Archive for the ‘Barolo’ Category

Old Ways Are Best

June 4, 2013

As I become a cranky old fart, I find myself more and more enamored of the wines that my palate recalls from years back. I realize that the flavors I am romanticizing about used to occur only about once a decade in France and Italy and Spain, and that the other nine years were often enough just barely drinkable. Yes, it’s true: Thanks to technology and climate change, we now get more good vintages than bad out of every decade, and I would be an ungrateful churl to repine at that.

And yet, and yet . . . My palatal memory – which is not infallible, but is on the whole pretty reliable – tells me that the other vintage, that one in ten, was special in a way that even the best modern vintages rarely reach. I’m pretty sure I’m recalling something real – just as when Andre Tchelistcheff years ago assured me that the pre-phylloxera wines he drank in his youth tasted better, richer, more intense than anything he’d had since. The few pre-phylloxera wines I’ve been privileged to taste convince me that he too was remembering something real, not simply indulging in nostalgia.

So it gives me more than usual pleasure, and excites more than usual interest, when I discover some winemakers and some projects that are starting in a modest way to turn back the clock, to retain everything useful that has been learned in recent decades while paying some serious attention to what their grandfathers – who, as they will be quick to tell you, were no dummies – did and why they did it.

Where I am most aware of this happening in Italy is in what I regard as its two greatest red wine zones, Campania and Piedmont. In the former, both the great traditional house of Mastroberardino and the newer firm Feudi di San Gregorio have launched research into surviving pre-phylloxera vineyards, methods of cultivation, and clones of their great varieties. In Piedmont, there has so far been a lesser emphasis on clones and old vineyards, but more and more focus on how the anziani – the old timers – used to handle the grapes and what they did with them in the cellar.

Recently, I’ve experienced three very different Nebbiolo-based wines that are in their separate ways striving to recapture the great traditional character of Piedmontese wine: Vallana’s Cuvee Bernardo Vallana 2010; Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 2008 90 Di; and Prunotto’s single-vineyard Barolo Riserva Bussia 2008 Vigna Colonello.

.

Vallana’s Cuvee Bernardo Vallana 2010

Bernardo Vallana was an almost legendary winemaker, a pioneer in spreading the fame of the Alto Piemonte thanks to his favorite wine: Spanna. Spanna was and is the local name for Nebbiolo in Piedmont’s sub-Alpine zone, which includes appellations such as Gattinara and Boca. “Vini di altri tempi,” Vallana used to call his wines – “wines of yesteryear” – already in the 1960s and 70s hearkening back to the great, elegant Nebbiolos of the past. Now, 50 years later, his grandchildren, Francis and Marina Fogarty, are striving to recreate the taste and character of those wines in the vineyards that gave rise to them. Here is Marina’s explanation of the project.

Bernardo Vallana was a perfectionist, not simply a winemaker. He understood the importance both of single vineyard bottling for cru vineyards and of carefully blending cuvées when he wanted to emphasize the style of the winemaker. For this reason, he had an extremely long list of different labels for all of his wines. We have started to re-issue them, as we are determined to follow our grandfather’s footsteps. Bernardo Vallana’s house wine was Spanna del Camino (of the Fireplace), named after his home’s fireplace represented on the label. This is the first label to be re-launched in our project, and we re-named it Cuvée Bernardo Vallana.

???????????????????????????????

As opposed to the classic Colline Novaresi Spanna, which expresses a younger flavor profile, our Spanna Bernardo Vallana cuvée has been expressly created following the original style of those Vallana Spannas capable of ageing for 30 years or more which made Bernardo Vallana such a legend. The wine is enjoyable now, but honestly we made this wine for people who are aware of the ageing potential of Vallana Spanna and wish to have a wine that they can store now, and enjoy its evolution in 10, 20, 30+ years’ time (provided they resist the temptation!).

My own tasting of the 2010 vintage confirms that Vallana’s grandchildren would make him very proud. It’s a very big wine despite its moderate alcohol, mouth-filling and smooth, with still quite firm tannins and wonderful Piemontese flavors – black cherry and tobacco most obviously, but all sorts of mineral and sottobosco notes as well. This is clearly a wine to cellar for as long as your patience lasts, and it will just get better and better. It really did recall those wonderful Vallana Spannas that I enjoyed so much in the 70s and early 80s.

.

Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 2008 90 Di

In the more-familiar-to-most-consumers Barolo zone, Claudio Fenocchio, owner and winemaker of Giacomo Fenocchio, is following a similar path. “I am becoming more and more old-school,” he says, and the proof of that is the experimental (only 410 bottles made) 2008 Barolo Bussia he calls 90 Di. That is for the 90 days of maceration – skins and juices in constant contact, in large barrels – that he imposes on the wine. This hearkens directly back to very “old-fashioned” Barolo-making methods, when the wines commonly macerated on the skins for two months or more. As Claudio says, this is a deliberate return “to the Barolo of tradition.”

90 Di label

My palate calls it a complete success. The wine was startlingly accessible, showing huge fruit from the nose through the finish – big dried fruit and floral elements, earth, tobacco, with even hints of dried orange peel; the whole Piedmontese panoply for a young Nebbiolo. Even more impressive, the dried fruit components grew and grew in bulk and complexity as the wine opened in the glass, arguing for superior longevity and development. This wine gave every appearance of becoming one of the Barolos of legend. We can only hope he makes more of it, or makes more wines in the same style.

.

Prunotto’s Barolo Riserva Bussia 2008 Vigna Colonello

Similarly, Gianluca Torrengo, the winemaker at Prunotto, is making every effort to return the winery to the style and character of the wines made there in the past by another Piedmontese legend, Beppe Colla. Among his many other accomplishments, Colla (who still advises at Poderi Colla, an estate run by his daughter Federica and younger brother Tino) is credited with being, in the 1960s, the first in Piedmont to bottle cru Barolo. That was then a dramatic innovation, since Barolo orthodoxy insisted on blending Barolos not just from different crus but from different communes. In homage to that legacy, Prunotto is for the first time issuing a single-vineyard bottle of a cru it acquired in 1990: Bussia Riserva 2008 Vigna Colonello.

Torrengo too avows an interest in “old-school” Barolo: He has lengthened maceration times and sharply reduced the use of barriques, moving Prunotto’s wines back along more classic lines – which is where anyone who recalls Beppe Colla’s wines will think they belong. The Vigna Colonello I think a resounding success, a lovely wine, with fine balance and wondrous Nebbiolo fruit that just sings in the glass – clearly, a wine that will be very long-lived. “Typical of Bussia,” Torrengo says, “fine and strong.” Typical of classic Barolo, I say, and let’s have three cheers for that!

