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Barbera Meeting You, this week in Asti, Monferrato, and Milan

June 7, 2010

Starting Saturday June 5 through Sunday June 13, Barbera will once again return to the limelight in Asti and Casale Monferrato, thanks to a campaign sponsored by the Province of Asti in collaboration with the City of Casale Monferrato: “Barbera Meeting You.”

In the wake of the enormous success of Barbera Meeting (a blind tasting held in the month of march attended exclusively by specialized international press), everyone is talking once again about the most widely cultivated red grape variety in Piedmont.

For eight days, select restaurants, osterie, trattorie, and wine bars will serve their patrons a free glass of Barbera — from the Asti, Asti Superiore Nizza, Monferrato, or Alba appellations — paired with special dishes and offerings. At each participating venue, the diner will be given a placemat that will instantly and pleasantly enhance their tasting of the featured wines and will include the names of all participating wineries.

Also aimed at raising world awareness of the word Barbera and its homeland, a simultaneous event will be held in Milan in occasion of the Italian fair devoted to food and wine, “Milano Food Week.” Here, Barbera will take the stage with the splendid Navigli d’Estate as its backdrop. When they sit down to dinner, patrons will be offered a glass of Barbera at 15 of the most classic eateries in the Alzaia neighborhood of the city.

Photos and comments will be available online at http://barberameeting.com together with material published by the fans themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

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Disenchanted with high volume tasting schedule: Did Barbera wines receive fair evaluation?

May 18, 2010

This morning I am focusing on one aspect of the tasting procedures of last week’s Barbera wines: high volume / mass tasting. I was a bit disenchanted with tasting so many wines in one sitting. So, now I will elaborate……

In reply to Thomas Pedersen whose post appeared on the Barbera2010.com blog this morning. I quote an excerpt dealing with only one aspect of many things Thomas talks about:

Thomas wrote:

“We tasted a lot of wines in a very short time at the Barbera Meeting 2010. One of the problems at the tastings were; when you taste wines like this it always tends to be the heavier oaky wines that wins and dominates the palate. If you taste 2-3 heavy oaked wines in a row the next 5-6 wines will also have an oaky touch, and when the glasses is refilled with other wines the oak sticks to the glass – and the new wine.”

My reply to one component of Thomas’s lengthy post, was:

“It was a “mass tasting”…this was one of the things I did not appreciate. Monday morning immediately it was 68 wines. So many wines in a short period of time. In the end it does injustice to some of the other wines awaiting to be evaluation, especially the latter 20 or so. Yes, one’s mouth becomes tainted with the previously wines tasted. My personal opinion is this: The number of wines to be tasted should not exceed 30 maximum–ultimately it is better for all the wines being tasted in a given session. We are humans not machines and all wines deserve our full unadulterated (albeit impossible in certain moments)mouths for a fair and balanced evaluation.”

I will now add some more thoughts….

I do not understand why the tasting schedule was so hard driven to complete ’ X ‘ amount of wines in a given morning. Yes, many Barbera d’Asti’s needed evaluation, but please give them some space……

I saw the latter tastings as having been put at a clear disadvantage. Wednesday and Thursday were more comfortable. Interestingly, some prominent wine tasters admitted the wines were better structured later in the week. Some would say if a wine received negative marks it is because the wine deserved it. Can we blame it all on wine structure or is the human being ‘taster’ a critical element here as well? If you are put through stress at the time of tasting, surely this will affect the outcome. I am convinced of this. High volume tasting is not the method for achieving a fair and balanced evaluation. Monday evening I tasted wines I really liked Monday morning and I also tasted wines I did not especially like. Interesting. I found after having had a rest for a few hours and eating lunch, the human organism of me changed….later I enjoyed wines I did not like earlier. And, why is that?

Thank you Thomas Pedersen vinagenturet.wordpress.com for highlighting significant points. One has to remember too, Thomas writes from another perspective and his concerns are of value….it’s necessary and beneficial for all sides of the discussion….We will all learn from this hopefully.

