Archive for March, 2010

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Tasting Group: Italian Barbera

March 30, 2010

With the first three months of 2010 almost behind us, I’m happy to report that we are continuing to make good on our New Year’s resolution to explore more wines from around the world. Since we live in Washington State and often drink wines from Washington State, we want to make sure that we continue to hone our knowledge of the entire world of wine and maintain well-rounded palates in order to make us even more objective when we evaluate wines from Washington State. As a result, we have put together a Wine Peeps Tasting Group which includes what we think is an excellent peer group of knowledgeable wine lovers to taste, share, and learn more about wine together. Unlike our monthly wine tasting dinners in which the guests rotate, this tasting group includes people who are committed to getting together once a month which we hope will benefit all of us. In addition to trying varieties and regions that we do not taste frequently, the other main difference between this group and our wine tasting dinners is that each group member will bring a bottle consistent with the month’s theme so no one will know all the wines in the blind tasting.

Last week, we met for the third time and explored Italian Barbera. Kori was out of town visiting the Paso Robles wine region of California so I am recapping this month’s tasting group. This was a good time for us to try Italian Barbera, because a group of wine bloggers just recently visited the prime Barbera growing area in the Piedmont region of Italy and reported very mixed opinions on today’s Barbera. While there were some more traditional as well as newer style Barberas in our tasting, the consensus of our group was that this was a very good set of wines to explore.

The home for Barbera is in the northwest part of Italy known as Piedmont. Barbera plays second fiddle to Nebbiolo on the best vineyard sites because Nebbiolo wines generally sell for more in the marketplace. Most of the better Barbera is grown around Asti and Alba, thus the popular designations, Barbera d’ Asti and Barbera d’ Alba. The Barbera grape is a small berry, thus it is known for a deep red color. Barbera are also characterized by high acid levels and relatively low tannins. Because Barbera ripens late, it is also prone to some volatile acidity, although at such low levels that it is not always noticeable in the glass.

We tasted eight wines, and the consensus favorite was the 2003 Vietti La Crena Barbera d’ Asti. It was the oldest wine in the tasting and was the favorite of every one of us, a rarity in our tasting group and tasting dinners. While we did not have any exact duplicates, we did end up with four Vietti wines, including the 2006 vintage of our consensus favorite, which was the most controversial wine of the evening, but my personal 2nd place choice.

From 1st to last in the group consensus rankings:

2003 Vietti La Crena (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Medium ruby red. Aromas of dried red fruits and spice with good strawberry and cherry flavors. Tasted the way I believe a great Barbera should taste. Light to medium body and tart with low to medium tannins. Very well balanced. Clearly the best wine of the eight.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $50; Available elsewhere, $38 to $43

2006 Vietti Tre Vigne (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Ruby red with medium depth of color. Licorice and a little bit of oak on the nose. Heavy on the palate with flavors of black cherries. Good acidity with low to medium tannins and a long, pleasant finish.

Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Pike & Western Wine Shop (Seattle, Washington), $25; Available elsewhere, $27

2005 Cogno Bricco dei Merli (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Ruby red color with medium depth. Low aroma intensity, just a hint of raw bacon. Fruit forward with flavors of plum and cherries. Light to medium body with high acidity, low to medium tannins, and a decent finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of five)

Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $25

2007 Vietti Tre Vigne (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Deep purple in color. Aromas of vanilla, spice, and chocolate. Very fruity in a good way. Flavors of plums, raspberries, and other red fruits. Medium body with good acidity and low to medium tannins. Well balanced.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $18; Available elsewhere, $15 to $22

2006 Vietti La Crena (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark purple in color. Aromas of ripe red fruits and hints of milk duds. Abundant black fruits. Very flavorful. Full-bodied with good acidity and medium tannins. Well-balanced with very long finish. A love it or hate it Barbera, because it is non-traditional. I loved it!

Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $42; Available elsewhere, $38 to $46

2007 Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Dark purple in color. Aroma of stale water in plastic. Great fruit flavors of cherries, even cherry cobbler. Crisp in acidity and low in tannins, making it fairly well balanced.
Quality: 3 stars (out of five)
QPR: 1 bang for you buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Pete’s Wine Shop-Eastside (Bellevue, Washington), $44; Available elsewhere, $38 to $55

2006 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Armujan (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark purple in color. Aromas of licorice and a hint of volatile acidity. Good flavors of cherries, strawberries, and cranberries. Light to medium body, tart, with low tannin level. Good sipping, middle of the road Barbera.
Quality: 3 stars (out of five)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Avalon Wines (Corvallis, Oregon), $27

2007 Paitin Serra (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark ruby/purple in color. Aromas of onions and garlic imply a fault, probably mercaptans. Flavors of sour cherries. Medium body with super high acidity and low tannins. Not well-balanced.
Quality: 2 stars (out of five)
QPR: NR (not recommended)

Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $18; Available elsewhere, $15 to $23

—Wine Peeps

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Wandering a d’Asti trail

March 27, 2010

[water & window]Back to the salt mines of blind tasting…and back to Asti. Again? Yes, again. The first 33 wines are a retread of yesterday’s ground, though I can’t really complain given that yesterday’s lineup was too long to begin with. Anyway, here they are: more barbera d’Asti from 2008, 2007, and 2006, in both regular and superiore forms. See this post for important disclaimers.

Isolabella della Croce 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Maria Teresa” (Piedmont) – Purple nurple. Already. In the first wine of the tasting! Well, this is going to be an exciting day. Solid fruit, albeit of the Welch’s jelly variety, and tasting as if from those little plastic cups they serve at diners. So, you know, actually “solid” fruit in colloidal form.

Franco Mondo 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – …and now, from wine number two, there’s wood. Is that wood? It’s nasty, whether it is or not. Blackberry brandy as well. A nearby taster identifies this as corked, and so we try a second: apple, guava, and an improved texture, but still nasty. TCA, if present in the first bottle, may have improved this wine.

Pico Maccario 2008 Barbera d’Asti Lavignone (Piedmont) – Walnut syrup, cooked apple jam, thick and overly burdened with tannin.

Olim Bauda 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Villa (Piedmont) – First bottle abusively corked. Second: big fruit, tannin, and vanilla. Tastes a little like a Slushie. I’m thinking strawberry/plum flavor.

Villa Giada 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Ajan” (Piedmont) – Very thick, zinfandel-like fruit. Explodes, MIRVs, then explodes again. Light vanilla plays a role. This is kinda fun, though it’s neither serious nor barbera as any sane person would recognize it.

Chiarlo 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cipressi della Court (Piedmont) – Unpleasant. A wrenched (and wretched) nose of stale hay and decay leads, unceremoniously, to a plate that’s at least acceptable for a moment. A hint of strawberry, and then…crash…sludge and effluvia. Disgusting.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Ladra” (Piedmont) – Brett and other more overtly fecal aromas. Tastes like vomit. No, really: the bile here is unmistakable.

Cavallotti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ La Mandrana (Piedmont) – A fun, slushy fruit bomb, OK in its pinkish-purple, Freon-toned, entirely plastic style. Finishes reasonably well.

La Barbatella 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Rich. Vanilla and full-throated jam…a fruit bomb extraordinaire. How this is indistinguishable from the larger sort of Central Coast pinot noir is beyond me. The finish is even hot. It’s a dead ringer!

Lana 2007 Barbera d’Asti “l’Anniversario” (Piedmont) – Strawberry jam with ash, a nasty, plastic texture and cheap milk chocolate on the finish. Bad.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso (Piedmont) – Dark berries, dark chocolate, eucalyptus. A solid wall of New Worldish ornamentation, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” (Piedmont) – Smucker’s strawberry jam, imitation Nutella. Ugh.

Costa Olmo 2007 Barbera d’Asti La Madrina (Piedmont) – Grape jam with a hint of maple syrup. Excuse me?

Erede di Chiappone 2007 Barbera d’Asti Brentura (Piedmont) – Pure fruit in a bomby sort of expression and a short, vanilla-dominated finish. I’d like this more if the label said “zinfandel,” but it’s certainly not an unpleasant wine.

