Isole e Olena 2005 Chianti Classico

A half-bottle of the 2005 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico, consumed a few days ago, was superb. Medium-bodied, with a fair bit of fine but fairly grippy tannins, this was elegant, and for a somewhat tannic wine, somewhat velvety and a pleasure to drink. It didn't seem at all tired or oxidized. Flavors predominantly dried cherry or other red fruits and a hint of pine, at least to my nose.  Super tasty.  Nice long finish. Easily my favorite of the Chiantis I've tasted. I don't remember how much I paid but recent vintages seem to go for $13-15 a half bottle, $20-25 a bottle, which although not cheap, is a bargain if they turn out this well. To judge by how youthful and tannic it still was at 9 years old, I'd guess this one needs to be aged to be at its best---at 9 years it was clearly getting there, but could probably go another 5 or more years and possibly get even more.

Isole e Olena don't appear to have a website; there is more information about them at Giuliana Imports, the Boulder-based importer of this bottle.  Since I have been encountering a lot of claims to the effect that a lot of writing about wine is basically just noise and fashion-following and strongly influenced by things other than the pure olfactory sensation of the wine, I'll point out that their description of the 2011 is very close to my description of the 2005, despite my not having read it (as befits a truly serious wine there are no olfactory notes on the label, either) which suggests to me anyway that Isole e Olena make this wine in a consistent style that can be identified by taste.  Of course this is just one observation, and there is definitely a lot of noise and influence from nonolfactory things like price and reputation and label appearance that enters into people's writing about wine.  (Mention of "red fruits"  or "dark berries"  could easily be influenced by the wine's color, for example, although in my opinion there is usually more to it than that.)  My point is that I think there is a genuine olfactory basis for some of this stuff too.

Based on perusing people's notes on the web (after writing mine), it seems that a lot of people liked this wine young, opinions diverged at about 3-7 years after vintage, and the consensus is more clearly positive over the last few years, suggesting it might have gone through a "dumb"  phase as many wines do during aging.  Also, some people seem to object to the relatively lighter-bodied style, which I happen to love when it is combined, as here, with intensity.  This is a serious producer that has been around at least as long as I've been tasting wine, and based on this sample, their Chianti is indeed a classic.  My sense is that if you have the ability to age it to 9-15 years after vintage you can't go wrong buying multiple bottles of this wine in any decent vintage.

What I just wrote is more meaningful than trying to assign some arbitrary number, but I guess on a Parkeresque 100 point scale, I'd give it something like a 92... and not in the inflated sense where anything you like gets 90---to get 90 or above in my book, a wine has to be at least a bit extraordinary.

Readings: Titta Ruffo, "My Parabola" / Video "Credo in un Dio crudel"

I recently read the autobiography of Titta Ruffo, an operatic baritone who was one of the greatest singers of all time.  Fascinating reading, very evocative of the atmosphere of Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  A tough childhood, deeply in conflict with his father, in whose metalworking shop he was apprenticed.  Apparently quite forthcoming about some aspects of his life, such as this conflict, an early affair with a married woman (he claims to have resisted on moral grounds until she assures him it is a loveless marriage that she never wanted), and very reticent on other matters, such as his own marriage, the identity of the female singer who was his muse and professional advisor for many years, and the nature of the news that required his abrupt return from a triumphal tour in South America, with which the book abruptly ends.  This news was the murder of his brother in-law, the antifascist Italian politician Giacomo Matteotti, by fascists.  The book seems a bit self-absorbed at times, but I don't find it as self-aggrandizing as some have:  the wonderful voice and worldwide triumphs are, after all, just the facts.  Besides a fascinating portrait of Italian life at the time, interesting insight into the life of a world-traveling musician at the time, and into worldwide musical culture.

As just one sample of why Ruffo is so important, I'll embed his performance of Iago's aria, "Credo in un Dio crudel" ("I believe in a cruel God") from Verdi's Otello.  I will admit to not being very familiar with this opera (I know, I know, how can I claim to love music and Verdi, etc...), and this aria.  I had listened to a few versions of this on Youtube, as it's considered one of the major baritone arias,  but although I could imagine it could be powerful, it had never quite gelled.  With Ruffo it does.   Interpretive power and vocal beauty...some of the long-held notes are amazing in their sustained, consistent sound that perfectly combines darkness, brilliance, and richness.  But even more significant is his characterization of Iago, whose implacable hatred of the world and determination to sow evil are audible.