Friday, January 19, 2007

A Voice From the Past: Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 1994

Taking a break from Franciacorta -- Paolo De Marchi was one of the first people I met when I got interested in wines in the early 90s, and at some point in 1996 he handed me a bottle of his 1994 Chianti Classico. I decided it was a little young, put it in the cellar when I got home, and found it today when I was looking for something to go with a steak.

Its color has held up very well; it's deep almandine ruby with just a hint of orange in the rim, and has an elegant bouquet with warm balsam-laced tart fruit with saddle leather and savory overtones. Enticing in a mature way. On the palate it's rich, with savory balsamic red berry fruit supported by acidity that has a polished leather feel to it, and by tannins that have become silky with time, though there is still an underlying burr that led it to go very well with the steak, while the clean tart balsamic finish nicely balanced the steak's aftertaste. Mature, but eminently drinkable.

In short, it was a treat, displaying considerable grace and depth that are all the more impressive because 1994 was a good, but not great, vintage. I could have enjoyed it years ago, but I'm glad I waited because it had a lot more to say now, almost all of it interesting, than it might have then.

Wines, like people, mature, and though the current trend is to drink them soon after release, there's a great deal to be said for giving them time -- it's the difference between talking to a promising teen, and to an adult who had lived and learned well.