Barbaresco Rio Sordo: Giovanna, cry me a silent river

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Above: Giovanna Rizzolio is a delightful woman, wholly committed to terroir-expression wines and the traditions of her beloved Barbaresco. She presents her wines every April as part of the Vini Veri tasting.

The inestimable Italian wine raconteur Mr. Franco Ziliani certainly never promised me a rose garden but he most definitely delivered a bunch of roses when he o so generously introduced Tracie P and me to his dear, dear friend Giovanna Rizzolio (above), who runs a wonderful bed and breakfast on the cozy Cascina della Rose (literally, rose farm) estate, owned by her family for two generations, atop one of my favorite vineyards in the world, Rio Sordo, with a view upon Rabajà and Asili (the latter two considered by many the greatest expressions of Barbaresco).

Mr. Ziliani (arguably one of Italy’s greatest wine experts) is a huge fan of Giovanna and her wines and an even bigger fan of her estate, where we all stayed the night of our tasting and dinner, as Giovanna and her significant other Italo’s guests.

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Above: I just had to take this photo. It’s the view from the bathroom of the guest room where Tracie P and I stayed, looking northward (Rabajà and Asili to the right, out of frame). One of the coolest things about being in Langa with snow on the ground is that you can see where the “snow melts first.” In the olden days, everyone will tell you, grape growers planted Nebbiolo where “the snow melts first” because the melting of the snow reveals the growing sites with the best exposure.

A home-grown Piedmontese, Giovanna is as true to her land as her wines are: she makes some Barbera and Dolcetto but her best rows, situated at the top of the Rio Sordo cru, are devoted to her beloved Nebbiolo (even before she made wine, when she was still working in the schmatta trade, she told me, she drank Barbaresco almost exclusively).

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Above: One of the coolest things about tasting with Giovanna in her cellar is seeing the exposed subsoil, a cross-section as it were, where you can see the white calcareous marl that makes Barbaresco and Rio Sordo such unique expressions of Nebbiolo.

The top of the Rio Sordo vineyard, which literally means deaf or silent river, runs parallel to the Tanaro river (just to the northwest). It’s essentially an underground river: as they search for the water below, the roots of the vines are forced to dig through the calcareous marl and in turn render the rich fruit necessary to make fine wine.

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Above: Giovanna showed me this tear drop, a product of the silent underground river. Photo by Tracie P.

The wines of Rio Sordo are softer than the more potent wines on the northside of the valley. Rio Sordo doesn’t enjoy the ideal exposure of Rabajà and Asili. But it’s for this very reason that I have always loved this cru: the wines don’t take as long to “come around,” as we say. As with Pora, the fruit emerges at an earlier moment in the wines development and what gorgeous fruit it is! I thought Giovanna’s wines were great, especially the 2006 Barbaresco Rio Sordo.

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Above: Giovanna loves cats, as is evidenced by the image on her label.

But the thing I love the most about Giovanna is her attitude toward wine and life in Piedmont. Whether it was tales of dealing with unscrupulous wine pundits or the INCREDIBLE spinach casserole she served at dinner, she speaks with an honesty and integrity uncommon in the supremely competitive world of Langa wines. Her house atop Rio Sordo came to her long before the renaissance of Italian wine began and her love of Langa shines through in her personality and her wines.

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Above: Giovanna’s wines are available in a few American markets.

I’m not the only one who digs Giovanna and her farmhouse bed and breakfast. Doug Cook, of AbleGrape.com, and his wife Rachel are frequent visitors. I highly recommend staying there: I can’t think of a better way to be in touch with Langa and the folks who live and make wine there.

Giovanna, you can cry me a river, anytime you like, honey! Thanks again for a wonderful stay and tasting…

Here’s Diana Krall singing “Cry Me a River” with our friend Anthony on guitar….

Do Bianchi becomes VITELLO-TONNATO-WIRE!

Above: The best vitello tonnato of 2010 was prepared for Tracie P and me by our friend Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose in Tre Stelle (between Neive and Barbaresco). I’ve eaten a helluvalotta vitello tonnato over the last two months, with TWO (yes, TWO! COUNT ‘EM!) trips to Piedmont in as many months.

I love vitello tonnato. I could eat vitello tonnato every day. I’m not kidding. In fact, while I was in Piedmont with the Barbera 7, I literally ate vitello tonnato four times in four consecutive seatings, over three days. That’s 1.33333 servings of vitello tonnato per day.

Above: Getting to have dinner in someone’s home in Piedmont was a real treat for me. I’ve traveled to Piedmont so many times for wine but you always end up in Michelin-star this or Michelin-star that… Always great but nothing beats exceptional homecooking like Giovanna’s. Supper began with traditional Piedmont salame.

I am fascinated by vitello tonnato — culinarily and intellectually. And, gauging from all the comments here and on Facebook in the wake of the recent vitello tonnato pornography, you’re fascinated by vitello tonnato as well.

