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Superiore complex

[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 “Cavalè” (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.

Pastura 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.

Pastura 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.

Asti la vista, baby

[tasting shadows]More notes – number two of…oh, who knows at this point? – and here limited to barbera d’Asti from 2007. See this post for important disclaimers.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ d’Galdin (Piedmont) – Some mean greenies, almost like the infamous crushed ladybug aroma in the Canadian and (rumored) Burgundian infestations, full of insect parts and pyrazines. This characteristic continues on the palate. Weird.

Bologna “Braida” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Montebruna (Piedmont) – A full-fruited, throaty expression with nice balance. Soil and berry together in harmony. A little peppery. Good acid.

Bologna “Braida” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Bricco della Bigotta (Piedmont) – The structure here comes with a sting of heat on the end, but before that matters are pleasant enough, with a concentrated core of berries. Nice except for that finishing burn.

Bricco dei Guazzi 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Heat, salad greens, capsicum, and Band-Aided brett. The palate’s better, but by then it’s too late.

Ca’ dei Mandorli 2007 Barbera d’Asti La Bellalda (Piedmont) – Soil-driven, yet a little low on acid. Rough fruit with textural chew and stick. Perhaps this will be better in the future than it is right now, as the elements seem present but churned-up at the moment.

Alice Bel Colle 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Alix” (Piedmont) – Dark fruit, licorice, black raspberry, and strawberry with a round and columnar structure. Quite good in it’s dark, solid idiom.

Cantina Vignasone 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Brooding, with equal parts scowl and mysterious smile. Some tar beneath and above, and then the wine gradually turns to cement. There’s some intense black fruit before that, but man does this harden quickly.

Cantina Vignasone 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Selezione” (Piedmont) – Bread and paper, Styrofoam and fake fruit. Coconut. More rum. Ugh.

Galarin 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Le Querce” (Piedmont) – Dense and concentrated, showing black fruit and dark chocolate. Very solid, but a slick, Milanese expression thereof…fashionable and showy, rather than allowing a speck of dirt under the fingernails.

La Ballerina 2007 Barbera d’Asti “GB” (Piedmont) – Vodka, Chartreuse (not in a good way), milk chocolate. A horror show.

Marcaurelio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Terranuda (Piedmont) – Lots of dark fruit that overcomes the paper and wood. Sorta. Not entirely.

Marchesi Alfieri 2007 Barbera d’Asti “La Tota” (Piedmont) – Milk and dark chocolates. Overly dense and just no fun.

Oddero 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – A massive spanking of black raspberry jam. A fruit neutron bomb. Yes, yes, OK, congratulations, but everyone can do this. Why does it have to be done here as well? Edited to add: and this is from Oddero? I’m shocked. Gobsmacked, in fact…and in more ways than one.

I Quaranta 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Asia” (Piedmont) – Dark chocolate with spiky acidity. Is that raspberry marshmallow? Sure, why not? Wood and acid aren’t a combo I much appreciate.

La Fiammenga 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Dill, mint, graphite soil. This is what New World cabernet should taste like, albeit with less of a green tinge to the wood.

La Tenaglia 2007 Barbera d’Asti Bricco Crea (Piedmont) – Full-on jam. Rock & roll fruit. Good in its style, I have to say, but that style is not mine.

La Tenaglia 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Giorgio Tenaglia” (Piedmont) – Oh milky, syrupy travesty of chocolate…why are you in my glass?

Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Sour cherry, dill, vanillin, and overworked fruit.

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.

Beating an Asti retreat

[tasting room]Here begins the notational onslaught. Hundreds of barberas from ‘round the Piedmont, tasted blind and then matched, post-facto, to their names.

Let me stress the key disclaimers before the madness begins. Yes, these were tasted blind, and other than minor grammatical tweaks I have left the notes intact as written during the time of tasting. Some flawed bottles were replaced, but considering the wide array of potential flaws on display, others were just chalked up to bad wine. There is an inherent unfairness in this, but in the process of being forced to power through a long lineup of wines on a schedule, one does not always have the time to be fair. Also, these notes suffer from all the usual flaws of group taste-and-spits, in which neither sufficient time nor attention can be devoted, nor can any wine fail to be affected by those around it.