La Gironda di Galandrino 2007 Barbera d’Asti “la Gena” (Piedmont) – Smoked toast and tar with some of the grossest wood aromas I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. It’s not just that there’s too much wood, it’s that the wood has to have been infected with quercal syphilis or something.

[stained notebook]Gazzi 2007 Barbera d’Asti Praiot (Piedmont) – Flat, dull, and oppressed.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cremosina (Piedmont) – First bottle corked, or so it appears. Second still dull, but with a grainy, dead apple-like aroma. Maybe also corked. Maybe both have a different problem. Maybe the wine just sucks.

Cantina di Nizza 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “50 Vendemmie” (Piedmont) – Mint and other herbs, light strawberry fruit, and Pixy Stix. Oversmoothed, with a candied fruit character that reminds me of the worst kind of California pinot.

Garitina 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Caranti (Piedmont) – Starts fresh and plummy, all crushed fruit and…wait, is that grappa? It’s not the bottle, it’s the whole damned factory. Then: freshly-assembled upholstery, and a horror show of a finish.

Franco Mondo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vigna del Salice (Piedmont) – Vanilla, coconut rum, tequila. Another horror show.

Dezzani 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Luna e le Stelle” (Piedmont) – Incredibly dense. Berry jam and vanilla on toast, with chocolate and ashes fresh from the fireplace. Finishes quite charred.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Croutin (Piedmont) – Spirituous (mostly cassis liqueur), sludge, cement. A neutron star of a wine, in which gravity sucks everything in, and allows nothing interesting or alive to escape its clutches.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Acsé (Piedmont) – Vanilla, praline, toasts, coconut. Absolutely obliterated by wood. Soulless.

Olim Bauda 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Rocchette (Piedmont) – Dead wine, dead rocks, dead wood. Were they trying to make motor oil from these grapes? Well, that didn’t work either.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore La Ladra (Piedmont) – Plum-flavored Fruit Roll-Up, plum, blueberry, black cherry, blackberry…hey, actual fruit! It’s like a revelation.

Vinchio e Vaglio Serra 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “I Tre Vescovi” (Piedmont) – Early-maturing notes, plum, baked apple, and graham cracker pie crust. A little absent, but the palate’s got a certain litheness to it. Frankly, this is odd.

Scarpa 2006 Barbera d’Asti “Casa Scarpa” (Piedmont) – Milkshake and candy. Completely fake-tasting, dressed with cheap costume jewelry, bedecked with rhinestones, and caked with bad makeup. But, you know, there’s good acidity. Sigh.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont) – A warm fireplace of cooked fruit, nuts, and oddness. Very lactic.

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Boschetto Vecchio (Piedmont) – Soft, pillowy fruit, cotton candy, and strawberry/cherry fruit. Wifty.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco del Perg (Piedmont) – Mint, eucalyptus, thyme, and tight berries. The midpalate is open and even a little plush. A soft, lactic finish. Good but anonymous. As The Beatles sang, it’s a real nowhere wine…

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 Wine Notes…

March 27, 2010

It is about time I get these Barbera wine notes posted…I have been quite busy, my garden work consuming all my physical energy (have to work outside when the weather permits)…..

During the Barbera Meeting 2010 we tasted Barbera wines produced in the provinces of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo in the Piedmont region of north Italy.

Based on my tasting of the Barbera wines, I have placed the wines into two categories: “Traditional Piedmontese Barbera” and “Modern/International style”. I think that this distinction ought to be clearly made. In my opinion, since some of these wines, albeit from Barbera grapes, are made in a more modern style, they should be profiled as such and held distinct from the more traditional wines (in character, structure and taste). As a wine taster I had to be quite critical, otherwise I am not making a thorough evaluation. Some winemakers may not like to see this distinction made, but as someone who tasted these wines, I feel it is the only way to be fair. I love the traditional Barbera wines and I prefer that the tradition is not be altered. However, a few “modern-style” Barbera wines were pleasant to drink. With the modern-styles no distinction is evident, in the meaning that if someone blind-folded me and were to ask me point blank where I thought the wine came from—the answer would be “I really don’t know”.

