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11.04.2008

2004 La Stoppa "Ageno" White Blend, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

ageno_04.jpgMost people faced a with the choice of merely a specific color of wine to drink will consider their stated preference between the options of red, white, or pink. My choice is none of the above. If I had to swear my allegiance to one color of wine, it would be orange.

I have a friend who has seriously suggested that the world ought to acknowledge orange as a legitimate fourth color when it comes to wine. I don't know that I'd go that far, but I would seriously suggest that everyone drink as much of it as they can get their hands on.

Orange wines aren't easy to come by, but to my mind they represent some of the most exciting wines being made on the planet. And this wine is a perfect example.

La Stoppa winery began in 1973 with the vision of Rafael Pantaleoni, who purchased the estate with the hopes of making a small amount of wine and an honest living for his family. The land, which occupies a nook in the Piacenza province of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, has been planted with vines for well over 100 years. The estate's original owners left Pantaleoni and his daughter, who now runs the winery, a gift of some extremely old vines growing both Italian and French varieties.

With a lot of work, the Pantaleoni family have retained and nurtured some of the oldest vines of the estate, as well as carefully replanting and restructuring the vineyards to include more of the local varieties. The roughly 70 acres of vineyards in the shade of the estate's medieval tower are rather sparsely planted as well as nutrient poor from a soil standpoint. Consequently, those 70 acres don't produce much fruit, but Elena Pantaleoni and her winemaker Giulio Armani make good use of what they get.

And by good use, I mean making wines that speak of a startling vision, of which this wine named Ageno is perhaps the best example.

This wine is made from a combination of three white grape varieties: Malvasia, Trebbiano, and the extremely local variety known as Ortrugo, with the majority of the wine being Malvasia grown on 36-year-old vines. As a blend this is already somewhat unusual, but things get truly wacky as soon as the grapes are picked and destemmed, for instead of being vinified like a white wine, this one is treated like a red, which means chiefly that it is fermented with native yeasts in contact with its skins for more than 30 days. After this it is pressed off into a combination of steel tanks and neutral oak barrels where it ages on its lees (the sediment that settles to the bottom of the barrel) for 12 months before bottling without filtration of any kind.

This is the third vintage of Ageno of which only about 160 cases are made. This small quantity means that it may be difficult to find, but if you can, it is worth all the effort and whatever price you might have to pay, as it represents both a great achievement of artisan winemaking as well as a perfect example of why orange wines kick ass.

Tasting Notes:
A gorgeous medium amber-orange color in the glass, with a distinct haze of cloudiness, this wine has a phenomenal, almost otherworldly nose of exotic flowers, saffron, and orange creamsicle. On the palate it is weighty, with a texture that is almost tannic in quality, gripping the tongue with a velvet glove. From a flavor standpoint it is nearly indescribable -- brown sugar, honeysuckle, saffron, cream soda, and unbelievably, the distinct flavor of coffee and cream on a finish that can be measured in minutes. Evolves gorgeously in the glass, and I highly recommend decanting for 1-2 hours prior to serving, especially if you can keep it cool while decanting.

Food Pairing:
While the amazing individuality of this wine begs for careful consideration on its own, I enjoyed it with hard Italian cheeses and Jamon Iberico.

Overall Score: between 9.5 and 10

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

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