Above: And no Piedmontese meal is complete (lunch or dinner) without raw beef, in this case, homestyle.

That’s why I’ve decided to give up all the petty politics and ego-driven parochial bullshit of wine blogging to devote my blog exclusively to vitello tonnato and its epistemological implications. Veal with tuna and anchovies and capers. The basic ingredients alone and their highly unusual but thoroughly delicious combination will occupy volumes and volumes… The dissertation I delivered in 1997 was about Petrarch and Bembo, apostrophes (no shit!) and dipthongs (no double shit!) and episynaloepha (no triple shit! look that one up, Thor!). But this, ladies and gents, I assure you, will be a mother of all dissertations.

Above: But the true pièce de résistance of Giovanna’s superb repertoire was this sformato di spinaci, a spinach casserole topped with a fondue of Fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I couldn’t resist a second helping. Simona, you would have LOVED this.

Seriously, back from Mars now, I don’t have time to blog today because I’m on my way to San Antonio to make a living. It won’t be long before I pick up the narration of our February trip to Piedmont again — the meals, the wines, the tastings, and most importantly the people. Giovanna runs a wonderful bed and breakfast in Barbaresco country and her wines are killer.

And all joking aside, I have a great deal to say about vitello tonnato (no kidding!).

Stay tuned…

The Barbera 7 ends its journey at the legendary Felicin in Monforte

The Barbera 7 ended its week-long tour of tastings and winery visits in Asti and Langa with some old Nebbiolo at the legendary Da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba. The last wine we opened together was a 1978 Franco-Fiorina Barbaresco, a bygone bottle, to borrow Eric’s phrase. Not everyone agreed with my assessment of the wine but I thought it was fantastic (Frank and Charles would have loved it, I’m sure, for I have drunk many old expressions of such great Nebbiolo with them).

Owner, chef, polyglot, and showman Nino Rocca’s food was excellent last night. His asparagus with savory zabaglione was superb.

His cooking is colorful and creative, riffing off the Piedmontese canon, like these tajerin dressed with ragù and new garlic.

The décor at Felicin is elegant 19th century, the atmosphere warm and jovial, and the cellar… aaaahhhh… the cellar… That’s an artist label 1989 Bartolo Mascarello created especially for the restaurant. A little out of my price range… but, wow…

Nino and his wife Silvia are extremely sweet folks. He and I like to joke that he looks more Jewish and I look more Italian…

Come valanga scendo come tormenta salgo (I descend like an avalanche, like a blizzard I climb). Nino showed us how partisans used to leave messages for one another by scribbling notes on the back of paintings so that the Germans wouldn’t find them. The text on the back of the frame he showed us was the motto of the Alpine battalion “L’Aquila” (“The Eagle”) when it fought for the liberation between 1944-45.

Bye-bye, Barbera 7, I’ll miss you guys. It’s been an incredible week and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support — professional and personal. You’re the best…

From left, clockwise: Thor, Whitney, Cory, Fredric, Stuart, me, and Jon.

I’ve been gone for a week now and the homesickness is really beginning to get to me. One more day of meetings and then an evening in Milan with friends… I can’t wait to hold my sweet Tracie P in my arms and tell her over and over again how much I love her…

Denis Lin, one of the coolest cats, and the best tajerin

Chinese wine writer Denis Lin was one of the coolest cats I met on this trip. He draws the label of many of the wines he tastes in his tasting book. “This way, I don’t get drunk,” he said. His drawings are amazing.

One of the cool things about Barbera Meeting was the folks I met from all over the world. There were a lot of Asian buyers and writers here…

Denis, above, is currently in talks to appear in the sequel to The Barbera 7, scheduled release 2011, working title: The Barbera 8.

In other news…

The best tajerin I’ve ever had.

At Ristorante Antica Torre in Barbaresco with Gaia Gaja.

Thanks again, Gaia, for an unforgettable meal, from The Barbera 7! :-)

Ristorante Antica Torre
Via Torino, 64
12050 Barbaresco
0173 63 51 70

Highly recommended…

One last note on Giacosa Asili 07 from Antonio Galloni (and the complete wedding album online)

From the department of “wine geekery”…

Above: I wish words could convey Bruno’s bright smile that day and the pleasure he seemed to take in tasting and talking about his wines with Franco, Tracie P, and me. Photo by my better half.

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?

The complete wedding album is online here. Thanks again to Jennifer and CJ for an amazing job!

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!

Bruno Giacosa 2007 (complete tasting notes, including some 05s and 04s)

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Above: On Sunday, Tracie P, Franco, and I tasted seven wines with the great maestro of Barbaresco and Barolo, Bruno Giacosa (above), and his enologist Giorgio Lavagna. Photo by Tracie P.

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.”

