After a stellar trip to British Columbia that included visits to some excellent Okanagan wineries whose wares will be featured here soon, I am again at my computer in Calgary ready to bring PnP out of its brief hiatus. A HUGE thank you to everyone who made sure this site didn’t lose any of its momentum while I was away — much to my surprise (and sincere gratitude), Pop & Pour actually set a record for daily views a few days after I left town! Obviously I need to go on vacation more often.
The blog gets rebooted with a bang tonight, since my return post doubles as the 100th post I’ve written for PnP over the last six months. The fact that I’ve found 100 occasions since the start of March where the baby was sleeping and the house was quiet and I was able to be at the computer for a consecutive hour is clearly cause for celebration, and your poll voting determined that PnP’s centennial would be feted by way of the 2006 Gaja Brunello, more formally known as the Brunello di Montalcino from Pieve Santa Restituta. Even though I only got this wine three months ago, I’m very happy that it won the poll and that I get to open it, because it was my first ever Father’s Day present from my now-8-month-old son Felix (likely assisted in some substantial capacity by my lovely wife Heather). Nothing like a proud milestone gift to celebrate a joyous event.
Apart from my own personal connections to the bottle, this wine is a special wine because Brunello di Montalcino is a special region and Gaja a special producer. Brunello is located in southern Tuscany, Italy and is unquestionably firmly entrenched within Italian wine aristocracy, dishing out deep, textured, long-lasting, complex red wines that are among the world’s best. Here’s a trick for when you’re reading an Italian wine label: if the label contains the words “______ di _______” or “_______ d’_______”, the word before the “di” is almost always the grape name and the word after the “di” is almost always the town/region where it’s from. ”Brunello di Montalcino” means “Brunello of Montalcino” — Brunello’s the grape, and Montalcino’s a town due south of Florence whose name has been given to the surrounding winemaking region. Of all the wine regions in Tuscany (which include the ubiquitous Chianti, among many others), BdM is almost certainly the most highly-regarded. Brunello is not actually a stand-alone grape variety; instead, it’s a very high-quality clone (clones are mutations or versions of an existing varietal with specific characteristics) of Tuscany’s primary grape, Sangiovese, which is also referred to as Sangiovese Grosso. The word “Brunello” means “little brown one”, a reference to the brownish hue of the skins of the grapes and resulting dark colour of the wines.
As I mentioned in my brief description of this wine when I posted the poll, Angelo Gaja is a legend, but not for what he’s done in Tuscany. He’s a newcomer to the BdM region, having bought the Pieve Santa Restituta estate in 1994, but he built his fortune and his rock-star reputation in Barbaresco, located in Piedmont in northwest Italy, where he energized the region and the industry over the past few decades and where he continues to make brilliant, highly sought-after and ludicrously expensive (hundreds of dollars a bottle) wines from the Nebbiolo grape. He is an icon of Italian viniculture, so when he took his trade down to Tuscany, it was news. ”Pieve” means church, and Pieve Santa Restituta is named after the 7th Century AD St. Restituta church on the estate’s property; for a decade after Gaja took over it focused on single-vineyard Brunello wines, but in 2005, for the first time, it began producing this base-level Brunello which was a blend of fruit from multiple different vineyards on the property. This was a huge boon to you and me, because it meant that a Gaja wine actually became quasi-affordable: his single-vineyard Barbarescos cost $600 a bottle, his single-vineyard Brunellos cost $200, but this Brunello falls in the $60-$70 range.
That’s a lot of setting the stage, but all of the above is why I was so excited to crack this bottle. When I did, I was greeted with a gorgeous, translucent, rich garnet colour that was slightly tawny at the rim (remember the “little brown one”?). The nose continues to develop as I write this, but it’s smoky and resinous, with intense notes of tobacco, dried leaves, pepper, savoury spices and licorice, but also surprisingly bright sour cherry and blackberry fruit underneath it all. I spent a long time trying to put on paper what this Brunello tasted like, but my notes on the flavour profile remain short because it’s the structure of the wine, and not its flavour, that’s the star of the show. The Pieve is a monster of a wine that somehow remains elegant, with high levels of young, mouth-drying yet still silky tannins, very big acidity, a smooth and voluptuous mouthfeel and a long, pure, mineral-driven finish. There’s a tremendous balance of fruit (strawberry, dried cherry, blueberry) and earth (leather, toasted wood [cedar planks?], game), tied together with a slight floral note, always shifting. It’s one of the only wines I can remember with a 15% alcohol level where I didn’t notice the alcohol at all when tasting; it was completely integrated into the wine and not at all out of place.
There’s no question that I opened this bottle very early in its aging arc, probably earlier than its “official” drinking window, but with a little air it was definitely still approachable, and it had enough fruit to shine even in its adolescence. I’m sure it will be softer, mellower, and more complex in 5 years, and it could definitely last for at least another 10, so if you have a bottle it’s probably worth holding onto. That said, I don’t regret opening it tonight one bit. Pop & Pour has been a huge journey and an amazing learning experience for me, and I’m really proud that it’s lasted to 100 posts and that it seems to have actual readers (or so WordPress tells me). I raise my glass of Gaja to all of you, and I hope that you’re out there drinking a wine that brings you this kind of joy.
$60 to $70 CDN