Browse Tag

barbera d’asti

Caudrina partridge

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. (3/10)

Tiny dancer

La Ballerina 2007 Barbera d’Asti “GB” (Piedmont) – Vodka, Chartreuse (not in a good way), milk chocolate. A horror show. (3/10)

La Ballerina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Ajè” (Piedmont) – Very, very chocolately. Myself, I prefer these sorts of things made from a fine, single-sourced cocoa, rather than the syrupy stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle. Also, a slightly fresher milk would be better; this tastes like that room-temperature, chemically frightening “milk” the French drink. (3/10)

Photo Galarin

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. (3/10)

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. (3/10)

Dog days

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. (3/10)

Sociale club

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. (3/10)

Wonderland

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. (3/10)

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. (3/10)

The yeast of our worries

[l’armangia bottles]If the message at Paolo Marcarino is a little muddled, despite wines that make fairly clear statements, l’Armangia flips that equation. The words and purpose are clear, but the wines…not so much.

We’re spared a cellar tour – unless one is at, say, Gravner or there’s something really unusual worth explicating, they’re almost always overly familiar ground for those in or writing about wine – for which we’re thankful, but then spend a good deal more time on the winery’s threshold, discussing theory and practice, than I think our schedule-conscious hosts would prefer.

The thing is, there’s almost always a subject on which even the most reserved winemaker can be energized into a fully polemical diatribe. Sometimes, one knows what that subject is going to be ahead of time, and can choose to engage or avoid it as the situation warrants. And sometimes, it’s a surprise. So when we prod on the subject of sulfur, having just left a winery where the non-use thereof is a point of difference, and are met with a fairly bland response (“my father can’t tolerate added sulfites,” and in fact “we both get sick” from excessive levels, so they work with as little as possible; however, they don’t “believe” in senza solfiti wines, “because they’re a natural byproduct of fermentation”), it’s the argument that any low- but not no-sulfur producer uses, and we figure we’re in for a fairly easy rhetorical ride.

Not so.

There’s some talk of the Canelli subzone in which we’re currently situated, in which the best sites are planted to moscato, and despite some regrafting to barbera the best red grapes are still sourced from other zones. No chemicals are used in the vineyard or cellar, so as not to “affect aromas.” And a “handful of tools to deal with acidity” are mentioned, though the identity of those tools is a little surprising as iterated: alcohol, tannin, and complexity/richness. It would seem that the goal here is not to actually manage the acidity, but rather to find ways to counterbalance it. I admit that I respond positively to that notion, though whether or not it will be reflected in the wines remains to be seen.

And then, someone mentions yeast.

“In my opinion, the thought that natural or ambient yeasts make better wine is just stupid.”

Oh boy, here we go. The ambient/inoculated yeast argument is a well-worn one that I won’t re-adjudicate here. Suffice it to say that there are sensible and justifiable arguments on all sides, and that putting aside industrial wine production as a separate category with different needs, the actual division among more artisanal practitioners really boils down to a debate between those who believe yeasts are either part of or at least sympathetic to terroir, versus those who prefer a measure of control over uncertainty, and must include many intermediate points on that continuum. Choosing a side in this argument is very easy for someone sitting at a computer, and a little more difficult if the existence of food on one’s table is a direct outcome of that choice, but it’s worth saying for the record that while I enjoy many wines made with either kind of yeast, I’m always interested in wineries that have at least explored the ambient option, even if they then go on to reject it.

I issue this lengthy definitional and personal disclaimer because I will now proceed to lament a discussion that starts with such a bald-faced straw man. While there are certainly a few who argue that ambient yeasts make “better” wines, the far more common argument is that they remove a deliberate intervention from the winemaking process. This is a value-neutral assertion from a qualitative standpoint, and instead a manifestation of a philosophy or approach to winemaking. Or, if one prefers, a reordering of the words involved: not “to use ambient yeast is to make a better wine,” but “it is better to use ambient yeast to make a wine,” where “better” is here a synonym for “more correct given a particular philosophy” rather than a synonym for “superior quality.” It’s also not to say that winemakers who use ambient yeast don’t think they make better wine as a result of their choices, but that the gestation of the choice is not a clear “ambient yeast = better wine” equation.

