That’s what happens when you taste as many wines as we did last week in Los Angeles.
All in all, my colleagues and I (see below) “tasted through” roughly 120 wines over the course of three days at Sotto, where we are rebooting a wine list that had lost its sense of direction and purpose.
These days, there are so many fantastic wines available in California, where the financial recovery and what are perhaps the most liberal wine regulations in the country combine to deliver a tide of interesting labels.
I’m not sure that any of these will make it on to the list at Sotto, where I’ve been co-curating the program for nearly three years now. But here are my personal highlights from last week’s tastings.
Supreme among them was the 1999 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Riserva Le Case (above). What a wine! I tasted the 1998 last year in Philadelphia at Vetri and found this vintage to be even more mineral-driven and nuanced with layers and layers of dried and fresh stone fruit. Simply stunning…
The Verdicchio was my top wine from the tastings but, man, the Gostolai 2012 Galanìa — a blend of Arvesiniadu and Alvarega (a Malvasia clone) — was a close second and a wine that just blew me away with its originality. Fantastic freshness and vibrancy, wonderful tropical and stone fruit tempered by a strong note of orange zest. If you’re into Italian wine, you need to taste this. It’s just one of those nothing-else-like-it wines.
I’ve always been a Struzziero fan ever since I first tasted the wines (in Cleveland in 2006, while on tour with my band Nous Non Plus). But the 2012 single-vineyard Fiano, as the Italians say, had una marcia in più, an extra gear under the hood. The floral notes on the nose were practically aphrodisiacal.
The Guccione 2010 (?) Catarratto was another wholly original wine on my palate. Slightly oxidative with judicious skin contact, this elegant expression of Catarratto offered a glimpse of the grape variety’s potential when farmed organically and vinified thoughtfully. Expensive but truly impressive. Even the bees wax seal, said the rep, was organic.
At 12.7% alcohol, the 2010 Napa Valley Charbono Fable by Brack Mountain was one of the best bottlings of Charbono I’ve ever tasted (up there with Tony Coturri’s). This wine had everything going for it: brilliant acidity, balanced alcohol, freshness, focused red fruit, and that wonderful note of earth that unmitigated Charbono should always have in my experience. Another entirely original wine in my wine life book and entirely delicious and food-friendly.
How could I not love the 2005 Bramaterra by La Palazzina? Long before Nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco captivated the palates of fine wine lovers and collectors, wines like this from Vercelli province were counted among Italy’s greatest (Soldati in his landmark Vino al vino, 1975, appears much more excited to taste wines from Bramaterra than their counterparts in Langa, for example). I wish I had more time to spend with this wine but hopefully it will be coming to Texas soon. I highly recommend it to you.
In other news…
I’m sad to report that Rory Harrington is no longer working at Sotto. No one can really wrap her/his mind around his reason for leaving. And I regret that I no longer call him “friend.”
The restaurant trade is an odd one. Its nocturnal, ego-driven milieu often breeds dysfunction.
So I’ll chalk the dissolution of our friendship up to “workplace hazards.”
The good news is that Christine Veys, above, has stepped up into the role of wine program manager. She’s been a waiter at Sotto since it first opened. And I’ll never forget tasting with her in those early days and being impressed by the sharp focus of her tasting descriptors and her thirst to learn more about every wine we have poured at the restaurant.
She has a natural gift for wine tasting and a work ethic to match.
Her enthusiasm and energy helped me to shake off the blues brought on by Rory’s departure and they fill me with hope for the Sotto wine list beta reboot. We have every intention to take the list back to its core mission: wholesome and delicious wines made by people who are conscious of wine’s ethical and ideological role in society beyond its commercial value. I can’t say that every wine on our new list will reach for such lofty goals. But this sense of purpose — sensorial and self-aware — is our aspiration and inspiration.
I hope you’ll join us, if not sooner, then next month when I’ll be visiting again.
Thanks for reading and tasting.