Sweet potato gnocchi with a tomato sage butter sauce topped with Parmesan, with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
As Hurricane Irene bristles against the East Coast, a cool damp breeze rustles in through my window; and as I relax from a week’s work, I find myself looking for a wine that is deep enough to get lost in, on this rainy evening. I immediately thought “Italy.”
I picked up the Oddero Barolo off my shelf and looked at the vintage: 2004. At seven years old, this might be a bit too young, but I’ve made the mistake of over-aging Barolo before, so I decided to go for it.
Thank God I did. This wine is exactly what I was looking for. Opening the bottle I got this whiff of something old, but rich. This wine is an adventure unto itself, like going through a box of old photos in the attic that you’ve never seen before. There is something familiar about it, whether it’s the dark, flavorful fruit, or the soft, smooth, elegant tannins, or dark yet floral nose and deep red color, I’m not sure which. And yet it feels as though all these comforting characteristics hide behind a thin vale of an ancient history, like a silk sheet over and intricate and lavish piece of quality furniture, that while a bit faded with age, is even more gorgeous than the day it was built.
And really, isn’t that exactly what has happened here?
In Barolo, wines are built to be aged. Made of 100% Nebbiolo aged in a less-agressive oak (usually French, but in this case Slovakian). Nebbiolo is one of those grapes that needs age. In its youth, it can be rough, overly tannic, and simultaneously dense and shallow (overly rich in the front, but dissipates too quickly to enjoy any complexity). With some time in the bottle, the grape truly does mature almost like a human: the roughness smooths out, the tannins become almost silky in texture, and the flavors and fruit spread out into a lengthy and interesting mouthful. It’s like a punk student growing up into the patient professor.
Now, this does come with a bit of a price tag. Barolo is a tiny little region in northern Italy. Their rarity-by-law combined with a long tradition of superior wines and an increasingly-fierce tight-knit global market means that these wines can easily get up into the $100+ price bracket. Fortunately, the Oddero is a bit calmer: I think I bought this bottle for around $45 or $50 about four years ago.
In short: exactly what I was hoping for. Not only was this wine totally worth the price, and not only was there some satisfaction in opening a bottle I’d held onto for a while, but most of all it was the perfect thing for the stormy night.