Archive for the ‘Barbera’ category

Azienda Agricola Cascina Galarin

November 29, 2008

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Piedmonte in autumn is simply magic while the region comes alive in all its splendour. Of course there are white truffles, fuelling the annual Fiera del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba from October to November in the gastronomical capital of the Langhe. Fresh Porcini, hazelnuts and chestnuts are more common – and less expensive – while cheeses as Castelmango, Robiola, Toma and Testun are regional treasures that challenge the French hegemony on mouldy, stinky but delicious dairy. Above all, vinous hearts will beat faster as in this time of the year Piedmonte breaths wine. In about every vineyard and village tractors move piles of little red crates filled with grapes, first varieties as Moscato, Chardonnay and Arneis, then mainly Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Because of the relatively big time lag between the ripening of each variety the vineyards show a riot of colours. This majestic spectacle is especially noticeable in areas where the full spectrum peacefully co-exists as shown in the above picture taken near the village of Castagnole delle Lanze which is located only a few kilometres from Neive, the eastern outpost of the Barbaresco DOCG. Here the harvest of Nebbiolo was entering its final stage with leave-colours varying from green-yellow to  brown. This in contrast to the higher and hence cooler Barolo area where most of the picking had yet to start, resulting in the majority of its vineyards still covered in vibrant green.

It’s understandable most tourists look for Barolo while touring the region. Of course I had my fair share, however, with my base at Cascina Galarin in Castagnole delle Lanze I found myself in prime Barbera country which led to what proved to be one of the biggest vinous revelations I’ve ever experienced. Often producing just smooth and plummy wines, this grape can show far more complexity and depth if given the right exposure in the vineyard and serious attention in the cellar, especially in the DOC of Asti where the competition with Nebbiolo for the best possible terroir is absent. Most of the production in this area consists of generic Barbera d’Asti although things are really getting interesting with Barbera d’Asti Superiore, made from the best possible fruit that has aged for the minimum required 24 months of which at least 6 in oak. To prove the quality and age worthiness of these wines owner Giuseppe “Beppe” Carosso hosted a memorable tasting with some truly amazing wines made from grapes grown in Bricco Rorisso, a single vineyard with clay and calcareous soils and a perfect South-West exposition. As far as the blend concerns, the Bricco Rorisso consists of approximately 90% Barbera with the balance Cabernet Sauvignon, Freisa and Grignolino. All grapes are handpicked, crushed and fermented for 4 days at around 28-30°C while the juice is kept on the skins for 2 weeks. After a light filtration the wine spends one year in small Allier barriques and an additional one in bottle before release. 

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1998

The 1998 Bricco Rorisso has a deep brick red colour in the glass that only slightly reveals its age. The nose still offers plenty of perfumed primary fruit reminiscent of plum and cherry with notes of undergrowth and spice while the palate is shaped by fresh acidity and velvety, grainy tannins. This is an extremely well balanced wine on its peak that could easily be cellared for at least another 5 years.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1997

Deep red with a brown tinge, this wine is the living proof of the ageing capacity of Barbera from extraordinary vintages. With an open nose of lively fresh fruit and a full, round and powerful palate this wine unfolds as if it was made yesterday. According to Beppe the wine has evolved very slowly and will keep doing so as the structure of fruit, firm tannins and fabulous acidity is solid and in perfect balance.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1996

Although this wine has a youthful deep red colour, secondary and tertiary aromas initially dominate the nose. With time in the glass the wine opens up and allows fresher berry fruit to shine through. The palate is full and flavoursome with pronounced acidity and less roundness than the ’98 and ’97 Bricco Rosisso. It’s certainly not as approachable as these wines, however, its character and complexity make this wine absolutely more intriguing.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1990

I must confess that when I first saw the line-up I had my doubts about this wine. I mean a Barbera of this age, it must be a joke. How wrong I proved to be! Brick red in colour the rich nose oozed aromas of plum, cherry and little red berries following through to a smooth and round palate where relatively low acid further enhanced the sweetness of the fruit. This wine reminds me of fresh picked grapes squeezed in a glass. Hors Category, a wine that will be in my memory forever!

Pio Cesare

December 2, 2007

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Every wine region has its names from the past but Barolo seems to have more than any other. Pio Cesare is one of them. In 1881 he founded his own winery and started to produce wine that was sold on the domestic and European export markets. By the time of his death in 1919 he left a brand that is recognised as one of Barolo’s best. The business has stayed in the hands of the family for five generations with the affable great grandson Pio Boffa at the helm. Under the guidance of Boffa and oenologist Paolo Fenocchio the wines rate among the best in Italy and the rest of the world. Regarding the sheer breed and quality of the wines it was a great pleasure to meet Pio Boffa last Thursday for a tasting of his entire portfolio.

