Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bogus Brunello

I'm late to commenting on the Bru-haha roiling lately in Montalcino, and Brunello is a wine with which I have admittedly little experience (something I plan to remedy once my damn economic stimulus check comes in), but let's get a few things out of the way: The Italian appellation system is a hobbling pony, and despite the good things that have come from the IGT designation, a toxic brew of questionable promotions and stubborn insistence on tradition continues to hamstring the potentially best and most versatile wine-producing nation in the world.

If you play by the rules, your Brunello will contain nothing but the Sangiovese clone called Brunello. Put in anything else and you're looking at six years in the pokey. Compare this to California, where you can varietally-label your cuvee as long as it's 75% said varietal, and name the legally-defined region as long as you're using 85% indigenous fruit--the rest can be anything under the sun. Or to Bordeaux, where Bacchus help you if you make anything even approaching a single-varietal wine and your name isn't Moueix. Burgundy is a notable exception to this universal, intelligent acceptance of red wine blending, and I presume that's because no noble red grape other than Pinot Noir can thrive at such a chilly extreme (and because Pinot-Tannat-Mourvedre blends never really caught on).

So once again, Italy shoots itself in the piede with its overambitious notions of "purity". That the brilliant Montalcino oenologists have to risk screwing themselves financially to experiment with even 10% of varietals that have a track record of deliciousness in the Tuscan terroir is stultifying. The market will ensure lazily made wines get what's coming to them--give me an electrifying Brunello (90%) / Merlot (6%) /Cab Franc (4%) for $50 and my walletful of wet noodle dollars is forever open.

Today's damage:
(Plus yesterday)
  • Hogue Fume Blanc 2005 - This had been opened two days earlier and so had a certain bitterness that wasn't totally out of place with the wine's natural grapefruit and mineral flavors. Pleasing yellow color may be due to the 25% Semillon in the blend. I plan to drink gallons of this over the course of the summer.
  • Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - A steal from the Central Coast--viscous cassis and plum flavor lead off, finished off by spicy cloves on the back palate. Doesn't overwhelm white meat, but its teeth gnash for a B.A. Barracus-level food challenge.
  • Bee's Knees Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - Lush, suggestively floral nose, but don't call it cat pee. Not much depth, but a high-toned acidity integrates well with typical NZ flavors of grass, lime, and an edge of peach.
  • Georges Duboeuf Fleurie 2006 - A fragile, light-bodied wine that was perceptibly sour after less than an hour of being open. Also too warm, though lilting pear and banana flavors still squiggled through.
  • Rusden "Bakery Hill" Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - Expecting a blueberry-menthol Slush Puppie led to disappointment--this is a restrained (13.0%) Barossa Cab that offers sharp acidity and earthiness while plum/prune and raisin flavors take a backseat.
  • Highland Park 12 Year Single Malt Scotch - Still my favorite non-Islay whisky, with a round, toasty presence punctured on the finish by a tart spike. Best with a quarter-teaspoon of water swirled in.
P.S. Look back two posts, then read this Joel Stein column (published almost a week later).


MJB said...

You have to find a source of Chippawa Falls, WI's Leinenkugel in New York if it kills you. I first encountered this brewery's wares yesterday at a chili cookoff - their straight up the middle lager - only to discover that 90% of their products are sold in WI, MI, IL, and OH. Their brands are distributed in the northeast (I procured their tasty flagship Sunset Wheat today at the local BH liquor depot) but only in a handful of varieties, none of which appear to be the traditional lager. Obviously, New York City, being what it is, offers a far lager marketplace/opportunity to snag these delightful mid-American suds. Your owe it to your readership (by which I mean me) to track this beer down so I can buy a couple of cases of it when I'm in town.

P.S. This word verification stuff is bullshit.

JBH said...

"...offers a far lager marketplace/opportunity..."

Is that a typo or are you way too clever? :)

By the by, the man who "invented" Brunello di Montalcino in 1888 was named Biondi.

MJB said...

A good rule of thumb is that if something I did appears to be clever, it's intentional.

Also, I want to know when you're going to get around to writing about this.