Browse Tag



Dirler prudence

One by one, the pinnacles of Alsace crumble. Sometimes it’s unexpected tragedy — I still have trouble believing that Laurence Faller is gone — and sometimes it’s the fickle winds of the marketplace. But mostly, it’s climate.

Global warming is ruining Alsace. Actually, let’s make that more strident: global warming has ruined Alsace. The region’s “best” vineyards — the solar-collector grand crus of the Haut-Rhin — are often too hot for anything but slow-ripening riesling (sometimes) and grapes that wine law prefers to dissuade from those notable slopes (like sylvaner, or even pinot blanc). Gewurztraminer? Pinot gris? Forget it. Vendanges tardives-level ripeness is sometimes achievable from a good grower’s first harvest, these days. Yet far too many wines are sweet, alcoholic, and just generally huge, lacking any sense of acidity or freshness such behemoths require.

Saving graces could be coming from the cooler Bas-Rhin, where many sites are fully entwined with the lower arms of the Vosges and their cooling breezes, but a majority of the northern producers seem ill-equipped to handle the change in fortunes. While it’s far from clear that the sites in the north are capable of reaching the same heights as their southerly brethren, it also may just be that producer inexperience with making world-class wine is holding back the quality. Loew manages it. So does Gresser. Kreydenweiss is capable of it, but the wines crack up far too quickly. There aren’t all that many others. And even if there were, who would buy them? The market for Alsatian wines has cratered.

Still, there are holdouts. Trimbach, obviously…though the techniques that preserve their house style are a matter of some debate. Lorentz. Blanck. Mann. Some of the (semi-)non-interventionists (Josmeyer, Barmès-Buecher) manage thicker styles with grace. It’s too early to know what’s going to happen at Weinbach.

I’ve been visiting Alsace off and on for almost twenty years, and the options for something local that I actually want to drink with its already weighty cuisine diminish every year. But there’s one producer I return to again and again: Dirler-Cadé.

Keep Reading

[stained barrel]

No filter, no cry

There comes a moment in every young wine writer’s life when they dabble at becoming Robert M. Parker, Jr. When knowledge of wines crosses the Rubicon into a vastly more satisfying (and self-satisfied) knowledge of wine, and the urge to proclaim their understanding suddenly becomes overwhelming.

With fair frequency, the very next moment in every young wine writer’s life is someone with vastly more knowledge explaining that they’re wrong.

I’m pretty sure my own era of ranting from a illusory mountaintops happened around the turn of the millennium; I was convinced I was on my way to being a Master of Wine (I wasn’t), I had done the work of tasting and study (but not nearly enough), I knew stuff (only some), and I had regular outlets through which to bestow my undoubtedly brilliant and precious insights on an eager audience.

Reading my work from those days is now a matter of silencing endless groans of embarrassment, and there are more than a few things I wish I could permanently expunge. But what I really wish is that I’d preserved the admonishments and corrections from (mostly) patient correspondents. I could make copies and forward a parcel to each new writer as they enter their own personal Enlightenment, accelerating the arrival of their own personal Disillusionment.

Most eventually pass through this boastful phase and move on to a truly satisfying era in which excitement and energy are drawn from unknowns, from yet-unsolved mysteries, from new horizons. An unfortunate few remain Parkeresque, driving anchors deep into their epistemological turf, cementing them into permanence, and screaming bloody murder at heathens and apostates who dare question their god-like authority.

And so it was that I prepared for the worst as the following pull quote scrolled past my not-quite-awakened eyes this morning:

Enough about sulfur already. More wines are ruined by filtration.

“Uh-oh,” I fretted. For the author is still young, and occasionally inclined to shout. Keep Reading


vineyardThere was a time when I had to know it all, or at least try. (Or, one might more accurately say with the benefit of hindsight, be able to pretend well enough to convince others.) That time was during my studies with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and, later, what was supposed to be my preparatory work for the Master of Wine examinations. I planted and harvested much of the former, but never did more than scratch and scuff the ground for the latter. Once the project had been abandoned I…went off in search of another metaphor, because I’m already heartily sick of this one.

My point is: once, I tried to stretch my arms (and my palate, and all too often my wallet) around the entirety of the world’s wines. Assyrtiko or albalonga, Mudgee or Merlara, I had to be ready for any and all of it. I was an enormous vacuum for datum and trivium. If it existed, and someone within my sphere of acquisitiveness knew of it, then I probably knew of it too.

On the sacrificial altar, of course, was depth. I could afford one or two limited specializations, but there simply wasn’t time to know, rather than know of, aught else. So when my rewarding but ultimately fruitless attempt to know it all ended, the counter-reaction was natural. I dropped nearly all the threads within my hand, concentrating on one or two at a time…enthusiasms that flowed with my palate’s eddies, and that often coincided with places I’d recently visited. When one immerses, however, one loses contact with the wider world.

Still, it’s rare for something – especially when it suits both my interest and my palate – to completely pass me by. So when I first heard about Clos Saron, not all that many years ago, I figured (especially based on the sources invoking it) that it was one of the growing number of hipster/naturalista/counter-cultural startups springing up in California, and that I’d check it out when it was a little more established.

Anyone who actually knows the winery knows where this is going. Clos Saron has been around for a while, its winemaker for longer, it’s not at all what I’d assumed, the wines were available in my previous home and were long straight up my aesthetic alley, and…well I have no good excuse for inattention, really. It just slipped through my ever-widening mental cracks. Based on a brief tasting with the winemaker over dinner, and then a somewhat more expansive overview a few days later, more’s the pity.

Winemaker Gideon Beinstock traces his journey from Israel, via France, to – of all places – the Sierra Foothills. One is, he says, in search of “a certain lifestyle” in those gold-emptied hills, and unless some great yet unforeseen leap in ease of conveyance is just around the corner, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. There’s plenty of convention and coasting in the region, from some, but it’s also an exceptionally good place for someone who wishes to work outside the boundaries. Or at least to create their own.

But boundaries help a writer contextualize, so how to draw a perimeter around the wines of Clos Saron? To employ a distinction I’ve used I the past, they’re natural without being Natural: made towards one end of the anti-intervention continuum, yet tasting more like high-quality examples from the more conventional set. They seem like the sort of wines one would identify as terroir-expressive, though lacking sufficient experience with their specific sources I can make no more than a guess at that. The reason I’d hesitate to call them capital-N Natural is that they lack the biochemical ephemerae – both good and bad – that mark so many products of the genre. These are wines one could slip into any tasting of exemplary representatives of their peer groups without anyone knowing that there was a naturalist interloper in their midst.

So there’s data for those who drink philosophies. Those who care about details of agriculture and winemaking can go to the winery’s web site and look them up; I have, over the decades, developed an extreme fatigue with thousands of nearly-identical paragraphs about how a winery moves their product around in harmony and contravention of gravity and thermodynamics, and tend to restrict commentary to anything out of the ordinary. Thus, of particular note is that the vines tend to be own-rooted (though there are exceptions, like cabernet sauvignon grafted over to pinot noir), and – by intent – grapes spend their birth, life, and death in group marriage. That is: they’re grown, harvested, and co-fermented together.

And they need age. Or at least the reds very obviously do, the winemaker claims the rosé does, and the white that I taste is somewhat of a special case (see below). Or, as Beinstock puts it:

Wine is not a one-dimensional thing. It’s not a snapshot, it’s a movie. It has a whole life. We think we understand this wine…but we don’t understand this wine.

I stress that word “need,” because these aren’t wines that just soften from one appeal to another with time, they transform. And not, based on what I’ve tasted, all that quickly.

cellar doorOver dinner at Vedge, Philadelphia’s excellent and ambitious vegan restaurant (if one can trust the word of this committed carnivore), we taste a few wines in their youthful, underdeveloped forms while the soft-spoken Beinstock attempts to be heard over the din. Eventually he just gives up and goes from table to table, which probably better-reflects the ethos of his wines, anyway. For while the wines certainly don’t lack body, they’re themselves essentially soft-spoken, and in this they reflect their guiding hand.

Clos Saron 2010 “Tickled Pink” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah and cinsault. Bony and forgettable. But the a new bottle arrives, vastly more generous than the previous, and while there’s still a parched, desert butte quality on a bed of minerality ground slowly down from gravel to sand, it at least makes one take notice. The notion that this ages well makes sense when one compares it with the bleak starkness of another rosé known for its ageability: that of R. López de Heredia. The organoleptics are different, though.

With roasted root vegetables and baby leaves, charred onion, and pistachio:

Clos Saron 2011 “Carte Blanche” (Sierra Foothills) – A little out of the norm for this wine in that the grapes for this blend were purchased from Lodi. A crazy-quilt blend of albariño, verdelho, chardonnay, and petit manseng…the varietal equivalent of what my Minnesotan family used to call “leftovers hotdish.” It takes a while to get up to speed, with sweet lemonade aromatics and a bubblegum texture, but eventually the full mass of the wine (and it’s surprisingly, if adeptly, large-boned) makes its impression. Juicy yet brooding, there’s an eventual sharpening to the finish worked by the etching qualities of the wine’s acidity. Finishes long and very dry, despite all the initial dalliances with sweeter notions.