Of course, calling something “stupid” within a dozen words of broaching a topic means we’re not in for a nuanced debate along “on one hand, but on the other hand” lines. So we brace, and gird, and put scribbling pens to notebooks, and are thus treated to the following:

“If I use a type of yeast that’s not invasive, and doesn’t add flavors, that’s fine. […] The important thing is to use yeast that’s clean and non-violent.”

So far, so good. Certainly an improvement on “stupid.” But then:

“If I wanted to make New Zealand sauvignon blanc, I would use yeasts that are very violent and aggressive [and] a temperature-controlled fermentation.”

Well, now, that’s interesting. Because while it’s true that industrial New Zealand sauvignon blanc (and that label applies to a number of wines that people don’t necessarily think of, nor that are marketed as, industrial…including the most famous one) is a “recipe” of yeasts and sometimes other biochemical nudging, the trend among the most interesting producers of the grape – even in Marlborough – is experimentation with, or outright adoption of, ambient yeasts. And in fact has been for some time now. That the resulting wines are more interesting than their industrial peers may or may not have all that much to do with the yeasts themselves, as they’re never the sole differentiating factor, but that they help contribute to a decidedly non-industrial character of greater individuality is fairly unquestionable.

Also, it must be said that this is an argument that would be enhanced by a spectacular sauvignon blanc from l’Armangia. See below for more on how that turns out.

One might think that this argument, plainly stated, against ambient yeasts might end here, as a point of differentiation and a defense of personal practice. Alas, no. This is the Piedmont, and as I’m learning, it is sometimes not enough to say what one does or does not do. One must also thoroughly repudiate anyone with a different opinion.

“For us to switch over to ambient yeasts would be ruinous. [I know of] wineries that have ruined their market because they switched to ambient yeasts.”

Somehow, I suspect that the presentation of a list of wineries whose market presence has been enhanced by a switch to ambient yeasts would not be met with equanimity. It’s not really important, anyway. If he says he knows of these wineries, then short of accusing him of lying one must believe him. It’s certainly well within the realm of possibility to lose control of a fermentation and thus lose a vintage due to an ill-considered acceptance of the wrong native critters. But it seems like an awfully large burden of guilt to place on poor ambient yeasts, which are used effectively and in a commercially successful way all over the world. I rather suspect that the problem at these unfortunate wineries was a little broader and more fundamental than the simple switch from inoculated to ambient yeasts.

Having denunciated with passion, there now appears to be a mental pause, which is followed by a sort of backtracking. I write “sort of” because the speechifying now takes a very curious and somewhat inexplicable left turn.

[steel tanks]“It would be right to use yeasts from Piedmont, but we can’t. […] I would rather use a yeast from Canelli, but I don’t have the money.”

Now, it’s true that I’ve never heard an economic argument made for why one cannot employ a locally-sourced yeast. I have heard an economic argument against the uncertainty of ambient yeasts in toto, but that’s clearly not what’s on our host’s mind here. I can only surmise – no other reason of which I can conceive makes sense – that the aforementioned philosophical linkage between terroir and ambient yeast has suddenly occurred, and what we are now hearing is a response to that internal reminder.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. One is that if one is going to add packaged yeast, it seems largely unimportant from a philosophical standpoint whether the lab that isolated or created that yeast is down the street or halfway ‘round the globe. It’s still a packaged yeast, for all the importance (or lack thereof) that someone places in such things. Those drinkers who harbor a philosophical preference for ambient yeasts, a small but extant and vocal niche within winedom, are unlikely to be swayed to the desirability of inoculated yeast because it comes from within a thirty-mile radius of the winery. And to anyone else, the argument doesn’t matter a bit.

Another is the assertion that a Canelli- or Piedmont-derived yeast would be beyond this winery’s means. I admit complete ignorance on how this might be so. Is the price differential for yeast inoculants really so large that the economics of it matter to such a degree? If so, why? Simple economies of scale? Or are certain yeasts the Armani of the Saccharomyces set, while others hang out on the clearance shelves at Walmart?

