96 Gaja Conteisa wowed me, 99 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili humbled me (TY @KeeperColl)

November 19, 2012

Above: Some may be turned off by the oxidative quality of the Fiorano whites. I think they’re super groovy. This 1994 Sémillon was made when the old Prince Boncompagni was still on this earth. It had solid acidity and its dried stone fruit flavors and aromas were lively and rich.

One of the coolest things about what I do for a living is that collectors of Italian wine often invite me to taste their wines with them.

There is no one who does more to foster the Austin wine and food scene than the lovely Diane Dixon, whose Keeper Collection produces a series of events here each year, focusing on and featuring young sommeliers and chefs.

Above: Of all the Gaja wines from the 1990s, my favorite has always been the Conteisa, named after the “highly contested” (conteisa in Piedmontese) parcel where it is grown. There’s more Barbera in this wine than his other Langhe Nebbiolo (and unlike the more famous ones, it was never classified as Barbaresco). Great acidity, brilliant fruit.

She and her husband Earl are just really cool folks who recognize the importance of supporting our food and wine community.

On Friday night we convened at my favorite Austin wine bar where the owner graciously let Diane open a few bottles.

Above: Here’s my tasting note… !!!!! So youthful, so powerful, this wine is going through a “closed” period and while ungenerous with its fruit, it lavished my palate with its nobility and grace. I’m hoping Diane will let me taste it again in five years or so. What a stunning wine!

With every wine that was poured, Diane asked me to talk to our small group about each one. The story of the Prince Boncompagni and his moldy casks; Gaja and the reclassification of his Langhe wines at the end of the last century; Produttori del Barbaresco and how many Langaroli now call 1999 (and not 1996) the greatest vintage of the decade.

Somewhere between the Gaja and the Produttori del Barbaresco, I realized that Diane had thoughtfully created this flight just for me. It’s one of the coolest things about what I do for a living and it’s one of the coolest things about being part of the Austin wine and food scene.

Diane and Earl, what a thoughtful flight you put together for me! Thanks for everything you do for all of us…


Angelo Gaja’s State of the Union Address: “the winery next door isn’t an enemy”

March 22, 2012

Above: The last time I tasted with Angelo Gaja was in March 2010 at his winery in Barbaresco.

Earlier this week Angelo Gaja sent out one of what I call his “papal bulls.” As an elder statesman of Italian wine, he often issues these statements via email — on the state of the Italian wine industry, on the Brunello controversy, on the distillation crisis in Piedmont etc. And a number of Italian bloggers repost them.

As I prepare to leave for Italy to attend the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly (and to lead a group of bloggers to Friuli the following week), I decided to translate his most recent “state of the union” address.

Whether you agree with him or not, I think that you’ll find his insights and observations as interesting as I did.

For the record, I am the author of the translation below and while you can find the piece on many Italian-language sites, I read it on I Numeri del Vino (an Italian wine industry blog that I highly recommend).

I also highly recommend checking out this post by Alfonso on the DOC(G) to DOP migration (part of the same EEC Common Market Organization Reforms that Gaja references in his statement).

Europe’s Winds of Change

by Angelo Gaja

The Italian wine market is going through a phase of profound change that offers contrasting clues for interpretation.

Domestic consumption is dropping while exports are growing. There are producers who are finding it hard to sell their wines and their cellars are still full of wine. Others take advantage of market opportunities and they empty their cellars with ease.

The current trend of pessimism contrasts with the rhetoric of optimism. Where does the truth lie? The numbers don’t tell the whole story but they help us to understand the current situation.

Nearly twenty-five million hectoliters of Italian wine are exported annually and domestic consumption is just over twenty million hectoliters. Together, these numbers constitute a demand of forty-five million hectoliters, to which we need to add the demand for wine by vinegar producers and users of industrial alcohol. The annual average production of wine in Italy in recent years has strained to meet demand. Will Italian wine fail to rise to the occasion?

Causes that Contribute to a Balancing of the Market

Global warming has contributed to this stress, as has the advanced state of obsolescence of 50 percent of the vineyards in Italy today. But it has also been accelerated by the effects of the European market reforms that were called for, imposed, and implemented by Brussels on August 1, 2009.

These reforms were inspired by common sense — a rare commodity these days. And they were intended to put an end to the waste perpetuated by more than thirty years of public subsidies devoted to the elimination of surplus. And they were implemented by the introduction of measures aimed at re-balancing the wine market.