With a lightly-curried gold lentil and Kabocha squash bisque and a fresh heart of palm fritter:

Clos Saron 2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard (Sierra Foothills) – Very earthy, sweaty, even a little swarthy, its soils seething in unrest. Pillowy tannin hardens towards the finish, while the wine dabbles in aromatic exoticism. Long and exceedingly interesting.

With smoked eggplant braciole, crushed cauliflower, and an Italian salsa verde:

Clos Saron 2006 “La Cuvée Mystérieuse” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah, merlot, grenache, and roussanne. Big, galloping purple fruit with morels. Gorgeous, rich, extremely aromatic. So seductive for such a big wine, whirling and helixing as it finishes.

With roasted maitake mushroom, smashed turnips, leeks, and a porcini sauce:

Clos Saron 2006 Syrah “Heart of Stone” (Sierra Foothills) – There’s a dollop of roussanne here. Very strong. Leather, blackberry, and a forbidding wall of dried fruit adhering to a currently-impenetrable wall. Broadens a bit as it pushes against that wall, but there’s little point in drinking this now.

leavesAbout a week later, at a trade tasting in New York, Beinstock showed some of the same wines (which, in the service of efficiency, I skipped) and some additions, but more importantly opened older versions of more than a few of them. More than anything anyone could say, this exercise made his ageability argument clearly and definitively.

(As is almost always the case with trade/press tasting notes, these come from briefer scribblings than are my preference, and the notes are thus proportionally shorter and more abrupt.)

Clos Saron 2006 “La Cuvée Mystérieuse” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah, merlot, grenache, and roussanne. Black and blue berries (and yes, a little bruised), strappy, with pink peppercorns adding their odd prickle here and there. A bit of a cudgel at the moment.

Clos Saron 2002 “La Cuvée Mystérieuse” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah, merlot, and viognier. Developing nicely, a surprisingly pretty face somewhat obscured by swirling dust. Very long, and eminently promising.

Clos Saron 2006 “Black Pearl” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot. A rutting beast a-swim in fruit syrup. Not to say that the wine’s sweet, but it’s sticky, dense, and eventually turns quite hard as it finishes. Full of stuffing, but it’s going to take a really long time to abrade its wrapping.

Clos Saron 2001 “Black Pearl” (Sierra Foothills) – Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc. Dark purple stains on peppered leather. Still very tannic, and showing more structure than I’d think was ideal. Then again, it’s possible this is just in a difficult adolescence, and generosity will reemerge.

Clos Saron 2006 Syrah “Heart of Stone” (Sierra Foothills) – Co-fermented with a little roussanne. Bell peppers dusted with black pepper. Gorgeous and expressive right now. There’s some jerky, or perhaps dried leather, late that is usually an early indication of age in syrah, but the wine’s actual future remains to be seen.

Clos Saron 2002 Syrah “Heart of Stone” (Sierra Foothills) – Weedy and starting to unravel. Lots of gravelly minerality, held together by tar.

Clos Saron 2009 Syrah “Stone Soup” (Sierra Foothills) – There’s a touch of viognier involved, too. Huge and thick. A rhombus of a wine, structurally, with chunks much on which to chew. Tannins are, texturally, powdery. Observe that I haven’t mentioned fruit anywhere in this note; it’s not devoid, but it’s certainly not prioritizing any at the moment.

Clos Saron 2000 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard (Sierra Foothills) – Forest floor and maturing (though far from absent) tannin, lingering antique pie aromas. Gorgeous. Wow!

Clos Saron 1999 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard (Sierra Foothills) – Rough, bold, and chewier than the 2000, still with a heft wallop of tannin and a gritty texture. This may just be in an awkward stage.

(All images © Clos Saron)

What the hell are we flighting, flor?

[flor, © Arnaud 25 via Wikimedia Commons]It’s all about context.

Oxygen is the enemy of wine. Open a bottle and it starts to die, right then and there. The demise may take minutes or long, lingering days, and there may be some interesting…maybe even salutary…effects along the way (certain components kick their respective buckets faster than others), but the fact is that exposing a wine to oxygen is signing its death warrant.

This is as true in the winery as it is in the bottle, and a lot of modern winemaking is about going to elaborate lengths to keep wine and oxygen as far apart as the Montagues and Capulets. The failure to do so turns out about as well as that literary pairing did, albeit without quite so many balcony dramatics. Careful pumping from one container to another, topping up barrels the instant they show a little airspace, bottling under a blanket of oxygen-repelling gas…it’s all part of the basic repertoire.

Sure, there are a few ambered-in-time wine styles – colheita port comes to mind – in which a little bit of oxidation can be expected, but what in the distant past used to be the norm is, today, little more than a historical artifact. These days, when someone mentions oxidation it’s almost always negative…as with the vexing scourge of prematurely-oxidized white Burgundies. And oxidation isn’t the only worry. For in the cellar, oxygen also encourages the growth of unwelcome micro-beasties that will work their own nefariousness on the wine.

Ah…but it’s all about context.

One of the colonizations encouraged by excess in-barrel oxygen is yeast…or at least, a certain type of yeast. Finished with the busywork of turning sugar into poisonous (to them) alcohol, they retreat to the surface, lay back, and commence as much of a sunny post-work bask as yeast cells can enjoy within the darkened confines of a wine barrel. Their cousins join them, pulling up a very tiny beach chair and cuddling close. And soon enough, there’s an enveloping film of recumbent Saccharomyces doing what the winemaker could (or would) not: separating wine from oxygen. Oh, those poor unicellular Romeos and elemental Juliets, they just can’t catch a break…

And then…a bunch of chemical stuff happens. I’m not going to bore anyone (least of all myself) with the details, especially since I’d just be cribbing others’ barely-comprehensible work, and I’d still probably get it wrong. The important thing is that, under certain controlled conditions, this layer of yeast – one that in most situations would mean liquid refreshment for the winery drain – leads to something particularly interesting. The geographical center of such controlled conditions is the region of Spain in which Sherry is made. There (and in other Spanish regions practicing similar techniques) the yeast is called flor, from the Spanish word for “flower.”

But the flower doesn’t just bloom in Spain. It’s also embraced in the Jura region of France, in which vin jaune (yellow wine) is the most famous name amongst a varied, yeast-enveloped genre. There, flor is called voile, which means something like “veil,” “shroud,” or “curtain.” And then there’s Sardinia, with its vernaccia di Oristano, and…well, no need for a complete dossier on flor’s worldwide peregrinations. Enough to know that it’s not just restricted to Jerez and its neighbors.

The French term for the yeast in question raises an interesting question however: what is flor’s role in varietal and site expression? Like fortification, botrytis, bubbles, sans soufre winemaking, and the extended macerations of the orange wine set, is what it adds to the organoleptic palette subverted by its masking, equalizing effects? Do flor-affected wines achieve an asymptotic similarity, or do grape and site still shine through? Perhaps flor itself differs from wine to wine?

These are provocations that can’t be argued into submission, but rather need to be explored by tasting. And the Impresario of Orange, towering (literally) New York wine eminence Levi Dalton – the man responsible for last year’s orange wine bacchanal – is just the man to do it. It is thus that a group of wandering seekers after a babe in swaddling yeasts assemble at Alto, Dalton’s swanky new Manhattan restaurant digs, to find out. Florty-nine wines…each one flor-affected, flighted and sequenced in a controlled setting which will highlight what they do and don’t reveal from behind their veils.

It’s all about context, after all.

Oh…and there’s food. Selected from some of the hits of the flor repertoire but taking a few chances, filtered through Alto’s northern-Italianate leanings (more or less; note the cheesy interloper at the end), and mostly highly-restrained and low-impact, which serves the wines – if not always the food – well.

sausage-stuffed olive, branzino tartare, spiced marcona almonds

capesante dorate e agrodolce di uva
seared scallops, toasted marcona almonds, golden raisin agrodolce

garganelli amatriciana
hand-made pasta quills, pancetta, slow-cooked tomato ragù, basil

sgombro alla griglia
lightly grilled mackerel, fava purée, hen of the woods mushrooms


And so, flortified and sustained, we forge florward…into a walk-around tasting of finos and manzanillas.

