Archive for the ‘Alba’ Category


Welcome to my world of wines Oak – No Oak – maybe more Oak?

March 17, 2010

First of all I like fresh forward wines mostly – I am halfway German that way. But it seems that no one is stepping up and into the debate about oak – or no oak taking the side of the producers or at least trying to understand their perspectives; developing the wines and markets, having to make daily choices in the productions and dealing with requests and financial situations concerning the trade and the world markets.
Until now we have mostly heard from the people with the power to be heard and the loudest voices: the press and the bloggers.
Sorry guys and gals, I love you but I have to speak up a little for the producers here. I am a sales pro and a wine lover, so I have a leg in both camps.

Comparing the Barbera wines from Asti and Alba is almost like comparing Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara and Oregon. Two different styles and approaches. Both very good when made the right way but extremely different. Alba-producers have the luxury to make good Barbera and use it as a sales ticket to get their more expensive Barolo, Barberesco and Langhe Rosso on the market. Maybe it is a little bit rude but Barbera must be considered the second or third choise for those producers. In the Asti and Monferrato regions Barbera is the single most important grape. So success and developement is crucial for their existence.

I see a lot of effort and evolution in the Asti/Nizza region and also a potential to bring Barbera wines to another level. The danger of this being that they totally forget the fresh forward wines easy to consume. That is an important part of the Barbera-success.
Asti is a huge area compared to Alba, and the diversity between the wines and wineries must be larger to maintain a sales- and production appearance/image. Otherwise it could just as well all be Cantine Sociale as in the “good old days”. Maybe the Asti region is underdeveloped in the sence that they are in the process of finding higher grounds and pushing the quality up. They have to learn and respond to the new markets requests and wishes.
For many (I’m sure) this is what they are in the process of doing. The producers most often live and breathe wine and have for generations. The new generation of producers will not stand in line and wait for their chance of success to happen. They act upon the market requests.
In my experience from the trade, a lot of consumers want Xtra wooded wines. I don’t think it is possible to even discuss this fact. Just have a look at some of the worlds largest wine producers like Beringer, Wolf Blass, Gallo, Banfi or Guigal. They all use new oak and they all produce good quality wines – and I do not suspect them not to know exactly what the consumers wants!
It is not my taste; I prefer the lighter more strict fruit of a wine as you often see in a northern grown Pinot Noir.
To claim that we all want Barbera to be all that must be a personal preference, and to say that we want Barbera’s as in the good old days is for my part rubbish. To quote (I hope I quote you precise) Mr. Jorgen Aldrich (esteemed wine writer from Denmark) who has been writing about Barbera for several decades: “the Barbera’s of the 1980’s was like 5-10 top producers and a lot of insignificant producers, producing a lot of acidic and unpleasant wines. Today we see an increase of the quality and Barbera’s in various styles which proves that wines made from the Barbera grape can be diverse and very distinct – and always interesting.” I can only join him in this conclusion!

Time will prove if the new oak trend will stay and if the oak will integrate well in the wines. No question that a lot of producers needs to adjust the use the balance the wines in a more refined way.
The wines we blind tasted last week were all young-just-bottled wines that would need another year or two to reach a better stage of maturity in the bottle.

Some producers claimed that the use of new oak was a question of “too little use of oak” and if aged for a longer period in new oak the wood would integrate better; for instance 6 months of ageing would bring wines that was like licking on a wood in the forest and 18 months would bring a more refined elegant and silky structure of oak in the wines. I think this is a very important and essential statement – and a path worth investigating!

To me the province of Asti needs more time to develope and a major appellation might grow in 5-8 years. 15 years ago nobody knew about wines from Chile or Australia, and even less from the subregions that came after like Bolgheri or Paso Robles.
The difficult quest is to find the right balance. Nobody (not many) wants to pay $50,00 for an elite-Barbera grown without consideration for what is clever to do in business. So you have to appeal to the masses to have the money to produce the wines you like to make.

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.