Once squandered, [European Economic] Community contributions are now devoted to the co-financing of promotion of European wineries beyond Europe’s borders and they have helped exports take off despite the current crisis.

In a short period of time, the number of wineries exporting their products has grown more than 30 percent. A significant number of artisanal producers has begun to ship wines abroad and their success has encouraged to them to combine their resources and to travel beyond Italy’s borders to tell their stories and share their passion, traditions, and innovations. And in doing so, they have helped to contribute to the greater respect that Italian wine now commands throughout the world. As a result, there are many who now believe that the Italian wine market is undergoing a profound and unprecedented structural change that requires them to adopt a new and different cultural approach.

Think Differently

More must be done to monitor and prevent the production of counterfeit wine.

We must stop thinking that we need to compete with one another and that the winery next door is an enemy.

It’s inconceivable that the windfall of European Economic Community contributions for the co-financing of exports beyond Europe’s borders continue uninterrupted: why should European citizens be taxes to achieve this goal?

We must learn how to build business networks using only our own funds.

The domestic market continues to be the most challenging. But its value is undiminished because it’s what shapes and builds business: it’s a mistake to dismiss and neglect it.

The producers whose wines enjoy a healthy presence in the Italian market are often the same producers who reap the rewards of foreign markets.

The balance between supply and demand puts the greatest responsibility on all of our shoulders. And it should impel producers to grow and to become more capable businessmen who are better prepared to rise up to meet the challenges of the market.

Angelo Gaja, March 19, 2012


Notes on the 05 Produttori del Barbaresco crus

August 25, 2010

California residents: please check out my Produttori del Barbaresco offering at Do Bianchi Wine Selections. :-)

Above: Dreams do come true… all of the Produttori del Barbaresco single-vineyard designated bottlings of 2005 Barbaresco, tasted in March at the winery with Aldo Vacca.

Over the years, I have had the great fortune to taste with winemaker Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco on a number of different occasions and in a wide variety of contexts. Anyone who’s ever met Aldo knows that he’s a precise, meticulous man, who seems to transmit the wise and judicious frugality of his origins into the 21st-century with grace and elegance. After all, 38 growers and their families and employees depend on him each year to deliver the wines of this cooperative to market. Whenever you meet Aldo in the U.S. or Vinitaly, he always has four or five of the crus open to taste with is guests. But because I dropped in with the balance of the Barbera 7 on that wonderful late-winter day in March, he opened all nine of the single-vineyard designated bottlings of the 2005 Barbaresco. What follows are my notes, as brief as possible (I tasted them in the order of body, as recommended by Aldo).

Pora

In many ways, Pora could be considered the winery’s flagship wine (after the classic blended Barbaresco, of course). The vineyard was owned at one time by the winery’s founder, Domizio Cavazza, and it was among the first wines released as a single-vineyard designated wine in 1967 (the same year that Gaja and Vietti bottled their first single-vineyard wines). It lies in a central swath of famed vineyards of Barbaresco that include Faset, Asili, Martinenga, and Rabajà.

Rich tannin, balanced black and berry fruit, gorgeous nose.

Rio Sordo

The name Rio Sordo means literally the deaf river, in other words, the silent or underground river (remember my post Cry Me a Silent River about tasting with Giovanni Rizzolio?). The solitary Rio Sordo vineyard lies on the other side of a small valley from the Rabajà, Asili, Martinenga, and Pora swath.

Very mineral nose, savory, earthy notes, darker fruit, balanced tannin.

Asili

Many feel that Asili is the quintessence of Barbaresco and in many ways, would agree: perhaps more than another vineyard, it embodies that unique balance of power and grace, structure and elegance that defines Barbaresco. Some, like Bruno Giacosa, consider the greatest vineyard in the appellation.

Powerful tannin, more so than other expressions of the 05 Asili I’ve tasted, stunning wine, fruit has yet to emerge, but this will surely be one of the greatest expressions of the growing site for this vintage.

Pajè

This vineyard lies sandwiched in between the Pora, Faset, Asili, Martinenga, Rabajà (and Moccagatta) family to the south and the Secondine and Bricco crus to the north. Like the more famous expression of this vineyard bottled by the Roagna winery (whose estate overlooks the growing site), this vineyard can deliver tannic and powerful expressions of Nebbiolo (tending toward Secondine and Bricco, perhaps more than the southern neighbors).

