Monday, September 26, 2011

Zipping through Sicily

"This smells of quince preserves, green tea, narcissus, lily, and hints of mushroom and of caramel and lanolin from barrel. Opulently textured but vivaciously laced with fresh white peach and lemon, this delivers saline, stone-licking mineral notes in its finish ..." Parker's Wine Advocate on a Savennieres

"Sheeet." - Clay Davis, on multiple occasions

I have never read a description of a wine that gave me a real idea of how it tastes. Blackberries? Rose hips? Cut grass? The comparisons used by critics from Robert Parker to the amateur reviewers on just aren’t that helpful. Perhaps my palate is poor or my imagination lacking, but I find myself at a loss when asked to describe a wine in detail.  Words fail me to the extent that I admire Clay Davis, the unrepentantly corrupt politician on the HBO series The Wire who can express whole paragraphs with a single brilliant enunciation of the word “shit:”

The problem confronted me once again when someone in sales asked for two bottles of red for $50 or less total. (Call her 2B Sales.) I suggested Sicilian wines, since I loved the glass of Occhipinti ’09 SP68 I had this summer at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Every sip was delicious: refreshing, balanced, substantial but not overwhelming, not tannic but also not flabby. At $12 or so a glass, it was a steal. Could I describe what it smelled like, or why it was worth buying instead of a $12 table wine? Not a chance.

Fortunately, 2B Sales didn’t expose my ignorance, and I got her the Occhipinti, which is made from Nero d’Avola and Frappato by Arianna Occhipinti, a young Sicilian who’s quickly gaining cult status in the wine world. Nero d'Avola, named for a town about 15 miles south of Siracusa on the southeast coast of Sicily, is one of the island’s most popular grapes. Frappato comes from the same area and “can make good  lively wines to be drunk young,” according to The World Encyclopeida of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. 

I thought about getting 2B a 2000 Calabretta Etna for her second bottle, a robust red made from nerello mascalese I had last year at Del Posto because it was one of the cheapest wines with some age on the list. Nerello mascalese is usually considered the poorer cousin of nerello capuccio, but this one was delicious. (Come to think of it, this is a wine for the Coffee Connoisseur.) But 2B does not eat red meat, and the salesperson steered me to the Montoni 2008 IGT Sicilia Nero d'Avola. I also picked up a bottle for Vino Guarino, who wanted to ring in the fall by toasting her ancestors with a bottle from their homeland.

Speaking of CC and unusual grapes, he wanted a wine similar to the Pedrolonga do Umia ’07 (a bottle of which the baker bought this week), and he ended up with the Benito Santos ’09 Alipio, a $16 bottle from Galicia made from 70% Mencia, the predominant grape in the Pedrolonga, and 30% Garnacha Tintorera, a blending grape. CC liked it but said it lacked the complexity of the previous week’s wine.

The boss stayed in the Loire for a red from Touraine, an appellation that produced the Clos Roche Blanche he liked earlier this month. But the Touraine he got this week was $16 reduced from $20, so we’re going to keep the name under wraps until the Boss reports back. If he likes it, we’ll have the fall’s Boss-man special next week. Save your pennies.

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