Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thoughts about Sediment

A few years ago I visited a winery near the eastern boarder of the Chianti Classico region, and, since it was near Christmas, I asked the cellermaster if he had any Riserva left. He said no, then hesitated. "Well, I do have last year's, but I don't know if you'd like it - we've had lots of people return it to us."
It turns out that he doesn't filter his wines, and for some reason that vintage gave off more sediment than usual. He must have seen something in my expression, because he ventured, "I can let you have it at 5 Euros per bottle - all sales final, you understand."
I tasted it and bought a case.
The sediment? Well, to be honest I'd almost rather that a well-aged red wine have some - it's a natural byproduct of the aging process, a mix of tartaric acid crystals and other chemicals that settle out as the wine matures. An old wine with no sediment at all would make me wonder what has happened to it that has kept it from developing in the bottle. Has it been filtered, perhaps? Filtration will improve clarity, but at the expense of body, color and bouquet. Or has it received some other insult - a shot of sulfur dioxide? The compound works as a preservative, but can make the wine smell like a burnt match. Better to have a little bit of sediment, which indicates that the wine is still alive. Note the word little – if there's a lot, there may well be something amiss. Also, the wine above the sediment should be crystal clear, not cloudy.
Returning to sediment, it is true that finding a dark deposit in the bottom of your goblet (we are talking about an aged wine here) is a bit off-putting. To avoid this, simply decant the wine. Though the procedure looks complicated, it's easy to do: A day or two before you plan to open the bottle, stand it upright to give the sediment a chance to settle to the bottom. At opening time you will need a decanter (crystal or clear glass is best, because it reveals the color of the wine) and a candle. Remove the metal capsule and uncork the bottle gently. Light the candle and slowly pour the wine into the decanter, holding the bottle in front of (not over) the candle, and watching the candle flame through the neck of the bottle. When the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle it will appear as a dark stream silhouetted against the flame; at this point stop pouring. With practice, you will be able to pour all but the last half-inch or so before the sediment gets there. The trick is to be gentle. And then, enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Few Wines from Cantine Lungarotti

Lungarotti Rubesco Vigna MonticchioGiorgio Lungarotti, whose family owned land in Torgiano (Umbria), became interested in wines in the late 1940s, and realized immediately that the emphasis the then Italian Minister of Agriculture's preference for high volumes rather than quality would lead to a dead end. So he decided to concentrate on quality, and began by doing away with the traditional tenant farmer system on his land; he called everyone together and told them to choose: take the herds or take the land. Almost everyone chose the herds, and began working for him as salaried workers rather than tenant farmers. Since they no longer had a direct interest in the wine (under the tenant system the farmers split the wine, or its value, with the landowner) they were much more receptive to his decision to reduce yields and take other measures to improve quality.

A great deal has happened since then, and now the Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti is Umbria's most important and best-known winery. It's also one of the largest, with 250 hectares of vineyards currently in production, and another 20 in Montefalco (for Sagrantino), whose first vintage, the 2003, will be released next year.

Alas, Giorgio will not see the new wine; he died in 1999 and the leadership of the winery has passed to his daughters, Chiara and Teresa. I recently met with Chiara Lungarotti, at a press luncheon organized in Florence's Ristorante Oliviero. An extremely pleasant meal, during which she poured five of her wines.

We began with Torre di Giano Bianco di Torgiano DOC 2004. It's 70% Trebbiano and 30% Grechetto, and is quite simple, with rich floral and fruity accents on both nose and palate.
Next came Aurente, a barrel fermented 2003 Chardonnay dell'Umbria IGT. Though only 25% of the wood is new (25% is a year old, 25% is 2 years old, and the remainder is 3 years old) I found it to be fairly oaky on the nose, with smoke and ash mingling with butterscotch and white fairly tropical fruit. On the palate it's rich and full with crisp mineral notes supported by mineral acidity and tropical fruit that gains some peppery notes in the finish. A classic, fairly international hot climate Chardonnay, and it will work very well with rich, not too spicy cold cuts (we had it with finocchiona, a Tuscan fennel-laced soft salami, and fig crostini), white meats, or fish.

Next came the 2002 Rubesco Rosso di Torgiano DOC, which is Lungarotti's best known wine. It's 70% Sangiovese -- Chiara finds Umbrian Sangiovese to be softer than Tuscan Sangiovese -- and 30% Canaiolo. In short, the classic Central Italian blend, and it was quite nice, with berry fruit supported quite a bit of acidity (the vintage, in part) on the nose, and lively on the palate, with deft, bright fruit and an undercurrent of graphite bitterness that leads into a long graceful finish. It's one of those wines that will go very fast, and will work well with pasta dishes, including richer meat sauces or stuffed pasta, and also with succulent, not too fatty white or red meats.

The basic Rubesco was followed by Lungarotti's flagship wine, Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio 2000 Torgiano Rosso DOCG, which Chiara is partial to because it's the first vintage she oversaw from beginning to end. It's a deeper pigeon blood ruby than the basic Rubesco, and is also more concentrated on the nose,with ith rich berry fruit jam and considerable warmth mingled with peppery spice; it's nicely balanced and gives an impression of softness that's not quite there on the palate, where it's full, with rich red berry fruit supported by tannins that have a warm splintery burr and flow into a long fruit laced peppery (the spice) finish with lasting warmth. Quite elegant, and it drank very well with the roast pork it was served with.

We finished with Dulcis, a fortified dessert wine made by interrupting the fermentation of a white wine through the addition of alcohol. For me it was the low point of the tasting, especially coming as it did upon the heels of the Rubesco Riserva; the nose is alcoholic and sweet, with dark brown sugar, spice and hyacinth, while the palate reminded me of the sweet chewyness of crushed moscato grapes.

In summary, a very nice meal, and excellent wines; I especially recommend the Rubesco 2002, to be drunk now, whereas the Vigna Monticchio will be a good choice for an elegant meal built around a roast, and will also age nicely at least through 2010.

Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti | Torgiano's Banco D'Assaggi, one of the most important Italian wine shows (founded by Giorgio Lungarotti)