Perhaps the ultimate joy in wine is the encounter with a great bottle, one that seems to strike all the right notes at once. When it is unexpected, or indeed quite serendipitous as in this case, it heightens the sense of delight.
Moments such as this do not come along so often, although one peculiar benefit of specialising in a specific region or area is that it leaves great tracts of undiscovered country, rich in untapped and even unknown vinous resources, thereby increasing the likelihood of the occasional and unexpected delightful encounter.
Italy is one such country; whereas I know more of Bordeaux and the Loire than I have ever done before, the rapid pace of development across the wine world means my once-broad knowledge of other countries can be rather out-dated. Hopefully my planned visit to Tuscany later this year will help a little in this respect. In the meantime this bottle, not from Tuscany but from Vezza d’Alba in Piedmont, turned out to be one of those unanticipated delightful encounters.
Fabrizio Battaglino is the third generation to take his family domaine in hand, although whereas his father sold the annual crop to the local co-operative, Fabrizio has decided to strike out on his own. He has about 5 hectares of vines, a mix of Nebbiolo (largely bottled as Nebbiolo d’Alba, although sometimes blended with a little Barbera for Langhe Rosso) and Arneis, a fascinating and under-appreciated white variety particular to Piedmont and which has its own DOCG in Roero Arneis. As an aside, as a sign of my outdated knowledge where Italy is concerned, I see the list of DOCGs seems to have expanded somewhat since I first learned about them, when I’m sure there were no more than a dozen. Having broken the mould set by the generation before him, Fabrizio has impressed many with his wines, as evinced by his recent tre bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso for his 2007 Nebbiolo d’Alba Vigna Colla. It seems that Battaglino’s name is one to watch.
As I alluded earlier, however, this week’s wine is a dessert wine, newly introduced to the Battaglino portfolio. Made from the aforementioned Arneis, the fruit is picked and dried, reducing dramatically the water content and therefore concentrating the sugars in the fruit, before fermentation. This ancient method of producing dessert wine seems very appropriate for the region; historically this was the primary method for producing sweet wines in Piedmont, although these days they are rarities I think. Elsewhere the technique has never really gone away, as with the Vin Santo of Tuscany to the south, and with Recioto di Soave and Recioto di Valpolicella (and good old Amarone di Valpolicella too, of course, although that is fermented to dryness) in Veneto to the east. For more on the technique, I describe it in more detail in my now rather elderly account of dried grape wines, part of my sweet wine series from five years ago.
The result of this is the Fabrizio Battaglino Bric Bastia 2009, a wine which possesses a rich and golden hue in the glass which seems to suggest intense pleasures to come. Aromatically it is just as concentrated as the story above suggests, with fabulous nuances of intense, sweet, dried-candied fruits, especially candied lemon, with a rich honeyed edge. This character persists on the palate, which shows a wonderfully sweet flesh, giving the wine a broad and caressing character, but there is also a really fine, grippy-bitter edge coming through in the midpalate too. At first the acidity seems deficient, which doesn’t seem quite right as dried grape wines should have a concentration of everything, not just sugar, but it is simply hidden behind the fruit. Look hard enough and you find it, in the midpalate, but otherwise it remains really well hidden beneath the sweet, concentrated flesh. Despite this the wine still seems fresh on the palate, thanks I think to the slightly grainy-grippy phenolic layer. There are notes of thyme and sage, Russet apple and a sweet concentrated of orange fruit redolent of marmalade. A great, intense finish, and it is very long too. Lovely wine. 17/20 (6/5/11) Chris Kissack . The winedoctor.com