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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Barbera d'Alba... King Or Queen? Definitely Wine Royalty!

Respect is rarely automatic, not always deserved and not taken lightly. Barbera has lacked respect in the wine world because it was said to be too acidic, too rustic, too coarse, lacking flavour and compromised too easily. Barbera's only apparent redeeming quality was its cheapness or more modestly put, its value. Perhaps it has had a bad reputation because it is a primary Piedmont resident in Italy's northwest wine region, where the other two grape varietals, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, overshadow the lowly Barbera in respect and admiration. It i grown in other Italian wine regions, in fact, after Sangiovese, Barbera is the second most planted grape in the Italy. However there is no correlation with that fact and that people love and praise their Chiantis, their Brunellos, and their Barolos more. While Barbera has been sneered at, spat upon and spurned, bottles of it are commonly found as the basic table wine in modest Italian restaurants. Barbera may be underrated, but it's the everyday underrated drinking wine at the heart of Italian Life.
The wines people think of when Piedmont is discussed are Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto. Barbera's reputation for creating lackluster character, dearth of flavor and biting acidic wines has started to wear off. The wines deserve a chance. In general, the best Barberas are found in the Piedmont.
Without question Barbera's will probably never rise to the stature of Barolos or Brunellos, but winemakers are getting wiser in their approach to and handling of the grape. They are planting the vines in better sites, reducing yields and paying more attention to wine production. Longer aging in oak has proven effective to enhance Barbera's spartan character, bring out flavor, and build balance in structure.
For decades Barbera has suffered under neglect and lack of attention, but the new style is bringing out the richness in the fruit that in turn balances the grape's inherent acidity. The result is a Barbera that many years ago would not be recognized. Ironically, in the Piedmont Barolo's gets the accolades but Barbera outplants the Nebbiolo grape by about fifteen times. Part of the reason might be attributed to Barbera's hardy knack to grow profusely in places other grapes whine and moan and then wither and die.
There are five D.O.C. in the Piedmont for Barbera but there are only two that should get your attention, the best to check out are:

                        Barbera D'Alba                           Barbera D'Asti

Contrary to Barolo or Barbaresco, a Barbera wine is not a dark and sinister purple but a brighter ruby red. Also, Barbera has negligible tannins and does not age as well. It's probably a good idea to drink the wine when it's fairly young, say within four to six years of the vintage date. As it ages, the color will turn to garnet with brownish edges. Regarding its flavors, when expertly done, Barbera shows modes of black cherries, black berries, currants and plums.
There are essentially two types or styles of Barbera, the pre and post wines. The pre is made in the tradizionale method before theaccademico metodologia influenced how the wine is made. Like all Italian politics, there is always opposition. The pre Barbera is simple in structure with spare fruit character that is accentuated with an sharp acidic tang. This is not a knock on the wine but rather an acknowledgment of its nature. The post Barbera will exhibit more extracted fruit, density, and an indication of oaky tannins to provide a counterweight to the fruit's natural acidity.

Agostino Pavia & Figlia.
A straight forward Barbera that will show balance of berry fruit, acidity, depth and a dearth of tannins. Shall we say, "Large-Pepperoni and mushrooms, extra cheese."
Domenico Clerico
Clerico is located in Monforte d'Alba, producing mostly Barolo wines. He also makes an outstanding Barbera from three vineyards and ages in French oak. Clerico wines are highly prized as his full-bodied Trevigne.
Fratelli Revello
The "Ciabot du Re" is the one to look for from Fratelli Revello. It's released after two years of harvest and shows more depth in fruit and structure than the Barbera d'Alba that only ages one year.
Hilberg Pasquero.
Michele Pasquero and his wife, Annette Hilberg, promote biodynamic farming at the Pasquero winery to produce excellent wines with Barbera and Nebbiolo. The Barbera d'Alba is a younger wine with fresh fruit intensity. The Superiore exhibits more complexity of raspberry, violets, and smooth texture.
La Spinetta
Look for the Rhino on the label. Winemaker Giorgio Rivetti made his reputation on a Super-Piedmont, particularly on his Monferrato Rosso Pin wine blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera.
Paolo Conterno
As you may suspect, another family owned estate, since 1886. Conterno is known more for its various Barolos, but they also have a solid and flavorful Barbara d'Alba Ginestra with traditional Barbera tang.
Paolo Scavino
Paolo Scavino is a modern and one of the most respected winemakers in Italy. His Barolos are big giants that command attention, praise, and high prices. Barolos typically need years to soften to a drinkable state. Scavino's are soft and lush with months and actually drinkable. If Scavino makes Barbera, I want to try it.
The Prunotto wine estate began after World War I, in 1923, led by winemaker and founder Alfredo Prunotto. Currenty owned by the Tuscan wine company, Antinori.