Once More Into the Breach, Dear Winos

October 2, 2012

Wine season in New York began right after Labor Day with the proverbial bang, conglomerating more wine lunches, portfolio tastings, verticals, and horizontals in the past few weeks than any single liver could deal with. Here are a highly selected few of the season’s stand-out new release wines from a few of those events.

Champagne is always a good opener. Two beauties here: Ayala, which deserves to be as well known here as it is in Europe, is brought in by the small import firm Cognac One. Pol Roger, which is well known everywhere, is imported by the large firm Frederick Wildman.

Ayala is probably the smallest of the Grandes Marques, even though it was a founding member (1882) of that association. Owned since 2005 by Bollinger, Ayala has had the same cellar master (Nicolas Klym) for 25 years. Ayala regards itself as an artisan house, working with highly selected vineyards and grapes: There is quite a lot of grand cru Pinot noir in its basic Brut Majeur and Vintage Brut. I thought the Brut Majeur NV quite stylish and enjoyable, with the merest trace of sweetness in the finish. Drinkers less sensitive to sugar than I will not notice it at all. For total sugar-phobes, Ayala’s Brut Nature NV is the wine of choice: Sound, clean, and fully dry, with a lovely wheaty/toasty palatal presence, this wine would serve both as aperitif and dinner companion.

The Blanc de Blancs 2004 is vinified entirely from grand cru Chardonnay to make a lean and muscular wine, with ample fruit for enjoyable drinking. Cuvée Perle d’Ayala Nature 2002 is composed of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot noir from grand and premier cru villages. It has a fine wheaty nose, excellent body and full, mouth-filling flavor, with a very long finish. Ayala’s top-of-the-line Brut Millesimé 1999 reverses the blend – 80% Pinot noir and 20% Chardonnay – to make a lovely wine, elegant and balanced, deep and long-lasting. Very fine indeed.

Pol Roger is one of the best-known names in Champagne. The house is justly famous for quality throughout its line and for its maintenance of the distinctive fresh and full style that made it Winston Churchill’s favorite. Pol Roger “Pure” Brut Nature NV, Brut Réserve “White Foil” NV, Blanc de Blancs 2002, Vintage Brut 2002, and Brut Rosé 2004 are all cut from the same fine cloth: biggish wines that manage to be rich and austere at the same time, so that you don’t know whether to admire more the depth of their flavor or the restraint of their style. The Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1999, named after the house’s most famous and most loyal client, is simply gorgeous – as usual. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Grands Marques houses is the way they preserve such a very high level of quality year in and year out. They make it look routine, but there is nothing easy about it.

I was also impressed by multiple wines from another Wildman producer, Paul Jaboulet Ainé. This Rhône master makes the whole gamut of northern and southern Rhône wines well, from its basic Parallèle 45 red and white up to some very rarified heights. I found its two red Hermitages, 2009 La Petite Chapelle and 2005 La Chapelle, very striking, the former very floral and – at this stage of its development – a bit rustic, the latter still half-closed but elegant and polished and structured for the ages. I loved Jaboulet’s Cornas Domaine Saint Pierre (2009), which was huge and utterly characteristic of Cornas – the northernmost outpost of Syrah in the Rhône, and an appellation that rarely gets the respect it deserves. Its wines are typically forceful, even aggressive in their youth, but mellow as they age into deep and polished, always identifiably southern, wines. They can age as long as any other Rhône appellation.

Much as I liked the Jaboulet reds, however, the two wines that really enchanted me were the firm’s 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Les Cèdres blanc and 2007 Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg, the latter already an extremely lovely white wine, but one that will live and slowly improve for decades. Should I live so long, I would drink this wine when it’s 20 years old.

Back at the Cognac One tasting, another Rhône producer caught my attention: Cave de Tain. This is a co-op, and an excellent one. Headquartered right at Hermitage, Cave de Tain draws upon growers who produce more than half of all the northern Rhône AOC wines made. Its basic 2010 Syrah is a beautifully restrained example of the variety, while its red 2009 Crozes Hermitage, also 100% Syrah, shows the same restraint coupled with an excellent acidity and minerality, with fine potential for intermediate aging.

Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitages vineyard

2006 Saint-Joseph and 2005 Cornas, both, again, 100% Syrah, are already deep and showing complexity despite their relative youth. Both will age well for at least ten years. Neither appellation, it seems to me, gets sufficient attention from serious wine lovers.

The top of Cave de Tain’s range contains a lovely 2005 Hermitage rouge (nose of chestnuts and earth, deep palate, smooth and fresh), a 2010 Esprit de Granit Saint-Joseph (mineral and black pepper nose, deep peppery Syrah finish: needs years), and an absolutely gorgeous 2005 Gambert de Loche Hermitage (already deep and velvety; still evolving and deepening). These are all first-rate examples of Northern Rhône character.

Finally, one Italian producer (you knew I couldn’t resist): Aurelio Settimo of La Morra, one of the key communes of the Barolo zone. Tiziana Settimo, daughter of the eponymous founder and guiding spirit of the small estate for a decade now, hosted a lovely dinner at Porter House restaurant to celebrate her wines’ re-entry into the US market. Her new importer for New York and New Jersey is Verity Wine Partners. She showed the first four wines to arrive here: Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Langhe Nebbiolo 2006, Barolo 2007, and Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata 2007.

All four wines showed the characteristic Aurelio Settimo elegance and restraint, coupled with – especially in the case of the two Barolos – intensity of flavor and the absolutely classic spectrum of Nebbiolo components. The Nebbiolo d’Alba, although slightly lighter-bodied than the two Barolos, showed the same purity of Nebbiolo character. This is a totally pleasurable wine, ready to drink now (it loved a porcini and black truffle risotto) and likely to hold at a fine level for at least five years yet. At about half the price of the Barolos, it represents the closest you’re going to come to a steal in Alba wines these days. The commune of La Morra has been pretty much setting the pace for Barolo for a few years now, and meticulous, painstaking winemakers like Tiziana are the reason why.

That’s all for now: there will be more reports on outstanding wines as the season wears on. Coraggio!

Piedmont Panorama: Part Two

June 24, 2012

It’s such a joy to visit winemakers in Barolo and Barbaresco. No matter how packed your schedule or how long your day, each visit deserves and rewards however much time it takes. So each day of the Nebbiolo Prima this year, after tasting 65 to 80 young, rough wines in the morning I happily bolted my lunch and went off for an afternoon of tasting more Nebbiolos.

Last post I told you about my sessions with the Angelo Negro family and Tiziana Settimo. This post I want to fill you in on my visits to Renato Ratti, Boroli, and Roccheviberti.