El Maestro Sierra Fino (Jerez) – Very salty and fierce, slashing and hacking away at the already well-infused remains of a raw olive pit. Bitter. With food, this is pretty exciting; without it, there’s hurt. (8/10)

Gutiérrez Colosia “Juan Sebastian Elcano” Fino (Jerez) – Dirt, sand, sourness, and rancidity. The worst wine in the room, and by a fair measure. The real first man to sail around the world deserves better than this, doesn’t he? (8/10)

Perez Barquero “Gran Barquero” Fino (Jerez) – Nuts and old citrus oils, with a molten candle-wax texture. Smooth and elegant. (8/10)

Toro Albalá “Eléctrico” Fino (Jerez) – Bitter green olive and lemon pith. Rectangular in form. Not very interesting, but OK. (8/10)

Dios Baco Fino (Jerez) – Perfumed, elegant, and somewhat feminine in form. Flowery. Fills out and lengthens on the finish, though the alcohol becomes more pointed. (8/10)

Lustau “Jarana” Fino (Jerez) – Sweet watermelon and strawberry. Kind of a fluffy fruit bomb. Not what I want. (8/10)

Lustau José Luis González Obregón Fino del Puerto (Jerez) – Flat-textured. Sand and gravel in planar form. A little weird, but there’s complexity in that weirdness. (8/10)

Valdespino “Inocente” Fino (Jerez) – Lavish, complex, and well-seasoned with various salts and peppers, yet elegant at the same time. Earth-driven, in a grey-toned way. Very impressive. (8/10)

Equipo Navazos “La Bota de No. 15” Fino (Jerez) – Starts texturally lush but quickly turns solid, its dark metals ending in squared-off edges. Seems not to be all it could be. Good but disappointing, I’d call it. (8/10)

Fino is sort of the poster child for flor-influenced wine, and so here is an early demonstration of something that will become increasingly clear as the tasting continues into other regions and realms: while it’s not really possible to mask flor’s influence, the extent to which it’s pushed into a supporting rather than leading role has a lot to do with how positively I respond to a given wine. I should note that come to this tasting with an unfortunate disposition against Sherry – I can appreciate it, but I very rarely love it – and I wonder if someone with more affection for the genre might feel differently, preferring more equilibrium between yeasty and grapey elements. On the other hand, here and in the flight that follows, my favorite wines are those that I’d expect to favor based on reputation, so maybe it’s less an issue of picking the most interesting wines than it is properly appreciating the more typical, middle-of-the-road expressions.

La Cigarrera Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Rusty seawater, thick and chunky. Moody and dark. Difficult to like, or even to approach. (8/10)

Argüeso San León Clásica Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Bright lemon rind, salted stones, and riesling-like metal shards. An inner light lifts this into the realm of refreshing. (8/10)

Pedro Romero “Aurora” Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Very fruity (seriously: raspberry and peach, not typical manzanilla descriptors, at least in my experience). Decidedly different and somewhat giggly. (8/10)

Hidalgo “La Gitana” Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Direct and overtly fruity, melding stone fruit and Rainier cherries with peaches and just a little bit of minerality. The training wheels need to come off, and soon. (8/10)

Dios Baco “Riá Pitá” Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Structured and full-bodied but beaten down by overt sourness and what appears to be light oxidation. Lifeless, really. (8/10)

Lustau “Papirusa” Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Leafy and barky, with an omnipresent snowflake shower of apricot skin. Medium-toned and average. (8/10)

Valdespino “Deliciosa” Manzanilla (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Spiced berries and dark fruit dominated by minerality. Complex and rather fantastic, albeit showy. (8/10)

Equipo Navazos “La Bota de No. 16” (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – The bones are evident, but that’s appealing here, as the plump intensity draped about the skeleton just adds interest. Long, spicy…and dry, dry, dry. Really excellent. (8/10)

Equipo Navazos “La Bota de No. 10” (Sanlúcar de Barrameda) – Heady, dark fruit edging towards cherry, with a saline structure and thick, persistent intensity on the finish. Very impressive. (8/10)

The manzanilla-fest starts slowly, but more approachably than the finos, and then pretty quickly builds towards the same qualitative conclusion as the last flight. I know which producers will be on the shopping list: the same ones that were before the tasting. But a few have dropped off in the interim.

Montagut “Mendall” 2007 “Vinyes Arrencades” (Cataluña) – Apple and honeysuckle. Mead-like. Or maybe it’s dandelion wine? There’s a bit of skin to it, so perhaps it’s neither. Quite interesting. (8/10)

Vevi 1954 “Golden” (Castilla & León) – Spanish speakers would know this as the “Dorada” bottling (why it was so arbitrarily and Ibérico-handedly translated I don’t know), done in solera and made from verdejo (with cameos from viura and palomino) in the Rueda. Sweet and short, blowing itself out early in a soft burst of bronzed banana. Fun and very appealing…while it lasts, which isn’t long. (8/10)

Strictly speaking, the Vevi probably would have been better nearer the end of this meal, alongside the vernaccias, but that would have orphaned the Mendall. Perhaps they’re better left here, as an interesting interlude or a palate reset before delving into much narrower and more directed realms of flor – or rather, voile – expression. Florward march, voilenteers…

Bornard 2006 Arbois Pupillin Melon “le Rouge queue” (Jura) – Pointedly volatile but otherwise shy, aromatically; it could be that the reticence highlights what would otherwise be submerged volatility. Peachy, pretty, and rounded. Very fresh. If there’s flor influence here, I can’t detect it, despite being assured by all involved that there is. In a tasting of non-sous voile Jura whites, this wouldn’t stand out. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. (8/10)

Bornard 2005 Côtes du Jura Savagnin “les Marnes” (Jura) – Forward fruit and huge acidity. Very juicy, with a gummy texture despite all that acid. Shouldery. (8/10)

Puffeney 2005 Arbois Savagnin (Jura) – Here’s an interesting twist: mint, lily, apple blossom. Intense, balanced, and unreasonably long, turning more orange-ish and succulent as it lingers. There’s some volatile acidity to deal with, but it’s manageable. (8/10)

Puffeney 2003 Arbois Savagnin (Jura) – Dusty and dense, with both the texture and some of the form of an orange wine, but also with the fatness of the vintage. Thick, spicy, and shocked with electric tangerine that – alas – doesn’t make up for insufficient acidity. Direct, and yet holding something back. This is good for a 2003, and (as the lengthy note indicates) it’s hardly without interest, but it’s neither typical nor qualitatively above-average. (8/10)

Puffeney 1999 Arbois Savagnin “Cuvée l’Oubliée” (Jura) – Stone fruit and copper with a beautiful texture. Incredibly interesting, with depths and hidden hollows in that depth, then crannies in those hollows; the finish is almost Mandelbrotian. Gorgeous. It is not, one must caveat, representative of normal Arbois savagnin. It’s special. (8/10)

Puffeney 1999 Arbois “Cuvée Christelle” (Jura) – A deft but somewhat acrid nose soon loses itself in flowers, mold, and volatile acidity. Powdery. Too weird for me. (8/10)

Here endeth the first flight, in confusion and disarray. A slow start, a peaking middle, and then a jumpy trio of eccentricities. As for enveloping mold characteristics, they’re too voileatile to pin down in this set of wines. Onward…

Macle 2006 Côtes du Jura (Jura) – Almond and metal-armored apple in its woody, post-ripened stage. Deep and rather thoughtful. With that apple, steel, and a (contextually) brittle acidity, it almost seems to have spent some time in riesling’s classroom, learning a lesson here and there but rejecting a more encompassing imposition of form. It’s…different. (8/10)

Ganevat 2005 Arbois “Cuvée de Garde” (Jura) – Windy and difficult on the nose, but the palate makes up for it with an excess of expression. Wet metal, walnut (without bitterness, though), and stones. Angular. (8/10)

Ganevat 2002 Côtes du Jura “La Combe” (Jura) – A little stewed and short, with the alcohol out of balance and to the fore. I ask a few fellow tasters who’ve previous experience with the wine (David Lillie is one, so it’s not like I’m asking random passersby) if this seems to be an intact bottle, and they assure me it tastes as it has. In the absence of that assurance, I’d have thought something was wrong with this bottle, and that something was heat-related. Whatever the cause, it’s not very good. (8/10)

Gros “Domaine de Montbourgeau” 2001 l’Etoile “Cuvée Spéciale” (Jura) – Lots of acid and even more metals, haphazardly piled atop one another with flash but without cohesion. Vibrant and piercing. It’s a very particular wine, and it will leave you a little breathless along the way. “Good” isn’t really applicable. It’s liquid iconoclasm. (8/10)

Gros “Domaine de Montbourgeau” 2005 l’Etoile Savagnin (Jura) – Very flor-dominated, with a complex stew of high-toned quivering and a waxy interior. Mineral, long, and linear. There’s not much else to it, but I wonder if it’s not just too young to strut. (8/10)

Gros “Domaine de Montbourgeau” 2004 l’Etoile Savagnin (Jura) – Gravelly, moldy, and bitter, with obvious volatile acidity. Short, twisted, and difficult. What happened here? (8/10)

Another pause for us to collect our breath and scrape our tongues. Again, the wines are all over the map both stylistically and qualitatively, but some common threads are starting to appear in the weave. First, the acidity, which is affected by yet manages to stand somewhat apart from varietal influence: here and in other wines it’s a planar, nearly impenetrable, and yet paper-thin wall of zing rather than an integrated partner in the structural framework. Second, there’s a tendency towards volatility that might escape notice for the non-freakishly sensitive (which, alas, I am). Third, and perhaps most relevant to the subject of our study, there’s a way in which flor seems to grasp the wine’s aromatics and structure in a loosely-gripped fist. In return, there’s a payback of textural complexity, but the wine has to work to earn everything else. Some can’t escape the clench and end up dominated by that external envelopment. But those that do seem more alive and in-motion as a result of the energy required for the escape.

The next few wines are a bit of an interlude, starting on-topic but soon darting afield.