The best Barberas will probably come from Barbera d'Alba or Barbera d'Asti and these wines are predominantly made from 100% Barbera grapes. In other areas it tends to be blended to offset some of the grape's natural limitations. Many are excellent Barolo producers also make Barberas. If you fancy a particular winery and their Barbera, research if they also make a Barolo...and vice versa. Regarding price, the tavola version will run about $20-$35 but the complex Barberas that express themselves with their hands like a true Italian will cost between $35-$85. Barbera has always been a wine that has been some what of a mystery to me. Hopefully it wont be like that for you. Trying to find some quality Barbera d'Alba's in australia is a difficult task. Many Chain style stores stock a poor range of crappy flabby uninteresting wines. The internet however can bring many of the elegant indulgent flavours directly into your front door. Don't be shy get online and give it a try see what you can find and try. After all the alluring thing about wine is the hunt finding that bottle that captures everything your looking for!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sangiovese is it the forgotten talent... ?

Traditionally Australians are quite un-knowledgeable when it comes to Sangiovese, which probably accounts for the small amount grown and sold in Australia. 
Italian immigrants from Tuscany probably introduced the Sangiovese grape to many countries throughout the globe. They are credited with its introduction in California in the late 1800s, possibly at the Segheshio Family's "Chianti Station," near Geyserville. It is one of several varietal components of the field blend in many old North Coast and Gold Country Californian vineyards that are often otherwise identified as Zinfandel.
Sanguis Jovis, the Latin origin for the varietal name, literally means "blood of Jove" and it is likely that Sangiovese (a.k.a. Sangioveto or San Gioveto) was known by Etruscan winemakers, although the first literary reference to it was in 1722. It is probably indigenous to Tuscany, whose most famous wine is Chianti.
The basic blend of Chianti was established by Baron Ricasoli in the 1890s. This averages 70% sangiovese as the varietal base (along with 15% canaiolo [red], and 15% trebbiano [white] and sometimes a little colorino [red]). Many vineyards are traditionally planted with this varietal mix. It is difficult even for the Italians to keep up with their own ever-changing and very detailed wine laws, which specify permitted grape types, maximum yields per acre, minimum alcohol content, minimum aging standards before sale, etc. Currently, the minimum amount of sangiovese permitted in Chianti is 90%. Other grapes that may be used now include malvasia toscana, a white grape far superior to the ubiquitous trebbiano. Still, the total white grapes used must not exceed 5% of the blend.
In some ways sangiovese is to Chianti as cabernet sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both form the base of wines normally blended with other varietals and both by themselves share a certain distinctive elegance and complexity, when well-made.
There are at least 14 separate and distinct clones of sangiovese. At one point, there was some attempt in Italy to identify two separate "families", Grosso and Piccolo, although this seemed to have more commercial basis ("mine's better than yours") than ampelographic or taste evidence to justify this attempt to classify.
The fruit is slow to mature and late-ripening. With relatively thin skins, it has a tendency to rot in dampness and does not mature well if planted above an elevation of 1,500 feet. Sangiovese vineyards with limestone soil seem to produce wines with more forceful aromas.
The hot, dry climate, such as Tuscany provides, is where sangiovese thrives. Because these climatic criteria generally enhance quantity, rather than quality, it takes careful cultivation and winemaking techniques to produce really excellent wine from this grape. The official classification of Chianti itself demonstrates the widely fluctuating range of Sangiovese quality from those identified as ordinary vino di tavola to the highest classico superiore. Sangiovese is the #1 varietal in Italy with 247,000 acres, 10% of the entire wine grape crop.
The flavor profile of Sangiovese is fruity, with moderate to high natural acidity and generally a medium-body ranging from firm and elegant to assertive and robust and a finish that can tend towards bitterness. The aroma is generally not as assertive and easily identifiable as Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, but can have a strawberry, blueberry, faintly floral, violet or plummy character.

