Archive for the ‘Monferrato’ Category


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 together with material published by the fans themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.


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 snowy Monferrato and dinner at the Castello di Casale Monferrato

March 16, 2010

And the saga continues……

One of the biggest snowstorms to hit Piedmont in 20 years came at a very awkward moment, taking us all by surprise. We all just assumed it would stop snowing in a couple of hours:“It’s almost spring, it can’t snow that much.” Wrong.

Tuesday night everyone was in Nizza Monferrato but I was forced to leave early—without dinner—due to the rapidly accumulating snow on the roads of Nizza. Driving back to the hills of Ponzano Monferrato was really scary….Where were the snow plows that night?? It snowed very heavy all night long and by 5:00 the next morning I was already shoveling out tons of snow and praying that the snowplower (a local farmer) would arrive soon to clear out the village streets….because I needed to reach Asti by 9:00 for the wine tasting !

Finally, I reached Asti and was ready to taste all the Barbera Monferrato wines at Palazzo Zoia.

Wednesday morning was devoted exclusively to tasting Barbera wine produced in the Monferrato region of Piedmont. The following wines were to be evaluated, 24 in total:

Barbera Monferrato del Monferrato DOC 2008

Barbera del Monferrato DOCG 2008 Superiore

Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2007

Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2007 Superiore

Barbera del Monferrato DOC 2006 Superiore

The feeling among many of the tasters after Wednesday morning’s wine tastings was that the wines had presented a harmonious blending, i.e. how the oak was not felt as dominant, being subtle in its embrace with the Barbera character (its acidic tendency).

Next we all departed on our respective winery tours through the Monferrato. The continuous snow fall was a challenge for us. Our bus driver had to negotiate through and up steep roads to reach our sometimes very remote destinations.

Our first destination of the tour took us to the Alta Monferrato, up to 600 meters. Our bus drove along the “Strada del vino Castagnole Monferrato” towards Montemagno. This region is known for its Barbera wine, however it is more famous for the Ruchè wine. It was a very snowy and sometimes foggy route. But the snowy Alto Monferrato is breathtaking. The last road was covered with deep snow and we all wondered how the heck the bus could move through it—of course we succeeded.

We arrived at the Montalbera winery. We were greeted by the owner Franco Morando and his assistant. Franco Morando led us through the winemaking facilities, enlightening us to his philosophy about making wine. During most of the tour Morando focused on the Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato wine: Ruchè is uncommon, the grape’s origins obscure and produced only in seven communities of Asti province. Ruchè is a very aromatic wine and pairs good with spicy foods. We tasted several Ruchè wines and my favorites was Montalbera’s 2004 Ruchè “La Tradizione” with a very gentle rich aroma with a hint of spice; and it is a wine that ages very well.

There was even the rare opportunity to taste a barrel sample from the 2009 harvest. Mr. Morando’s real passion seems to be for producing the Ruchè wine, however other varieties are produced as well: Barbera, Grignolino, Cortese, and Chardonnay. The snow was still falling heavy as we left the winery…so what else is new?

Down the mountain we went heading towards the Monferrato lowlands. Our second appointment was at Azienda Agricola Leporati near Casale Monferato. The winemaking tradition here started already in 1898 and the current cultivation consists of Barbera, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Friesa, Chardonnay , Cortese, Pinot and Moscato. We had a lovely lunch and wine tasting at “Leporati”. The “Rubia” Barbera del Monferrato was pairing nicely with my lunch. Most of the wines they produce are a blend of varietals. Leporati makes a fruity sweet frizzante Malvasia “Delizia”. We also had the opportunity to see their beautiful herd of Piedmontese fassone cattle. To see cattle during our tour was unexpected, yet logical—cattle are an important element in the biodynamic ecological system of sustaining vineyards. Those cute bovines posed very nicely for the camera too. When we said our farewells, it was, of course, still snowing.

Our third destination was Cascina Iuli in Montaldo di Cerrina located in the hills of the Basso Monferrato. The “Barabba” Barbera del Monferrato Superiore 2006 DOC is one I especially liked; lovely aroma with cherry notes and profound color. We tasted an assortment of wines in addition to Barbera, one wine which aroused my curiousity was Iuli’s Monferrato Rosso “Malidea” a 50-50 blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo. Noteworthy about the winemaker’s philosophy is not to be influenced by market forces, rather to hold on to tradition: stick to your method, make the best wine you can from that grape.

Tenuta Tenaglia in Serralunga di Crea of the Val Cerrina in the Monferrato was our final stop. They are located very near to the famous Santuario di Crea—which contains a large collection of frescos. We almost did not get there, as the weather was turning worse, fog moved in and the road going up to the vineyards was steep. But we finally found the way and Sabine Ehrmann warmly welcomed us. We entered an expansive room with huge windows which overlook the vineyards and one can see the hills of Ponzano Monferrato in the distance. Sabine’s husband Giuseppe Olivieri is an artist and his paintings are hung all around the room and are featured also on the labels of the wine bottles. We tasted a number of Barbera wines, in particular I liked the “Giorgio Tenaglia” Barbera DOC 2007, it had a good blending of oak with the Barbera character, giving it roundness. Tenuta Tenaglia also exports Barbera to Germany, where the market tends to like the oakiness. As we walked out of the winery, it was still snowing. We descended slowly down the big Serralunga di Crea hill and drove off to the magnificent Castello di Casale Monferrato in the city of Casale Monferrato where a wonderful surprise awaited us…the evening had actually just begun.

