From the “on any given Sunday” department…
Tracie B and I were both concerned when, the other day, we read that the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione had been eliminated from the top-ten wines in The New York Times recent blind tasting panel of 04 Brunello.
Blind tasting can be such a tricky business and in many ways, it removes wine from the terrestrial context in which we consume it (and the way it was intended to be consumed). In blind tasting, our experience becomes metaphysical, in other words, beyond the physical inasmuch as it treats wine as an abstraction. The intention is noble: blind tasting is intended to remove as many “extraneous” variables as possible and force the taster(s) to evaluate the wine purely on its sensorial attributes as an empirical expression of its intrinsic value. But wine, by its very (human) nature, cannot be reduced to pure science.
Even Eric, whose palate I admire greatly, was surprised that Il Poggione didn’t make the top-ten cut. “Some very well-known brunellos,” he wrote, “missed the cut in our blind tasting, including one of my perennial favorites, Il Poggione… A cautionary note about blind tastings: they are snapshots of a wine at a particular moment. I would never say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, even if I did reject it here.”
Never ones to say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, Tracie B and I went to Trio in Austin last night and asked our friend sommelier Mark Sayre to open a bottle of the 2004. Above and beyond our friendship, I turn to Mark when I want the proverbial “second opinion” (and his wine program offers the ideal setting for tasting fine wine in Austin).
Tracie B, Mark, and I all agreed that the wine is going through a very tannic moment in its evolution. We opened the bottle, decanted it immediately, and then tasted it immediately. Then, we put it aside and let it aerate for about 45 minutes.
Above: We also tasted Scarpetta 2007 Tocai Friuliano (bottled by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey) with the shrimp croquettes. This old-school wine is one of those “not-for-everyone” wines but just right for me and Tracie B!
At first sip, the wine was overwhelmed by its tannin, but when we returned to it, it had begun to open up beautifully, showing that magical balance of tannin, fruit, and acidity that makes Montalcino (in my view) one of the greatest appellations in the world.
Not everyone made great wine in 2004. As much as the Tuscan wine industry would like us to believe that 2004 was a 5-star vintage, it simply was not: summer heat spikes plagued growers whose vineyards lie at lower elevations.
But, as father-and-son winemaking team Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci will tell you, Il Poggione’s vineyards lie at some of the highest elevations in the entire appellation, reaching 400 meters a.s.l. and thus keeping summer temperatures cooler during warm summer months.
I don’t think 2004 will be remembered as a great vintage in Montalcino but I do think a handful of producers made superb wines and Il Poggione was one of them. The wine has many, many years ahead of it in the bottle and will only get better with age. It’s a young buck right now and just needs some patience and aeration to temper the power of its youth.
The je-ne-sais-quoi moment came when Mark insisted that we pair the fried pork belly with the wine: the classic plum notes of the wine and its tannin attained an ethereal nobility when blended with gelatinous fat and caramelized flavors of the dish.
What happened with the bottle that Eric and the panel tasted in New York? We’ll never know: on any given Sunday, even in a laboratory environment, a bottle of wine can be affected by innumerable variables (including how it was handled by the many actors who “touch” it before it reaches the end user).
Our evaluation? In the words of Tracie B, “Mikey likes it!”