Renato Ratti

The eponymous founder of this estate was a pioneer of the modern age in Barolo, and his son Pietro is carrying on with the same style and panache. We sat in the light-filled tasting room of his impressive new winery and tasted an equally impressive battery of wines – Dolcetto 2011 and Barbera (both Alba 2011 and Asti 2010), Nebbiolo 2010, Barolo Marcenasco 2009 and 2008, Barolo Conca 2008 – and then a vertical of Pietro’s prized cru, Rocche: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, and 1999.

The ’08 was big and tannic but balanced by terrific acid and fruit, the best wine of that vintage I’d tasted that day (that includes some 70+ in the morning session). The ’07 seemed slightly rustic and forceful, more forward and attention grabbing.

“2008 is a precise vintage,” Pietro says; “you can taste the differences of place from place. 2007 is exuberant; 2008 is more narrow but deeper – more interesting, with more acidity, more focus. 2006 is more classic, more fruity – same family as ’08, but more classic.” In fact, I found the 2006 very similar to the ’08, deep and composed, a wine to wait for. Both remind me of the 1974s, which evolved into some of the finest Barolos of the second half of the century.

Ratti’s 2005 you don’t have to wait for: It’s already together – a lovely middle weight, totally drinkable now. The 2004 went to the other end of the spectrum, a great vintage, along with 2001 one of the greatest, but nowhere near ready to drink. The 2001 showed itself more developed, the nose darkening to tobacco and coffee, even burnt earth, the palate deep, smooth, and complex – almost but not quite ready. The 2000 stood among the better examples of this too-hot vintage, but it will never be my favorite. “A great Barolo vintage,” Pietro says, “combines power and elegance.” His 1999 Rocche did just that – big Nebbiolo fruit and leather and porcini on the nose and in the mouth, with an endless finish. A lovely wine, with years of development still before it.

Boroli

This is a newer house, run by a team of brothers with a lot of modern technology but also great love for traditional Barolo character, both of which showed nicely in the wines. Villero is their best cru: it’s one of the choice sites in the Barolo zone, and Boroli does it justice. The 2004 sported big Nebbiolo fruit – juicy black cherry – along with tobacco and leather. I thought it elegant and balanced and still very young. The ‘05 Villero showed itself very accessible, as is characteristic of that vintage – quite drinkable already, although evidently still young and growing. This is what people have in mind when they talk about a good restaurant Barolo. 2006 also proved true to its vintage: a structured, big, austere wine, with great minerality – a wine for long, long cellaring to enjoy at its maximum. Villero 2007 was an almost complete contrast, fresh and amazingly accessible for so young a Barolo. It too will no doubt mature and deepen, but it’s so enjoyable now that it may be hard to wait for it.

Roccheviberti

This is the smallest producer I visited – about 20,000 bottles a year, and that includes some Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo, as well as Barolo. Production that small makes Claudio Viberti only a little more than a garagiste, but in quality he is approaching the top tier. He works roughly 13 acres, 5 of which are Nebbiolo, in the tiny village of Rocche within the commune of Castiglione Falletto. I went to visit him because, in the past two or three years, I had been giving his wines top marks at Nebbiolo Prima’s morning blind-tasting sessions, and I thought it was time I found out something about him.

I am very, very glad I did. His 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba Vigna Melera and his 2009 Barbera d’Alba Superiore were both textbook wines, so delicious and so characteristic that the first taste told me that I was in the hands of an excellent winemaker. His 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo confirmed that: It was all beautiful black cherry fruit that tasted fresh! fresh! fresh!

The vertical of Barolo Rocche di Castiglione that followed was the icing on the cake. 2008 showed classic Nebbiolo color, the true garnet bleeding to an orange edge, and the classic “feminine” Castiglione body, sapid, juicy, and well structured. The 2007 smelled of raspberries and roses and tasted of sweet black cherries, tar, and tea. The 2006 had a nose of dried roses, earth, and tea, and on the palate big acid and firm tannins supporting a huge body of fruit – a wine that seems to me will get better and better for decades. His 2005 showed the same dried roses in the aroma and great minerality on the palate, with excellent acidity and fine fruit. 2004 again smelled of dried roses, and on the palate was evolving beautifully, with plenty of still fresh fruit beginning to develop complexity and depth – a gentle, elegant, and deep wine.

These wines demonstrated an impressive consistency of quality and style from vintage to vintage. Claudio said that he ferments his Barolos for 18 to 25 days, depending on the harvest, and that he uses only French oak in large, traditional botti. His grandfather had started the winery for bulk sales, and he began making wine in 2003 – and he doesn’t make a Riserva because he doesn’t have the space. Honestly, I hope he never has: I wouldn’t want him to change a thing.

The Barolo and Barbaresco zones are real winemaker country. You’re never greeted ceremoniously by guys in designer suits. Instead, men and women in purple-stained jeans and equally stained hands welcome you with boundless enthusiasm for their wines and plenty of information about their last half dozen vintages – or more, if you display any curiosity. Is it any wonder that I visit as often as I can?

Piedmont Panorama: Part One

June 14, 2012

I went to Piedmont in May for Nebbiolo Prima, the annual preview of Barolo and Barbaresco new releases. The host city, Alba, remained reliably sunny and comfortably warm, and the wines – nearly 500 of them over the course of the work week – remained astonishingly unpredictable. Last year I thought the use of barriques here in the heart of Nebbiolo-land was waning; this year it was back in force, ruining – for my palate – most of the Barbarescos of the Neive commune and most of the Barolos of Monforte d’Alba.

Every day at Nebbiolo Prima follows the same routine. By 9 a.m. at the latest, you sit yourself down to blind-taste between 65 and 80 examples of the new vintages (this year, Barbaresco 2009, Barolo 2008).

After lunch (and a vigorous toothbrushing, if you have enough time to dash back to your hotel room), you meet the producers you’ve chosen to visit for a look at their vineyards and cellar and whatever tasting they opt to give you. I lucked in this year, and enjoyed a series of vertical tastings that wonderfully complemented the mornings’ intensive horizontals and also showed just why Nebbiolo is so special a grape and Barolo and Barbaresco so special a twin-set of wine zones.

I’ll write about all of Barbaresco in a later post: There were some lovely wines there from the other communes that deserve notice. Today and in my next post I want to focus on some splendid visits I enjoyed to producers around the two zones, and what made them splendid.

Here are my first two producer visits, in the order of their occurrence.

Angelo Negro

This family has been making wine for about 400 years, cultivating now some 60 hectares in the Roero and Barbaresco zones. They make white wines, including a refreshing brut spumante, with local varieties – Arneis and the too-little-known Favorita – but their main effort goes into reds: a Roero rosso called Sudisfà and Barbaresco Basarin, from the Neive commune.

