Thursday, May 14, 2009

Drink Well - Spend Less - Part One: "Off Vintages"

In the current economy, the question of the day seems to be how we can spend less and still not give up too many of the good things in life. The good news is that when it comes to wine, there is hope! At 56 Degrees we spend far more time looking for great value wines than we do on the cellar-able classics, in part because they are harder to find, but also because it's a little more work and more time consuming. We taste thousands of wines every year and only select those we feel provide great value and quality, regardless of price or scores, vintage or producer, grape or region. This is part one of a series of short thoughts on how you can drink well and spend less. It's a little more work, but if you stick with us we've done most the the ground work already!  Enjoy!

Rule # One - Don't be afraid of "off" vintages: With better wine making, better weather forecasting and maybe a hint of climate change in the air, it seems that there are not all that many disastrous vintages these days. Yet entire vintages and regions tend to get written off by the press and consumer at large, when in most cases a shade of grey is more likely the story rather than "good" or "bad". I can't really blame people for avoiding wines from vintages deemed less good. It's complicated, and you really do have look for the quality in some years, sometimes only finding one wine from a grower that really sings. "Ze hail, she meesse zis vineyard!". Seriously though, I have found that good growers tend to make good wine even in lesser and more challenging vintages, and often sell them for substantially less. If you persevere, get good advice, and close your ears to the nay sayers, you can find wines that have a lot of the similar characteristics of the more expensive vintages, and that can be more accessible and perfect to drink while you wait for the big boys to mature.

The only reason I picked this topic first is because of the fantastic wine dinner we held last evening at Sette Cucina in Bernardsville where we tasted the 2003 vintage of Collemattoni Brunello (as well as the 2004 and 1998 Riserva). While 2004 is world class and without doubt the "better" wine, it's a baby, quite young and tight, and in need of about 10-20 years before it truly stretches its legs and shows what it really as to offer. The 1998 Riserva, a "difficult" vintage, was stunning too, but alas it's not available, and was there to illustrate what these younger wines will become with time. (It was great!)

That brings us to the 2003, not generally my favorite vintage, a tough year with the heat and drought conditions leaving many wines with a dried, scorched, even sunburned over ripeness that can make them seem heavy and a bit blowzy and disjointed, but again the idea of this article is looking for value in lesser years! The 2003 Collemattoni has none of that - while it is a bit more precocious and ripe, (an attribute that manifests itself in this wine in a supple, mouth-coating plushness that makes it more accessible at this young stage), it still has lovely freshness, superb dense, dark, earthy fruit, all wrapped good solid tannins and not a hint of over ripeness or cooked character. It is a wine that after decanting for an hour or so really starts to shine, but will age and improve for 5-15 years developing more secondary aromas, flavors and complexity. It was perfect with the grilled baby lamb chops, perfectly pink, seasoned and succulent, bravo Chef Russo! 

But what really makes this 2003 stand out is the price, severely reduced in part because it's living in the shadow of 2001 and 2004 (with people are holding out for the world class 2004's), but also in part due to the economy. The result is a win/win for our customers. A lovely, classic Brunello, ready to drink now and over the next 5-10 years (while you wait for your 2004's to mature) that is under $45 per bottle (regular price over $60!) and an amazing $39.50 by the case! Click on the following link to go to our website and purchase, but don't wait - it won't last long at this price! 56 Degree Wine.

About Collemattoni: 

Region:  The winery is located on the south side of Montalcino, close to the tiny village of Sant' Angelo in Colle. They own seven hectares in all, divided into four parts. Sesta, Fontelontano (for Riserva), Cava and Collemattoni which is the oldest is where the winery is located.

Grape(s): 100% Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello)

Density of plants: 4500 plants/ha.

Altitude: 350/400 m above the sea level.

Soil: sandy clay with fossils and marl. 

Vinification: de-temmed, soft pressing, fermentation in stainless steel casks at the controlled temperature of 28-30° C, maceration on the skins for 20-25 days with extracting technique made with delestage (one a week) and pumping over. 

Method of aging: it ages for a minimum of 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels of 32 Hl. Then other 4 months in the bottle.

Aging potential: 10-20 years according to vintage.

Next in the series: Second labels

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