The “traditional” wines listed further below here are the ones I considered good wines… In my opinion it might be difficult to achieve the perfect Barbera, however there are some wines here on the list which come pretty close. Then in the second category I have listed wines which are good Piedmontese wines made from 100 percent Barbera grapes, but are not quite what a Barbera wine should be, although good.

Declaration:

The lists below were created by me and derived from my own blind tasting experience at the Barbera Meeting 2010. I also admit that I re-tasted wines later in the day(s)/evening(s) at the Barbera Meeting events. I also paired some with a meal here at home (last week); through this experience (subjective definitely) some wines took on a different personality when taken together with a meal. One of pit falls of blind-tasting is that it is a reductionist, yet subjective method of evaluating wine. Sometimes a wine needs a second chance so to speak and that’s what I did for some of them. I am not influenced by any one person or organization. I tend to be a maverick. I have been drinking Barbera wine for over two decades and I have selected those wines which I hold as being Barbera in the traditional sense. And I have selected modern-style Barberas as well.

The Barbera Meeting 2010

Traditional Piedmontese Barbera wines

Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane”: Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2008 “La”. grape origin: Mombercelli (AT)

Casa Vinicola Dogliotti: Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2008. grape origin: Castagnole delle Lanze (AT)

La Ballerina, Azienda Agricola Vitivinicola: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 “GB”. grape origin: Montegrosso d’Asti (AT)

Oddero Poderi e Cantine: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007. grape origin: Vinchio (AT)

Agostino Pavia e Figli: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Moliss”. grape origin: Agliano Terme (AT)

Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane”: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Terre Astesane”. grape origin: Mombercelli (AT)

Sant’Agata: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Altea”. grape origin: not listed

Castello di Razzano: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Del Beneficio”. grape origin: Alfiano Natta (AL)

Ivaldi Dario, Azienda Agricola: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “1613”. grape origin: Nizza Monferrato (AT)

Tenuta Il Falchetto, Azienda Agricola: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Lurei”. grape origin: Agliano Terme (AT)

Tenuta La Pergola: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 Superiore “Vigne Vecchie della Cappelletta”. grape origine: Cisterna d’Asti (AT)

Agostino Pavia e Figli: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2006 Superiore “La Marescialla”. grape origin: Agliano Terme (AT)

Garrone Mario & C. Cantine: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008. grape orgin: Ponzano Monferrato (AL)

Morando Silvio, Azienda Agricola: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2008. grape origin: Vignale Monferrato (AL)

La Casaccia: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2007 “Bricco del Bosco”. grape origin: Cella Monte (AL)

La Scamuzza: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2006 Superiore “Vigneto della Amorosa”. grape origin: Vignale Monferrato (AL)

Cantina Iuli: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2006 Superiore “Barabba”. grape origin: Cerrina (AL)

Bosco Agostino, Azienda Agricola: Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007. grape origin: La Morra (CN)

Cascina Ballarin: Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007 “Giuli”. grape origin: La Morra (CN)

Damilano: Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007 “La Blu”. grape origin: Barolo (CN)

Francone: Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007 Superiore “I Patriarchi”. grape origin: Neive (CN)

Now a word about the modern-style Barbera wines were a bit difficult for me to evaluate, not because some were not pleasant, but because they are wines of a different character. Personalities that clash so to speak. Will the “real” Barbera please stand up !! Like I said earlier, some of these are also pleasant to drink, however they are not in my view Barbera wine in the authentic sense (although 100 percent Barbera). Some of the wines I have listed below are even on the border line. I have listed my favorite modern Barbera wines.

