hectares of vineyards in the DOC of Barbaresco. What they do have are well situated, as they lie entirely within the Crus of Rio Sordo and Pora. They have been bottling their own Barbarescos since the 1930s. One of our trusted sources in Italy came across some older bottles from Musso and recommended them to us. Their arrival several months later felt a bit like Christmas: it is always a pleasure to open up those boxes to see what's inside. In this case, it was several gorgeous-looking bottles of very mature Barbaresco. Musso was entirely new to me. I inquired with friends who know more about this stuff than I do, and nobody knew these wines. Kerin O'Keefe had written them up in her great book on Barolo and Barbaresco, which was a good sign, but there was not much detail. There was only one way to learn: open some bottles. We had a 1967, a 1979 and a 1982. The 79 and 82 were labeled "Rio Sordo" and the 1967 labeled "Riserva". We stood them up in a cold cellar for several days, and then opened the bottles several hours before dinner. A quick taste suggested healthy bottles. Kerin's book says that Musso is a traditional producer who uses, for example, only large Slavonian casks to age the wines. These details are important, of course, but often not relevant when drinking older wines. Back in 1982 and 1979 only a tiny handful of producers in Piedmont -- and possibly only Gaja in Barbaresco -- were employing anything but large casks. In 1967 nobody was. I applaud Musso for maintaining this tradition, but that didn't tell us much about the wines we would be drinking that night. We started old, and poured the 1967. The bottle was in excellent shape, with a long ethereal feeling and even a touch of sappy fruit that belied its old age. Not a life-changer, but an elegant, harmonious wine and an awfully successful showing for a 50 year-old Barbaresco! 1979 is a shadow vintage. 1978 got all the hype but 1979s are almost as good and nobody ever paid attention. So it's a vintage that's undervalued in the market place and you should usually pick them up when you see them. The Musso 1979 was another great bottle of wine. Rio Sordo is known to be a bit rustic and gamey, and of the three bottles, the 1979 showed that the most. Last up was 1982, easily the most famous of the three vintages. This was higher volume and more vigorous wine. Not quite youthful, but certainly not old -- like it's picking up a few white hairs, but in a dignified sort of way. There was that gamey quality of the 79, but also that sappy fruit of the 67, merging together most splendidly. Drinking these wines made me draw comparisons to other wine regions. When was the last time you drank great 30-50 year old Bordeaux from a producer you've never heard of? Or even a Burgundy? It almost never happens. Anyone making wine back then in those regions has been discovered and written about, over and over again. But Piedmont still has so many mysteries -- both past and present -- to reveal.