Berthet-Bondet 1998 Côtes du Jura Savagnin (Jura) – Buttered bronze, deep copper, empty silver. I can’t quite get past the midpalate void, but the perimeter is certainly shiny. (8/10)

Loye 1989 Arbois (Jura) – Salted nuts. Simple, forward, and fruity. Kind of a yawn. (8/10)

Campadieu “Domaine La Tour Vieille” Vin de Pays de la Côte Vermeille “Memoire (d’Automnes)” (Roussillon) – A gorgeous texture (is that oak, though? it does a good impression if not) with cinnamon and nutmeg (again: wood?) plus other spices deeper in the blend. Stands a little too apart in this crowd for proper analysis, I think, but I’d welcome another go in a different context. (8/10)

Causse Marines 1996 Vin de Table “Mysterre” (Southwest France) – More conformity to INAO edict would make this a Gaillac, I’m told. Powdered salt, mixed citrus rinds and skins, and a weird Styrofoam finish. Too bad…it was just getting strange. (8/10)

More glasses are added, until we’re all protected behind a solid wall of glittering crystal fortifications, and then the most focused and relentless assault of single-notion wines commences. It will be quite educational, if not necessarily enlivening.

Clairet “Domaine de la Tournelle” 2002 Arbois Vin Jaune (Jura) – Deep, with brittle acidity and a hard, sandpapery texture. There’s a sort of lingering nothingness to the finish. Closed, or just not very interesting? (8/10)

Clairet “Domaine de la Tournelle” 2001 Arbois Vin Jaune (Jura) – Despite a pillowy aspect to what “fruit” there is, the acidity is razored. In fact, I mention the acidity three times in my scribbled notes, so it must have impressed me. What appears to not have impressed me is anything else about the wine, because the acidity is all that I write about. So: the acidic pillow. It might be a great band name, but it’s not a great wine. (8/10)

Macle 2002 Château Chalon (Jura) – Pine-Sol™ and waves of acidity, both traditional and volatile. Frankly, this is actively repellent, though some of that is my personal issue with VA. (8/10)

Berthet-Bondet 2003 Château Chalon (Jura) – Grapey but otherwise subtle. Reminds me of a smoked apple tart. Interesting. (8/10)

Berthet-Bondet 2000 Château Chalon (Jura) – A goopy froth of diffidence. Small and short. (8/10)

Gros “Domaine de Montbourgeau” 2000 l’Etoile Vin Jaune (Jura) – Pear and metal with big acidity and persistent intensity. A diagonal wine. Hard to ignore, but you must tilt your palate in the correct direction. (8/10)

Gros “Domaine de Montbourgeau” 1999 l’Etoile Vin Jaune (Jura) – Sweet with acrid intrusions. The finish is bitter. Weird and old-tasting. I’d be tempted to ascribe this generalized failure to the bottle in the absence of a second sample. (8/10)

Puffeney 2002 Arbois Vin Jaune (Jura) – Intense, with great balance. Metal, pear, and layers of compressed leaves. Striking and sophisticated. Very, very good. No…brilliant. My absolute favorite of all the non-Spanish wines, and by a significant margin. (8/10)

Puffeney 2000 Arbois Vin Jaune (Jura) – Powdery to the point of being toothsome, with a quinine aroma and a complex, amaro-like bitterness (that is, melding bitter/sweet/herbal components). More interesting than good, though it’s certainly not bad. (8/10)

Puffeney 1996 Arbois Vin Jaune (Jura) – Weirdly ashen with spiny acidity. Difficult. I feel like I’m missing something that I might have noticed were my palate not fatigued by this point, but maybe I’m not and there’s just not that much here. (8/10)

I normally count myself a fan of both vin jaune and Château Chalon, albeit I rarely get to taste the latter due to cost and general non-availability. As a result, looking over my collection of notes comes as rather a surprise. Palate ennui? Perhaps, but I don’t notice in the text a devolving reaction to the wines’ similarities, which would be the usual fatigue effect. Instead, there’s an increasingly persnickety spotlight on various flaws and imbalances, and to say that those flaws and imbalances aren’t – to my palate – present is not right either. Without extensive retasting, it’s hard to say much more. I only like three of these wines, and truly love only one. But wow, do I love that one.

In retrospect, I wonder if the serving order doesn’t negatively affect these wines. Not the order within the flight, but the fact that they come after the less-reputed gaggle of wines in the last flight. Reputation doesn’t always equal greater size or concentration, and in fact the previous bunch certainly features more showmanship and overt statement-making. These wines, while largely of a piece within their respective appellations (my notes elide some of the similarities), are quieter…while, at the same time, in more congenial agreement with each other. It is ever the “curse” of such wines that they do less well the more peers they are forced to converse with, and I do suspect the combination of breadth and serving order is at least partly to blame for my dissatisfaction with the lineup.

As for veils, curtains, and shrouds, there’s certainly a consistency to the wines in terms of the acid/volatile aromatic relationship. If that’s the voile, then it’s most definitely on display here. But while my favorite wine in the group is (again) the one that layers the most on top of that shroud, I also like a few wines that attempt more playful, interpretative, contrapuntal dances with their veils.

The dinner’s finale is a somewhat amusing one, as our chief server (not Levi, it should be noted) attempts to tell us that the Comté in front of us is Italian and (he thinks) from Puglia. I’m all for his nationalistic boosterism, but…seriously, now. (He does return later, someone red-faced, to admit that it is, in fact, actual Comté. It’s also more than a little wan and flavorless for a Comté, but that’s a separate issue.)

Contini Vernaccia di Oristano “Antico Gregori” (Sardinia) – Honeyed Pink Lady apple cider and pollen. Ripe. Appealing. (8/10)

Contini 1987 Vernaccia di Oristano “Riserva” (Sardinia) – Restrained. Pine nuts and a brittle, snap-crackle honeycomb character. Very pretty. (8/10)

Contini 1985 Vernaccia di Oristano “Riserva” (Sardinia) – White chocolate-covered mandarin oranges. The finish is a bit abrupt, which might indicate progress down the path of lingering demise. (8/10)

These are delicious, though they don’t have the seriousness of purpose or complex subtlety of many other wines I’ve experienced this evening. They taste – it might be more accurate to say that they feel – more like regular dessert wines than they seem part the yeast-enveloped category. But they’re a nice way to finish the meal.

And so, did I learn anything? Did I florge a new understanding, pull back the veil, open the curtains? More importantly, did I make enough stupid jokes and puns utilizing the subject of the tasting?

The answer: yes, I learned something. I learned that, no matter how good the wine, I’m still not a Sherry aficionado…though I have even more confidence that when I do purchase the category, I’m looking for the right labels. I learned that I like the flor show (NB: that’s Levi’s pun, not mine) more in isolation and counterpoint than I do en masse…a lesson not dissimilar to the one I learned at last year’s orange wine festival.

And as for flor? What strikes me in retrospect is not so much some ineffable commonality of aroma, but of structure. With the expected exception of the hotter years, there’s a very brittle and unstable, yet inexorable, character to these wines’ acidity that really marks them…across places, grapes, and categories. It’s not the high and full-throated acidity of (say) an old-style riesling, but it’s nonetheless impossible to ignore. More than the aromatic and textural changes wrought by the veil, it stands as a sort of signature.

A signature, signed with a florish.

Disclosures: none that matter. The Berthet-Bondet 1998 Côtes du Jura Savagnin and the Bornard 2006 Arbois Pupillin Melon “le Rouge queue” were supplied by me and purchased at a friendly discount from The Wine Bottega in Boston.


[bagged bottles]Outside, all is grey or white and soft. The snow falls, and it’s gentle, but it’s also persistent. It’s the kind of snow that will be with us for a time. It blankets the city of Nizza Monferrato with silence, muting the usual urban din but also suppressing the local urge to roam. Why not stay inside where it’s quiet, and enjoy the peaceful monochromic recasting outside the window? It’s going to be a beautiful afternoon and evening.

As for our little barbera band, reassembled in a bright, open space that seems to be nearly all windows, there’s a chance to do this. For a time. We listen to another lecture, this time on the meaning and intentions of the newly-designated Nizza subzone and its producers, while yet another tasting is assembled. To be honest, the information flow is a little dry, and largely the sort of procedural and rote stuff that wine writers have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Besides, it’s so nice out. Can’t we go have some fun in the snow?

Oh, but we only need wait. If it’s cooling outside, it’s heating up inside. And it’s about to explode.

In the meantime, there’s a tasting to get through. It’s true that many of us find visiting producers a more interesting use of our time, but the organizers undoubtedly find what we’re doing now a more valuable use of our time. And hey, it’s their show, their dog, and their pony.

While we might not be overly enthused about another procession of foil-wrapped bottles, it must be admitted that this one is admirably focused: all 2006, all barbera d’Asti, and all from the subzone of Nizza. Some of these wines are new, some we’ve had in a different vintage, and some are repeats from this morning’s Nizza tasting. This is, at least, purposeful blind tasting, which our forays thus far have not always been.

What might not be apparent to our hosts and the producers (who are represented in near-entirety), however, is that there are two concurrent purposes being pursued here. One is theirs: to demonstrate the character, style, and (dare it be mentioned?) terroir of Nizza. But the other is ours: to attempt to judge whether or not that purpose is being achieved. Does Nizza have an identity? A meaning beyond the simple marketing trick of differentiation?

We’re about to find out. Maybe.

Avezza Paolo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Sotto La Muda” (Piedmont) – Big purple fruit. Tannic. OK in its brutish style.