Giacosa and Mauro Mascarello spar over 2006

Above: A recent photo of iconic Langa producer Bruno Giacosa.

Over at VinoWire, Franco and I have posted a preview of Franco’s article on Bruno Giacosa’s controversial decision not to bottle his 2006 Barbaresco and Barolo (to appear in the February issue of Decanter Magazine). But you’ll have to click over to VinoWire to get it. It marks the first time that Giacosa has spoken directly to the English-speaking world on the polemic move. You might be surprised by what some of his peers and interlocutors have to say about the vintage.

In other news… from the “just for gastronomic fun” department…

It’s that time of year again when we spacciatori di vino (wine pushers) hit the streets and start showing our wares again. It’s been good to reconnect with a lot of folks I only see when I’m on the road, like my good friend Josh Cross, who always has something fun on the menu at his awesome restaurant Oloroso in San Antonio. Josh and I both worked in the New York restaurant scene during the better part of the last decade and so we have a lot of friends in common.

He’s open for lunch now and so he treated me to one of his lunch specials, a take on “pigs in a blanket” (above): housemade venison sausage, cased in a runza dough kolache bun, served with a fig mustard and piquillo pepper relish.

I really like his sous chef Ernesto Martinez’s take on the German and Czech historical presence in Central Texas. How’s that for fusion?

Today, I’m on my way from Dallas to Houston, where I’ll be speaking at a wine tasting tonight. In less than a week, my beautiful Tracie B and I will be leaving for San Diego and the final preparations for our wedding. I wish ya’ll could see the grin on my face as I write this from a Starbucks in Ennis, Texas! :-)

Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello meet for the first time

Every once in a while you come across one of those amazing pieces of writing that makes you stop in your tracks, put down your coffee during breakfast, and focus all of your thought and imagination on the words on the page (or, as the case may be, screen) before you. A text where the experiential and the aesthetic sensibility combine to transfigure the words’s meaning and sound, revealing unexpected and welcomed clues to the mystery of life that surrounds us.

That’s what happened to me this morning during our daily breakfast ritual chez Tracie B, as I scanned The New York Times online and my Google reader feed.

I think the same thing happened to Franco, when the same text appeared in his inbox earlier today.

The below translation has been culled from an e-letter authored by Francarlo Negro, restaurateur, Nebbiolo and Langa afficionado, and owner of the Cantina del Rondò in Neive (Cuneo, Piedmont). Franco re-posted it earlier today on his excellent blog Vino al Vino.

It’s entitled, “The Smell of Money Guides the Evolution of Taste,” and in the first part, Francarlo recalls a meeting organized by his father between Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa (their first!) in late July, 1967 (not long after I was born!).

After I read it to Tracie B this morning over coffee, she said, “You have to translate that!” By the time the words left her delicate lips, I had already begun… Buona lettura!

1967: Bruno Giacosa meets Bartolo Mascarello

At the end of July, 1967, with the hills inundated by a delicate, sultry fog, my father, who was a friend of Bartolo Mascarello from Barolo, organized a visit with Bruno Giacosa from Neive. I was 17 years old and I was excited: I didn’t want to miss a word of the conversation that I was about to witness.

Back then, there was no demand from the international market. It was difficult to sell fine wine, which, at the time, was only opened on special occasions. Adulteration was rampant: large wineries like Marchesi di Barolo inundated the market unchecked and dishonest farmers cut our wines with concentrated must that arrived from the South. Manduria in Apulia was the principal source of the supply.

Everyone knew of the case of a Fiat worker, originally from Neive, who would obtain this hodge-podge from a large local cellar and would proceed to fill his casks every spring and sell his “authentic wine” to his fellow factory workers.

Together with a few others, Giacosa and Mascarello waived the flag of authenticity high. With confidence, they identified the words authentic and local character with the purity and identity of the two great wines of Langa, the fruit of Piedmontese enological culture.

The cool air of Bartolo’s cellar greeted us when we arrived: we had traveled over 12 kilometers of asphalt at 35° [Celsius, 95° F.] in our Fiat 600 with the windows rolled down. The tall casks [botti] bulged around the waist, made from Slavonian oak. Some held 50 brinte (2,500 liters), others 100 brinte. In all, there was just over 15,000 liters of Barolo, from different vintages and different vineyards, all from hills in the township of Barolo.

Bartolo climbed up the ladder leaning against the casks, he drew off a little bit of wine, and handed us the glasses. And so the ritual of tasting began.

Despite Bartolo Mascarello’s repeated pleas that Bruno address him using [the familiar] tu, Bruno Giacosa addressed Bartolo using Voi, a sign of ancient respect for the authority of his interlocutor. The air was filled with great respect, between the men and for the wine. In silence, we delicately sipped the wine, as we aerated the small tastes in our mouths.

