Sometimes the gods of fortune smile on a newspaper hack, and this past month has seen rare examples of being in the right places at the right times.
My most-recent Brush with Greatness was this past weekend in Aspen, watching the best women skiers in the world attack the gates and race courses during the Nature Valley Winternational World Cup ski races on Aspen Mountain.
You will find much news about ski racing in the sports sections and here, but there’s so much excitement generated by watching those skiers it makes one (almost) willing to pay for early season skiing on man-made snow.
The first BWG I slipped into ¬– like slipping on a banana peel only to find you fall next to a $100 bill – was during a friend’s birthday party when my friend Carlos opened a bottle of the 2002 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia.
A step back in time: The first 100-point wine I tasted was the 1985 Sassicaia during a tasting in at an early Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. I stumbled into this one, too, and at the time I remember thinking, “Why can’t all wines be this good?”
Actually, I probably was thinking, “I wonder how I can get the rest of this bottle out of here?”
The story of Sassicaia dates from 1944 when Mario Incisa planted cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc vine cuttings on a steep hillside of the San Guido estate, called Castiglioncello after an 11th-century castle at the vineyard’s upper edge.
The 3.75-acre vineyard was expanded in 1965 with a second, 30-acre vineyard, planted with cuttings from the Castiglioncello parcel. This gravelly second vineyard gave the wine its name: Sassicaia, “the place of many stones”.
The wine is a field blend, using the same percentage of grapes (about 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cabernet franc) in the bottle as found in the vineyards.
As usual in the wine world, there are different opinions of where Sassicaia should be listed in the spectrum of great wines but the one thing on which everyone apparently agrees is that the estate was a trailblazer in the super-Tuscan movement.
Tenuta San Guido’s use of non-DOCG grapes (remember, this is wine is a child of Tuscany, but without a drop of Sangiovese) is credited with spurring the super-Tuscan movement and revitalizing Italian wine regulations across many DOCs and DOCGs in Tuscany.
The 2002 vintage isn’t considered quite as impressive as the 1985, but that’s quibbling over what’s generally thought of as the greatest Sassicaia ever and what some critics consider one of the best wines to come out of Italy.
I rarely offer tasting notes, since my description of “black plums with hints of chocolate, tobacco and leather” might mean nothing to you. However, I will offer the 2002 still was a bit restrained but eventually opened to fresh dark fruits, gravelly tannins and to what Monica Lardner of Wine Enthusiast magazine called Sassicaia’s “unmistakable elegance.”
This is a wine you let roll around in your mouth, hesitant to swallow because then it’s gone.
Being the nosy sort, I looked online for a price and saw it ranging up to $180 a bottle, although I’m sure Carlos paid much less than that in 2004.
Just as those world-class skiers paid a price for their greatness, great wine isn’t going to be inexpensive. But how often do you get an opportunity be close to greatness?
After reading posts and letters from friends along the East Coast bemoaning – and deservedly so – the rash of difficult weather they’ve encountered this fall, it was Colorado’s turn this weekend. A quick-moving storm dropped 18 inches or more of snow on the mountains, which made for exciting driving down steep mountain passes.
Merely a drive-by, and not nearly as devastating as Sandy, the impacts of which I’m certainly not downplaying. I made it through Katrina and understand the difficulties facing the residents of the Atlantic states. But the weekend storm gave me the opportunity to stay home and catch up on some reading and tasting, so here goes two of the latest.
Amapola Creek 2009 Zinfandel – This Sonoma County winery scored big-time with grapes from the 100-year old, red-soil vineyards of Monte Rosso and it shows in the deep, lush flavors of backberries, dark fruit, spice and pepper. Winemaker Richard Arrowood, formerly of Chateau St. jean and his namesake Arrowood Winery, and his wife Alis founded Amapola Creek in 2005 and in that short history have made some outstanding wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. With winter coming on, a hearty Zinfandel such as this is just what the inner fires need. 530 cases, $36 SRP.
Wild Horse 2010 Merlot – I tasted Wild Horse Winery wines last year and was impressed with their freshness and vigor and the 2010 Merlot continues in that line. Sourced from several vineyards in the Central Coast wine-growing region from Paso Robles to Monterey, this wine has bright fruit flavors and a medium-bodied intensity bolstered by its acidity and soft tannins. Great for the transition season or whenever you want an exceptional and affordable California Merlot. Forget what Miles said. 32,000 cases. $19 SRP.