Miami Drink: Heavyweights of Italy at the Grand Marchi – Part 1

Grand Marchi bottles B and W

This is the first of the new column, Miami Drink, written by new wine and spirits writer Chuck Ferrin. Allow him to introduce himself:

My real name is Charles Augustine Ferrin V. That “V” is not fake; I am the fifth generation in my family with the exact same name. I guess my people felt that name needed five sequels. Mostly I get “Chuck”, because the rest is just too long. I work at a wine mega-store, I’ve managed a coffee shop, and I have both a bartending license and a literature degree. Now with that out of the way, let’s sally forth into drink culture.

Recently, I had the privilege of sampling some of the best wines in the world, the great heavyweights of Italy. Now mind you, I wasn’t staggering my way through 30-year verticals of Barolo, but I did sit down to a snack of cheese, crackers and Tignanello at the end of the day—and it was good, real freakin’ good.

So how can I get myself some free Tignanello, you ask? Just hook-up with the Grand Marchi, the Institute of Fine Italian Wines, for one of their guided media events. Their recent tasting was held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, which may as well be renamed the Players Club, because that’s what it looks and feels like. If you want to feel like a baller, spend a night in this hotel.

It’s not just that the Biltmore is huge, or opulent or manicured to finest detail. No, the Biltmore goes that proverbial extra mile. For example, it seems that a sub-arctic indoor temperature is de rigueur for a refined establishment, so the Biltmore was appropriately frigid throughout the tasting and luncheon. Remember, I live in a climate zone that is officially tropical. This was the kind of cold that inspired a rushing need for a quick number one every thirty minutes or so, which would have been annoying if not for the Biltmore bathroom napkins.

I don’t know what those napkins are made out of, but it’s not paper. They’re as sturdy as a dollar bill yet soft as a feather, each one monogrammed with a luxurious “B”. If these little treasures were a wine, they would be the class of the show. I wanted to grab a bunch so I could stuff them into my pillow case before bedtime. Seriously, I give them a near perfect score of 99. Smooth, supple, well-structured—all they need is a little more crinkle factor for an easy 100. You can pass on the roll of junk in the dispenser on the wall; the good stuff is right next to the sink.

Grand Marchi wine glass

As for the wine—liquid gold, all of it. I’ve got a good imagination, but I never thought I would be sitting down to booze of this magnitude. Only when I started reminiscing with my wine cohorts the next day did I fully realize the scope what I had done. I can’t resist dropping a few names here: Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, Gaja Barberesco, Jermann Vintage Tunina, Masi Amarone, Pio Cesare Barolo, Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto and the legendary Tignanello from Antinori. The choice of Grand Marchi players proved to be both renowned and comprehensive. From north to south, they represent some of the best from Italy.

1999 Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

So amongst these fine wines, who showed up like Goose and Maverick? We popped bottles for starters, and the Franciacorta from Ca’ del Bosco rocked my house. Franciacorta is the Italian equivalent of champagne, and it’s made in the northern province of Lombardy. As in France, the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are used, but pinot bianco takes the place of pinot meunier. Unlike champagne, Franciacorta can be difficult to find, so that’s why it was so dang awesome that Ca’ del Bosco busted out magnums of their 1999 Prestige Cuveé. Now that I’ve had the chance to try an aged vintage sparkling wine, I’m a changed man. This bottle is worth the wait. Golden in color, richly perfumed and supple in texture, the Ca’ del Bosco offered the more traditional notes of lemon, apple, pear, toast and minerality while revealing more complex elements of leather, hay, roasted nuts, mint and a faint but distinct musk that may be a whiff of pyrazines, the organic compounds with aromas often described as “cat pee”. I think they’re better than that, but I admit that I have no better substitute. I gave it a 93, with potential for higher scores in the coming years as the wine continues to mature.

2005 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello
The 2005 Tignanello lived up to its reputation in every way. The Marchese Piero Antinori, patriarch of the Antinori estate, introduced the wine by speaking of a renaissance in Italian viniculture with Tignanello as the catalyst. In 1971, he defied the Chianti Classico DOCG laws and began blending the Italian sangiovese with the French varietal cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc soon followed, and any white grapes that had been customarily added to the Chianti blend were also omitted. While these bold flourishes technically made Tignanello a table wine, it proved to be much more. The term “Super-Tuscan” was coined to describe this new category of wine that Tignanello created. The best Super-Tuscans are now some of the most prestigious and sought after wines in the world, and Tignanello stands tall as their founding icon.
It has a nose as richly varied as the Ghiberti carvings on the doors of the Battistero. I detected notes of plum, cassis, violets, lavender blossoms, vanilla and bright cherry reminiscent of Luden’s or Lifesavers, in a positive, child-like sort of way. It’s more varied and subtle than a straight-shooting Chianti, rather it feels like a gift, an eccentric masterpiece. To top it off, the finish is impeccably smooth, regardless of the abundant tannins and acidity. You could probably put this wine in a cellar, but why? No one actually has a real wine cellar anymore, and it’s damn good right now. Drink it if you’re lucky enough to find yourself holding a bottle…

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