Wine Notes: Using the F Word
Using the F Word And Other Tricks for Finding the Best Wines
Do you have any wealthy friends who invite you to their parties and serve $150 bottles of wine? I played a gig with the Nottingham Brass Quintet (I play trumpet) at a party hosted by a true wine aficionado. His collection was mostly French Burgundy, and he was very proud to give us a tour of his climate-controlled wine cellar. I simply loved the wine he served and exclaimed, “This is great wine. It must have cost $75!” The host looked down his nose at me and said, “That wine was at least $150 per bottle.” At the time, I was shocked that that someone would serve multiple bottles of a wine that expensive at a party. We enjoyed his wine, but have yet to be invited back.
Since then, I will admit to buying one case of “special occasion” wine that cost $100 a bottle, but that is a rare buy for me. I’m always striving to find a good bottle for under $25, but regardless of the price, there is only one way to determine if a bottle is worth the money: Taste it. Fortunately, the industry understands this concept and there are plenty of opportunities to taste expensive wines even if you are not really in the market for a lavish purchase. My favorite method involves the F-word: Free.
The best wine stores schedule free tastings regularly. I have attended many that have featured one or two wines in the $75-plus range. When it gets close to a wine-drinking holiday, the expensive bottles are offered more often in order to tempt your palate and your pocketbook. The difficulty with the free wine tastings is that the focus is on pushing wine that has just become available for sale, so the quality can be hit or miss. There are also opportunities to pay for a wine education. I once attended a “Sake Seminar” at Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits in Newburyport. We were treated to a thorough explanation of the rice wine making process and tasted about 10 different bottles that were upwards of $50 each. It was well worth the $20 admission fee to determine that sake is not for me.
Most quality wines are intended to be consumed with food, and there is no better place for a wine tasting than at a wine dinner. Wine is, after all, a romantic beverage. To be truly enjoyed to the fullest, it needs to be served properly, with great food pairings. I recently attended a wonderful wine dinner at the Lanam Club sponsored by Andover Classic Wines. It was Italian night, and they had invited benchmark wine experts from three major regions of Italia: Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto.
Piedmont is in the northwest, where the primary grape is nebbiolo. Wines from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco are the most celebrated. Winemaker Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta winery spoke about his vineyards in Barbaresco, where, as he emphasized, 90 percent of winemaking occurs in the vineyard and only 10 percent in the cellar. His wines paired perfectly with the cheesy Alfredo sauce and ravioli. As expected, his wines were the most expensive.
Throughout the evening, we tasted wines from three different vineyards, each of which cost over $150 per bottle! Nicoletta Nafi, export director for the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona estate, spoke about the wine they make in the famous town of Montalcino in Tuscany. The sangiovese grape is king all over Tuscany, but Montalcino has the reputation for the best vineyards. We tasted the Rosso di Montalcino ($35), which is aged one year in the winery’s Slovenian oak barriques, but their premier wine is Brunello di Montalcino ($80), which by law must be aged five years before release. We enjoyed this with a pairing of baked ziti with tomato sauce.
From the Veneto region, owner and winemaker Giovanni Bertani shared his creations from Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve. The winery is located in Valpolicella and their premier offering is Amarone di Valpolicella ($80). Made from a blend of thick, partially dried, and dark-skinned corvina, corvinone and rondinella grapes, this wine has no need for a food pairing, but does go well with strong-tasting meats and cheeses. The Bertani family made its first Amarone in 1928, and still has 2,000 bottles! You could own one for a mere $10,000, but, unfortunately, he didn’t bring any for us to taste.
It was a great experience to meet these three winemakers and enjoy their products in a proper setting. Plan on visiting Andrea Difiore at Andover Classic Wines for her best recommendations. Each of these wines was outstanding, but my favorite was the 2012 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino ($57).
Yes, it is worth spending money on premium wines, but you must taste first. Whether you’re at a wine dinner, seminar or free tasting, enjoy the journey and expand your palate to include some of the world’s finest wines. Life is too short to drink cheap wine. Salute.
Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits
Newburyport, Mass. l (978) 462-4451
Andover Classic Wines
Andover, Mass. l (978) 470-0500