Finally, on my part, I think we (the party) were a bit rude when visiting the Nizza producers in the afternoon/evening. I think these wines mostly – oak or no oak – was at a very high level of quality.
The debate became a little bit too intense and out-of-hand, and maybe also misunderstood from both sides, and for my part my tasting palate was quite filled after tasting more than 180 wines in 1½ days, so the 2006-tasting of 30 Barbera d’Asti Nizza was wasted on me. It was a tasting which came without much interest from my part and some questions from “us” was a little bit wild west. Maybe due to the fact that the two first days showed more oak than we preferred we rubbed it all off on the Nizza-producers. Even though the general impression was that the wines was superior to the regular Asti-wines. Oak or no oak.




Barbera: The Good, The Bad, and The Oaky

March 17, 2010

I recently returned from a strange week in Asti to taste hundreds of examples of Barbera from several appellations. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste as many wines as I would have liked, as I caught a terrible cold and throat infection and was forced to spend three days in my hotel room (the weather was very, very cold and windy with no shortage of snow). I did get to taste several dozen Barbera d’Asti the first day, so I was able to get a bit of a feeling for the wines.

From what I tasted that first day, I seem to be in agreement with several other American journalists and bloggers who also attended. Several reports have been published over the last few days, including those from Tom Maresca, Jeremy Parzen and Whitney Adams, with a common theme being that too many examples of Barbera were imbued with way too much oak. As Maresca says in his blog, this is an example of vintners trying to craft a “serious” wine. That’s unfortunate, as Barbera is such a pleasant wine in its own right. But today, with so many countries producing so many types of wine, more and more producers believe they need an edge when it comes to selling their wine. Thus the thought process behind shifting Barbera from its simple pleasures to a more ageworthy, full-throttle wine.

Besides too much oak, I also found that many of the bottlings were far too ripe with a distinct jamminess. This trait appeared regularly in the newly released 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore bottlings. The Superiore designation refers to a wine aged longer before release, meaning it is a bigger, richer wine to begin with, as compared to the regular bottling. So the decision often comes before the grapes are harvested – leave them on the vine longer and the vintner can make a riper, more powerful wine. That in turns leads to more time in oak and ultimately a wine that is quite often, not well balanced.

2007 was a year with excellent ripeness and too many vintners pushed their wines towards the ripe, blockbuster style. I guess these vintners have read too many wine articles and truly believe that consumers in America (a large export market) love these inky black, candy-like wines. Some people do, but try enough of these wines and I think even the most ardent fan will start to back off a bit. The wines aren’t balanced and they’re tiring to drink. They’re wines for tasting, not for drinking, meaning they don’t pair that well with food. If that’s the case, what’s the point?

To be fair, I did enjoy quite a few bottlings of Barbera the one day I did taste. I found several from 2008 that I enjoyed. This was a more subdued vintage and the wines are fresh and drinkable. Why we can’t get more wines like this is a mystery to me, but then again I probably answered the question above. We could get low-key, elegant wines all the time, but too many producers go for the obvious, as they think that’s what consumers want.

Here are the wines I recommend. At this point, there’s no reason for me to name the wines I don’t:

2008 BARBERA D’ASTI (recommended)
Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane”
Caudrina “La Solista”
Marco Crivelli “Colline La Mora” (hightly recommended)
Fratelli Trinchero “La Trincherina”
Montalbera “La Ribelle”
Prunotto “Fiulot” (highly recommended)
Giacomo & Figlio Scagliola

2007 BARBERA D’ASTI (recommended)
Bersano “Ca d’Galdin”
Ca dei Mandorli “La Bellaida”
Cantina Vignasone “Selezione”
Cantina Vignasone

2007 BARBERA D’ASTI SUPERIORE (recommended)
Pavia Agostino “Moliss”
Cantina Sociale Barbera dei Sei Castelli “Le Vignole”
La Ghersa “Muscae”
La Ghersa “Vignassa” (very highly recommended – my top scoring wine)
Tenuta dei Fiori “Rusticardi 1933”
Tenuta La Flammenga “Paion” (highly recommended)
Tenuta La Pergola “Vigne Vecchie della Cappelleta”
Marchesi di Gresy “Monte Colombo” (highly recommended)
La Ballerina “Ajé”

One final point: I’ve always enjoyed Barbera d’Alba and Barbera Monferrato, as these wines tend to me more restrained. I’ll post again when I taste some excellent examples of these wines.

