Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2002: Why You Can't Generalize When Talking About Wine
Every month there is a wine at City Wine Merchant that I am most excited about. A wine that surprises me and exceeds expectations, and often changes what I think I "know" about wine. Over the past month, that wine is Le Macchiole's Paleo Rosso 2002. It is a wine from the "worst" vintage in Italy in at least more than a decade.
The wine world - for better or for worse (everyone has an opinion) - is dominated by big media. This can be good because wine consumers have unprecedented access to both wine from around the world, as well as wine information. It can be bad because that information is really largely controlled by a few big sources (Robert Parker and Wine Spectator are the biggest). We can debate that all day long, but I'd like to focus on one specific potential by-product of the media-centric wine industry. That is, the generalizing of vintages, regions and varietals.
Wine consumers and enthusiasts are remarkably influenced by the likes of Parker and Spectator, whether we like it or not. We love wine, and so we immerse ourselves in what others (the "experts") write and think. Why? Because we simply cannot taste all the wine that they do! And so, when one of the experts goes to Tuscany to report on a vintage, we pay attention.
In the case of 2002, we were told that it was the weakest vintage for reds in Italy since at least 1994. Some producers in Piedmont did not release any Dolcetto, Barbera or Barolo. Even fewer producers released "cru" Barolo, and what was released was immediately met with scores not fit for such wines. In Tuscany, 2002 was actually a mixed bag as compared with Piedmont, but production was also down an average of 30-40%, and producers generally declassified to at least improve the quality of the basic wines. In short, the average consumer in the U.S. was told that 2002 Italian reds weren't worth our time and money, and we all pretty much moved on to 2003 (or even better, revisited 2001).
I was among those wine consumers. Very few 2002 Italian reds made it onto store shelves, and I can't remember a single memorable bottle from that vintage until now. I'm not shocked that this 2002 Paleo excites me. Le Macchiole has serious pedigree, and is long recognized as one of the pioneers of the Bolgheri area of Tuscany, along with the likes of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. These wines created the Super-Tuscan category. But this wine definitely was like a splash of cold water to the face, reminding me that we can't generalize things in the wine world. In fairness, International Wine Cellar did recognize the Paleo Rosso as "one of the most successful wines of Italy's 2002 vintage." But who was paying attention?
Good wine is all about people and places, and every wine is different. When we generalize about a macro-region (Tuscany), we may miss something very unique to a specific vineyard in Tuscany, for instance. When we talk about weather in a macro sense (2002 was "cold and wet"), we ignore the possibility that certain vineyards or varietals fared better than others, and that certain producers handled harvesting more successfully. We are all guilty of generalizations in the wine world, maybe because it helps make us all sound like we "know" something. I thought I knew that 2002 reds from Tuscany weren't worth my time. And yet, here I am surrounded by wines from dozens of vintages and regions around the world, and I am super-excited about a 2002 Tuscan throw-away. It's a delicious, layered wine with aromatics that force me to hold the glass to my nose for minutes at a time. It is one of the most enjoyable expressions of Cabernet Franc I've ever had. I'm glad I took my own journey and traveled down this unlikely road.
And so, as I enjoy the last few bottles of this beauty, I will try to remind myself to always taste and buy wine with an open mind. Try to throw away the conventional wisdom once in a while. Maybe, just maybe, something will surprise you. One reward for those who think out of the box a little? In a "good" vintage, you could expect to pay $80-$100 for this wine. You can enjoy this 2002 for less than half the price!