This is a wine that figures more prominently in the mind than it does in the cellar -- I think about it more than I drink it. And I refer to it more than I review it.
In fact, this is the first real tasting note I've done for this cuvée, and only the third bottle of it that I've ever opened. So reverence coloured my note-taking, which in my books means harsher judgment and tougher evaluation rather than the reverse.
But that always happens when your first experience with a certain wine lights up your circuits. That was the 2000 Vistorta, which I mentioned in this site's first review of a New World varietal (I also alluded to it in a comparison of mass-produced Merlots and again recently during Wine Label Week #1). The way I see it, that 2000 vintage far outshone the 1999, and laid the groundwork to earning the 2003 a coveted five-star review from Michel Phaneuf (his latest release Le Guide du Vin 2008 should be out this week -- will it honour the 2004 in similar fashion?).
A NOTE ON THE SOIL TYPE
I love trying to trump Phaneuf, but before I attempt to predict his evaluation of the current Visorta vintage in stores, here is a note on the type -- soil type.
The Grave in the large Italian appellation of Grave del Friuli, northeast of Venice, might conjure up Bordeaux by way of Graves, if not Pomerol. This is appropriate as both the Italian and the French Grave designations come from the same root word which signifies the gravel that generously blankets both regions. But here's where the suggestive name that makes up a wine's designation can fool you.
Vistorta's vines do not sprout up from gravelly soil. Further afield from the central lowlands of Friuli, which have plenty of gravel, Vistorta's estates in Sacile border on Piave and feature soil types that are limestone and clay.
Winemakers says that this, not gravel, is "an ideal base ... with the same characteristics found in the Bordeaux and Médoc wine-producing areas, where the clay soils and hot and dry summers favour Merlot allowing it to express itself at its best."
Hmmm... That's a bait-and-switch, isn't it? Storied Bordeaux Merlot is more right bank than left, and Merlot ripens early so how is a long hot summer going to help? It seems to me the Vistorta people don't have the Grave-Graves connection that would align them more closely with Pomerol and they are trying to sidestep their way to Claret. I am being too cynical?
MY NOTES ON THE CURRENT VINTAGE
This wine does not need convincing -- I guess that is ultimately what I am trying to get at. But many Friuli wines still carry a reputation for a thin bitter body, so I suppose Vistorta is one winery that wants to throw down its claim to convince the first-time buyer before the corks pop, at which point the convincing really begins.
I'm not a first-time buyer, but here's what happened when my most recent Vistorta cork popped...
Conte Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta Grave del Friuli Merlot 2004
Eyes: Medium ruby in colour, exhibiting clarity and little tinge around the rim.
Nose: No shortage of aromatics, yet it still suggests itself as a developing wine. Candied rinds, spices and a sweetish component. Youthfulness on the nose wears off with some time and soon in my glass I'm getting cotton candy, pomegranate, honeycomb and some very well-integrated vanilla.
Mouth: Not a lot of surprises here after spending so much time nosing this wine. It's typical of a Merlot varietal -- damson plum and flowers. (Though the flowers convey some greenness, I still think they are violets.) Quite dry and sporting a lively acidity, this is still on the incline with no doubt several years in it once it peaks. Right now, the tannins are thoroughly drying and there's only a moderate flavour intensity with a medium-to-full body. It's not reaching the heights of the 2000, or at least not yet anyway. Clearly, this is a great expression and a superb wine nonetheless.
Stomach: Some tasting notes -- usually the concluding ones -- aren't rendered until I actively decide what dinner will complement the wine I've got. I find often it's the food you're eating that will help you nail down the essence of a bottle. In this context, food is not only pleasurable, it's quite instructive too. So for the remaining wine I saved for the next night, I made a rich, heavily caramelly meal. This was drawn up as a match for the blackened fruit and caramel tones the Vistorta possesses -- that's my overall sense of the wine that I didn't even note. I prepared carbonized carrots with caramelized onions, broccoli roasted in the oven until the florets started to singe, and my old standby of Parmesan-breaded chicken breast fried in brown (burnt) butter.
Azienda Agricola Vistorta, Brandino Brandolini d'Adda, Friuli (DOC) Grave, Italia. 13%.