Archive for the ‘Asti’ Category

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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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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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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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Superiore complex

March 18, 2010

[grissini]The third set of notes: barbera d’Asti Superiore from 2007. See this post for important disclaimers.

Agostino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Moliss (Piedmont) – Bark and dill, chewy dark fruit, fine particulate tannin, and graphite. Except for the weirdness on the nose, this could actually be a good – albeit dark – wine.

Boeri 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Pörlapà” (Piedmont) – Very fruity. It’s black, concentrated fruit, in fact, chunked up by seeds and stones, then slathered with tannin and vanilla. Finishes thoroughly brutalized by its élevage.

Boeri 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Martinette (Piedmont) – Dark, dark, dark…fruit, wood, acorns, leaves, bark, nuts. Is there some salt here, as well? Very odd. Tastes like Barossa shiraz, albeit lighter.

Cantina Sociale Barbera dei Sei Castelli 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Vignole (Piedmont) – Lavish, satiny fruit. Dark and gelatinized. Texturally mouth-coating, but finishes with more of that thick vanilla miasma that’s ruining so many of these wines.

Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont) – Milkshake. Pride-like (the winery, not a group of lions) in that, with blueberry and milky, malted chocolate well-evidenced throughout. So, so anonymous.

Sant’Agata 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Altea” (Piedmont) – Full-throated fruit crying out for succor in a dark and seedy alleyway. Concentrated. Actually not bad at all, for a fruit bomb. Boom!

Sant’Agata 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Cavalé” (Piedmont) – Absolutely identical to the same winery’s “Altea” but with the addition of a pleasant, minty complexity. Very good in this style.

Castlet 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Passum” (Piedmont) – Mint. All mint. Mint tea, mint leaves, dried mint. But nothing other than mint.

La Ghersa 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Muascae” (Piedmont) – Chunky black fruit, good acidity, lots of tannin, dark chocolate. I’m losing my ability to perceive wood or its absence in these wines, so I can’t tell if there’s any here, but the goopy chocolate (a bad thing) never goes away.

La Ghersa 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vignassa (Piedmont) – Dark fruit and – making a reappearance after a long absence – dark soil as well. But it’s all in the service of a chocolate/cherry layer cake. There must be good material here, but it’s being partially obliterated.

Castello di Razzano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vigna del Beneficio (Piedmont) – Very dark fruit ranging into the cassis realm, with some intrusive brett and spicy wood notes, plus coconut. And chocolate. Again. And again. And again.

Cocito 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Violanda (Piedmont) – The fetid stank of horrid, diseased wood. Spoiled candy. One of the worst noses in a quality, non-experimental, or homebrew wine I’ve ever experienced. Pure candy on the palate. Pixy Stix are more authentic than this. They taste better, too.

Elio Perrone 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Mongovone (Piedmont) – Heat, brett, chocolate, rum. Lament for what’s been done to this wine. Dill, spinach, cocoa, espresso. Lament, lament, lament.

Trinchero 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Rico” (Piedmont) – Back to normal, everyday internationalizing…full fruit, mixed chocolates, Fruit RollUps. Spiky/spicy acidity on the finish.

[tasting sheet]Araldica “Il Cascinone” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Rive” (Piedmont) – Armpit and crotch. Yes, I just wrote that. No good at all.

Ivaldi 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “1613” (Piedmont) – Jam and Nutella on toast. Very short. You’d think that if one is going to do this sort of stuff to a poor, defenseless wine, one would at least supply a finish. Then again, maybe that’s a blessing here.

Marchesi Alfieri 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Alfiera” (Piedmont) – Good, solid fruit. Thick structure, dense with tannin and chocolately oak. Milkshake and wine coexist here, which isn’t entirely bad for those who like that sort of thing.

dei Fiori 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Rusticardi 1933” (Piedmont) – Chocolate, dark berry, mint, and some earth. Gravelly. A really sophisticated, polished wine with a pretty fair structure. It’s not my style, but still, I have to admit that I kinda like this one. It’s got class.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso (Piedmont) – Mint & rose hip jams, tangy. There’s a chewing gum element here that I can’t quite decide if I like or not. Finishes high-toned and herbal. Some eucalyptus, as well.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Lurëi (Piedmont) – Menthol grappa, kirschwasser, and detergent. A world of no. Edited to add: tasted at the winery a few hours later, this will be the best wine I’ll taste all day, so what I’ve written here absolutely must reflect a damaged bottle. Or a damaged taster. Maybe both.

