Seldom do we have the chance to taste the greatest wines in the world. For years I’ve been assembling tastings, procuring bottles and creating menus, and each time it’s a painstaking process. However, it’s the end result which makes it all worthwhile. For one thing, looking back on these experiences is what forms the foundation of our wine knowledge. Yet it’s more than that; it’s the people you share them with and the stories they tell around the table, or the food you pair it with and the atmosphere of the restaurant. My favorite tasting memories include the faces of some of my best friends and the memory of an amazing pairing.
As for me, my heart is in Italy. There’s just something about the wine, the food, the people, and the tradition, which all tie together to form a perfect symmetry. There is nothing I enjoy more than an aged Italian wine with an Italian meal. Barolo, Brunello and Amarone are three iconic wines from Italy—of course, we can’t leave out the Super Tuscans, a movement which defined a region. Put this all together, and host it at one of New York’s premier, Italian-inspired steak houses, and you have found your perfect symmetry.
The location was Costata where Chef Michael White and the Altamarea group have created a haven for steak lovers and wine lovers alike. Located on Spring Street in Soho, Costata provides an atmosphere where elegance meets comfort. A private elevator brought me to the dining room, and as the doors opened, I was greeted with a smile and a glass of champagne. The seating for the event felt more like a nostalgic Sunday dinner with family than a restaurant, which created an environment where stories were told and laughter was heard. Yet as the courses began to come to the table, I was quickly reminded that this is fine dining.
1990 Brunello di Montalcino
The name Brunello has achieved more than just fame. These days it’s a brand, just as much as Bordeaux. It’s a brand that is asked for and reached for whenever an Italian wine is needed for a special occasion. Made from 100% Sangiovese and required to age for many years in oak and bottled before release, Brunello typically enters the market in a monolithic state. They are often large, imposing wines with a tannic structure that can take many years to evolve. Some winemakers work hard to achieve a Brunello that is more approachable in its youth, but the fact remains that most Brunello is consumed long before it yields the heights of its bouquet and the depths of its flavors.
Tasting 1990 Brunello is a rare treat, and one I hope everyone can in his or her wine-drinking life, enjoy. It was a precocious vintage, yielding ripe and intense wines; yet the high acidity inherent in Sangiovese, along with the tannin from extended barrel aging, produced Brunello of epic standards. These two wines are beautiful today, yet they have many years of development ahead of them.
1990 Campogiovanni (San Felice) Brunello di Montalcino – The Campogiovanni was a deep and highly expressive wine, just now peaking, and with the balance to keep going strong for over a decade. The second I put my nose to the glass, I knew I was in for a treat, showing a bouquet of dried cherry and spice, leather, undergrowth, and hints of cedar. It was still rich and youthful on the palate, with gorgeous, focused red berry fruit and hints of exotic spice. The fruit turned darker and saturated the senses throughout the finish along with dried inner floral notes. Stunning! (95 points)
1990 Tenuta Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio al Vento – The 1990 Poggio al Vento is a dark and brooding Brunello with years of development ahead of it. Even at this age, it remains a massive and imposing wine in need of decanting. With a slow start on the nose, this began to open up in the glass with aromas of dried black cherry, roasted meat and dusty potpourri. On the palate, it was rich and supple with dark red fruits and inner floral notes of dried flowers and leaves, yet there a concentration here that drives this wine and tempts the imagination. The finish was refined and even juicy with lingering hints of dried herbs and tobacco. (93 points)
The wines of Soldera have achieved a cult following of devotees, much like those of Quintarelli and Giacomo Conterno. This is not your average Brunello or your average winemaker. Soldera is devoted to the land and to creating a harmonious ecosystem of plants, vegetables, birds, animals and vines. His rigorous methods in the vineyard are designed to achieve optimal ripeness. In the cellar, the wines are fermented using only naturally-occurring yeast and without temperature control. They are then moved to large barrels for no less than five years of aging. Soldera releases his Brunello when he believes they are ready and has been known to hold a wine back for as long as a decade. The production numbers are miniscule, and the results are often phenomenal. These are unique wines with exotic aromas and a hint of VA, which accentuates their idiosyncrasies. If Soldera is your style, then you’ll find yourself seeking them out for the rest of your days.
1996 Soldera (Az. Agr. Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – The ’96 Soldera Riserva was a perfect, seamless wine with depths which seemed almost unreachable. It was one of those experiences where the wine seemed to change each time you put the glass to your nose. It was beautifully expressive with dark berry, earth and undergrowth up front. The bouquet then turned to dried flowers, tree bark and exotic spice. On the palate, it was youthful and dark, yet a zing of acidity kept it lively and fun to drink. Notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, earth and spice formed on the palate and carried through the finish as the mouth began to water, accentuating the flavors. It’s a dark beauty of a Brunello. (96 points)
1984 Soldera (Az. Agr. Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino – The 1984 Soldera Brunello is in a perfect place right now with no sign of decline. Dried red fruits with hints of mint, dusty minerals and spiced orange came to together to form a stunning bouquet. On the palate, it was soft, yet seemed almost weightless, as dried red fruits were complemented by inner floral tones, herbs and dried spice. The word exotic certainly comes to mind as a burst of acidity invigorated the palate, leaving a clean and lively finish with dried fruits to spare. (95 points)
Exploring older vintages of Barolo can be one of the most fascinating pastimes for an Italian wine lover—and one of the most addicting. Understanding the details of each vintage, the style of each producer, the vineyards from which the grapes were sourced and how it all came together to form what is presented in the glass could make for a lifetime of study. Yet there’s no harm in just sitting back and enjoying these perfectly aged beauties. In the ‘60s, there was no discussion of modern verses traditional; it was all about small family grower winemakers, like Scarzello, and larger houses, such as Borgogno, blending from some of the greatest vineyards of the Langhe. The one common denominator was their passion for the wine. These wines are magical and must be tasted to be believed.