They first poured for me 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 of the Sudisfà Riserva. This is a 100% Nebbiolo from the Roero zone, aged 24 months in French oak – but the traditional Piedmontese large botti, not barriques. This proved to be a lovely wine, with substantial Nebbiolo character that was lightened and freshened (and marked off from Barolo and Barbaresco) by the sandy soils of Roero. The ’04 was developing beautifully, in exactly the manner that will be familiar to Barolo fans, but with greater lightness. It had an almost-delicacy that is rare in Nebbiolo wines. The other vintages showed strong stylistic and palatal similarities – a consistency across vintages that I found impressive – though obviously younger and not as far along the track to maturity.

Next came 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintages of the Barbaresco Basarin Riserva, also 100% Nebbiolo, also 18 months in oak (80% botti, 20% tonneaux). This was one of few Neive commune Barbarescos that I enjoyed, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It showed itself a very different wine from Sudisfà: bigger, with firmer tannins, and slower maturing (the ’04 Basarin was far less ready than the ’04 Sudisfà), combining wonderful freshness with depth. This was a very fine sequence of vintages that showed again a fine stylistic consistency – a thing not easy to achieve with a grape as exacting as Nebbiolo.

Aurelio Settimo

Today managed by the founder’s granddaughter, Tiziana Settimo, this small estate (scarcely 6 hectares) works more than half its vineyards in the prized La Morra cru Rocche della Annunziata. Tiziana presented seven vintages of her Barolo Rocche: 2006, 2005, Riserva 2004, 1997, 1996, 1986, and 1985 – a really lovely line-up that showed clearly the exceptional aging ability of the wines of this cru.

All the wines were marked by an almost austere rendition of classic Barolo black-cherry and mineral scents and tastes with aromas in some cases (especially 2004) hinting at white truffle among the more familiar fruit and earth notes. I picked up tastes of mulberry in the finish of several, something I found in other La Morra wines as well: unexpected and intriguing. On the palate, all showed good acidity and firm tannins, the latter at different stages of softening from vintage to vintage.

The ’97 seemed to me to be peaking, something I’ve found true for all the 1997s I’ve tasted in the past year. I don’t think they are going into a secondary eclipse (something that can happen with Barolo and Barbaresco): I think they’re reaching the end of their lives. Very far from that fate were the 1996, the 1986, and the 1985. These showed themselves truly great wines, big and powerful, but with great elegance and still fresh fruit, along with their developing complexity. The oldest of them, the ’85 Barolo Rocche, gave no indication of fading; it still had fine body and balance, still marked Nebbiolo fruit, still vigor on the palate. A great wine, without question.

*

It’s worth noting that in part because of the economy and in part because of the extraordinary string of fine vintages Piedmont has enjoyed, many bottles of 2004, 5, 6, and 7 are still on the shelves, and often at prices lower than what this year’s new releases are likely to command. Buyer, take advantage!

My next post will continue the saga of my visits to producers during my week in Alba.

Five Decades of Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino

May 18, 2012

Am I ever a happy camper! Through the generosity of friends and friends of friends, I had the opportunity to share in a nine-bottle, five-decade tasting of one of Italy’s finest wines, Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Nick Belfrage, who knows Italian wine well, has opted for a bottle of Monfortino as his “deathbed tipple.” The vintage he asks for is 1990. The youngest wine we tasted was 1985. Am I a happy camper?

The Giacomo Conterno winery, now run by Roberto Conterno, sits near some prime vineyards in Monforte d’Alba, though all its own vineyards are in Serralunga, and its finest wine is called Monfortino (Don’t ask; this is Italy). Roberto still makes wines the way his father and grandfather (the eponymous Giacomo) did, with long, long skin contact and long aging before release. Vintages of the last 15 years that I’ve tasted in Italy have all been impressive and formidable wines, structured on a large scale and packed with complex flavors that will need many years to evolve.

All the wines we tasted here in New York, however, were produced not by Roberto but by the older generations: 1985, 1978, 1971, 1967, 1968, 1958, 1955, 1947, and 1943. To me this made the tasting doubly interesting, because it was a chance to remind myself how the Barolos that first hooked me long ago have developed, as well as a chance to mentally compare them with what I’ve been tasting of more recent vintages.

In my private history of Piedmont wine, 1982 stands as a great dividing year, the year that climate change was first felt in the area. None of us realized that at the time: That very warm growing season gave grapes of such never-before-seen ripeness that it was thought of as a real anomaly: The growers called it their “California harvest.” Then ’85 was very warm again, forcing the growers to start to come to terms with changed climatic conditions. And then came the fantastic trio of harvests – 1988, 1989, and 1990 – that firmly pushed Barolo and Barbaresco into a whole new era.

From that point on, what came into the cellars from the fields was different from what Nebbiolo had been before. It had to be treated differently, even by the most traditional winemakers, and the history of Barolo and Barbaresco had to start over. If the wines of these latter years evolve anything like the wines of the pre-climate-change years that we had at this recent tasting, we all have a lot to look forward to.

So much for prologue: now for the tasting.

Monfortino 1985. Excellent color. Beautiful earth and mushroom nose, which opened in the glass to intense dry funghi porcini scents and finally to rich tobacco aromas. On the palate it was rich, smooth, and full, with very soft tannins and intense black fruits (with the merest suggestion of over-ripeness). The finish was all mushroom again. Wonderful as this wine was – unquestionably a five star wine – it would turn out to be one of the lesser wines we tasted. In contrast with the wines to come, it came to seem underdeveloped and needing more time to grow. And – just maybe – the winemaking wasn’t as sure-handed as it was before and would become again, once the Piedmont had adjusted to its new weather.

Monfortino 1978. Color and aroma quite similar to the ’85 – certainly no older looking, though perhaps a shade darker, and the porcini scents even more intense. The palate showed greater concentration, with the superb black cherry notes growing more intense, even liqueur-like, as they opened in the glass. Although ready to drink – the first ’78 I’ve encountered that I actually thought ready to drink (it was a tough year, marked by the hardest of tannins) – it was still remarkably fresh and gave every indication of having years and years of growth ahead of it. A glorious Barolo, simply off the charts.

Monfortino 1971. A bit more orange showing in the color, the start of truffle in the aroma, a touch thinner, less full, on the palate, with sour cherry and mushroom flavors dominating, and ending in a long, licorice-y finish. Classic pre-climate-change Barolo, with more obvious acidity contributing importantly to its structure and vitality, and everything held in a beautiful old-school balance. For many tasters, this was the wine of the day.

Monfortino 1967. Very pale: Most of the color had faded. Some acetone, some caramel in the nose, but lovely in the mouth: Burgundy-like, many tasters thought. A very balanced and elegant wine, Burgundian in its deportment and especially its finish.

