I am starting to close in on my 20th year in the wine business and as you may expect, I have a pretty good collection of wines slowly aging in three different coolers. What may surprise you is what I have chosen to put down through the years. I don’t collect rare, cult California Cabernet and there is no First Growth Bordeaux slowing evolving in my cellars. My collection is divided into wines for long term cellaring, ten years or more, and wines for the shorter term. My long term stuff is mostly Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino but a few California Cabs are represented. The wines that go into the cellar for the short term are Cotes du Rhone, Chianti, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorats (although this category should probably be moved to the long term cellar) and a bunch of goodies from the Languedoc. There is also a fair amount of barrique aged Barbera in this part of my cellar and on Saturday night I awoke one from its sleep.
Usually when I pull an older wine out of the cellar there is an occasion. On Saturday the occasion was a new recipe for manicotti from Cook’s Illustrated
. (I will pass on the recipe to anyone who is interested, it was more about the technique than the ingredients.) On this night the object of my affection was a 2000 La Spinetta Barbera “Superiore
“, a wine that has probably been aging for five years. Barbera is a grape that is known for high acidity and this version from winemaker Giorgio Rivetti (pictured right)
was aged in new oak to temper the shrill edges. In youth this wine was good if a bit wood dominated so I was anxious to see how it has evolved.
Of course the first thing I did was decant the wine into my old standby, a Pyrex 1 qt pitcher. I own a lot of crystal decanters but this is the one I reach for most often because it fits in the dishwasher. I should have been more careful in dumping the wine into the pitcher as it contained a lot of sediment, which I would deal with drinking the last glass. The color was still extremely deep ruby with some notes of garnet on the rim. The nose was muted although a note of fresh blackberries was apparent. The wine was open about one hour when dinner was ready. The manicotti were perfect; spinach and ricotta filling, rolled inside softened, no-bake lasagne noodles, lightly covered with my homemade, roasted tomato sauce and then topped with a Parmigiano-Reggiano white sauce. The wine had evolved; blackberry still dominated but now notes of star anise, black licorice, dried cherry and milk chocolate appeared. The palate was pretty supple, although my wife commented the acidity was a little high for her taste. After dinner I walked down the street following my four year old on her bicycle, drinking the last glass. By now the vanilla/mocha quality was stronger, signs of toasted wood barrel in the aging, but the edges were smooth and, well, milk chocolaty. I had to filter out the grit at the bottom because this one was good to the last drop.
The moral of this story, other than I will never buy manicotti shells again, is that wines do not have to be expensive to age. This bottle cost around $24, not everyday price but a far cry from what most “collectible” wines command. Don’t be afraid to keep a few wines in this price range hanging around, they hold up beautifully and reward you with some amazing complexity when mature. By the way, we currently have the 2004 La Spinetta Barbera “Gallina” on the shelf for $40 and yes, there are three in my cellar. I will report back in 2012.