Text and photos ©Tom Hyland
This past week I conducted a class at Perman Wine Selections in Chicago that included some of Italy’s finest and most famous wine types. I dubbed the class “Italy’s Killer B’s”; the wines tasted were examples of Brunello, Bolgheri, Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo.
These are classic reds and I wanted to taste out various styles of these wines along with different vintages and see how these wines develop in the bottle. Starting with Brunello, we had the 2004 Poggio di Sotto and the 2001 Fossacolle. Both are small estates of very high quality and their wines showed quite well. This was especially true of the Poggio di Sotto, which offered explosive fruit aromas and great concentration. This is a traditional producer that uses only large casks (botti grandi) to age their Brunello. The praise for this wine by the class members was unanimous; for me it is an exceptional Brunello that should age well for another 12-15 years. I think it is one of the finest of all the bottlings of Brunello from the excellent 2004 vintage.
The 2001 Fossacolle also showed very well, with plenty of fruit and a nice earthiness in the finish. This is a producer that mixes modern winemaking with traditional, using both large and small oak for aging. The owner of this estate, Sergio Marchetti, used to sell grapes to Banfi, which is located across the road; today, he keeps those grapes for his own wine. Look for this 2001 Brunello to be at its best in 10-12 years.
Next came two wines from Campo alla Sughera in Bolgheri. What makes Bolgheri so unique among Italy’s wine zones is the fact that Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot are the principal ones planted here instead of inidgenous varieties. While there is some Sangiovese in Bolgheri, this is a Tuscan wine area not dominated by that grape.
These two wines from this underrated estate showed quite well; the “Adeo” is a medium-full blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot that has ample oak with elegant tannins and beautiful acidity. This 2007 bottling ($40 retail) will drink well for 5-7 years. The “Arnione”, a Bolgheri Superiore, is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Deeper in color and richer on the palate than the previous wine, this is quite rich with youthful, elegant tannins and a round, flavorful finish. This 2005 bottling is quite impressive and at $80 retail is a nice alternative to many bottlings of Bolgheri Superiore from other estates that cost well over $100 per bottle.
While the typical Barbera from Piemonte is a medium-bodied, slightly spicy red with very little tannins and lively acidity that makes for a pleasant food wine, there are examples of this variety that are quite special. For the past two decades, doznes of producers in Asti have been focusing on riper, more deeply extracted wines that are aged in small oak barrels. These “serious” bottlings of Barbera d’Asti are quite different from the traditional bottlings of this variety.
As for Barbera d’Alba, most producers still make bottlings that are more like the wines their parents made. Yet at least one producer concentrates on ultra special examples of Barbera. At Vietti, winemaker Luca Currado produces two bottlings from the Scarrone vineyard at his estate; a normale and a Vigna Vecchia (old vine). As the vineyard was planted in the 1920s, even the normale is made from grapes that are 70-75 years of age, while the Vigna Vecchia is truly special, it is made from the oldest part of the vineyard, from vines that are 80-85 years of age.
I tasted out the 2004 bottling and the wine is outstanding with deep purple color (as though it had just been bottled) and aromas of ripe plum and blackberry. Full-bodied, this is simply delicious and the finish is ultra smooth with very light tannins and very good acidity. It’s a real crowd pleaser (everyone at the tasting loved it) and Craig Perman, owner of the store, told me he thought it was a “fun wine to drink.” I loved his comment, as at the end of the day, statistics and points realy don’t matter; it’s about what wines taste the best. (You’ll not have much luck finding the 2004, but the 2006 and recently released 2007 bottlings of this wine may be available in your market. As you might imagine, this is a very limited bottling and is expensive – around $80 – but it is quite an experience!)
Our final “B” wines in this class were Barbaresco and Barolo, both made exclusively from Nebbiolo. Both wines are produced from vineyards near the city of Alba in the province of Cuneo in Piemonte; Barbaresco from three towns east of Alba and Barolo from eleven towns south of Alba.
Barbaresco is generally more approachable upon release than Barolo, as the soils here are younger than those from Barolo and thus yield wines with less firm tannins. Everything is relative of course, as even a simple Barbaresco tends to drink well for 5-7 years after its vintage, while the best single vineyard offerings are enjoyable 15-20 years after release. Barolo on the other hand often ages well past its 20th birthday, while a simple bottling blended from several vineyards is often at is best 7-10 years after the vintage.
For Barbaresco, we tasted out two bottlings from the famous producer Ceretto; the current 2006 “Asij” and the 2001 “Bricco Asili” were the choices. The Asij is a lighter style that is a wonderful introduction to Barbaresco; it is a blend of grapes from Asili and another Ceretto holding, Bernadot in Treiso as well as other vineyards. This 2006 had the textbook orange peel, caraway and sandalwood aromas that I love so much about Barbaresco! This should drink well for the next 5-7 years – it’s also very reasonable priced at $45.
The 2001 “Bricco Asili” offered the wonderful balasamic aromas you get in older bottlings of Nebbiolo-based wines. This wine had excellent depth of fruit, finely tuned acidity and impeccable balance. 2001 was an outstanding year for Barbaresco and Barolo – this Asili bottling from Ceretto should drink well for another decade.
For Barolo, we started with the 2005 Villero from Oddero, an excellent tradiitonal producer located near La Morra. There are several bottlings of Barolo produced each year at Oddero, this Villero has rich fruit, subtle oak and beautiful acidity. This is a very well made example of a 2005 Barolo; it is not a powerhouse, but rather a more subdued offering with excellent complexity. This is one of the treasures of Barolo like this in that it is not super ripe or forward, rather it displays its charms in a restrained way. This should be at its best in 12-15 years.
We finished with the 2001 La Serra Barolo from Gianni Voerzio. The brother of acclaimed Barolo producer, Roberto Voerzio, Gianni makes only this one Barolo each vintage, but deserves as much praise as his sibling in terms of quality. This 2001 bottling is particularly distinctive with great fruit concentration along with refined tannins and persistence in the finish. This is an impressive wine that seemed younger than its true age. This was one of the top two wines in the class; certainly this wine, from the great 2001 vintage, has 15-20 years of life ahead of it.
This was certainly a highlights version of great Italian reds, as no one can sum up this category with only a handful of wines. But the lineup did offer a look into the variety and outstanding quality offered in Italy today. While these wine types are among the world’s finest, you begin to realize that even at $60-$150 for some of these wines, they are worth it!
For those of you living in the Chicago area, do stop in to see Craig Perman at his wine store. While he does sell wines such as these, he specializes in lesser-known (and usually lesser expensive bottlings). So you’ll discover some excellent values from Italian regions such as Marche, Abruzzo and Liguria as well as some beautifully priced bottlings from Tuscany and Piemonte as well. And of course, simiilar wines from France, California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, et al. Craig chooses wines that interest him and offer value – he’s an invaluable part of the Chicago wine scene and he’s become a trusted wine advisor to a lot of wine lovers in the area.
For those of you interested in being in the know about my future wine classes or wish to subscribe to my GUIDE TO ITALIAN WINES, please click here