Blind tasting of Northern Italian wines - Printable Version

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- wondersofwine - 04-11-2008

Another in the series "Taste Like a Sommelier" at Zely and Ritz Restaurant, Raleigh. I didn't exactly embarrass myself this time (finally) but it was mostly "close but no cigar." We followed the regular format of three whites followed by an appetizer, three reds, followed by the entree, and then a dessert and dessert wine.

The first wine I suspected was a Prosecco as soon as I saw the stream of bubbles but Kimberly spoke up first to identify it as such. It was a Nino Franco and I have had one from this producer before but with different flavors. The nose suggested to me pear and ginger. The combination of ginger and "effervescence" (someone else at the table came up with this apropos descriptor and another with "tingly") reminded me of ginger ale.

The second one stumped me. I know I am pretty ignorant of Italian whites so was throwing out Soave or Verdicchio without even knowing if these are from Northern Italy or Southern or Central Italy. Kimberly again pegged it as Pinot Grigio. It was a slightly deeper color than the Prosecco and some fruit descriptors I heard were green apple and pear. To my mind it almost came closer to cherries (a flavor element some find in certain German Rieslings.) The Pinot Grigio had a slightly chewy quality in the mouth. This was from Lageder, an organic, biodynamic grower and was 12.5% alcohol according to the label.

It was unlikely anyone could guess the third white wine which was a semi-obscure, or maybe totally obscure Italian variety. From the village of Ramandolo, it was produced by Dario Coos and was listed as Vindos, a white blend. (I'm not clear from the website if Refosco is part of the blend or a separate offering from the producer.) This was my favorite white of the evening. It had a smoky quality , lots of mouth presence, and people described the fruit notes as honeydew melon, guava, and Nancy Agasi mentioned mandarin orange at the back of the palate which Greg and I also could detect once Nancy suggested it. Others remarked on the floral quality of the wine and its spring flowers aura. This is from Venezie, is an IGT wine and was labeled at 12% alcohol.

I tried all three white wines with the salad and liked the combination with the third wine best.

I did somewhat better identifying the red wines with a bit of help from Nancy.

The first one I thought might be Dolcetto. It was dark crimson-purple in the glass with a garnet rim, opaque, and smelled ripe, jammy with cherry notes but tasted less jammy and ended with a slight bitterness. It called out for food.
Nancy said I came close with Dolcetto but that was not correct. When no one else guessed the variety she called on me to try again and I ventured Barbera which was correct. 2005 La Morandina Barbera from the Piedmont, 13.5% alcohol. It did improve when paired with food (a pork and roast beet dish with cow peas and braising greens, the food coming from Coon Rock Farm, a nearby source or mostly organic food.)

The second red wine was garnet color or deep rose and semi-transparent. It had some viscosity. Nancy said it had been decanted for about two hours. Nice nose reminding me of black cherry jello. Very nice. I guessed Barbaresco and had the grape right although it was labeled as Nebbiolo. This was a 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo. I'm afraid I didn't write down the producer's name.

The third red wine was lovely. Darker color, almost opaque. I thought almost mahogany in color but Nancy was trying to get someone to notice an orangish rim (the lighting was not very good for our purposes.) Initially, I didn't see any legs on the sides of the glass but they were apparent to me later. One person threw out the descriptor "barnyardy" but quickly changed it to "earthy" as it really didn't suggest barnyard odors. I suggested dark plum in the nose. Before I tasted it Nancy asked if anyone smelled raisins and my antenna went up and I thought I knew what it was. I guessed Amarone and was close--it was a Valpolicella Classico Superiore made Ripasso- style with dried grapes. Nancy said with Amarone the grapes are dried for 90 days and with Ripasso for 60 days. On the palate the wine was chewy, fruity and tasted almost sweet. It was the 2005 i Quadretti Valpolicella Classico Superiore from Azienda Agricola La Giaretta. Labeled at 15% alcohol.

We had a chance to order the wines and I ordered one bottle of the Vindos, one of the Nebbiolo and three of the Valpolicella Ripasso ($35 each for the Valpolicella and I think $19 and $21 for the other two.)

Dessert was a delicious strawberry shortcake with creme fraiche and we had a Moscati to accompany it.

Nice evening. The communal tasting table included a retired physician and his wife and daughter and son-in-law, two pilots (female helicopter pilot for emergency medical airlifts) and a 767 pilot, a software maintenance engineer, and others too far away for casual conversation. The next in the blind tasting series will probably be comprised of wines from Oregon and Washington (we've had California and I missed the Down Under evening and I think the Spanish evening?). Argentina and Chile and Southern Italy are still to come.

A writer from "Southern Living" was on hand at another table. She was visiting Coon Rock Farm and dining at the restaurant for a possible write-up in the magazine.

[This message has been edited by wondersofwine (edited 04-17-2008).]