Great Wine Defined

The greatest bottles of wine are a kind of intersection or coming together of a good year, on a good vineyard site, in the hands of a skilled winemaker. And of course the best of the best are made from one of the handful of noble grape varieties.

Nebbiolo is one of these noble grapes, because it shares with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon the knack of being simultaneously powerful and graceful. In remembering some of the greatest wines I have tasted, their delicacy or textural subtlety is just as important as intensity of flavour.

Tonight's wine will be added to this mental list of mine. Luciano Sandrone's Nebbiolo d'Alba 03 isn't even his top wine (he makes Barolo in various spots, including Cannubi Boschis, if I remember right). It certainly has intense, and interesting, and surprising flavours - fresh cut flowers, solvents, shit, anchovies, leather, nivea hand cream - but just as important is the near perfect balance on the palate, a kind of tension between softness and tannin, where, in the end, the tannin wins by a nose, which is why the wine is only (only! Ha.) delicious, rather than, say, superb.

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