03 Trinchero Barbera and burgers for Memorial Day

Natural winemaker Trinchero (Asti, Piedmont) has always been one of my favorite producers of Barbera. The 1996 Barbera d’Asti [single-vineyard] Vigna del Noce ranks up there with the greatest bottlings of Barbera I have ever tasted.

And so when I spied a bottle of the 2003 Vigna del Noce at the Houston Wine Merchant, I couldn’t resist picking it up — despite the fact that 2003 was a notoriously difficult vintage because of the extremely hot summer.

Tracie P and I finally opened it over the Memorial Day holiday and paired with some griddle-fired beef sirloin burgers.

The wine — vinified with native yeast and raised in traditional large casks — was hot in the glass, with a lot of alcohol for this house (due, undoubtedly, to the nature of the vintage). But it still had that bright, bright acidity that you find in old-school Barbera. The black fruit and berry flavors were chewy and rich and once the alcohol blew off, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine with my burger.

The wine wasn’t perfect: I found the alcohol out of balance with the fruit and acidity. And it probably should have been opened a few years ago.

But as we Piedmontophiles drink the last of the 03s lying around, I couldn’t help but admire this wine for being true to its place and its vintage.

Sometimes a wine is great… for not being so great…

A great winebar in Asti and 3 wines that blew me away

Special thanks to Tom H, who hipped me to this place.

Above: Classic-method Petit Rouge “Caronte” by Morgex et de La Salle (Val d’Aosta)? Hell ya! Caronte is Dante’s Charon, as the label reveals with these lines: Charon the demon, with eyes of glowing coals/beckons to them, herds them all aboard/striking anyone who slackens with his oar (Inferno 3, 109-11). This wine had elegant structure and citrus fruit balanced by a savory minerality. One of those, I-could-drink-everyday-and-never-get-tired-of-it wines.

Posting hastily as I head out for meetings in Alba and Grinzane this morning and then to Milan to reconnect with friends, old and new, and hopefully to visit a bookshop or too before dinner.

Above: “Natural wine” is a touchy subject in Italy and the term “natural” really refers here, as Thor pointed out the other night, to a philosophy, loose but honest, rather than a rigorously enforced code. Owner Claudio called this a “natural” Barbera. 2006 Piemonte Barbera (although actually a Barbera d’Asti) by Hohler. It was earthy and savory, meaty but not over rich. I completely dug it.

After everyone left yesterday, I spent the day alone, catching up on correspondence, doing a little translating for a client, and resting. Tom H had mentioned TastéVin Vineria, a fantastic wine bar near Asti’s city walls, and so I headed out for a little walk and then took a seat at the tiny counter and chatted with owner Claudio, munching on charcuterie and cheese and tasting wines he recommended.

Above: I was completely floored by this wine. 2004 Aglianico d’Irpinia Drogone by Cantina Giardino. No sulfite added. Rich and savory, gorgeous tannin (slightly mellowed after having been opened the night before), rocks and red fruit, and impressive acidity. Definitely a great candidate for aging. My one word tasting note? Wow.

Okay. That’s all I have time for today. Gotta run. If you ever make it to Asti, please check out TastéVin Vineria. That’s a photo of owners Claudio and his fidanzata below (I’m so sorry, Claudio! I lost the card you gave me last night with your last names!).

TastéVin Vineria
Via Carlo Vassallo, 2
14100 Asti, Italy
0141 320017

In other news…

Only my love holds the other key to me…

Breakfast in Italy

Italian bread

The bread was still warm when I had breakfast this morning at our hotel in Asti. Pillowy on the inside and firm but not too crunchy on the outside. I like bread and butter for breakfast in Italy or bread with one of the many spreadable cheeses.

Italian cuisine — la cucina italiana — has conquered the world over… Pizza, pasta, al dente, panino, focaccia are just some of the words and expressions that have become sine qua non phonemes of the culinary lexicon. (Even cats in America enjoy “Tuscan” cuisine, a fact I find ironic in the light of the recent cat recipe scandal in Italy.)

Above: You’ll find a great breakfast spread even in a modest hotel.

Italy-bound travelers spend so much time thinking and talking the great lunches and dinners but we often neglect to annotate one of the most important meals of the day in any country: breakfast, la prima colazione, literally, the first collation, a first “coming together” etymologically speaking (according to the OED, “A light meal or repast: one consisting of light viands or delicacies (e.g. fruit, sweets, and wine), or that has needed little preparation (often ‘a cold collation’). ‘A repast; a treat less than a feast'”).