(After some post-facto conversations, however, I’ve another theory: perhaps what’s meant, though to my knowledge this goes unsaid, is that any winery wishing for a local strain of yeast isolated and then reproduced in commercial quantities might have to pay for this research and development themselves.)

Having deployed a full palette of arguments against ambient yeast, the subject now appears exhausted (and our schedulers seem to be mentally projecting an impatient tapping of their watches), and so we move inside for a tasting. We begin with the ubiquitous white interloper of the region, for which a defense is peremptorily offered: “you can call me a follower of fashion, but chardonnay is one of the oldest white grapes here.”

l’Armangia 2008 Piemonte Chardonnay “Pratorotondo” (Piedmont) – 70% stainless steel and 30% wood, sulfured only once at bottling. Shy, lending a brief glimpse of melon and lemon (the latter heavy on the rind) under the shade of an acacia tree. Kinda…eh.

l’Armangia 2007 Monferrato Sauvignon “EnnEEnnE” (Piedmont) – Yes, yes, everyone has the same question: what does that mean? Roughly, “bastard child,” here a reference to the unusual (for the region) grape variety. Floral aromas, woodsy and a little bit woody as well, though it’s less of a prominent aromatic factor than it is a participant in the muting and restraining of other aromas. Fairly sticky and dense, with some heat evident. The texture is lavish, and without that alcoholic imbalance this could have been a more interesting wine than it ultimately turns out to be.

Cheap snark alert: as an argument against whatever New Zealand is doing, this is perhaps not enormously effective.

We enter into the barbera portion of the tasting with a little primer on recent vintages, at least as seen from this winery’s vantage point. 2006 was not particularly hot, but dry, and some August rain freshened the grapes. 2007 is considered the best of the three it anchors, with an accelerated beginning (there were leaves on trees as early as February), a hot August, and a cooler September. And 2008? A rainy, cold winter, but no midsummer rain, and so the grapes tend towards high sugar and good color but little richness. Our host states it plainly: “2008 is not going to be a great vintage.”

l’Armangia 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Sopra Berruti” (Piedmont) – Chocolate and lactic milkiness with only a rough stab at integration. Kinda flat, otherwise. Not very good.

l’Armangia 2006 Barbera d’Asti “Sopra Berruti” (Piedmont) – Buttered fruit, dark raspberry jam, and spiky acidity. Alcohol prongs forth as well. The texture is somewhat unfortunate – Nutella and peanut butter – which just adds to the problems.

At this point, apparently feeling that not enough contentious assertions have been provided during our discourse on yeast, our host offers the following as an aside. And what an aside!

“The new [trend] is to say that [a] wine is not aged in wood…but fine tannins are added.” This is a contention that will be rather violently refuted the following afternoon, but it’s worth noting in advance of that tale that it’s not just foreign journalists that are sniffing around this question. Lacking evidence either way, I can only report the controversy as it played out within our hearing.

l’Armangia 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Titon” (Piedmont) – Syrupy fruit and alcohol. Were there such an English dessert as “sticky cherry toffee pudding,” this would be the perfect partner. Jam abounds, with infusion-like leaf bitterness on the finish. Very, very dense.

l’Armangia 2004 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Vignali” (Piedmont) – Huge. Massive fruit layered with chocolate and mint. While this is balanced in its own hulkish way, I challenge someone to slip it into a blind tasting of Napa cabernet/merlot blends and then pick it from the lineup. Maybe the acidity would tell the tale, but I doubt it.

This last wine is interesting, because it comes alongside a musing that “now that there are more people drinking wine more regularly, they’re moving from cabernet to pinot” and “don’t want such heavy, overpowering wines.” I think that for some drinkers that’s true, and is reflected in certain segments of the market, but there’s nothing in this portfolio to suggest organoleptic kinship with pinot noir, nor a rejection of heaviness or power.

