More Fun Than a Barolo of Monkeys 01/04/12

Gift giving is one of humanity’s oldest and proudest traditions, ranking right up there with music and prostitution, and just below the consumption of alcohol. The right gift can be used to make a vast array of statements to the recipient: everything from “happy birthday!” to “I hope you enjoy this poison!”

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The must-have poison this Christmas was arsenic, but I guess it’ll do…

As much as it’s possible to say with a gift, however, there’s but a single appropriate way to respond when someone has given one to you. And so it was with a trite (but polite) expression of gratitude that I received my 2005 Silvio Grasso Barolo Pi Vigne, a thank you which failed to convey my true excitement at having received this bottle. For not only was it a Barolo – reputedly both the king of wines and the wine of kings, which by law must be produced entirely from Nebbiolo grapes (i.e., my favorite grapes) – but it also happened to be the exact same Barolo this person gave me last year, right down to the vintage.

This meant, of course, that I could drink one now, since doing so would no longer mean depleting my precious supply. How did I know it was precious? Well, apart from the whole Barolo thing, I immediately googled this wine upon receipt (as any diligent enophile would have) and found it selling for between $40 and 50 on average – which puts it just beyond my personal maximum.

2005 is certainly still a young vintage for Barolo, but I like my Nebbiolo young and brash as a general rule. Still, Barolo in particular has been known to age for a long, long time – this writeup of a recent Barolo tasting describes several bottles from the early 60s which still evidently have decades to go.

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Hey man, is that wine like, ready yet, man?

What clinched my decision to drink this wine on New Years Eve 2011 was the fact that the recommended drinking window, according to the Wine Spectator, begins in 2012, and I had to try it at least a couple of hours before then, being so rebellious and all. So it was with unparalleled anticipation that I headed to my wine fridge, retrieved a bottle, cut the foil, and popped the cork; indeed, looking back, I doubt my excitement was even perpendiculared on that fateful eve.

I knew the wine would need some time to breathe, but I still poured a glass apiece for me and my buddy Saul right upon opening, for baseline purposes (read: impetuousness). The Barolo appeared a translucent maroon in the glass, with only the faintest hint of copper coloring around the rim. Six (or seven) years may be all the age some wines can handle, but this one was clearly just getting started.

nullThe nose was at once familiar and curious, containing some of the Nebbiolo notes I know and love (flowers, cherries, orange peel, tar) with others I had yet to encounter – namely menthol, an unmistakable whiff of minty coolness emanating from the glass, which Saul brought to my attention. The palate was, at first, more what I was expecting, with notes of orange peel and tobacco, all crammed inside a tannin cannon which fired directly into my mouth. As the wine breathed, Saul mused that he detected a bit of root beer (and/or sarsaparilla). I thought it might be cola, realizing that I’ve never tasted such without the obligatory 60 grams of added sugar. We’ll call that one inconclusive.

Somehow, I mustered the restraint to save the second half of this Barolo for the following day; I realize that even when I make a point of letting wine breathe, chances are I’m still rushing things, by normal people standards. This time the wine presented similar aromas, though perhaps with a bit more emphasis on the cherry. The palate, however, suggested that the wine indeed had opened up overnight, with flavors of raisin and tree bark (seriously! a sort of spicy, vaguely earthy dryness. I’ve never actually tasted tree bark, but I have had tree bark flavored ice cream, so…). The tannins and acids still dominated, however, and while the wine paired beautifully with filet mignon, there’s no denying that I definitely jumped the gun by opening it when I did. And I doubt six hours would have made a difference.

Perhaps this Grasso will be greener in the (more distant) future. Idiomatically, I mean: not greener in the enological sense of smelling like vegetables, nor the environmental sense of being sustainable (I mean, I’ve only got the one bottle left, after all). Come to think of it, that pun creates far more confusion than it’s worth. Perhaps I won’t use it again when I re-review this wine in early 2014.

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Ah, whom am I kidding?

I award the 2005 Silvio Grasso Barolo Pi Vigne thumbs up, as it currently stands. Already there’s complexity to spare – but I’m positive there will be more.

To be continued.

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