We tasted many good wines that day and the feeling among most of us was that the Barbera’s were tasting better—maybe the fresh snow-filled air from the pristine Piedmontese countryside had some intoxicating influence over us. Anyways, the Barbera’s we tasted during the tour were quite good. Our tour group was the last to arrive at the Castle due to the weather conditions of the day, coupled with the remote locations we had to visit.

All of us wine tasters eagerly marched off the bus heading straight into the grand entrance of the Castello di Casale Monferrato. The aperitivo party was already in full swing when we arrived. Tons of snow all over the Monferrato could not keep Barbera wine enthusiasts away from the dinner extravaganza… Journalists, winebloggers and buyers all dined together with the Barbera wine producers of the Monferrato region. Aperitivo was fantastic—a bountiful assortment of food and presented quite creatively—even grapes were made into very delicious tidbits to much on with our wines. The Piedmontese really do know how to make scrumptious, if not the best, “frittelle” I have ever eaten in my life—the evening’s aperitivo buffet spread was perfect evidence of this. The dinner was an elegant traditional Piedmontese meal paired with wines of the producers. The meal began with traditional Piedmontese agnolotti and a sauce garnished with Barbera “bubbles”, which were Barbera-flavored jelly-like little grapes. The second course was loin of veal with potatoes and fresh spinach. The first dessert consisted of a mousse made of ground chestnuts, served fresh together with marrons glacés. Next came a constant procession sweets: plates overloaded with assorted Piedmontese chocolates, including of course hazelnut cream and other luscious fillings. An apple tart arrived at our table too, but one person at our dinner table seemed to eat most of it. I won’t mention who it was…. Some of us really did eat way too much.

A big thank you goes to Anna Ghisolfi Catering for cooking up this elaborate and delicious Piedmontese aperitivo and dinner for everyone.

After a long day of wine tasting the aperitivo and dinner were heartwarming! Our tables were filled with laughter and the conversations to be remembered forever….It was our last big dinner together, because Thursday was to be the final day of the Barbera Meeting……

—Piemontèis Life


Tuffaceous: The Monferrato Love Affair

March 15, 2010

Day 3 of Barbera Meeting came at just the right time for the Barbera Boys (& girl). Hearts were weak, hope almost lost…

Monferrato: Here I am to save the day!

The Barbera 7: Really? Monferrato! Bless you.


salami crudo

Monferrato: Some of my winemakers speak of the land, the barbera fruit, a thing called minerality…a sense of place. Barbera is our long time friend. We would like it to be yours too.

The Barbera 7: We thought you would never ask.


Monferrato: Meet Danilo Spinoglio. He enjoys the simple pleasures in life and shares with you his vision of barbera, of course, but also grignolino, cortese and freisa. Not to mention warm fires and the best grissini in Piemonte.

geeking out

Monferrato: My land is rich…and old…full of stories and cellars and tuffaceous clay. And a man named Giovanni Rava and his La Casaccia barberas.




Monferrato: The life around the table. The real way to experience a wine. Salsiccia and ancient grains of polenta- Piemontese food. Piemontese wines.

The Barbera 7: Oh Monferrato… you vixen, you.

Monferrato: Ain’t no thang. You don’t know it yet, but you will soon be further enchanted by the mysterious Iuli, the sweetness of the black malvasia di casorzo and the drinking of barbera from my chalice of love.

– finito –

—Brunellos Have More Fun


Barbera 2010: We Do Not Despair in Monferrato

March 11, 2010

If readers have been following these posts from Asti and Barbera 2010, you know that we have been at the limits of despair and patience over the quality of the Barbera d’Asti wines, many of which we have found to be stridently oaked and punishingly tannic. Not that we doubt for an instant the sincerity of the producers and winemakers; these are honest and hard-working people. What we question is the misguided nature of the techniques in the winery and the errant vision these winemakers and producers have for their wines and their region.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning we tasted blind about 40 Barbera d’Asti wines from the sub-region of Monferrato. My previous entry was posted while we went through these Monferrato wines, and as I mentioned, they seemed not so tannic and woody though, as I have asserted during the past few days, there were problems of consistency. Still, one felt a glimmer of hope.

After the tasting we headed out, as we had done on Monday and Tuesday, to the countryside — now picturesquely buried in snow — to visit a few producers from the region featured in the morning’s tasting. Naturally, yesterday was devoted to several wineries in the Monferrato area.

Let me describe two of those visits.

