Roving Wine Review: 2007 Gaja Promis @ Alloy

22 03 2011

If you haven't been to Alloy, go. Now.

I had an Important Business Dinner last night that took me to Alloy restaurant just off Macleod Trail on 42nd Ave. S.E…. my favourite restaurant in the city, and as it turns out, even better on somebody else’s tab.  There was remarkable food (I had a short rib appetizer with a roasted pepper and fenugreek chutney that should be illegal) and witty conversation, but most importantly, there was wine.  I was lazy and didn’t take contemporaneous notes, but this is the second time I’ve had the bottle we ordered, and it left enough of an impression that this review should still be fairly accurate.

The wine in question was the 2007 “Promis” from Gaja, made from grapes grown in the Ca’Marcanda vineyard in Tuscany.  Both the producer and the style of wine are rife with history.  Angelo Gaja (pronounced “Ga-ya”, not “Gadga”, like I blurted out in a wine shop once…apparently you’re just supposed to know these things) is an icon of the Italian wine industry, although his most famous wines by far are from the Piedmont region northwest of Tuscany, specifically from the area of Barbaresco…if you have $500 a bottle to spend, anyway.  Gaja and fine Barbaresco are almost synonymous, but he also dabbles in Tuscan wines as well.  The Promis is a Super Tuscan wine, a term that requires another brief tangent to explain.

Ga-ya. Don't get J confusion like me.

In 100 words or less, top quality Italian wine regions (like Barbaresco discussed in the last paragraph) are actually legal designations that come with mandates about what kinds of grapes can be grown within their boundaries and how these grapes can be harvested and made into wine.  In Tuscany, the most well-known of these top quality regions are Chianti Classico DOCG (made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes) and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (made entirely from Brunello grapes, a clone of Sangiovese).  Any Tuscan wine falling outside of the strict mandated region requirements was only allowed to put the lowest possible quality designation on its label:  vino da tavola, or table wine.  Starting in the 1980s, a few respected Tuscan producers who were fed up with these restrictive rules started making high-end red wines using non-sanctioned winemaking methods and non-Italian grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.  These wines were critically acclaimed, extremely expensive, and of superior quality to many of the Chiantis and Brunellos on the market, but since they fell outside the mandatory rules for a top-level DOCG designation, they could only be labelled as table wines.  The wine media started calling these reds, which clearly punched above their vino da tavola weight class, Super Tuscans.  Eventually the Italian government created a brand new wine designation called “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” (IGT) above the vino da tavola designation, in large part to be able to formally elevate these Super Tuscan wines above legal bottom-feeder status.  OK, that was probably 200 words.

This particular Gaja Super Tuscan is a rather strange blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese; the first two of these are non-Italian grapes, which necessitates the IGT designation.  The first thing immediately noticeable about the nose of the Promis is a clear barnyard aroma.  “Barnyard” is an adjective often used in wine reviews to indicate that a wine possesses certain aromas of, well, a barnyard:  animal, sweat, leather, and even manure.  Believe me, you know it when you smell it — and believe it or not, it is often heralded as an indicator of higher-quality wines.  This wine has it, along with sour cherry, burnt toast, hay and earth notes.  None of the funky, barnyardy stink carries over to the palate though, where fairly simple but tasty dark red fruit and spice flavours carry the day.  The wine was still fairly tannic, and it showed much better once it sat in the glass and opened up a bit.  In my opinion will definitely show better in a couple years, but it was still an enjoyable if not earth-shattering red.  I don’t know if I’d pay its $40-$50 retail price tag, let alone its 100%-markup restaurant wine list price…but like I said, last night I wasn’t buying, so problem solved.

88 points

$40 to $50 CDN

Alloy Wine List Price:  $93 CDN

[Wine Jargon Notes:
DOCG = the highest possible legal quality designation for an Italian wine region; it stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita”, which means “Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin”.  In theory, DOCG regions are supposed to represent the premier wine-growing regions in Italy.]



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