Just an fyi there was a small plane crash in austin today but tracie p and I are just fine. It was in northwest austin, not too far from where we live but we’re fine.
Just like people, restaurants have “good days” and “bad days.” The night we went to Trattoria il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino), it was one of those off-the-charts good days (and not every meal we had in Italy was worth writing home about, believe me). I’ve been going there since 1989 when I first began to “frequent” Montalcino (the fons origo of my passion for Italian wine). Paola (in the kitchen) and Franca (front of the house) Binarelli have owned and run Trattoria il Pozzo since 2001 and honestly, the food there has never been better. It was just one of those magical culinary nights, when everything came together just perfectly. I’ll let Tracie P’s superb photos do the talking…
Salt-less bread crostini topped with liver and spleen (the chestnut-colored spread, classic Tuscan), chopped mushrooms, and tomato (not so traditional but now part of the pan-Italian culinary lexicon).
Salt-less bread soup, drizzled (rigorously) with extra-virgin olive oil by Il Poggione (more on Il Poggione later).
Pici (long, hand-rolled noodles) with sausage, mushroom, and tomato (this was UNBELIEVABLY good).
Pici with wild boar ragù (the boar meat was so tender and flavorful and the combination of textures and flavors was sublime).
We had to sneak a peak in the kitchen since they were still rolling out the pici that evening.
One of the sine qua non elements of the bistecca fiorentina is that it must be charred on top — to heat the meat on the bone without cooking it through.
Need I say more? To look at the meat you’d think it was over cooked. But the secret is that the beast is slaughtered young. Older than a calf but still relatively young and so the meat has a pink rather than blood-red color.
Fried artichokes. Franca told me that Italian celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani once complained that they had served these with lemon wedges. So no more lemon wedges!
The chicory was at once bitter like Tuscan dirt and sweet like Tuscan heaven.
The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by the dearly departed Gianni Brunelli, one of the great Tuscan restaurateurs of our lifetime. Beautiful acidity, gorgeous fruit, and man, the combination of the red fruit flavors of the wine and its acidity against the fat and flesh of the steak was better than… well, actually, it wasn’t better than… it was our honeymoon after all! ;-)
Ristorante Il Pozzo
53024 Montalcino (SI) – Piazza Del Pozzo, 2
tel: 0577 844015
You shall learn how salt is the taste/of another man’s bread… Cacciaguida to Dante, Paradiso 17, 58-9.
From the department of “wine geekery”…
One last note that I wanted to share, for the record, culled from emails I traded yesterday with one of the wine writers I admire most and one of the greatest English-language authorities on the wines and winemakers of Piedmont, Antonio Galloni (who also happens to be an extremely nice guy).
His comments speak to Bruno’s observation that you could “smell Asili” in the 2007 Asili white label bottling (even in the light of the fact that the wine was made predominantly from grapes sourced from a parcel previously classified as Rabajà).
“Because of the freakish growing season in 2007 that you describe,” i.e., with an extremely mild winter and consequently anticipated vegetative cycle, wrote Antonio, “the 2007 Asili white label does actually reflect a lot of that vineyard’s characteristics, even if it is 80% juice from Rabajà.”
He also pointed me to this passage, lifted from his October 2009 tasting notes: “Curiously, the 2007 Asili is a very soft wine, considering it is made mostly from vines that informed such majestic Rabajas as the 2001 and 2004.”
All of us present at the tasting a week ago Sunday were impressed with how approachable the wine was. And Bruno’s observation, “you can smell Asili in this wine,” was significant, indeed, especially in the light of the unusual vintage and the reclassification of the Barbaresco cru system. Antonio noted that in the wake of the reclassification, “you will soon see a host of new, single-vineyard bottlings from places you probably never knew existed.”
Food — or grapes, as the case may be — for thought.
Thanks again to Ken for asking me to look more carefully at Bruno’s observation and thanks to Antonio for his truly invaluable insights.
