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Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino with Grilled Rack of Lamb

A regular of The Exchange (the bottle shop I manage) brought up this cheeky phrase a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head! Most of us wine lovers probably have at least a bottle or two stashed away that we are saving for a special occasion. Even if you don’t have a wine fridge (much less a cellar) you might have a bottle tucked away in the back of a closet or under the bed (perfectly acceptable)!

While I love aging wine, and the magical transformation that takes place with a great bottle over time, there are also seems to be this psychological phenomenon that occurs with holding onto a bottle...once you get past the initial phase of impatience and somewhat forget said eventually becomes very difficult to find the “right” time to open. You have been so good about waiting and allowing said wine to develop that no time seems perfect enough!

I speak from experience, and since my birthday was this past week in the middle of a pandemic I decided to have a little belated celebration on my day off (Sunday) and open just such a bottle. There are in fact two bottles in my wine fridge that I have held onto since I first fell under the spell of wine (circa 2010): a Super Tuscan and a Brunello di Montalcino from Le Ragnaie. This is my favorite Brunello producer because the wines are well balanced and elegant (not as intense or modern as some other Brunellos).

Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino with grilled rack of lamb

For those of you unfamiliar with the Brunello di Montalcino appellation...this is a region in Tuscany centered around the village of Montalcino and focused on a specific clone of the Sangiovese grape (Sangiovese Grosso to be specific). This clone of Sangiovese is especially thick skinned leading to high tannins that make for an extremely age-worthy wine. In fact, the laws of the region require that the wines be aged at least four years and five for the Riserva designation. Some producers hold their wines even longer, but even with this time spent aging at the winery, Brunellos still drink “young” upon release. They are tightly wound and slow to unfurl their beauty.

Le Ragnaie is special to me not just because their wines are outstanding, but also because owner Ricardo Campinoti happened to be one of the first winemakers I met when I started my wine obsession. Ricardo’s wife Jennifer has family in South Carolina, and they visit here often. And Ricardo lives up to all the good Italian stereotypes -- charming and fun loving!

I bought a bottle of his Brunello when I first met him and kept putting it back in the fridge every time I considered it for a special occasion. Well guess what folks, it’s just about “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” time! This past Sunday I opened the bottle a couple of hours before dinner and took the initial sniff -- thankfully no cork taint (the ultimate buzz kill with an older bottle). I poured a small taste and reveled in the dried red fruit with a touch of spice and much earth. I then proceeded to open a half bottle of Champagne (it was my own personal birthday party after all!) and let the Brunello sit uncorked for another hour. (Yes, you could decant, but with an older wine that is tasting great I prefer to experience its evolution straight from the bottle).

An hour later, and the wine was truly singing (with grilled rack of lamb from Ted’s Butcher Block) and risotto with roasted spring veggies! It smelt and tasted of autumn -- dried leaves, dried fruit, and leather. It really could not have been in a better place so I suppose my reluctance to open sooner truly paid off. Now I just have to beat myself up for not buying a bottle every year!

Currently we have the 2013 vintage of Ricardo’s Brunello at The Exchange, and we have a new wine made from their highest elevation sites (a safeguard against climate change) called Passo de Lume Spento (vintage 2015). We also have his Rosso di Montalcino (aged less time and from different sites than his Brunello).

I am most definitely buying a bottle of each and biding my time on the Brunello and the Passo de Lume. I am sure that I will find another imperfect time to enjoy them down the road!

(Hope everyone is staying safe and sane!!)

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