Modern-Style Barbera wines

Braida di Giacomo Bologna: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 “Bricco della Bigotta”. grape origin: Rocchetta Tanaro (AT)

Tenuta I Quaranta: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 “Asia”. grape origin: Ricaldone (AL)

Tenuta La Tenaglia: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 “Giorgio Tenaglia”. grape origin: Serralunga di Crea (AL)

Castello di Razzano: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2006 Superiore “Vigna Valentino Caligaris”. grape origin: Alfiano Natta (AL)

Garrone Mario & C. Cantine: Barbera del Monferrato DOCG 2008 Superiore. grape origin: Serralunga di Crea (AL)

Accornero Giulio & Figli: Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2007 Superiore “Bricco Battista”. grape origin: Vignale Monferrato (AL)

Bric Cenciurio: Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007 “Naunda”. grape origin: Magliano Alfieri (CN)

Note: My tasting schedule was disrupted on Tuesday, March 9th due to the weather and I arrived late that day. I have tasted some of the Nizza wines and I will taste more of them soon and provide an evaluation at a later time.

—Piemontèis Life

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Wine blogger gagged: advocatus diaboli dixit de gustibus non est disputandum

March 26, 2010

Above: Ignazio Giovine (center), owner and winemaker at L’armangia (Canelli), was one of the most interesting and nicest persons I met (and spoke to at length) in Asti earlier this month. As the interpreter that day, I wasn’t able to take photos and so I lifted this photo from the website of a Danish wine seller (left), Carsten Rex, who reports detailed tasting notes in English for Ignazio’s wines.

One of the disadvantages I faced on my recent trip to Asti for Barbera Meeting was that I simultaneously juggled the roles of meta-blogger, wrangler, and interpreter. As a result, there were many instances I wasn’t able to take photos and notes for my own blog. Another odd — surreal in certain cases — was that as interpreter for the group and for many of the winemakers we visited, I was not only gagged but also forced to be the literal mouthpiece verbatim for nearly all of the winemakers and enologists we visited. At one point, after a exhausting session of translating a heated debate during one of the conferences, Jon said to me, “wow, man, that was surreal: there you were, speaking to the crowd, saying things I know that you completely disagree with.”

My job there was to convey, transmit, relay the message, without any editorializing (for the record, I was trained formally as an interpreter when I worked for the Italian Mission to the United Nations back in 2003 and served as the Italian foreign minister’s personal interpreter; during that time, I translated for Kofi Annan and Colin Powell, just to name a few).

I wish I would have been able to spend more time with winemaker Ignazio Giovine (above) of L’armangia. I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of his wines but I can say that I’m a personal fan of the man. Following our visit, he and I had a chance to chat at the evening tasting, where we had a fascinating conversation about wine, partisans (both his and his wife’s parents opposed the fascists), and the current state of Italian politics today. His wines are very well made, although they do not appeal to me personally. But I am a big believer that the objective quality of a wine is also derived from the people who make it (above and beyond my personal tastes). Ignazio’s radical opposition to the use of native yeast stirred some controversy between him and the group. (And my now good friend Thor, whose writing I admire greatly, wrote an interesting and polemical piece on our visit with Ignazio.) I think I did a fine job of translating for Ignazio but I wish I could have been a participant and observer that day instead of interpreter.

According to a report that I recently synopiszed over at VinoWire, the German and Swiss markets grew or remained stable for the sale of Italian wines in 2009, while Britain and the U.S. dropped significantly (not in volume but in gross sales).

Ignazio makes his wines almost exclusively for the “Nordic” market, as it were, like the Dane above, who is a big fan of Ignazio’s wines. Wasn’t it Sheryl Crow who said, “if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad…”

If Ignazio makes wines that his customers like, is that so wrong? Let me play the devil’s advocate and say: de gustibus non est disputandum. In other words, if it makes you happy…

—Do Bianchi

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It’s a manzo world

March 26, 2010

[dinner companions]The president of Asti is making love to her Rs.

No, really. I mean, those of us without the Italian chops are hearing a translation, but it’s hard to pay attention to what’s otherwise a pretty standard “thanks for coming, etc.” speech. Because her Rs are not just rolled. They’re a love story. They’re a romance. They might even be something a little more salacious. I could listen to her pronounce that letter for hours. And when she finally hands the microphone to someone else, I feel a sense of deflation. Of loss.

