My goal here is to share with other wine enthusiasts my discoveries as I judge at wine competitions and visit wine regions, with occasional commentary about issues touching the wine scene, especially in California.
Sacramento grocer Darrell Corti has been spending so much time jetting to Santa Monica to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the long-acclaimed Italian restaurant Valentino that he's almost overlooked an even more significant milestone - the 65th anniversary of his family's Corti Brothers grocery store.
Almost, but not entirely. To commemorate both the store's brithday and its longtime search for unusual provisions with which to set the table, he quietly is releasing a series of anniversary wines. To my knowledge, the first was a 2010 aglianico, at least a few cases of which remain stacked in the store's wine department. A sleek red wine smelling of roses and berries, with a current of anise coursing through its fresh fruit flavor, the Corti Brothers 2010 Amador County Aglianico ($14) is an easy-going quaffer ideal for a lighter first course during a holiday dinner.
So what's aglianico? Pronounced "ah-lee-ah-nee-co," it's a thin-skinned black grape that thrives in the volcanic soils and warm temperatures of Italy's Campania and Basilicata regions. Very little is grown in California. When Darrell Corti decided he wanted to release an anniversary wine under the store's own label, he turned to longtime collaborators the Trinchero family in Napa Valley. Corti has been doing business with the Trincheros for 50 years. Together, their rediscovery of intense zinfandel from Amador County helped revive the wine trade in the region starting in the 1960s. The Trincheros subsequently bought one of the early players in that revival, the Shenandoah Valley winery Montevina, now named Terra d'Oro, which is where this aglianico was grown and the wine made.
At any rate, at Corti's request the Trincheros sent him samples of wines available for possible bottling under the Corti Brothers label. He especially liked the aglianico, and bottled 110 cases.
"Aglianico is a southern Italian variety famous for a wine called Taurasi,
grown southeast of Naples, and another wine produced in Basilicata, Aglianico
Del Vulture, named for the extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. This variety in its
home area produces a nicely colored, transparent red wine, with a characteristic
fruity scent, tannic when young, acquiring a licorice character when aged.. When
I tasted the Amador County version, I found it to be nicely colored, aromatic,
showing wood maturation, with a balanced flavor and body and that delicious
more-ish quality of charming, savory fruitiness that makes it a real pleasure to
drink. I think it is a wonderful anniversary wine that might just see us through
to our 75th anniversary!," writes Corti in the store's fall newsletter.
He adds: "Aglianico is of uncertain origin. Some think that it is a Greek variety
brought in when southern Italy was a Greek colony in the 6-7th century B.C.
(Ellenico=Aglianico.) Some think that it was called “aglianos,” ‘clear,’ or
“agliaia,” ‘shining,’ in classical Greek, to distinguish it from darker, more
common varieties, producing coarser wines. Others think that it is the variety
that produced Falernian, the famous wine of Roman times. In any case, I suggest
you try the wine and then decide which origin to believe."
Now, he has released a second 65th anniversary wine, the Corti Brothers 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($38). This is the first cabernet sauvignon to be bottled under the store's label since 1985. Indeed, the label art of the 2010 is the same as the label art that was used for the 1985, a painting by Chinese artist Tian Yulin. I haven't yet tasted the wine, so I'll have to take Corti's word that it is made in the "claret" style, with "excellent, classy varietal aroma, ripe, with good varietal expression." He adds: "It shows wood maturation, vinosity, and is not a 'fruit bomb.' Composed, it is medium weight in the mouth; dry, fruity, with gentle, fine tannin." Sounds like just the sort of wine that calls for an anniversary toast, whether in Santa Monica or Sacramento.