—Reflections on Wine


The Barbera That Blew Them All Away

March 17, 2010

As readers of this blog and of the collective “Barbera Meeting 2010″ blog know, we seven blogging writers were deeply dissatisfied with the oaky arrogance and heavily extracted self-importance of many of the Barbera wines that we tasted over four days last week.

Let us not, however, be completely negative. We were exposed to many splendid wines, primarily in the pre-dinner walk-around tastings and in the winery visits we made when not strapped to our chairs in the tasting hall at the handsome mid-14th Century Palazzo Zoya in Asti.

Our leader, Jeremy Parzen, finagled a visit for us to Brovia, a producer founded in 1863 in the town of Castiglione Falletto in the Langhe region. The winery is operated by the fourth generation, sisters Elena and Cristina Brovia and Elena’s husband Àlex Sánchez, a Spaniard who moved to Piedmont in 2001. Sánchez gave us a tour of the winery and selected the wines for us to taste.

Half of Brovia’s 5,000-case production is Barolo, and we’ll talk about those wines another time. What I particularly want to mention today, because of our disappointment with so many other Barbera wines last week, is Brovia’s Sori’ del Drago 2007, Barbera d’Alba.

Made all in stainless steel, from vineyards planted in 1970 and 1993, Sori’ del Drago 2007 offers a bouquet teeming with smoke and tobacco, bacon fat and spice and roasted and macerated black fruit with a tinge of mulberry. About halfway through my notes I wrote, “wow, this knocks everything else out of the water.” All aspects of this wine feel inevitable, its pinpoint balance among acidity, fruit and structure; its vibrancy and resonance; its almost unearthly purity and intensity; its soft, grainy chewy tannins and crushed-gravel minerality. I said to the assembled bloggers: “I could drink this every day,” and I wasn’t kidding. No, this is not an “important” wine, but it superbly fulfills Sanchez’s requirement for “identity and pleasingness.”

Brovia also makes a Barbera d’Alba 2007 called Brea, which ages half in stainless steel and half in one-, two- and three-year-old French barriques. I found the wine rich, almost jammy, obvious and uncharacteristic. As an expression of the barbera grape, Sori’ del Drago beats Brea by a mile.

The wines of Brovia are imported to the U.S. by Neal Rosenthal. Prices for Sori’ del Drago 2007 range from about $20 to $28.

—Bigger Than Your Head


Barbera 2010: Notes, but not tasting notes, and some pics

March 11, 2010

They have this semi-raw sausage here that is so perfect with some wines that it is hard to imagine a better pairing. i wish american’s weren’t squeamish about raw meat.

The polenta here is the perfect consistency. It’s something that is so simple, but so hard to get right.

i finally tried a black malvasia (malvasia di casorzo). It was nice.

For all the hub-bub about the tasting and the wood, the producers have been warm, accomodating, friendly, ready to answer questions, discuss points, argue when necessary, and drink with us. It is sometimes hard to remember that wines and the people who made them are different, and ascribing qualities to one that the other has is wrong.

i’m working off 4 hours a sleep a night. So typos (or more than my usual 40 or so) are to be expected.

Grignolino is a really cool grape when done right. Cassacia makes a fantastic one. It’s light, has some tannins, and pairs with food.

Every blogger here misses Tracie B.

I’ve said it before, but blind tastings are no way to taste wines. How anyone ever advocated this as “the way” to taste wines should be ashamed of themselves.

Thor Iverson puns like no one else. He can pull this stuff out of the air.

Scottish wine writer Bill MacDowell is the closest i will ever get to meeting AJ Liebling. Even if i don’t agree with his palate, he’s my new hero.

And i’ve had this stuck in my head all week.

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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 site, but the content of any work appearing only on that blog may (or may not) have been edited for content. I stole this disclosure from Thor Iverson who is going to set the entire cast of Boston Legal on me.