Bava 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Piano Alto” (Piedmont) – Garbage, stewed weeds, and sour acidity. Those of a younger bent might opine that this “tastes like ass.” I’m not sure I can get away with such phraseology, but they wouldn’t be wrong.

Bersano 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Red licorice Twizzler and unidentified Jolly Rancher. To wrest an old Texan saying: all candy, no cattle.

Isolabella della Croce 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Augusta” (Piedmont) – Supple. Solid purple fruit, but it’s all up front. New World in style, and good in that idiom for a few moments, but the finish is nowhere, and what’s left in the glass is much more akin to Chartreuse than it is barbera.

Giovenale 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Ansema (Piedmont) – A soup of modernity. Very ordinary.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Canto di Luna (Piedmont) – Gritty, heavy tannin. The wine’s got good texture despite this. Very purple in both aspect and aspiration.

La Barbatella 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Vigna dell’Angelo (Piedmont) – Flat. There are a few mineral-enhanced soil notes, but otherwise this wine is dead. Dead nose. Dead palate. Dead finish. A shame. I don’t even think I can make the funeral. I never knew the wine that well.

Lana 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Sludgy cherry milkshake. Could be anything, from anywhere.

Garitina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Neuvsent” (Piedmont) – Brett, rosemary, and loads of tannin. Plus, some bonus volatile acidity. Ugh.

Coppo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Riserva della Famiglia” (Piedmont) – Sour, lactic, hard, and unpleasant.

Dacapo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – A wallop of fruit with a good, graphite-like texture. And then…it dies.

Erede di Chiappone Armando 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Ru” (Piedmont) – Big, ripe fruit dominated by strawberries and sour cherry candy. There’s a weird lactic note competing for attention, but overall this isn’t bad.

[bannered ceiling]Franco Mondo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bigna della Rose (Piedmont) – Hot, tongue-scalding fruit soup. Burnt powdered sugar. Very confected.

Gazzi 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Prajot (Piedmont) – Stale paper. Horrid. (Post-facto edit: I have reason to believe that something may have been wrong with this bottle.)

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Barcarato (Piedmont) – A friendly burst of fruit dusted with pepper. Pleasant enough.

La Gironda 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Le Nicchie” (Piedmont) – Soupy fruit circling a black hole. In other words, not only is the center of this wine void, but that void is sucking everything else into it into nothingness.

Malgrà 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Mora di Sassi (Piedmont) – Massive mega-purple fruit. (For the record, I’m not suggesting MegaPurple™, but the descriptor is too evocative to eschew.)

Noceto Michelotti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Montecanta (Piedmont) – Sour and disgusting garbage aromas, weeds, milk and bitter chocolates. Mmmmm.

Chiarlo 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “La Court” (Piedmont) – Sweet plum and even sweeter strawberry. Girly wine.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Preje (Piedmont) – Juicy, plummy fruit with good acidity. Fair.

Scrimaglio 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Ascè (Piedmont) – Fun fruit, with a gloppy texture. In its idiom, fairly pleasant.

Olim Bauda 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Very sweet strawberry jam, but then taking a detour through a tar-producers’ convention hall. That’s both an aromatic and structural comment. Fruit Roll-Ups™, big and structured, but lacking any sort of finish whatsoever. Ugly. This is like drinking ittle Miss Muffet after she’s been beat up by a gang of roving thugs and left for the spider to find her, bruised and sobbing, beside her tuffet.

Tre Secoli 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Candy powder, pollen, cotton candy, and Starbursts™

Vietti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Crena (Piedmont) – Brett and sourness. Thankfully, it’s extremely short, so it’s all over quickly. But, like ripping a bandage off a scar, there’s still discomfort.

Villa Giada 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Dani (Piedmont) – Dominated by olatile acidity. Nasty, overworked fruit. Wretched.

Vinchio e Vaglio 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Laudana (Piedmont) – Stale oils. Nothing else? No, not of note. Vile.


Conclusions? One inevitable one is just how bad this sort of mass-production blind tasting is for both wine and taster. There were six wines that appeared in both the morning and afternoon tastings. Two of them have completely different notes, both organoleptically and qualitatively: the Gazzi, suggesting something wrong with the afternoon bottle, and the Guasti, which I hated in the morning session but was more receptive to in the afternoon, and didn’t describe as anything like the same wine. The other four match fairly well in qualitative assessment and less, but still forgivably, well along general organoleptic lines. One might think that two out of six isn’t bad, but of course that’s just over the wines common to the two tastings. If one extrapolates those results over the entirety of our blind/group tastings, that’s a lot of mistakes and inconsistencies. Too many. Whatever this says about a taster’s (or this taster’s) skill might be notable, but is really irrelevant in comparison to the level of unfairness with which a so-afflicted producer is burdened.

[expectant glasses]So how about Nizza and its signature characteristics? There’s absolutely no way to say, because the wines are too variable and, in so many cases, too tricked-up. I don’t mean actual fakery…because that’s an accusation I wouldn’t make without evidence…but modernizing, fruit-enhancing techniques in vineyard and cellar coupled with the increasingly nefarious influence of new wood. If they really want to showcase the Nizza terroir (if indeed it has one worth identifying), they’re going to need to show us the unoaked, “traditional” versions they seem to be hiding in their cellars as shameful, deformed cousins. Given this evidential set? Nizza means very close to nothing.

Of course, even if we can’t discern a terroir-based similarity, that’s not all an appellation can mean. Is there at least a typicity? No, decidedly not, outside a vague uptick in structure…though much of one structural element likely derives from the wood. How about a marketing advantage? Possibly, though of course it’s far too early to tell. The whole “d’Asti” designation is soon to be dropped on these wines, leaving just “Nizza” on the bottle; whether or not that will be a help remains to be seen, but certainly shortening label verbiage and simplifying wine identification is rarely a bad thing. (Are you listening, Germany?) Aside from the place name, there’s some tightening of standards: 100% barbera rather than Asti’s required 85%, for example. Excluding other, and especially international, grapes is at least a step in the right direction, if the goal is to produce something with an identifiable, individual character. And it’s still very early in the game. Ten years from now, such a tasting might provide a surprisingly uniformity of purpose. And maybe even terroir.

But really, the only arguments that can and will ever be made for this subzone are the wines themselves. And neither collectively nor qualitatively do they support the petition under consideration. I can’t go to the other extreme and call this a “vanity appellation” (even though Michele Chiarlo will say some things later that make me wonder), because there’s no way I can be in these producers’ heads. Still, this remains: if there’s an argument for Nizza, it hasn’t been made today…and any wines that are making the argument have been lost in the fog of techno-oenological war.

The order and outcome of that battle? Coming soon. Don’t miss the exciting conclusion!

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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.

Hastae pudding club

[hastae logo] “Why all this technology? Don’t you like the wines you made before? Why are you changing everything…modifying, intervening?”

While it may not be the question that defines the day, it’s the question that sets the day on its inexorable path.

Up until now, we’ve been doing what one does at large-scale tasting events: sniffing, swirling, sipping, spitting, and scribbling. Some of us with pen in hand, others with space bar under thumb. But today’s a little different. We’ve been bused to an underground space that’s both wine/food showcase and assembly hall, and we’re now being treated – if that’s the word – to a PowerPoint presentation on some viticultural research aimed at improving the quality of barbera grapes in the Piedmont.

The research itself is pretty fundamental: Guyot vs. spurred cordon vine training. The former is traditional to the region, and the latter is being explored as an alternative (or, it might be more accurate to say, a replacement). Three years of research have been applied to this question, and we are here to both listen to and taste the results.

Now, it’s true that non-farmers are going to have an inherently limited enthusiasm for this sort of material. And while it’s as clearly-presented as it can be, there’s every reason for many of the assembled to feel like tuning out…especially after yet another morning of palate-numbing tasting. But those who don’t hear some interesting things along the way. And those who do? Well, by the time we get to the end of that leadoff question, I think pretty much everyone’s awake.

Why fool around with training methods? Curiosity, certainly. But there are specific goals in mind, and several are mentioned right from the beginning. The first is no surprise, given the mumblings from producers we’ve already met: a reduction in either total or the malic portion of barbera’s acidity. The second is a greater concentration of anthocyanins, which brings along with it a parallel concentration of tannins…and if there’s one thing these new-styled wines probably don’t need, especially if they’re going to be raised in barrique, it’s more tannin. (Incredibly, the wines taste-tested during these trials had both grape seed and oak tannins added. Yes, added.) In any case, it’s the third that causes more than a few eyebrows to crest: better preservation of color while the wine ages.

Is this really an important goal? “Color needs to remain permanent as wine ages,” we’re told. Well, why? To distinguish barbera from its notoriously pale-hued neighbor nebbiolo? Because the worldwide market for well-aged barbera has been shying away in recent years for insufficient purpleosity? Because the ultimate goal of any wine should be opacity to the end of its days?

There’s no answer forthcoming. And here’s another goal they have in mind, though it’s relegated to the accompanying text and not mentioned in the presentation:

The Guyot pruning used in most parts of the […] Piedmont does not enable the operation to be mechanized […]. Its substitution with a spurred cordon training system, easier to perform and partially or totally workable mechanically, can lead to a reduction in management costs […].