Monfortino 1961. On the heels of the ’67, this wine was a surprise. It showed darker and more youthful-looking and smelled strongly of mushrooms and tobacco. It tasted young and fresh on the palate, with loads of maturing fruit and evident soft tannins. Not at all Burgudian, but pure Nebbiolo, through and through. For many, this wine upstaged even the ’78, which is really saying something.

Monfortino 1958. The color of this wine was slightly muddy, but it had an amazing nose of porcini and spices – really gorgeous. On the palate, fresh fruit with soft tannins and evident acidity (the latter clearly animating the whole wine), followed by a long licorice finish.

Monfortino 1955. Clearer and brighter than the ’58. Unusual nose of cumin and tobacco. Acidity is the factor structuring this wine and keeping it alive, which it very evidently was, in a state of lovely equilibrium. An excellent, still-sprightly wine with a long licorice finish. The prominence of the acidity seems to be a hallmark of pre-climate-change Barolo, and one of the characteristics that may distinguish it from our contemporary Barolos, which – I’m using the crystal ball here – don’t look to me as if their acidity will ever come so prominently to the fore.

Monfortino 1947. A wonder year all over Europe, producing some of the greatest wines of the last century. This wine was probably starting downslope: For my palate it was good but not great. It still had decent color and good aromas – tobacco, mushroom, earth. And its fruit was still sweet, soft, and long-finishing. It had no flaws: it was just playing in a very tough league, and at 65 years old it was showing a little fatigue.

Clockwise from bottom right: ’43, ’47, ’58, ’55

Monfortino 1943. A rare wine from the war years, and – sadly – over the hill. Its color had completely faded, leaving it looking like a sherry – a Palo Cortado or a Manzanilla – which it also smelled and tasted like. This was the only disappointing wine of the day. With so many so old wines, that, I think, says everything anyone needs to know about how high the level of winemaking was and is at Giacomo Conterno.

New Releases: French Whites and Italian Reds

March 12, 2012

‘Tis the season to be tasting! Wine importers are showing their latest arrivals, and there have been some splendid wines being splashed into glasses all over town. Several of these have been fine enough to make me deeply regret that the need for mere survival forces me to spit – but not to do so might be fun for a while and cirrhosis forever, so I have dutifully expectorated some good juice over the past few weeks. But enough repining: Here are some of the wines that impressed me most.

You’ve probably heard a good deal of hype already about how fantastic a vintage 2010 is for white Burgundy. Well, my experience so far confirms that it isn’t just hype: this vintage is for real. Not across the board, of course, but over enough of the appellations (those I’ve so far been able to taste) to make it no more than honest description to say that 2010 is shaping up as one of the best vintages for Burgundy white wine for a long time.

Burgundy as a wine zone has benefitted immensely over the past decade from climate change. Burgundian growers have been regularly achieving the kind of ripeness, and the attendant aromatics and flavors, that in the past were a once-in-ten-years occurrence, if that much. So 2010 really does deserve some bells and whistles.

Christian Moreau

The northernmost of the Burgundian appellations, Chablis, qualifies as one of its brightest stars. I’m a pushover for honest Chablis, with little or no oak intervening between the grapes and my palate – so for me the whole line of Christian Moreau wines that I tasted at a recent Frederick Wildman event were pure enjoyment. Moreau vinifies all its Chablis in stainless steel and uses minimal oak – very little of it new oak – on its most precious crus. Its 2010 wines all showed classic Chablis flint-and-stones mingled with the most austere of Chardonnay scents. On the palate, the wines followed through in similar style, with varying degrees of intensity, from the very nice, basic AOC Chablis through the impressive Premier Cru Vaillon up to a battery of truly grand crus – Vaudésir, Blanchot, Valmur, Les Clos – culminating in the very rare, only-made-in-the-best-vintages Clos des Hospices dans Les Clos.

All these grands crus, although drinking quite pleasurably already, belong to the class of Chablis that cry to be cellared: They are structured to mature and flesh out in what promises to be appropriately grand style. Were I a few years younger, I would try to put a case of these beauties away for a very long time.

I felt much the same way about the whites from the estate of Oliver Leflaive. Its delightful 2010 Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles makes the kind of base line that one can only wish all Burgundian houses achieved – and the wines ascended from there. The “simple” village wines – Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet – each showed the supposedly typical, but not always achieved, characteristics of each commune. If you’re just in the process of inducting yourself into the wonders of Burgundy, 2010 presents you with a good opportunity to taste these villages side by side to learn their distinctions. (What these are is a very complicated subject that needs a blog or two or three by itself. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I honestly can’t explain it all here. I suggest you take a look at Clive Coates’s Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy for all the details.)

The three premiers crus I tasted – Meursault Poruzots, Chassagne-Montrachet Clos St.-Marc, and Puligny-Montrachet Champ Gain – were all splendid, with both the Poruzots and Champ Gain displaying their terroir with great distinctiveness and clarity. The Grand Cru Bâtard-Montrachet, although already a big and graceful wine, clearly needs time; in only a few years, it will be wonderful; in 20 years, probably off the charts. Bâtard-Montrachet has for decades now been my archetypal Lobster Thermidor wine, the older the better.

Most of the red wines I’ve been tasting have been from older vintages than those whites, in some cases even re-releases of vintages that have been available for a while. Which is fine for the Brunellos and Barolos that impressed me at Winebow’s presentation: Additional age does them – and the consumer – a real favor. Both appellations benefit from, and in the best vintages demand, as much aging as you can be persuaded to give them. Fortunately for the producers of both, recent harvests seem to have set up an almost regular pattern of alternating, classic, highly structured vintages that require time to come round with softer, more accessible ones that can be enjoyed much younger – an ideal situation, in fact, for both the growers and the consumers: You get to drink your wine and have it too.

Among Brunellos, 2005 and 2007 are the more welcoming vintages, with many of Sangiovese’s youthful asperities covered by delightful, wild cherry fruit and an enlivening acidity: Salicutti provided excellent examples of both vintages. San Polo’s were equally good, but in a different style, showing more structure and less forwardness, but still with great fruit and balance and easy drinkability. Both houses made beautiful 2004s, with precisely calibrated combinations of fruit and earth tones and the kind of structures, with especially ripe tannins, that will keep these wines evolving beautifully for at least a decade yet. These are really classic Brunellos, the kind of wines the appellation’s high repute is based on.

Roberto Voerzio

Last, but hardly least in my estimation, my great passion: Barolo, from one of the ablest producers, Roberto Voerzio. I still wish Voerzio would use a little less new oak than he does, but for the most part he handles it very well. Only occasionally does it intrude on the Nebbiolo flavors that constitute the whole point of Barolo, and then only to a degree that I believe will subside with time in the bottle.

