Saturday, September 6, 2008

Is Italian, Is Not Italian

As if anticipating the cooler weather to come, I recently opened two reds that I'd normally pair with the heartier fare of autumn. This is actually par for me — I think of the wines I'll want in the coming season, then anticipation turns quickly into action. (The equal and inverse result: I have a few leaner whites and rosés that are begging to be drunk soon, but I'll get to those soon enough...)

Ferrando Nebbiolo di Carema White Label 2003
You will learn a lot about the Carema appellation generally and Luigi Ferrando specifically if you read importer Neal Rosenthal's Reflections of a Wine Merchant. I'll let you read Rosenthal's personal perspective on your own, but suffice it to say that Carema is a tiny, 40 acre appellation that lies in the steep, slate-strewn hills of subalpine Piedmont. Nebbiolo is the grape, but, as Rosenthal puts it, "[it] is an elegant and graceful wine with a subtle tenacity that is breathtaking... Ferrando's Carema does not have the force or tannic presence of its regal brethren, Barolo and Barbaresco; but there is a balance and energy within this wine that gives it punch and staying power."

Staying power? Yes, I should think so. Ferrando's Black Label is a reserve bottling made only in the very best vintages; this is the regular White Label release, and even so, five years on it is only beginning to mature. For now, it requires a serious decanting at the very least, what with its rock-ribbed acidity and still-resolving tannins. There's a serious sour cherry component here and behind its armor there's the suggestion of depth. I'll wait at least five years to open my next bottle, after which this will be very, very good.

Palmina Mattia 2004
Half a world away and one vintage on comes this refosco-dominated blend from Palmina, the Santa Barbara-based winery that's dedicated to growing Italian varietals. Refosco is a high-acid red grape indigenous to Friuli and Slovenia and, in Palmina's able hands, it is no less acidic or refreshing. In fact, this deep purple wine's acidity was unyielding on its first night, but it showed nicely on night two. The acidity is energetic and the tannins are fine-grained yet substantial, and so the aromas and flavors of plum, graphite, dried herb, currant, and smoke are simultaneously bright and dark.

Plum? Graphite? From refosco? No, that would be the 30% cabernet franc and 15% merlot talking. Refosco speaks of acidity and pepper, and the Mattia pairs well with both peppered fresh heirloom tomato and spicy pork sausage. Although it's showing some depth now now, this should catch fire in the next few years.

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