Posts tagged ‘italian red wines’
After spending a bit of time in the province of Asti tasting Barbera last week (thanks to the organizers of Barbera Meeting 2010), I can report on one aspect that is rarely mentioned regarding this variety; the ability of Barbera to age well.
In reality, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Barbera can age; after all, this is a variety with nautrally high acidity. Yet, as the grape also has extremely low levels of tannins, many wine publications emphasize this factor. The writers of these journals naturally compare Barbera to Nebbiolo, a very tannic variety that does produce long-lived wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. But of course, the potential to age is not just the amount of tannins, it’s a balancing act, as some vintages of Barolo such as 1989, 1996 and 2001 age better than vintages such as 1990 and 2000, as the latter two vintages don’t have the proper acidity levels for long-term pleasure.
Yet, given the history of Barbera as a simple, high-acid wine best served with antipasti, it’s easy to see why few have considered Barbera as a variety that would be thought of for its longevity. The most widely planted red variety in Piemonte, it has been referred to as the “Coca-Cola” or “Pepsi-Cola” of the region, hardly a term of endearment. So when a few producers started to focus on making a more “serious” Barbera (for lack of a better term), these vintners turned heads in the area.
One of those quite famously was the late Giacomo Bologna, who started to experiment with aging in French barriques for Barbera instead of the usual large casks (botti grandi). He focused on specific vineyards and decided to harvest the grapes a bit later than normal, looking for a riper, more powerful wine that could age. A later harvest meant that the acidity would decrease, but given its naturally high levels to begin with, Bologna and other producers reasoned the wine would still have sufficient acidity and balance.
I attended a special tasting at the winery (known as Braida di Giacomo Bologna) in Rocchetta Tanaro, a short ride from the town of Asti, which was hosted by Giacomo’s daughter Raffaella and son Giuseppe. There are three top-end bottlings of Barbera d’Asti: Bricco dell’Uccellone, Bricco della Bigotta and Ai Suma. The last, meaning, “I’ve got it,” in local dialect is a wine made from very late harvested grapes and has a notable ripe quality when young, yet rounds out nicely with several years in the bottle. The other two wines have rightly been celebrated as among the finest of all Barbera; from year to year, the press has favored one or the other – Uccellone from older vineyards and displaying greater intensity, while Bigotta is generally a bit lighter on the palate, though this is all relative, as it is a deeply concentrated wine in its own right.
Here are notes on the wines presented in this tasting at the winery:
2001 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Roast coffee and dried cherry aromas; beautifully balanced from start to finish with excellent concentration and very good acidity. 5-7 years more on this.
1999 Bricco della Bigotta
Medium-full with very good concentration and excellent acidity; nice complexity with a lengthy finish with distinct herbal notes. 3-5 years on this.
1998 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Raspberry and dried brown herb aromas; notable acidity- wonderfully elegant. 3-5 years on this.
1997 Ai Suma
Maple and dried coffee aromas with a light raisiny note; excellent concentration with notable grip in the finish. Though 1997 was not as great a year in Piemonte that some have proclaimed, it was ideal for this late-harvest wine. 5-7 years more.
1996 Bricco della Bigotta
Coffee, dried strawberry and cherry aromas; excellent concentration; very good acidity; quite round and complete; 5-7 years on this – maybe longer?
1995 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Nearing peak, this has distinct herbal notes and very good concentration; 2-3 years on this.
The other producer I visited this day was La Ghersa in the small commune of Moasca (population 461, as it was proudly pointed out), near the town of Castelnuovo Calcea. This estate is run by Massimo Pastura and with a last name like Pastura, you can imagine how nature plays an important part in his winemaking!
My fellow journalists and I were treated to a vertical tasting of seven vintages of their Vignassa bottling. Produced from a single vineyard planted in the first decade of the 20th century, this wine is a Nizza Superiore, one of the most restrictive DOC designations in all of Italy. Yields are quite low and vineyards must be south or south-east facing to catch as much of the sun as possible; these factors combine to yield deeply concentrated wines.
