Dinner: Isole e Olena at Balla
Sometimes this wine writing gig has its upsides. Sure the money is almost mythical, the prospects limited, the hours long. Yet at least you get to eat and drink well.
A recent dinner with Paolo de Marchi at Sydney’s Balla happily fell into the last category, providing the sort of food/wine/company combo that makes it all worthwhile. Now if only I can work out how to use wine to pay rent…
The venue: Balla, Steve Manfredi’s ‘osteria’ located within The Star precinct.
Who: Isole e Olena proprietor Paolo De Marchi, with the event arranged by Ian Cook from Five Way Cellars, in conjunction with The Star and Negociants (Australian importers of Isole e Olena). Steve Manfredi was on hand to talk through the food (and confess his love for Paolo’s wines).
Crowd: Mainly consumers, who had all paid to attend the dinner. I was a glad freeloader.
Food: The ravioli and bistecca, in particular, were big highlights – seriously good. Lovely ‘Tuscan inspired’ flavours on offer, which just made me want to go even more (Chianti is on the cards for August, Bring it).
Story: This is Paolo’s 38th year of winemaking. he ‘hopes to be able to relax a little bit soon’.
He really doesn’t seem to be slowing down though. Rather, he’s very keen to push the wines of his son, sourced from the original family farm in northern Piedmont.
There has also been considerable change in Chianti, where the main estate winery is located, with a huge shift in the nature of land use. Much of it happened very quickly too, as Paolo described:.
‘From the 50s to the 60s Chianti moved from a medieval economy to a modern one, with and average of 120 people working per farm in the 50s, and by the 60s it was 14 people’
The change came on the back of a cultural evolution too, with wine evolving from ‘food for the peasant’ to a legitimate business focus.
While Paolo loves to talk about Piedmont, his lifelong focus ultimately remains rooted in Tuscany:
My expectations were high (and I have some Cepparello in the cellar) and the wines delivered. These are charismatic and genuine wines reflective of their maker and region. I didn’t quite love the Nebbiolo pair but I can fully appreciate the style and mode. A personal preference thing perhaps.
These wines were all drunk over dinner (ie with food and at a leisurely pace). Background notes in italics…
Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Chardonnay Toscana IGT 2011 (Tuscany, Italy) $65
Chardonnay was introduced as a blending grape, intended to help lift up the basic Tuscan white blend – what Paolo called ‘an ordinary wine style’ (largely Trebbiano based). The Chardonnay was eventually kept separate.
Ultimately I loved this wine. It feels so ageless and intense and lively – a wine that will continue to be seductive for decades. The only question remains whether some wildness has been lost at the expense of such oaky polish? I still can’t mark it down, regardless. Superstar Sangio. 18.7/20, 95/100
Licoricey. Highly toned. Slightly vegetal. All front palate and sucks up through the finish. Misses the grandiose of Barolo. Lots of acid. Quite wild. Has fennel and pepper intrigue, but as a drink this isn’t quite long enough. Warm finish. Not quite even enough and needs ripeness to fill the holes. Still rather pretty and full of intrigue. 16.8/20, 89/100
Straight Nebbiolo and treated more like a traditional Barolo, with a long natural ferment and extensive barrel ageing in a variety of barrels and big oak.
From a very warm vintage in Tuscany.
A bit of VA and menthol but rather meaty and firm. All bacony secondary. Smoky and little fruit compared to wines around it. Quite bitter and gruff. Is it a wonderful drink? Rather hard and smoky. The ordinary bottle? I see flashes of goodness, but otherwise it looks off key. 16/20, 87/100