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Spoiled Darling Wines

Spoiled Darling Wines

The crystals formed on this cork are simply tartrates, crystals of tartaric acid, and do not alter the taste of the wine.

Aaron Ayscough | Chef's Blade

I have this sick friend. Sometimes he’s bright and sharp: the life of the party, witty, and profound. Other times he has a lot on his mind: he clams up and he can be downright unpleasant. He has enraged people. Because of this I can’t trust him – but knowing the scope of his potential, I can’t abandon him either. He’s frustratingly unique. He’s a 2003 Givry.

In wine directing, you come across these spoiled darling wines. I mean wines that you love and retain on lists despite flagrant inconsistency, mounting flawed-bottle collections, and the general hazard the wines present to guests when not knowledgeably overseen by service staff. Including these wines on a list at all is a beginner error, but one still routinely made by veterans. To err is human: the placement of problem wines betrays, on the part of the indulgent wine director, the continual hope that the wines will better themselves.

On the first Italian wine list I ever managed, I was unable, for some months, to resist pouring an unreliable Langhe Nebbiolo by the glass. It was by Marco Parusso, the 2005 vintage. Based in the town of Bussia in Barolo, Parusso also produces a fairly acclaimed range of Barolos, most of which I find a little too oak-lacquered. But his 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo benefited from less new barrel contact: it had keen raspberry fruit, characteristic Nebbiolo winter spice flavors, and svelte, pointed acidity.

Or, one in three bottles did. An equal proportion was a little dull in personality, and the last third was straight up oxidized. I should have clipped it from the list immediately. Instead I hung around the restaurant’s wine station like a customs officer night after night, sniffing at each bottle opened and mercilessly pulling and marking for return each one that disappointed me. You can imagine the distributor was a little peeved. And it bears mentioning that the restaurant was absurdly busy. My time could’ve been better spent.

At a different Italian restaurant, we had the same problem with a 2001 Super-Friulian blend by Bortoluzzi. There are two, potentially overlapping reasons for a producer to blend Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon as Bortoluzzi does in this wine, “Gemina.” The first is that in Friuli, the northeastern Italian region that borders Slovenia, there is a relatively long history of cultivation of international varietals and of field blends. The other is that the producer may be attempting to create, by blending all their random leftover parcels, a wine greater than the sum of its parts. White wines blended for this latter reason can taste rather like fruit salad. I can’t make a concrete statement about the provenance of the “Gemina,” but the wholesale pricing for the 2001 vintage (in 2007) indicated that it was a wine that had not been aged intentionally. It was dirt-cheap.