At Danilo Spinoglio, Cascina Narzo, near the village of Sala Monferrato, we gathered in the comfortable tasting room where a welcome fire burned on the hearth. A rustic table held platters of local cheeses and salamis — one does not often apply the adjective “sublime” to salami — and bread sticks so fresh and crisp that Adam and Eve probably snacked on them in Paradise. Spinoglio does not make profound wines and apparently has no desire to do so, and therein lie their real and, to me, irresistible virtues. Wines of delight and satisfaction are completely as legitimate as wines of supposed profundity, and since the attempts at profound wines so far this week had us beating our heads futilely against walls of wood and tannin, it felt like a respite to sip Spinoglio’s direct, authentic efforts.

From his 33 hectares of vines, Spinoglio makes a crisp, fresh, lively Cortese 2008, that carries the general Piemonte designation, and a refreshing Grignolino di Monferrato Casalese 2008 that features lovely dried cherry and cherry pit notes. His Monferrato 2008, made from freisa grapes, offers a hint of spritz, along with dried cherries and red currants, with a surprisingly dense tannic structure and a trace of bracing bitterness of the finish. Both the Monferrato Dolcetto 2008 and the Piemonte Barbera 2008 are clean, flavorful and charming, with the sort of lively acidity that keeps us coming back for another sip. Spinoglio’s Barbera del Monferrato 2008 is uncomplicated, nicely balanced and integrated and downright tasty with flavors of spiced and macerated black cherry, red currant and plum.

Spinoglio’s most serious wine is his Barbera d’Asti Superiori 2007, made every other year. The wine is “raised” in barriques, small barrels of French oak, but Spinoglio cycles the barrels through three-year sequences, so only about 25 percent of the oak is new with each designated vintage. This B. d’A. S. ‘07 is all dried spice and flowers, an amalgam of red fruit both dried and fresh, a little sweet ripeness balanced by a little bitterness and the swingeing acidity necessary to the grape. Tannins are fairly dense yet kept to the background, where subtle oak lends the wine shape and a bit of woody spice. This is not the most serious or profound Barbera d’Asti Superiori, but it delivers lovely tone and character, and unlike many examples we have tried this week, it’s pleasingly drinkable.

Our next visit, and the longest of the day, was to La Casaccia, in the village of Cella Monte, where the lively and engaging Giovanni Rava happily showed us around the vaulted 18th Century cellars dug into the sandy, crumbly tufa soil that characterizes the region. Befitting his technical or engineering background — Rava told me later at dinner that he spent 15 years “cooped up behind factory walls” — he explained the history of brick-making 200 years ago, the composition of the soil, the uses of obsolete winemaking equipment and more things than are dreamt in your philosophy. We tasted La Casaccia’s wines in the dining room above the cellars, a room made homey with old family portraits, antique furniture and shelves of books. Giovanni’s wife Elena, as quiet as he is voluble, had prepared a simple yet delicious lunch — especially the kale and leek quiche and the polenta with tomato sauce and sausage — to match the wines.

For someone who started making wine less than a decade ago, Rava shows the instinct combined with craft of a great winemaker. His red wines epitomize the nature of detail and dimension that we require of interesting and complex wines as well as the combination of power and elegance that makes the best impression on the palate. We tried six vintages of Rava’s Vigna San Pietro Barbera d’Asti Superiori, from 2003 to 2008 and were struck by the consistency of the wine, even accounting for vintage variations, and not just the consistency across the curve of development but the remarkable sense of expansiveness and generosity, of balance and integration that these wines evince, qualities we have not see much this week. We also tried three vintages of the Caliché B. d’A. S. — 2001, ‘03 and ‘04 — aged in French barriques yet smooth and harmonious and all delivering wonderful weight, tone and presence.

The vines of La Casaccia are cultivated along organic principles; 2008 was the first year that the labels were allowed to carry the organic designation.

Later that evening, at a tasting of wines by many producers in Monferrato, we encountered other wines that were equally impressive. I’ll mention those when I can get to them in a few days, but pay attention when I write about an incredible pinot nero (pinot noir) from Cantina Iuli, the Nino 2007, that aged — get this — 27 months in one-year old barriques and yet manages to capture the essential delicacy and purity of the grape. You have to love that sense of integrity married to individuality.

—Bigger Than Your Head


Monferrato Mon Brave?

March 11, 2010

Mercifully we had to taste only 24 wines this morning rather than the 60+ of the previous two days.

There were still far too many wines that had been botoxed by oak and lacked freshness but on the basis of this selection Barbera del Monferrato is richer and more powerful than Barbera d’Asti.

Two wines were for me conspicuous. No. 128 was bright ruby purple, fruity, relatively simple, juicy, unpretentious. What Barbera – and Italian wine – is all about.

The final wine (147) was Nebbiolo-like in its structure and aromas. Not bad at all for grown-up drinkers who can cope with something more than sweet fruit flavours and oak makeup.

—Worcester Sauce