17 Apr 2008

Combining Art with Agriculture

I HAVE been so spoilt today that I feel almost sick with the sheer indulgence. I was the first willing wine scribe to set foot into Mayfair's Air Gallery's beech floored basement, arriving embarrassingly early to sample a carefully imported Italian showcase. This included the wines of the long standing and the master mavericks: Giacosa, Gaja, Ornellaia, Sesti and Sassicaia. Such deeply effective oral pleasure was presented by Armit, a pedigree supplier. My verdict: their buyers taste buds are worth insuring.

The captivators:
Today was my first encounter with the wines of Giuseppe Maria Sesti, opera fanatic and astrologer. This ‘renaissance’ producer practises ‘Lunisolar Calendar Systems’ and has penned no fewer than four books on the subject. The range unravelled a financially accessible, fruit dilated float of personality. Sesti's Monteleccio '05 was exceedingly smooth, fine grained, whilst the '06 had a schisty mineral nose, with a light but entertaining and prolonged finish. His '02 Brunello di Montalcino had aromas of applied sun cream, truffles inside a freshly baked baguette and liquorice.
From Piedmont producer, Bruno Giacosa, whose ‘sole objective is quality’, a strict ‘07 Arneis; I prefer something more playful. However the ‘Maestro’s’ reds were alluring and potent, but also as intricate as a maze and classically upholstered. The '06 Nebbiolo, a rough diamond, needs a long rest. It took me on a scratchy carousel of tannins, whilst the 'shy geniuses' Barolo Vigna Croea '04 had a proud, distinct nose with dried roses, an oiled texture and a streak of minerality. His vibrant, adventurous '03 Barbaresco Asili was a heat wave survivor, possessing jellied fruits and perfectly integrated alcohol (14.5p/c). The star, however, was the millennium Barbaresco Santa Stefano. Elegantly fading, but not brown, in fact pellucid, with an olfactory suggestion of slightly reticent, blood orange and violets.
Angelo Gaja's Brunello di Montalcino Sugarille '01 was lusciously creamy, with dark cherries, and extraordinarily multi-dimensional, whilst the determined, charismatic, extroverted ambassador's '04 Conteissa was minted. Firmly underpinned by thrusting tannins and beautiful acidity lay a full pelt, charcoal brushed, strongly coloured star in the ascendant. Sori Tildin was fleshier, with a continuous, black truffle and fine turned soil palate. Dramatic and endearingly enduring: a beautiful, humming '03. Costa Russi '98, liberated from a door-stopper bottle almost too heavy to lift, yielded a more French fashioned, lavender, bay, espresso and rose infused, spiced wine. Immensely enjoyable, with a slight antiseptic curl. The prime wine, however, was Sperss (‘nostalgia’) '04, a gracious, rich, blackcurrant, tar and vanilla juiced rendition. Refreshing with contoured tannins and a staggeringly long finish.
Naturally these wines, which are often compared to Ferraris, come at a price. Incidentally, marathon runner and channel swimmer, Lucie Parker, of Armit's Trade Sales team, envisioned Gaja as still ‘handsome, slightly fearsome, but soft of heart.’
Ornellaia's '05 was dashing: a stubbornly excellent, osso bucco marrow soft showpiece. Warm, feminine with capsicum and braised meaty tannins. I could see the family resemblance to the ’90, tried last year.
Sassacaia's '05 was ripe, structured, with blackcurrants, incense and perpetual drafts of red fruit. Bright and organised with limestone minerals and a slight silicon palate with a gentle, prescribed finish.
Finally, Romano Dal Forno's Valpolicella '02 Superiore was rich, raisened and crisp, with green lettuce on the nose, a basil tang on the palate, but slightly interrupting alcohol.
Putting aside the bankrupcy a purchase would cause, Italians of this calibre are almost impossibly charming. They bring to mind the proverb, ‘L'acqua fa male e il vino fa cantare’ (water hurts and wine makes you sing)…
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The middle picture is of El Rincón de Esteban ('Steve's corner') in Madrid. Steven himself sports a Woganesque double breasted blazer: real men restaurateurs often do in Iberia. I thoroughly support the somehow reassuring aura conferred by all those extra tummy hiding buttons.
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Off piste, but I dislike Gordon Brown with a rare intensity and feel depressed (even bileous) when I see his forced smile. My anitpathy possibly stems from the fact that to me he represents the ultimate pleasure culler.