After the elegant rigors of Burgundy last month, it’s now the Italians’ more exuberant turn; the long build-up to Vinitaly begins to look like the awards season in Hollywood, although our progression may be more fun, for the journalists anyway. First up was the Gambero Rosso Road Show, a tasting of wines that have won the top awards from the magazine-and-book publisher’s panels. The format is a kind of once-over-lightly, eclectic grouping, too kaleidoscopic to get much meaning from, but there were two wines that stood out, worth reflecting on.
       Both were Amarones, Masi’s “Riserva di Costasera” Classico 2004, and Allegrini’s Classico 2005, beautifully made, carefully polished, the sort of wines that just stop you in your tracks and command your attention and appreciation without effort. Both are made in a dry style, the Allegrini a bit more spicy, the Masi a bit more complex, the Allegrini a well-toned partner for some food (beef or pork cheeks slow-cooked a la bourguignon, say), the Masi a classic, companionable after-dinner wine, as welcome and comforting as an old friend. A good start to the campaign.

The long tail of the law

The case of the phony French Pinot Noir rolls on, still generating more heat than light. . . Twelve French wine suppliers were found guilty in a French court of selling "Pinot Noir" that wasn’t Pinot Noir to Gallo, for its Red Bicyclette brand. Their punishment was a small joke, a shrug of dismissal: Suspended sentences and relatively small fines. Apparently, fooling Americans is only a misdemeanor.
       That’s not the end of the story, though. It’s been revealed that Constellation also bought Pinot Noir from the same French suppliers, though the company says it’s sure the wine was genuine. Which of their numerous brands it went into hasn’t been revealed yet, so it remains to be seen whose credulity will be tested.
       Then the U.S. government stepped in, sort of. The Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau is investigating the affair, or will as soon as the French court documents are translated (um, no one at Treasury speaks French? no observers were sent to the trial, despite tax and trade issues involved? no liaison between or among government agencies here or there?). 
       Now, inevitably, come the lawyers. A California law firm has filed a class-action suit seeking damages against Gallo and the French wine firms involved, according to, on the grounds of unfair competition, fraud, and false advertising. I’m sure they will have no trouble finding a couple of “wine lovers” who feel wronged by buying a Merlot-Syrah-Whatever blend, under the impression that it was Pinot Noir, to act as clients. Will the fact that “decent Pinot Noir for $7 a bottle” is an obvious oxymoron carry any weight in this case? Don’t bet on it.

Happy Birthday, Ridge

Ridge Vineyards celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, which is also winemaker Paul Draper’s 40th year at the helm—a pair of remarkable achievements. Aside from making one of the world’s great Cabernet Sauvignons, Ridge Monte Bello, Paul has always set a high standard for poised and polished Zinfandel, one I wish more people would follow.
       One reason has always been that he lets them speak for themselves, without interceding, imposing his ego and amping them up. Here’s an example: Years ago, I drove up the long and winding road to the weathered wooden buildings (once nicely described by Charlie Olken as
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