At the time of tasting, this wine was surprisingly very bright and approachable. Of all the wines, it was the one I would have drunk most gladly that day. But I imagine it will be shutting down, based on my knowledge of the growing site. Need to revisit later.

Moccagatta

Lyle and I share a love for this vineyard, which sits at one of the highest points in Barbaresco, in the eastern section of the appellation. To the south it borders Rabajà and shares some of its savory, earthy power. It renders a very distinctive expression of Nebbiolo, thanks to its unique exposure.

Even, balanced tannin, chewy and juicy wine, earthy and rich in mouthfeel. One of my favs of the tasting, black and red berry fruit and mud.

Rabajà

The Rabajà vineyard has been the subject of much debate over the last few years because some of the rows have been reclassified as Asili, which lies to its western border. Historically, I’ve always found this vineyard to be slightly more powerful and with more tannic structure than Asili. The name Rabajà is believed to be a dialectal inflection of the surname Rabagliato (but its etymology is uncertain).

Bright, lip-smacking acidity, and gorgeous fruit despite the Herculean tannin in this wine, savory on the nose and in the mouth. Stunning wine.

Ovello

Ask Cory and he’ll tell you that Ovello is his favorite. It lies in the northern section of the appellation, on the west side, not far from the Tanaro. My personal experience with this vineyard is that it renders more balanced tannin and extremely delicious earthiness. The winery’s classic Barbaresco (which, for the record, is generally my favorite bottling for any given vintage), is sourced primarily from Ovello.

Very fresh, especially compared to the other crus, with judicious tannin, and great minerality and savory flavors. Drinking beautifully right now.

Montefico

Montefico is another vineyard, like Pora, that has played a historic role in the evolution of Produttori del Barbaresco and was once owned in part by the winery’s founder Domizio Cavazza. Like Montestefano, it renders one of them most powerful expressions of Nebbiolo bottled by the cooperative. In the series, ordered by weight and body, Aldo positioned it second-to-last for our tasting.

The tannin still prevails in this wine, definitely needs time for the fruit to emerge. The slightly warmer vintage may penalize this otherwise truly great wine in the very long term but it’s sure to get better with every passing year. I can’t wait to revisit it in another 5 years.

Montestefano

Located in the northeastern section of the appellation, Montestefano is the vineyard often described as the most “Baroloesque” of the Barbaresco crus. I take issue with such observations: while we were brought up to believe that Barolo is the more “important” of the two appellations, I find that ultimately Barbaresco is the appellation that inspires, intrigues, and bewitches more. It’s not a younger sibling to Barolo: if anything, it’s a cousin, related by blood, but raised by different parents. Together with Asili, Rabajà, and Pora, Montestefano is one of my favorites. It certainly produces one of the most long-lived expressions of the appellation and it is here that earthy, savory notes and black fruit combine in a sublime marriage. To me, tasting wine from this vineyard is like negotiating the tension created somewhere between grammatical and metrical rhythm in verse by Virgil or Petrarch. For the record, Beppe Colla bottled fruit from this vineyard as a single-vineyard wine in 1961, making it perhaps the first cru-designated wine in Barbaresco (although many point to the 1967 vintage as the birth of the cru system in Barbaresco).

Simply stunning wine, a humbling experience, too young to see where the fruit is going to go, but one of the greatest wines I’ve tasted from the 2005 vintage anywhere in Piedmont.

I hope you’ll enjoy these wines as much I intend to in the years to come! Thanks for reading…


Sophie’s Choice: 06 Produttori del Barbaresco

August 12, 2010

This wine may be my favorite bottling yet, but not for the reason you think…

barbaresco

Above: Summertime isn’t exactly ideal for Nebbiolo but, after so much talk of this wine, I couldn’t resist opening a bottle of 2006 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco last night. Can you blame me? Dinner last night chez Parzen was cannellini dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a kiss of red wine vinegar, wilted spinach and boiled potatoes also dressed with evoo, and some fresh feta.

Between Bruno Giacosa’s controversial decision not to bottle his 2006 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco and Produttori del Barbaresco’s much misunderstood decision not to bottle its 2006 single-vineyard designated wines, the 2006 vintage may very well be one of the most talked-about vintages in Langa in recent years.