Typical Sangiovese Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
Varietal Aromas/Flavors:Processing Bouquets/Flavors:
Fruit: strawberry, blueberry, orange peel, plum.
Floral: violetOak (light): vanilla, sweet wood
Spice: cinnamon, clove, thymeOak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar
Most Chianti up through the 1980s was imported in straw-covered fiasci and more attention was paid to low price than any quality factor. Probably because of this association, very few California wine reference books published before 1990 make mention of Sangiovese as either wine or grape. With no snob-appeal as a "collector's wine," it generated little interest from growers or consumers until relatively recently.
Tuscan winemakers, experimenting the past few years with blends of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot have succeeded creating some excellent Supertuscan blends commanding high prices. This has led to an increasing number of experimental Sangiovese vineyards being planted. There are several Australian producers now making proprietary blends of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, following the Supertuscan example.
It will be interesting to see the progress of Australian Sangiovese over the next few decades, as the right vineyard locales and the best fermentation, blending, and aging techniques are discovered.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mayer The Magician

‘Bring back the funk’ is Timo Mayer’s calling card! And funky this wine is. Timo experimented with whole bunch fermentation in his wines where he really liked the funky characters and silky texture and decided that he liked it so much Dr Mayer was born. This is 100% whole bunch fermentation and really delivers an incredible complex array of flavours and textures. Pound for pound there is no other Pinot Noir that I can think of that I would rather drink than this beauty.
The colour easily translates the unfiltered product with a hazy dark raspberry that almost turns purple in natural light. The nose is very tight at first, but after sometime in a decanter a very pronounced tart cranberry and beetroot aroma fill the glass. Layers of red licorice, more beetroot and cranberry with a wonderful dirty fungal bight to it, similar to a forest floor. An amazing wine with so much more time left in the bottle.

97 Points Drink Now Till 2018
DIAM Closure

Monday, February 28, 2011

More About the Very Long Lunch

On the day we had many unforgettable moments. One that will never be forgotten by me was when Lindsay McCall arrived with one of the guest's. For those of you who don't know who Lindsay is, just think Paringa Estate Pinot Noir. "School teacher-turned winemaker Lindsay McCall has an “absolutely exceptional gift for winemaking” according to James Halliday, who says his wines are of “the highest quality, with a distinguished pedigree” that is Lindsay McCall quite a bit of praise from indisputably Australia's more decorated Pinotfile.
This is when the real fun began. With pallet's perfectly primed, we headed down to the host's extensive wine cellar where some of the giants of Australian wine were settled asleep ready to be opened.
We decided to put Lindsay's 2003 Pinot Noir up against one of the original icon's of the Peninsula Nat White's Main Ridge Estate.

A little bit of trivia for you, when Lindsay decided he wanted to set up a vineyard on his Red Hill property he went to see Nat about vine. What he actually did was to fill his car with the cutting from Nat's already established property. Lindsay with his school teacher mentality decided to plant as many cuttings as close together as he could, thinking that surely less that half (if he was lucky) would take. Well he as very very lucky and greater that 80% of the vineyard took.
Main Ridge Estate The Acre Vs Paringa "Original Estate" (not to be confused with the cheaper estate wine he out out in 2005) so with one of the creator's in the room we decided to put the wines head to head. I have always thought that some of Lindsay's wines are over priced compared with some of the other premium Pinot's out there. The Depth that The Acre showed was promising for what 2003 could show in years to come. Loosing none of its fruit The Acre showed that perfect acid/tannin/fruit balance that makes Pinot so seductive. Show a Strong Deep colour, the palate was layered with lashing of dark plum fruit which had that never ending yellow brick road length. There was great oak integration and I nose that kept developing the more you paid attention to it. When weighing it up against the Paringa the Acre had much better colour with the Paringa looking a little aged around the rim with a touch of yellow creeping in. That however is where the fault's stopped and the genius began. I was quite keen to put Lindsay through the ringer a bit and try to pick a few faults out of this beloved Estate wine. However myself and several others in the room were incapable of finding any. The Paringa showed a beautifully fragrant nose with soft up front fruit, the aroma of violets, game, cherry and the ever present spine & anise. Showing only that intelligent that only Pinot can show from the nose. With the Silky red fruit on your palate giving the perfect balance of dark fruit and spice seducing the mouth with that soft yet big round mouth feel that only amazing Pinot's can deliver. The depth and length of palate was so enjoyable that we decide that one bottle wasn't quite enough.
It was quite clear which wine stood out, however knowing the origins of the vines it does prove that terror and the hand of god (or the wine maker or both) can change the end product.
Hopefully I'll get a few more review from that night up soon.