—Piemontèis Life

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Ravioli di Burage and Barbera del Monferrato wine

April 16, 2010

Today at the salumeria I bought some fresh Ravioli di Burage. At a salumeria in Italy one can buy many delicious foods to eat such as salami, ham, cheeses, fresh pasta, olives, and various types of salads. The Ravioli di Burage immediately caught my eye. In English it is called Borage, the scientific name is Borgo officinalis. Here in the Monferrato they call it Burage. However, in other parts of Piedmont it it is also referred to–according to the local dialect–for instance in Luserna San Giovanni in Torino province, it’s called Boras. And generally in Italy the plant is referred to as Borragine, but also Borrana.

Burage – Borragine

Then I also bought some Raschera cheese and also a bag of Grissini di Moncalvo that are handmade locally by Silano Panificio e Pasticceria in Moncalvo. All of the stuff I bought I planned to eat for lunch today, to be accompanied with a locally produced Barbera del Monferrato wine from Cantine Garrone Mario & C. of Murisengo. In Piedmontese [Piemontèis] Murisengo is called Ambrusengh. Here in the Monferrato, and elsewhere in Piedmont, it is quite common to see on road signs the name of a town or village written in Piedmontese below the Italianized name. I like this sense of authenticity in place names.

These ravioli are filled with Burage grown in Liguria. Liguria is an area where quite a bit of this plant is grown commerically. The Burage (Borage) plant’s fresh leaves and flowers are a popular ingredient in pasta, omelettes, soups, salads and is especially popular for making a green sauce (often in combination with other herbs). Another popular way to eat the leaves and flowers is in frying them in a batter; this is called frittelle di Burage ( frittelle di Boras). Borage is eaten throughout Europe as in Austria (Boretsch), France (Bourrache), and Germany and Switzerland (Borretsch). It has a unique cucumber-like taste and seems to be popular in the cusine of many cultures; in Germany referred to as Gurkenkraut (cucumber-herb). I was wondering how the Burage would taste with the Barbera del Monferrato, because my first thought was to pair it with a Cortese wine. I think both would be good, but of course it depends on how the Barbera is made, in the meaning if it is a good traditional Barbera with a good balance of acidity. But I think I made the right choice in deciding to drink the Barbera wine with the ravioli.

I could not resist buying the Raschera as it is one of my favorite cheeses to pair with Barbera wine. Raschera cheese is produced throughout the province of Cuneo in southern Piedmont. Raschera has a light smell and a moderate strength and the flavor is at its best when you let it sit outside at room temperature for at least a half an hour before eating it. This Raschera cheese and Grissini di Moncalvo were delicious with the Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008 made by Cantine Garrone Mario & C.of Murisengo. Both encouraged my appetite for the upcoming plate of Ravioli di Burage.

Cantine Garrone Mario & C., Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008

The Ravioli di Burage paired quite well with the Garrone Mario Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008. Since the ravioli are filled with greens, I thought maybe a white wine might have been better. Actually the Barbera wine harmonized quite well with the flavor of the Burage. The filling of the ravioli was not particularly sweet, rather a herby medium flavor.

Ravioli di Burage

This particular Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008 has a very deep ruby red color. The aroma is inviting because it has rich delicious notes of blackberry, elderberry and black cherry—typical fruits found in the wooded areas of the Monferrato hills. The grapes originate from Ponzano Monferrato [Ponsan Monfrà], one of the prime areas in the Monferrato for culitvating Barbera grapes. Initially, on the palate, the wine has a fruity-wood flavor—sweet wood—certainly not with a spicy tannin. The wine is well balanced, harmonized and does not have an overwhelming acidity. Essentially this wine has just the right amount of acidity and this is what makes it a lively refreshing Barbera del Monferrato that I enjoy to drink with my meal. The wine has a alcohol level of 14 percent. Garrone Mario’s Barbera 2008 DOC is a good traditional Barbera del Monferrato wine which I have also paired with Argentine and Piedmontese steaks, as well as pasta with ragù sauce, not to mention all the savory Piedmontese regional cheeses.

The grissini were eaten up quite fast …and the Raschera cheese coupled with the Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008 from Cantine Garrone Mario & C. wine was great!

