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White Wines of a Certain Age

Is it time we all – wine drinkers and winemakers alike – paid more attention to white table wines capable of aging for long periods?

 

A number of recent tastings and discussions have made me conclude we definitely should, most recently a New York sampling of wines made by the Italian producer Livio Felluga.  The Felluga family has been making wine in what was variously northeast Italy and western Yugoslavia for generations, most recently in the Collio area north of Trieste bordering modern-day Slovenia.  Most notable are brothers Livio Felluga and Marco Felluga – who both modestly named their wineries after themselves – and their children, who are now making wine at the family estates and independently.

 

Livio’s son, Andrea, who has made the wine for the last 20 years, conducted what turned out to be an impressive vertical of eight Livio Felluga Terre Alte vintages – the unreleased 2012 plus 2011, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2001, 1998 and 1997.  The first Terre Alte, a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon, was made in 1981 in what is now called “Rosazzo,” a small DOCG created in 2011 before the Italians turned that task over to the EU. 

 

After a short period of maceration, Felluga ferments and ages the Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon in tanks and the Friulano in small oak casks before blending and bottle aging.  I won’t bore you with descriptions of the individual vintages, except to say that they were all alike but different, reflecting both the vintage itself and the number of years since that vintage was bottled.  But all have nice fruit that has changed from fresh to mellow as they aged and a mineral quality that continues to emerge with age.  As a group, they were superb.

 

White Burgundy (Chardonnay) is perhaps the most famous white table wine known for its aging potential, with perhaps the whites of Bordeaux’ Pessac-Leognan (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon primarily) not far behind.  But most other European and New World wineries take pains to convince us their whites are fresh and clean.  See, no color. See, no tartrate crystals.  See, no sediment. Smell, no oxidation. But why not have a white wine with a little color along with the pleasant taste of skin tannins?  And premature oxidation is certainly controllable. 

 

That’s why it is such a pleasure drinking older vintages of Newton’s Chardonnay (reported on in the last post) made by Chris Millard and the white blends made by my neighbor Anthony Vietri at Va La Vineyard in southeast Pennsylvania.

 

Is this a trend or a blip?  I’m not sure.  It’s for certain that few American winemakers I’ve talked with have brought out their 15-year-old Chards or Sauvignons for me to sample.  And it’s not that I believe that we shouldn’t be drinking fresh and simple wines or fresh and complex wines that will turn up DOA when uncorked a few years hence.  But I would like to see a wine world where conversations calculating how many years before a dry table wine will peak or how long a wine can be cellared aren’t simply discussions limited to red wines.

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