Above: We’re in Piedmont where robiola is a queen among cheeses. Robiola, it’s what’s for breakfast, as Robert Mitchum would say.

My “Italian” breakfast usually consists of bread with butter or cheese, fruit juice, and coffee. But the Italian breakfast spread always includes a selection of stewed and fresh fruit, yogurt, charcuterie and cheese (for the German visitors).

Above: Sometimes a pear is more than just a pear. But it’s too early in the morning to go into the Freudian implications of fruit.

This trip, so far so good. We had a fun dinner last night at what seems to be Asti’s most popular Sunday-night pizzeria, Pizzeria Francese, including a stunning Renato Ratti 2001 Barolo Marcenesco (yes, I drank wine with my pizza!).

Tasting starts today at 9 a.m. so I gotta run! More later… Thanks for checking in… and, btw, we’ll be updating the Barbera blog with minute-to-minute updates on our impressions of the tasting… well, not, really minute-by-minute, but you get the picture!

The bloggers are coming to Barbera (history in the making?)

Above: The Torino local edition of La Stampa published this article today on Barbera Meeting 2010 and the novelty of having a group of American bloggers present. Click image for a PDF of the article or become a fan of Barbera Meeting on Facebook for the whole text.

There was an inherent dichotomy drawn in the opening line of an article published today in the Turin edition of the Italian national daily La Stampa. “The blogger-tasters have landed,” read the title, “and live wine scoring has arrived.”

Gone are the “excellent palates” and their insiders-only tastings, wrote journalist Fiammetta Mussio in the opening line: “Goodbye to tastings attended by excellent palates and ‘trials’ behind closed-doors. The bloggers have arrived in the Barbera vineyards.” It would seem that the latter, according to Ms. Mussio, precludes the former.

The department of shameless self-promotion informs me that I should be thrilled to hear myself called “una delle ‘penne’ vinicole più pungenti d’America” (“one of the most pungent wine ‘plumes’ in America”). I wonder if that means I stink. Or perhaps it means that my writing stings its subject matter. Either way I’m flattered.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Tracie P (not a month since our return from our honeymoon and just a few weeks after our move into our new home together), I am truly excited to think that the trip and adventure that lie ahead of our group of American wine bloggers are being treated a something of a novelty in Italy. The organizers of the event and our sponsors have told me that this is the first time American wine bloggers have been invited to an event of this size and importance in this capacity: we’ll be blogging the tasting is quasi-real-time.

That’s all I have time to write for now… It’s time to get on that big ol’ jet liner.

I miss you already Tracie P!

I heart Barbera (and some vintage Thelonious Monk)

Barbera Asti

Today finds me “in the market” in Dallas… in other words, meeting with buyers, sommeliers, and a winemaker (you will not believe who! but I’ll reveal that later… let’s just say that I’ll be tasting a 100-point Parker wine today…).

Posting hastily but wanted to share the good news that I’ve been asked to be the official blogger for Barbera Meeting 2010 in Asti (Piedmont): four days of tasting and meeting with Barbera producers, March 8-11.

But the really super cool thing is that the PR firm who’s organized the tastings has asked me to bring some of my best blogging buddies and friends along for a veritable Barbera blogfest!

Not that I needed ANOTHER blog but here’s the blog I’ve created just for the event. The whole affair is pretty darn blogicious, if I do say so myself! And I am completely geeked to taste through scores and scores of wines with some of my favorite bloggers in the English-speaking world…

In other news…

I can’t reveal the super-secret identities of the folks who had me over for dinner last night but suffice to say she’s a nationally renowned food writer and he’s a famous music writer.

Steamed giant asparagus and vinaigrette (with home-baked white and brown bread) and roast herbed chicken and potatoes were fantastic but the coolest thing was that he let all of the guests call out requests from his music library.

Mine was: “Thelonious Monk, 1957, New York City.” Famous French music writer then turned me on to a super cool recording I’d never heard before, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall in 1957. I know the Monk canon well and to hear different (new-to-me) versions of some of his classic was a real treat… and it paired nicely with the 1999 Tertre Roteboeuf.

I think Right Bank always goes better with Monk, don’t you? Miles? Definitely, Left Bank… ;-)

Thanks for reading!