03 Barbera d’Asti Vigna del Noce was insanely good (and the best Malbec I’ve ever had)

The Trinchero winery first came to my attention many years ago while living and working in New York and I have followed the wines ever since, tasting them whenever I get the chance.

Of all the Barbera that floods the U.S. market these days, Trinchero — a Barbera d’Asti producer and Natural winemaker — is one of the least likely to reach a city like Houston, Texas, where the “100-point burning embers” (thank you, Robert Parker!) of Colgin Cellars are considered a benchmark for the finer things in life.

But for reasons not wholly unknown to me, a small Houston-based importer called Dionysus brings in a number of Piedmont wines that I love.

When my friend and colleague Scott Sulma included the 2003 Vigna del Noce in a tasting menu flight the other night at Tony’s, I was skeptical. The last time I tasted this wine, a few years ago, it seemed to be succumbing to the overly ripe vintage. And while it still had healthy acidity, a jammy note had begun to emerge.

But when we tasted it a week ago Tuesday and then again last Tuesday, it showed brilliant acidity, meaty but balanced fruit, and the focused tannin that Asti-grown Barbera often develops when vinified in the traditional Astigiano and Monferrato style.

Revisting the wine made me think that the previous bottle I had purchased at a wine store in Houston had been slightly cooked.

I thought the wine was fantastic…

I was surprised to find a bottle of entry-tier Joly labeled Vieux Clos (the way it is labeled in France) as opposed to the Americanized Clos Sacres (when we visited Coulée de Serrant, Virginie Joly told us that a previous U.S. importer had advised her father that Americans would never buy anything labeled vieux).

The 2009 had more body in the mouth than recent vintages I’ve tasted but it was fresh and clean on the nose. Another huge winner for me (although at $25 a glass at Tony’s it’s not exactly recession friendly).

But the biggest surprise of dinner on Tuesday was an AMAZING Cahors by (Natural?) winemaker Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve. (The winery doesn’t have a website but I did find this page.)

Most of the Cahors that makes the Atlantic crossing is so tricked out and oaked that it tastes like sawdust (at least in my experience).

This wine had acidity and fruit and an ethereal earthiness that really thrilled me… I have no idea how this wine made it to Houston (another crazy importer?) but I’m looking forward to putting a few bottles down in our cellar.

It paired brilliantly with the rib-eye with balsamic reduction at Tony’s.

In other news…

I was dismayed to read 1 Wine Dude’s post on Robert Parker’s nastiness and wholly unwarranted rant against our dear friend Alice Feiring in a recent Sommelier Journal interview.

IMHO, 1 Wine Dude (aka Joe) is the top wine blogger in the enoblogosphere right now: he knows how to balance the tannin of truth with the fruit of joy, adding just enough acidity to keep it all bouncing. I liked the way that he approached this sticky subject and how he moderated the comments that followed.

Here’s the post.

Chapeau bas, Joe.

03 Trinchero Barbera and burgers for Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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