Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dessilani Gattinara Riserva, 1974

Patricia Wells, in Trattoria, says that osso bucco is a dish capable of bringing you to your knees. To accompany it, she recommends a winter wine such as Gattinara. I agree on both counts and might add that this well-aged Gattinara brought me to my knees again and again. The occasion was Donna's and my 36th wedding anniversary. Though I had no 1973 wine in the cellar, this 35-year-old Nebbiolo was clearly up to the task.

The color was very light, not brown but almost pink when poured as a taste while the meal was cooking. I remember when this Gattinara was almost black, but over the years those tannins have formed a thick crust on the side of the bottle. The bouquet is ethereal; I could just sit here and smell all night and be happy--roses, cherries, cassis and scents too complex to identify. A decade ago, the bouquet of this wine was powerful and somewhat rustic, with dark licorice notes; tonight, it is very finely toned and elegant. In the mouth, there is more of the same. The body is medium to light but not as fragile as the color suggests. There is a silky texture and a fierce concentration that tells you this wine is determined never to fall apart. The cherry flavors take over on the mid-palate and long finish with subtle hints of cassis and roses to give contrast, interest and structure. This is a truly great wine. If I were scoring, I would give it at least 96/100.


  1. Is Gattinara something you would be buying for cellaring over the last few vintages, Fred?

    Given, of course, the extraordinary lifespan you are certain to enjoy.


  2. Would I buy Gattinara for cellaring? Well, yes. Even though a lot has changed over the past three decades in Piedmonte, I'm still convinced that Nebbiolo is one of the great wine grapes of the world. There is a divide between traditionalists and modernists in Piedmonte as there is in the Southern Rhone, and I am always a bit wary about how long and well modern-styled wines will age. The traditionalists have proven themselves (this wine being a good example). But, based on everything I have tasted from Piedmonte, I would be willing to bet on the quality of Nebbiolo grapes and vineyards, whether from Barolo, Barbaresca, Gattinara or Spanna, whether from a traditionalist or a modernist.

    Have I cellared Gattinara over the past decade or so? No. When prices went up in the mid-1980s, I didn't chase them, but moved instead to the good values available in Chateauneuf du Pape. Choosing between a $15 Chateauneuf and a $30 Gattinara was a no-brainer to me--especially considering that my tastes were leaning in that direction too. Now that Chateauneuf prices have caught up with the rest of the wine world, I'm beginning to have second thoughts. I now wish I had Gattinara and Barolo from the 1990--at what now seem like decent prices.