Slightly delirious with hunger? Yes, that’s me. And thirsty? Why, yes! Wine to drink rather than analyze? Here’s my glass. So…dinner, tonight a rather lavish affair at the swanky Villa Basinetto above Asti and catered by Il Cascinale Nuovo in Isola d’Asti:

millefoglie di lingua di vitello e foie gras, dadini di gelatina al porto
mille feuille of beef tongue & foie gras, with small cubes of port gelatin

zuppa di patate e fagioli borlotti con maltagliati all’uovo
potato & borlotti bean soup with maltagliati pasta

bocconcini di manzo stracotti al vecchio barbera d’asti con polenta
beef stew in old barbera d’asti with polenta

dolci sorprese alla tonda gentile di langa
dessert “surprises” with langhe hazelnuts

Of course, a wine geek’s job is never truly done, and so with the food there’s more note-taking. We’re seated, as we will be all week (except during breakfast, though I’m sure it’s just through lack of foresight) with winemakers, whose own wares – and others’ – appear at our table, have their contents adjusted downward, and are then passed on to other interested tables.

Pastura “La Ghersa” 2009 Gavi “Il Poggio” (Piedmont) – Strident greenish-white fruit that gets more pleasant as it aerates. I don’t have enough time with this wine to discern its destination, but there’s at least hope.

Carretta 2009 Roero Arneis “Cayega” (Piedmont) – Spiky to the point of near-frizzante-ness. Lemongrass abounds. Nice acidity.

Rivetto 2008 Langhe Bianco “Matiré” (Piedmont) – Made from nascetta. Light and slightly floral…lilies, mostly. Simple, pretty, and pretty simple.

Pastura “La Ghersa” 2009 Grignolino d’Asti “Spineira” (Piedmont) – Wrenched. Skin bitterness, needles of acidity, and planar fruit.

Pastura “La Ghersa Piagè” 2009 Monferrato Chiaretto (Piedmont) – Made from barbera. It’s a pretty little thing, smirking from the glass with spiced apple, strawberry, raspberry, and mustard powder. Very crisp. Pure enjoyment.

Pastura “La Ghersa” 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Le Cave” (Piedmont) – Volatile. Crushed berries with some dirt. Pretty straightforward, and decent enough.

Pastura “La Ghersa” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Camparò” (Piedmont) – Thick but not overdriven, with darkish, lush fruit pushed rather aggressively from behind, but not so hard that it trips over its own feet.

Castlet 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Passum” (Piedmont) – Huge. Massive. Sizeable. Big. The adjectives sort of peter out, and so does the wine. Oh, it’s long enough, but the New World blast of volume never goes anywhere, and eventually just collapses under its own weight.

Rocche Costamagna “Bricco Francesco” 2005 Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata (Piedmont) – Corked, though this is a minority opinion at our table.

Pastura “La Ghersa” 2009 Moscato d’Asti “Giorgia” (Piedmont) – Frothy orange and brighter citrus. Floral, of course. Simple.

Romano Dogliotti 2009 Moscato d’Asti “La Caudrina” (Piedmont) – Lightly floral and quite supple. Usually these things are little more than explosions of the flower/perfume variety, so delicacy is something to be admired in a sense. In another sense, however, one wishes for a bit more. I know, I know: one can wish for too much.

After dinner, we find the one bar in downtown Asti that’s open late (and even they’re closing, though they take pity on a bedraggled group of foreigners) and replenish ourselves on the electrolyte-refreshing sports drink of wine folk everywhere: beer. All is right with the world.

The question is: will I stick to that story tomorrow, when I’ve only had three hours of sleep?

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 and barrique, talk about the contents not the container

March 26, 2010

The following translation is an excerpt from Italian wine writer Alessandro Franceschini’s “Pillole di Barbera” (“Barbera by the Pill”) published earlier this week by LaVINIum.com. Translation by VinoWire.

