This blog has evolved quite a bit in the nearly three years now since I put it up. At first I mainly focused on writing for an audience of fellow wine geeks, assuming a basic understanding of various types of wine and regions, and sharing info on particular themed tastings or more unusual wines.
After I started posting a few blogs aimed at a more general audience on PaloAltoPatch, Huffington Post invited me to start blogging for them on a regular basis. With that opportunity, I turned to the challenges of making fine wine comprehensible to a larger audience. What I’ve evolved to doing primarily are once-a-week pieces of 800-1200 words for HuffPo—usually dealing with a region or grape variety, without tasting notes. I’ve also usually done a more expanded version of the same post, complete with tasting notes and often a more detailed take for fellow geeks, for my blog.
Churning out those weekly pieces for more than a year now, on top of a full-time job, as well as trying to keep up my burgeoning database of tasting notes, attending lots of wonderful tastings, and doing commissioned pieces for Snooth’s Monthly Buyer’s Guide, has kept me more than busy. The pieces for a more general audience often require additional reflection on how to make the subject relevant to non-geeks; they require one, I think, to weave a story that’s of interest at a basic human level, in addition to relating some useful info about wine. They also can entail quite a bit of research, as I seek to expand my own horizons and learn more about a region or producers I’m less familiar with.
The Snooth pieces have also been a challenge and good learning experience—giving me not only quality guidelines but a strict budget limit, e.g. best Cali Pinots under $50, or top Grenaches from around the world under $100, forcing me to focus a lot more on values and the relative costs of these vinous delights than I have in the past. That’s a good discipline, one I’m increasingly bringing to my own blog pieces when I write on topics like tête de cuvée Champagne or 2010 Bordeaux—i.e., wines that are not only great but highly commoditized, where the reader deserves an honest guide to pricing and comparative values as much as to quality and the wine’s story.
In looking back over the past year, I’m proud of a lot of the pieces I’ve done and what I’ve learned about communicating with a broader audience. I do want to try to bring the experience and glories of fine wine, and aged wine, to even more people than currently enjoy them today. So I will definitely continue that kind of writing. I have begun to feel, however, that I am neglecting my people, the serious geeks, by not writing enough lately for them about the kinds of wines and producers that tend to get us fanatics excited.
So I made a New Year’s resolution to write more pieces for us geeks too. They’ll typically be shorter pieces, focusing on a particular tasting, or wine, that wine collectors and fanatics might care about, without as much of the background and context I try to bring in for a more general audience. I’ll do those pieces after I get my HuffPo post for the week done (that deadline is usually Tuesday nights), so this second weekly piece will probably show up around Saturday or Sunday on my blog. And there will be some weeks when I have so many great tastings on the calendar (or work deadlines) that I don’t have a night free to write a second piece. Nonetheless, I will aim to do at a second piece most weeks.
For my inaugural geeky piece, I’m reminding myself of one of my other resolutions for the year—to spend more time drinking the kinds of wines that nurture me most, i.e., mature white Burgundies, old Barolos and Riojas, vintage Madeiras and wines from the Jura.
The old Barolos (and Barbarescos—the other great manifestation of the Nebbiolo grape from the neighboring hills) that really excite me are the traditional style Barolos (or “Baroli,” if you want to use proper Italian). Most producers made them this way up through the early 1980s: employing long macerations (often up to a month); submerged cap fermentations; and long aging in large, neutral, older Slavonian oak casks (known as botti).
The newer generation, many of whom started taking control of winemaking in the 1980s, began changing this traditional recipe, following the lead of Angelo Gaja in substituting new French barriques for the botti, and trying to reduce the tannin levels by shortening the maceration time, sometimes also using roto-fermenters. The results are often aromatic in a very different way, with ripe fruit and oak aromas and flavors, like vanilla and caramel. The wines are also approachable many years earlier than the traditional style Baroli. For many of us, however, these wines lack the appeal–the great traditional autumnal aromas and flavors, as well as the ageworthiness of the older style wines.
Fortunately there are still a number of traditional style producers, such as Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Mascarello, Bruno Giacosa, Francesco Rinaldi, Oddero and the Barbaresco Produttori. And many of those who switched to more modern methods in the ‘80s have moderated them in recent years, eliminating all or most of the new barriques.
A major supporter of the traditionalists here in the U.S. has been Rare Wine Co.’s Mannie Berk. His company not only imports and distributes a number of the traditionalists, but Mannie has also made many trips to Italy and cellars elsewhere in Europe that contain well stored stocks of older, traditional style Barolo and Barbaresco. He purchases these wines either directly from the wineries or from these great cellars, and makes them available here in the U.S. For traditional Barolo/Barbaresco lovers like me, the availability of these wines through RWC has been a tremendous boon, as the provenance is excellent, as compared to buying these wines on occasional auctions when one has no idea how the wines have been stored or transported.
It was therefore a great treat when The Village Pub in Woodside decided to do a truffle dinner last month with RWC older Barolos and Barbarescos, and invited Mannie to speak about the wines.
Chef Dmitry Elperin prepared relatively simple but wonderfully flavorful dishes—Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms and Truffle, Braised Rabbit with Truffled Polenta–that paired beautifully with our wines. The wine service from Sommelier Michael Acheson and his wine staff was also thoughtful and impeccable, making for a particularly enjoyable evening all the way around.