Instead of giving notes on each wine, a few overall comments. The differences in the wines were due to vintages – 2000 being rather simple with moderate acidity, whlie a wonderful year such as 2004 showing excellent depth of fruit and structure. This tells me two things; the consistency of the winemaking as well as the excellence of the site. The oldest wine we tasted was the 1989, a legendary vintage for Piemontese reds; this has wonderful balance and complexity and was quite stylish, though nearing peak. I’d have to say that my favorite wine was the 1996; Massimo commented on how this is not a vintage that is discussed much for Barbera, but after tasting this wine as well as the Bricco della Bigotta (noted above), I’d have to state that 1996 was an outstanding year for Barbera. There is plenty of still-fresh black cherry fruit and the mid-palate is wonderfully generous, while the acidity is simply beautiful. The lengthy finish and fruit persistence argue for another 5-7 years.
These wines offered more proof not only of the excellence of Barbera, but also the surprises one finds in Italian wines. Barbera as the everyday soda pop wine of Piemonte? Not from these two producers!
A few months ago, I wrote a post on the great red wines of Piemonte made from the Nebbiolo grape. Included in that post were the two most famous reds of the Langhe, Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, I would like to go into greater detail about Barbaresco.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Produced entirely from Nebbiolo, Barbaresco originates from vineyards in three communes east of Alba: Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive as well as a small section of Alba itself known as San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. The wine must be aged for a minimum of two years with one of those in oak casks of any size. The wine is released after three years (the 2006 vintage of Barbaresco is the current one on the market in 2009), while a Barbaresco Riserva can be released four years after the vintage.
There are more than 60 geographical designations that can be named on a bottle of Barbaresco. Most of these are cru (vineyard) designations, which were most recently reorganized in 2008. Among the most famous cru designations in the Barbaresco zone are the following:
- Sori Burdin (Bordini)
Asili Vineyard, Barbaresco
Soils throughout the area are generally Tortonian, which are the younger of the two predominant soil classifications in the Langhe; the other, older soil is from the Helvetian era. As the yonger soils are not as deep as the older ones, wines from these soils tend to be more approachable upon release and do not have as intense a tannic profile. This is one of the primary reasons why the wines of Barbaresco are more approachable than those from Barolo, as that zone is comprised of more Helvetian soils.
As Barbaresco is a much smaller area than Barolo and has a shorter history, Barbaresco is not as well-known as its neighbor. Add in the fact that Barolos in general can age longer than Barbarescos and you have a situation where Barbaresco is usually thought of as a “lesser” wine than Barolo. This is quite unfortunate, as Barbaresco is a great wine in its own right.
Two Great Producers
While there are not as many famous producers of Barbaresco as compared to Barolo, there are two in particular that have done a tremendous job of elevating the image of Barbaresco. These two producers – Angelo Gaja and Produttori del Barbaresco – have a different approach to winemaking, but each in their own way have done tremendous work in the promotion of Barbaresco.
Gaja is the master salesman who makes wines from great sites and charges a good deal of money for his wines – if you want a bottle of Gaja wine, you have to pay for it. But what you get is a wonderful offering with great depth of fruit and a lovely expression of site. The wines offer tremendous complexity, are elegantly styled and age well. They are made in a modern style of winemaking (aged in small oak barrels), yet the wood rarely overwhelms the fruit.
For years, Gaja produced several bottlings of Barbaresco, from a normale to cru bottlings from Sori San Tilden and Sori San Lorenzo, but some years back, he changed the designation on these last two wines to Langhe Nebbiolo. This has alowed him to alter the wines in slight fashion – often these wines now contain a small percentage of Barbera, to increase the acidity of these wines. Thus Gaja now only produces one bottling of Barbaresco each vintage, while his most famous offerings are no longer known as Barbaresco. This has angered some of his fellow producers in this area, yet the truth remains that for many consumers, the name Gaja is the most recognized with Barbaresco.
As for Produttori del Barbaresco, the message here is much more tied in with the land and not an individual; in fact, managing director and winemaker Aldo Vacca is about as far removed from Angelo Gaja as you can imagine. Reserved and insightful, Vacca produces wines that reflect the terroir of Barbaresco as well as any wines do. This is a cooperative producer with growers from several of the finest crus in the town of Barbaresco supplying their grapes.
