Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thoughts on Turning 100: There Are a Lot More Grapes Out There

I'm on the road on a business trip, and a friend offered to make me dinner last night. For those of you who travel as part of work, you know that this is like receiving manna from heaven. A night in someone's house, with fresh hot food, and lots of conversation--who could ask anything more, after an endless succession of Starbucks, uninspiring breakfast buffets, and room-service Caesar salads.

I went into a local wine store here in beautiful downtown New Haven (The Wine Thief, for those of you who know the place), talked to an extremely helpful person in the store, and ended up with an Italian wine to go with dinner that was made with a variety I've never had. (Of course, it cost $20. I may be on the road, but I haven't lost my center of gravity!)

The subtext for my purchase was this: I finally made it into the Wine Century Club, and there are still more grape varieties out there waiting to be discovered.

The wine we had was a 2003 Librando Duca Sanfelice Riserva, and it was made with Gaglioppo grapes from Calabria. You might be able to find this wine near you for between $15 and $18. It was a kind of brickish garnet in color, and paler in color than many of the Italian reds that you might be familiar with. It smelled like cherries and truffles (which was excellent, since we were eating risotto with saffron and morel mushrooms) and had a medium, dry body. There were whiffs of tobacco leaf in the aftertaste, which persisted until you took the next sip. The wine was a bit old fashioned, elegant, and streamlined, like an Italian countess of a certain age, and it was terrific with food.

This got me thinking about my experiences in the Wine Century Club, of which I am an official new member. First, I think that trying to reach 100 varieties made me fully realize what a wide range of flavors and textures there are in the wine world, and how easy it is to get into a rut where you only have your tried-and-true favorites. There's nothing wrong with favorites, of course--they're your old friends, and for good reason since they're trusty, faithful, and comfortable. But sometimes something new is just right.

Second, when you try a new variety like Gaglioppo, you can't help but make comparisons between it and other, more familiar grapes. As I sipped my Gaglioppo I wondered how I would describe it. Is it like Pinot? Like Pinot with a dash of Sangiovese? What about those truffle notes? These comparisons are helpful, but ultimately you end up realizing that Gaglioppo is just exactly like Gaglioppo. Nothing else is quite the same. If you like Pinot or Sangiovese, however, I think you should try Gaglioppo at the first opportunity because you will probably love it.

Finally, I don't think I would have chosen the Gaglioppo over the more familiar Chiantis at the wine store if not for my experiences with the Wine Century Club. I am a greater risk taker when it comes to my wine choices. And that's a good thing. A little bit of risk every now and then keeps life interesting, and keeps your wine knowledge and appreciation growing.

After 101 varieties, I am reminded once again that one of the reasons I love wine is that there is always more to know.


David McDuff said...

Hi Deb,
Keep an eye out for the Ciros (Ciri?) from Linardi (as opposed to Librandi). They're a smaller producer that makes more natural, and much more unusual, examples of Ciro. You'll see the brickish garnet fade into hues of brown, especially in their Riserva bottlings. Not the prettiest wines but very tasty with southern Italian fare. Pasta puttanesca would be a classic match.

Anonymous said...

What a great find. It's always so great to find a new variety that is GOOD that you haven't tried before. I'm going to look for this one.

cheeseblab said...

As always, I'm Jack to your Miles: truffles? tobacco leaf? Hey, all I know is it tasted pretty good to me--excellent choice, and I'm soaking off the label so I can find it again.

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the great tip, David. And Cheeseblab, you make the risotto and I'll bring the vino!

David said...

congrats on making the Club! I've heard of this before, sounds like fun...and gets me thinking about striving to join! Is there a website for tracking progress or something?

Dr. Debs said...

David, there is indeed a site (www.winecentury.com) where you can find the form you need to fill out so you can track your own progress. It's a lot of fun--I highly recommend it!