1961 Scarzello Barolo – The 1961 Scarzello Barolo is completely mature, yet for those who enjoy older vintages of Barolo, this is a perfect wine for drinking right now. The pigments in the glass were verging on a Rosé, a reminder of the nebbiolo grapes’ naturally light hue. The nose showed dried roses, crunchy dried leaves, tar, hints of strawberry and spice. On the palate, it was soft with very little weight and a still lively acid structure. Notes of soil and dried flowers lingered on the finish. This was a very pretty wine which may have gotten even better if left to breathe. (90 points)
1961 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Classico Riserva – This original release 1961 Borgogno Riserva was CLASSIC Barolo in every way. The bouquet lifted from the glass without the need of any swirling, as dried cherry, spice and roses greeted the senses, followed by notes of tobacco, forest floor and herbs. It was rich and meaty on the palate with perfectly ripe red fruits complicated by dried inner floral notes and soil. It was perfectly balanced with great acidity, lending it a youthful personality. This is a testament to the staying power of nebbiolo, even in a ripe vintage. The fruit for the 1961 was picked in the first week of September; imagine that. (94 points)
1967 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Classico Riserva – The 1967 Borgogno was a much darker and meatier example of older Barolo. The nose opened with tobacco and tar, turning to dried red berries, undergrowth and herbal hints. On the palate, it was supple with dark, macerated fruits, old wood and dried herbs, yet its acidity continued to refresh the senses. Dried roses defined the finish with hints of dried spice. (90 points)
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc from Tuscany take on wild, mineral and acid-driven characteristics, which are purely Italian. The house of Antinori was there at the shatter-point, when Tuscany was in need of a vinous revolution. The wines of Tuscany had lost international favor. The blending restrictions were choking the industry, and so the Super Tuscan movement was born. Bordeaux varieties grown in Tuscany, produced through exacting standards and aged in French oak, became the new top-shelf wines of Italy. The warmth and early harvest of the vintage affected these similarly as it did with Brunello, yet the raw materials and winemaking prowess of these producers created wines which remain to this day youthful, rich and seductive.
1990 Castello di Ama Vigna l’Apparita Toscana IGT – The 1990 l’Apparita was incredibly youthful for a 24-year-old wine. The nose was dark and seductive with intense wild berry, blueberry skins, licorice and hints of mint. On the palate, it was velvety smooth, yet still structured with a great balance of acidity. Rich dark fruits seemed to penetrate the senses here with a slight herbal hint, turning to dark bitters and tart fruit on the finish. This was a beautiful, sensual wine. (93 points)
1990 Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT – The 1990 Solaia was a perfect example of class and elegance. The addition of sangiovese (20%) in this blend seems to have breathed life into this wine, while its foundation of Tuscan cabernet has kept it sturdy and structured. The nose was rich and dark with blackberry, currant, and dried floral notes. On the palate, it was elegant with focused dark fruits and minerals, which seemed to saturate the senses throughout the finish. (92 points)
1990 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia Vino da Tavola – The 1990 Ornellaia surprisingly came across as a smaller-scaled wine next to the Solaia. Its dark nose showed wild berry, savory herbs and dried floral tones. On the palate, it was rich and focused with dark fruits and hints of sage, yet turned slightly tart through the finish. I can’t help but feel that this wine needed more time in decanter to open up. (91 points)
In many ways, Giuseppe Quintarelli has defined what Amarone is today. An entire region striving to recreate what one man had maintained for decades. Not that Quintarelli had invented Amarone, but that he had become an icon. The wines are very rare and fetch some of the highest prices in Italy, yet for the Italian wine lover, the Amarone of Quintarelli must be tasted at least once in their life. Many of the greatest producers of Amarone started working in the Quintarelli winery or vineyards. Their styles may vary, but the experience had left an imprint on them all, which finds its way into the wines. Essentially, Amarone is a wine made from raisins, or at least raisinated grapes, and because of this, it can reach depths of flavor and intensity which are unheard of in any other region. However, when using this process, it takes a skilled hand to deliver a wine of elegance and finesse, and that is where Quintarelli has excelled.
1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – It is always a treat to taste Quinartelli Amarone. The nose showed dusty dried flowers and powdered cocoa, eucalyptus and preserved cherries with a slightly smoky hint to it, spice box and molasses. It was finessed, yet intense on the palate with a smooth consistency and weight, as notes of candied cherry, rum raisin and cardamom coated the senses. The finish stayed for over a minute with notes of cherry, fig and spice. (96 points)
2001 Giuseppe Quintarelli Cabernet (Franc) blend “Alzero” – The 2001 Alzero was a treat from the first second my glass was poured. The nose was classy, fruity, sweet, savory and funky all at the same time. Spiced black cherry, dark chocolate, blackberry, savory herbs and undergrowth all came together to form a bouquet which was truly seductive. On the palate, it was intense and weighty, yet with a lively zing of acidity, with notes of spiced cherry, cocoa, herbs and sweet floral tones. Fruit coated the palate throughout the finish, which seemed sweet then bitter, then sweet again. This is luxury in a glass at the highest level. (95 points)
Article and Tasting Notes By: Eric Guido