Signor Tannino vi sono obbligato (two deceptively tannic wines)

Saturday night found Tracie P and me on a double-date at one of our favorite dinner spots in Austin, Trio at the Four Seasons, where Austin’s very own celeb sommelier Mark Sayre generously allows MOT (that’s members of the trade not members of the tribe for the Hebraically inclined among you) to bring their own wines.

I always point to Lettie’s article, “Corkage for Dummies,” as a great rule-of-thumb guide to the etiquette of corkage. I’d only add to it, that beyond bringing a bottle that’s not on the sommelier’s wine list, I always try to bring something that I think the sommelier will enjoy tasting — a bottle or label that might just surprise her/him.

On this occasion, we brought along two deceptively tannic wines: the 2006 Romangia Bianco by Dettori (Sardinia) and the 2009 Grignolino del Monferrato (above) by La Casaccia (Piedmont), two of our favorite wines from two of our favorite producers.

Thanks to what must be significant maceration time for the Vermentino (I’m still trying to get Dettori to send me some tech notes on this wine and will post as soon as they arrive), this wine is TANNIC with a capital T. In fact, it was MORE tannic than it was on at least two other occasions when we tasted it between the fall of 2010 and last Saturday. Crunchy and salty, with layers and layers of white and pitted fruit (dried, cooked, and gloriously ripe), it’s time IMHO to put the rest of my allocation down in the cellar to be revisited in a year or so. It’s such a great value for people like us who like to age white wine.

The Vermentino was FANTASTIC with the caramelized and dolce amaro flavors of chef Todd Duplechan’s pork belly, which he seasons with the same ingredients used to make Coke. (I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it gladly again: in Texas, where pork belly is de rigueur at nearly any venue that caters to carnivores, I’ve found no one so far who does it as well as Todd does, with seasonal pickled vegetables and a flair that takes it from A to A+. Be sure to eat it when it’s still hot and the unctuous character of the fat sings like Tammi Terrell to the crispy crust of Marvin Gaye.)

Even chef Todd was surprised by how tannic the Grignolino was: “It’s so light in color,” he said when he came out from the kitchen to chat with our table, “I wasn’t expecting so much tannin.”

Very little Grignolino makes it to this country and honestly, I didn’t fully grasp what an amazing and powerfully tannic wine this grape could deliver until I visited the folks at La Casaccia. The first time Tracie P tasted it late last year, she looked up at me from the dinner table and asked plaintively, as if she were a Texan Oliver Twist, “can there be more Grignolino in our future?” The wine was sumptuous (not something you would expect from a wine so light in color) and delicious, with that characteristic rhubarb note that you find in classically vinified Grignolino. The wine was stunning with my Brooklyn-cut pork chop.

O Signor Tannino, vi sono obbligato!

The Marchioness of Monferrato

Above: Yesterday we “tasted” the terroir in a cellar in Monferrato at one of my new favorite wineries, La Casaccia. The unique, sandy tufaceous subsoil of Monferrato is what gives the wine its outstanding minerality and savory flavors. As per Monferrato’s tradition, La Casaccia’s cellar was literally excavated out of the subsoil. Remarkably, the crumbly walls need no support.

Long before I really knew much about Italian wine, other than the fact that I loved it, I was intrigued by the wines of Monferrato.

As Boccaccio recounts in the first day of his Decameron, when the king of France called on the Marchioness of Monferrato: “Many courses were served with no lack of excellent and rare wines, whereby the King was mightily pleased, as also by the extraordinary beauty of the Marchioness, on whom his eye from time to time rested.”

The wines of Monferrato were already famous by the middle ages and long before the current renaissance of Italian wines, Grignolino and Barbera grown in Monferrato enjoyed wide fame and graced the tables of nobility and clergy.

Above: I also really loved the wines of Marco and Giuseppina Canato, children of share croppers who now grow and vinify excellent Barbera and Grignolino and run a homey bed and breakfast. Just look at them! You can’t help but adore them.

I don’t have time this morning to post any further, as I have been re-posting vigorously over at Barbera2010. The Barbera 7 are a loquacious bunch!

Above: I also loved this single-vineyard Grignolino “Tumas” by Scamuzza and the inimitable Laura Bertone, who paired her groovy, mineral-driven wine with oysters!

I’m exhausted after 3 days of interpreting and blogging and tasting. I miss Tracie P terribly, and in the spirit of honest blogging (something we’ve been talking about a great deal, here in Asti), I cannot conceal that a very good friend of mine has broken my heart… Yesterday was a tough day but the Barbera 7 rallied around me, with cheer and words of support, and sweet messages from my beautiful wife through the night assuaged the hurt…

How can you mend a broken heart?