Finally, there’s the maraschino cherry on this modernizing sundae:

[B]arbera, in environments of average fertility and if pruned with the spurred cordon method, can take advantage of a number of buds slightly higher than the one obtained with the Guyot method.

So: lower acidity, long-term color stability, higher yields, more tannin, and lower-cost mechanical harvesting…this is all just terrific news, and really focused on the key qualitative differentiators that will bring barbera to the next level. (The “natural” set will like this, though: the higher antioxidant levels that also result mean a lessened need for preservational members of the sulfur family.)

Most of the rest of the presentation is devoted to charts and graphs that demonstrate the conclusions of the study…conclusions which, in the minds of those funding the research, do indeed lead to higher-quality barbera. Others, with different goalposts, might reach opposite (or at least less definitive) conclusions even before tasting the wines. I write with my biases already on display, but of course this – as with so many other such debates – will very much revolve around matters of preference. Those who think barbera is not big, dark, dense, tannic, or lush enough will embrace these results with enthusiasm. Whereas we lonely few contrarians can only look on with dismay.

[cheese & confiture]Except it turns out we’re not so lonely after all.

Today’s research is being promoted by Hastae, a group of wineries that won’t be viewed with enthusiasm by anyone of a traditionalist bent: Berta, Braida, Chiarlo, Coppo, Prunotto, and Vietti. Michele Chiarlo, certainly Piedmontese eminence personified, is himself in attendance, and will be presenting tangible evidence of the research’s conclusions to the assembled, as well as answering any questions the group might have. And it turns out that we have some.

It’s Charles Scicolone who offers the confrontation that starts this report. The answer he receives is unhelpful, though it too will set a tone for the day’s discussions and debates: a disagreement with the base assumptions of the question (though the details of this disagreement are elided), followed by a complaint that the question itself is “a little insulting.” But while the barbera brain trust doesn’t offer an actual answer to his question, I think I can provide one.

A near-immediate follow-up to Scicolone’s question that wonders if too many grapes might now be on non-ideal sites, since the better wines of the past seemed perfectly quality-oriented, brings another evasion (“it’s impossible to comment on that”), and then this: until now, growers have apparently not had “incentives” to improve their grapes, and thus were “forced” to make the older, more traditional styles of wines because their production and yields were too high.

The current answer is brought to a coda with, “our research is intended to make bad wines better.” And so, there’s the answer that wasn’t made explicit: they didn’t like the wines that they made before.

An aside…while this little contretemps has been escalating, I’ve moved from my seat in the middle of the room to a standing position against a post, nearer the back. From here, I am more an observer of than a participant in the proceedings – at least visually – and while I do not want to over-dramaticize the scene around the room’s perimeter as a “panic,” it’s clear that tensions among the organizers are high. There’s excited whispering, there’s a lot of agitated frowning and gesturing, and there’s rapid movement to and fro. Onstage, Michele Chiarlo – who is seated – spends much of his non-speaking time with head down and a hand on his forehead, projecting a certain angst, if not actual pain. But while the profoundly negative turn to what was intended to be a purely informational event seems to have the organizers on edge, it’s not clear what they can do. Cut off discussion? That would be transparent and counter-productive. So, they’re forced to wait and watch, like the rest of us. And I think that, if they knew this would be the less confrontational of today’s two interactive fora, they might be breathing a little easier.

Or not.

There’s not a lot of time to muse on this, though, because we move immediately on to the third confrontational comment in a row. (That’s out of three, by the way.) Our third interlocutor notes that even if one accepts that the modern wines we’ve been tasting are more “balanced,” it is at the cost of “recognizability” and the defining character of barbera.

We get two answers to this. The first is from Michele Chiarlo, and it is declarative: “wine is a good wine when it sells.”

The potential problems with this statement have been the subject of innumerable philosophical works, so I feel neither the need nor the desire to delve into them here. From a certain mercantile perspective, of course, it’s “true,” even though it gets us quickly to a state in which Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is the best white wine of Italy, because it sells more than all the others. As a guiding philosophy behind winemaking decisions, I admit I find it profoundly depressing. But that’s a personal reaction. Certainly I don’t find it difficult to understand; starving for one’s vocation is no more inherently noble than starving for one’s art. But I’m also glad that not everyone sees it Chiarlo’s way.

Chiarlo will double down on his assertion a little later: “Now we export to sixty countries. Before, we could only sell in Piedmont.”

It’s left to Professor Vincenzo Gerbi, one of the project’s researchers, an oenologist from the University of Turin, and the speaker who has been covering most of the day’s technical bases, to attempt a less overtly commercial response.

“Barbera, more than any other grape variety, owes its character to acidity. In the past, people have boasted – for not the right reasons – about this acidity. […] We can produce balanced and great-tasting barbera, [and w]e can do so while maintaining the defining character of barbera.”

Here is another a clear refutation of the barbera of the past. That barbera – the crisp, light, red-fruited, acidic-food-requiring wine described in pretty much every wine compendium – is to be dismissed as a necessary failing of the past. Barbera must be sold in ever-increasing quantities, and the new methods and styles are the mechanism by which that will be accomplished, and this new paradigm is here to stay.

Then, Gerbi lobs this little bomblet into the proceedings: “some producers used barriques; this was a mistake.” This with Michele Chiarlo just a meter or so to his left.

[grappa]No matter the institutional desire for an end to the confrontation, we do have a schedule to keep, and so matters come to a natural end as we proceed to a pair of very long tables for a comparative tasting. A very manageable four wines this time, produced by the Hastae group as part of the research trials described above. They are presented to demonstrate a point. And they do.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Deep purple, plum, black cherry. A large-boned and firmly structured wine with good palate intensity. Fruit-dominated, but balanced and solid.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – More obvious alcohol, more “present” fruit. Graphite-textured tannin. Packs a wallop.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Strong acidity and chewy, reddish-tinged fruit. A little frayed.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – Many shades darker than the Guyot-trained wine…in fact, nearly opaque. Purple milk chocolate shake.

Conclusions, then? From this grand sample of four: I certainly, as might be predicted from every vintage generalization I’ve yet heard from the producers here in the Piedmont, prefer the 2007s to the 2008s, for reasons of better balance, fullness, and structure. But that’s not what I’m here to taste. I’m here to taste training methods. And I’m afraid that within each couplet, I prefer the old school Guyot wine to that made from spurred cordon vines. What I can’t go on to say is that I can clearly identify the reasons for that preference from the research conclusions presented earlier. In both cases the spurred cordon wines reflect the qualities and flaws more common to modern, internationalized wines, but this must be caveated by noting that the ’07 Guyot bottling is no ultra-traditional throwback…not that would one expect otherwise from this collection of producers.

After talk and backtalk, there is lunch. A fine one, in which there’s salad in a Zorb, some excellent local delicacies, and a pair of interesting verticals.

Chiarlo “Cuvée Pietro Chiarlo” Metodo Classico Brut (Piedmont) – 50% cortese and 50% chardonnay. Oxidized and sulfurous…a nice trick. Coppery. Ripe, ripe, ripe fruit. Clumsy and goofy; Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford.

Hastae 2005 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Big, ripe, but balanced. There’s a light chocolate sheen, but good – no, make that great – acidity. Very good in the New World style, albeit with the pinched finish so common to the genre.

Hastae 2004 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Sweaty. Brittle tannin hardens the wine, yet the midpalate is mushy; a weird counterpoint. It’s pretty good, to be honest, but in no way could it be called stylish. Perhaps it’s entering a closed stage.

Hastae 2001 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Softening, obviously and dramatically, with leafy soil, black pepper, and spiky acidity. Lots of character, but at the expense of quality.

Hastae 1999 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Graphite tannin, succulent red fruit, and style. Great acidity. Hearkens back to an older style, with a little more verve.

Tasting these wines, with and without food, several things occur. First, Hastae makes good wines, whatever one thinks of their style and their understandability as barbera d’Asti. Second, their style is either veering precipitously towards the modernistic or age shifts their wines into an older, more traditional mode; I suspect the former more than the latter. Third, these are definitely wines that reward age with change, even if they don’t always get better. And fourth, I have not once wished that the wines had held on to a darker, more youthful color. Who cares?

The second vertical is spirituous – the only time this trip in which we’ll actually be asked to consume grappa, rather than engaging in our own late-night volunteerism – and it’s only a vertical because I request one. Everyone before me gets a glass and a choice, while I ask if a small vertical might be arranged. This seems to please the waitstaff, and the idea spreads. Trendsetting is not my usual mode, but in the spirit of spirits, I won’t cavil.

[grappa]Hastae 2003 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Round and very vintage-marked. Extremely sweet. More like a dessert wine than a grappa, frankly.

Hastae 1999 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Feet. This smells like feet. Also, spices (nutmeg, mostly) and baked caramel apple. Why is there so much overt sucrosity?

Hastae 2005 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Waxy and weird with spice and sweet brown sugar.

Hastae 2004 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Ripe apple and spiced honey, with a lactic finish.

OK, these aren’t good at all. Were they labeled “barbera liqueur,” I’d probably be fine with them. But as it is, they’re high fructose grappa syrup. No thanks.

