Wednesday, February 18, 2009

By the Glass - Piedmont Edition

My friend David McDuff is hosting the 54th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly online tasting event created by my pal and New York Wine blogger extraordinaire, Lenn Thompson. I used to participate regularly in WBW - it was one of the reasons that I started blogging. I even hosted once, a little over a year ago. Recently I've kind of dropped the ball. But McDuff has selected Piedmont as his theme, a region that I know essentially nothing about. So of course I will join the fun this month.

Actually, I probably drank more Piedmont wine last month than I have previously in my entire life, thanks mostly to my friend Asher, who recently hosted a lovely Piedmont wine dinner. Most of the notes below are about wines I drank at Asher's house.

My impression of Piedmont is that it is involved in some sort of battle with itself, an identity crisis, if you will. There are traditionalists and modernists, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of overlap. And I don't mean only in the Nebbiolo land of Barbaresco and Barolo - I'm talking about humble Barberas too. Can they be simple and fresh, easy to enjoy with food, in the same vein as a good cru Beaujolais? Or will they be extracted and "serious," losing their innate character?

It seems to me, in my limited experience and knowledge, that the best values in red Piedmont wine come from Barbaresco, the queen to Barolo's king. Fantastic and ageworthy bottles can be had for $35 and under, in the case of the superb Produttori del Barbaresco, about $25. But maybe I just haven't had a truly beautiful mature Barolo yet, a bottle that costs about $50 in today's dollars and that just blows me away.

Here are notes on Piedmont wines from last month: two Babera's, two Barbarescos, and two Barolos. Thanks to the McDEE for hosting in such a classy fashion, and for selecting a challenging theme.

2005 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba, about $30. An excellent wine, the best example of Barbera that I've ever had. Reminded me of a great Beaujolais in the way there is energy, density of fruit, and mineral soil, and yet a fresh brightness, a light almost weightlessness in the mouth. So drinkable, and complex with soil and minerals. Fantastic. And I challenge you to name a meal that this wine would not compliment. Basically, an impossible task.

2006 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbera d'Alba Serra Boella, about $17. The only wine of the lot that I had at my house, all the other's were at Asher's dinner. Dense and dark on the nose and the acidity is a bit volatile. No tannic grip, not a lot of structure, and that makes this tough to drink, like an untamed beast. It falls off at the finish and feels a bit hot from the alcohol. I'm not excited, and half the bottle goes into the fridge. Day two - far better, although still doesn't hold a candle to Conterno's Barbera. Then again, this is half the price. Still dark and dense, but the fruit is more expressive and there is a pleasant herbal character now. The acid is still intense, and this is much better with cheese and cured meats than it is on its own. Also, much better at cellar temp than at room temperature. I there carbonic maceration here, in part? So similar to Beaujolais in some ways.

1996 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbaresco Sori Paitin, about $40. Clearly excellent quality, but not as compelling to me as the 2004. I don't know if it's the characteristics of the vintage or if the wine was made in a different style, but this was much darker and more intense than the 04. The fruit had a raisiny character that for me made the wine lack freshness, brightness. And the acidity was a bit flat too. Maybe it's in an awkward phase and needed more time in the decanter. This will definitely appeal right now to folks who like a richer and more concentrated style.

2004 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbaresco Sori Paitin, about $36. Roses, earth, tar, some tea. Just a gorgeous nose. Flavors follow through on the palate and the finish has a nice herbal component. Fine grainy tannins provide ample structure, great acidity provides excellent balance, even at 14% alcohol. This wine has great energy and presence. It is absolutely clean and pure, and its aromas and flavors are perfectly defined. It's completely delicious today, although I would love to drink it in 10 years. Aside from a superb bottle of 1961 Vallana Spanna Podere Tre Torre di Traversagna I had in August, this is the most compelling bottle of Piedmont wine that I've had.

1997 Marcarini Barolo La Serra, about $50. This one quite literally jumped from the glass - really. Huge and powerful aromas of cherry fruit carried onto the palate and throughout the finish. I appreciated the big fruit character of this wine, but right now it's not showing a whole lot of complexity, and in the end, it didn't hold my interest. What happens to this wine in 10 years? Are there secondary characteristics hiding underneath all of that fruit, or is this a one-note wonder?