…with this one exception: we’re told that the yeast used for inoculations here is RC212. Let me quote Lallemand’s description of this yeast:

Lalvin Bourgorouge RC212 was selected from fermentations in Burgundy by the BIVB to extract and protect the polyphenols of Pinot noir. Due to the limited adsorption of polyphenols on Lalvin Bourgorouge RC212 yeast cell walls, there is limited color loss and structure is protected during aging. It requires high nutrient additions to avoid the potential development of sulfides and demonstrates best results when rehydrated with the right nutrient and protectant. Lalvin Bourgorouge RC212 consistently produces Pinot noir with good structure, ripe cherry, bright fruit and spicy characteristics. Wines made with Lalvin Bourgorouge RC212 can be blended with wines made with RA17 to achieve more complexity and finesse.

Trying for pinot noir but achieving something very different? Cheap snark alert number two: maybe ambient yeasts are the answer after all.

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.

In-senza-ble

[bottles on radiator]One taster calls it “the most confusing discussion with a winemaker ever.” I can’t quite go that far, since I’ve conversed with Nicolas Joly on more than one occasion, but it’s close.

The wines of Paolo Marcarino are not, I think, well-known. If there’s a web site, I can’t find it. No one I (very casually) survey in the Piedmont has ever heard of the producer. And to be completely honest, even we are only here for one reason. That reason? To taste unsulfured barbera.

A bit of contextualization might be helpful. The natural Piedmontese reaction to anything that the winemaker with whom one is currently speaking is not themselves doing is inevitably negative. Negative in the extreme. On which subject more in a future post, but “impossible,” “stupid,” “insane”…these and similar terms are regularly and widely deployed in the service of decrying whatever techniques a given winemaker does not use, but that their neighbors (real or imagined) might. Often followed by an overall condemnation of the producer doing that very weird thing. It’s all a little soap operatic, to be honest, and while it’s hardly unique to this region, it has been raised to a bit of an art form here.

So it’s easy to imagine the warm embrace with which a senza solfiti wine is greeted in the region. Or rather: would be greeted, if anyone had heard of it. But that’s why we’re here, now.

There’s the usual cellar tour – tanks, barrels small and large, nothing really out of the ordinary except a little machinery that I will detail in a moment – and recounting of the family history. Nothing exceptional there, either: their own vineyards, expanding a small family estate into something more aspirational, etc., etc., etc. A story heard hundreds of times by anyone who’s visited many producers. The ink for this story is still fresh…a cellar not yet finished, labels not yet affixed…and so, aside from the sulfite issue, the most interesting aspect of the visit is to taste at the point of transition. On the point of the fulcrum. Which way will the balance tip?

We hear from the family for a while, mostly on matters historical, but speechifying is soon turned over to the not-the-oenologist, Mauro de Paola*. The turnover follows closely on the heels of a self-reflective question: “how can we distinguish ourselves?” This is a question every winery should ask itself – especially in the context of our barbera tastings, in which there seems to be a dismaying pressure to conform to an international style – but of course the answers to that question can lead to dramatically different results.

*Mauro de Paola is introduced to us as the oenologist during our visit, but described as a “friend” and decidedly “not the oenologist” in subsequent email exchanges between our translator and the Marcarino family. Whatever his title, he does a good 50% of the talking during our visit, including answering all the technical questions. Does it really matter whether or not he has a title? No, not to me. But it’s one more element of confusion in what will prove to be a very confusing encounter.

One answer here seems to be the no-sulfite path. It is perhaps significant that, despite a few questions, I don’t think we ever really get an answer as to why. Is it simply a point of the stated desire for distinction, or is there a greater purpose? Our visit will suggest the former, and in fact we are told that the goal is “not to make good wine without sulfites, but [to make] a great barbera.”