Jessica would cry

March 11, 2010

This morning’s tasting, which explored the barberas of Alba, has been a return to form. Unfortunately, I don’t mean for barbera, I mean a return to the abuses and abrasive aggression of our Asti and Nizza tastings. A brief run of authentic, high-quality samples at the beginning (I was particularly taken by a Costa di Bussia 2008 Barbera d’Alba, which had been gently nudged towards suppleness but not in a way that deformed the wine) gave us some hope, but then the nastiness returned. Much could be (and has been) said about the wooden abuses being committed, so often expressed as vanilla and chocolate in these wines, but I continue to think that the bigger problem is tannin…which, of course, is related to that same oaky source. At this point, I’d welcome a plague of micro-oxidation just to tame the brutal tannic onslaught. But I don’t want to give the local producers any more ideas for fun technological doodads that don’t fit underneath the Natale tree.

Yes, age will help. But I would be very, very surprised if it helped enough. And based on some of the older examples of the modernistic style we’ve tasted, it will not. The combination of tannin, wood, often overt heat, fruit driven to and beyond its useful life, and biting structure is just not appealing in any way.



A new dawn? Barbera d’Alba at Barbera Meeting 2010

March 11, 2010

Happily, this morning’s tasting of Barbera d’Alba from the 2008, 2007 and 2006 vintages has confirming my pre-match expectations that Barbera d’Alba would prove to be the best of the wines tasted this week.

Here is the evidence that Barbera planted on the privileged terroir of Barolo and Barbaresco can reach heights scaled nowhere else in Piemonte. The consistency of colour, flavour and style in this selection of 30 wines far exceeded anything presented to us during the previous three days. Apart from one aberration, there were no real shockers here.

Bravi Astigiani!

148 Rather neutral flavours but really nice texture. Good wine.

149 A hint of shoe-polish oak flavours spoils another nicely-textured wine. But I suppose I could force it down…

150 A bit dusty on the nose and finishes dry, but a pleasant enough mid-palate.

151 First bottle corked. Ditto second.

152 Chewily (oak) tannic. A pity because the fruit is, like all the wines here, good – much more concentrated and elegant than any wines that we have had previously.

153 Just a bit oak-dry on the finish but otherwise good – rich fruit, plenty of acidity and quite elegant.

154 Best one yet – rich fruit, not over-oaked, crisp finish. Good.

155 A bit more acidity than 154 but otherwise similarly styled.

156 Neon ruby, very vivid and viscous. Underwhelming by comparison on the palate! Rather neutral. But it looks good!

157 The first conspicuously oaked wine of this tasting. A travesty… Otherwise another flight of good wines.

158 Brett on the nose and palate. No.

159 As per 156 rather neutral and underwhelming…

160 Finishes dry and charmless. No.

161 Nice, juicy texture but spoiled somewhat by brett flavours.

162 This reeks of cheese! Blue cheese… Bacterial spoilage? Brett? Yuk.

163 Bright fruit and juicy acidity but the flavours are unappealing.

164 Not quite as bright as before… A return to the underwhelming style of 159 and 156.

165 Juicy acidity on the finish that buttresses the rather Brett-influenced flavours.

166 Ditto.

167 Chewy wood tannins. Unappealing.

168 Toasty new oak aromas. No.

169 Dusty nose but pleasantly supple and juicy palate. Not bad.

170 Farmyard nose – not necessarily unappealing to a silver fox like me – and a supple palate. Not bad.

171 Bretty nose. Palate much worse, finishing with deeply unappealing flavours.

172 Ok but rather neutral and underwhelming.

173 Slightly dusty nose. Palate not all that appealing in the middle but finishes bright, sweet and juicy. Not bad.

174 Nicely textured but rather neutral flavours. Perfectly drinkable though.

175 Vaguely oxidised on the nose. Palate even worse. No. The first of three Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2006s to be tasted.

176 Again rather neutral and underwhelming.

177 A bit oxidised on the nose but a Nebbiolo-like texture – silky tannins buttressed by plenty of acidity. Grown-up wine. Good.

—Worcester Sauce


Barbera, and…?

March 3, 2010

Back when I first started writing about wine, mumble years ago, I – like almost every newly-minted writer, wrote with the absolute conviction that the generalizations I had learned were true.

Like anyone who’s stepped off home plate in their own personal wine quest, it didn’t take long to realize how wrong I was. It’s one of the many, many reasons I can’t really bear to read my oldest work. It’s not just that it’s wrong, it’s that it’s so breathlessly naïve. Oh, well. Nothing to do about it now except to continue learning how much I didn’t, and don’t, know.

