Yesterday, Anne, Geoff, Phil, Karen (Phil’s wife), and Larry (my brother), went to a wine tasting at Otto Pizzeria and Enoteca. I helped arrange the wine tasting with Morgan Rich, the wine director. Italy is the largest wine exporting country in the world; we decided to focus on wines from the Piedmont region (Piemonte) made with Nebbiolo grapes. All of the wines were from small producers; the smallest number of cases produced for the wines we tasted was 225, and the largest number of cases produced for the wines we tasted was 2,800. This is very small compared to Chateau Latour Pauillac (14,000 cases) or Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve (50,000 cases).
Phil smiles at the wine tasting table. On the lowest shelf of the wall behind him are the wines we tried.
Our tasting consisted of two flights of three wines each. We started out in the front of the restaurant in the bar area before moving back to the dining room for dinner. The bar and restaurant were both fairly empty; we got there at 5:45.
The first flight of three wines had tons of fruit and full flavor. We started with a Gattinara Vigneto Valferana, Bianchi 1997. This was a dry wine and smelled of earthiness and roses. I thought it became slightly spicy as it opened up with a taste of cherries. The second wine was a Barbareso Nervo, Pertinace 1993. I thought this was a earthier wine than the first wine with a strong chocolate flavor. The final wine of the first flight was a Barbaresco Cole, Moccagatta 1998. Of the first flight, this wine had the most fruit with great Cherry and Raspberry notes. While it was earthy, I thought there were also some hints of caramel.
Later in the meal, I caught an image of Geoff through the wine glass.
During the wine tasting, we ate three different cow’s milk cheeses, Toma from Piedmont, Fontina Valle d’Aosta from Valle d’Aosta, and Brescianella from Lombardia. My favorite cheese was the very soft, stinky Brescianella. It probably overwhelmed the wines a little bit, but it was great for clearing out my palate between flights. The Toma and Fontina were firm cheese with a lot of pleasant flavor. Even though they had a lot of strength, they were neutral when compared to the Brescianella.
We focused on three Barolos for our second flight of wines: Cascina Francia, Giacomo Conterno 1996; Marcenasco Rocche, Renato Ratti 1996; and Sperss, Angelo Gaja 1995. The Conterno was the most traditional Barolo, followed by the Ratti, and the non-traditional Gaja (pronouned GI-YA). In fact, we learned that next year Gaja is dropping their DOCG certification and moving to DOC. This means that while all of their wines will still be from the same region, they will no longer adhere to the strict traditional flavors required by the DOCG certification.
The Conterno tasted most like a French wine. It had a lot of earth with a subtle jammy flavor. As it opened up, you could smell a strong licorice aroma. The Renato Ratti had a tobacco nose and a deceptively light feel in the mouth. As it opened up, the aroma seemed to change from tobacco to lavender. The final wine, the Angelo Gaja, was simply incredible. It had so many layers of flavor and complexity. Like all three of the Barolos, there was a base of earthly flavor, but it had the most complex mix of fruit flavors. I wish I could describe it better, but I couldn’t bring myself to take notes. I have to have this wine again if I want to attempt to describe it properly.
The seven wines we drank from left to right: the Gattinara, a white wine we drank at the table, the Moccagattta, the Gaja, the Giacomo Conterno, the Renato Ratti, and the Elvio Pertinace.
All six wines were terrific, and I could easily drink any one of them again. There was not a single bad wine in this entire batch. It was a wonderful selection of wines, and I learned a lot about the region.
The price range on the wines was quite large. The retail price of the cheapest wine we drank was $24; the most expensive wine retails for around $195. I hate to say it, but the most expensive wine, the Gaja, was the most interesting, complex, and wonderful.
After we completed the tasting, we brought the half-full bottles to our table. A new bottle of white wine was also on the table, along with several bottles of water. For dinner, we ate assorted antipasti followed by several pizzas and pasta. Finally, we were given a selection of desserts and coffee.
The selection of Antipasti was house-cured beef bresaola, thinly sliced beef salami; sformato di parmigiana, a small cheese souffle served with a radish and pomegranate salad; cardoons with bagna cauda; funghi misti; and two green salads. We were given several different pizzas: a mixed mushroom and cheese pizza, a class Margherita pizza, and a four-cheese pizza. The pasta was penne with noci and zucca. Needless to say, the food was fantastic.
I dressed up for the evening; how often does one go out for a great wine tasting?
Overall, it was a wonderful time, and I’m really glad we did it. Hopefully, I will get another chance to do something like this again in the future. I hope Anne, Phil, and Geoff learned as much as I did; they will need the knowledge in preparation for the Olympics in 2006. (I don’t know if I’m going yet.)