Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big bottles and collectors who love them.

There is nothing like a big vintage bottle of wine to bring friends and fellow enthusiasts together. When I first caught the wine bug, my studies led my to the theories behind big bottles and the benefits that come with them. We’re talking about magnums, jeroboams (double magnum) and imperials (6 liter), bottles that the average consumer equates with cheap party wine but when talking about ageable fine wine, these bottles provide benefits that few are aware of.

So what’s so great about big bottles? They age slower, but many will also argue that they age better. There are many theories behind these benefits, and one cold hard fact that has convinced me to buy and store big bottles. Some push the theory that wine is a living thing, and that when more wine is in the bottle and able to age slowly, it supposedly ages more gracefully. This may be true, but I doubt that it’s scientifically proven.

Then there’s the fact that exposure to air is one of the main factors in how a wine ages. One of the main reasons for winemakers to keep the cork closure (instead of switching to screw caps or synthetics) is that corks allow a miniscule and slow transfer of air into the bottle. The thing about magnums is that there is just as much air in the bottle as your average 705ml. Less oxygen means slower oxidation (yes, wine oxides when exposed to oxygen) and slower oxidation results in slower aging. This is in no way a cold hard fact, but certainly a good reason for someone to put some magnums away for the future.

So what’s the big bottle that brought this topic to these pages? The Montevertine Il Sodaccio.

1985 Azienda Agricola Montevertine Il Sodaccio Vino da Tavola (from 3L / Double Magnum) – The most interesting thing about this wine was how it seemed to grow younger and younger throughout the night. The nose showed dusty potpourri with dried cranberries, earth and leather; but as time passed, the dried fruit turned more and more vibrant and took on a sweet mature roundness. On the palate, I found sour cherry with tobacco and dried herbs. At first, this wine was tight with a sour hint, but the fruit grew darker, sweeter and mouth-filling as time went on. The finish was long with dried red fruit and sweet earth. (93 points)

As I mentioned above, this bottle encouraged a group of wine lovers to form a dinner and tasting around its opening. And so the theme “Wines that don’t suck” became the mantra of the night; and I can assure you, these wines did not suck. Nothing like a bunch of wine collectors all pulling out bottles to impress their friends.

Before I move onto the notes, I would be remiss not to mention the amazing meal we had at Sojourn Restaurant at 244 East 79th street. I kid you not when I say that it was some of the most enjoyable food I’ve eaten in a while. It wasn’t the originality or obscure technique that impressed me; instead, it’s that the food was perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and presented beautifully. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay to a Chef and his kitchen. Bravo… Go to this restaurant.

On to the Notes:

2009 Loimer Riesling Kamptal DAC – The nose was fresh and uplifting with white flowers, sweet butter and a spritz of lime. On the palate, I found lemon pith and stony minerals, which started full and juicy but turned dry into the finish. (86 points)

NV Ulysse Collin Champagne Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs – Upon being popped and poured, the nose was all buttery popcorn and pecorino cheese. With time in the glass, aromas of ground wheat and whey rose with a hint of green foliage came forward. On the palate, this was light and refreshing with steely malt, sour stone fruit, and possibly young mango. The finish was a little bitter but very pleasant. (90 points)

1998 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese – The nose on the Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese was a refreshing, confectionary treat as aromas of raw sugar and floral green stems led the way to honeyed grapefruit and citrus zest. On the palate, I found a mix of juicy orange, apricot and/or pear that seemed to fill every taste bud with an explosion of flavor and slowly faded into a mouthwatering finish. (93 points)

2008 Frank Cornelissen Etna Susucaru – This wine was a conundrum. It was an exercise in what wine could be if every winemaker harvested fruit from volcanic slopes with a totally non-interventionalist approach. This wine showed what could only be described by this taster as cherry grapefruit juice with fresh picked mint and hints of green grass. On the palate, it was light on its feet with apple and mulling spices, more grapefruit, and a refreshing herbal tea note. The finish was fresh and cleansed the palate nicely. Is it wine? I think so. Do I like it? Absolutely. (92 points)

1998 Travaglini Gattinara Riserva – The first thought to enter my mind as I tasted this wine was: Why don’t I have this in my cellar? The nose showed a dark and ripe expression of Nebbiolo. It was like ripe black cherries buried in rich, fresh tossed soil with a savory beef stock brewing off to the side. On the palate, I found rich red fruits playing a sweet and sour act as fresh mint and spices filled out this wine’s broad shoulders. The finish was long with red fruit and soil but also fine silky tannin, which promised a bright future for the 1998 Travaglini Gattinara Riserva. (94 points)

1994 Case Basse (Soldera) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – I honestly believe this bottle could have been open for many more hours to really strut its stuff. On the nose, I found dusty cherry, leather, soil and a hint of eucalyptus. Earth, stems and sweet red berries filled out the palate with vibrant acidity. The finish showed savory broth and notes of salinity. (94 points)

1995 Müller-Catoir Mußbacher Eselshaut Rieslaner Auslese – The color was a rich gold with amber hints and a beautiful sheen. The nose was heady, with tropical fruits, orange peel and a hint of old library book, which ground the ripe fruit in reality. The palate showed flavors of more tropical fruits, but wrapped in baking puff pastry with teaming acidity that kept the sweetness in check. The finish was long with a sour patch tinge. (92 points)

1994 Isole e Olena Vin Santo del Chianti Classico - Roasted almond, varnish, orange peel, chestnut and smoke filled out the nose of this beautiful Vin Santo. The palate was perfectly resolved yet lively with acidity, and sweet caramel was followed by roasting nuts and a hint of tropical fruit. The finish was over a minute long with vibrant acidity, showing nuts and orange that faded into warm wood tones. (92 Points)

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