In other news…
It will remain one of the great mysteries in the history of humankind: how did a schlub like me end up with a beauty like Tracie P née B?
And thanks to my gorgeous bride Tracie P: words could never express the happiness and joy that you have brought into my life, an endless Valentine, every night when I kiss your sweet lips good night and when they greet me in the morning. I love you so very much… What a miracle you are!
Photos by Tracie P.
Wow, heartfelt thanks to everyone for all the comments and messages in the wake of the Bruno Giacosa tasting post Friday! It was an unforgettable experience.
Ken Vastola, author of an excellent “bibliography” of Giacosa’s wines, asked me to clarify a few points. So, yesterday, I called Giacosa’s enologist Giorgio Lavagna to get some answers.
- Antonio Galloni wrote in his review: “In 2007, the white label Asili is roughly 80% juice from the old ‘Rabaja’ parcel and 20% Asili from the vines Giacosa has always used for his [Barbaresco] Asili.”
That doesn’t seem to fit with Bruno’s comment in your article about this wine “You can smell Asili in this wine.”
You wrote “The only difference between the white and red (reserve) labels is the additional cask aging.” Does this imply (seemingly contrary to Antonio’s comment) that all the juice from the 2 parcels was blended, then separated for aging? I have to say this is the type of question that Bruno and the winery have been either coy or forgetful about over the years.
Giorgio confirmed the percentages that Antonio reported in his previously published notes on the wines. As has been widely reported, Giacosa did not bottle his 2006 (because of a hail storm that damaged the vineyards, said Giorgio yesterday [!!!]). 2006 was also the year that certain adjacent rows of Rabajà were reclassified as Asili, including the rows that Giacosa had used historically to make his Barbaresco Rabajà bottling.
The fruit for the 2007 Barbaresco Asili “white label,” said Giorgio, is sourced primarily from the parcel previously called Rabajà, roughly 80%, and roughly 20% from Asili. In the light of this information, Bruno’s comment that “you can smell Asili in this wine” is significant. It seems to suggest that he agrees with the reclassification.
The fruit sourced from the Rabajà parcel and Asili were vinified together in 2007, said Giorgio.
But he was quick to point out that the fruit for the 2007 Barbaresco Asili Riserva (“red label”), which will be released in 2012, was sourced exclusively from the top part of Asili, the sorì as the best parcel is called in the wine parlance and dialect of Langa.
- Is Bruno really making a 2007 Rocche white label? I assumed (or read?) he would make a red label in 07. So far he has not made both a red and white label in the same vintage from Rocche. Though I guess if it’s still in barrel then red or white label is still only a guess. He can change his mind.
Giorgio confirmed that the 2007 Barolo Rocche del Falletto will be a “red label” riserva and that there will be no “white label” 2007 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (and, indeed, as Ken points out rightly, this keeps with tradition at Giacosa: when a red label Barolo Rocche del Falletto is produced, no white label is produced). The 2007 Barolo Rocche del Falletto has not been bottled yet and we tasted a barrel sample (in the unlabeled 375ml bottle above).
- You mention a Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (white label). In 2004, I’m pretty sure he made a white label Falletto and a red label Rocche, but no white label Rocche. Was this from a finished bottle with a label on it or could it be the red label? I have not seen a white label Rocche on the market, only a red label on futures.
We did taste a 2005 “white label” Barolo Rocche del Falletto in the tasting room and we drank a 2004 white label Barolo Falletto at lunch at Enoclub in Alba. In our conversation, Giorgio reiterated that in 2005 no red label Barolo Rocche was bottled as such. He said that he “nearly regretted” this and when we asked him if they had bottled the parcel as white label in response to the economic crisis, he didn’t answer. The bottom line is that 2005 Rocche del Falletto probably could have bottled as red label and that the white label bottling represents all the more value for the price point. The winery did, indeed, produce a 2004 Barolo Rocche del Falletto red label (and consequently no white label for that parcel for that vintage).
