Riccardo Cotarella is a genius

image And it’s not because the Italian winemaker makes high end wine that gets big scores from the wine magazines. Or that the wine is merlot, hardly an Italian mainstay. Or that he is renowned the world over for his talent.

No, it’s because Cotarella makes some of the best $10 wine in the world. The Wine Curmudgeon regularly raves about the Falesco Vitiano red, white and rose. And if I needed any reassurance about how well made they were, consider this.

One of my local retailers had a bottle of the 2004 Vitiano white, stuffed on a back shelf and in need of serious dusting. This retailer doesn’t usually carry the white, though they do have the red and sometimes the rose. (It’s one of those vagaries of retailing that the Wine Curmudgeon has never been able to understand.)

Know, too, that inexpensive white wine isn’t made to last this long. Most should be drunk within two years — in this case, by 2006, or the middle of 2007 at the latest.

So the retailer and I huddled, and we decided I would pay for the wine, take it home, and taste it. If it had turned, I would bring it back and she would refund my money and get rid of the other half-dozen bottles on the shelf.

What do I mean by turned? In this case, the wine would have changed color, from a clear, crisp white to an aging newspaper kind of yellow. It also might have started to oxidize, becoming brandy-like as the cork failed and oxygen seeped in. Or it might become vinegarish (there’s actually one of those angel on a head of pin arguments about whether wine can turn to vinegar) for many of the same reasons.

So what happened? I checked the color — a touch yellow, but nothing untoward. I sniffed — not quite as fruity as it should be, but nothing off about it. I tasted it– a little thin and not quite as crisp as a newer vintage, but not spoiled by any means. I drank it with dinner (home-made egg rolls, stuffed with cabbage, bean sprouts, and onions) and served with Thai peanut sauce.

In other words, Cotarella made a $10 white wine that lasted four years. How impressive is that? I have tasted wine at two and three times that price that doesn’t hold up for two years. Or taste as good as the Vitiano at any time, for that matter.

True story: I met Cotarella five or six years ago when he was in Dallas, and tasted through his wines. He asked me what I liked best. We had had the pricey stuff, but me being me, I didn’t pick the merlot. I picked the Vitiano red — apologetically, but I picked it. Cotarella didn’t miss a beat. He was as gracious and as charming as he could be, and thanked me for my opinion and my time. What a guy. How many Napa winemakers would have let me off the hook so easily?