Sunday, April 09, 2006

On the Importance of Lot Numbers... And a fine wine from Rivera

A friend of mine who imports wines is touring Vinitaly with a friend of his who is planning to open a wine shop. They were tasting, and she found something she liked; as they were leaving the producer's booth, he asked, "Did you get the lot number?"

She looked blankly at him.

You may be wondering why he thinks -- as do I -- lot numbers are so important. After all, So-and-So's 2003 vintage is So-and-So's 2003 vintage. Well, yes and no. If So-and-So makes a small amount of a given wine, just enough to fill one holding tank, it is. However, if the production is too much for one tank (tanks range from 2 to about 200 hectoliters and are proportional to the size of the winery; in terms of bottles this translates to between about 260 and 26,000), then the winemaker will obviously have to put the wine into several tanks. At which point each tank becomes a distinct entity, and though the winemaker will likely try to treat them alike, things can vary from one to the next.

How? First of all, the tanks may not be bottled all at once. Perhaps as needed if the wine in question is intended to be light and zesty, say a simple Dolcetto, or working around the winery's other commitments (say a tank at a time) if the wine is to be laid down prior to release. The differences in tank time can result in slight differences in the various lots.

Second, wines in different tanks can evolve differently, even if they're treated alike: One tank may be in a slightly cooler spot in the building. Something settles out that doesn't in another that is a little warmer. In this case the differences in the lots can be minor, but they can also be substantial.

Or the wines in the different tanks can receive radically different treatments. Some friends of mine tried leaving one tank of one of their white wines on the lees for longer than the others, to see what would happen.

  • The wine from the normal lots was brassy gold with gold highlights, with an elegant bouquet with floral notes, warmth, sea breezes, and hints of white chocolate; on the palate it was smooth, full, round, and crisp, but not tart, with rich fruit that led into a clean persistent finish with slight bitter almond notes. A big wine with tremendous finesse.

  • The special lot was obviously cut from the same cloth, but on steroids: Intensely charged brassy gold with gold highlights, and floral notes laced with sage, herbs, almost caramel-like sugary overtones, and bitter almonds in the bouquet. Pleasing but somewhat biting, and so powerful that the individual nuances interfere with each other. On the palate it was huge, with tremendous fruit and a powerful, very long, finish with extremely intense bitter almond overtones.

The same label, but two different lots and two very different wines.

"In retrospect, we should have called the special lot something else," says the winemaker, adding that they burned their fingers badly: The experiment confused their customers. Those already familiar with the wine, who thought they knew what they were getting, were quite upset by the special bottles, while those who discovered the wine by buying a special bottle were equally upset to discover that most of the wine was lighter.

Lots are, alas, not always created equal.

Returning to Vinitaly, a Red tasted yesterday:

Rivera Rupìcolo Castel del Monte DOC 2004Lot E643DUE

This is a blend of Montepulciano and Nero di Troia, and is deep ruby with black reflections and cherry rim; the bouquet is powerful and elegant, with rich red berry fruit supported by fairly intense stewed bell peppers with some greenish overlying spice. If you're used to the standard international varietals you'll find it decidedly exotic, but also pleasant. On the palate it's full, warm, and rich, with fairly intense red berry fruit mingled with harmonious grilled peppers and supported by ample slightly dusty tannins that flow into a long warm finish with cedary spice and fruit that carry on at length.

It's quite pleasant, in a slightly aggressive key, and will drink very well with succulent red meats, especially grilled meats along the lines of lamb, and will also work well with hearty roasts. Expect the bottle to go quickly.

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