by Chuck Ferrin
Part 1 is here.
2004 Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte
You might be surprised when I say that the most memorable wine at the Grand Marchi tasting was not from the royal ranks of grapes such as nebbiolo or sangiovese, but the rustic nero d’avola from the Sicilian winery, Tasca D’Almerita. I had never heard of their Rosso del Conte bottling before this tasting, but I promise you, I’ll never forget it now. Simply, this wine had character. The Italians have a word for this quality, riconoscibilità– “recognizability”– and my first impressions of this wine reveal as much: “beautiful-eccentric and complex, full of personality; wild herbs present, great length of finish”. This wine stays with you a long time after it’s gone.
Tasca D’Almerita’s write-up in the Grand Marchi press book is so idyllic it nearly brings a tear to my eye. Their estate seems to be dotted with ancient olive trees, fields of oats, sheep trimming weeds and providing milk for homemade ricotta cheese, grey herons wintering in reserves of balmy rainwater, wild herbs like juniper, rosemary and eucalyptus growing in abundance -it’s all there. Even hunting is forbidden, leaving the grounds open for hedgehogs, hares and porcupines to enjoy their evening adventures. Just add Saint Francis riding in on the back of King Aslan and you’ve got my lifelong vision of heaven right there. This appreciation for natural beauty from Tasca D’Almerita finds its way into their wine as the nero d’avola grape is allowed to express itself unrestrained by modern inconveniences such as “mortgage crises” and “federal deficits”.
That’s not to say that there’s no oak or vinicultural finesse, but the herbaceous quality is undeniable. Trina called it “woodsy”, and I think this might be my new favorite wine-word. I’ll bet any money that some of the essential oils from the wild herbs waft through the Sicilian summer breezes, finding their gentle perch on the ripening and abundant grape skins. Or maybe the soil contains hints of Ms. Dash. Either way, the Rosso del Conte had no shortage of fruit either, with dense, rich notes of plum, blackberry, cassis and spicy black pepper. When asked for a food pairing recommendation, the representative from Tasca D’Almerita suggested woodcock. Lacking a good hook-up for woodcock, I’m thinking of the more readily available fowl such as duck, quail, squab, and turkey. I think this would be a great show-off wine at holiday meals.
Having sampled all of these legendary wines and bathroom napkins, there were a few disappointments. Both the’04 Pio Cesare Barolo and the ’05 Gaja Barberesco were too young, and even the ’03 Brunello di Montalcino from Biondi Santi needed time. These three tremendous wines are like Dr. Bruce Banner before he hulks out; they are power masked by a tightly guarded facade. I know that I should be more disappointed in myself for not being able to prophesize the potential in a wine intended for extensive aging. I’ve always respected a critic who could taste, say, a 2000 vintage port and write “best from 2060-2072″. It takes a special nose and palate to reach those heights, and I wonder if I’ll ever have the money, time and luck required to develop that nearly superhuman quality. That being said, all three of the aforementioned wines need at least three to five years before they even begin to come around.
Yet in the moment, I have to admit that all of the splendor got me thinking. The opulent palace, the exuberant air conditioning, the $300 bottles of wine-what did it all add up to? There was a wonderful lunch prepared for the media guests after the tasting, and a few of the bottles were just, you know, hanging around for people to drink. Our table ended up with a magnum of the Ca’ del Bosco Cuveé Prestige and a real Tignanello that tasted pretty good. Still, the more expertly cured meat and cheese I ate, the more the wines all started to blend together. A decent Chianti probably would have sufficed. Even so, I have to admit there are certain aromas I’ll never forget. A fine and fragrant bouquet is the hallmark of a great Italian wine. It’s a nose that persists in the face of adverse luncheon meats like the Florentine hero David against Goliath the Giant. The perfume from a well-tended sangiovese grape, like the ones in Tignanello . . . it really has no equal. That being said, I can still sit down to a nice Chianti. Eating and taking a moment from work makes any wine all the more appreciated.