Each year, there is a regular bottling of Barbaresco from the Produttori and in the finest vintages, the cru botlings – nine in all – are produced. The wines vary in intensity with examples such as Pora and Ovello offering less concentration and tannins than those from Montefico and Montestefano, yet all beautifully express their site’s terroir. One of the principal reasons for this is the winemaking, as each wine is aged solely in large casks (botti grandi), which minimize wood influence while emphasizing the varietal character. These wines offer aromas of dried cherry, cedar, persimmon and orange peel which changes to a profile of balsamic as they age. Impeccably balanced, these are in my opinion, the most classic representation of Barbaresco and some of Italy’s greatest red wines.
There are of course, dozens of other excellent producers of Barbaresco. These include:
- Bruno Giacosa
- Ada Nada
- Fiorenzo Nada
- Marchesi di Gresy
- La Ca Nova
- La Spinetta
- Bruno Rocca
- Rino Varaldo
The message then about Barbaresco is that it should be examined as a great wine in its own right instead of being constantly compared to Barolo. The 2007 bottlings of Barbaresco will be on the market in the fall of 2009 and these wines should offer exemplary proof of what a great wine Barbaresco truly is!
In my last post, I discussed the superb whites of Alto Adige; in this post I will deal with this region’s unique red wines.
Most people will be surprised to know that red varieties account for more plantings than white in Alto Adige. The numbers used to be higher, as much of the red plantings were the Schiava grape, which produces lighter, high acid, low tannic reds. This grape is still seen in good numbers, but it is far less important today. Still, a lightly chilled Schiava is a pleasant wine for lighter fare.
PINOT NERO and LAGREIN
The two most important red varities of Alto Adige then are Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Lagrein; these are two very different grapes.
Few people think about Pinot Nero in Italy, but there are some excellent examples produced in the cool climes of Alto Adige. Many are medium-bodied with pleasant red cherry fruit, high acidity and soft tannins; there wines are meant for comsumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date. But there are a few examples that are from single vineyards (crus) or special selections that have greater depth of fruit, more pronounced aromatics and are more complex in general. These top offerings of Alto Adige Pinot Nero are in the vein of a Burgundy from the Cotes du Beaune and can be enjoyed anywhere from 5-10 years after the vintage.
A few of the best bottlings of Pinot Nero from Alto Adige include:
- J. Hofstatter “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano”
- Colterenzio “Cornell”
- Alois Lageder “Krafuss”
- Cantina Tramin “Riserva”
- Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus Riserva”
Lagrein is one of Alto Adige’s most unique red varieties, offering rich purple color, ripe black fruit flavors and moderate tannins. Most examples of Lagrein are quite delicious upon release and as the acidity is not too high, they are quite enjoyable on their own, although most work better paired with a variety of red meats. Some examples are medium-bodied and meant for short-term consumption (2-3 years), although many producers also make a richer, riper, more serious version (often aged in small oak barrels) that have more tannin and can age for as long as a decade.
Among the best bottlings of Lagrein in Alto Adige are:
- Cantina Terlano “Porphyr”
- Elena Walch “Castel Ringberg Riserva”
- Cantina Tramin “Urban”
- Muri-Gries “Abtei-Muri Riserva”
- Alois Lageder “Lindenburg”
- J. Hofstatter “Steinraffler”
- Cantina Bolzano “Taber Riserva”
- Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus Riserva”
A few producers also work with Cabernet Sauvignon; the cool climate here preserves acidity and brings out some of the herbal components of the variety. These are not flashy examples of Caberent Sauvignon, but are well made and tend to age well. Arguably the finest is the “Cor Romigberg” from Alois Lageder, which drink well at 10-12 years after the vintage.
A few producers also make a varietal Merlot or blend Merlot with Lagrein.
All in all, the red wines from Alto Adige may not reach the same heights as the region’s whites, but they are of high quality and are quite distinct.