Thursday, March 13, 2003

The Kairos Guy Recommends...

I confess to having spent rather less time than perhaps I ought to have on Italian wines. Partly, this owes to the fact that until the last 4 or 5 years, there were few Italian wines available in this country that were worth paying attention to, and those were rather expensive. But by all accounts, the past decade has brought about a revolution in the technology and technique of wine-making in that country.

Certainly, the 2000 Montupoli Montepulciano D'Abruzzo ($8) demonstrates that even at the low end of the price scale, Italy has caught up to other major wine regions. The Montepulciano grape is a robust one, and will not be for you if you find pinot noir a real adventure. This particular wine has a nice dark ruby color and a pleasant taste, with fairly mild tannins and a chewy, earthy mouth feel. It is a little weak in the "finish" (the lingering taste right after you swallow), but it really shines in the bouquet, or "in the nose." If you open a bottle, sit and just inhale over your glass for a minute, and notice the strong tomato-sauce sensation your olfactory sense detects. I absolutely promise you that the next pizza-and-wine night in our house is going to involve a bottle (or two) of this.

Another robust grape is Syrah (known in Australia as Shiraz). There are really three distinct styles of Syrah wines: the French style in the wines of the Rhone Valley; Australian Shiraz, which is a much rougher, less-refined but in some ways more interesting style; and California Syrah, which has historically been not especially well done, owing to the particular climate of most of the places it is grown. Marietta Cellars Syrah 1999 ($21), however, shows that what I've been reading may be true: California Syrah may be ready for serious reexamination. This wine's dark, tawny color immediately tells you this is not the insipid drink that many wineries have been offering. It's tannins are bold but not overwhelming, though another year or two in the bottle before the drinking would mellow them nicely. There's a lot of pepper in the bouquet and in the finish as well. The flavors are nicely fruity, with a little bit of vanilla (really) and a couple of other distinctively Syrah tastes. This is a big, bold, but very tasty wine that will age well for 2-4 more years, that really should be paired with an aged angus beef filet mignon, cooked rare over an open flame, served with peppery sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.


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