One of those iron-clad truisms of yore was about barbera: red-fruited, high-acid, great with tomato sauce. It had to be true, didn’t it? It certainly was the conventional wisdom, mindlessly repeated in just about every wine text of the time. It probably still is. And I suppose that I’d had barbera that tasted like that on which I could base this enthusiastically-expressed opinion. But even then, in the dark mists of mumble years ago, it was only barely true. Because the fetish for concentrated, lavishly wooded, and (it must be said) internationalized barbera was in already full swing.

Hey…why the sudden interest in barbera? It’s not – objects the imaginary interlocutor that I find so valuable when constructing an argument – like I often write essays on specific grapes or wines. OK, OK, my imaginary friend’s caught me. I’m going on a junket. To Asti. To taste a bunch of barbera. To learn where I have and haven’t been wrong all these years. And to increase my depleted store of barbera-related puns. (Is it bad of me that this latter reason fills me with as much joy as those that precede it?) Anyway, fear not: the barbera-infused coverage that follows – and there will be some – will be properly disclaimed, as promised. And I will, both on oenoLog and in longer form here, eventually report on every single wine I taste…good, bad, or indifferent.)

Anyway, back to the aforementioned fetish. It was probably a trend that made a lot more sense on the ground in Italy, where there was almost certainly a veritable ocean of overcropped, underripe barbera against which to rebel. It is, after all, one of the most widely-planted red grapes in Italy. (Did you know that, imaginary guy? I didn’t.) As with anything that everyone plants…merlot, cabernet, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, I’m looking at all of you with an eye full of jaundice…a lot of it is going to be bad, or at best indifferent. So the inclination to head in the opposite direction with the grape was certainly understandable. Still is.

The thing was, the wines made a little less sense on the American side of the pond. Fruitier wines? We’ve already got ‘em. Bigger wines? Oakier wines? Check, check. Wines that taste like they come from the New World? Hey, that’s us! More expensive wines in fancier packages? It’s like a birthright.

Also, there was this. We haven’t had much success with Italian grapes in this country, which is an oddity considering how much the historical California wine culture owes to Italian immigrants and their descendants. But the one grape that did seem to work here was…you guessed it, imaginary respondent…barbera. I recall, with great fondness, a Renwood Barbera from the Linsteadt Vineyard that was full-bodied, incredibly appealing, and (this is the important part) easily outdid the Italian taste-alikes at their own game. That producer has gone to industrial hell, and I’ve lost track of the vineyard (it continues to exist, though not in any wines I see on my local shelves), but I still remember the wine. There are current alternatives, some from the same region in the Sierra Foothills, that are almost as good, and I drink them with marginal regularity.

As for the mostly-Piedmontese variations on the same theme? For one thing, they didn’t wear their oak well. Part of it was the acidity, which couldn’t really be tamed; one of the keys to the international style is low acidity, and without de-acidifying this just wasn’t going to be possible in barbera’s historic soils. High acid and overt new wood rarely meld well, to my palate. And for another, the effort to concentrate the fruit was tangible; one could taste the purposeful striving, and not always in a good way.

And so, I mostly gave up on the grape. Oh, there’s be an occasional bottle or taste along the way. But if it wasn’t my Platonic ideal of a marinara wine, and the modernized alternatives weren’t the kind of wine I like to drink (which they rarely were), what was the point? I moved on to other enthusiasms, and even occasional forays back into the Piedmont for something other than nebbiolo yielded more freisa than they did barbera. Dolcetto I never abandoned, but barbera was off my radar.

Even after a 2007 visit to the region, I didn’t really change my view. Looking back, I’m not sure why. I tasted some spectacular barbera, at Brovia and elsewhere, that demonstrated a sophistication and confidence with the grape that hadn’t been there before. The oak (when present) was integrated, the fruit rounder but not overworked, the fundamental acidity unquestionably present but not dominant. I can only blame the ever-expanding world of options for my failure to start traipsing through those cherried fields again.

And now, there’s an opportunity to make up for that lack, and to fill the gaps in my education. To taste not just those barbera deemed fit for the U.S. market, nor just those pre-selected for my traditionalist enthusiasms, but to really dig into the modern state of the grape. It should be fun.