There are three regions of Italy where great Merlot is produced: Latium (Lazio), Friuli, and the Veneto. Yes, there are many famous bottlings of Merlot from Tuscany, many of them very expensive and many collectible. But when it comes to what I like to drink, these are the regions that deliver the minerality and the tar and goudron that I look for in expressions of Merlot.
These three are also the only regions where Merlot has a tradition that stretches back to the early post-war era. Remember: Sassicaia, originally produced in the 1940s and first released commercially in 1968, was and is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blend; Tignanello was a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend that appeared in the 1970s. Ornellaia and its Masseto came later.
Merlot was widely grown especially in Friuli and the Veneto in the years that followed the second world war. When you ask the people who live there why their parents planted Merlot? they invariably tell you that Merlot had always been grown there (at least as long as they can remember).
One of my all-time favorite expressions of Italian Merlot is produced by Vignalta in the Colli Euganei in the province of Padua. I feel an especially deep bond to the wines because they are produced in the area where my beloved Petrarch spent his last years (and where he transcribed the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, the subject of my doctoral thesis).
Here’s my post on our visit to Vignalta a few years ago.
Last night Greg and I shared a bottle of the 2007 Vignalta Colli Euganei Rosso (mostly Merlot with a smaller amount of Cabernet Sauvignon) over a meal at my favorite New York steakhouse, Keens.
The wine, aged in old tonneaux, was showing brilliantly last night and its acidity gave it a freshness that really took our enjoyment over the top. So good with the rare porterhouse.
Keens was wonderful as always and it was such a treat to bump into manager Bonnie as we left.
I’ll be eating my way through the city this week… stay tuned…
N.B. this post will be thoroughly more enjoyable, if you click the YouTube below for the post’s soundtrack.
Next week, I’ll post on the Apulian tasting that Charles Scicolone and I presented at the New York Wine Media Guild luncheon on Wednesday. In the meantime, here are some images from my quick trip to the Big Apple (well worth it if only to party in Harlem the night of the election!).
Bar Milano is my new favorite NYC hang. My buddy and colleague Jim Hutchinson and I hit it up Wednesday night. We had the 2006 Nosiola by Cesconi, which showed well and was reasonably priced, and the sardine in saor (sardines in a sweet and sour sauce), a classic Venetian dish, were the best I’ve had outside the Veneto. Owners Jason and Joe Denton just know how to do it right and they have got to be the coolest dudes — in every sense — on the NYC restaurant scene.
On Tuesday, Greg Wawro and I celebrated his milestone birthday at our favorite steakhouse Keens, always a winner in my book. I treated Greg to the 1998 Corison (yes, a Californian wine!). Keens has a slightly picked-over vertical of Corison but there are still some good ones left. I’ve always found the wine judiciously made. The 10-year-old Cabernet paired beautifully with the porterhouse (which we ordered black and blue, of course).
Before dinner on Wednesday, I visited Alice and snapped this pic of what has got to be New York City’s most talked about toilet. Alice often writes about her toilet in her blog. (Click on the link and read her NY Times Modern Love piece. I was there the night of the 1977 Monsanto but I cannot reveal the name of her admirer.)
Forget NYC: Tracie B is coming to LJ tomorrow! What music will Benoit play at the JG? Stay tuned…