I’ve been wondering about the wine gods lately. Are they good? Mostly good? Indifferent? Do they believe in Karma?
In other words, are most wine experiences positive or is it more of a mixed bag? And why are some of the best wine experiences immediately followed by some of the worst?
Let’s start with something easy. The wine gods are not always good. Unless you’re hanging out among the super-rich (and probably even then), the wine gods don't always deliver. It’s a drag, I know, but there it is. If you’re a wine lover, you’ve opened a lame bottle or two in your time.
I can remember whole wine nights with friends in which none of the many thoughtfully chosen bottles was memorable. It’s depressing, but it happens.
There’s another easy part of this exercise. The wine gods are not always bad, and neither are they are usually bad. Otherwise, so many of us wouldn’t waste all our time obsessing about an alcoholic beverage. At least I hope not.
Most of the time though, I think the wine gods like to give us something of a mixed bag. Sometimes, getting through that mixed bag feels like a rollercoaster ride.
That's how I’d describe my most recent all-day wine outing. Last Sunday, my wine buddies and I went to Nebbiolo nel Cuore, a great annual wine event in Rome. (If you're ever in Rome in March, don’t miss it: http://www.nebbiolonelcuore.com/1/)
It was a fantastic day. For 25 euros, you can taste as many Nebbiolos as you care to try. Some of my favorites that day: '11 Aurelio Settimo Rocche dell' Annunziata; '10 Castello Conti Boca (a revelation, by the way); ’12 Palladino Ornato; the Guido Porro crus; and the entire Balgera lineup.
True, we encountered a few lemons during the event. No big deal. That’s just part of the normal mixed bag.
As we were about to leave, a wine friend involved with the event asked us to join an improvised Barbaresco vertical of six wines from one producer, Dante Rivetti. Without hesitation, we agreed. There's always something to learn from a vertical tasting.
I'm fairly current on the noteworthy Barbaresco producers, but must admit I wasn't familiar with the wines of Dante Rivetti. In fact, I went to the seminar room thinking these could be the wines of La Spinetta, which is owned by another famous Rivetti family. La Spinetta wines are pricey, and though they are not on my personal shopping radar, I sure was excited to maybe try a few of them—especially at the very low cost of being friends with an event organizer! When we took our seats, I learned the truth. You could say I was a bit disappointed to learn that the vertical would involve the wines of a "lesser" Rivetti. But I think the wine gods were just toying with us.
At the top of the rollercoaster that day were the wines of Dante Rivetti.
To start, the '14 Langhe Nebbiolo was light and crisp but didn’t lack complexity. At 12 Euros a bottle, I could happily drink it everyday.
The '12 Micca Barbaresco was lovely, showing the flavor depth and silky tannins you'd hope for. Great at 22 Euros (accessible in Italy only, unfortunately.)
The '06 Micca seemed a little cooked to me, though it was still drinkable. Maybe it was an off bottle. At this point, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was part of the mixed bag again or more of a quick pause on a rollercoaster ride.
Then came the higher-end Rivetti bottles:
The '09 Barbaresco Bricco di Neive Riserva showed very well, with round dark fruit and enough backbone to preserve balance in a warm vintage.
The '99 Barbaresco Bricco di Neive Riserva revealed compelling earthy secondary notes, lots of length, and a compelling vibrancy. I need more ’99 Barbarescos in my life.
The '89 Barbaresco Bricco di Neive Riserva, coming from a heralded vintage in Piedmont, was without question the wine of the day. It had complex dark red fruit, pretty mature flowers, mushrooms and, most surprisingly, a very juicy drinkability.
This was one of the best wines I've had in months. The '66 Latour I tasted in November was better, but that's the list. The wine gods were definitely smiling on us.
Drunk on this recent bit of luck, we decided to hunt down some Champagne. There’s always a reason to celebrate. It was, after all, our first group outing of 2017.
But the Champagne recommended at our favorite wine bar was soft and uninspired. Not to be deterred, I led the charge to find some good-but-not-too-expensive Burgundy. At a favorite pizza restaurant, we ordered a '14 Leflaive Macon-Verze blanc and an ’08 Pierre Amiot Morey St.-Denis.
If you'd asked me that morning how these bottles would fare when compared with some Dante Rivetti Barbarescos, I'd have said the Burgundies would win the day in a blowout. Clearly, the wine gods had something else in mind.
The Leflaive tasted like a “generic Italian white,” according to my Roman friend Andrew. It eventually improved with air, but didn’t compare to my recent experiences with the 2010 and 2012. Granted, the Macon-Verze is Leflaive’s least expensive wine, but we’re talking about a legendary producer in a superb vintage.
The Amiot was an even bigger letdown. It tasted like we were drinking Jolly Rancher juice, and there were no indications it would improve with age. After that, we called it a night.
Walking to the car, it felt like we were on a different planet from the one we inhabited just a few hours earlier, when we were on top of the wine world, sniffing the magic of that lovely ’89 Barbaresco.
Sure enough, the wine gods had given us another mixed bag. In this particular bag, we experienced extraordinary highs and crushing lows. That doesn’t sound like indifference to me.
Maybe the wine gods just like to have a sense of humor about these things.
by Christopher Maclean