Paolo Marcarino 2009 Barbera d’Asti “Zeroincondatta” (Piedmont) – A no-added-sulfite barbera, one of the very few in the entire region (that is to say: I don’t personally know of another, but someone might). This is, compared to other barberas of the region – even the pushed-ripeness variety – very violet-purple in color…a color that one often encounters in the absence of sulfur, no matter which grape varieties are employed. There’s also the spiky brittleness expressed alongside a prickle of (pleasant) volatility that seems to come with the genre, and which I’m told derives from the particular sort of semi-carbonic fermentation necessary when working without sulfur. As for the rest: lavish acidity, fruit in the grapey/blueberry-ish range, and fine-grained, overtly crystalline tannin. It’s pretty, but there’s a hint of highly-tinted mascara (think Donna Mills in Knots Landing) to the attractiveness; not that I mean to suggest that the wine’s made-up or artificial, just that there are some showy, lurid aspects to its visage. Acid asserts itself as the finish progresses. I like this a great deal.

A “great barbera?” I don’t know. It’s a very good wine, but it’s also pushing and tearing the envelope that I consider to envelop barbera’s typicity. That’s not particularly unusual when comparing no-added-sulfite wines to their normally-elevated brethren. If it means anything, it’s the best no-added-sulfite barbera I’ve ever tasted. (Also, by definition, the worst, as it’s the only.) Beyond that I can’t really say.

[vineyards in asti]We go on to taste a second barbera, and though the word is not used, it’s clear that this is the “serious” one, from what they perceive to be their best terroir and the beneficiary of what heft-inducing cellar practices they’re willing to employ.

Paolo Marcarino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Terranuda (pre-release) (Piedmont) – Made from vines planted in the 1920s, and enhanced by the addition of the pressed juice of dried-on-mats grapes; juice that comprises 20% of the finished wine. Post-fermentation, the wine receives its first dose of sulfur and is then put in barriques for one year. As with almost all dried-grape red wines, there’s a noticeable spike of volatile acidity that has a little bit of a slapfight with the dark, dusty aromatics. Despite its lifted beginnings, it’s a clenched fist of a wine, not overly marked by its wood, and delivers a long finish that grows juicier as it lingers. This needs time to expand and develop, obviously, but I think it will be impressive one day. Right now, it’s mostly just big.

For some tasters, the addition of dried-grape must at 15-16% alcohol (not mirrored in the finished wine, I should add) is a little bewildering. The wine doesn’t lack size or power, and wouldn’t seem to lack either even without the dried grapes. Viewed plainly, this is the oenological equivalent of blood doping…a term I hesitate to use because unlike in sports, it is not only not disallowed but in fact rather traditional in winemaking, but which is the best non-wine analogy I can come up with, and for which I beg a sympathetic reading. Yes, it “works.” But is it necessary?

The discussion which stems from a few attempts to ask this question is where things get confusing. I will do my best to present the winery’s case (almost exclusively as presented by the not-the-oenologist), interpolated with my own reactions, but it’s important to note up front that I am not assessing the correctness of the winery’s assertions on any point of practice, only responding to them. And one final disclaimer: all of this is based on a near-simultaneous translation, so there are multiple opportunities for errors and shifts in meaning between the speakers’ intent and this reporter’s understanding, for which I must preemptively apologize.

While Marcarino does not – at least to us – profess to be “natural,” they do claim that whatever they do to the wine once it enters the cellar is restricted to “sophisticated technology based on nature.” Further examination of this statement leads to a short treatise:

“You have to understand that bottles are not born in the vineyard,” begins the not-the-oenologist, identifying “three human ingredients” (I think a post-facto interpreter would prefer something like “paths of potential intervention” here, even though those are not the words used), which are identified as:

1) chemical correction, “a form of oenology that’s obsolete”
2) “to put our faith in biology,” meaning no intervention at all
3) “intelligence,” which he defines as trying to understand the natural processes at work in the grape-to-wine transformation and then “guid[ing] that natural process with natural tools”

It’s clear that he understands Marcarino to be following the third path. He then goes on to explain how, in his view, each potential human intervention might manifest itself:

1) the “chemist” would add copper
2) the “biologist” would “allow bad smells to develop”
3) the “most intelligent” one would choose the “right yeasts” and so forth, to guide the process

The assumptions and preconceptions in this triptych are manifestly obvious. Here we have a producer whose practices would be decried by many of their peers (and from both directions) finding a target that they can decry, and then wasting little opportunity to do so. All of these positions are defensible and arguable, both in theory and in practice, and while (as noted earlier) the dismissal of others’ practices seems to be par for the regional course, this dismissal seems not to be rooted in a philosophy or firm set of oenological theories, but instead in a rather confused jumble of contradictory thoughts.

