92 Biondi Santi Rosso and 89 Grattamacco

Bandmate and neighbor Greg Wawro brought over a few aged Porterhouse steaks last night to pair with some big Tuscan wines that I had been saving: a ’92 Biondi Santi Rosso and an ’89 Grattamacco (note how dated and simplistic the label of the Grattamacco appears in the photo above).

The 1992 vintage is widely considered to have been a poor one in Tuscany: did Franco Biondi Santi use his top grapes for this Rosso that year? I think that this is the case since he made little or no Brunello that year… at least, there doesn’t seem to be any on the market. This bottle came to me via a self-described hobbyist of vintage wine who lives in Mondovì in Piedmont. It was so moderately priced that I couldn’t resist buying it. I wasn’t sure if it would survive the trip nor was I certain that the wine hadn’t lost its life. I decanted it about thirty minutes before drinking. Although the first aromas were not so pleasant, the wine opened up beautifully. It certainly had seen better days but for me, there’s nothing like the taste of old wine. It was bright and still had a lot of good acidity. Biondi Santi’s wines are made expressly to age and this one paired wonderfully with our bistecche alla fiorentina (alla Upper West Side).

The 1989 Grattmacco… pure hedonistic pleasure. I’m really not one for Bordeaux-style wines from Italy. But I had a chance to taste a lot of Grattamacco working for one of my former clients and really came to enjoy the wines. When I had the opportunity to buy this bottle at a discounted price (one of the perks afforded by the client), I jumped. Historically, Grattamacco has been made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. This bottle seemed to be an even balance of the first two, with lesser amounts of the Italian grape. It was fantastic and paired beautifully with aged cheddar.

The best thing about the Grattamacco was how the wood (i.e., the barrique, the new oak) had integrated – or better yet – had had the time to integrate well. In this country, we are so accustomed to drinking young overly oaked Bordeaux-style wines, that most wine enthusiasts believe the prickly sensation in the back your mouth is a good thing. On the one hand we drank a wine that had no barrique whatsoever. Although the Rosso has passed its peak, it was still very much alive. An oaked Rosso di Montalcino would never last that long (fourteen years!). On the other hand, we drank a very modern wine where the flavor of the wine was not overshadowed by the new wood.

A judicious balance of Old World and New… the wines were some of the most interesting and rewarding that I have ever opened in my home.

A Northern Utopie

Above: Nous Non Plus in their own little Utopie in Québec City (photo by Emily Welsch).

Last night found Nous Non Plus in Québec City, where we dined at l’Utopie, a fine restaurant – as the fates would have it – smack dab next door to the club where we performed. Maître d’hôtel Frédéric and sommelier Bertrand graciously created a meal for us, pairing flavors and textures to the wines we had selected under their tutelage. (In another happy twist of fate, I would run into the two of them at a tasting in New York only a few days later!)

The first wine was a white: Costières de Nîmes 2003, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. The latter, Bertrand told us, has been aged in large oak casks in order to achieve measured oxidation of the wine. As a result, the wine was rich in color and wonderfully aromatic. On one level the style struck me as completely modern: the wine was highly manipulated and some might say affected. At the same time, I thought about how he had used a very old technique (aging in large oak barrels where greater amounts of air cause the wine to "age" more quickly) to obtain the richness he wanted (in balance with the conventionally vinified Grenache). The wine was bold and drank more like a red than a white in its mouthfeel and finish. Fréderique paired it with Sea Scallops sprinkled to taste with aromatized fleur de sel.

The next wine was a Coteaux du Languedoc 2003, a 100% Carignan. The wine seemed to embrace the "biodynamique" approach that has become an overarching philosophy for French winemakers in recent years. The sturdy Carignan paired well with Nova Scotia stockfish served over grilled chestnut soup and mashed green cabbage and raisins.

While the star of the evening remained the Costières de Nîmes, the biggest treat for me was the St-Joseph 2003, a 100% Syrah. Many believe that Northern Rhône represents today the greatest value in fine and collectible wine and this wine was fantastic. I enjoyed it immensely with the macreuse, a lean cut of beef served over celeriac, foie gras, marrow, and armillaire mushrooms.

As Bertrand and Frédéric rocked on the dance floor at our show, I couldn’t help but think we had found a small utopia in Québec. The band played seventeen songs, including three encores, and we all slept very well that evening.