2000 Marziano Abbona Barolo Pressenda, about $45. Lots of wood on the nose and on the palate partially obscures the pretty fresh fruit, which has nice herbal undertones and an interesting medicinal edge. The tannins are drying on the finish. I wish they had taken a more balanced approach to the wood on this wine, as the underlying material seems rather lovely.


Unknown said...

Great selection of Piedmont wines. Conterno's Barbera is one of the finest barbera's made year in and year out and you can cellar it for a while as well. Piatin and Abbona offer great value in the world of increasing prices for Barolo these days. The best thing about Barbera is the acid which makes it go with just about anything and everything.

Anonymous said...

Although 1997 and 2000 are relatively forward vintages, these are by no means mature wines in the context of Barolo. But the problem with Barolo is that if you're much past 30, it's a wine you buy (if at all) for the next generation.

Speaking strictly, one might not call Antonio Vallana a Piemonte producer - pretty far away, although also generally in NW Italy. But Vallana is perhaps the finest producer of nebbiolo outside Barolo and Barbaresco - certainly the finest in his area, which is Boca, Collina Novarese, etc.

Do Bianchi said...

I feel like a putz for not having taken part in this edition of WBW but I've just been way too busy this week.

I'm curious about the 96 Sorì Paitin and the 97 La Serra. In my experience, both of the wines should have shown better. In the case of the former, sounds like some heat damage might have occurred; in the case of the latter, sounds like the hot, atypical vintage is at play (97 SOOOO overrated in Piedmont).

I do have to take issue with Henri's observation that "strictly speaking" Vallana is not made in Piedmont. Novara is in Piedmont. Vallana is in Piedmont. Too bad it makes modern-leaning wines today but it is most definitely in Piedmont.

Always great to hear Brooklynguy's take on Nebbiolo. Btw, maybe you should start a knock-off buying guide site called "BrooklynGuy's Buys."

Great post...

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on these wines. I love the Loire Valley, Northern Rhone, Champagne, Cru Beaujolais, and Burgundy, but am awfully impressed by traditional wines that reflect their terroir. There are wonderful wines that are being made in Italy that express their terroir. The Conterno Barbera in my opinion is the benchmark for what Barbera can be in the hands of a master. Try the 2004 it blows the 2005 out of the water with purity.

I suggest that you try the wines of DeForville. There Barberesco Vigneto Loreto is sublime, feminine, and graceful. The 1998 drinks great with decanting (very burgundian). They also do wonders with two Barbera’s that they produce, very old school, very special, native know the routine, and their price point is correct. Overall, I am not a big fan of 1997 an 2000 in Piedmont, and have not put any of these in my cellar.

You should try some of the outer borough nebbiolo stuff like Sella’s Lessona 2001, or Ferrando’s Carema White Label 2004, or some of the Lombardian stuff like Triacca’s Sassela. The prices on all of these are great because they have the wrong zip code.

David McDuff said...

Great post, Neil. How am I not surprised that we ended up featuring one of the same producers.... Glad to hear you found my post to shed some light on your take with the Paitin wines.

I'll second (or is it fourth?) the other opinions of G. Conterno's Barbera. Great stuff. Definitely the standard setter.

Finally, I've now added another bottle or two (of Barolo this time) to the line-up you'll be forced to taste if you ever make it down to Philly.


TWG said...

Enjoyed your post, almost like you were collaborating with McDuff.

Anonymous said...

Do Bianchi: Alba is 120 km as the crow flies, more or less, from DOC Boca. A pretty long way. Which is why I said Vallana's wines were from someplace "one might not call" the same region as the origin of Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d'Alba, and other wines from therabouts. If Boca, Gattinara, etc. are in Piemonte, as a matter of Italian political geography and/or wine law, so be it.

Do you have a current source in the US for Vallana? Since Carolina Wine evaporated, I don't.

Do Bianchi said...

Henri, I know that Rare Wine Co. gets some Vallana in sometimes...

David, I'll third that emotion about G. Conterno!

Brooklynguy said...

thanks for all of these comments, y'all. just saw a DeForville Barb today but it was the 2005, and about $35. i wish there were library releases of these wines. i want to taste a mature one before deciding whether or not to cellar my own.