That requires some unpacking. The above having been said, an additional piece of information about the “Zeroincondatta” barbera is proffered: the wine is put through micro-oxidation. (“Everything else is traditional” is the very slightly defensive coda…though a cooling system for the press is later mentioned, and temperature control to manage oxygenation, and CO2, and then of course there are those inoculated yeasts. “Traditional?” As always, it depends on which producer and time period one chooses to identify as the basis for that tradition.) Later, in response to the aforementioned questions about dried-grape additions to the Terranuda, it is asserted that this is necessary to “manage tannin” (apparently, the old vines are naturally inclined to excess in this regard). Of course, there are other ways to manage tannin, and since they’ve already the technology for one of them in the cellar, I ask the obvious question: why not use micro-oxidation?

[barriques at marcarino]The answer? “Not enough is known about how micro-oxidation interacts with polyphenols.”

Well, OK. Let’s assume that this is true. Then why are they using it on the senza solfiti barbera? The most delicate, fragile, unpredictable wine in the portfolio…and it gets a micro-oxidative roll of the ten-sided dice? This makes absolutely no sense.

Alas, there’s no opportunity (or perhaps insufficient will on my part) to ask this question, for now that the subject of tannin management has been raised, the all-too-ubiquitous barriques – another potential approach to that management – are now under discussion. Here’s our not-the-oenologist again:

“There was [here in the Piedmont, but also elsewhere] a ‘silent revolution’ that no one wants to talk about.” That is: the change from botti (the large, and old, wooden casks traditional to the region and still employed in some form by many producers) to stainless steel. This was “great for hygiene,” but the problem is that stainless steel “encourages the polyphenolic structure to reduce.” Thus, in these post-revolutionary times, the choices faced by a winemaker are “less polyphenolic content” or “aging in wood.” Since smaller wooden containers provide faster oxygenation, “the use [of barriques] became almost mandatory.”

I don’t know if the silence that greets this statement is real or just imagined as a consequence of the bewilderment in my head. I understand that the use of barriques to achieve faster oxygenation is a possible approach, but I admit to not understanding how that so effortlessly becomes “mandatory.” Like so many other discussions of the desirability of small French oak, it also elides the explanation of why botti are either no longer an option or a lesser option, despite their ubiquity in the region.

Ultimately, I wonder if all this discussion of tannin management and oxygenation might not be a red herring. Late in the visit, the not-the-oenologist suggests another possible reason for the buffing-up of the Terranuda: “the press tends to like bigger, more muscular wines.” Well, maybe, and maybe not. But just once, I wish a producer would admit this up front, and dispense with the circuitous steps of the natural/technological/traditional/modern ballet that convinces only the credulous.

Anyway, there are more wines to taste.

Paolo Marcarino 2009 Cortese (unfinished sample) (Piedmont) – I don’t know what the appellation for this wine is or will be. It’s still extremely cloudy (cross-flow filtration is in its future), made without the addition of sulfites, and it’s fabulous. It explodes in a burst of flowers and piercing, razor-edged acidity that lashes that palate like a cat o’ nine tails. Eventually, it narrows to a thin wedge of steel. I suspect that, once tamed for commerciality, there will be a little less ordinance here. But it’s fun while it lasts.

Paolo Marcarino 2007 Moscato d’Asti “Lucifero” (Piedmont) – Paper scented with mercaptans, and not particularly sweet even within its genre. This reminds me a bit of a Léclapart Champagne, and it also reminds me that I’ve never liked Léclapart Champagne. Orange blossom and some freshly-fired ash contribute to the discussion, but only in monosyllables. Many of my fellow tasters like this, but I do not.