La Fiammenga 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Paion” (Piedmont) – Flat-aspect fruit, low-ebbing and dull. Seems tired more than anything else, as if the fruit is simply fatigued after being subjected to overt effort.

La Meridiana 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Tra la Terra e il Cielo” (Piedmont) – Lavish dark fruit in whole-berry, jam, and jelly form, with tannin and a hard shut-down of wood on the finish. Starts showily, but ends unpleasantly and in complete disarray.

La Pergola 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cappelletta “Vigne Vecchie” (Piedmont) – Chunky. Lacquer and paint with a varnish of…no, sorry, I can’t bear to continue. It’s just not worth it.

da Vino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Luna e I Falò” (Piedmont) – When I was a kid, I used to mix the bobbing remnants of Count Chocula™ and Frankenberry™ in my breakfast bowl, so as not to waste the yummy sugary fakeness. I survived without becoming a diabetic, to end up here…drinking the exact same thing.

Vinchio-Vaglio Serra 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Vigne Vecchie” (Piedmont) – Tedium in the form of overworked dark fruit. Wood and tannin, tannin and wood.

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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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.

Cheers!

—Vinagenturet

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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

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Live wine blogging at Barbera Meeting 2010 represents a point of no return

March 17, 2010

Even though I’m not the biggest fan of this grape and the wines it is used to make, I’m almost sad that I missed Barbera Meeting 2010, which took place over the course of four days in Asti. It simply wasn’t possible for me to get into the game this time around.

Four days devoted to tastings of Barbera, from Asti, Monferrato, and Alba. I must confess that the thought doesn’t exactly thrill me. But in the light of the organizers’s professionalism and their hard work, their interaction with the press, and above all, the innovation they have introduced — the “Barbera blog” — I’m sure that it would have been fun to be there, not to mention professionally interesting. For those of us who had to stay home, it was possible to follow what was happening in real-time thanks to the blog.

And it also would have been to contribute, inasmuch as I am a journalist who also blogs. And I could have involved of my Italian friends who were there as well, Carlo Macchi and Alessandro Franceschini, who are not true bloggers but still publish on the web. They could have posted comments, impressions, photographs, and tasting notes of the many wines tasted, just a group of winebloggers from the U.S. and the United Kingdom did, coordinated by Jeremy Parzen author of Do Bianchi.

Their presence and their “outside-the-box” contributions were possible to the speed of the web. And others took note, as is evidenced by articles devoted to this novelty, like that published by Sergio Miravalle in La Stampa (see Parzen’s translation here).

One of the most interesting posts was published by American wineblogger Saignée, who wrote about the phenomenon of the so-called “Super Barberas,” in others words, Barbera d’Asti with special characteristics inspired by the Super Tuscan model. Powerful wines, very concentrated, dark in color, and rich with wood.

After reading the American wineblogger’s post, it doesn’t seem that this choice curried favor with the tasters and commentators in Asti. And he wasn’t the only one who repudiated the excess of wood in the wines, their lacking of balance and drinkability.

Had it only been possible for me to be there, I would have liked to participate in the discussions with producers, which took place during the afternoon sessions and in the evenings, in order to understand the director of this most popular of Piedmont wines. A great deal of Barbera is produced: I’d like to know where the producers are heading and how they intend to win over the various markets, especially foreign markets, with their wines.

But as an observer who followed the event from afar, I know that one thing is for certain: the innovation and novelty introduced at Barbera Meeting marks a point of no return.

And it will difficult — impossible, in my opinion — to organize similar events, in Piedmont or elsewhere, without taking into account the sounding board of talented bloggers, in other words, ones who write seriously and with authority, tastemaker bloggers (and there are plenty of them, here in Italy and abroad).

To not invite them along with journalists who publish in the print media and guides and to maintain that “they’re just bloggers” would not only be stupid. It would show that organizers of such events haven’t understood that times are a changing. The wine-loving public that surfs the web knows the difference between wheat and weeds. They are more likely to believe writers who publish unhindered than conventional information, often immobilized and mitigated, like that found in magazines and wine guides. They are more likely to trust in immovable winebloggers who freely express their ideas, tastes, and distastes.

That’s why this year’s Barbera Meeting, sung in the key of wineblogging for the first time, with live blogging provided by seven well-coordinated wine bloggers (perhaps next time there will be fifteen) constitutes a memorable event in the chronicles and discourse of wine writing. And it merits serious consideration in future.

—Vino al Vino

Translation by VinoWire.