Let’s get one thing straight: most folks agree that 2006 was a classic, solid vintage, with a relatively balanced growing season (if not for rains in September). It wasn’t GREAT (in all caps) but it was good to very good. And while Giacosa’s decision appears outwardly based on the personal setbacks Bruno suffered that year, the decisions by Giacosa and Produttori del Barbaresco were probably based on economic reasoning: in a tough market, it’s easier to sell a more reasonably priced wine. In fact, Aldo Vacca (winemaker at Produttori del Barbaresco) said as much in a comment he left on Do Bianchi.

I tasted the 06 for the first time in New York in the spring: it was a ringer in one of the blind Greek tastings. But last night, after reading one too many blog posts about the 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco (which is now in the market), the mimetic desire kicked in and I caved and opened a bottle.

While I continue to kick myself for not cellaring more 2004 (especially) and 2005, my negligence has been rewarded by this amazing bottle of wine, which is a cuvée of all the Produttori del Barbareso crus.

barbaresco

Above: I tasted all of the 2005 single-vineyard (cru) designated wines in March at the winery with Aldo. I’ll post my notes on these, which have also just hit the market, next week.

I have always been a bigger fan of the cuvée, i.e., the classic Barbaresco blended mostly from the Ovello cru, with smaller amounts of other crus depending on the vintage. But the 2006 classic blended Barbaresco is something truly special.

Antonio Galloni, one of the top 3 palates for Nebbiolo in the world IMHO, was a fan of the otherwise “average” vintage when he tasted the first bottling of the 06 (before the decision was made not to bottle the crus): “If the regular Barbaresco holds this much power,” he wrote, “I can only wonder what the Riservas might have in store. Simply put, this is a marvelous effort.”

The wine we tasted last night was fantastic, with all the earth and all the red fruit I dream for, extremely powerful and rich, more so than other classic vintages like the winery’s 99, 01, 04, and 05.

My only misgiving about this wine is that it’s one of the few instances where I will tell you to let it age in your cellar for a few years before approaching it. I believe that with the addition of grapes from crus like Montestefano and Montefico (the most tannic), the wine has a tannic power that will only reward the patient collector.

It’s not that this wine is “better” because “better” fruit went into it, as many sales people are however earnestly but erroneously saying. The crus are not “better.” They are just different among one another.

What’s special about this wine is how it shows that terroir is also about people and where and how they decide to grow and raise things. This wine is a true collector’s item from Produttori del Barbaresco: it’s an anomaly, a rare occasion where Aldo had a better vintage than many, but decided not to bottle single-vineyard wines.

In some ways, this wine is the best bottling of my enosentient lifetime. Keep in mind that the cru system began in the late 1960s (and 1967, the year of my birth, to be exact), when Gaja, Vietti, and Produttori del Barbaresco were inspired by the French cru system to bottle single-vineyard designated wines. Ultimately, whether it’s Aldo’s cru vs. cuvée or Vajra’s Barolo Bricco delle Viole vs. Barolo Albe, or even Gaja’s Sorì-designated wines vs. its Barbaresco (to use three different stylistic examples), I always find that it’s the classic, blended wines (like Bartolo Mascarello, who has never made a cru) that keep calling me back. They don’t express a growing site: they express a vintage, an appellation, and a way of life.

So in a way, the 2006 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco is the financial crisis’s little gift to us: a wine that harks back to an era before the advent of Barbaresco’s Francophilia.

In essence, for survival’s sake (and the sake of all those who depend on him), winemaker Aldo had to make a “Sophie’s choice.” I’m glad that he chose well.


Why I love Italian wine in flyover country (my Palate Press post)

June 15, 2010

Above: I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Gaia Gaja, Angelo Gaja’s daughter, was super fun to hang out with. I interviewed her over Chicago redhots for my PalatePress piece on my encounters with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in “second-tier” American cities.

Alfonso likes to call it “flyover” country: that glorious swath of land, that sweep of the scythe, those amber waves of grain that span from Chicago to the Rio Grande, the Middle West, Mittelamerika, the Third Coast, the Second Cities. In other words, the America that the Left and Right banks often ignore when it comes to the purveyance of fine wine and dining.

I’ll concede that I probably drank more old wine, thanks to the generosity of collectors, when I lived in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But, honestly, my food and wine life has only become more stimulating and rewarding since I moved to Austin, Texas. (Well, everything has become more stimulating and rewarding since Tracie P née B came into my life.)

