2001 Grattamacco and why Sangiovese makes all the difference

Speaking Italian well has its perks: when Italian bigwig producers and enologists come to Texas, I generally get an invitation to dinner and am always seated next to said bigwigs.

Last night, I was the guest of Tunisian-born pharmaceutical giant Claudio Tipa and his enologist, Milanese-born Maurizio Castelli, called a “Tuscan legend” by my friend, top wine dude and author, David Lynch in his Vino Italiano.

I’ve never been a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grown in Tuscany, but I’ve always had a weak spot for Grattamacco. Despite the fact that it’s way out of my price range, I’ve had the good fortune to taste many older vintages over the course of the years.

Contrary to what one might expect, Claudio and Maurizio were very much alla mano, as the Italians say, easy-going and fun to talk to and I thoroughly relished Claudio’s account of the day he told erstwhile Okie oilman and fascist importer Bob Chadderdon to go to quel paese. I was also fascinated by what Maurizio had to say about his work in Georgia, the obstacles of making wine in a war-torn country, and the grand potential of that region to become a world-class producer of fine wine.

Grattamacco has remained true to its roots, as conceived by its founder Milanese industrialist Piermario Meletti Cavallari, in 1977: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese aged in large recycled cask.

While other Bolgheri producers have ripped out their Sangiovese, Claudio stood by the original owner’s vision when he purchased the estate’s hill-side vineyards in 2002. It’s the Sangiovese that gives the wine its trademark acidity and in my view, what makes it taste like Tuscany.

The 2001 was stunning, with earthy tones and bright, nervy acidity. The 03, 04, and 05 were honest expressions of the vintages (far from spectacular IMHO) and the 2006 showed immense promise for its future. (From what I’ve tasted so far, a lot of people made great wine in Tuscany in 06.)

I also really liked Claudio’s 2008 Montecucco Rigoletto, an entry-level wine from his flagship Colle Massari. It was everything I want a Montecucco to be: juicy and grapey, with bright, bright acidity and balanced alcohol. The Ciliegiolo was the star of this blend with Sangiovese and Montepulciano, giving the wine that classic cherry note on the nose that reminds you that Montecucco is a sibling of Morellino and not Montalcino.

The Colle Massari Vermentino was also very good, unctuous and aromatic, honest and real. Chef Todd Duplechan’s foie gras Boudin wasn’t bad either.

Did I mention that Italian majors have all the fun?

In other news…

TGIF: Thank G-ja it’s Friday! I’m so tired of working and am very much looking forward to the weekend with that super fine lady of mine.

Buon weekend, ya’ll!

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.