Last but not least, the names are as provided to me. I’ve made an attempt to clean up the data, but may not always have succeeded. So if there’s a wine name that, in any reader’s experience, would appear to not exist as written, I welcome corrections and amendments.

Anyway, here’s the first bunch…2008 barbera d’Asti:

Alice Bel Colle 2008 Barbera d’Asti “al Casò” (Piedmont) – Faint brett funk, chewy walnuts with a haze of rancidity. Brett continues to palate, Band-Aid & soil, tannin, sourness & greenness. Not pleasant at all. Flawed.

Cantina Sociale Barbera dei Sei Castelli 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Vibrant cherry, mostly red but with a brush of black, vivid and lavish. Ever so faint hint of banana. Palate absent, good balance but where’s fruit? Structured, but not interesting enough to drink.

Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane” 2008 Barbera d’Asti “LA” (Piedmont) – Slightly difficult, gritty soil notes with a bit of funk; dark-as-night fruit scowls with its fist in the air. Very faint but present heat on nose. A little brett. Continues with good acidity, red fruit makes its first appearance on palate, and there’s a hint of something more tropical. Finishes in the pineapple realm.

Dogliotti 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Black-tending cherry, intense and thick, with a spike of heat. A mélange of berries provide fair presence, but it finishes shortish.

Galarin 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Le Querce” (Piedmont) – Dark fruit (black cherry & plum). Rich, dark-fruited, slightly syrupy, and very concentrated. Vanilla and licorice make their cases as well. Modern-styled, but supports its argument. Good.

Caudrina 2008 Barbera d’Asti “La Solista” (Piedmont) – Brett, with cherries churning underneath. Black fruit, thick with skins, on the palate, with a bark-like structure. This would seem to desire age. A fair interpretation of the chunkier style.

Crivelli 2008 Barbera d’Asti Collina La Mora (Piedmont) – Succulent dark cherries, darker berries. Intense dark fruited-core, linear but very approachable. Purplish. Good acidity. Best yet.

Damilano 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Very dark blueberry, black pepper, and a bit overdriven. Continues with slashing, intense fruit, rich and vibrant, almost neon-toned. Very long. Modern, perhaps, but excellent.

Dezzani 2008 Barbera d’Asti “ronchetti” (Piedmont) – Anise, both candy and herbal, with intense licorice, dark fruit, jam, and concentrated berries. Acid and tannin are equally intense, and so there’s balance of a sort, but this is an awfully powerful, dark wine

Elio Perrone 2008 Barbera d’Asti “tasmorcan” (Piedmont) – Very obvious oak, with toasted coconut layering the mix. Dark, concentrated fruit, black cherries and blackberries, with no foundation in the region or grape that I can perceive. Overwooded, even though the quantity of quercus probably isn’t that large, overall.

[blinded bottles]Trinchero 2008 Barbera d’Asti “La Trincherina” (Piedmont) – A bit of alcohol, soil, bark, and chewy loam. Smoothed over from what would appear to wish to be something more untamed than what’s evident in the glass. Finishes with dill. Never a good sign.

La Casaccia 2008 Barbera d’Asti Vigna Sant’Anna (Piedmont) – Kinda insignificant. Seems weirdly imbalanced. Context? Yeah, probably. But I don’t like it.

l’Armangia 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Sopra Berruti” (Piedmont) – Sour dill, weeds, disgusting vegetal stew. Really vile. I can’t get this out of my mouth fast enough.

Montalbera 2008 Barbera d’Asti “La Ribelle” (Piedmont) – Tropical fruit…red, pink, orange, yellow, you name it…though really, drinking something that’s (questionably) labeled barbera with a festive umbrella in it isn’t so bad. As such wines go, well- confected constructed. Finishes with Malibu rum and a dash of fresh lemon peel. Of course. I have no idea what this is, but I’d like one delivered to my cabana.

Pescaja 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Soliter” (Piedmont) – Fully tropical, pure Malibu (or is it Captain Morgan Spiced?) rum. I have no idea what this is either, but even though it says barbera, it’s not barbera as anyone would want it.

Prunotto 2008 Barbera d’Asti “fiulot” (Piedmont) – Dark & dirty, unpleasant corned-grape hash. Good structure, and maybe this will turn into something one day. For now…no.

