A Tale of Two Chardonnays

by artfuldiner on August 21, 2019

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Recipe, Wine

Marchesi Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2017Several weeks ago, I received an email advertising the 2017 Marchesi Antinori Cervaro della Sala, a high-profile Italian white that had recently received a whopping 99 points (100-point scale) from wine critic James Suckling. The asking price? A mere $49.98.

The 2017 is a highly unusual wine, a blend of 88% Chardonnay and 12% Grechetto, a white wine grape varietal with Greek origins. Planted throughout central Italy, particularly in the Umbria region, Grechetto is used to add citrus and dried nut characters to wines with which it is blended.

This wine is also unique in its crafting. The Chardonnay undergoes primary and malolactic fermentation in French barriques for several months; it is then transferred into stainless steel and paired with the Grechetto before bottling. In other words, the wine is barrel-fermented but not barrel-aged.

Mr. Suckling was effusive: “This is big and powerful, without being ripe and heavy. So much apple, stone, and hints of toffee. Aromatic. Full-bodied, layered and framed with phenolic tension and a great finish. Muscular and agile at the same time One of the best I have tasted. Drink or hold. 99 points.

Naturally, I was interested. I’ve always been partial to Italian wines; and I’ve always felt that Italian whites had received short shrift from critics and the wine drinking public alike… Plus, I was curious to see how this particular Italian white– so highly rated – would measure up… Truth be told, I was even more interested in the 2016 Marchesi Antinori Cervaro della Sala, upon which Mr. Suckling bestowed a not insignificant 97 points, describing it as “the Batard-Montrachet (a highly-regarded – and expensive – French white Burgundy) of Italy.” That really piqued my interest.

… So, I purchased a bottle of each; and, one afternoon, my dining partner and I set them up for a side-by-side tasting. The results, I confess, were a little surprising. We both found the lower rated 2016 (97pointer) to be superior to its more highly-rated sibling. The nose was rife with vanilla and spice. On the palate, the wine was quite elegant with subtle hints of oak. The 2017 (99-pointer), on the other hand, as Mr. Sucking noted, had power to spare, but also opened up significantly over the course of time.

While my dining partner and I concurred in our preference for the finesse of the 2016 over the sheer power of the 2017, we were also very much in agreement that both wines had been significantly overrated. Mr. Suckling, in my experience, has apparently parked himself at the high end of the oenological Richter scale and tends to remain there… I would characterize the two wines in question as “good” in overall quality (my dining partner, however, would disagree) but certainly not “great” or “exceptional” by any stretch of the imagination. And when less than exceptional wines receive exceptional scores – the aforementioned 99 and 97 points, respectively, for example – then there is obviously something amiss with the either the methodology or the wine critic… or both.

The bottom line for me is simple: Having sampled both of the above, would I be willing to purchase half a case or a case of either to cellar away for future quaffing? And the answer is a definitive “No.” There are just too many other wines out there, in my opinion, that have infinitely more to offer.



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