Archive for the ‘Nizza’ Category

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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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The Barbera affair: what really happened that snowy night in Nizza

March 17, 2010

The following is my account of the events that took place on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, during Barbera Meeting 2010. The facts, ma’am, just the facts. See also the account published by Tom’s Wine Line.

Bernard Arnould

Above: Even after they traded words more acidic than an unoaked Barbera, Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould (left) and winemaker Ludovico Isolabella shared pleasantries during the aperitivo after the conference on the wines of Nizza last Wednesday.

The controversy really began before lunch, when Italian wine writer Carlo Macchi, Austrian Helmut Knall, and Americans Charles Scicolone and Tom Maresca asked some pointed questions during the Q&A following a presentation by professor of enology Vincenzo Gerbi (University of Turin) and legendary winemaker Michele Chiarlo in Canelli before lunch. The speakers had presented the results of the Hastae experimental laboratory project. Researchers were able to reduce levels of acidity by employing non-traditional vine-training methods they said. I had been asked to interpret.

Why, asked the attendees, would you want to reduce the acidity levels of Barbera when its bright acidity is it’s defining characteristic? The answer, said the presenters, lies in a desire to make a wine more palatable to a wider market. The same held for judicious oak aging, they said. A heated argument on what defines “recognizability” and “typicity” ensued. Frankly, I had an easier time interpreting for the Italian foreign minister’s delegation and a hostile group of Chinese officials when I worked at the United Nations some years ago.

Above: Charles Scicolone addressed Michele Chiarlo directly during the afternoon session.

But things really heated up after we had tasted roughly 50 wines in the afternoon session in Nizza and Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould took the floor and openly challenged the winemakers present: the wines we had tasted, he told them, were so oaky and concentrated that they were barely drinkable. They did not resemble Barbera, he said, and he couldn’t help but wonder out loud where they expected to sell these wines.

To this, winemaker (and one of Piedmont’s foremost lawyers) Ludovico Isolabella, owner of the Isolabella winery, responded by asking: “Do you know anything, anything at all, about wine?”

Following this, Charles Scicolone addressed the winemakers, and Michele Chiarlo in particular. He asked them for whom these wines were intended. They did not taste like the wines he had tasted 20 years prior, he said. Why, he asked, did they change their winemaking style? Were they making one wine for their own consumption and another to sell to America? The Barberas he had tasted, he explained, were no longer the high-acidity, bright fruit, low-tannin, food-friendly wines of two decades ago.

Above: The Barbera 7 watched on as the volatile acidity flew. You can see Polish colleague Andrzej Daszkiewicz in the background with Charles and Tom Maresca to his left.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll have more to report tomorrow and I know that my colleagues are also scribing posts on the fateful events of that day.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the whole day (and last night) stuck at JFK. I kinda feel like the Tom Hanks character in Spielberg’s Terminal. Ugh… Hopefully, I’ll make it back to that beautiful lady of mine tonight. I don’t think I can stand another day without her…

—Do Bianchi

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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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How Much Wood Should A Barbera Have If A Barbera Should Have Wood

March 11, 2010

Or more aptly titled, How Many Bloggers Does It Take to Write About How Much They Dislike Excessive Oak in Barbera Until the Winemakers Stop Doing It. But firstly, we’ve made the news! The bloggers are the talk of the town. Fredric Koeppel (Bigger Than Your Head) reads the fine print as Michele Chiarlo begins his discussion of vine training methods.

read all about it

We spent the day focused on the Nizza subzone of Asti. A small group of Asti winemakers (including Chiarlo) have formed nd spent heaps of dollar bills to test barbera’s vine training methods in hopes to further analyze the varietal’s acidity, tannin and color (and “improve” the wine). Which brings me to the main theme of the day…

tonal

On the left: guyot method. lighter more delicate color. on the right: the new cordon method and a darker more saturated color.

What is in need of improvement exactly? Beyond the need to pump up the color for aging (?) and reduce the amount of work in the vineyard, these experiments and changes made in the vine training open a larger discussion of the vinification of the barbera as well. This is the when the day started to get interesting… after 2 full days of tasting Barbera d’Asti, most of us (journalists, buyers from all over the world) were eager to start asking questions about the giant oaky elephant that’s been in the tasting room all week.

lunch vertical

The oak of the wine had become the star of the show up until that point. What happened to the barbera? And more importantly, what should barbera actually be? It’s subjective, as wine always is. But the general consensus of my fellow tasters is that barbera should be what it always was, what it is at its purest form: a light, racy, high acidity, fruit driven wine.

snow fall

As snow begins to fall in Nizza, we loaded in to another blind tasting.

nizza

We moved locations to taste a slew of more Barberas from Nizza. This left us bewildered once again. The oak! Luckily, about 20 producers of the wines we had just tried were in attendance. What I will call the Nizza Oak Debate of 2010 began. For the sake of brevity as well as my lack of time I will list the main points discussed/argued and the resulting thoughts that dialogue left floating in my brain…

– The apparent need to create a universally more appealing style of wine specifically in hopes to sell more bottles to consumers.