What comes through most in these wines is not wood but terroir. Voerzio has great vineyard sites – Brunate, Cerequio, La Serra, Rocche dell’ Annunziata – and he handles them very well indeed. I tasted the 2005 La Serra and Cerequio and the 2007 La Serra and Brunate: these all reflected the character of those two vintages in being remarkably welcoming for such young Barolos. This results not from cellar manipulation but from the character of the harvest, combined with all the changes in growing techniques that Piemonte has been adapting over the past 20 years.

The ’06 Cerequio and Brunate were different in character. They are more classic style Barolos – generously structured wines that will take time to come round and then should last at an impressive level for decades. The 2006 and 2001 Rocche dell’Annunziata wines were flat-out gorgeous, the ’06 promising great longevity and the ’01 – with ’04 and ’06, a top-tier Barolo vintage – already showing the beginnings of the classic earth-and-mushrooms nose, even though it is a wine still evolving. Cellar this beauty by all means.

Italian-American Relations

February 21, 2012

For a dinner at home, we recently had the pleasure of entertaining Valter Fissore, the winemaker at Elvio Cogno, and his public relations rep, our good friend Marta Sobrino from the Wellcom agency in Alba. At Marta’s request – this was only her second time in NY and the States – Diane prepared una cena vera Americana, a real American meal. We kept it as local and seasonal as possible (you can read the whole account of it on Diane’s blog) and I sought out good American wines to match the foods – but not too many, because I expected (rightly) that Valter would have some of his own beautiful bottles for us to taste.

We began over hors d’oeuvre with Gruet New Mexico sparkling wine. The Gruet family are the real thing, champagne makers from France, and they have very successfully transplanted their expertise. They can’t, by law, call any of their wines Champagne, but they make all of them by the traditional Champagne method, and the results are as authentic-tasting as any sparkling wine from anywhere. We drank their Blanc des Noirs, which I like because of its fine body and excellent, bone-dry fruit. Not to mention its versatility: it partnered very well with very diverse tidbits. Not entirely by the way, it is also very reasonably priced, which makes it very well worth seeking out.

The next wine, served with the fish course, was Castello di Borghese Chardonnay 2009. This wine originates on the North Fork of Long Island: The vineyards are those of the original Hargrave estate, the first of Long Island’s serious wine producers. This Chardonnay had never been in wood; that was one of my requirements, and you cannot imagine how difficult it is in New York City to find an unoaked domestic Chardonnay. I didn’t have time run out to the North Fork and visit the wineries to look for one – though given the time it took me to find one in town, perhaps I should have. In any case, I came up with this Borghese wine, American-made and Italian-named, and hoped this was a portent that it would be the perfect wine for my occasion.

Well, not really, though it certainly was interesting. It struck everybody with its huge, forward fruit, all of it tropical: pineapple and lichee flooding out of the glass in the nose and on the palate. No evident wood, and decent acidity – Long Island does that – made it more companionable with the fish than I at first feared it would be. Valter seemed fascinated by it, though I wasn’t sure whether that was from pleasure at something so different from the white wine he normally gets or from the strangeness of it. It’s not really my kind of Chardonnay – I like more restraint and more structure – but I can readily see that many people would find it very attractive. And it was certainly genuinely American.

When we moved on to meat, we switched to red. I tried a Ridge Zinfandel I’d never come across before – Buchignani Ranch 2007. Normally I’m very fond of Ridge Zinfandels. I like to drink them when they’re ten years old or so, by which point all the California and Primitivo-kin exuberance of the wine has calmed down and come into balance. They usually remind me, at that stage, of classic clarets – very harmonious and deep, even serene. Well, this one wasn’t serene. It was all forward fruit and tannins, a big push in the face of not-yet-integrated flavors. Like the Chardonnay, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for, but it was unquestionably American – and I think a bit of a shock to Italian palates.

Which were quickly soothed – as was my own – by the wines Valter had brought. From meat through cheeses (yes, they were American too, and excellent), we drank Cogno Barolo Ravera 2008 and Marcarini Barolo Brunate 1986. These were two lovely, very different wines.

The ’08 Ravera, as Valter pointed out and everyone’s tasting confirmed, showed the affinity of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. It had definite Pinot Noir flavors and some of the middle-weight suppleness of that variety. It was surprisingly easy to drink for a young Barolo, with clean outlines and beautifully soft, welcoming tannins. For all its readiness to drink, however, it still shows every sign of ageability: it will be a keeper, I think. This is a great wine for anyone coming to Barolo for the first time, particularly for someone making the transition from French to Italian wines.

About the ’86 Brunate, it’s hard to say anything beyond Wow! This was an absolutely classic mature Barolo, elegant, long, totally composed. It had dark, mushroomy/earthy aromas, dark flavors – leather/tobacco/dry black fruits – on the palate, all offering themselves willingly but not brashly: accessible yet restrained, full-flavored yet light on the palate – a short course in what Barolo is all about. This was a wine made by Valter’s father-in-law Elvio Cogno, when he was winemaker at Marcarini before he left to produce his own wines, and it was both an honor and a pleasure to drink it.

After all that intense palatal play, the evening ended diminuendo – coffee, grappa, and good night. Which it was.

The Feast of St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna

January 1, 2012

St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna is the patron of naps, endings, the last days, and ruins, of which I am rapidly becoming one – the latter not merely a function of age and slow time but also the direct result of far too much holiday eating and drinking. Like a volunteer Strasbourg goose, I have been reporting regularly for some first-rate gavage – so here is a roundup of the best of that: my Twelve Wines of Christmas.

 * * *

As a preliminary, much bubbly found its way into my glass and thence into my gullet this season. I’ve already given my account of the Wine Media Guild’s Champagne luncheon. The New York Wine Press’s fête at the Brasserie was only slightly less spectacular. It featured rosé Champagnes – eleven of them, so they don’t count in my Christmas dozen – around a nicely balanced luncheon that concluded with a positively sinful dose of triform chocolate.

Rosé is the hottest category of Champagne these days – why, no one is quite sure, though Ed McCarthy opines that rosé makes an ideal dinner Champagne, because of its slightly fuller body and slightly greater complexity. Pinot noir always seems to make a difference, and its greater presence in rosé Champagnes could be the factor behind their current popularity.

All the wines tasted that day would rank as excellent on any scale, but my favorites all bunched up in the middle luncheon flight: two prestige Champagnes, 2004 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque (approximately $300) and 2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (about $250), plus 2006 Louis Roederer, the youngest and least expensive wine of the flight ($75), and finally my favorite, 2002 Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Reserve ($100), a great wine from a great Champagne vintage.