N.B.: Historically, Giacosa has made Barolo Falletto (sourced from his Falletto estate in Serralunga d’Alba) and Barolo Rocche del Falletto (sourced from the top parcels on the Falletto estate). In excellent years, Barolo Rocche del Falletto is aged longer in cask and released as “red label” riserva. In superlative years, Barolo Falletto has also been released as a “red label” riserva. 1996 was the last occurrence, according to Ken’s bibliography.
To learn more about the history of Giacosa’s labeling and bottling, be sure to check out Ken’s site.
Thanks, Ken, for such great questions and thanks, everyone, for reading!
Now, ENOUGH with this wine geekery! I promise something sappy and romantic for tomorrow… ;-)
On deck: tasting current releases of G. (Mauro) Mascarello: a man “you cannot help but love.”
The Endless Valentine: Tracie P (née B) and I still feel like we’re in a dream. Ever since our wedding day, it seems like everywhere we go, someone wishes us well for our marriage or makes something special just for us, like this heart-shaped desert that Francarlo Negro served us just last week at his Cantina del Rondò in Neive (a stone’s throw from Barbaresco). Remember him? He was the author of “The Smell of Money Guides the Evolution of Taste,” which I translated here before leaving for Italy a few weeks ago.
For Valentine’s Day yesterday (our first as a married couple!), we decided to go to one of our favorite spots here in Austin, Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.
It was our first time going out since we’ve returned from our honeymoon and our first time “on the town” as a married couple. Ginny was so sweet and insisted that our money was no good at Ginny’s. Lonestar beer never tasted so good…
An Austin honkytonk, chicken shit bingo, and chili dogs (above) are a far cry from the sunsets of Tuscany, the Langa hills of Piedmont, and the Vatican museum in Rome where we were just a few days ago. But, man, it sure feels good to be home with my beautiful bride. The endless Valentine makes it feel like the honeymoon hasn’t ended…
In other news…
It’s been a busy Monday morning over here at Do Bianchi Editorial: I just spoke to Giacosa enologist Giorgio Lavagna and I’ll be posting answers to Ken Vastola’s questions regarding my previous Giacosa post tomorrow.
Stay tuned (and thanks for reading!)…
“Carneades! Who was he now?” famously asks Don Abbondio in the opening lines of chapter 8 of Lombard novelist, poet, and dramatist Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, first published 1827).
Some of you may ask the same of poet and moralist Giuseppe Parini (1729-1799), another literary great of Lombardy, the generation before Manzoni.
I’ve been thinking of Parini on this Valentine’s Day morning: the Enlightened (with a capital E) Lombard, author of erudite (at times pungent, at times hilarious) satire and master of Italian 19th-century prosody, reminds me of another Lombard writer, Franco Ziliani, a wine writer whose blog has inspired and informed my own, whose work ethic and ethical work have served as model for my own modest scribblings, and whose fraternal (and at times avuncular) friendship and collegiality have often guided me through the selva oscura, the dark wood (pun intended) of the world of Italian wine.
Anyone who’s been following my blog knows that Franco organized an extraordinary series of tastings for Tracie P and me (the sposi, no longer betrothed but already conjugated!) last Saturday and Sunday in Langa (they will be the subject of many posts in the next few weeks).
This morning, in Franco’s honor, I have translated a vinous stanza from Parini’s ode, “La laurea” (“The Diploma”).
- Quell’ospite è gentil, che tiene ascoso
Ai molti bevitori
Entro ai dogli paterni il vino annoso
Frutto de’ suoi sudori;
E liberale allora
Sul desco il reca di bei fiori adorno,
Quando i Lari di lui ridenti intorno
Degno straniere onora:
E versata in cristalli empie la stanza
Insolita di Bacco alma fragranza.
Noble is the host who keeps hidden
from the many imbibers
the old wine in his father’s puncheons,
the fruit of his labors.
Then, generously, he brings it
to the dinner table, adorned with flowers,
and as the Lares* smile upon him
he honors the worthy stranger.
