Under My Uccelliera, -era, -era
When I was very, very pregnant with our first child, Brian and I spent two weeks wine touring in Tuscany. Typical ambitious, obnoxious, and single-minded Americans, we landed in Tuscany with James Suckling's rankings of the '97 Brunello vintage crumpled and hot in our fists. We demanded our hotel concierge book us back-to-back, hourly tours of the top ranked Brunello producers so we could stockpile bottle after bottle of this highly lauded vintage. After all, we were here for the vino, not some snail's pace, lackadaisical lifestyle. Frankly, we were schooled in the Napa Valley, graduating suma cum laude in wine commercialism and hedonistic consumerism. Like 007 agents, we were slick and cunning enough to scout out 5 or 6 cult California cabs on the same stretch of highway in a single morning. After trying to explain in her broken English that it is simply impossible to visit Altesino, Siro Pacenti, and Marchesi de'Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo at 9am, 10am, and then 11am, our concierge simply shook her head and walked away. Much to our surprise, the very next morning, she approached us with a small white slip of paper; on it: the name of an English speaking wine tour guide, who, for a certain price, would fuel our conceit and spearhead our witch hunt for the sold out '97's. We convened the following day - we with our Wine Spectator approved agenda of the right wines and our giude, Pino Teresi, with a broad-rimmed sunhat. It was one of the hottest summers on record. I pretzeled my pregnant self into his mini Peugeot and with a sputter and a disconcerting rev, we rattled off into the impossibly spectacular Italian countryside. Throughout the morning, our very patient guide chauffeured us about, bouncing over rocks and unpaved roads in search of our holy ethanol grail. But after lunch, he simply told us we'd be visiting his friend, a "winemaker." Great! Here comes the old "bait and switch". In an intricate anti-American chianti conspiracy, our guide would pawn us off on a no-name "winemaker" making mediocre, table-grade crap, and the two of them would split the profits from any dreck they sold. Unamused, I wasn't about to waste any of our limited time visiting some uncredentialed, no-name peddling sub-par Brunello out of his garage; this wasn't a game for amateurs.
But the choice wasn't ours to make. Like a played out sitcom, we lurched across the dirt onto a skinnier rock driveway and rumbled up to a crumbling, old house. We ascended some rickety steps and were announced by our guide's gregarious "Ciao!" Waiting outside on an uncovered porch of sorts and obviously anticipating our arrival was a disheveled, somewhat dirty Italian guy waving us on up. "You like the Brunello?" he asked. We concurred. And then he glanced at my gravid, swollen belly. "Ah baby," he pointed. "Wine makes baby strong." He pantomimed his best Arnold Schwarznegger bicep flex. "You come." And we did.
He led us down to a dank, claustrophobic cellar stocked with some French oak barrels. He reached for his thief and siphoned out generous alicuots of barrel samples, one after the next, from newest to most aged. Periodically we were interrupted by a visit from his Italian mama (whom I feared might fracture a hip ascending and descending those steep stairs). Each brief exchange was a flurry of sharp, unintelligible Italian. I imagine their discourse was something like this:
Mama: "Why do you waste your time with this wine and that wine? It smells all day and all night. And it is a mess. Look at yourself. You wash behind those ears?"
Italian wine guy: "Maaaama. Can't you see I am with my friend? Plus I'm sure these pasty, pushover Americans will buy a case of this stuff. Just leave us alone."
Mama: "When you get a real job? Be a lawyer like your brother in Milan. This? This is just a mess and a joke."
Italian wine guy: "Leave us be, mama."
This happened 3 or 4 times during the course of our visit. Our Wine Guy kept feeding me sample after sample, for the baby. Listen, I had no problem drinking sporadic half glasses of wine during my second and third trimesters - but not goblets full. And this poor wine guy, he seemed confused, shocked and even disconsolate when I failed to drain each glass completely. He said, "Your baby. Bambino. Your baby is Brunello Bambino. Brunello Bambino." And before we left, he gifted me with a bottle of his wine, a 1998 Uccelliera, for our unborn bambino. Who was this guy anyway? Uccelliera - never heard of it.
Of course the rest is Overstreet lore. Starting that evening, we referred to our unborn tot as "Bruno," since he was anointed "the Brunello Bambino" by a real-deal Italian winemaker. What better story for two wine obsessed yuppies? No one thought it would stick, and naturally, it did. Of course, my in-laws hated it. "What Jewish kid is called ‘Bruno?'" they lamented. "Lucky we didn't name him '97 after the famed vintage," I countered wickedly. And the wine? Well, we drank it in the hospital, toasting Bruno's birth, coating his newborn tongue with a few sloshy drops, adopting the French tradition. After that, we never saw the wine again; he was small production and didn't export much. We had a brief "Ah-ha" moment at the French Laundry in Yountville a couple of years later when I spied Uccelliera by the half-bottle on their superb wine list. I excitedly tried to recount the wine's significance to our waiter, who was flatly unimpressed.
Smiling out at me from page 33 of the April 30, 2009 Wine Spectator is Our Italian Wine Guy! Andrea Cortonesi of Uccelliera, the very guy who named our precious firstborn child! And wouldn't you know it? His 2004 Brunello is the top rated wine of James Suckling's latest report, with an all star score of 97 points. "Complex aromas of rose, blackberry, blueberry, dark chocolate. Full-bodied, with velvety tannin. Intense." Well, Mr. Cortonesi, Italian Wine Guy of my heart, it looks like you've done it. I'll drink to that!
Below is a picture of the famous "Bruno" tasting event with Mr. Cortonesi. Also below is a picture of our gifted bottle which we opened at the hospital after Bruno's birth. At the bottom is a scanned version of the Wine Spectator article (since it's not yet up on their site). If you can't see the pictures, please click here.
Barrel Tasting at Uccelliera, 7/17/03:
Bruno's first wine - 1998 Uccelliera Brunello - 10/22/03:
Andrea Cortonesi of Uccelliera - from the April 30, 2009 Wine Spectator: