March 11, 2012
1969 Berteletti Sizzano
Oddly, the internets seemed to lack much detail on the producers or vintages. The Italian wine bible, Wasserman's Noble Wines of Italy, predictably had more to offer. There was a good deal of information on these otherwise obscure growing regions, certainly some nice detail on the old vintages, occasionally a note on the producers involved and even a specific bottling or two in the offer. But everything I saw suggested nothing from these regions was really made to last for decades. And the producers involved were largely not the few notable ones that serious Italian wine geeks would know.
Nevertheless, I couldn't resist putting together a collection of bottles, all from the 1960s with the exception of a single bottle from the year 1970. Chambers is as good as wine shops come, the prices were surprisingly reasonable for wines of this age, and though many of my initial selections had quickly sold out, I felt confident that anything I purchased would at least be interesting, certainly educational, and perhaps wonderful.
I needn't have worries. Out came a stubby, plain cork and into the glass went the wine. One sniff and I knew it was marvelous nebbiolo vecchio from the commune of Sizzano. Look at that color above. Not young, but far younger looking than most 43-year-old wines have any business being. One partner, who makes nebbiolo locally, simply said, "it's nebbiolo." If there's an Italian red grape that should stand up to the decades, it's nebbiolo.
This wine was astonishing. Much better than I expected, more youthful but so mature, full of bottle sweetness and meaty, earthy notes of age. There was some nice cherry fruit in there, a bit any way, and the texture was so good. Tannin resolved but still present, the finish pretty long, soft and yet focused at once. More than just holding up, this was excellent wine.
The picture above shows how the color browned overnight. Still, the wine resisted oxidation and held together fantastically, the meaty boullion character from last night showing a bit more pronounced, the texture and length intact so that I couldn't let that last glass go to waste.
Drink a wine like this and one is transported somewhere else, some time else, in a way nothing but wine can do. Back when wine was made more simply (even if Berteletti wasn't a tiny producer - numbers on the bottle suggest there were are least a few thousand cases of this wine - I can only imagine their grape growing and wine making techniques were quite simple compared to norms today). Back when walking on the moon was something new and one's life had hardly begun.
Needless to say, my expectations for the rest of my purchases has risen considerably. I know, I know, there are not great wines, just great bottles. This one may not have been great exactly, whatever that means, but it was very, very good and incredibly memorable and thought provoking. Almost perfect if you ask me.