And poured into crystal, Bacchus’s extraordinary,
life-giving fragrance fills the room.
* The Roman household deities, hence, the household.
Above: Franco took this picture of us later that afternoon, as we drove around the vineyards of Barolo.
Thank you, again, Franco, for an unforgettable visit to Langa. You are a Parini among wine writers.
Noble is the host…
Every since we got on a plane, two Wednesdays ago, to leave for La Jolla for our wedding, life has been nothing but a dream: the preparation for the wedding, the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony (the incredible moment the stunningly gorgeous Tracie P née B appeared to walk down the aisle!), our first kiss and embrace as wedded couple, the reception, the Bollinger NV rosé (and the 1998 Grand Dame!), New York, Sant’Angelo in Colle, Bologna, Barolo, Barbaresco, Rome, and then finally the long trek homeward. At the end of those two weeks, Tracie P and me were ready to come home.
The best news? Next week, we finally move into our first home together, a little house we’ve rented on the north side of Austin.
As hard as it is to come down from the high of the last two weeks, we’ve been enjoying the afterglow of these magical days, cooking at home and staying in to watch movies at night.
The other good news: the first official wedding photos, by our lovely and immensely talented (you’ll see) friends Jennifer (Tracie P’s childhood friend) and CJ Nichols, are here!
In Tracie P they found a cover-girl as their materia prima. In me? Well, they found the same old schlub I’ve always been. But, hey, Tracie P must see something in me, right? I guess she loves me for my brain… ;-)
Enjoy the wedding photos here!
How can I begin to describe the emotion that ran through our veins when we sat down on a beautiful snow-covered Sunday morning in Langa with Bruno Giacosa in the Bruno Giacosa tasting room in Neive to taste through the winery’s soon-to-be-released 2007s? Even the uninformed semiotician would have appreciated the myriad strata of meaning, many of them overlapping, as Tracie P, Franco, and I drew that first drop of Asili “white label” 2007 to our lips.
Above: Giorgio Lavagna, right, began to work with Bruno Giacosa in 2008 after the previous enologist, Dante Scaglione, stepped down — a move that surprised many observers of Langa wines. That’s Franco, seated to my left.
The legendary Giacosa winery has been the subject of much controversy over the last two years. In 2008, long-time enologist and Giacosa protégé Dante Scaglione was replaced by Giorgio Lavagna, who had served as enologist at Batasiolo (whose wines are made in a modern style, as opposed to Giacosa’s historically and rigorously traditional style). In 2009, Giacosa shocked the wine world when his British agent announced (in a matter-of-fact press release) that he would not be bottling his 2006 vintage because of the inferior quality of the harvest. I know of no other Langa winemaker who opted for such a drastic declassification and we spoke to many winemakers during our stay about the virtues of the 2006 vintage. (Franco and I have both written, at length, about Giacosa’s decision and how it has affected perceptions of the vintage as produced by other winemakers.)
Above: The 2007 Asili “red label” reserve (“riserva”) by Giacosa is one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo I have ever tasted.
But however fraught with anticipation, our encounter revealed that the truth was in the wines, in vino veritas, and what wines they were! In the words of Bruno Giacosa, the 2007 is destined to be one of the great vintages of our times.
The fact of the matter is that Bruno Giacosa does not release mediocre wines and the 2007s are no exception to the rule. Lavagna explained that the extremely mild winter of early 2007 anticipated the vegetative cycle and that, while harvest may have come early, the otherwise classic nature of the vintage gave the wines the tannic structure, profound acidity, and balanced fruit that make for the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo.
Here are my notes and observations from this truly unforgettable tasting.
Above from left, Barbaresco Asili “white label” 2007, Barbaresco Santo Stefano “white label” 2007, Barbaresco Asili “red label” 2007, and Barolo Rocche 2007 “white label.”
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Asili (white label)
The nose was already very evolved, offering surprisingly bright and seductive fruit. The tannin is very powerful but not aggressive and it sits in glorious balance with the fruit and resplendent acidity. The thing that impressed us all about this wine was how purely enjoyable it was — so early in its development — with notes of berry fruit accented by gentle, delicate spice.
