Monday, January 21, 2008

Burgundian Style at Lombardian Prices

When wine people talk about 'structure', they mean a feeling in the mouth, a sense of solidity, an almost-chewy character in a liquid medium. Wines with structure are the wines that make us think of wine as food. In general, structure is expensive-it's a product of low yields and high concentration- and cheap wines rarely have it. Red wines get most of their structure from tannin and grape solids and maybe a little bit from alcohols.
The greatest trick in white wine making is to produce a wine that has a semblance of structure. All those California vanilla-bombs are really attempts to introduce structure by adding organic chemicals from barrel-aging, and barrels are expensive too.
So it's remarkable to come across a white wine that has structure and elegant flavor and doesn't cost a fortune. Drinking it makes you feel like you're violating some traffic law of nature and (if you know the price tag when you taste it) you wait to hear the siren and see the flashing light as the wine police pull you over to the side of the road.

The violation in this case belongs to a wine from Lugana, an area in Lombardy just south of Lake Garda. It's from Tenuta Roveglia and the 2006 vintage is the one that's got me swooning.
Along with the beautiful, lush body, there's a deep herbal nose with sexy mineral overtones. If you've ever paid too much for a Riesling, this is a quiet rebuke. There is also a resounding earthy grapiness- the sort of taste that you may have chased with a white burgundy and missed.

The grape? Oh. It's Trebbiano, a grape that has earned its reputation as a lightweight. The price? Well, in the Philadelphia neighborhood known as South Jersey, it costs $12. Better stock up. I have.

Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine
and the very well-structured novel bang BANG.