Grissini di Moncalvo stirato a mano

—Piemontèis Life

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Barbera Meeting 2010: Cutting to the Chase, Part II

April 13, 2010

I discussed in previous posts the circumstances and conditions that prevailed at Barbera Week 2010 in Asti — I returned to the U.S. a month ago today! — so I won’t go back over those details now. The conference was, as I have implied, hectic and exhausting and yet (as I hope I have made clear) exhilarating and educational, and we ate mounds of great Piedmontese cuisine.

In the the first part of “Cutting to the Chase,” I listed the best and worst wines we tasted in the area of Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Now it’s the turn of Barbera d’Asti wines from the Nizza sub-region and for Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba. The latter two have their own official DOC status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) but Nizza does not, being attached to Barbera d’Asti. These wines were experienced at blind tasting on the mornings of March 9, 10 and 11, at the Palazzo Zoya, at afternoon visits to wineries, at walk-around tastings in the evening and at dinner. Going back through my notebook and the tasting sheets, I count 140 wines from Nizza, Monferrato and Alba, several of them tasted two or three times in different situations. Generally, the wines from Monferrato and Alba rate better than the wines of Nizza, though there were clearly superior wines — and inferior examples — from all three regions.

I checked my notes carefully — seeing who was naughty and who was nice — to choose the wines listed today, because some of them, in multiple tastings, produced different reactions, and I wanted to weigh those reactions judiciously. For example, the Cascina Garitina “Neuvsent” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, that I tasted blind the morning of March 9 was, frankly, roiling with tannin but showed a lovely bouquet of smoke, minerals, dried spice and mint. That night, at another blind tasting of Nizza wines, all from 2006, the wine was “vegetal, off.” Which was the “real” Neuvsent?

On the other hand, I tasted the Villa Giada Bricco Dani, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, from 2007, 2006 and 2005 on the same day and admired the wine for consistent shapeliness, purity and intensity on each occasion.

So, let’s cut to the chase here and list the Best Wines of Barbera d’Asti Nizza, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba; an asterisk indicates superior quality. Again, I make no distinction between “modern” versions of these wines, which aged in small
French barrels, and traditional wines that aged in stainless steel tanks and large old casks.

Bersano 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

Bosco Agostino Azienda Agricole 2007, Barbera d’Alba*
Bottazza Azienda Agricola “Rubia” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
Bric Cenciurio “Naunda” 2007, Barbera d’Alba*

Bricco dei Guazzi 2007, Barbera del Monferrato
Brovia Sori’ de Drago 2007, Barbera d’Alba* (I thought this was one of the best Barbera wines we tasted during Barbera 2010, and I devoted a separate post to it a few weeks ago)
Cantina Iuli “Umberto” 2007, Babera del Monferrato (I didn’t care for this wine at the morning blind tasting but liked it very much at the evening event.)

Cascina Chicco “Ganera Alta” 2008, Barbera d’Alba
Casetta F.illi “Suri” 2007, Barbera d’Alba
Cascina Lana 2007, Barbera d’Asti Nizza

Castello di Uviglie “Pico Gonzaga” 2006, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore*
<12 Costa di Bussia Azienda Agricola “Campo del Gatto” 2008, Barbera d’Alba
Elvio Cogno “Bricco dei Merli” 2007, Barbera d’Alba*

La Casaccia “Bricco de Bosco” 2007, Barbera del Monferrato*
La Scamuzza “Vigneto della Amoroso” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore (Also 2006)
L’Armangia Azienda Argicola 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

Montalbera “La Briosa” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
Parusso Armando 2007, Barbera d’Alba Superiore
Scarzello Giorgio Azienda Agricola 2007, Barbera d’Alba*

Spinoglio Danilo 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
Villa Giada “Bricco Dani” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza*

“Worst” is a harsh word — perhaps we should say “wrong-headed” or “deeply insufficient” — but the following wines seemed completely unsuitable because of astringent levels of oak, tannin and acidity or for other flaws, mainly “off” and funky odors. No wine, certainly not red, should smell like “plastic flowers and Evening in Paris,” as one of my notes recorded.

Bava Azienda Agricola “Pianoalto” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
Cascina Guido Berta “Canto di Luna” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Tasted twice; much better was the Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore, not from Nizza)

Cascina La Barbatella “La Vigna dell’Angelo” 2006 & 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Another case of liking a winery’s “regular” Barbera d’Asti more than the Nizza version)
Dacapo SA “Vigna Dacapo” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

Erede di Chiappone Armando Azienda Vitivinicola “Ru” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Yet again, this winery’s “Brentura” 2007, Barbera d’Asti, was superior to the Nizza bottling)
Francone “I Patriarchi” 2007, Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2007

Franco Mondo “Vigna delle Rose” 2006, Barber d’Asti Superiore Nizza (I did like Franco Mondo’s “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore)
La Bruciata di Oscar Bosio 2007, Barbera d’Alba

La Girona di Galandrino “Le Nicchie 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
Noceto Michelotti Azienda Agricola “Montecanta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani “Bricco Preje” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

Prunotto SRL “Costamiole” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
Rivetto “Zio Nando” 2007, Barbera d’Alba (I wrote about Rivetto’s Barolos in a previous post)

Scrimaglio “Acse” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Once more, a case of finding a winery’s Barbera d’Asti wines more attractive than its Nizza wines)
Tenuta La Tenaglia “1930 — Una Buona Annata” 2007, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore (I quite liked this property’s “Giorgio Tenaglia” 2007, Barbera d’Asti)

Tenuta Olim Bauda 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

This post concludes my coverage of Barbera Week 2010. You may read my contributions and those of my “Barbera 7″ colleagues on the collective blog, Barbera2010.com. I have more to write about my sojourn in Piedmont — a visit to Gaja; the whites wines of Piedmont — but those do not come under the purview of Barbera Week 2010.

—Bigger Than Your Head

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Hastae pudding club

April 8, 2010

[hastae logo] “Why all this technology? Don’t you like the wines you made before? Why are you changing everything…modifying, intervening?”

While it may not be the question that defines the day, it’s the question that sets the day on its inexorable path.

Up until now, we’ve been doing what one does at large-scale tasting events: sniffing, swirling, sipping, spitting, and scribbling. Some of us with pen in hand, others with space bar under thumb. But today’s a little different. We’ve been bused to an underground space that’s both wine/food showcase and assembly hall, and we’re now being treated – if that’s the word – to a PowerPoint presentation on some viticultural research aimed at improving the quality of barbera grapes in the Piedmont.

The research itself is pretty fundamental: Guyot vs. spurred cordon vine training. The former is traditional to the region, and the latter is being explored as an alternative (or, it might be more accurate to say, a replacement). Three years of research have been applied to this question, and we are here to both listen to and taste the results.

Now, it’s true that non-farmers are going to have an inherently limited enthusiasm for this sort of material. And while it’s as clearly-presented as it can be, there’s every reason for many of the assembled to feel like tuning out…especially after yet another morning of palate-numbing tasting. But those who don’t hear some interesting things along the way. And those who do? Well, by the time we get to the end of that leadoff question, I think pretty much everyone’s awake.

Why fool around with training methods? Curiosity, certainly. But there are specific goals in mind, and several are mentioned right from the beginning. The first is no surprise, given the mumblings from producers we’ve already met: a reduction in either total or the malic portion of barbera’s acidity. The second is a greater concentration of anthocyanins, which brings along with it a parallel concentration of tannins…and if there’s one thing these new-styled wines probably don’t need, especially if they’re going to be raised in barrique, it’s more tannin. (Incredibly, the wines taste-tested during these trials had both grape seed and oak tannins added. Yes, added.) In any case, it’s the third that causes more than a few eyebrows to crest: better preservation of color while the wine ages.

Is this really an important goal? “Color needs to remain permanent as wine ages,” we’re told. Well, why? To distinguish barbera from its notoriously pale-hued neighbor nebbiolo? Because the worldwide market for well-aged barbera has been shying away in recent years for insufficient purpleosity? Because the ultimate goal of any wine should be opacity to the end of its days?

There’s no answer forthcoming. And here’s another goal they have in mind, though it’s relegated to the accompanying text and not mentioned in the presentation:

The Guyot pruning used in most parts of the […] Piedmont does not enable the operation to be mechanized […]. Its substitution with a spurred cordon training system, easier to perform and partially or totally workable mechanically, can lead to a reduction in management costs […].

Finally, there’s the maraschino cherry on this modernizing sundae:

[B]arbera, in environments of average fertility and if pruned with the spurred cordon method, can take advantage of a number of buds slightly higher than the one obtained with the Guyot method.

So: lower acidity, long-term color stability, higher yields, more tannin, and lower-cost mechanical harvesting…this is all just terrific news, and really focused on the key qualitative differentiators that will bring barbera to the next level. (The “natural” set will like this, though: the higher antioxidant levels that also result mean a lessened need for preservational members of the sulfur family.)

Most of the rest of the presentation is devoted to charts and graphs that demonstrate the conclusions of the study…conclusions which, in the minds of those funding the research, do indeed lead to higher-quality barbera. Others, with different goalposts, might reach opposite (or at least less definitive) conclusions even before tasting the wines. I write with my biases already on display, but of course this – as with so many other such debates – will very much revolve around matters of preference. Those who think barbera is not big, dark, dense, tannic, or lush enough will embrace these results with enthusiasm. Whereas we lonely few contrarians can only look on with dismay.

[cheese & confiture]Except it turns out we’re not so lonely after all.

Today’s research is being promoted by Hastae, a group of wineries that won’t be viewed with enthusiasm by anyone of a traditionalist bent: Berta, Braida, Chiarlo, Coppo, Prunotto, and Vietti. Michele Chiarlo, certainly Piedmontese eminence personified, is himself in attendance, and will be presenting tangible evidence of the research’s conclusions to the assembled, as well as answering any questions the group might have. And it turns out that we have some.

It’s Charles Scicolone who offers the confrontation that starts this report. The answer he receives is unhelpful, though it too will set a tone for the day’s discussions and debates: a disagreement with the base assumptions of the question (though the details of this disagreement are elided), followed by a complaint that the question itself is “a little insulting.” But while the barbera brain trust doesn’t offer an actual answer to his question, I think I can provide one.

A near-immediate follow-up to Scicolone’s question that wonders if too many grapes might now be on non-ideal sites, since the better wines of the past seemed perfectly quality-oriented, brings another evasion (“it’s impossible to comment on that”), and then this: until now, growers have apparently not had “incentives” to improve their grapes, and thus were “forced” to make the older, more traditional styles of wines because their production and yields were too high.

The current answer is brought to a coda with, “our research is intended to make bad wines better.” And so, there’s the answer that wasn’t made explicit: they didn’t like the wines that they made before.

An aside…while this little contretemps has been escalating, I’ve moved from my seat in the middle of the room to a standing position against a post, nearer the back. From here, I am more an observer of than a participant in the proceedings – at least visually – and while I do not want to over-dramaticize the scene around the room’s perimeter as a “panic,” it’s clear that tensions among the organizers are high. There’s excited whispering, there’s a lot of agitated frowning and gesturing, and there’s rapid movement to and fro. Onstage, Michele Chiarlo – who is seated – spends much of his non-speaking time with head down and a hand on his forehead, projecting a certain angst, if not actual pain. But while the profoundly negative turn to what was intended to be a purely informational event seems to have the organizers on edge, it’s not clear what they can do. Cut off discussion? That would be transparent and counter-productive. So, they’re forced to wait and watch, like the rest of us. And I think that, if they knew this would be the less confrontational of today’s two interactive fora, they might be breathing a little easier.

Or not.

There’s not a lot of time to muse on this, though, because we move immediately on to the third confrontational comment in a row. (That’s out of three, by the way.) Our third interlocutor notes that even if one accepts that the modern wines we’ve been tasting are more “balanced,” it is at the cost of “recognizability” and the defining character of barbera.

We get two answers to this. The first is from Michele Chiarlo, and it is declarative: “wine is a good wine when it sells.”

The potential problems with this statement have been the subject of innumerable philosophical works, so I feel neither the need nor the desire to delve into them here. From a certain mercantile perspective, of course, it’s “true,” even though it gets us quickly to a state in which Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is the best white wine of Italy, because it sells more than all the others. As a guiding philosophy behind winemaking decisions, I admit I find it profoundly depressing. But that’s a personal reaction. Certainly I don’t find it difficult to understand; starving for one’s vocation is no more inherently noble than starving for one’s art. But I’m also glad that not everyone sees it Chiarlo’s way.

Chiarlo will double down on his assertion a little later: “Now we export to sixty countries. Before, we could only sell in Piedmont.”

It’s left to Professor Vincenzo Gerbi, one of the project’s researchers, an oenologist from the University of Turin, and the speaker who has been covering most of the day’s technical bases, to attempt a less overtly commercial response.

“Barbera, more than any other grape variety, owes its character to acidity. In the past, people have boasted – for not the right reasons – about this acidity. […] We can produce balanced and great-tasting barbera, [and w]e can do so while maintaining the defining character of barbera.”

Here is another a clear refutation of the barbera of the past. That barbera – the crisp, light, red-fruited, acidic-food-requiring wine described in pretty much every wine compendium – is to be dismissed as a necessary failing of the past. Barbera must be sold in ever-increasing quantities, and the new methods and styles are the mechanism by which that will be accomplished, and this new paradigm is here to stay.

Then, Gerbi lobs this little bomblet into the proceedings: “some producers used barriques; this was a mistake.” This with Michele Chiarlo just a meter or so to his left.

[grappa]No matter the institutional desire for an end to the confrontation, we do have a schedule to keep, and so matters come to a natural end as we proceed to a pair of very long tables for a comparative tasting. A very manageable four wines this time, produced by the Hastae group as part of the research trials described above. They are presented to demonstrate a point. And they do.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Deep purple, plum, black cherry. A large-boned and firmly structured wine with good palate intensity. Fruit-dominated, but balanced and solid.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – More obvious alcohol, more “present” fruit. Graphite-textured tannin. Packs a wallop.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Strong acidity and chewy, reddish-tinged fruit. A little frayed.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – Many shades darker than the Guyot-trained wine…in fact, nearly opaque. Purple milk chocolate shake.

Conclusions, then? From this grand sample of four: I certainly, as might be predicted from every vintage generalization I’ve yet heard from the producers here in the Piedmont, prefer the 2007s to the 2008s, for reasons of better balance, fullness, and structure. But that’s not what I’m here to taste. I’m here to taste training methods. And I’m afraid that within each couplet, I prefer the old school Guyot wine to that made from spurred cordon vines. What I can’t go on to say is that I can clearly identify the reasons for that preference from the research conclusions presented earlier. In both cases the spurred cordon wines reflect the qualities and flaws more common to modern, internationalized wines, but this must be caveated by noting that the ’07 Guyot bottling is no ultra-traditional throwback…not that would one expect otherwise from this collection of producers.

After talk and backtalk, there is lunch. A fine one, in which there’s salad in a Zorb, some excellent local delicacies, and a pair of interesting verticals.

Chiarlo “Cuvée Pietro Chiarlo” Metodo Classico Brut (Piedmont) – 50% cortese and 50% chardonnay. Oxidized and sulfurous…a nice trick. Coppery. Ripe, ripe, ripe fruit. Clumsy and goofy; Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford.

Hastae 2005 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Big, ripe, but balanced. There’s a light chocolate sheen, but good – no, make that great – acidity. Very good in the New World style, albeit with the pinched finish so common to the genre.

Hastae 2004 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Sweaty. Brittle tannin hardens the wine, yet the midpalate is mushy; a weird counterpoint. It’s pretty good, to be honest, but in no way could it be called stylish. Perhaps it’s entering a closed stage.

Hastae 2001 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Softening, obviously and dramatically, with leafy soil, black pepper, and spiky acidity. Lots of character, but at the expense of quality.

Hastae 1999 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Graphite tannin, succulent red fruit, and style. Great acidity. Hearkens back to an older style, with a little more verve.

Tasting these wines, with and without food, several things occur. First, Hastae makes good wines, whatever one thinks of their style and their understandability as barbera d’Asti. Second, their style is either veering precipitously towards the modernistic or age shifts their wines into an older, more traditional mode; I suspect the former more than the latter. Third, these are definitely wines that reward age with change, even if they don’t always get better. And fourth, I have not once wished that the wines had held on to a darker, more youthful color. Who cares?

The second vertical is spirituous – the only time this trip in which we’ll actually be asked to consume grappa, rather than engaging in our own late-night volunteerism – and it’s only a vertical because I request one. Everyone before me gets a glass and a choice, while I ask if a small vertical might be arranged. This seems to please the waitstaff, and the idea spreads. Trendsetting is not my usual mode, but in the spirit of spirits, I won’t cavil.

[grappa]Hastae 2003 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Round and very vintage-marked. Extremely sweet. More like a dessert wine than a grappa, frankly.

Hastae 1999 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Feet. This smells like feet. Also, spices (nutmeg, mostly) and baked caramel apple. Why is there so much overt sucrosity?

Hastae 2005 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Waxy and weird with spice and sweet brown sugar.

Hastae 2004 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Ripe apple and spiced honey, with a lactic finish.

OK, these aren’t good at all. Were they labeled “barbera liqueur,” I’d probably be fine with them. But as it is, they’re high fructose grappa syrup. No thanks.

Lunched, wined, and spirited, we prepare to board the bus to our next destination. Snow is falling, and our transport grinds into a lower gear. We’ve somewhere to go, but getting there is going to be harder than anyone knows.

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See http://barbera2010.com/ for details on the people and entities involved. My tasting notes have not been influenced in any way, nor has my work on this blog and/or my own site, but the content of any work appearing only on the official Barbera Meeting 2010 blog may (or may not) have been edited for content.

—oenoLogic

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Barbera 2010, First Day: Cutting to the Chase

April 1, 2010

During the four days of Barbera Week 2010, my fellow bloggers and I tasted 174 wines at the supervised blind tastings in the mornings plus more at walk-around tastings before dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and visits to wineries over three afternoons. Say, conservatively, 200 wines from Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, primarily from 2008 and 2007 and a few from 2006.

We made our concerns known from the first day: Too many of the wines were dominated by new oak from small French barrels; too many of the wines were dominated by hard tannins; too many of the wines were dominated by highly extracted jammy fruit, as if they were competing with Amador County zinfandel. In short, these were modern New World-style wines. Where were the lighter, more refreshing Barberas of yesterday, wines that perfectly matched the region’s traditional cuisine? Certainly there many of those too, but we bloggers, and the other journalists at the conference, were dismayed to see this rush toward modernity in the belief that the (presumably) American market prefers oaky, jammy red wines. On the other hand, producers have to sell their wines or they’ll go out of business; who are we to dictate how they make their wines?

That philosophical and economic debate is for another post. My purpose today is simpler: To name the Barbera d’Asti wines that struck me as the best on March 8, the first day of the event. Already, however, there’s a caveat, because during Barbera Week 2010, the wines were encountered under different conditions. At the blind tastings in the morning, we averaged 20 wines an hour, meaning that we devoted about three minutes to each wine. At the walk-around tastings, where circumstances were a bit more relaxed (though there’s always that crowded feeling at the most popular tables), we could take more time with the wines that we wanted to think about.

Tasting at the properties is another affair altogether: You sit in a tasting room, before a spread of breads, cheeses and salamis; the pours are more generous and you can ask for more if necessary; you can chat about the wines with colleagues and the winemaker. In the first two situations, notes are telegraphic, almost coded; in the third, notes are more detailed and thorough. Compiling the lists that follow here, I tried to take these different circumstances into account. The organizational principle is day by day, and I will indicate in what setting the wine was tasted. An asterisk designates superior quality. (The designation Superiore in Barbera wines may hypothetically though not necessarily imply qualitative achievement but means, literally, that the wines must be aged in wood for at least a year and attain a half-percent higher degree of alcohol.) The Barbera 7 bloggers talked frequently among ourselves about how reactions to the wines varied due to the situation in which we tasted them, not to mention personal preference, a different issue entirely.

I make no distinction here about differences in style or winemaking. The Boeri Alfonso “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, for examples, ages 12 months in French oak barriques (small barrels), while the Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, ages 7 to 8 months in large vats and 6 months in bottle and the Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna del Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti, sees both barriques and tonneaux (large barrels) for two years. I liked all three.

The best Barbera d’Asti wines of Monday, March 8, from 85 that I tasted.

1. Agostina Pavia e Figli “Moliss” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
2. Bersano Cav. Dario “Ca d’Galdin” 2007, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)

3. Boeri Alfonso S.S. “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
4. Ca’ dei Mandorli “La Bellalda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

5. Cantina Alice Bel Colle SCA “Al Caso” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting; all stainless steel, no oak)*
6. Cantina di Nizza “50 Vendemmie” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
7. Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane” 2007, Barbera d’asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*

8. Cascina La Ghersa “Vignassa” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and at dinner)
9. Costa Olmo Azienda Vitivinicola 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006 (Blind tasting)
10. Crivelli Marco Maria Azienda Agricola “La Mora” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)*

11. Damilano 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
13. Guasti Clemente “Boschetto Vecchio” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*

14. Marcaurelio Vini Azienda Argicola “Terranuda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery)
15. Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna dei Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

16. Tenuta Il Falchetto Azienda Agricola “Lurëi” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (I was unimpressed with this at the blind tasting but loved it when I tasted it at the winery)*
17. Tenuta La Fiammenga 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
18. Tenuta La Pergola “Vigne Vecchie della Cappelletta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting; at the latter also the version from 2006, which was excellent.)

19. Tenute dei Vallarino Azienda Agricola “La Ladra” 2008, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)

And the ones that seemed beyond the pale because of excessive oak and tannins and daunting austerity (or other flaws):

1. Agostino Pavia e Figli “La Marescialla” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)

2. Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa “Casascarpa” 2006, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)
3. Borgo Isolabella S.S. “Maria Teresa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
4. Braida di Giacomo Bologna “Bricco della Bigotta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting)

5. Cantina Vignasone “Selezione” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
6. Cantine Sant-Agata “Cavale” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
7. Casa Vinicola Dogliotti SNC 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

8. Cascina Galarin “Le Querce” 2007 & 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
9. Cascina Garitina “Caranti” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; controversial, some tasters thought this was corked)

10. Castello di Razzano SSA “Vigna Valentino Caligaris” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
11. Cocito Dario Azienda Agricola “Violanda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

13. Il Cascinone Gruppo Araldica “Rive” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
14. La Gironda di Galadrino “La Gena” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
15. L’Armangia Azienda Agricola “Sopra Berruti” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery, where I liked it a bit better, though as the winemaker told us, he “likes an austere style”)

16. Tenuta La Fiammenga “Paion” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; I truly admired La Fiammenga’s “regular” Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2007, but the Paion bottling was earthy, leathery, dry and austere)
17. Tenuta Olim Bauda “La Villa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

18. Villa Giada “Ajan” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

In a few days, I’ll be posting about the best wines of the Nizza sub-region and of Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, and then we’ll say adios to Barbera Week 2010, though I have a separate story coming about a visit to Gaja in Barbaresco.

—Bigger Than Your Head

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The X-Games of Wine Journaling

April 1, 2010

Every wine lover and/or professional has their own method of taking notes… or rather, not taking notes. I take notes as often as I can but am constantly disappointed in myself for not being more detailed and consistent. Especially after big tasting trips like my most recent in Asti, I realize so much of the wine gets lost in the shuffle. The shuffle of having fun. With long tasting dinners, vineyard visits and luncheons I spend my time enjoying the wine and the conversations about the wine. While in Asti at the Barbera Meeting a few weeks ago, I met a super cool Chinese wine writer/educator named Denis Lin, otherwise known as the honorary 8th member of the Barbera 7. He has also become my note-taking mentor, my spirit guide of wine notation, my vino scribing guru.

Yes, that is a Denis original hand drawn sketch. He has dozens of moleskin journals full of all the great wine he has tasted. When a bottle is opened (usually at one of his weekly tastings with friends), he sits with a glass and the bottle. He draws the label down to the finest of details and also writes his tasting notes. Color, body and aroma, acidity…by writing and drawing and thinking- the intimate relationship with that wine is formed. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s drinking some really great stuff.

Do Bianchi posted about Denis here, but I just had to give my own personal shout out. You have inspired me Denis. Thank you!

—Brunellos Have More Fun