Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Barone Ricasoli "Chiantifies" a Merlot

Estate vineyards at Barone Ricasoli
My most recent column for Wine Review Online is about the turnaround at Barone Ricasoli, one of Italy's best wineries for centuries that had fallen on hard times under absentee ownership in the 1990s. The baron bought his winery back and revitalized it. I'm not going to retell the story here; read it at Wine Review Online.

But I do want to share a tasting note. Wine Review Online puts its tasting notes behind a pay wall, a strategy that newspapers are coming around to. I want to show you what's there with this single tasting note about my favorite wine from the portfolio -- and one of the most interesting wines I've had this year.

Baron Francesco Ricasoli
Barone Ricasoli Toscana IGT Casalferro 2008 ($62)
Importer: Dreyfus, Ashby and Co.
Point Score: 94
One of the more interesting wines on the market, this is a single-vineyard, 100% Merlot that doesn't list the grape variety anywhere on the bottle. Baron Francesco Ricasoli says, "We are not selling varietal wines. We are selling terroir wines. If people buy this because they want Merlot, they will be disappointed."
That's most likely true: the aromas of cherry with some herbaceousness might fit on Bordeaux's Right Bank, but the mouthfeel is unique: the fine acidity of Chianti with the gentle tannins of Merlot. The flavors are mostly of cherry, with some cherry tobacco notes, and that acidity allows you to drink it with foods you would never imagine opening Merlot with. "This is Merlot, but it's speaking the language of Brolio," Ricasoli says. It's a positive example of internationalization providing not a generic wine that could come from anywhere, but a great new type of wine that we hadn't previously imagined.

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1 comment:

Kent Benson said...

This wine represents a good argument against the worship of typicity. I’ve never fully understood why so many in the wine trade insist that each cultivar exhibit a baseline of characteristics each time it is made into wine.

I suppose a “truth-in-labeling” argument could be made. Consumers expect the wine inside the bottle to deliver what’s displayed on the label, with regard to its basic attributes. I suspect the baron avoided displaying Merlot on the label for that very reason.

It’s a thin argument at best. I, for one, would still prefer to know the c├ępage constituents of every wine. It makes the wine all the more fascinating when one is aware that something different has been accomplished with a familiar grape.

Why can’t the objective simply be to make something that tastes good, or at least interesting? In many wine competitions, such a wine would receive zero points for typicity and thereby have little chance of receiving any recognition. Should a wine which might receive an exceptionally high score, by virtually anyone’s measure, be ignored merely because it doesn’t display the proper characteristics of its grape, as some define proper?

Those who adhere strongly to the notion of typicity, please answer one question: why is typicity important?