There was no obvious, primary barrel to use and build around, explains Mr. Eric Larkee after I swiftly negotiated a few minutes on a busy but never too busy for wine morning last week. “That step of the process was different this year. We never really contemplated making something with a majority of less than 50 percent.” Chalk it up to an election year trend. Too soon?
Larkee was alluding to the annual development of Lua Rossa, Michael’s private label with Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen, and the same place but different spot in which we found ourselves approaching its fourth blend in May. Usually first order of business (and pleasure) is to identify what will be the major component, then add whatever is necessary to enhance it, exercising a few graduated cylinders along the way. A key palate was missing this round, too — Tamara was double booked in Miami! Forge on we must.
“Going into a new blend, I’m not thinking it should be a departure from the previous,” he notes. “We’ve been progressively happier and happier with the wine. And using better wine. Also, sure, there’s more focus and insight into what the wine should be, having had the experience working with the various iterations over the years in the restaurants. Things like guest reactions, for instance. This matters a great deal. What the wine can be is always a surprise, arriving to the winery and seeing what’s there to work with.”
Speaking of better wine, the Nebbiolo used for no. 4 comes from a much stronger stock than the Nebbiolo used for no. 2. Better grapes, better vintage.
So, how does it drink? Larkee breaks it down by component parts. The Nebbiolo comes through on the nose as rose and anise. Dark berries come more from the Teroldego and Rofosco fruit, with its Northeastern Italian breeding. The versions grown in California are very dark-fruited. Teroldego also imparts a little more oak and tannin than in past iterations. The Nebbiolo’s acidity helps to make it food friendly. Some of it is 2003, so there are actually five wines in play (two Nebbiolo), not four. The Cabernet Franc offers finesse. We get some spice off a younger Rofosco. This wine will soften in the bottle and easily find its place at any number of Schwartz tables around town. Taste for yourself. As of December, all The Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, including Fi’lia at SLS Brickell, have made the transition from no. 3 to 4.
“What this wine is about is being versatile and drinkable on the table and pairing exceptionally well with food,” Larkee reflects. “And not having to represent a time or a place, but just be joyful.”