98 Poggio di Sotto unbelievable & the “dinner of dinners” @TonyVallone

November 29, 2012

Last night, I had the great fortune to be invited to speak at Tony’s in Houston, the namesake and flagship restaurant of my good friend and client Tony Vallone.

He had billed the event as the “dinner of dinners” for 2012 and he didn’t disappoint.

After the welcome wine, we paired 2001 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello with Alba truffles over tagliarini, my first truffles in this year of drought-impacted foraging.

The 2001 Bartolo Mascarello is simply one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted and has many, many brilliant years ahead of it. It had been opened a few hours prior and while it wasn’t entirely generous with its fruit, its elegance and balance are unrivaled.

But the wine that really wowed me was the 1998 Brunello di Montalcino by Poggio di Sotto. I’d been very lucky to taste this wine many times in the past and I was surprised when I saw Antonio Galloni’s tasting note in which he advised that it was in decline. (Antonio’s my favorite Italian wine writer, btw, and while his word is not sacrosanct, I do find his palate to align nearly perfectly with mine when it comes to traditional-style wines.)

This wine had what the Italians call grinta, real grit and spunk… Beautiful acidity and the vibrant dark fruit that you expect from classic expressions of the Castelnuovo dell’Abate subzone of Montalcino.

Tony and his general manager Scott Sulma paired with this medley of guinea hen and Taleggio-stuffed tortellini in brodo.

And wow, I just feel like I need to add a chorus of dayenu as I recount this epic meal. As if the previous two dishes weren’t enough to make his guests swoon, Tony thrilled the room (which reacted with a unanimous gasp as the beef enter the room) with a platter of nearly two-month-aged prime rib.

Dessert — sweet zeppoli stuffed with torchon de foie gras (how’s that for fusion!) paired with 1990 Recioto della Valpolicella by Quintarelli…

I like to joke that Tony’s is an oil moguls commissary. On any given night, you’ll a handful of billionaires in his restaurant — at the very least.

How I ever found my way to a seat at that table, I still don’t really know.

As I sit this afternoon, on the outskirts of Houston in a Starbucks using the free wi-fi and listening to Christmas music as I type and type and type at the keyboard for my clients, I can’t help but take a deep breath and contemplate the extraordinary counterpoints of life.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace

How I ever got here, I’ll never really know. But I sure am thankful for the many gifts life has given me…


Poggio di Sotto 2006 Rosso di Montalcino

January 2, 2012

Since the arrival of Georgia P three weeks ago today, we’ve been cooking at home every night (no takeout a casa Parzen except for Christmas day, when we just had to have Chinese and Woody Allen) and drinking “everyday” wines that we love — entry-tier Santorini by Sigalas, Verdicchio by Bucci, Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo, all ideal because they’ll last for a few days once opened).

Meals have been simple and wine hasn’t been a focus at our house lately but I did open a special bottle of wine for Alfonso when he and his SO Kim came to meet their putative granddaughter for the first time.

Together with Brunelli, Poggio di Sotto is one of the “younger” estates that has really carved out a name for itself as an indisputable icon of the appellation. And the bottle that we shared that night — from a good to great vintage, depending on the producer — was a true benchmark for Sangiovese: brilliant nervy acidity, technicolor fruit balanced by layered minerality, and a focus and precision that is uncommon among the sea of Brunello bottlers who came late to the game.

The wine isn’t cheap but it’s one of those wines that I wish every young wine professional in our country could taste: it is the apotheosis of what Sangiovese can and should be (as Alfonso pointed out in his excellent post yesterday). And perhaps more significantly, it’s an expression of what the variety can attain when it’s grown in the best sites and with the proper care.

The Poggio di Sotto farm lies in the southern subzone of the appellation, in the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. In the photo above, I’m looking south-southeast toward Mt. Amiata from the village. The Poggio di Sotto farm is about a three-minute drive east, with some of the highest south-and southeast-facing vineyards in the appellation (I’ve actually never visited the farm but I’ve driven by it a thousand times).

Poggio di Sotto was recently sold to pharmaceutical giant, northerner Claudio Tipa, whose Tuscan empire continues to grow. But from what I’ve seen with his other acquisitions of legacy wineries (like Grattamacco), Tipa seems to be committed to maintaining continuity. Let’s hope it’s the case: to lose these wines would be to lose an icon, a benchmark, and a piece of that “cultural patrimony” that some of us continue to hold dear…


PLEASE do not say BABY BRUNELLO! And hypertextual blog love

October 16, 2010

Above: Sangiovese 2010 at Le Presi.

Do Bianchi is by no means a “rant blog” so let me put this as gently as possible.

PLEASE DO NOT SAY “Baby Brunello” (or “Baby Barbaresco” or “Baby Barolo”)!

(And while we’re at it, please do not say “Super Tuscan” either!)

Baby Brunello: I recently heard this abominable lemma uttered by a colleague, whom I admire greatly for both his palate and his experience in the field, and I felt obligated to speak up against this oft repeated aberration.

Although fruit intended for Brunello di Montalcino often ends up in Rosso di Montalcino, the latter undergoes an entirely different vinification process (generally shorter maceration times) and is primarily made from younger vines and fruit grown in sites not suited for Brunello di Montalcino.

Rosso di Montalcino is intended for drinking its youth and is generally less tannic and more approachable early on. There are exceptions, like Poggio di Sotto’s 2002 Rosso di Montalcino, where Palmucci reclassified his entire harvest as Rosso. But why did he do that? Because the juice, however lip-smackingly delicious, was not worthy of the epithet “Brunello.” (Please note my use of the term in its etymological sense, Lat. epitheton.)

So, please folks, be Brunello and be proud or be Rosso and be proud but don’t use the [ugh] “baby” word!

Tracie P calls me “baby” but she don’t call no Brunello “baby”! ;-)

In other news…

Some wonderful hypertextual blog love has been happening this week. After our friend Giuseppe Vaira sent me and McDuff a stunning photo of sunrise over the Bricco delle Viole in Barolo, McDuff posted this fantastic topographical survey of the growing site and croosadabilia wrote a lovely ode to Piedmont over at ‘na cica de vino. (If you don’t know croosadabilia’s blog, check it out!)

I love (and am fascinated by) the way the blogging medium generates hypertext.

In my case, I quoted a Neil Young lyric, McDuff went the technical contemplative route, and croosadabilia waxed epigrammatic.

How groovy is that?


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