– The American market (and all markets for that matter) and its supposed stylistic preference (big, fat Cali wines- is that what Italians think we only like?)

-Making barbera to taste like itself or just like every other non distinctive wine

-What makes a “good” wine? In the words of Michele Chiarlo, “A good wine is a wine that sells.”

-The manipulation of wine. How/if it should be altered to be something other than the true expression of the grape.

-The concept of creating a Superbarbera. Just typing that out makes me roll my eyes.

-Does a more “elegant” wine always mean less oak?

heated

The debates remained heated as the temperatures outside continued to drop and the snow continued to fall. The producers defended themselves and we were left hoping to find a redeeming wine at our dinner table. Which we did in Andrea Faccio’s Villa Giada unoaked Barbera. As if sent from the wine gods above telling us to hold on for one more day.

snow

prints

Much more to write about- yesterday was filled with Barbera wines of Monferrato, a seriously awesome cellar tour and of course more eating and drinking. It was the day the Barbera 7 Got Their Blog Back. Stay tuned…

—Brunellos Have More Fun

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There’s a fire in Nizza

March 11, 2010

Fresh snow blanketed the Nizza wine consortium event hall on Tuesday night where Asti winemakers faced off with the press over the issues surrounding the use of oak in their barbera production. Many of the major winemakers from the Nizza subzone of Barbera D’Asti were in attendance to both show their wines and to pitch their plans for attaining DOCG status recognition. Having tasted nearly 200 wines this week from around the Asti region, including Nizza, the overwhelming criticism from attendees, myself included, has been the excess use of barrique or small, french oak barrels and the efforts to create a hyper-improved or “super barbera.” If oak was on everyone’s mind, The Nizza conference staved these thoughts into a powder keg.

“What was wrong with the old Barbera?” was the question, and not just from our small group of bloggers from the US and UK. Visitors from around the globe are puzzled why this unfortunate shift has occurred. A crowd stunner came from Piedmont’s legendary producer Michele Chiarlo who answered that “A wine is good if it sells.” It makes me sad to think that this is where the industry may have arrived. As a restaurateur myself I understand that you can’t always turn your business on a dime and that changes may take time and money, especially for the small family winery. I simply ask that winemakers listen to the more traditionalist criticisms which are increasing in density and volume. These are honest voices driven by a true love for your region and its wines.

The producers speaking at the event insisted that the use of oak is never intended to pander to any particular audience, but to give a good balance of freshness, acidity, tannins and overall structure. While I believe that this statement is well intended, I hope that they take note when a sympathetic public is having trouble finding excitement in such a huge sample of wines.


A diamond in the rough was the Suri from Villa Giada by a young winemaker named Andrea Faccio discovered at the event by Do Bianchi. The Suri is a stainless steel/large cask barbera that retails for around $11 in the US. This wine was fresh with high acid, but also delicious ripe fruit. It was a pleasure to drink after so many confused, overoaked and sometimes downright flawed wines. The Suri was not actually in the day’s blind tasting, so Jeremy got a bottle directly from the winemaker for us to try. Earlier in the day we had sampled his barriqued, upper tier Barbera, which was far less enjoyable than his less expensive Suri offering. That this wine was being shown instead of the Suri showed the inherent disconnect of the conference. I think many producers honestly think the wine drinking public enjoys barriqued wines far more than they actually do.

Fortunately some of the smaller producers like Villa Giada are getting the memo and taking advantage of this truly great event to both get the word out and to seek honest feedback about their wines. Andrea was very open to my thoughts and showed a youthful passion for winemaking that was refreshing. This wine will certainly find a slot at Jaynes. There’s nothing really “super” about it, just a well made, tasty wine that I’d be proud to serve. Like Mr. Chiarlo explained, this is a business, and in the end it was a simple, traditional Barbera that won mine.

Wednesday in Monferrato….Very much looking forward to this.

—Jaynes Gastropub