After some seriously dedicated years of making my rounds at wine tastings, given all the incredible wines I’ve managed to tilt my glass under, I’ve got to say— I have never tried so many cult classics in just one sitting.
This was THE wine auction extravaganza, the one I’ll be bragging to all my wine friends about (until I find another one to go to).
Ideally, I would have contemplated each wine for a bit longer than 5 minutes but— it was kill or be killed out there— you either got your glass in for the pour right then and there, or else you missed out on its potential splendor entirely. We were racing through the wines, literally speed-tasting before bids opened and the evening’s events were underway.
The venue was in the back of a random antiques shop in Flaminia, a residential neighborhood in the northern part of the city. There couldn’t have been more than 40-50 people there. There were more than 300 wines up for bid, mostly big name Super Tuscans, Barolos and Bordeauxs— all generally pretty far from my price range. That said, there were some unbelievably reasonable starting prices, although some bidders (present and absent) had submitted silent offers prior to opening bid. For this reason, the starting price of a wine was often read out as higher than what was printed in the 72-page booklet.
Upon arrival I was quickly ushered through the crowd and up to the tasting table to get my first pour. The man serving attempted to slip me the 1979 Tignanello, though Hande promptly fixed that— she had him pour me the ‘79 Sassicaia instead, as she’d just tried them both. Apparently nobody else wanted to admit that the Tignanello was already on the decline (if not totally dead). But my god, the Sassicaia was delicious! It was quite cloudy, a garnet color with an orange tinge, but so bright and fresh— way more acid than I’d expect from a wine of it’s age from a sub-par vintage— then again, at this point in the evening, it was the oldest Italian wine I’d ever tried.
I tasted a 1986 Masi Amarone next, followed by a 1985… and it was truly night and day. The ‘85 was so alive. It had beautiful earthy sulfides on the nose and totally shocked the palate by being so clean and fresh. Absolutely the opposite of the ‘86, whose acid had turned a bit volatile, hitting you in the mouth like a fistful of stewed tomatoes. That’s pretty harsh, it was actually ok—if you could just get over how oxidized it was.
It was the Solaia’s turn, a 1991 and a 1990 following suit. The 1990 was so much more balanced. It had beautiful floral notes, so smooth and elegant while the ‘91 was a total tannin bomb. It was still an impressive wine, but probably in need of another decade in bottle before I’d want to try it again (who am I kidding, I’d try it again tomorrow).
There was a series of less impressive wines that came after—that is, very impressive on an everyday level, but given the outstanding range of vintage material, they were easily overshadowed.
The 1995 Brunello from Poggio Salve Villa was painfully, obviously corked but again— nobody there wanted to admit it. I’ve heard that Italians are like this about wine flaws— in denial that they actually exist. I can’t imagine why… maybe out of respect for the wine? The people and all the work that go into producing it? Like that has anything to do with the cork carrying TCA. In this case at any rate, they likely just didn’t want to open another bottle :)
I felt sorry for the man who had been hired to pour for us— he was trying so hard but failing so miserably at opening all these bottles with weathered corks. Luckily, Hande was there— nothing beats having a sommelier around when you’re about to push a cork into a ‘66 Margaux. She asked if anyone near the table had a wine opener, and of course I had one strapped to my body, as always (well, in my purse, strapped to my body, but close enough).
The 66’ Chateau Boyd-Cantenac’s cork was completely wrecked, but the wine itself had somehow managed to survive. It was extraordinarily creamy, with a toasty marshmallow nose, so incredibly intact and vibrant over 40 years later.
The St. Julien from Chateau Gloria was full of sediment, but appeared so clear in color and taste that you hardly even noticed the dark bits floating about in your glass. There was a strange funk on the nose though, almost a pickled character, but the acid was still very present, and albeit a bit odd, I thought it was pretty nice.
The Margaux from Chateau Durfort Vivens was the winner of the 1966’s. It too had an initial pickled, almost putrid acid on the nose, but anything unfavorable blew off once it got some air, lending way to savory spice and toast notes, and soft pleasant sulfides. It was the palate that stood out with this wine though— it tasted so different from the way it smelled. It had unbelievable balance, and beautiful persistence, such a long graceful finish. It was still going strong, and seemed like it would have a considerable amount of time left in bottle— then again, I didn’t get to see how any of these wines developed in glass over time, so who’s to say they didn’t just fall apart entirely after 15 minutes.
A great first wine auction in Rome. Why do I get the feeling this one’s going to be hard to top?
Gelardini & Romani Asta Vino Roma
WINES AVAILABLE FOR TASTING:
Wines from the 1960s:
1966 Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux Grand Cru
1966 Chateau Durfort Vivens, Margaux
1966 Chateau Gloria, St. Julien
1968 Masi Amarone, Valpolicella
Wines from the 70s:
1971 Masi Amarone, Valpolicella
1973 Chateau Timberlay, R. Giraud, Bordeaux Superieur
1979 Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia, Bolgheri IGT
1979 Antinori Tignanello, Chianti Classico IGT
1985 Masi Amarone Mazzano, Valpolicella
1986 Masi Amarone Capolongo di Torbe, Valpolicella
And the 1990s:
1990 Antinori Solaia, Chianti Classico IGT
1991 Antinori Solaia, Chianti Classico, IGT
1993 Antinori Prunotto Cannubi Barolo, Alba DOCG
1995 Poggio Salvi Villa Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
2004 Sant’Emiliano Barbera d’Asti, Superiore, DOC
2004 Fattoria di Rignana, Chianti Classico DOCG