 * * *

The Twelve Wines of Christmas all came from my own so-called cellar, over multiple dinners for Diane and myself and family and friends. Inevitably, these included some more bubbles: my old reliable Pol Roger NV Brut, a consistently pleasing, medium-bodied, mineral-driven Champagne, and Roederer Estate, vinified by the French Grande Marque in California’s Anderson Valley, and for my palate the best and most persuasively Champagne-tasting of California sparkling wines. Pommery Brut NV made a fine aperitif, working equally well with some duck rillettes and with Diane’s version of Torino aperitivi.

For my palate, the red wines formed the pièce de résistance. Despite that piece of French, they were a varied lot: some French, many Italians, and even some Californians. The latter included my last (sob!) bottle of Ridge’s 1993 Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon, as lovely – and as European-styled – a wine as California produces. It gorgeously accompanied a rack of lamb and garlicky rissolé potatoes, as well as a subsequent cheese course, where it fell in love with a ripe pont l’éveque only to jilt it in favor of a creamy gorgonzola dolce. As you can see, this was a wine of many faces and facets, and I’m only sorry I don’t have any more. I said this very loudly several times, but Santa did not take the hint. Another win for St. Apoconarcoleptis.

One of the most enjoyable Italian reds was an almost archetypal Chianti Classico, 1997 La Selvanella Riserva from Melini. This is a very traditionally made wine from a fine vineyard near Panzano, in the Classico zone’s prized Conca d’Oro. It also has special resonances for me, in that I participated, way back in 1998, in the process of choosing the blend for this wine. This occurred at the estate, in a session led by the very able winemaker, Nunzio Capurso, and attended by Italian and North American wine journalists. Aside from the astounding quality of each component wine that we tasted, my major memory of the session is of an idiot from Rome loudly and persistently declaiming that the wine wouldn’t be any good unless it was aged in barriques. He couldn’t have been more wrong, then or now.

We enjoyed another fine wine of this type – i.e., primarily Sangiovese blended with other native grapes – Lungarotti’s 2001 Rubesco. Although from Umbria, this wine is a kissing cousin of Chianti Classico and fully matches the very best of them in suavity and depth: a lovely wine, from an equally lovely vintage.

Of course I could not long stay away from the wonderful wines of the Piedmont, so I took the opportunity to test a few Barolos of the 2003 vintage, a hot, forward year that, frankly, I feared might already be over the hill – some bottles I’d tasted over the past year were. Well, in these two cases, no worries: Both Conterno-Fantino’s Barolo Sorì Ginestra and Einaudi’s Barolo Costa Grimaldi were live and, in the most complimentary sense of the word, typical. The Sorì Ginestra showed the merest trace of the vintage’s too-ripe fruit and green tannins, the Costa Grimaldi none at all – a nice tribute to careful grape selection and restraint in the cellar.

Equally lovely, by the way, and much less expensive, was an in-theory lesser wine, a simple Nebbiolo, but from a fine maker in an excellent vintage. Poderi Colla’s 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba was fully ready to drink, with excellent Nebbiolo character (black fruit, leather, tobacco, miles of depth) and no sign that it might not last another five years. All “simple” Nebbiolo should be so good.

Our French selections played up very gamely as well. For me, Musigny is the red-wine sweet spot of the whole Côte d’Or. Its wines have a velvetiness and an elegance of fruit and mineral that for my palate define red Burgundy. Drouhin’s 2002 Chambolle Musigny didn’t let me down: it was a soft, luxurious wine whose flavor persisted long in the mouth. More forceful and in a leaner style – mineral to the fore, fruit after – Moillard’s 2005 Beaune Premier Cru Grèves matched quite beautifully with our Pintadeau Jean Cocteau. The wine we drank with the cheese course that evening was in a very different style, being a Bordeaux. 1989 Chateau Brane Cantenac showed the wonderful elegance of Margaux combined with the kind of structure and heft I more often associate with Pauillac: It worked beautifully with a challenging set of cheeses.

* * *

Those are my top twelve, but I’ve also got a few Honorable Mentions. Amidst this red tide, we did manage to fit in a few lighter meals that leant themselves better to white wines. Pieropan’s 2005 Soave La Rocca shone with some shrimp. This single-vineyard wine has always been in the forefront of this too-long-abused appellation, and it remains a standard-bearer even now that the Soave Classico denomination is undergoing a tremendous resurgence. In a totally different style, but equally fine, Umani Ronchi’s 2002 Casal di Serra Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi Classico Superiore offered a mouthful of wine almost as big as its name. Still at nine years old showing a light touch of barriques, its biggish body and rich fruit very nicely accompanied a creamy veal and mushroom stew. Both these wines showed very dramatically, for those who may still be skeptical, that well-made Italian whites can age very well indeed.

Finally, lest anyone think that my holidays were just one triumphant sip after another, honesty compels me to record my great disappointment. I had reserved a place for one potentially excellent white wine to serve alongside the oeufs en cocotte and Alsace onion tarts that were part of our Christmas dinner. I was really looking forward to Labouré-Roi’s 2003 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, so you can imagine the depth of my chagrin when my only bottle turned out to be totally oxidized – just plain dead.

There has been a great deal of buzz in wine circles about the problem of premature oxidation in white Burgundies. Apparently the vintages between 1996 and 2006 are involved, and the blight strikes randomly, at every quality level. Some bottles pour brown and dead, while others even from the same case remain sound. No one knows what causes it, and the producers are loath to talk about it – not only because it’s embarrassing to them, but also because (I strongly suspect) they don’t have a clue. So since St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna looks after ruins as well as endings, I’ll conclude on this note: There is nothing like white Burgundy at its best – but be warned: that bottle you’re so keenly anticipating might be pinin’ for the fjords, and might already have joined the Norwegian Blue in the choir invisible.

From that comic note to a serious one: May your 2012 be happy, and both your New Year and your old wines healthy and enjoyable!

“Judicious Drank, and Greatly Daring Dined”

November 19, 2011

Diane and I took a purely gastronomic vacation in Piedmont. I promised there would be no wine business – well, almost no wine business – just low-pressure touring and high-caliber dining and drinking – simply enjoying what we both enjoy most. Piedmont provided that in abundance.

Abundance is the key term – in Piedmont it is also true, as my friend Gene Bourg once observed of New Orleans, that there is no such thing as an appetizer. Or, as the great Renato Ratti warned me decades ago: The Piemontesi will let you dig your grave with your mouth. If you’re dining in Piedmont, wear loose pants.

