Roving Wine Review: 1998 Pieve Santa Restituta “Rennina” Brunello di Montalcino @ Centini

4 10 2011

Centini: great restaurant, absolutely horrible lighting for iPhone pictures. Note the difference between the old PSR label shown here and the way cooler one they use now...

I have awesome friends.  Shortly after I posted my poll-winning wine review of the 2006 Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello a few weeks back in celebration of Pop & Pour’s 100th post, I got a message from Brian at The Ferocious Grape telling me that he had a great idea for another PnP article.  He had in his massive collection of wine another Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello that was both older and higher-end than the one I had tried:  the 1998 Rennina Brunello from PSR (“Rennina” is PSR’s proprietary name for the wine, which comes from three top vineyard sites on the estate), the current vintage of which is more than 3 times as expensive as the base PSR Brunello ($200ish as compared to $60).  Did I have any interest in opening the ’98 Rennina with Brian, seeing how it fared against the ’06 basic Brunello and writing a post about it?  Um, yes?

If you’ll recall, my main excitement about Pieve Santa Restituta was that it’s owned by Angelo Gaja, the Barbaresco wine icon from Piedmont in northwest Italy whose Tuscan venture into Brunellos is worth some attention (for much more about Gaja and PSR and Brunello, see my last post about the 2006).  The 1998 vintage from PSR was of particular interest because Gaja only took full control over the winery in 1995, so Brian’s bottle was one of this landmark winemaker’s first efforts at making high-end Brunello.  A bottle this special required some proper special-occasion ambience, and I owed Brian some payback for a gesture this generous, so we booked a dinner reservation at Centini on 1st Street and 8th Avenue SE in downtown Calgary to toast one of Tuscany’s finest Italian-style.

I'm totally smitten with this decanter. It's over 2 feet tall and the wine comes out of the narrow end. Worth the corkage by itself.

Let me say this about Centini:  they know how to handle their wine.  They allowed us to bring in our own bottle for a $25 corkage fee (not cheap, but not outrageous by any stretch), and from the second they got their hands on the bottle they handled it with remarkable care and precision, from matching it with the right glassware to decanting it properly to attentively serving it throughout the evening.  This focus on service was highlighted by the fact that we actually brought two bottles to dinner, and each one got different stemware and a different-shaped decanter to air out in — maybe not strictly necessary, but at one point in the night when there were over a dozen glass containers of some sort on our two-person table, I felt somewhat important.  The food, while on the higher end of the price range for Calgary foodie fare (some entrees cleared $50), was tremendous — I would highly recommend the bison carpaccio and the beef short rib ravioli, especially when washed down with $200 Brunello!  I had Kraft Dinner for supper the previous night to pre-emptively remind myself not to expect to live like a gourmand on a regular basis.

As for the star attraction, it did not disappoint.  The two things that left a lasting impression on me about the Rennina were its colour and its texture, which combined to suggest that this wine had integrated into something spectacular in its years in the bottle but was still nowhere near ready to fade away.  The colour was a deep, thick, dark garnet that didn’t seem remotely “aged” (in fact, I gave almost the exact same colour description of the 2006 PSR Brunello!) — I was amazed at its richness and intensity after 13 years.  I was expecting an intriguing, complicated nose and got a veritable olfactory encyclopedia of different aromas:  burnt sugar, roses, nuttiness, cola (Brian described this as “sassafras/green kitchen spices”), maple, cigar box (used in its true sense to describe that combined smell that only arises when cigars spend a long time sitting in their wooden box), citrus, potpourri, strawberry and even a clearly detectable metallic hint of blood (though not in an unpleasant or vampiric way).  I have no idea if that laundry list makes it easier or harder to understand what the Rennina smelled like, but a glance at these descriptors shows that the nose at least belied the age of the wine:  secondary and age-driven flavours predominated, and the few direct fruit notes that existed were well in the background, just one of the multitude of aromas that came together to tell the story of this bottle.  And then the first sip…you remember I mentioned texture?

Cork Rating: 6.5/10 (Extra half point over the 2006 due to the age stains.)

The Rennina was just shockingly smooth and silky, like velvet on the palate.  I find that when many wines age and mellow out, their mouthfeel suffers a bit because the wine gets a little thinner and less vibrant, but this one wasn’t tired at all:  it just seemed amazingly “together”.  The lush yet delicate, seamless texture of the ’98 Rennina set it apart for me from its younger, less integrated cousin.  It was a great time to open this bottle, because while its acidity was still sharp, keeping the wine energetic, it also had that languid, mellow feel that you only get with bottle age; while it still had high tannin levels, the tannins were super fine and soft thanks to their maturity.  I admit that I got so caught up in what this wine felt like that I forgot to write detailed notes about what it tasted like, but much of the flavour profile from the nose returned along with more prominent notes of sour cherry, dust, iron and mineral, all coalescing into an extended and polished finish.

I’ve written before about looking at wine as being the sum of its parts, but this experience has let me take that thought process one step further.  If you look at my 2006 Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello review, even though that was a lower-quality wine than the Rennina, you can see that all of the key parts are there to make it a complex, long-lived wine:  huge structure (including plenty of wine-preserving tannin and acid) and tightly-packed, complex flavours.  The Rennina shows how one additional crucial element — time — can make the resulting wine even MORE than the sum of these parts, because the whole has a harmony that the parts can never achieve on their own.  If that doesn’t make you want to start cellaring a few select bottles, I don’t know what will…I get excited just thinking about this bottle that I last tasted three days ago.  Thanks to Brian for thinking of me and giving me a chance to see where wine can go; thanks to Centini for letting us have a 4.5 hour long dinner; thanks to all of you for voting for the 06 Gaja in the first place, which is the only reason I ended up tasting the ’98.  Simply a great experience.

94 points

$200+ CDN

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