Pride is at the top of the seven deadly sins and I am a sinner!
I take pride in my ability to identify a variety—not all—of the multitude of Italian wine styles. It’s not that I have done any particular rigorous study of Italian wine, unless you count the three decades of consuming them from one region to the next until I became familiar with my likes and dislikes, with the latter taking up quite a small category.
The other day, as I brewed a ragu on the stove, and contemplated what to drink with the rich, lush tomato meat sauce, I gave my wife the task of picking the wine.
Usually, I prefer a southern Italian red with the southern Italian sauce: Salice Salentino, Brindisi, and Primitivo di Manduria are my favorites. Of the three, we are missing Brindisi in the cellar—not many wine shops in upstate New York ever heard of, let alone carry wine from that location.
Just before dinnertime, my wife handed me a glass of red wine and told me this is what she chose for dinner. Knowing that we had Primitivo from two producers and one Salice, I had a choice of three wines from which to take a guess. I sniffed, swirled, tasted, sloshed, swallowed and proclaimed it one of the two Primitivi, but I wasn’t sure which one.
I know that the A Mano is not from Manduria, and it is not among my top wine choices, and I also know that the Leone di Castris is from Manduria and is among my top choices. Still, I could not say with certainty that I identified one or the other. But the wine was closer to the Manduria in style—rich depth of berry fruit, medium intensity mouth feel, great oak, tannin, alcohol integration; perfect with a ragu!
With a hint of trepidation, I proclaimed the wine Leone di Castris Primitivo di Manduria.
On my way to the pantry to grab the package of penne that became my choice for smothering in the thick, meaty ragu, I took a glance at the bottle that sat on the counter. It was:
Bogle Vineyards 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel, and it was the wine I had just proclaimed a more expensive Primitivo.
So much for pride in my abilities…
We keep six bottles of the Bogle Zinfandel in the cellar at all times as a choice red for everyday consumption. At $11, this is one of the good wine bargains of California, but only in my opinion, of course. I don’t seem to know a California Zinfandel from a Primitivo di Manduria, and I don’t excuse myself with the claim that the two grapes happen to be closely related. I am supposed to know the difference.
My only defense is that I was getting quite hungry; maybe my senses were skewed.
This episode reminded me of what bothers me about wine critics: they seem so damned proud of their proclamations.
Incidentally, if anyone from Bogle is reading this, tell me how you guys get away with the point size of the font that lists the 14.5% alcohol on that label. It takes fifteen minutes to find the thing and after that, it takes a magnifying glass to read it. Not that I'm complaining. How can I complain? What do I know about anything?
I think from now on I'll take humility in my ability to identify Italian wine.
Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
February 2008. All rights reserved.