Scagliola 2008 Barbera d’Asti Vigna dei Mandorli (Piedmont) – Lush fruit, red, dark, and purple, extremely succulent. Acid’s a little tamped-down. Modernistic in approach, but a very pretty quaffing wine with short-term aging potential.

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.

Jessica would cry

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

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

Free iuli

Maybe it took the old to make barbera seem new again, because yesterday’s tasting (and touring) exploration of barbera del Monferrato, with a few excursions through grignolino and other grapes-that-are-not-barbera, was much more rewarding than that which had preceded. There were a fair number of highlights – something I’m very pleased to be able to say, at long last – and far fewer horror shows. When there were problems, they tended to be more due to flaws than to the wrenching deformations of internationalized winemaking.

I heard proprietors speaking of soil, rather than pruning methods that enhance tannin and color retention. I tasted wines in the full range of styles…stainless steel, old wood, new wood…that, whether or not I personally liked the results, spoke clearly of both grape and site. It was like a revelation, or perhaps the rediscovery of something feared lost.

A few of those highlights? The extraordinary range from iuli, with only a barbera/nebbiolo blend failing to show both quality and character. And most especially the wines of La Casaccia, which I tasted in multiple verticals and over a very enjoyable lunch. I actually look forward to being able to write in more detail about these wines, something I have not felt as often as I’d like over these past few days.

Of course, there was also a heated argument with an Italian journalist about the words “philosophy” and “natural” that was as much about ideology and parochialism as it was the facts on the ground. An argument that I think has some relevancy given the form of the lows I’ve experienced during this week’s tastings. But – and sorry to be writing this yet again, but we’re simply not being given any time during the day to write more than précis posts – that explanation will have to wait until later.

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.

An escalation of Astilities

[audience question]The Piedmont has, on more than one occasion, been a battleground. They myriad hilltop fortresses and fortified churches will tell that tale, even if one’s own historical assemblage does not. But it has probably not often been the venue for a wine war. Disagreements, debates…yes. But overt hostility?

Full details of yesterday’s happenings in Asti, Canelli, and Nizza Monferrato are far, far, too involved for what must – written, as this is, at 2 a.m. after an exceedingly long day – be a brief, bloggy take on the situation. That longer, and more important, narrative will come in time from my ever-loquacious virtual pen, though the tale will undoubtedly be told in shorter bursts by others in the interim. But suffice it to say that there was an open revolt against the current state of Piedmontese barbera. I don’t know that anyone other than those manning the barricades were quite prepared for it, but now it’s a crucial chapter in this week’s story, and must be told to its conclusion.

To say that it has cast a pall over the proceedings of Barbera Meeting 2010 would be an overreach. No, neither the producers nor the tirelessly-engaged public relations folk that represent them (and shepherd we journalists from site to site) could be said to have exhibited pleasure at this turn of events. But there’s local and national attention focused on the matter, based on coverage both existent and pending, and now it’s too late to wish or program it away.

The issue, succinctly distilled to the same fiery edge as the local grappas, is essentially that few tasters appear to like, or even appreciate, the modernistic path that has been chosen for barbera by ever so many. Tannin, oak, extraction, weighty seriousness, ordinance-level fruit, the wholesale abandonment of barbera’s intrinsic acid and brightness…all play a role, though they differ in importance from taster to taster. But the message is simple: this is neither identifiable as barbera nor is it good. Those are two quite different objections, of course, and I promise that a full exploration of each will come in time. But in answer to question after question, criticism after criticism, producers returned only evasions, contradictions, and…far too often…outright hostility. None were a good choice, but more importantly none were an effective choice. The word “insulting,” in response to a stylistic observation, passed nearly a half-dozen Asti producers’ lips today. This is no way to win over a skeptical audience.

[chiarlo head in hand]The day’s multiple confrontations – before and over lunch, and then again before and during dinner – can be roughly summed up in an exchange between a Belgian writer and a collection of producers of barbera d’Asti Nizza Superiore, a newly-created subzone (the need for which is yet another question worth addressing…but, again, another time). I’ve edited it for clarity, and there are nuances I’ve elided here, but it captures the tenor of yesterday’s tête-à-tête. Here’s our Belgian objector:

“Why so much oak? Why so many uninteresting tannins? My quest is to find a wine with fruit, freshness, tannins that are interesting and not dry, and…if it is necessary…a little oak. If you think that putting oaky barberas on the market is a good idea, you only join the rest of the world in making big, oaky wine.”

