Dinner With Winemaker Bob Pepi

Wednesday night at Brasserie 8 ½ I had the opportunity to have dinner with Winemaker Bob Pepi. Along with his father he founded, grew and later sold Pepi Winery and the name. He now acts as a consultant for other producers as well as recently jumping back into the ring with his own label, Eponymous. Since the mid 1990's one of his main projects has been Bodegas Valentin Bianchi in Argentina, which is in its 3rd generation as a Family Winery. I looked at a trio of wines from Valentin Bianchi back in April. That only touched on their portfolio, which includes a wide array of wines in several tiers. Sitting at the very top of the Valentin Bianchi Family of Wines Enzois Enzo Bianchi. This wine is named after one of the founder's sons. The dinner with Bob Pepi was a rare opportunity to sample 7 vintages of Enzo side by side.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this tasting was the first and last wine in the vertical. The 1992 Enzo predates Bob Pepi's involvement and was actually never released. It was their first attempt at a serious barrel aged Bordeaux blend wine. No one is really sure what the exact blend for this is but it's likely close to all Cabernet Sauvignon. For a 16-year old wine it was drinking quite nicely. Spice, leather and earthiness were the most prominent characteristics. It's a highly perfumed Cabernet and the first sign that Enzo is an age-worthy wine. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the 2005 Enzo. This wine won't be released until the fall. The 2005 is nicely structured and the biggest of the Enzo's but still tight at this point in its very young life. After some time in the decanter it began to open up. When it comes out in the fall it'll be a wine to lay down for a few years to reach maximum appeal.

Over dinner Bob discussed some of his thoughts on wine making and what he attempts to do. Hi attitude towards oak is that he believes in using as much oak as will benefit a wine without overshadowing the fruit. One of the biggest changes he's made with the production of Enzo over the years is the barrel mix. He's a firm believer that some barrels are specifically better for aromatics while other exude greater influence on the mouth feel. Each vintage he strives to find the perfect mix of barrels for the wine he's making.

There were eight of us at dinner. While I'm not sure it was unanimous, the clear favorite for most of us was the 1997 Enzo. At least on Wednesday night that vintage showed the best. It was a layered wine, still showing nice tannic structure at 11 years of age with spice mocha and a lingering finish. Its nose was still big and youthful, belying its age.

The 1999 Enzo represented the first year Merlot was include in the blend. As Bob explained it was simply the first year he had suitable Merlot fruit to include in their flagship blend. After the 1997 I was most fond of the 1999 which had a nice round mouth-feel and plenty of dark fruit.

The other Enzo's we tasted through were the 1995, 2000 and 2003. Each wine certainly had its standout characteristics. For instance the 1995 featured prominent mocha notes and the 2003 the darkest fruit. The most impressive hallmark of the Enzo's as a whole was their consistency. Each wine was at a different place in its drinking window but they all are part of a continuing story. On the one hand that story is the wonderful wines that Valentin Bianchi and Bob Pepi are making year in and year out. But the more specific point for me with Enzo is the fact that this is a benchmark South American wine. Every region has the wines that are looked at to gauge quality. For Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile they have Don Melchor as one example. It's clear to me after tasting 7 vintages of Enzo side by side that Enzo Bianchi is a reference point in Argentine wine.

Imported by Quintessential Wines.

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