Lunched, wined, and spirited, we prepare to board the bus to our next destination. Snow is falling, and our transport grinds into a lower gear. We’ve somewhere to go, but getting there is going to be harder than anyone knows.

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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.

Nizza man’s world, but it wouldn’t mean nothin’…

[empty journal]More Asti barbera, this time in the subzone of Nizza. Is there a difference? Read on. And see this post for important disclaimers.

Avezza 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Sotto la Muda” (Piedmont) – Heat and chocolate-covered strawberry candy bar…the cheap kind you’d find in a supermarket or drugstore.

Bava 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Pianoalto” (Piedmont) – All possible forms of brett, moving through the full range of effluvia to Band-Aid, etc., etc., etc. It’s like one of those demonstration wines for “find the flaw” tastings they put sommeliers and MWs through.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Concentrated, dark, jammy fruit, chocolate, tannin, and some welcome minerality. But then there’s lactic and stale butter notes, followed by cocoa butter and a lotiony texture. Tannic lotion…what a concept!

Isolabella della Croce 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Augusta” (Piedmont) – Eucalyptus lozenge, fake cherry, and pink peppercorns. Huh?

La Barbatella 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Vigna dell’Angelo (Piedmont) – Zinfandel-like jam, and an olallieberry fruit soup. After this dalliance with character, the milk and dark chocolates clamp down hard, with gallons of vanilla pouring into the void. Finishes with a lacquer-like residue that’s difficult to extricate from my mouth.

Lana 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Freshly-tanned leather, dark cherries, and a bit of something that feels like spritz (though it could just be unusually fresh acidity; my palate’s a little damaged by this stage) that adds some vibrancy.

Dacapo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Vinga Dacapo (Piedmont) – Incisive dark berries. Clean and clear. That spritzy feeling returns. There’s a little dark chocolate, but this has both persistence and a certain measure of style.

La Gironda di Galandrino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Le Nicchie” (Piedmont) – A tickle of volatile acidity hovers over chocolate sludge infused with malt powder, barley, and hops. It’s chocobeer!

l’Armangia 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry…all with the slowly-hardening texture of cement. An impenetrable pudding of a wine. Where’s the Lactaid?

Chiarlo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “La Court” (Piedmont) – Stink. Stank. Stunk. Weeds, the most brackish coffee, vegetables…and then, for good measure, a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Nocento Michelotti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Montecanta (Piedmont) – Old socks soaked in fruit residue. In case it’s unclear, I did not care for this.

Pescaja 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Solneri (Piedmont) – Smells like freisa, which at this point is better than the many alternatives, I guess. Strawberry, celery salt, fresh fruit slices. I kinda like it. I don’t know what it is, but I’d drink it.

Prunotto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Costamiole (Piedmont) – A fruit bomb, friendly and approachable, with milk and vanilla doing battle on the finish. Just, you know, in case there was any doubt that the wine could be made from anything or be from anywhere.

Tre Secoli 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Herbal oak, vanilla-scented oak, coconutty oak, oak, oak, oak, oak grappa, and stewed garbage fermented in oak. Mmmmmm.

Vietti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Crena (Piedmont) – Ghirardelli chocolate (that’s not praise, by the way), the salty tang of the ocean, then more chocolate. Textured like half & half.

Villa Giada 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Dani (Piedmont) – Stinky vegetables, brett, weeds, black cherry, and cassis. Finishes with Band-Aids on Styrofoam.

Garitina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Neuvsent” (Piedmont) – Roasted tomato dusted with peppercorns, celery salt, and carrying the unmistakable aroma of pork. Just bizarre.

Giovinale 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Anssema (Piedmont) – Banana Froot™, black cherry, and a soapy sludge of vanillin (yes, I mean the fake stuff) with layers of cemented tannin.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Canto di Luna (Piedmont) – Jam residue, vanilla, tannin, oak, and heat. As boring as an overworked wine can possibly get.

Gazzi 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Praiot (Piedmont) – Big, shouldery fruit with dark chocolate and tannin that dries out the wine rather quickly. I can’t say I’m disappointed that it does so, either.

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Barcarato (Piedmont) – Fresh plum marred by a horrid soy milk texture and clover pollen.

Malgrà 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Mora di Sassi (Piedmont) – Huge, plummy, and supple. Actually stands up to the vanilla and chocolate shakes that are threatening to dominate it. Well, it does for a while, and then the finish goes completely to hell in a syrupy, fake-fruited handbasket.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Preje (Piedmont) – Vanilla, coconut, strawberry, and plum…but, remarkably, the fruit and oak here are well-integrated. Pretty good in its internationalized style.

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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.

Wandering a d’Asti trail

[water & window]Back to the salt mines of blind tasting…and back to Asti. Again? Yes, again. The first 33 wines are a retread of yesterday’s ground, though I can’t really complain given that yesterday’s lineup was too long to begin with. Anyway, here they are: more barbera d’Asti from 2008, 2007, and 2006, in both regular and superiore forms. See this post for important disclaimers.

Isolabella della Croce 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Maria Teresa” (Piedmont) – Purple nurple. Already. In the first wine of the tasting! Well, this is going to be an exciting day. Solid fruit, albeit of the Welch’s jelly variety, and tasting as if from those little plastic cups they serve at diners. So, you know, actually “solid” fruit in colloidal form.

Franco Mondo 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – …and now, from wine number two, there’s wood. Is that wood? It’s nasty, whether it is or not. Blackberry brandy as well. A nearby taster identifies this as corked, and so we try a second: apple, guava, and an improved texture, but still nasty. TCA, if present in the first bottle, may have improved this wine.

Pico Maccario 2008 Barbera d’Asti Lavignone (Piedmont) – Walnut syrup, cooked apple jam, thick and overly burdened with tannin.

Olim Bauda 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Villa (Piedmont) – First bottle abusively corked. Second: big fruit, tannin, and vanilla. Tastes a little like a Slushie. I’m thinking strawberry/plum flavor.

Villa Giada 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Ajan” (Piedmont) – Very thick, zinfandel-like fruit. Explodes, MIRVs, then explodes again. Light vanilla plays a role. This is kinda fun, though it’s neither serious nor barbera as any sane person would recognize it.

Chiarlo 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cipressi della Court (Piedmont) – Unpleasant. A wrenched (and wretched) nose of stale hay and decay leads, unceremoniously, to a plate that’s at least acceptable for a moment. A hint of strawberry, and then…crash…sludge and effluvia. Disgusting.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Ladra” (Piedmont) – Brett and other more overtly fecal aromas. Tastes like vomit. No, really: the bile here is unmistakable.

Cavallotti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ La Mandrana (Piedmont) – A fun, slushy fruit bomb, OK in its pinkish-purple, Freon-toned, entirely plastic style. Finishes reasonably well.

La Barbatella 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Rich. Vanilla and full-throated jam…a fruit bomb extraordinaire. How this is indistinguishable from the larger sort of Central Coast pinot noir is beyond me. The finish is even hot. It’s a dead ringer!

Lana 2007 Barbera d’Asti “l’Anniversario” (Piedmont) – Strawberry jam with ash, a nasty, plastic texture and cheap milk chocolate on the finish. Bad.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso (Piedmont) – Dark berries, dark chocolate, eucalyptus. A solid wall of New Worldish ornamentation, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” (Piedmont) – Smucker’s strawberry jam, imitation Nutella. Ugh.

Costa Olmo 2007 Barbera d’Asti La Madrina (Piedmont) – Grape jam with a hint of maple syrup. Excuse me?

Erede di Chiappone 2007 Barbera d’Asti Brentura (Piedmont) – Pure fruit in a bomby sort of expression and a short, vanilla-dominated finish. I’d like this more if the label said “zinfandel,” but it’s certainly not an unpleasant wine.

La Gironda di Galandrino 2007 Barbera d’Asti “la Gena” (Piedmont) – Smoked toast and tar with some of the grossest wood aromas I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. It’s not just that there’s too much wood, it’s that the wood has to have been infected with quercal syphilis or something.

[stained notebook]Gazzi 2007 Barbera d’Asti Praiot (Piedmont) – Flat, dull, and oppressed.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cremosina (Piedmont) – First bottle corked, or so it appears. Second still dull, but with a grainy, dead apple-like aroma. Maybe also corked. Maybe both have a different problem. Maybe the wine just sucks.

Cantina di Nizza 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “50 Vendemmie” (Piedmont) – Mint and other herbs, light strawberry fruit, and Pixy Stix. Oversmoothed, with a candied fruit character that reminds me of the worst kind of California pinot.

Garitina 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Caranti (Piedmont) – Starts fresh and plummy, all crushed fruit and…wait, is that grappa? It’s not the bottle, it’s the whole damned factory. Then: freshly-assembled upholstery, and a horror show of a finish.

Franco Mondo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vigna del Salice (Piedmont) – Vanilla, coconut rum, tequila. Another horror show.

Dezzani 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Luna e le Stelle” (Piedmont) – Incredibly dense. Berry jam and vanilla on toast, with chocolate and ashes fresh from the fireplace. Finishes quite charred.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Croutin (Piedmont) – Spirituous (mostly cassis liqueur), sludge, cement. A neutron star of a wine, in which gravity sucks everything in, and allows nothing interesting or alive to escape its clutches.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Acsé (Piedmont) – Vanilla, praline, toasts, coconut. Absolutely obliterated by wood. Soulless.

