Bertani 1986 Amarone della Valpolicella, that’s what friends are for

Tracie P was just reminding me of a time in my life, not so long ago, when I needed a little help from my friends. Well, last night one of those friends, Yele, needed a little help from me and Erickson… I mean, you can’t drink 1986 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella by yourself, now, can you?

What a mind-blowingly amazing bottle, with such bright acidity in a wine more than two decades old! Drank a lot of great, old wine in 2010 but this bottle is a real stand-out: it had that unforgettable “nerviness,” that “backbone” of acidity that Italians use in their canon of wine descriptors. I would have always reached for the 88 with Bertani (also a great and unforgettable wine, tasted most recently in February 2009), but the 86 was better IMHO.

The best part, though, was that wide, familiar, contagious grin on Yele’s face when we were perusing the cellar at Third Corner in Ocean Beach, California, and he pulled me away from the 02 La Turque to show me his find. That’s what friends are for, right? 01 Musar white was stunning as well and the grandfathered retail sales program and corkage policy at Third Corner always make a splurge like this so much more palatable.

Keep smilin’, keep shinin’
Knowin’ you can always count on me, for sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for

In other news…

Just had to share these images from clients and friends Dan and Chrissa who invited me in for some holiday cheer when I dropped off their Do Bianchi Christmas Six-Pack.

Chrissa’s wonderful zuppa maritata (named, btw, not because it is served at Italian weddings, a folkloric etymology, but rather because it is a “marriage” or pairing of ingredients).

Dan’s homemade pork sausage for the meatballs.

Chrissa’s homegrown escarole for the soup.

Chrissa’s lemon cake. Damn, those two can cook!

Recently tasted: Timorasso and Barbera from Vigneti Massa

Above: Barbera Terra by Walter Massa and the cheese board at Third Corner in Encinitas, CA.

The ever-pungent Terry Hughes, one of my favorite daily reads over at Mondosapore, often teases me that out here in far-flung San Diego, I’m living among the antipodes and that I should come to my senses and move back to the City (yes, there is only one city in Terry’s mind). Despite his antipodean chiding, I’ve been enjoying the ocean and the sun and the laid-back feel of “America’s finest city.” And to Terry’s surprise (and often to mine as well), I occasionally come across some interesting Italian wine here: case in point, wine director Brian Donegan at Market (in Del Mar) recently poured me a glass of Timorasso, a rare white grape from the Tortonese hills of Piedmont, nearly forgotten and extinct until Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa revived it some years ago.

Above: Brian Donegan, wine director at Market, is one of San Diego’s leading wine professionals. He always surprises me with his by-the-glass program: last time with a Vin de Savoie by the glass. My experiences at Market have been good, although I’ve heard that mileage may vary. To a New Yorker (which I remain in my heart, despite my California roots), it’s a strange confluence of high-end market-fare dining and So Cal “heavy metal” attitude (including sports programs on the constantly glowing flat-screens in the bar and a row of luxury SUVs in the valet parking lot). Brian divides his list into “New” and “Old World” selections, an editorial decision that I believe educates his patrons and informs their palates. But, unfortunately, he includes Californian-grown Italian varieties among the Italian lots — a blow to us terroirists.

According to Calò, Scienza, and Costacurta’s Vitigni d’Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy), Timorasso Bianco (also known as Timoraccio, Timorosso, Timorazza, or Morasso) was a popular grape variety in northwestern Italy until the advent of phyloxera, when it virtually disappeared. It was brought back to the fold by Massa, who makes wines in the province of Alessandria (Piedmont). The straw-colored wine was fresh on the nose and had more body than Cortese, the top white grape in a region where red grapes prevail. It also had a pronounced minerality that you don’t find in other Piedmont whites.

Above: in classic So Cal fashion, the bar at The Third Corner in Encinitas is also dominated by flat-screens and sports programs. I’ve always been a fan of the Ocean Beach location and although you won’t find me at the bar (wine and TV don’t pair well in my view), the main dining room in Encinitas is one of the warmest, most comfortable in San Diego.

Massa’s been on my mind: another one of San Diego’s sommelier stars, Alex Lindsay of The Third Corner in Encinitas recently turned me on to Massa’s entry-level Barbera, “Terra.” This stainless-steel, very reasonably priced wine impressed me with its earthiness and it certainly deserves its name (terra or earth). It showed natural fruit and vibrant acidity, pairing perfectly with the cheese board. I’ve not tasted Massa’s higher end wines (I believe he makes a Croatina and a single-vineyard Barbera, both aged in barrique — probably not for me). But I found this $15 bottle to be a great example of an affordable terroir-driven wine. Californian Barbera just doesn’t cut it for me.

Terry, I’m pouring Massa’s Timorasso tonight at Jaynes Gastropub if you’d like to stop by!