The Joy of Wine

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WORDS KEN GARGETT

Among the many joys wine offers is its infinite capacity to surprise. Usually, open a bottle and you know what to expect. We know what it is, what we paid, whether it should be spectacular or just a decent drink. But sometimes…

Of course, the reverse happens as well. That particular bottle you’ve been saving for something special? Everyone hovers around waiting for you to open it. Will it be bliss or a miss?

Wine can simply be a good drink, as it is for many, or be something much more serious. Many become utterly obsessed by it – and not all of them have deep pockets. Many of us have to make do as best we can, pick up a few bargains, share bottles with friends. We’ve all seen that table in the back of the restaurant with a bunch of animated diners (often, but not always, men – does that mean women are more sensible?), arguing happily over vintages and varieties, as though deciding the fate of the world.

A bunch of mates meet every five to six weeks to do just that. Our leader nominates a theme – always rather pointy end – and off we go.

The latest was Brunello di Montalcino, is a much-neglected region in the south of Tuscany, making wines from 100% Sangiovese. Personally, ‘Brunello di Montalcino’ always sounds like the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

The region’s star is Biondi Santi, its only producer for many years. It made the first Brunello in 1865. There were only four more vintages until the end of WWII. Now, there are a couple of hundred producers. Soldera is a relatively recent addition, which has excited wine lovers around the world. New and exciting producers like Stella di Campalto are emerging and others like the famous Gaja have made Brunello.

So, down the back of the restaurant we went.

Surprises? First, the Gaja and then the Stella was ruined by cork taint, the Stella would have had Marlon Brando screaming in the streets. It nearly forced us to change suburbs. It happens, though it wouldn’t if producers moved to screwcap.

Karma owed us and it delivered in spades. A wine from the cellar, the 1997 Pertimali, was a bottle I was hoping would step up. One of the gang declared that it would be dead, before we even popped the cork. Granted it was the “standard” release and not the more storied Riserva (wineries can release both standard and Riserva Brunellos each vintage – conventional wisdom decrees the Riserva should be the star), but he could not have been more wrong.

The Pertimali is my wine of the year, so far. It was so young, concentrated, brilliant. We served it next to the same maker’s 2010 Riserva, also very good, and had to ask our somm to check if he’d mixed bottles. He assured us not. The cynics insisted he bring the bottles so we could check for ourselves.

It was a monumental wine. Surprised us all. Delighted us all. You have to love that.

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