During the four days devoted to tastings blind and otherwise, the favorite sport of nearly everyone who attended Barbera Meeting — journalists, bloggers, and buyers — was that of mercilessly searching out and mocking public enemy number one: barrique. Until not so long ago, if you dared to challenge the trilogy of new wood, black tar color, and sweet, overflowing super fruit, they would call you crazy. Today, if you don’t dare to question its wisdom, they’ll tell you that you don’t know a thing about wine. The thought of pondering the wine, attempting to move beyond the wood to understand whether or not the overall architecture of the wine makes sense, seems to have become a futile exercise.

Barbera is out of style, at least in Italy. And it’s been this way for a few years now. And my impression is that this is the case even more so, after tasting nearly 200 wines at Barbera Meeting and pretending that such a number is sufficient to evaluate three enormous appellations as large as the townships they cover. Over the course of four days of tasting, there were plenty of dark, tight, and (we might as well say it) woody wines. Sometimes the wines were simply boring. But in many cases, luckily, the wines were reasonable and some were genuinely good. There was once a time, not so long ago, when people looked for wines you could spread on toast. Today, it appears that everything has changed. Barbera, the color of tar, with vanilla flavors and powerful alcohol, seems to be out, outdated, and passé. As a result, Barbera continues to fall behind the times. Pretty much everywhere, something has changed and continues to change but they don’t seem to have figure this out around here, at least not in significant numbers as in other Italian appellations recently sampled. An analysis of the reasons behind this swerve will surely fill thick volumes on the subject of marketing and will be the subject of intense debate. But we’ll just have to wait to understand what has happened.

But there is also the risk of falling into extremism here. I heard some of my colleagues ask, angered to the point that you’d think their questions were a matter of personal injury, why is that certain Barberas had 14% alcohol? Such questions are senseless. There’s no point in underlining the fact that alcohol is simply one component of wine, a fundamental element, no doubt, but not the only one. There are wines with 15% alcohol but when they are well balanced they can be just as stunning. At the same rate, wines with 11% alcohol can be annoyingly pungent on the nose. Certain colleagues of mine asked, but why are you aging this wine for two years in barrique? This is another senseless question. Why? Just try the wines of Iuli, a young producer form Monferrato. Many of his Barberas are aged for more than two years in small cask. But they show no pointless toasty notes on the nose? Nada, zip. Why is this? How do we explain this? The answer lies in the fact that we are talking about the container and not the contents. Such conversations are as boring as wines devastated by wood.

—Alessandro Franceschini

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Lurëi of hope

March 25, 2010

[asti vineyards]Talk. All talk.

That – or more accurately, listening to someone else talk – is what we’ve been doing since this morning’s massive blind tasting. Lots of talk. Little action.

I don’t know if it rises to the level of a truism, but in my experience, it’s generally the case that wineries who talk an awful lot about what they do tend to be the ones who don’t do it very well. A blizzard of words – whether they be oenogeekery or marketing blather – usually precede, and surround, wines that need all the help they can get. And I’ve never been asked “what do you think of the wines?” by an eager proprietor who’s just poured me a half-dozen tastes of liquid excellence. Those who make really good wine…well, they don’t need to ask. They already know.

So I suppose it’s no real surprise that this, our third and final winery visit of the day, is a little light on the talk. It’s not that there’s no information imparted. It’s just that we’re tired, that the winemaker can sense that we’re tired…and that the wines here at Il Falchetto speak for themselves.

There are some early signs within the little talk we do get, though. Some hints. Some promises. At one point, during a discussion of green-harvesting (grapes are dropped on the barbera vines until four to five bunches are left, depending on vintage characteristics), our host says that more are left on white-grape vines “to preserve acidity and limit sugar.”

Imagine that!

Yeasts? Inoculated, and chosen for “freshness.” Wild yeasts have been tried, but after some unclean ferments have not since been encouraged. The moscato d’Asti is a special case, however: yeast is cultured from a “mother” preparation that’s already well past its twentieth birthday.

And that’s it. Which is to say: there’s more talking, and there are answers to questions, but the really vital information is in our glasses. Which we proceed to with all due haste.

Il Falchetto 2009 Langhe Arneis (Piedmont) – Very lush fruit in the banana realm, but there’s an edge to it that’s more plantain-like…something greener and less ripe, combined with a textural ripeness that suggests, but does not deliver, an element of tropicality; a sort of Musa equipoise, if you will. Crystalline minerality coalesces over the course of a fairly long finish. Balanced and quite nice, perhaps with the potential to be even more than that.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Lurëi (Piedmont) – A dramatic wine, and for a change that drama has been written by the authors Grape and Site, not the infamous ghostwriter Tonnelier. High-toned minerality dominates this wine, which is firmly-structured with graphite-textured tannin and great acidity. “Fruit,” such as it is, is dark and scowl-visaged. Very, very impressive.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso (Piedmont) – Made from three very different sites from which the overall harvest lasts about a month, then given the sort of treatment a winery gives it’s “flagship” wine (that is: well over a year in barrique). Which means we all know what’s coming. Low acidity leaves roundness in its wake, and the tannin is extremely fine-grained. While the fruit is still of a reddish hue, it’s suave and sophisticated in the manner of…well, the name that immediately comes to mind is Gaja, and one may interpret that based on how one feels about that winery. There’s a bit of heat showing its reddened neck, as well. While it’s very good in the modern, “important” style, I don’t like that bit of heat, and I really don’t need yet another wine that tastes like this.

Il Falchetto 2003 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso (Piedmont) – “Smells like an ‘03” comments a fellow taster. Tastes like one, too. Dense – almost syrupy – but still red-fruited (an achievement of sorts). There’s also heavy tannin that’s not quite ripe, and shows hints of dill and allegations of unresolved powder. Everyone (me included) talks about the heat and overpowering fruit of 2003, but it’s really the chewy, undeveloped, yet massive tannin that’s going to bring to many of these wines to an early demise, not the fact that they’re neutron fruit bombs. The finish is chalky sludge. I suppose this is OK for the vintage, but that’s not exactly high praise.

[barrel + bottle]Il Falchetto 2007 Monferrato Rosso “La Mora” (Piedmont) – A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and barbera. The greenness of the first two grapes (in contrast to barbera, that is) really sticks its neck out here, and not in an unpleasant way. There’s minerality, good acidity – and now we can thank the home team’s grape – and while it’s not all bad given that it’s a blend for which I don’t have much personal use, milk and oak really stew up the finish.

Some group musings on this wine lead to a short narrative on the presence of “foreign” grape varieties in the Piedmont. Along the way, our host tells us something that I find a little shocking. Apparently, one is allowed and even encouraged to “rescue” old vineyard sites within the various DOCs, but one may not use the best DOCs on wines from those replanted vineyards. Since there’s no market for the region’s traditional grape varieties as lesser-denominated or table wines, wineries wishing to recoup their expenses and eventually capitalize on these vineyards are – I’m using our host’s word here – essentially “forced” to plant non-indigenous varieties.

OK, no, what I said a moment ago is a lie. I find this a lot shocking…if it’s true. Is it? Is there a “rest of the story” that I’m missing? This would explain a lot about what’s going wrong in this region, if it’s so. But it still seems like a wholesale abandonment of patrimony, and while I would defend a winery’s choice to take this path on their own (provided they dropped the protected appellation), I find it inexplicable that a country’s or region’s wine law would encourage it.

Well, anyway, there’s still some tradition left to taste. We’re in the heart of moscato country, and here’s one from four different sites that, according to our host, provide “four different perfumes.”

Il Falchetto 2009 Moscato d’Asti “Tenuta del Fant” (Piedmont) – Very fresh, sweet, and pure. Orange and apple blossoms with bright malic acidity (or at least so it seems) and hints of cider. Really fun.

I don’t want to over-dramatize and say that this winery has restored my faith in barbera. I only really liked one of the three we were poured, after all…though I also enjoyed the two whites. But after a day in which I’ve tasted depredation after depredation for reasons of aspiration as often as indifference, it’s refreshing to taste wines that – even if they stray from my preferences – are able to express themselves without coaching from the finest minds of Allier, Tronçais, and Nevers.

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