Looking for an impressive, big-ticket bottle of wine that is cooler than the well-knowns?
Any schlep can go to the wine shop and pick up a bottle of Opus One, Dom Perignon, or Joseph Phelps “Insignia”. And yes, your guests or gift recipient will be impressed with the fact that you have the cash to lay out for those bottles of vino expensivo. However, it doesn't tell them anything about your wine knowledge.
Maybe you don't care about being smart about wine … but then, why are you reading this blog? Instead of pulling out a Benjamin for an “ordinary” expensive wine, consider saving a few bucks and buying a high-quality cult wine. Your wine geek friends will take you more seriously, and be both impressed and delighted with the thought you put into the purchase.
What makes a cult wine special — other than the taste, of course — is the story behind the bottle. Think about it: if you buy a bottle of Opus One, all it says is that you spent a boatload of cash. What will you be able to say, other than, “drink up!” ? Do you even know what grapes are in Opus One? Do you, or does anyone else, care ? Most wine aficionados know that Opus One began as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Mouton Rothschild, and that it is Napa Valley's version of a Bordeaux wine. Ho hum. Big deal. It hasn't been news for 25 years. The story is old, to the point where it isn't fun telling it anymore.
However, imagine the impact you'll have on your friends when you plunk down on the table a nearly $100 wine, and tell a hundred-dollar story to go with it. Now that's a thoughtful gift, and/or an impressive host. A good brand I recommend for gaining you cult status with your wine friends is Arcanum, made at the Tenuta di Arceno winery in Tuscany, Italy. In addition to tasting great, there is plenty of story behind the wine … or shall I say “wines”, because there are three: Arcanum I, Arcanum II, and Arcanum III.
There's part of the story right there: three different wines, each a different blend of grapes. Arcanum I is 59% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot. Arcanum II is 68% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Sangiovese. Arcanum III is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Syrah. The one you ultimately pick should be in line with your (or your friends') taste. Arcanum III, for example, is mostly Cab and therefore the biggest, boldest, and most tannic of the trio. Arcanum I will be the softest, but is by no means a slouch. Arcanum II, for some, will be just right, as it's somewhere in between I and III in terms of boldness and has the pepper and earthiness typical of Merlot.
The key to the Arcanum story is the winemaker, Pierre Seillan. Seillan is, as you might guess, a French winemaker creating Super Tuscans in Italy. He's had extensive experience making world-class Bordeaux, and has worked with California icon Jess Jackson to make remarkable wines such as the legendary Verite (another great cult wine). Pierre Seillan considers himself more of a vigneron (wine grower) than winemaker, though he fills both roles in the production of Arcanum. Appropriately, his mantra in winemaking is this: “You just need to listen to the earth's message. Everything you need is right there in the soil and the vines.”
With Seillan as the driving force, Arcanum wines are made from very small vineyards that express a distinctive character, based on an unusual soil content of red and yellow clay, schist, and basalt (follow the links to Wikipedia if you're not an agronomist!). These minerals flow through the vines, into the grapes, and eventually impart delectable aromas and flavors in the wine. Interestingly, not all the grapes are used for Arcanum — only the best grapes from the best parcels within the vineyards go into the final wine. This is called the “micro-cru process” — have fun throwing that term on your wine geek friends. In addition, Arcanum is only made when Seillan ascertains the fruit to be worthy — so if a particular year's grapes don't meet his high standards, then there will be no Arcanum made in that vintage. This ensures two things: remarkable quality and the fact that you will pay dearly. But in the end the quality justifies the ducats.
All three wines come from these “micro crus”, and all spend 12 months in small French oak barrels before bottling. The end results are huge, stunning, incredibly polished wines that you might be able to enjoy now with a similarly bold cheese, but would be best served by cellaring for at least a few years. In fact, these wines will continue to develop and improve for at least 15-20 years in a good, temperature-controlled cellar.
You can read specific tasting notes for each of the three varieties — Arcanum I, Arcanum II, and Arcanum III — in the coming days.