From Sangiovese to Sperling Vineyards’ spritz
It’s not all about delicate appies and gossamer Chardonnays, this wine-tasting thing. Sometimes it’s major, palate-breaking work.
The most (let me find a suitable euphemism here) challenging winetasting I ever subjected my system to took place in Chicago many years ago, when I was toiling in another vineyard of words. There are certain challenges one can do without: 400-plus Sangioveses over two-and-a-half days in Chicago in winter, for an American association of restaurateurs, was one such. Hey, it did mean I was the first—probably only—Canadian wine writer invited to the event.
The wines from Kansas and Missouri were particularly challenging.
Not that I don’t like Sangiovese; it’s propelled many a Chianti into my system. This tasting consisted of two parts: a pass/fail round wherein we, the judges, eliminated the wines we definitely didn’t want to ingest again after a single sip ’n’ swirl, followed by a decisive spit; the wines we passed came back the next day for reevaluation. Some came back in the middle of the night, for big-time heartburn!
Still, Sangiovese can be a great grape when handled right. Sanguis Jovis, the blood of Jupiter, predates the time of the Romans. It remains one of the two major red grapes in Italy today, originating in Tuscany, where it is still the paramount red grape. They say that many Sangioveses can last a decade or more. I’ve never felt compelled to find out. Brunello is one strain of the grape—the dress-up one—and Chianti is the other, and it’s also sometimes called Sangioveto. Generally, it’s a dark, earthy, herby, robust wine. It can be raunchy. Some of it isn’t for the faint of heart.
Despite my limited tasting experience with Sangiovese made in the midwestern U.S.—oh, there was one from Alabama, too!—relatively little Sangiovese is grown and bottled outside Italy. Wine whiz Howard Soon likes to work with it sometimes here in B.C. and has achieved some notable results, when he can find any. (It ranks 22nd in plantings, accounting for about 0.1 percent of red grapes grown here.) Soon has shown that it can make a delicious food wine (even without wrapping the bottle in raffia!), but it is probably best—as Hugh Johnson used to say, in reference to retsina—“enjoyed in situ”.
Now there’s a new one in town, just approved for a specialty listing at the B.C. LDB (I promise to try and unravel the knots of our listing system for you, well before the autumn gales do blow!), called Il Romano Sangiovese di Romagna MMX (2010), from the producer Cantine Sgarzi Luigi. I’m told it should be in stores now, but you may still have to hunt for it. Here’s the best part: it’s $14.99. This is the one for big meat dinners, punchy pastas (like a spicy puttanesca), pungent salami, dried meats (bresaola in particular), strong cheeses, white anchovies, vinegary antipastos, cotechino sausage with lentils, and all that sort of thing.
It’s hearty stuff, but it won’t dissolve the enamel on your teeth, and while food is definitely called for, a tipple after dinner is quite nice. No, it doesn’t come raffia-wrapped, but you’re all past that stage, right? A new-in-town Chianti with a solid pedigree and good mealtime moxie. Well worth the quest.
Now, who’s still got a copy of the first Grateful Dead album, on vinyl of course, the one with “Viola Lee Blues” on it?
A new wine, on the sweet side, has hit town—now you see it, now you won’t—from the always enterprising Ann Sperling of Sperling Vineyards, the little Okanagan Valley winery that carries her name, just in time to wave summer out and welcome a little sunny autumn. She calls it Sper…itz. Get it? “Sper” for Sperling, “itz” for spritz; got it! It’s a light and lightly sweet tiny-bubbles wine, not sparkling per se, but what the French like to call pétillant. It’s a perfect seasonal bookend wine—great as an apéritif, equally great for dessert.
It comes in a half-bottle (375 millilitres) at an easy-sipping 7.9 percent alcohol, costs $12.99, and is simply delicious—an unusual sipping wine, an uncommon dinner companion. The gently sweet fruit is solidly litchi; Sperling cites her family’s “heritage Moscato plantings” as the source for the grapes. Three hundred and ninety cases were produced—and those are half-bottle cases, so the total amount on the market is pretty scarce. It’s so fresh and luscious I wish I could afford it for the whole summer, or what’s left of it. It will carry you through all manner of entertainments well into the fall.
Sperling Sper…itz can be found at indie stores, most likely. Get it while you can; gone by the end of the month, I’m thinking.