I will here skip over the Nizza producer who, apparently enraged, barked in response, “Do you have any concept of wine? Do you have any idea what you are talking about?” (NB: this response was translated from Italian to English) and get to a meatier and more engaged answer from yet another producer…this time delivered in fluent English:

“The two questions from the gentleman from Belgium are on the border of being offensive, because the wines we’re trying to make are important and distinctive.”

“Distinctive,” in my opinion, they are not. I may have tasted the exact same wine 60 or 70 times over the last two days (dark berry and chocolate milkshake rent by hard tannin, with an explosively fruity midpalate and a vanilla-laden, pinched-off finish). No distinctiveness there, within or outside the Piedmont. “Important?” That is the root, heart, and body of the problem: the overwhelming, overpowering, massively destructive craving for “importance” from a grape and a terroir that do not appear to support these goals without a deformative price.

A provocative opinion? Sure. But broadly held, I guarantee, and repeatedly expressed in yesterday’s frequently-hostile engagements. Honestly, I can’t wait to write about them in detail.

The rest of the conference should be quite a ride.

If I could, wood you?

[tasting glasses]Confession time. My fear that barbera had become a battle between the acid-preserving, tart-fruited traditionalists and the lush-living modernista barrique warriors was ill-founded. No such war exists. The barriquestas have won, obliterated the field, and danced on the graves of their fallen foes.

Alas for poor barbera. The grape, it appears, never had a chance against the aspirational onslaught of modernity that has wrenched and rent it into…I don’t know. What is it, anymore? Not itself, for certain. Not barbera. Now…it’s just wine. Or rather, Wine™©.

The full telling of the damage – and there was indeed damage, to both my palate and my oenological optimism – will wait while I connect over a hundred notes to their respective wines (and that’s just day one…more turgid wood awaits tomorrow, and the next day, and in neither case will the phrase live up to its salacious possibilities). But for now, a few of the pallid rays of light in an otherwise gloomy day, weathered from glass to glass. There were more, but this will do for a teaser.

Crivelli 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Mora (Piedmont) – Succulent dark cherries, with darker berries along for the ride. An intense dark fruited-core, linear but very approachable. Purplish. Good acidity.

Damilano 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Very dark, with black pepper-dusted blueberry driving the nose, albeit that driving is pushed past the normal limits, leading to a lot of grinding gears and protesting engine roars. Continues with slashing, intense fruit…rich, vibrant, and almost neon-toned. Very long. Modern, perhaps, but quite good in its idiom, and solid for what’s a fairly large-production wine.

Marcarino 2009 Barbera d’Asti “Zero in Condotta” (Piedmont) – A barbera done sensi solfiti, which is a clear rarity in these parts (and considered one step aside from witch doctoring and career suicide by nearly everyone else in the region who’s expressed an opinion), though micro-oxidation and inoculated yeast both play their part. The philosophical contradictions inherent in this wine, and in fact this winery’s overall approach, will have to wait for a future post, but this is quite fascinating. Barbera in its freshest, most natural state is already akin to the semi-standardized, semi-carbonic taste of unsulfured wines across appellations and varieties, so this approach would seem to be a no-brainer. The result is exceedingly violet, both in color and aroma, with the usual spiky brittleness cut with lavish acidity, fruit that wavers between blueberries and grapes, and a lingering, fine-ground crystalline tannin. Pretty, yet the overly-vivid tones of 80’s mascara are present as well (Donna Mills, where have you gone?), and the acid definitely takes over on the finish. A worthy effort, whatever the totality of the outcome.

Il Falchetto 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Lurëi (Piedmont) – A dramatic wine. Single-site purity, revealed in high-toned minerality (apparently very typical for the site), with a granitic, firm structure and texture buoyed by striking acidity. Very, very impressive. The best thing I’ll taste all day, out of well over a hundred swings at the barbera bat.

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.

Francheesy pizza

[pizza]It has been pointed out to me, more than once, that no one in Italy drinks wine with pizza. I don’t know that this is true – I’ve seen it – but it is certainly not the majority choice.

But our blogging team, gathered in the pleasant chill of an early Asti evening, is if nothing else a collection of wine dorks. And so wine it will be, with Milanese-influenced pizza at Francese (via dei Cappellai 15, Asti). Lots of it, as well.

