Hello, Wine Lovers!  It’s 10a.m. Monday, June 15, 2009 and Mike is running late to work so he asked me to post something about tonight’s wine tasting at Ralph’s downtown (on 9th Street between Flower and Hope).  To those of you who don’t know, Mike Berger hosts the tasting from 5p.m. to 8p.m. and it’s an unbelievable value.  Tonight, the featured category is Italian red wines.  The two most internationally famous regions in Italy will be featured; they are called Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) and Tuscany (Toscana in Italian).

Piedmont is an absolutely beautiful region in the northwest of Italy whose name means “foot of the mountain”, (from the Latin, pied for foot and monte for mountain), due to its proximity to the majestic Alps.  There are three major red wine grapes planted there, the most vaunted of which is Nebbiolo (named after nebbia, the Italian word for fog, which is integral to the ripening of these grapes).  Mike will be serving a Barolo tonight, one of the two great Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont.  Barolos are known to be among the longest-aging wines of Italy, many drinking well after more than fifty years.  They are dark and chewy with flavors of chocolate and anise leading to a deep raspberry center.  There can be prodigious complexity in the bouquet beyond the classic signature notes.  The Barolos under ten years of age require hours of breathing time to reveal their flavors and aromas.  To this end, Mike always pours his selections of “big reds” into decanters in advance of the wine tastings.  What this does – and what “breathing” means in the jargon of wine connoisseurs – is accelerate the aging of the wine through exposure to the air.  Very old wines should be drunk immediately as they are fully aged and exposure to the air deteriorates their quality, sending them to a premature end.

Tuscany is notable for its pastorally beautiful countryside and its spectacular capital city Florence, which dates back to 59 AD.  Tuscany is also venerated for the best production of the other great red wine grape of Italy, Sangiovese, which is the principle grape of two of the great wines of that region: Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.  It is one of the oldest cultivated wine grapes in the world.  Tuscany has, since the late 1980’s, gained additional praise for developing a new type of wine known as a Super Tuscan.  This was a revolutionary idea whose time had come.  Cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot were transported from great wine estates in France, such as Château Lafite-Rothchild , thereby introducing new grape varietals to the millennia-old region.  Mike will offer both Chianti and Super Tuscan wines tonight, also appropriately decanted.

The best Chiantis are called Chianti Classico and the best of those are known by the sub-category Reserva.  Traditionally, these wines must be at least 75% Sangiovese-based but most of the better ones are 100% Sangiovese today.  Mike may bring out a Reserva tonight but whatever he selects it will be excellent.  Chianti is known for its earthiness and dried, black-fruit center such as black cherry.  It is revered for its compatibility with the best Italian cuisine and for its aging potential.

In Super Tuscan wines aging potential is increased due to the additional, heavier tannins of the Bordeaux grape varietals.  They are blended from four varietals and may contain a majority Sangiovese or none at all.  The most famous exponents of the style are Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello.  These wines, as well as many other Super Tuscans, command some of the highest prices of any Italian red wines.  Like all great wines of the world, the supply never meets the demand.  The well-deserved reputation of these wines is immediately recognizable on the palate by their balance and complexity but their range of flavors and aromas cannot be easily listed because of the vast variety of blends and winemaking styles.

There will be at least four wines, as always.  Italian cheeses, including buffalo milk mozzarella, will be offered as pairing.  Expect ciabatta or foccacia bread, sun-dried tomatoes and other delectable accompaniments.  The price is $9.  I hope to see you there, along with Stan Lerner and some of the other regulars.

You may recall Hannibal Lecter famously paired Chianti with the liver of a male human being.  Though perhaps not as affectedly sophisticated, Mike is immeasurably more civilized.  He’d at least marinate the liver first.

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