Olim Bauda 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Rocchette (Piedmont) – Dead wine, dead rocks, dead wood. Were they trying to make motor oil from these grapes? Well, that didn’t work either.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore La Ladra (Piedmont) – Plum-flavored Fruit Roll-Up, plum, blueberry, black cherry, blackberry…hey, actual fruit! It’s like a revelation.

Vinchio e Vaglio Serra 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “I Tre Vescovi” (Piedmont) – Early-maturing notes, plum, baked apple, and graham cracker pie crust. A little absent, but the palate’s got a certain litheness to it. Frankly, this is odd.

Scarpa 2006 Barbera d’Asti “Casa Scarpa” (Piedmont) – Milkshake and candy. Completely fake-tasting, dressed with cheap costume jewelry, bedecked with rhinestones, and caked with bad makeup. But, you know, there’s good acidity. Sigh.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont) – A warm fireplace of cooked fruit, nuts, and oddness. Very lactic.

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Boschetto Vecchio (Piedmont) – Soft, pillowy fruit, cotton candy, and strawberry/cherry fruit. Wifty.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco del Perg (Piedmont) – Mint, eucalyptus, thyme, and tight berries. The midpalate is open and even a little plush. A soft, lactic finish. Good but anonymous. As The Beatles sang, it’s a real nowhere wine…

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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.

Up Braida-ed

[scribblings]Sixty-eight wines – line ‘em up, knock ‘em downthis morning. Rush through lunch in the basement of a history-laden palazzo, a basement that I don’t think was ever designed for crowds of hungry wine dorks. Pile onto the bus. Drive, taste, repeat. Listen, listen, listen. Another sixteen wines are swirled, regarded, and (with one or two exceptions) expectorated. Teeth are nightshaded, eyes are lidded, enthusiasm is long past ebb and has now receded with the tidal undertow.

What am I in the mood for? Oh, definitely a walk-around tasting – three rooms’ worth – with more barbera. A lot more. And not just barbera, either. The producers are here, grinning (well, not all of them) behind their tables. I recognize this. I’ve done it a thousand times, or maybe more. But…why am I doing it now?

It must be a junket. I’m not here for me. And so, I plunge into the depths. Well, maybe not “plunge.” Wade. Tiptoe. I’ve the ability to taste a little more wine, but not a roomful. Certainly not three rooms’ full. Enthusiasm must be parceled. Metered.

As a result of this lack of exploratory energy, I will completely miss the presence of Oddero – one of my favorite traditionalist producers – in the ill-attended third room upstairs. Well, my fault. Though it seems few of us have the energy for the stairs anyway.

l’Armangia 2006 Monferrato Rosso “Pacifico” (Piedmont) – Nebbiolo, merlot, freisa, barbera, cabernet sauvignon, cat, ’81 Volvo, and bits of the last 15 prime ministers of Italy. (No, no. I’m just kidding. Send the lawyers home.) Thick and very tannic, with a chewy, leafy structure. Dull. (3/10)

l’Armangia 2007 Monferrato Rosso “Macchiaferro” (Piedmont) – Acidic strawberries. That’s all I’ve written, so there must not be much more than that. (3/10)

l’Armangia 2009 Moscato d’Asti “Il Giai” (Piedmont) – Very, very flowery. By-the-numbers moscato d’Asti. (3/10)

Crivelli 2009 Grignolino d’Asti (Piedmont) – A brittle shell of a light red wine, with cold tannin encasing sharp acidity. Very severe. (3/10)

Crivelli 2008 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – Living up to ruché’s reputation as “red gewürztraminer” with its lurid aromatics and neon fatness. Cherry, pastille, and exotic weirdness. I wouldn’t want to drink it every night, but I kinda dig it. (3/10)

Crivelli 2007 Monferrato Rosso “Aghõghē” (Piedmont) – Ruché and syrah. That’s a first for me, I think, and I’m surprised to find that it works. Smooth and leathery, with blueberry and blackberry paired. Micro-bead structure and lingering tannin. Quite long. Muscular but impressive. (3/10)

Damilano 2005 Barolo Cannubi (Piedmont) – Laughing roses and the expected mass of structural tannin. Underneath, however, there’s a swell of New Worldish concentration that pretties this wine up a little more than is good for it. The finish returns to the hard, hard road Barolo often travels. There’s a good wine in here somewhere, but I don’t think it’s been dealt with as well as it might have been. (3/10)

Damilano 2005 Barolo Brunate Cannubi (Piedmont) – Even more muscular than the Cannubi, with a wallop of angular tannin, but better-balanced. Yet again there’s some syrup marking the midpalate, after which it finishes hard. Steroidal, and then dressed in designer duds. Will this ever be drinkable? And why the sheen in the meantime? (3/10)

Damilano 2005 Barolo Liste (Piedmont) – Roses – a surplus of them – with absolutely brutal tannin. There’s fruit, too: red cherry and strawberry. Also, bark and a cheese rind texture (not the spoilage or refermentation aroma, just a texture). Probably balanced in its idiom, but the twenty or so years likely required to bring the tannin down to something manageable…I just don’t know. I doubt there’s the complexity or fruit persistence to sustain that sort of timeframe. I guess we’ll see. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2008 Grignolino d’Asti “Miravalle” (Piedmont) – Bones and chilled fruit soup with a spicy midpalate and a flat finish. Very high acidity. Minor oxidation as well? Perhaps a bit. It’s fun, though. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2008 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato “’Na Vota” (Piedmont) – Papaya, guava, and lurid pomegranate…all of them in neon light. Finishes short but prettily. Surrealistically enjoyable. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Baby” (Piedmont) – Made for the American market, and despite all the talk here about “the Americans” wanting oaked-up, tarted-up, plastic surgery wines, here’s someone who understands that there’s another American market…one that might like a barbera done exclusively in stainless steel and that actually tastes like the grape. Fresh cherry, acid, and a little dirt. Classic and bright, with that acidity lingering. Varietal character, where have you been all day? Nice to meet you. Finally. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Altea” (Piedmont) – Barbera in botte. Smooth red fruit, dominated by strawberry, with roundness and persistence. Good tannin with hints of the graphite texture for which I’m nearly always a sucker. Not bad at all. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Cavalè” (Piedmont) – Barbera in barrique. Very concentrated fruit with big structure. Tries to finish clamped down-upon by its tannin, but then there’s a reemergence of sweetness. In this style, quite decent. (3/10)

Cantina Sant’Agata 2007 Monferrato Rosso “Monterovere” (Piedmont) – Barbera, cabernet sauvignon, and nebbiolo. Very tannic and yet soupy, with leather, wood, and candy all fighting for supremacy. Overworked. Not at all my sort of wine. (3/10)

Bologna “Serra dei Fiore” 2009 Langhe “Il Fiore” (Piedmont) – Chardonnay and nascetta. Possibly some other grapes; it’s a little unclear amidst the din of a crowded room. Very aromatic – citrus flowers, apples (with skin intact) – and a pleasant hint of fatness. Well-formed. (3/10)

Bologna “Serra dei Fiore” 2008 Langhe Riesling Renano “Re di Fiore” (Piedmont) – Very ferric, austere, and long. One must like drinking both iron and steel, though. Interesting. (3/10)

Bologna “Serra dei Fiore” 2008 Langhe Chardonnay “Asso di Fiore” (Piedmont) – Peach and citrus rinds. Straightforward. Nice. Hey, it’s only chardonnay, what more do you want? (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2009 Barbera del Monferrato Frizzante “la Monella” (Piedmont) – Raspberry, apple skin, and needles. Short but fun. The aggressive acidity of barbera is utilized to excellent effect in a wine like this, even if this particular bottle is no more than middle-of-the-road. (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2008 Barbera d’Asti Montebruna (Piedmont) – Red fruit (mostly raspberry), clean and crisp. Long. Great purity of expression. This is the large Slavonian oak bottling, and it shows. (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2008 Monferrato Rosso “il Bacialé” (Piedmont) – Barbera with pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Structured, very young, and completely dominated by dill, green coconut, and oak tannin. Yuck. (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Bricco dell’Uccellone (Piedmont) – 15.5% alcohol, but not showing it except in overall size. Big fruit offset by apple and walnut skins. Very spicy. Not at all bad in its style. (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2007 Barbera d’Asti Bricco della Bigotta (Piedmont) – Big, with an intense core of fruit nearly obscured by layers of spiced coconut and vanilla. Radiates sophistication, but all that polish comes at a very woody price. Anyone have some Pledge? (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Ai Suma” (Piedmont) – Late-harvest barbera (that is to say, made from grapes that have desiccated on the vine). Dark. Heavy. Licorice-infused fruit, and a lot of it. Very Amarone-like in style, for sure, though the organoleptics are – aside from the licorice – different. I guess if one must have something like this, it’s a good example. (3/10)

Bologna “Braida” 2009 Brachetto d’Acqui (Piedmont) – Pure strawberry, sour cherry, watermelon Jolly Rancher™. Fine acidity balances the light sweetness. Very nice. (3/10)

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See 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 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.