Blame it on Del Posto (and Rucola and Babbo ... and Valentino too)
This one's a bit of a sore subject. Two years ago, after a three year wait, we were finally able to wrestle away a couple hundred cases of the finest white wines in Piemonte. On these unusually sandy hillsides, Domenico Almondo farms several dozen manicured acres of Arneis that account for two electrifyingly mineral single-vineyard bottles. One is called Bricco delle Ciliegie, the other "Vigna Sparse." Every case is allocated before the grapes are even picked!
Truth be told, we'd been lucky. The recession, coupled with the tumbling dollar, had put many American wine businesses on the ropes, one of which happened to be Almondo's national importer. Despite late pay and shrinking sales volume, Domenico remained true to his partner. Finally, in 2010, he pulled the plug. We wasted no time.
The 2010 Arneis "Sparse" was a runaway hit on WineAccess, its gorgeous mix of melon, anise, and high-toned citronelle giving way to a lemon zest finish that sliced through the olio and reggiano on pappardelle at Osteria Veglio in La Morra. But even if we figured the WineAccess membership was sufficiently sophisticated to be thirsty for Arneis, we never imagined that so many were already well acquainted with Almondo's "Sparse."
As we'd learn from dozens of post-offer emails, Italian wine enthusiasts had long been enjoying Domenico's Arneis in New York, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco -- only to see it disappear from restaurant wine lists in recent years. It was as if that first offer satisfied an unquenchable thirst. 2400 bottles disappeared in one of the fastest, and most surprising WineAccess sellouts in history. The ratings that would follow came as no surprise.
But as Almondo quickly established a new importer network, the biggest restaurant names in New York and Los Angeles were again given first crack -- taking a healthy bite out of the WineAccess allocation. Our 200-case allotment was trimmed to just 150. We could see the writing on the wall.
Now, on the eve of the arrival of what Domenico claims to be the finest "Sparse" since 2005, things have gone from bad to worse. But, please, don't blame us. We did all we could. When you're up against the likes of Babbo, Rucola, Del Posto and Bar Boulud in New York, Valentino in LA, and every top ristorante in the Bay Area -- even WineAccess is obliged to take a back seat!
After a cold, snowy winter, Almondo's vines got off to a quick start, only to slow down as the weather became cool and damp in late May. Any risk of mildew, Domenico told us, was quickly subdued by a dry, windy summer. When September ushered in cool days and turquoise skies, for the first time in years, Almondo put his feet up, knowing that the incremental increase in sugar would do nothing to temper the vintage's firm acids. The crop would be small -- down close to 25% from the norm. Quality was exquisite.
Domenico Almondo's gorgeous 2012 Arneis "Vigna Sparse" is brilliant yellow, infused with vibrant aromas of citrus zest, ripe apple, anise and wild herbs. The attack is both unusually rich and penetrating, combining apple/lemon juiciness with wonderfully mineral, almost saline freshness. An unusually serious, almost intellectual wine, Italian whites don't get any better at 1.5x today's price.