And then on to two vintages of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (the 98 and 95) from Valentini who makes this (and a red wine) that are very sought after and sell for many times what one pays for the more basic wines for which the region is famous. Very deep, straw-in-the-sun character from (I suspect) a lengthy spell in barrel. Fascinating stuff, although it's amazing how much one can pay for a wine made from Trebbiano, but perhaps it is just that, in the end, terroir and the maker are more important than grape variety. I could worry that quite a lot of the interest comes from its upbringing and I will drink a bottle properly at some point to decide what I make of what is at least rather good wine.
We started on reds with a rather nice old bottle of 1976 Spanna from Berteletti (contained in one of those funny squat bottles that must predate the invention of wine racks). Keeping with the Piedmont theme we drank two vintages of Dessiliani's Caramino: the 1971 in lovely condition, like a fine old Barolo and the 1990 Riserva which has gone down hill since I last tasted it in 1998. On this rather slender evidence, I feel the quality might have dropped here between the two vintages.
The 1979 Riserva was the star in a line-up of Brunellos from Lisini which also included a slightly faded 1978, and the prestige bottling Ugolaia from 1994 - a splendid effort from a weaker vintage. Lisini are a Brunello estate I would like to know a bit better, and remembering I have a few bottles of the 1989 in my cellar, I opened one a week or so later: very fine indeed, ripe yet dry and stylish. An estate to be aware of.
Sylvio (who cooked us a fantastic meal) then very generously opened a bottle of Soldera's Casse Basse Brunello 1997 Riserva which left me speechless - the palate is quite compact now but the texture is so creamy and the wine such a marriage of concentration and balance that it is surely six stars in the making.
And so to stars of Valpolicella - a rare chance to compare Recioto from Quintarelli and Dal Forno. The former's 1980 still quite spritzy with lifted cherry fruit - fantastically individual stuff that is great despite being so easily drinkable. Dal Forno's 1997 on the other hand is a brooding monster with dense cherry fruit. It needs some time in cellar to open out and it will be great in its way. On the other hand, I don't find this producer's wines so easy to drink - they are loaded with new oak (which of course they carry very gracefully) and a bit humourless.
Finally, we had a nonvintage Barolo Chinato from Capellano, made like Vermouth by adding herbs to (rather good, I suspect) base wine. I really liked this and it did work remarkably well with chocolate - not something that many wines do.