The pizzas? Crispy at the exterior, mushy in the middle – the thing A16 always gets dinged for, even though they’re doing it correctly – with intense ingredients dealt to the pizza’s upper surface with the restrained hand of the Italian rather than the lavish hand of the American. But the truth is, authenticity and appeal are not necessarily the same thing, and while I appreciate the presence of either, my personal preference is for a more cracker-like crust. The relative thinness of toppings doesn’t bother me (it depends on the specifics), and I find the balance and purity of our DOP mozzarella, basil, and tomato very nearly perfect. I just wish there was a less authentically Milanese crust. Our pizzas are followed by a series of cake-like desserts that are lovely in their rich simplicity, but filling to the extreme.

Jeremy Parzen, our team leader and renaissance guru of all things Italianate – on which see below for more – is a trip and a half in his escalating (as the wine flows) mix of loquacity and a certain thoughtful despondency. As the evening progresses, he turns into a one-man quote machine, for both good and ill. Much of what he says I am compelled to redact for reasons of propriety, but here’s a brief sample of his wisdom:

[costa d’amalfi bianco]“I’ve got a fuckin’ PhD in Italian poetry, fuckin’…Thor.”

“This [moscato d’Asti] is the number one strip club wine in America, because strippers love it.”

San Francesco 2008 Costa d’Amalfi “per eva” (Campania) – A blend of falanghina, pepella, and ginestra. Sounds more like an opera than a wine, to me. Anyway, it’s a touch spritzy, full of lime and lemongrass, with a surprising chalkiness that sneaks up, takes over for a moment, and then skitters away. Sour bones of structure and pale decay clutter up the finish. Very interesting.

Oddero 2001 Barolo Rocche di Castiglione (Piedmont) – Already fairly mature in some ways, with its soil turned pepper-powdery and the fruit having yielded to well-dried black roses. Old tar, laid long ago with aspiration, through a long-fallow field permeates both the tar and the structure. The finish is soil-derived but powdery. Very approachable, and despite all expectations I’d consider drinking this nowish.

Ratti 2001 Barolo Marcenasco (Piedmont) – Light and dirty, with a lift to it despite the dark-fruited, brooding core. Crushed flowers everywhere. This is still developing, and while there are prematurely mature elements present, the wine itself is still reasonably firm and grippy, and will need another five-plus years (at the very least to yield its full range of aromatic complexity.

[incredible cake]Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco (Piedmont) – Very tannic and brutish, with flailing acidity and a biting lash of tart red fruit. Powerful and concentrated in a way that’s perhaps not expected from this basic blend, with sour cherry mostarda taking control of the finish. Very, very young.

Forteto della Luja Loazzolo (Piedmont) – A moscato passito, piney and floral, with a giant burst of intensity that comes up short. Striking for its moment, but that moment is soon lost.

Saracco 2009 Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont) – Bright apple foam, lightly perfumed and joyous, but with a serious face as well. Neither pure fun nor overly aspirational, but forging a middle path.

Surface tension

[grado water reflection]For every cherished experience, there is a transformative moment. Sometimes, it’s sought…but other times, it strikes as unexpectedly as lightning from a clear blue sky. This is an example of the latter.

Until this experience, I can say that I’ve found grappa interesting. Interesting…but not good. It has been something to be explored for its variety and source-specificity, for its place in an Italian life, and for its convivial role. But this grappa changes everything. I am enraptured. Instantly, and without reserve. This is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

My notes, as scribbled into my journal at the moment of encounter, initially identify what I’m drinking as “incomprehensible label, producer in Nieve.” It’s only after I smell, and taste, that I apply myself to the work of deciphering the hand-drawn labels for which this producer is famous. I have never tasted a grappa like this, either in form or in quality. It is so superior to anything I’ve previously encountered that it might as well be its own category. Supple yet full-flavored, drawing both fruit and mineral into a distillation of floral complexity, then lingering in a gentle decrescendo that slowly exposes both that minerality and the memory of a faded bouquet of the palest white roses. This is the best. The absolute best. I’m floored. Stunned. Moved. So much of all three that the returning sommelier, noticing my bliss and knowing its source, pours a generous second helping in my glass. Who is this magician?

…continued here.

Barbera, and…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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