BY RICK RIOZZA
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone! I’d like thank you readers for your enlightening email responses and your continual support by sharing this column with your wine friends. And as your friendly neighborhood wine steward, you are always welcome over to my wide world of wine section at the Ralphs Market in Palm Springs on Sunrise Way. Come in and check out our new selections and let’s talk wine!
Each year the wine world witnesses more and more juice available at reasonable prices. And there is so much excellent vino to highlight and recommend that I’ll probably be mentioning several of my favorites throughout the next coming months in this column.
We regularly chime in on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. Last year, we Californians agreed wholeheartedly when the Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley from the Three Palms Vineyard came in as Numero Uno! Many of us remember enjoying that delicious Merlot from Three Palms when Sterling Vineyards produced it at under $20 a bottle. Unfortunately, the cost of living has the current Duckhorn version at over a hundred bucks!
This year, I don’t know how many of our Californians have tasted Spectator’s Wine of the Year—which is an Italian wine, but anyone who typically enjoys wine will agree that this “Super Tuscan” definitely rates on top of any wine review guide.
The full name of this longtime renowned wine is Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia 2015. We simply know it as Sassicaia [Sassy-kie-ya]. It means “the place of many stones,” and refers to the region’s gravel soil. Toscana (aka Tuscany) is the center of the Italian wine universe, and Bolgheri is less than an hour’s drive south from the city of Pisa—where your favorite tower leans.
This is Tuscany’s Mediterranean coast called the Maremma, where thousands of cinghiale take refuge in the sea scrub called macchia. Omnivorous and stealthy, the wild boar are known to like ripe wine grapes. Joe Bastianich has written, “…vintners often lament that boars are true grape connoisseurs, choosing on the best quality-fruit when they raid a vineyard.” Needless to say, but those boar certainly love the vineyards of Tenuta San Guido.
These days so many of you wine buyers know that a “Super Tuscan” wine is one that is produced not predominantly from the traditional Sangiovese grape, but from Italian Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, and perhaps a touch of Pinot Noir. And we Californians, Americans, and the world love a good Cab. For those Americans who find a Chianti a bit on the acerbic herb-y side of things, the blend of Cabs and the like certainly round the flavors. The 2015 Sassicaia blend was around 85% Cab Sauv and 15% Cab Franc.
Wine Spectator recently wrote, “In the stellar vintage of 2015, Sasscicaia has everything: rich and concentrated black currant, blackberry, violet, mineral and spice flavors allied to a dense structure; vibrant acidity that drives the long aftertaste; and beautifully integrated oak, providing impeccable balance.”
I was fortunate to be at this year’s VinItaly’s week-long wine tasting event held in Verona Italy. The Toscana building held hundreds of chic and elaborate tasting rooms. By the time I got to the Tenuta San Guido tasting, I had tasted through over 50 Chianti and Super Tuscans wines. One could say I had a tired tongue; but my taste buds perked right up when I slowly enjoyed the fantastic flavors and structure of the Sassacaia.
The downside to winning the Top Wine of the Year is that its bottle value will continue to rise. Right now, you can possibly find it for a couple of hundred dollars. Perhaps we can share—call me, maybe.
As the fates have had it, we were fortunate to have tasted through some other winning wines in the Top Hundred. Here are our comments:
Coming in on the “Top Ten” is the classic 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Vieux Donjon, $70. For those who simply love that blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, known as a GSM in our neck-of-the-woods, “it offers a heavenly bouquet of blackcurrants, ground pepper, new saddle leather, garrigue (that’s the smell of lavender & herb around the south of France), and an assortment of exotic spices. Deep, full-bodied, incredibly concentrated, yet with the purity, elegance, and finesse that makes this vintage so special, it can be drunk any time over the coming two decades or more.”
The 2007 Donjon was stellar; this 2016 is as well!
In the past six years or so of writing this column, I’ve pretty much hinted around at my love for Vintage Port. Around the time I was getting into investment vintage wine in general, the auction houses were ablaze with 1963 vintage port that had finally come into the perfect bottle age of 21 years.
Taylor Fladgate, one of the famous Port houses, had their stellar ‘63 selling for around $160 a bottle. At an auction in San Francisco, a case (12 bottles) of 1963 Quarles Harris Vintage Port came on the block. Fortunately for me, no one in the bidding group had ever heard of Quarles Harris—and add to the fact that the opening bidding price started at $100! The people were scared; they backed off. I offered the opening bid and received the case with no objections. The 1963 vintage was stellar; all of the Port houses made fantastic Port! Now that was a wine deal I’ll always remember!
I’m hearing the 2016 Vintage Port is the best since 2011. The Port houses of Taylor Fladgate, $120, and Warres, $98, have both scored 98 points for their Vintage Port and are top shelf picks. These wines are powerful—which in Port terms means powerful, but at the same time are “elegant”. Can you wait 21 years to open that bottle? Good Luck!–Cheers!
Rick continues as your somm-about-town tasting around at our valley’s wine venues & events. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org