We have just been through Germany and Switzerland. Not much to report in terms of wine. As winemakers, the Krauts seem to make exceptional beer makers. And the Swiss appear to mainly be a bunch of bankers with a penchant for pocketknives and cuckoo clocks.
Coming over the Alps and into Italia has been a different story though. We are in Bellagio, on Lake Como, and I have been eating like a peasant every day and drinking like a king every night. This, for me, is perfection.
Let me first say that Bellagio is full of Americans who appear disappointed to have found neither a casino nor a dancing fountain anywhere in this delightful little town. All is not lost for these ignorant ingrates though - they are able to console themselves by telling everyone very loudly that George Clooney lives across the other side of the lake, and, more importantly, that Obama just killed Osama.
Chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" are deplorable at the best of times (second only to Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi), but in this place it seems almost unforgivable. I want to tell them that it is in fact a self-deprecating parody invented by Homer Simpson, but I fear they would probably not understand and that, if by some miracle they did, it would only encourage them.
That said, amongst the myriad of vertical, cobbled laneways that comprise this incredible little town, I find the cellar of one of the best wine merchants I have ever come across: Enoteca Principessa.
They have an enomatic machine filled with an enormous selection of the very best Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco. Luigi is ridiculously knowledgable and very friendly. We communicate in his rough English and my pidgin Italian. He declines to charge me for my expensive sessions at the enomatic machine. I like him, and I like his cellar. A lot.
And so I return to visit him everyday at around 7 o'clock, as soon as the twins go to sleep. We taste together for a while and he teaches me about the important Italian grapes and regions. He sorts me out with a good bottle, I stop at the local deli on my way home, and then sit down on my terrace at 9 o'clock to feast on red wine, pink meats and soft cheeses as the sun goes down.
My two favorite wines were (like my last Italian review) from Tuscany and Piedmont, but at completely different ends of the price scale.
The Tuscan was a Canalicchio Di Sopra 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva at €28 ($40).
100% Sangiovese and 200% delicious.
It pours out with deep dark flourish, and gives off a lifted, foresty whiff that sweetens as you swill it in the glass.
The drinking is fantastic, and is the primary reason (as it should be) why I bought a case of it. Not too sweet, not too savoury. It is layered and long and lingers on your lips as you savour it to the last drop.
Yes, it is slightly grippy and not entirely refined. But that is the very thing I like about Italy in general anyway and it gives this wine an authentic sense of place. Luigi tells me it will soften nicely in the next ten years.
I drank it with some crumbly, sharp, hard cheese, and will do so again in 2021.
Drink with: Hard cheeses and wild boar sausage
The second wine was the Gaja 2004 Barbaresco. Angelo Gaja is the rockstar of Italian plonk, and his wines are priced accordingly. This one was €180 ($250).
Mr Gaja (variously described as the King of Barbaresco or, simply, God) is credited with introducing French techniques into Italian wine-making. And doing it exceptionally well.
This wine is his flagship and is proudly 100% Nebbiolo. Luigi tells me (many times) that 2004 was a "very important" year for Italian wine. And it shows.
It positively glows in the glass and sends plumes of truffly, earthy goodness straight up your nostril. And because it's made with bits of real Barbaresco, you can be sure it's good.
The drinking is like sucking down raspberries that have been blended with cream and silk and politicians' promises. There are tannins, but they are well-tamed and polite.
It takes opulence and finesse to entirely new levels. Luigi says it will last for 50 years, and who am I not to believe him.
The Clonakilla SV was previously my highest rated wine, but no longer.
I visited the winery a couple of days later. It sits amidst steepled pines on vined hills as old as time, and completely dominates the medieval hilltop village of Barbaresco in which it sits.
Gaja doesn't deal with the public, but if you happen to find yourself in Piedmont and manage to blag your way beyond the steel gates (or slip in, as I did, behind the delivery truck...), then I highly recommend the experience. :)
Try though I might, I will never be able to describe the allure of Nebbilolo better than The Man himself:
"Cabernet is to John Wayne, as Nebbiolo is to Marcello Mastroianni. Cabernet has a strong personality, open, easily understood and dominating. If Cabernet were a man, he would do his duty every night in the bedroom, but always in the same way. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, would be the brooding, quiet man in the corner, harder to understand but infinitely more complex."
True dat. True dat.
Drink with: Bella donna