The moscato d’Asti is described as “old style” and from older vines. And just so we don’t leave without a confusing quasi-tautology lingering in our heads, the not-the-oenologist gives us one final thought to ponder:

“You have to appreciate this style of wine to make this style of wine, because you have to know how and when to intervene.”

Unthreading the definitional contradictions in that statement would take hours, and I’m not going to attempt it here. In any case, it is of a piece with the winery’s very confusing – or, if I’m inclined towards uncharitability, confused – thoughts on their purpose and the methods by which they are achieving that purpose.

In the end, for some (and sometimes for me) the only important conclusion is this: except for that moscato d’Asti, this is a winery that produces very good wines, very interesting wines, and occasionally both at the same time. To the extent that one cannot drink a philosophy, the quality of the wines is the only thing matters.

And then again, it does. Philosophy and purpose inform viticultural and oenological decisions. Those decisions lead to stylistic outcomes. Consistency of philosophy or purpose are not in any way the same thing as quality, or even consistency of quality, but they do matter. They matter because in an overwhelming world of options in which no one can taste everything for themselves, nor even truly follow others’ collective efforts towards this comprehensiveness, tools to aid in the winnowing and selection process are essential. Applied philosophy in the vineyard and cellar, and the open knowledge of same, is one of those tools. Not a 100% reliable one, and always subject to evaluation and evolution of preference, but a helpful tool nonetheless. A winery that does not have a clear and consistent answer to “why” will also, except by accident, not have a clear and consistent answer to “how.” And thus, this tool is removed from the workbench, increasing the informational entropy for any potential customer.

The cynical reader might naturally be inclined to view the no-sulfite regime here as bandwagon-jumping for the purposes of differential marketing. Certainly more than a few winemakers and journalists in the region will offer that exact interpretation without prompting. While I could never be considered to lack cynicism, I think it’s far too early to accuse or excuse. Time and the market will work their pressures, we’ll see how the winery responds, and only then might we be able to draw some tentative conclusions as to definitional intent. And given that time, maybe the answers to the difficult questions of practice and purpose will find clearer, more consistent answers.

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.

The Asti pudding club

[99 bottles of barbera on the wall]The fourth and final set of notes from the morning’s barbera d’Asti tastings (there are afternoon and evening sessions yet to come), this time all wines from 2006, both regular and Superiore. See this post for important disclaimers.

Caudrina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Montevenere (Piedmont) – Chocolate malt drink.

Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy 2006 Barbera d’Asti Monte Colombo (Piedmont) – This shows very different fruit than any other wine in the room: strawberry powder with Starburst-like qualities. Watermelon, as well? There’s no doubt that it’s very odd.

Agostino 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore La Marescialla (Piedmont) – Bored now. Flat, depressed (and depressing) fruit which never goes much of anywhere.

Castlet 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Litina (Piedmont) – Reminds me of New World pinot, which is at least an appealing improvement over the New World cabernet and New World shiraz I’ve been tasting of late. Pleasant, puppy dog fruit. Strawberries and cream. Breakfast at Wimbledon? Sure, why not?

Costa Olmo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont) – Dark cherry syrup, hints of licorice. Dead fruit. Dead wine. Dead taster, if I have to suffer many more wines like this.

Araldica “Il Cascinone” 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “d’Annona” (Piedmont) – Stinky feet marinating in barley. And there’s something uncircumcised and unclean about it. Yes, it’s that sort of bad.

La Ballerina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Ajè” (Piedmont) – Very, very chocolately. Myself, I prefer these sorts of things made from a fine, single-sourced cocoa, rather than the syrupy stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle. Also, a slightly fresher milk would be better; this tastes like that room-temperature, chemically frightening “milk” the French drink.

Castello di Razzano 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vigna Valentino Caligaris (Piedmont) – When I was in first grade, I was bitten by a dog. I had a heavily-bandaged and en-casted arm for a time, and I remember the incredible stench of trapped, humidified flesh and slowly-healing scar grunge that exploded forth when the cast was finally removed. Who knew they’d bottled that smell? The thermonuclear fruit device within helps mask the miasma, but not enough.

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.