Anyone planning a gastronomic or enologic trip to Italy, however, could do much worse than to use the little city of Alba as home base. The heart of both the Barolo and Barbaresco zones and the center of an astounding truffle zone, Alba offers some of the finest dining and drinking to be found anywhere. It was the first stop for us of a trip that would go on to include Torino, a sophisticated city that deserves much more attention than its reputation as a mini-Paris indicates, and would wind up in the alta Piemonte, the sub-Alpine zone of vineyards near lakes Orta and Maggiore. Like Torino, this area and its Nebbiolo-based wines – Carema, Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Spanna – deserve to be much better known.

We began our trip with high hopes of savoring the great white truffles for which Alba is famous. The Truffle Fair was on, and on the Sunday afternoon we arrived there the narrow shopping thoroughfare, Via Vittorio Emmanuele, was redolent with the scent of the tubers on sale at stand after stand.

Very promising indeed, until we saw the prices, which probably induced several coronary events in casual fairgoers. It turned out that this was not a good year for truffles: Summer and fall had been dry until quite recently – fine for grapes, but terrible for truffles, which were scarce (the abundance on display completely fooled me on that score), of not great quality (this we proved when we tried some at our first dinner), and expensive (also proved the same way). For more about the truffles, see Diane’s blog.

Despite that disappointment, the fearless gastronomes dined very well from start to finish of their trip. I offer purely as examples (I don’t intend to make you read about every mouthful we ate) our splendid dinners at Locanda del Pilone, a short drive outside Alba, and Antinè, in the town of Barbaresco.

The dining room at del Pilone

Normally I avoid Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy, because the higher Michelin rates a restaurant the less Italian it is, and I go to Italy for Italian food, not the mongrelized international cuisine that I can eat any unlucky day in New York. Alba provided these two exceptions to my rule, both one-star establishments, both excellent, both deeply Italian, and as different from each other as can be imagined.

Del Pilone provided almost classic French-style service, crisp and efficient, for a deeply regional meal that included carne cruda and finanziera. At Antinè the service was just as efficient but simpler, the ambience less formal, but the food just as fine and just as regional – agnolotti del plin, snails, and rabbit. The wines at both were superb – and by New York standards, practically giveaways: 2005 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco Sordo (€45) and 1997 Produttori di Barbaresco Riserva Ovello (€60). Both wines interacted in incredible harmony with the foods.

The quality of those wines and the moderation of their prices – this in the restaurant, remember, not at retail; back home in the US those would be remarkably good retail prices – set the standard for the rest of our trip. Everywhere we went I was impressed by the scope of the wine lists and the gentleness of their pricing. There were plenty of options of wines from outside Piedmont, and even some (mostly French) from outside Italy, but Barolo, Barbaresco and their friends were among the main reasons we made this journey in the first place.

Most days we took a light lunch at a wine bar or a cafe: a glass or two of Barbera or Dolcetto and some bar snacks or a panino. We tried to save our calories and our capacities for our dinners, which were always worth it. In addition to the two I mentioned above, here are the rest of the wines we drank that week (the most expensive of them was €88, the least expensive €40):

2009 Prunotto Arneis: a fine example of one of Piemonte’s few white varieties, and a perfect accompaniment – medium-bodied, distinctive but not aggressive – for our solitary fish dinner.

2009 Castello di Verduno Pelaverga: a lovely light red from an almost-disappeared local variety, Pelaverga made an ideal lunch wine and our only mealtime deviation from Nebbiolo.

2006 Ferrando Carema Etichetta Nera: In Torino we enjoyed this fine Carema, a Nebbiolo-based wine from near the border with Val d’Aosta – a high-altitude, almost Alpine red of great refinement.

2004 Borgogno Barolo Riserva: This stalwart from an old, traditional house (sadly, it has recently changed hands, and no one knows what this portends for the wines) needed more time to breathe, even after careful decanting. Despite its youth, it loved my tortino of funghi porcini and truffle and partnered beautifully with other traditional dishes.

1996 Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna d’la Roul: a big, velvety wine that impressed us mightily with the elegant way it interacted with the regional dishes. Everything we drank did so to some extent, but this bottle was particularly lovely.

1994 Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga: our oldest wine rescued a rain-drenched day in Torino and accompanied a huge and splendid bollito misto. By the time we finished the bottle and what we could manage of the meats, we were in (metaphorical) sunshine: a big wine, but perfectly supple, fully ready to drink but not showing the least sign of age.

Next post: Our single wine visit, where we tasted Gattinaras and Spannas spanning eight decades.

More Masnaghetti Maps

July 4, 2011

Alessandro Masnaghetti, publisher of the newsletter Enogea and probably the foremost authority on Piedmont terroir, has released two new maps of Barolo and Barbaresco, showing all the recently approved cru names and sites in each appellation.

Like Masnaghetti’s other Piedmont maps, these two are handsome to look at, easy to read, and packed front and back with the kind of information a Nebbiolo lover otherwise finds difficult to locate – not just the physical where-is-it of a particular cru, but elevation, exposure, who owns it, and who bottles it. It is exactly that identification and location of each individual cru within both the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG appellations, along with the information about who bottles a wine from it and under what name, that distinguishes these two new maps from Masnaghetti’s earlier maps.

Each of those charted the vineyards of an individual township, provided information about  their altitude and exposure, and listed all the grape varieties  cultivated in those fields (not just the Nebbiolo). Nor did any cru names appear, as they then had no legal standing, or, for that matter, any agreed-upon boundaries – all of which has been resolved in the now-officially-named sites. Used together, the new cru maps and the earlier township maps answer almost any question the most trivia-obsessed Nebbiolo junkie could come up with. In short, the man I think of as the Mercator of the vineyards has raised the bar even higher for vineyard maps, outdoing even his own previous accomplishments.

I’m not the only one who thinks that these maps will one day be (if they aren’t already) collectors’ items, and not just for wine lovers (see Alfonso Cevola’s acute appreciation).

The maps and the information on them are systematically rendered in both Italian and English, so everything on them is easily accessible. In addition these two new maps are also available in digital format, making them usable on all sorts of handheld devices, and enabling such users to zoom in or out on whatever features interest them. I don’t know if Masnaghetti plans to issue his earlier maps digitally, but everything is available through almasnag@tin.it or info@enogea.it or, in the US, www.rarewineco.com.

This detail from the Barolo map shows some of the crus around Barolo township itself:

.

You can readily identify the number and size of the different vineyards falling within each cru. And here is some of the kind of information about them that the reverse of the map provides:

Finally, just to give one more example of how good and useful these maps are, here’s a detail from the Barolo map of part of the township of Serralunga and some of its crus:

With Barolo and Barbaresco, it is just as important to know precisely where a wine comes from as it is in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. Not just the village matters, but where in the village? Which hill? How high up that hill?  It all makes a difference to the wine and to the passionate wine drinker. For me as a wine professional these maps are indispensible, but I know that even as a just plain Nebbiolo-nut, I would want to have them to consult.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 207 other followers