Above, at dinner in Austin, from left clockwise: Tracie P, Dave Meyer (Banfi, Texas), Mark Sayre (my super good buddy and wine director Trio, Austin), Wes Marshall (The Austin Chronicle) and wife Emily, Lars Leicht (Banfi, whom I’ve known forever), and Rudy Buratti (winemaker, Banfi).

When I realized that I would be having dinner and tasting with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in 3 different “flyover” cities, over the course of just 5 days, I thought it would make a good piece for PalatePress (and thankfully so did the editors!).

Gaia Gaja of Gaja in Chicago, Rudy Buratti of Banfi (and newly elected member of the Brunello producers association 15-person advisory council) in Austin, and Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea in Houston.

Above: Another pleasant surprise was the 1999 Banfi Brunello (top vineyard) Poggio all’Oro, a wine I would not typically reach for (nor could afford). It was honest and delicious and it tasted like Montalcino. Great wine.

The fact is that top Italian winemakers are traveling more frequently to markets they’ve neglected in the past. I recently found out that Giorgio Rivetti (producer of the infamously created-just-for-the-American-market, jammy, syrupy, ridiculously concentrated Spinetta wines) visited Austin last month. “It’s not often enough that a true gentlemen like Giorgio spends time in Texas,” wrote one wine blogger/merchant.

This is certainly one of the reasons I’ve been lucky enough to have some interesting wine encounters lately.

But then again, as the jingle for the ol’ So Cal franchise Love’s Wood Pit BBQ used to go, when you’re in Love’s, the whole world’s delicious.

Special thanks to Palate Press editor Meg Houston Maker for believing in the piece and eagle-eye editor Becky Sue Epstein for whipping my piece into shape! :-)


What do you serve the Pope when he visits Piedmont? Gaja of course!

May 11, 2010

I couldn’t help but marvel when I came across this story this morning in the feeds (thanks to Italy’s preeminent wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani).

What do you serve Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Turin for the current showing of the Holy Shroud? Gaja, of course!

Actually, the Pope drank only some aranciata amara (bitter orangeade) and a glass of Moscato d’Asti. But the other 39 guests at lunch drank the Dean of the College Cardinals Cardinal Angelo Sodano’s “favorite” wines: 2007 Rossi Bass and 2005 Barbaresco by Gaja, “a limited edition of 130 bottles with a back label commemoration signed by the great Langa winemaker.”

The lunch was served at the restaurant Marco Polo, owned by the aptly named Carlo Nebiolo.

I have to confess that I am fascinated by the Papacy and I find the Holy Shroud of Turin to be one of the most intriguing “texts” of Western Civilization (more on that another time). The Shroud is on display until May 23 (check out the Shroud blog here).

In other news…

Check out these photos I snapped when I visited the beach in Del Mar, California yesterday with my buddies around sunset.

I’m just an amateur photographer but lady California is a natural beauty.

The beach at Del Mar (not far from where I grew up) is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world IMHO.


Tasted: Gaja 64, 78, 89, 97, 00, 04

May 3, 2010

barbaresco

Above: An enviable flight, if I do say so myself. The 64 was simply stunning and the 89 gorgeous.

As a good friend and admired colleague of mine says, “whether you like the wines or not, tasting Gaja is always an interesting experience.”

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend an impressive tasting with Gaia Gaja, who was also in Chicago (it was a trade tasting organized by her importer and I managed to snag a spot, the fly on the wall, so to speak).

I’ve actually tasted quite a bit of Gaja recently: the Barbera 7 and I visited Gaja while were in Piedmont in March (Fredric recently published his account of our visit over at Palate Press.)

barbaresco

Above: It was remarkable to see the evolution of the Gaja brand, the labels, and the transformation of bottle shape. From a classic Albese interpretation of the Burgundian bottle shape to a Burgundian bottle with a Bordeaux neck to accommodate a longer cork. Note also the slight changes in color and composition of the labels.

I’m writing in a hurry today because traveling and will write more on what I learned about Gaja the brand and my visit with Gaia the lady in future. And I think that some of you will be surprised by what I learned. I know I was surprised.

In the meantime, here are some quick tasting and winemaking notes.

