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This page last updated
Tue, Jan 11, 2005

OLD EUROPE, NEW WINES (ALL TASTED NOV. 2004)

For a full list of iJamming! wine reviews, please visit the Wine Home Page.

ITALY

IL MIMO NEBBIOLO, COLLINE NOVARESI, 2003

This Italian rosé, made from the same grape as produces the country's great Barbera and Barolo wines (Nebbiolo), offers up serious dark cherry flavors with an earthy intensity. It's bone dry and full of flavor, more of a meal wine than a casual aperitif. The kind of rosé that gives pink wine a good name. B-

BARBERA D'ASTI SUPERIORE "BRICCO DEI CAPPUCINI", ORSOLINA 1997

The Barbera grape is grown all over Piedmont, where it's considered a distant runner-up to the region's esteemed Nebbiolo. But, though there's plenty of light, unspectacular Barbera on the market, the grape can make for readily approachable, easily affordable and yet deeply layered wines. Take this Barbera d'Asti Superiore, selling for just $13 in New York City some seven years after a vintage widely considered among Piedmont's finest. It's distinctly Italian: floral but astringent, quite lean and bitter in one aspect yet packed with flavor in others. Coffee and spice notes balanced out the taste of deep dark red fruits, especially on the mid-palate, where the wine really filled out. Not that it was intended as competition, but it beat out Vitticio's Chianti Classico Riserva, a particular favorite of mine, from the same vintage. I'm heading back to Astor for more. B

KOFERERHOF KERNER WEINGUT, ALTO ADIGE VALLE ISARCO, ITALY, 2003

Now here's an anomaly. The Kerner grape is a hybrid, bred in Germany in the late 60s as an easy-growing, disease-resistant cross between Riesling and the red grape Trollinger. So what's it doing in Italy? Well, the Alto Adige is so far north-west it's almost into Austria – in fact, locals frequently refer to it as the Sud Tirol - which might explain why this bottle looked Germanic/Austrian in every regard except the Italian DOC distinction. Any way you examine it, this Kerner, from the reputed Tenuta Kofererhof winery, is impressive stuff, its light straw color giving up aromas of baked green apples, melons and fresh cream, before a soft curtain of delicious acidity opens into a full-bodied white wine full of peaches and apples and citrus fruits: these tell-tale distinctions of Riesling are backed by the strong mineral and nutty textures of other Italian whites and the almost metallic elements of Austria's Gruner Weltliner. A solid 14% in alcohol, the wine is no chicken – and it promptly cut through a couple of difficult dishes (avocado swamped with spinach, and baked apple topped with Camembert), like a knife through butter. The acidity had disappeared within 24 hours, leaving a solid, heavyweight, somewhat over-the-top wine. So if you come across a bottle - Chambers Street Wines stocks it in New York for just under $20 - drink it the night you open it. B+

AUSTRIA

PAUL LEHRNER BLAUFRÄNKISCH STEINEICHE WEINGUT 2000

While we're this far into the Alps, let's head into Austria itself, straight to the Mittelburgenland region (known for the nation's best reds) and right into a bottle of Blaufränkisch, the Central European grape that reaches its pinnacle here in the heart of the Osterreich. You might expect Austrian reds to be lightweights, but not this one: I got a soft and spicy aroma, a meaty texture, a lean length and a creamy finish. Had I not known what grape was in the glass, I might have guessed at a cool climate Syrah – and I gave myself Brownie points when I later read that many Central European wine-makers do indeed treat Blaufränkisch similarly to Syrah. Though it's not stated on the bottle, this wine most likely saw oak aging; it felt like it had smoothed out in the few years since vintage, but still with enough substance to hold up well against a mushroom stew. Opened out at dinner one night, we actually planned to drink only half this bottle and take the rest home. We failed miserably in that regard, a mark of respect as much for the wine as for our thirst! I'd drink a wine like this for the curiosity factor any day - but I'd come back to it for its quality every day. (Unfortunately, this one does not come cheap; click here only if you're not easily shocked!) A-

FRANCE

DOMAINE MONPERTUIS, VINS DE PAYS DU GARD, CEPAGE COUNOISE, 2001

I've drunk Counoise more times than I could count: it's a primary blending grape across the south of France and shows up in a sizeable minority of Côtes du Rhône wines and Châteauneuf du Papes. But this bottle from Domaine Monpertuis is the only time I've drunk it solo, and as with my encounter with Cinsault - in the previously reviewed Le Fruit Defendu! - I came away wondering why we don't see more of it. The nose was bright, sharp and peppery, as was the palate. It tingled, it tangled, it almost danced on the edge of the tongue. It promptly disappeared without more than this friendly introduction, by which I mean that it turned out to be an up-front, simple wine – and also that the bottle was rapidly emptied. No, you wouldn't want to cellar this stuff but considering the price, you may want to buy it and try it. It deserves the respect. B

IMAGE DU SUD VIN DE TABLE FRANCAIS, BRUNEL-FÉRAUD, NV

This could be seen either as the most expensive non-Vintage Vin de Table ever foisted on the international market, or as a boutique wine worthy of investment and cellaring. Or, indeed, as both. The producers – Andre Brunel of Les Caillloux and Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau – are behind two of the finest estates in Châteauneuf du Pape, and with this Image du Sud – an apparent one-off - they pooled their resources, pulled in grapes from just outside Châteauneuf du Pape itself and, unable to get around France's strict AC laws, declassified the wine entirely. It is, however, from the 1998 vintage (they stuck a Lot 98 stamp on the cork to get round the law on that score), which anyone who knows their Southern Rhône knows was a classic year.

I picked this up in 2000 for the price of a minor Châteauneuf du Pape, stored it these last four years and finally decided to try it. Upon uncorking the bottle, the nose fairly exploded with the glycerine notes of its high alcohol, along with a warm aroma of sweet black fruits, wet earth, and black pepper, and the strawberry hints of the Grenache fruit. (The wine is a blend of primarily Grenache and Syrah, along with some Carignane and Tannat.) Suddenly concerned that I might have come to the wine too early, I double-decanted it – that is, poured it from bottle to container, and an hour later, from container back to bottle – and took it to a BYO restaurant for dinner with one of iJamming!'s fellow wine enthusiasts. This alluring nose had faded a little by the time we got round to drinking it, but not the flavor. A bright attack gave way to a substantial assault of blackcurrants and plums, mushrooms straight out of the soil, layers and layers of spice, toasty oak, softening tannins, cloves and cinnamon and plenty of the southern French herbs that dominate the region's wines. A serious red in every regard, it came across like a Châteauneuf du Pape just starting to find its secondary flavors. This bodes well for the 1998 vintage in general, most of my stash of which remains under lock and key. The experiment did not appear to work so well for Feraud and Brunel: probably because they are not household names and no doubt in part due to the price, this wine went from being a collector's item to a remaindered item within a couple of years. If you come across a bottle, check on its provenance (storage conditions) and then snap it up. Damn, this was good. A


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