It’s been a marathon few days, with a heavy slant on Italian wine, a subject which regular followers of my blog will know is a subject very dear to my heart.
It started on Saturday in a pop up gallery near Exmouth market in London. The gallery was host to Gruppo illy, of coffee fame, and the gallery was playing host to all manner of seminars, from coffee tastings to seminars on architecture.
But the company also owns a wine estate in the Tuscan region of Montalcino – Mastrojanni
My role involved co-hosting a vertical tasting of Mastrojanni’s Brunello di Montalcino, an event which was a sell-out (probably thanks to Jancis Robinson MW, who kindly gave the event a plug on her website).
I was joined at the front of the room by Francesco Illy. A bearded, relaxed and amusing guy, who clearly loves wine and who quickly rolled up his sleeves and started cracking bottles open not long after his arrival, and who regaled the attentive audience with his views on what should and shouldn’t be dismissed in Montalcino.
He believes, for example, that the mixed-reviewed 2006 vintage is just as good quality as that of the much-hyped vintage of 2004. We tasted the 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2003 Brunello di Montalcinos, followed by the 2006 and 2004 vintages of Mastrojanni’s one hectare, single vineyard plot of Brunello do Montalcino, Schiena d’Asino.
At the end of the event I did a quick straw poll to gauge people’s reactions. Perhaps predictably the favourite wine was the final one, the 2004 Schiena d’Asino. Was this because it was a revered vintage AND it was the single vineyard wine? Who knows.
What really impressed me though, was the lovely condition of the 2003. Fine, fruity, drinking for now, I would say it’s at its peak. Which goes to show that even in a a widely dismissed vintage in many parts of Europe after the intense heat wave, there are still good wines to be had from this year.
My second Italian wine highlight of the week was courtesy of Barbaresco producer Sottimano.
Andrea Sottimano, who hosted us at lunch, is that brilliant combination of being both hugely knowledgeable but hugely charming too, and his English so faultless that he joined in (and encouraged!) many a characteristically-British self depricating joke that even some British people probably wouldn’t get.
I was lucky enough to sit next to him at lunch in Enoteca Turi in Putney, where we had such a fabulous lunch, and as Piemontese as Lea & Sandeman (Sottimano’s importers since last year) could arrange, and so true to Piemonte form that it instigated many a spontaneous Italian rapture of praise from my Andrea during the course of the meal. I think it’s safe to say he was impressed.
We had a fabulous comparative tasting during the first course, of Piemontese roast veal and spinach ravioli with butter and sage (I know… And that was just the starter!). Andrea and Patrick Sandeman (I had been advised that the wines chosen for lunch was a joint decision between these two men) decided to show two different Barbaresco crus (vineyard sites) and vintages, the Fausoni 2007 and the Pajore 2006.
The difference was remarkable, and plain to see. While the Fausoni had plump, juicy fruit, and was soft and rounded, some might say more immediately drinkable, the 2006 at first looked lean and if I’m being honest, a little mean alongside it.
Boy did that change. By the time we’d finished the very generous starter (and before you ask, there was no question of not finishing it), the Fausoni was left whimpering in the corner, almost defeated, a bit like a 100m sprinter who had good intentions of finishing the races but whose wings had been clipped by one too many false starts.
The class of the 2006 went from strength to strength. And as the table discussed at length the ‘cerebral’ qualities of this tight but satisfyingly classy Nebbiolo wine, we were then treated to another wine brain strain, in the form of the same vineyard, Pajore, but from the 2004 vintage, alongside our roast and braised venison with soft polenta and wilted spinach.
The meal ended with another cru wine, Sottimano’s Cotta 2001, which was throwing a large amount sediment, for which Andrea apologised and explained it as the result of the previous day’s bmi flight coming over to London, which essentially gave the wine an inevitable Sodastream treatment. Nevertheless, it was still tasted beautiful, with a pleasing meaty breadth, fine acidity and a gorgeous texture. The lunch was an impeccable masterclass in Barbaresco.
While both Brunello and Nebbiolo are Italian varieties with a reputation for their macho, masculine styles, when accompanied by amusing and charming patrons, they seem to take on a whole new approachability.
While the wines’ quality were in no question, it’s also clear that I’m a bit of a sucker for someone who has a contagious laugh and who can crack a funny joke.