Barbaresco 1964

“Longer fermentation and maceration” during this period in the winery’s history. Two to three weeks maceration and some slight oxidation because of winemaking practices at the time that gave the wine an orange hint early on. The winery had not implemented its current vineyard management (green harvest and “short pruning”) and the grapes were picked all at once, resulting in some of the fruit not being entirely ripe.

Drinking old Nebbiolo is not for everyone and so some might have disagreed with my take on the wine but I was completely blown away by how good and how alive this wine (older than me) was. Gorgeous brick and orange color, unbelievably seductive tar and earth on the nose, solid acidity and gentle, noble red fruit in the mouth. The mouthfeel of the wine was truly divine.

1978 Barbaresco

The last year with the short cork and the first year that Gaja began to age in barrique The winery had also begun to employ a green harvest at this point, although not “systematically” at this early stage. I’d actually tasted this wine before, a few years ago in NYC: I think this bottle might have been “off,” because it didn’t show as well as I had expected. It had a strong, menthol and Eucalyptus nose and it took a while for the fruit to emerge after I revisited it during the hour or so we spent tasted (the wines had been opened a few hours before the tasting but not decanted). It was almost Baroloesque in its power and showed some spicy notes in the mouth.

Barbaresco 1989

This wine was pure beauty. Great (in my opinion one of the top 3 of my lifetime) vintage, classic and balanced, with “four seasons,” so to speak. Incredible bottle of wine, showing beautifully, and with many, many more years ahead of it. This was one of Italy’s great producers at its best. An incredible elegant lightness and beauty and simultaneous power and tannic structure — the seemingly contradictory essence of Barbaresco, an experience that always brings equine metaphors to mind. Gaia told a great story about this wine. At the end of a school year spent abroad to learn English and studying acting (!) among other interests in San Francisco, she tasted this wine in 2004 at a family friend’s dinner party. “I could smell the perfume of my house in this wine,” she said and so she decided, after all, to return home and rejoin her family’s business. A truly life-changing wine, in her case.

Barbaresco 1997

I wasn’t expecting to like this vintage but was really impressed by its drinkability and its balance. “The heat of the vintage shows” but the wine is drinking fantastically well at this moment. It has begun to attain that orange hue of old Nebbiolo and I won’t conceal that I didn’t spit this wine. I thought it showed beautifully. Of all the wines we tasted, this would have been the one I would have most liked to have enjoyed at dinner (while the 89 and 64, my favorites, would have been special occasion wines, meditation wines). Drink it now if you got it.

Barbaresco 2000

This wine is going through a very closed phase of its evolution, very tannic and very tight as we say in our parlance. Like 1997, this was a very warm vintage and I was actually surprised by how reluctant the wine was to reveal its fruit. I really wish I would have had more time with this wine but the time constraints of this tasting (a trade tasting) didn’t allow me to revisit it.

Barbaresco 2004

I’ve tasted this wine on numerous occasions and you’d be surprised by the name of at least one wine writer who revealed very publicly that he enjoyed this wine in a blind tasting. The wine is still very young and very tannic but you can easily imagine the balance that it is going to reveal with aging. As we look back at 2004 with a few years distance, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the vintage is very similar to 1989, very balanced, very classic, and with extreme promise. If I could afford to buy Gaja, this is the wine I’d put in my cellar for long-term aging. A good bet if you’re the betting type.

barbaresco

Above: Gaia and I had a charbroiled cheddardog at Wieners Circle.

After I told Gaia and another a colleague about my adventure at the Wiener Circle (where the proprietors famously berate their customers), our colleague mentioned that Robert Parker had listed it one year as one of his “top ten meals” of the year, she expressed her desire to taste a Chicago red hot.

Impossible wine pairing? Gaja and Chicago red hot? I don’t think I’m gonna touch that one!

barbaresco

Thanks again, Gaia, for inviting me to such an incredible tasting! And thanks for the cheddardog!


Italy’s barrique stainless steel revolution

March 22, 2010

Above: Cory posed for me in front of an old large-format chestnut wood cask, once used to age Barolo at the historic Fontanafredda winery in Serralunga d’Alba. I highly recommend a visit there. The winery represents an important piece in the historical puzzle of the first Italian wine renaissance that began in 19th-century Italy.

