Robbie Burns Day seems like a thousand years ago. For my wife and I it's the one day a year we throw a big party—the idea is that we buckle down on this one occasion and pay back all those invites we've received during the past 12 months. We also invite everyone's children, and often their parents, and as a result it can get pretty large. 250 is the norm but we've pushed 300 once or twice. That's wedding territory, so we have to plan like crazy and make sure we don't lose track of the budget (which we invariably do). My chef brother-in-law usually hits Costco and returns with 4-5 full striploin roasts—and they're things of beauty. Then my sister-in-law cures some salmon with a touch of Islay whisky and my wife makes sure there's some sort of antler-themed serving piece in every corner of the house. And then it's left to me for the key component—the booze.
The Scotch takes care of itself. The bottles (well, most of them) go out, and I always put out a bottle of Alberta Premium and a bottle of bourbon to go with the 45 bottles of Scotch. The bourbon's a trap, BTW—on Robbie Burns Day you drink Scotch. But the reality is that only a very small percentage drink whisky (although those who do—like Phil—really drink whisky). The vast majority of people drink beer and wine. The beer's easy enough. Russell's Angry Scotch Ale is perfect and TWA Dogs is also from the Island and also has a Scottish angle, so it works too.
But the wine—the wine is a trick. When you write about wine for a living, it's fair to say the stakes are high with your wine pick. It needs to be equal parts esoteric and tasty, which wouldn't be a problem if cost was no object. But it is. I also want a wine that I like to drink, assuming there's some left over, and ideally one that could be cellared for some time as I work my way through it. I'd like it to be as close to $20 as possible (this was $22, but it's on sale now for $20 until October 3rd).
For a red, that's a near impossible challenge. Most (okay, all) of my fave BC wines are north of $20. I thought about Beaujolais, but it's too light for some and the $20 was going to be difficult. I thought Italian Bardolino, but the selection for that wine is terrible in BC. There's nothing American in that price range that isn't overly confected and fruited up. A Pinot from Chile might work, but again, the body might be a trick for the Cab drinkers out there.
And then the skies parted when I found this bottle. I've been a huge fan of the Southern Italian grape Aglianico for years. It's grown in the relatively poor provinces of Basilcata and Campania, and it can often be a rustic grape. But there's a character that rivals nebbiolo lurking inside—it just needs the right winemakers and often some serious aging time to let it out. I didn't even think of it for the party because it's usually more than $30 and needs some bottle aging to mellow out a bit. But this bottle is a miracle. For starters, it comes with bottle age. The current vintage is 2015, which is like getting 3 years for free. And while I'm always nervous shopping at the lower end of the price range for a grape, in this case it's a blessing: whereas a full blown prestige bottle from Mastroberardino would be tough drinking in its youth, this bottle holds the reigns a little looser and is more approachable while young (and presumably would lack the aging chops of a bigger version). It still has some great rustic Southern Italian notes—leather and dried herbs mixed with dark cherries—but there's a lovely streak of acidity that keeps it from being overbearing. It's juicy and big at the same time.
Plus the bottle looks cool and saying the name—All-ee-ahn-ee-Koe Del Vul-tur-eh— is seriously cool. Judging by how little I had left (three bottles) I'm pretty sure it was a hit. I don't know when I'll have a huge party again—but cracking a bottle of this the other night brought back a flood of memories from that much easier time, not that long ago.