I generally have a set of “go-to” wine stores in the area, ones that I have been frequenting for over 25 years. The lengthy history is due to the fact that either the people, the wines, or both have developed a track record of satisfying. These are my preparatory remarks to a cautionary tale – one that I know too well (admitted somewhat sheepishly)…

I receive a number of mailings (electronic and paper) from lots of wine outlets, including many on my “frequented” list. One in particular is a real favorite – The Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville, MA. The Wine Cask is a place of permanence… The small, cramped store has not changed one iota since I first stepped through the door back in 1985 – 26 years and the floor-to-ceiling, rustically-appealing wine racks are still the same dusty dark brown. To boot, the Wine Cask still faithfully mails out a paper monthly newsletter, filled with lots of fun and exciting wine. Mails… as in USPS… who does that anymore? But you know what? I eagerly anticipate each issue… more so than any other newsletter.

With over 25 years of reading and buying from the Wine Cask I’ve learned that sometimes the descriptions of the featured newsletter wines are a wee bit enthusiastic, with language that is equivalent to air-brushed celebrity photography… Not really misrepresentation or false advertising, just one person’s interpretation… I’ve learned this the hard way… need I say more?

Anyway, what does all this have to do with the 2006 Principiano Serralunga Barolo? Well, the wine was in the September-October Wine Cask newsletter, and I quote:

Is it possible to have too many good vintages? Some Piemontese producers must be wondering this as their cellars are full of Barolo and prices appear to be dropping. We are certainly glad to take some stock off their hands. This is the second vintage in a row that we are able to sell for $29.99 from Principiano. The 2006 is a ripe, full bodied Barolo with deep yet delicate fruit and impressive yet flexible tannins. Decant this or let it breathe for a few hours to allow the flavors to knit together. Or age this impressive red for another five years. A great wine for a roast leg of lamb.

Who wouldn’t race to the Wine Cask to buy a case? Barolo with this kind of description at $29.99 – are you kidding me? So off I went to liberate a case for our pleasure… Popped one open last night and found myself re-reading the above description, over and over again… after each sip as a matter of fact… Must have given me the wrong wine, I thought, because all I tasted was TANNIN. And I don’t mean nicely structured, firm tannin that is balanced harmoniously by ripe fruit. No, I mean rip the skin off the inside of your mouth and leave you puckering like a dying camel after crossing the Sahara tannin. Ripe fruit? I’ve been tasting wine for ne’er 30 years and I think I know ripe fruit when I taste it and this ain’t it… My notes went like this:

Tight nose with hints of dried cherry, saddle leather and violets – pretty, though restrained. Full-to-medium bodied with punishing tannin and firm acidity – poor balance. Closed palate with any fruit flavors driven into obscurity by the overabundant tannins. Harsh. Long finish, although not particularly pleasant – this wine needs time. If the fruit is hidden beneath this veil of tannin, then there may be hope with some time. Otherwise this wine was a dud…

Am I angry? No. Given my relationship with the Wine Cask, if I complained I am sure they would happily refund my money. Besides, I didn’t follow my own rules of engagement: buy a few test bottles before committing to a full case – My bad, in other words. Why not return the wine anyway? Despite what many people say about me, I’m an optimist when it comes to wine. I’ll hope that sometime over the next 20 years, this wine will blossom. I’ve been witness to this kind of transformation before, so it is not impossible. Bottle variation is a specter as well, although what I tasted does not suggest issues with bottle variation.

So – the take aways:

  • I will still continue to eagerly await the arrival of the Wine Cask’s monthly newsletter…
  • I will still rush into the Wine Cask and buy those newsletter wines that tickle my fancy…
  • I will repeat the words “only buy a few bottles to try” as I cross the Wine Cask threshold…
  • I will wait patiently for the 2006 Principiano Serralunga Barolo to shed its cocoon of harsh, mouth-punishing tannins to become the lovely, enticing bottle of Barolo that I crave… and I’ll be telling stories of how I paid less than $30 per bottle at a time when classic Barolo was selling for three times as much…

 

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