Monday, November 17, 2008

Tuscan Reds and the Benefits of Age

Italian red wines come in all shapes and sizes. They come big and bold, and they come in more manageable styles that are a bit shy. They come juicy and ready to drink RIGHT NOW. And they come needing some time in a cool, dark place to settle down and show their best.

But when it comes to Italian reds, I find that I like the ones that I've let sit in the cellar. And that goes double for the wines of Tuscany, which I'm focusing on in November and December. As as you can imagine, I'm not really talking about laying down expensive Brunellos and Super Tuscans here. I'm talking about pretty standard stuff, like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, or even simple Chiantis.

Why do I let my Tuscans reds sit a bit longer than I would other wines? Something indescribable seems to happen to Sangiovese--the dominant red wine grape from the region--once it's been in the bottle a bit. It's aromas become what I describe as "heady" in that they go straight to the part of your brain that registers pleasure and you think, "wow, that smells so good." The flavors take on more and more spice, tobacco, and black tea nuances and the fruit steps back into the background.

I recently opened a bottle of 2004 Icario Rubi della Pietrose that I bought back in the middle of December 2007 from domaine547. It cost $17.99, and unfortunately they sold out of the wine about 8 months ago. You can still find it for around $20, but most shops are now stocking the 2005 vintage for between $17 and $23.

Drinking this wine reminded me of why I like to cellar these bottles--even for the short term of a year or two. I loved the traditional style of this blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Teroldego, and 10% Merlot. Thanks to that extra year in the bottle, it had pronounced aromas of violets, tar, and leather. These were followed up with well-developed, soft sour cherry, black tea, and meaty flavors, and there was a nice flowery aftertaste to connect the ending to the violet aromas at the beginning. This was a great bargain, and much better than many a Chianti at this price point. Excellent QPR.

A wine like this goes well with almost everything--including roast chicken, burgers and steaks, and of course pasta. We had it with a delicious saffron and sausage sauced pasta that cooks from start to finish in under an hour and which makes the whole house smell delicious. (Plus, you can sip your wine during the 40 minutes the sauce is cooking down.) The aromatic saffon in the sauce was nicely complemented by the floral notes in the wine, and the meaty cherry flavors went well with the sausage and tomatoes.

Sometimes we think that only the expensive stuff deserves time in the cellar. I'm going to be pulling some other bottles out of my closets and storage cupboards to see if how a little bit of age benefits other red wines that I bought a while back and have been meaning to drink. How about you? Which wines under $20 do you think benefit most from a year or two in the cellar?


Anonymous said...

The Young Winos have found great success in cellaring several of those delicious and super-cheap Spanish reds we find at Trader Joe's. We recently tasted a lineup of eight blind Spanish reds from TJ's and other retailers:

The Estola is a perennial favorite, and I've found it really holds up over time, despite being light-bodied (and selling for a pittance). Until last year, TJ's was selling the '01 vintage. I have a few bottles left, and it's still great... definitely softened its edges over time and gone through some serious self-discovery in the flavor department.

The current vintage at TJ's is the '04 (which we review in that post). Drinks well now, but I'm sure it would react nicely to a year or two sideways.

Benito said...

I don't do much aging at home, but when I decide to gamble with older yet inexpensive bottles from the wine shop, I generally have better odds with Italian wines. Recently I found a six year old white from Puglia for $15 that had become sublime.

Of course, the weirdest experience goes to when I tried a 1993 Sutter Home White Zinfandel... in 2007.

Anonymous said...

Another nice blog entry!

For me, and my love of grenache/garnacha, under $20 Cotes Du Rhone can change and benefit from a year or more in the cellar.

While super fresh and fruity on release (from solid producers), more elegance and complexity develops over time. However, the 2005 vintage is tricky, because even some of the "humble" 2005 Cotes Du Rhones have considerable tannin and future potential.

Speaking of older Italian reds that are inexpensive, tasty and have a lot of life still left in them, folks might want to try the 2001 Bodegas Primicia Reserva Rioja. Now on sale from for $16. I don't work there, but am just a frequent customer!

Thanks again for great writing!

Anonymous said...

Except by "Italian" I meant Spanish of course. Rioja being from Spain and all.

But one could make an argument for the similarities between sangiovese and tempranillo.



Anonymous said...

brilliant blog post!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, everybody, for the positive comments and the great suggestions for other affordable, age-worthy wines. I'll see if I can get my hands on some of them.