One of the more interesting elements to emerge from my recent trip to Piedmont was one enologist’s observation that Italy did not undergo a “barrique revolution” in the 1980s but rather a “stainless steel revolution.” One of the results of the new trend of stainless steel aging introduced in Italy in the 1980s, he claimed, was that small-cask, French-oak aging soon followed as a natural and necessary corollary. Made from an impenetrable and inert substance, stainless steel vats do not allow for oxygenation of the wine. As a result, he claimed, the use of barrique aging expanded in Italy. The smaller cask size oxygenates the wine more rapidly and the more manageable format helps to maximize cellar space (among other efficacious aspects of the now overwhelming popular French format).

Above: Owner and winemaker Giovanni Rava at La Casaccia in Monferrato showed us this “vat,” carved into the tufaceous subsoil, once lined with glass tiles and used for vinification of Barbera (in the 18th century), now used to store barriques.

The day we visited the Marcarino winery and spoke with enologist Mauro de Paola, I was interpreting and so wasn’t able to take notes and photographs. And I will agree with colleague Fredric that beyond Thor’s account of the visit there couldn’t be “a more fair or thorough explication of our visit to this puzzling property.” (I will say, for the record, that I loved Paolo Marcarino’s wines, however manipulated the process to achieve no-sulfite-added expressions of Barbera and Cortese.)

Above: This patent, for “botti di cemento [cement casks],” dated 1887, is believed to be evidence that Fontanafredda was the first to use concrete vats to age wine in Italy.

A 1982 visit to Napa by Giacomo Bologna, Maurizio Zanella, and Luigi Veronelli is widely considered the “eureka” moment that led many of Italy’s foremost producers to begin fermenting in barrique (Zanella) and aging in barrique (Bologna). (I have written about in one of my favorite posts here, and Eric wrote about it here.)

Above: Cement vats used to make one of my favorite wines in the world, Produttori del Barbaresco. Stainless steel is also used today at the winery, even for some of its top wines. In the 1980s, a lot of Italian winemakers shifted from glass-lined and varnish-lined cement aging and large cask aging to barrique aging (not at Produttori del Barbaresco, however).

I had always assumed that Angelo Gaja had begun using barrique aging around the same time as Bologna (whom many credit as the first to use new cask aging in Italy). But when we visited and tasted with Gaja on our recent trip, he told me that his winery began experimenting with new, small cask aging in 1978. (I have a long backlog of posts but I’ll get to our Gaja visit, which was, as you can imagine, immensely interesting.)

Above: One of Gaja’s barrique aging rooms is dominated by this fantastic Giovanni Bo sculpture, an extension of the well, no longer in use, in the courtyard of the winery.

Honestly, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly agree with De Paola’s assessment that the advent of stainless steel is what made barrique aging necessary in Italy. But I do think that the introduction of stainless steel and barrique, together with a California-inspired approach to cellar management (prompted by the emergence of the Napa Valley fine wine industry) are all elements in the current renaissance of Italian wine (whether you prefer traditional- or modern-style wine). His observation that “stainless steel was the true revolution,” in my opinion, is a fair if atypical assessment: it’s not that Italian producers decided one day that they should age their wines in barrique.

Barrique and stainless steel were both part of the new and contemporary era of Italian wine.

So much (too much, really) of the wine we tasted during Barbera Meeting was dominated by new oak but we also tasted some fantastic stainless-steel aged and large-cask aged Barbera that really turned me on.

In other news… Man and husband cannot live by Barbera alone…

Last night we paired this wonderful Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo with Tracie P’s excellent slow-cooker braised pork chops smothered in cabbage. Check out the recipe and tasting notes here…


Da Alfonso: 1978 Gaja Barbera or the mother of all mommy posts

November 26, 2008

Above: the star of the evening last Saturday was a 1978 Barbera I Fagiani d’Oro (Golden Pheasants) by Angelo Gaja.

My good friend Alfonso Cevola, one of the wine bloggers I admire most and the top English-language Italian wine blogger in my book, often teases me about my “mommy posts.” We’re all guilty of authoring mommy posts: show me the wine blogger and I’ll show you the “mommy, I drank this, I drank that” post.

Above: the text in the arc above the appellation name advises, “da bersi a temperature di cantina” or drink at cellar temperature.

Well, here goes nothin’… On the occasion of our recent and first visit to his home last Saturday, Alfonso opened the doors of his cellar and plucked a few gems from his trésor. These included, among others, a Jacques Selosse NV Champagne (I’d never tasted before; simply brilliant), a Barbera d’Alba I Fagiani d’Oro 1978 Angelo Gaja (the star of the evening for me), and a Château Mouton-Rothschild 1982 (with label by John Huston).