Chef Dmitry Elperin and Sommelier Michael Acheson
The wines provided a glimpse of traditional Baroli and Barbaresci, and how they age, over four decades. Our oldest wines were from the great 1971 vintage. From the ‘80s, we had four from the best vintage of that decade, 1982. From the ‘90s, we had two ‘96s, both still showing the huge tannins and structure of that vintage, and a more approachable 1997. We started with a flight that included two of the very best recent vintages, 2001 and 2004.
While all of these wines were enjoyable, and most have a very long life yet ahead of them, there were, of course, a few standouts. My top wines of the tasting were the 1997 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato and the 1971 Fontanafredda Barolo, both of which I rated 95+ points. The Monprivato still needs several years to fully mature, but the 1971, from the great vineyards available to Fontanafredda, was not only delicious, but also still showing its rich ripe fruit over 40 years after the grapes were picked.
For me, the greatest single value at the tasting was the ’01 Luigi Oddero Barolo Vigna Rionda, with fruit from one of Barolo’s greatest vineyards. Luigi was one of the great Barolo traditionalists, who started making wines under his own name after splitting with his brother Giacomo in the early 1990s. The 2001 also needs seven or eight years to more fully mature, but is really a relative bargain.
Here are my notes on all the terrific wines we tasted, many of which are currently available from RWC.
- NV Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena – Italy, Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC
Light medium cherry red color with abundant mousse; appealing, fresh, tart currant, red berry nose; tasty, bright, tart currant, red berry, tart cherry, mineral palate with good acidity, relatively light and balanced; medium finish (would be ideal with charcuterie) (89 points)
- 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Medium dark red violet color; dried cherry, dried berry, sandalwood, dried roses nose; tasty, tight, dried cherry, roses, juniper berry, ripe red currant palate with integrating sandalwood oak and firm, drying tannins; needs 6-7 years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)
- 2004 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Vigna Croera di La Morra – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Medium dark red violet color; appealing, dried berry, roses, tar nose; very flavorful, tight, dried berry, anise, tar, licorice palate; needs 6-7 years; long finish (decanted for 90 minutes) (94 points)
- 2001 Luigi Oddero Barolo Vigna Rionda – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Dark red violet color; lovely, floral, roses, sandalwood, anise, tar nose; tasty, complex, dried roses, anise, sandalwood, tar, dried berry, ginger cake palate, a stunning effort by the late Luigi Oddero, from one of Barolo’s greatest vineyards; needs 7-8 years; long finish 94+ points (decanted for 1 hour) (94 points)
- 1996 Azienda Bricco Asili (Ceretto) Barbaresco Bricco Asili – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Bricking very dark red violet color; appealing, dried berry, licorice, tar, bark nose; tight, tasty, tart berry, dried berry, tar, anise, mineral, dried roses palate with firm fine tannins yet; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
- 1996 Cascina Luisin Barbaresco Rabajà – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Bricking dark red violet color; tar, charcoal, light pepper nose; tight, dried berry, tart cherry, tar, charcoal palate; needs 4-5 more years; medium-plus finish (90 points)
- 1997 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricking medium dark red violet color; maturing, licorice, dried berry, tar nose; intense, licorice, spice, dried berry, chocolate, ginger cake palate; delicious but tight yet, could use an additional 7-plus years or a few hours of decanting; long finish 95+ points (95 points)
- 1982 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Bricking medium red violet color with pale meniscus; appealing, maturing, mushroom, anise, sandalwood, ginger cake nose; mature, sandalwood, tar, tart cherry, dried cherry, mushroom, ginger cake palate; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
- 1982 Azienda Bricco Asili (Ceretto) Barbaresco Bricco Asili – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Bricking medium red violet color with pale meniscus; mature, earthy, mushroom, tar, ginger cake nose; tasty, mature, autumnal, ginger cake, dried cherry, roses palate; ready now and should go 7-8 more years; long finish 93+ points (93 points)
- 1982 Vietti Barolo Rocche – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricking dark red violet color; mature, autumnal, dried roses, dried cherry nose; tasty, mature, dried cherry, dried berry, ginger cake, sandalwood palate; ready now and should go 15+ years; long finish (93 points)
- 1982 Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Barolo Brunate – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricking medium dark red violet color; mature, mushroom, dried cherry, tar, licorice nose; tasty, mature, dried cherry, sandalwood, juniper berry with firm tannins yet; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)
- 1971 Barisone Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricked medium red violet color with pale meniscus; mature, roses, dried roses, floral, dried cherry, celery salt nose; mature, dried cherry, tart raspberry, tart cherry, autumnal, ginger cake, dried berry palate; long finish (wine was made by Francesco Rinaldi and delivered in demijohn to a popular wine shop in Turin owned by Osvaldo Barisone who labeled it; less advanced than a bottle I tasted a year and a half ago) (94 points)
- 1971 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricked medium dark red violet color; mature, earthy, truffle, dried mushroom, toast nose; tasty, mature but firmly structured, dried cherry, tar, toast, autumnal palate; should go 7-plus years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)
- 1971 Fontanafredda Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricked medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; ripe cherry, cherry syrup, ripe raspberry, ripe berry nose; mature, very tasty, autumnal, dried cherry, ginger cake, tart berry palate with rich, ripe fruit yet; should go 20-25 years; long finish 95+ points (95 points)