Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Proof Of The Pudding Is In The Eating

I don’t expect to find any surprises in liquor stores with drive-through windows.

That’s why I prefer to buy wine in big city mega-stores. The little local suppliers around here cater mainly for the below average or mass produced well-known wines. I guess that’s to be expected if half the store space of these smaller stores is devoted to beer, hence, the drive-through window.

If you out shopping there is probably nothing that gives you a bigger kick than to find something that you like or would like to have and at a bargain price. This happens a while ago when I had an hour or two available to slowly cruise the aisles of a big liquor store in Lexington. I came across a Petrolo “Torrione” Toscana 1998 for below $25, marked down from $46 because it was the last in the bin. And there was little chance on them getting anymore because only 38,000 bottles were made that year.

The Fattoria Petrolo (above) with its famous winery is located on a slope of the Aretini hills that overlook Tuscany’s Chianti region. The estate is about 1 kilometer away from the towns of Mercatale Valdarno and Bucine, 30 km northeast of Siena, and 40 km southeast of Florence. The farm, which also produces sought after Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was part of the medieval fiefdom of "Galatrona" and its tower (torrione in Italian), built in the 12th century atop Roman ruins, still exists and is featured on all the labels of the winery’s wines. The winery makes just two red wines: “Galatrona” a pure 100% Merlot and “Torrione” a pure 100% Sangiovese. Furthermore, the winery specializes in small batch production where quality is far more important than quantity. In general they produce only about 3300 cases a year of “Torrione” and even fewer cases of “Galatrona”.

So why was I so excited to find a Petrolo wine? Petrolo wines are nearly always rated in the 90’s out of 100 on the wine rating indexes. And nearly all highly rated wines like that are normally out of my financial range from a non-special occasion prospective. For example, the 2007 “Torrione” has just been named as one of Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of 2009 with a 94 rating, and the “Galatrona” 2004 is rated at 97/100. Of course, at the time of buying this specific bottle I had no idea what the 1998’s rating was, I simply bought it because it was a bargain price for a Petrolo wine. Nor am I really someone that cares that much about wine rating in general, because it’s another man’s taste description of the wine. Each person has its own likes and dislikes in wine, but I would agree, it could be useful in giving you some idea of what others think about it, when buying wine, especially if it is a foreign language label.

The Galatrone tower on the hill above the vineyard

When I recently made a Greek leg of lamb with rosemary-garlic roasted potatoes the culinary occasion was favorable to open the Torrione. It had a little sediment, not unusual for an old wine, and there’s nothing wrong with sediment, but I nevertheless poured it through a wine filter/”sediment catcher”. The color was deep, dark red, nearly garnet, turning purple at the glass’s edge. But that’s unfortunately where the good part of the story ends.

I am not one that can or would really like to describe wine in some of those imaginative words like muscular, energetic, racy, big-boned, easygoing, lively, poised, graceful or angular (what the hell is that?), but I do understand the terms flabby, tinny, bitter after taste, even thin/lean as oppose to full-bodied. All of the last mentioned terms applied to the Torrione. The wine was a disappointment! I expected a full-bodied, smooth drinking or supple wine with soft tannins and intense aromas. What I got was a dry, nearly harsh red wine that tastes like any other cheap, mass-produced red wine, sold in gallon bottles (ses-man kanne) and through drive-through windows, and at best, drank after it was in a refrigerator for a day or two.

Did I buy a bad bottle of wine or a bottle of bad wine? Sangiovese, famous for being the heart of Chianti, Brunello and many super Tuscan wines, is a difficult grape to grow and even more problematic to turn into a good varietal wine. Many wine lovers either loves it or hate it as a varietal, but when it is done right the grape's soft tannins, tasty acidity and moderate to intense blackberry and cherry flavors make Sangiovese very easy to drink and a versatile wine at the dinner table. When in Italy and at home I have tasted many good Sangiovese wines and because Petrolo’s other vintages of Torrione are highly rated by experts and the fact that I found during the research of this post that both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate magazines gave the 1998 Torrione 89 out of 100 rating, I have to conclude that I bought a bottle of bad wine and not a bad bottle of wine. It probably overheated at some point in time, or was badly transported or was stored for a long period at uncompromising environmental conditions.

To use clich├ęd expressions, wine is like a book that should not be judge just by its cover; the proof of the pudding is in the eating.


Anonymous said...

Dankie vir 'n interessante vertelling en agtergrond. Ek is bitter jammer dat die smaak-ervaring so teleurstellend was. En ek stem saam - die bottel is op een of ander stadium bietjie mishandel. Ek sou ook die wyn gekoop het vir daardie prys!

Ek is nou reeds goed geskool daarin om sulke wyne terug te neem na waar ek dit gekoop het. Nie om die geld terug te kry nie (ek ruil dit altyd vir 'n ander bottel), maar met die hoop dat die winkel sal terugvoer gee aan die produsent.

Sangiovese en Chianti is lieflik as dit goed gemaak is (en behandel is in die bottel). Ek het ook al bloutjies geloop met Chianti op "special". Ek sien die wyn is ondervinding is dat jou kanse op 'n goeie ervaring verhoog as jy eerder gaan vir die DOC of DOCG gesertifiseerde wyne. Maar dan is hulle gewoonlik redelik duur en nie afgemerk nie....

Die kos wat jy voorberei, klink nietemin mondwaterend. :)

BluegrassBaobab said...

Bib, dit gebeur, gelukkig selde. Ek beskou dit as deel van die ’drinking experience’. Soos om te verdwaal of in ’n verkeerde rigting in te gaan as mens reis in ’n vreemde land en dit deel word van die reiservarings.

Ek vrees ek het dalk nog een of twee sulke beskadigde bottels in my versameling. Maar dit sal eerder wees omdat ek die voggies dalk nie altyd in die perfekte toestand bewaar het nie. Hulle kom nog saam toe ons oorsponklik van Suid Afrika af ge-emigreer het. So hulle het heelwat travel miles agter die nek, so to speak. Ek dreig nou al geruime tyd om ’n Delheim Grand Reserve 1990, dubbele Veritas wenner, te open en hy mag dalk dieselfde lot getref het. Alhoewel, toe ek een bottel so ’n 3 jaar gelede oop gemaak het, het hy baie sediment gehad, maar smaak was nog baie goed.

Gewoonlik koop ek Chianti Classico met die pienk label om die nek dan weet ek die gehalte is puik en gewaarborg. Omdat ’n mens nooit weet met 100% Sangiovese nie verkies ek die wat versnee is met Merlot. Die Merlot rond dit netjies af.

Anonymous said...

Nogal 'n goeie analogie wat jy trek: dis deel van die reis. Sal bitter graag daardie Grand Reserve wou proe en hoop hy's nog op sy kop. Tog jammer dat meeste wyne deesdae in 'n nuwe styl gemaak word (insluitend die Grand Reserve en andere) en nie meer genoeg krag het vir die lang pad nie.

Anonymous said...

WTH...ingles por favor.