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1999 Fattoria del Cerro, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Riserva, Italy

Fattoria del Cerro's small store is reached by climbing up the winding cobblestone main street of Montepulciano, the town which sits above the sloping benches of del Cerro's vineyards in the heart of Tuscany. Like many, I suppose, I fell in love with this small town, and the beautiful wines that come from this region. Bury me there if you can.

There was a time when I thought Chianti was some sort of grape, and I had never heard of a Brunello. Today I count myself a devoted fan of Sangiovese, and am awestruck at the myriad incarnations of it in the wines of Tuscany, especially the Nobile and the Brunello -- two dark, rich, tannic, oak driven brothers who dominate the region. Far be it for me, with my liberal, politically correct education to ascribe gender to a wine, but really, these wines are brash, bold, unapologetic, sometimes simplistic, and even arrogant in their assertions.

But enough of metaphor. The 1999 harvest was not fantastic, and true devotees of the higher-end Tuscan vintages will eschew all but a few wines from this year -- yet, like off-years in California, some good, and even excellent wine was made in 1999 by those who had the skill and the vision. And when it's $18 a bottle, won't we settle for very, very good instead of excellent?

Drinking this wine brings me back to Tuscany in May -- the fields green, dotted with red poppies, and the afternoon sun striking the Sanctuario de Madonna di San Biagio, perhaps one of the most beautiful churches in the world.

Tasting Notes:
Like many of the Nobiles I have had, as well as other Sangiovese based wines, this wine does not hold its color for more than a year or two before heading towards brick. The aromas in the glass were dark, which is one of the things I love about these wines -- filled with fig, black cherry, anise, raisins, and oak. On the tongue they are dry with lovely suple tannins that give way to flavors of red currant, black pepper, and a hint of rasberry as the wine opens and oxidizes. I recommend letting this one (and others of its ilk) breathe deeply before serving -- Sangiovese love air.

Food Pairing:
Leave it to the Tuscans to make wine that goes beautifully with meats and all things made with tomatoes and olives. Even though it isn't Tuscan, I'd love to drink this with a pizza of sausage, tomato, and artichoke hearts.

Overall Score: 8

How Much?: $18

I got mine at the source, just off that little cobblestone street, but they are a big enough name (eead: one of the bigger, commercially successful producers in the region) that they are imported into the US and sold with some regularity, including at times (gasp) at BevMo. Sigh. Yes, as much as I hate to say it. It's ok to go there occasionally, just make sure that you buy most of your wine from smaller merchants.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.