“You can smell Asili” in this wine, said Bruno.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Santo Stefano (white label)
Very powerful and aggressively tannic, mineral notes dominate the fruit in this wine at this early point in its evolution. It’s an “arrogant” expression of Nebbiolo.
“It’s more Barolo than Barbaresco,” said Bruno.
It’s got the tannic structure that Italians like to call “nervoso” or “nervy.” Often when I taste Giacosa’s wines, equine metaphors come to mind: this wine is a powerful young stallion, nervous in the corral, waiting to show its stuff.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Asili (red label)
The only difference between the white and red (reserve) labels is the additional cask aging. Here the nose was still very closed and the tannin very rich. The fruit was darker in character but I would attribute that to the youth of this powerful wine, which will take longer to reveal the gorgeous fruit that we found in the white label Asili.
What an emotional and inspirational moment to taste this superb wine with Bruno! As we swirled, smelled, tasted, swished, and spit, Tracie P asked Bruno if he preferred Asili or Santo Stefano. “Asili,” he said without hestitation, “is my favorite. They can say what they want, but the best Barbaresco comes from Asili.
One important note: the rows that Giacosa has used historically to make his Rabajà have been reclassified as Asili and so, for the first time, with this vintage, the Giacosa previously bottled as Rabajà went into the Asili. Bruno noted that none of his wines will be labeled using the “menzione aggiuntiva” (“added mention”) Rabajà anymore.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (white label)
Of all the wines that we tasted that day, this was the only one that hasn’t spent any time in bottle (it was a barrel sample). The tannin is majestic and muscular at this early stage of its development. The fruit has not yet begun to emerge and its earthy, savory flavors dominated the palate. In Langa, it’s not uncommon to open wine and revisit it later in the day and the next day as well. My only disappointment at the tasting was not being able to spend some more time with this wine.
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barbaresco Asili
(white label, no red label produced)
Anyone who’s ever tasted Giacosa’s wines knows that it’s difficult not to use superlatives when describing them. Where other bottlings of 2005 Barbaresco have impressed me with how ready they are to drink, this wine was aggressively tannic, a wonderful example of how Asili is a king among crus. By the end of our visit, it had begun to open up slowly to reveal rich red fruit. But aggressive as the tannin was, it still had that distinctive Giacosa signature: never harsh, always elegant, and however powerful at first, the tannin expanded evenly on the back of the tongue, seducing you softly with its muscle while never letting you forget that it was in command of your palate.
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barolo Rocche del Falletto
(white label, no red label produced)
We all agreed that this regal expression of the Serralunga township (from one of its top growing sites) is destined to go down in history as game-changing bottling of Barolo. Giacosa did not make a “red label” reserve from this storied vineyard in 2005 and Giorgio said it he was “nearly” regretful that they hadn’t. Whether the decision was based on market conditions or on quality of the vintage, this wine will represent a great value for the superior quality in the bottle — whatever the color of the label, Bruno and Giorgio both agreed.
Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (
white red label [barrel sample])
Nearly everyone agrees that 2004 was a superlative vintage in Barbaresco and Barolo and this Barolo Rocche del Falletto is a great example of what many consider a “classic vintage” in Langa. It is already very evolved but with many, many glorious years ahead of it. Tracie P and I certainly can’t afford to buy wines in the price point but, man, if I had the dough, this is one of the wines where I’d place my bet. (This wine is already in the market and the red label, they told us, will be released shortly.)
Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Falletto (white label)
Following the tasting, Giorgio accompanied us to lunch at Enoclub in downtown Alba, where we opened a bottle of the 04 Barolo Falletto. The wine is also still very young in its evolution, richly tannic, but with wonderfully bright acidity. It was so great to enjoy this wine with food (tajarin with sausage ragù in my case). Especially in America, we tend to fetishize Giacosa’s wines to the point that we forget to serve them the way they were intended: with food.