I remember that the 1964 Barolo leapt from the glass, the elegant, regal wine already releasing its full magnificence. The nose revealed subtle notes of violet and white spring flowers. In the mouth, you perceived the tart sensation of the small buds of the vine during blossoming. You could not taste any wood, as wood was not meant to be apparent. The cask — the botte — was intended to play one role alone: it was meant to accompany the Nebbiolo, sharp and brusque at birth, on its slow journey as it aged and became austere and elegant.

That’s all I had time for today, but, wow, what power in these 450 words! How much information — so many clues to the history and story of Barolo — in this dense text! I’ll translate more in the days that follow. But, wow, just ponder this passage for a few days. Stay tuned…

Impossible wine pairing? Chicken and dumplings

Above: Did I mention the girl can cook? Tracie B made chicken and dumplings last night for the whole B family. Photo by Rev. B.

In Emilia-Romagna they eat tortellini and cappelletti in brodo (filled pasta in capon broth). In Central Europe they eat knödel served in broth. At the Jewish deli, they serve kreplach in broth. And in the South, they make chicken and dumplings.

Above: Tracie B’s chicken and dumplings. I can only wonder what Dr. V’s user-generated content would have to say about this most impossible impossible wine pairings — chicken and dumplings. But, man, were they good! This and below photos by Tracie B.

By its very nature, broth is an inevitably impossible wine pairing: the temperature alone makes pairing like grabbing the moon with your teeth as the French say.

Heeding the adage by restaurateur giant Danny Meyer, if it grows with it, it goes with it, I should have paired Tracie B’s delectable dumplings with Lambrusco (my top pick would have been a Lambrusco di Sorbara). In Emilia, versatile Lambrusco is served throughout the meal, with the appetizer of affettati (sliced charcuterie), with the first course of tortellini in brodo, with the second course of bollito (boiled meats and sausage), and even with the dessert of Parmgiano Reggiano served in crumbly shards, perhaps topped with a drop of aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena or di Reggio Emilia (none of that hokey, watery aromatic vinegar). Lambrusco would have been perfect here.

Above: Don’t try this at home. Frankly, the 2004 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco is going through a nearly undrinkable stage in its evolution.

But as food writer Arthur Schwartz says of pizza, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.

Before heading to Orange for the Christmas holiday celebration with the B family, I had reached into our cellar and pulled out a bottle of 2004 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco. Frankly, the wine was too tight, overwhelmingly tannic, and even though it opened up over the course of the evening, it’s going through a nearly undrinkable period in its evolution. But that’s part of my love affair with this winery: experiencing the wine and the different single-vineyard expressions at different points in its life. And there are more bottles of 04 Pora to be had in our cellar. We ended up lingering over wine, sipping it is a meditative wine as we retired to the living room and watched a movie together and munched on oatmeal cookies that Tracie B and Mrs. B had baked that afternoon.

Above: Nephew Tobey wasn’t concerned with wine pairing. But he sure loved him some chicken and dumplings!

Happy Sunday ya’ll and thanks for reading!

Sometimes less is more: 1996 La Ca’ Növa Barbaresco

Above: Sometimes less is more. The thing I liked the most about this well-priced wine was how straightforward and earnest it was. Photo by The Brad’s Adventures in Food.

When 1996 Langa wines first arrived in this country, the vintage was touted as one of the greatest in living memory. And indeed, it was a fantastic vintage. The wines have many, many more years of vibrant life ahead of them but I’ve also been surprised by how well some of the 96s are drinking this year.

I don’t know how the above bottle found its way into The Italian Wine Guy’s cellar, but I was psyched that he wanted to pop it last night at dinner in Dallas. I really can’t find much information on La Ca’ Növa winery but I can say that I really liked the wine. It was straightforward and earnest in the glass, not a super star, just a hard-worker who wanted to deliver an honest wine. It was all about mushroom and dirt. There doesn’t seem to be any 96 left on the market (or at least on WineSearcher) but the available bottlings of classic Barbaresco seem to weigh in under $40. Sometimes less is more…

In other news…

It’s been a year since I arrived permanently in Texas (after driving across country in the ol’ Volvo). It’s been such a wonderful and wonderfully crazy time and Tracie B and I have been having so much fun planning our wedding. We have so much to be thankful for. The love and support of both our families, our health, and a bright future together. I’ve made so many great friends here and we’ve been having a blast celebrating the holidays with friends and family, old and new. Thanks, everyone, for reading and for all the support over this last year and beyond. I really can’t tell you just how much it means to me… it means the world… :-)

@Tracie B I love you and I never knew I could find such happiness and such goodness within and all around me. I’m so glad for a lovely lady from a small town in East Texas, with an “appetite and a dream…” :-)

I’ll never forget the first time I read that tag line on your blog and I’m so happy that I did… it changed my life forever and in ways I could have never imagined… I love you…

Photo by The Nichols.