Above: Alfonso grilled fiorentine (Tuscan-style porterhouses) for our main course.

The 1978 Barbera was one of the most thrilling wines I’ve tasted in some time: it was so alive, with great acidity and fruit, a stunning example of traditional-style Barbera. Few think of Barbera as an age-worthy grape variety. But when vinified in a traditional style, this grape achieves a sublime lightness in body. I’d never seen a Gaja Barbera from any vintage and any info and/or thoughts would be appreciated. Alfonso and I kept expecting the wine to die as it aerated, but it just kept giving us delicious sensation until the very last drop.

Above: I kicked back and sipped Puro (my contribution) and Selosse as Tracie B (right) made pasta with pomodorini and mozzarella, Kim sautéed some biodynamic Swiss chard, and Alfonso grilled the steaks. Ah, life is good…

Earlier this year, Eric le Rouge and I tasted a 1978 Gaja Barbaresco at Manducatis in Long Island City, Queens. The 1978 harvest in Piedmont was a great one and Angelo Gaja was still making traditional wines aged in botti (as opposed to the new French oak he uses today). Both wines sapevano di langa… they both tasted of the Langa hills where they were made.

Above: the cork in the Barolo 1971 Pira fell apart and so I used an ah-so cork screw to remove it. Unfortunately, the wine had died, but such is life. Does anybody know the etymology of the word “ah-so”? Dr. J must confess that he’s stumped. Maybe this is a quaesitio for Dr. Vino.

Above: Alfonso seasoned the beef with “profumo del Chianti” by Panzanese butcher Dario Cecchini.

The Selosse, so hard-to-find and beyond my price point, was simply brilliant. Even at the entry-level, this non-vintage Champagne “Initial,” a Grand Cru blanc de blancs blended from three different vineyards and vintages, was impressively nuanced yet powerful in the mouth, with many great years ahead of it. A great example of Chardonnay in one of its finest expressions. The 1982 Mouton was a treat for me inasmuch as I rarely get to taste old Bordeaux and while I can’t say that it floored me (and it struck me as more modern-leaning in style than other first growth I’ve tasted), I thoroughly appreciated its historic significance as a benchmark wine from a watershed vintage.

Alfonso, what can I say? Thanks for an unforgettable evening. Can you blame me for mommy blogging? ;-)

On deck: thoughts on the Grassy Knoll on the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and foodie notes from Dallas.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Colorado Day 4: the Great Divide

June 12, 2008

Above: one of the Twin Lakes, a shot I took about 15 minutes before reaching the village of Twin Lakes near Leadville, CO.

The beauty of Colorado leaves me speechless. Yesterday I crossed the Continental Divide (also known as the Great Divide) as I made my way from Boulder to Aspen. The awe-inspiring landscapes fill one’s soul with wonderment and marvel. The expanse of the horizon and the power of nature — and the accompanying introspection — puts a lot into emotional perspective.

Above: it had snowed earlier in the day in and around Aspen. I took this shot about 5 minutes before reaching the Continental Divide.

As I travel through these (for me) uncharted landscapes, I’m feeling a little like Lemuel Gulliver. And my arrival in Aspen brought even more wonderment. When I happened upon The Grog Shop, the town’s standby wine and spirits shop, it occurred to me that there is perhaps no other place in the U.S. where bottles of Haut-Brion and Gaja — ranging from $250 to $600 apiece — are displayed six-deep on the store’s shelves.

Seems that they live well on this side of the divide.

The Grog Shop
710 E Durant Ave #1
Aspen, CO 81611
(970) 925-3000

In other news…

While browsing all the wines I cannot afford at the antithetically named Grog Shop, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of The Wine Spectator’s “pizza issue.” I liked Harvey Steinman’s coverage of pizza in the U.S. but I was disappointed to see that the editors included only one Italian wine in the 75+ wines featured in their “Value Reds to Serve with Pizza” sidebar. It’s just as well: Italians generally serve beer with pizza (I have to confess, however, that one of my guilty pleasures is Nebbiolo and pepperoni pizza).

Earlier this year, I did a post on New York City pizzerie, including a few pizzaioli omitted by the Spectator.

In other other news…

The Aspen Food & Wine Classic officially begins tonight with the kick-off party… stay tuned…


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