Here are some observations and quotes I culled from our visit (some of them might surprise you).
Above: One of the most moving moments came for me when Giorgio excused himself to return to the winery to draw off a barrel sample. He asked us to continue with the tasting and so I employed my skill as sommelier. What an incredible feeling it was to pour Bruno Giacosa a glass of his wine!
Giacosa was born in 1929 and started making wine when he was 14 years old with the 1944 vintage.
Giacosa uses large-format French Allier casks and he changes them every 8-10 years.
When I asked him what he thought of winemaking in Langa today, he said that “The wines aren’t as good as they used to be.” Today, he told us, growers are using too many chemicals in the vineyard. In his day, only copper and sulfur (“and that’s all!”) were used. He also pointed out that the region has been over-planted and that it lacks the diversity of grape varieties because people have planted Nebbiolo where only Dolcetto and Barbera were planted formerly and even in sites not suited for grape-growing. When I asked Bruno what he thought of the Barolo and Barbaresco growers association, he replied: “The consortium is a waste of time.”
When enologist Giorgio Lavagna asked us what we thought of “biologic [i.e., “organic”] wine,” Bruno chimed in: “Biologic wine is a sham. There is no such thing.”
When I asked Lavagna if Giacosa used cultured yeasts, he said that indeed they do — regularly. Cultured yeasts, he said, were commonly (and have been historically) used at Giacosa to initiate fermentation. But the yeasts, strains developed especially for Langa, do not “dominate the natural yeast.”
When I asked Bruno when he thought these wines would be ready to drink, he said 8-10 years and in 4 years for some of them. As Giorgio pointed, it’s a matter of “cultural taste.” Where Americans and Brits tend to like these wines more when they have aged 20 and even 30 years, Italians prefer to consume them in “middle age,” as it were.
Worth checking out: Ken Vastola maintains an excellent “bibliography” of Giacosa’s wines here.
Post scriptum. Bruno suffered a stroke in 2006 and he still hasn’t fully recovered. He was perfectly lucent and conversant during our tasting but it was also clear that he’s in a lot of pain. I wish that everyone could have seen the smile on his face, when he held Tracie P’s hand and told her, “sei una bellissima sposa,” “you are a very beautiful bride.”
After breakfast in Rome and chips and pints for lunch at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we got back to Texas last night safe and sound.
I know that Terminal 5 has had its problems but I’m happy to report that our passage there was seamless and the beer had a great head on it.
The “Gaiorny” of it: our server at Enoclub in Alba used a cart made out of a Gaja “original wooden case” to open the bottle of Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Falletto that we drank with Giacosa enologist Giorgio Lavagna and Franco on Sunday at lunch. Tracie P and I couldn’t help but note the “gairony” of the modern vs. traditional dialectic going on there. It’s fun to walk into Enoclub, Alba’s most chic wine destination, and hear your lunch companion say to the hostess, “we have a reservation under Giacosa.” It raises an eyebrow or two, even in this jaded Hollywood of Italian fine wine.
I began compiling my notes from the Giacosa tasting yesterday on the plane and will post them tomorrow after I catch my breath. Thanks, everyone, for the notes and messages: we have so many tales to tell from our trip but the Giacosa tasting was the “money shot,” as we say in show biz. You might just be surprised to read what Bruno had to say about cultured yeasts, reclassification of Rabajà, and how often he changes his casks.
We tasted this wonderful skin-contact Trebbiano labeled “Trebbiano Giallo” (“Yellow Trebbiano”) called Flavens by PIana dei Castelli (Latium) last night at the popular ‘Gusto in piazza Augusto. The wine was filtered but deep gold in color. Rich in the mouth with a fantastic nose of apricot jelly. In Italy they don’t callorange wine orange. They just call it good!
On our way back home now. Sad to say goodbye to Italy and our honeymoon but still in the glow of our wedding.
Se nasce una bambina la chiameremo R O M A! ;-)