The complexity of a fine wine is never less than astonishing. I received two bottles as a gift from Francesca Caliolo, one of my Italian students when I was teaching English in Italy. Francesca is an outspoken activist; her husband died a tragic death in the steel mill "Ilva" in Taranto, Puglia, and ever since she has fought for safety and workers rights, both in court and on the street. She's raising two wonderful children, Roberta and Gabriele (he's gone north to college this year), and she taught me a new definition of the word "stolid." She stands up for what is right, even when it's unpopular. If I'm ever given the same opportunity, she will be my guiding light.
I carried one of the bottles in my backpack from Puglia to Verona and back down to Abruzzo, when I wrote the Italy From Bottom to Top Travelogue series for EuropeUpClose.com. I checked the bottle on the flight from Naples to New York. I checked it again on the flight to Portland, Oregon. I checked it again on the flight to Mammoth Mountain, California. Up on the ski slopes, I was as far away from Francesca as I could possibly be, but she remained with me. Her kindness. Her sincerity. When we opened the wine and I toasted with my girlfriend and her father, I said a silent 'salute' to Francesca. Workers have had to fight for their rights forever, and it is sadly true in the region of Puglia, which is still backwards and feudal in far too many ways. Besides agriculture, there are few jobs available outside of the steel mills in Taranto and Brindisi.
Wine Review: Castel Giocondo's 1998 Brunello di Montalcino
Short Review: This wine is awesome
Pairs With: Howard Zinn, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, anything by Kafka
Tip: Decant 5 hours or more
Just to set the mood, Brunello is a wine grape; it is a clone of the Sangiovese grape (which is the most important grape in Chianti); by Italian law, Brunellos can only be made in the growing region around the town of Montalcino, Italy. Sangiovese grapes are great for aging (wine guru Charles Scicolone recently compared several with typical lucidness, including the Giocondo's 2006 Brunello di Montalcino). The wines are so expensive because it costs a lot of money to make a product that you do not sell for 10+ years.
Review of Castel Giocondo's 1998 Brunello di Montalcino:
At 13 years, the wine wasn't in the least bit tired. I tasted everything characteristic of Brunellos: licorice, leather, eucalyptus, boysenberry. The wine was so complex that you could have extracted hundreds of different flavors... or none: the balance was as even as a Keith Moon drum beat. Its foremost characteristic was its structure, which was magnificent and held its own with the coq au vin made with cabernet sauvignon. Each sip was a pleasure, then it was gone.