In my last post I wrote about getting to Napa and Sonoma and getting through a day of wine tasting. Today I want to talk about trusting the man or woman holding the bottle. Please note that I have promised myself not to rant in any one place about any one wine thing. Wine culture in America has going through such a transformation these past few years, that us winos should all stand up and applaud – well, not like a State of the Union, every four or five sentences applause; maybe just sit back, kick the chair on its heels and smile, one big, mouth guzzling grin. That sounds about right. However. What happened this past Friday night saddens me. And I get this bile ridden, guttural feeling that it happens – a lot. I went to a cultishly popular wine store in Napa Valley for an Italian wine tasting. It is rare that we California wine country types drink anything but California wines, so this was a treat. I adore Italian wines, more than, well, maybe, my dog. And since she can't read and is not Italian, but Belgium, I know I am probably pretty safe with that hypothetical comparison.
I mentally committed myself to the event weeks in advance. I even tried to get an insider's sneak peak at the lineup, but the proprietor is very particular about what wines will be poured and tastes through everything, not for marketing and sales purposes but for the best mix of what presents the epitome of such and such sector of wine in the world. Days before when the store website posted it would be a Tuscan and Piemontese tasting, my palate was going pazzo (crazy) with anticipation. I drove in on the early side to secure a good spot, nodded vigorously my anticipation and eagerness to begin the begin. My excitement settled itself with the first sip of Sangiovese. The remainder of the tasting took some rolling hill turns up North Eastern Tuscany and down Southern style, before jetting back north to Alba and Barbaresco. It was pleasant as punch. I was satisfied and ready to head out to dinner. But before I did, I saddled up to the tasting bar and caught the eye of the Distributor who was on hand to help shepherd the wines. If not an Italian by blood, he was an Italian by hand gestures and lack of modesty. Our eye contact did what Italians do best, speak without talking. He knew I meant business and he reached under the bar and pulled out some “under the table wines” to try. The night just got more interesting. These wines were higher price points (from ~ $20 to $40 during the tasting to ~ $40 to $80/bottle). I can't really remember how many there were, but it was at least four, maybe five wines, some from the same producers and these were their “Riserva” wines. I swirled, sniffed and sipped with appreciation. And on the final wine, here.] Upon those words of mine, you would have thought I massacred a small village of rabbits for fun and profit. The Distributor immediately got defensive and started spouting out that these aromas (which he did not describe) were the classic aromas of Malvasia Nera (of which the wine in question was cut with 15%). Hmm. Immediately we think of sweet and delicious Malvasia, could its sibling be so dirty and demonic? Yes. Every ounce of Malvasia Nera in the world, I was told, has the same characteristic, and every vintage of this wine has the same characteristic even at such low percentages in the blend. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to trust him. Even without exposure to this grape, I couldn't believe him. I couldn't trust him. Everyone knows when someone is pulling a sack of Bretty horse manure over thine eyes. I smiled, I smelled, I bought a bottle to examine in the comforts of my own sanitary stall I call my cottage in the country. I have yet to open the wine, and spent the larger part of the next afternoon, fingering pages of all my wine books, doing countless web searches on the wine and reading vintage notes in Italian and English and trying to find out more about Malvasia Nera, none of the information I reviewed mentioned anything about faulty (but sometimes fabulous) aromas associated with Malvasia Nera. So, I just sent off an e-mail to the wine shop owner to see if he can secure me a vertical of the wine. Trust me, I'll keep you posted.
Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.