Reigning over an established brand as Pio Cesare brings responsibilities towards the traditions of the past generations. Confronted with the near inevitable question whether Pio Cesare can be labelled as a ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ style producer, Boffa asked me permission to give the possibly arrogant answer that all wines aim to reflect the style of Pio Cesare. “For the traditional or generic range, the winery relies on purchased fruit from 15 different growers across the appellation in order to attain an optimal expression of regional characters. Some of these growers have been supplying high quality fruit to the family for generations despite the fact that large sums of money have been offered to them by other producers.” These longstanding relationships come both ways as good fruit is supplied in good vintages and more challenging fruit is bought in the difficult ones, “You look after Pio Cesare when things are good and Pio Cesare looks after you when things are not as good.” For the maturation of these generic wines predominantly large Slavonian botti are used instead of French barriques, while the traditional approach is ultimately reflected by the use of the label that decorates the bottles for over a century. 

All this doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed, far from that. Apart from using purchased fruit the balanced has shifted towards the use of fruit from the 54 hectares of family owned vineyards including Ornate and Colombaro in Serralunga d’Alba and Il Bricco in Barbaresco. Fruit from these vineyards is vinified seperately and bottled as the estate’s top crus. These wines are made in a more modern style with warmer fermentation and shorter maceration while around 70% is aged in new Seguin-Morreau barriques and the balance in large casks.

According to Pio Boffa it is the change of the climate instead of winemaking that leaves the biggest marks on his wines. Grapes are generally picked up to a month earlier at higher sugar levels than normal leading to more approachable wines with lots of sweet fruit upfront. Having said that, producers still have to cope with the viticultural hazards of this region, as was shown on Wednesday the 4th of September 2002, when hailstorms destroyed many vineyards in the western part of Barolo after an already wet August. Because the majority of Boffa’s vineyards are located in the eastern part around Serralunga d’Alba, Pio Cecare was able to make very good wines in this difficult vintage. “It were the media that wanted to create a picture that everything was lost in Barolo and when the BBC rang me for an interview I refused. When they asked me to confirm the disaster I said no, when they would have asked me how we would handle this challenging situation I would have said yes. It is like wanting to make news over the back of a just deceased person, it’s not appropriate. We were able to produce very good Barolo and we are proud of it.”

One of the new challenges for Boffa is to make a top wine from Barbera. “This underrated variety has been regarded as the everyday wine for the grapegrowers in Piedmont for a long time. In the past the focus has been more on quantity than quality and we want to prove that you can produce an ageworthy Barbera when the grapes are grown in the right vineyard with the right exposition and the right yields. That’s why we have planted Barbera in the Colombaro vineyard in Serralunga D’alba as this site would have been a very good one for Nebbiolo instead. With a serious Barbera d’Alba we can take people by the hand and build their love for the more difficult to understand Barolo and Barbaresco.”

I started the tasting of an impressive range with an intense ruby red 2005 Dolcetto d’Alba. This wine showed a bright and frangrant nose of raspberry, blackcurrant and a hint of pepper and a lively, fruit-driven palate with very fine tannins and notable acidity on the finish. A well-made example that combines fruit with body and structure (87 points).

Moving up in the hierarchy of Piedmontese varieties the 2004 Barbera d’Alba forms a starting point for what’s about to follow. The grapes for this wine are sourced from up to 10 different vineyards in the villages of Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Treiso, Sinio, Diano d’Alba and Grinzane Cavour. The handsorted berries are fermented for about 15 days in stainless steel tanks while part (70%) of the wine is aged for 18 months in French casks and the balance in French barriques. Lovely plum, cherry, blackberry, spicy and vanilla aromas lead to a smooth and balanced palate with the restrained use of oak underpinnig the intensity of fruit and acid. A delicious wine that drinks fantastic now or benefits from short term cellaring (88 points).

The 2004 “Fides” Barbera d’Alba shows the true potential of this variety with magnified intensity of aromas and flavours. Sourced from the Colombaro vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, the majority of the fruit is aged in French barriques for 20 months giving the oak a major – but not overwhelming – role in this full-bodied wine. Cherry, blackcurrant, plum, chocolate and vanilla dominate the nose while the rich palate shows ripe fruit, fine supple tannins and refreshing acidity with a mineral edge. This is an excellent ageworthy benchmark Barbera (90 points).

The tasting reached its apogee with the four wines crafted of the noble Nebbiolo. The generic 2003 Barbaresco is a blend of grapes from three different vineyards in the lesser known production zones of Treiso and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. With fermentation temperatures around 25 degrees celcius, macaration around 20 days and maturation in predominantly large botti for 3 years this wine is moulded into a more traditional style. In the glass this purple brownish coloured  Barbaresco releases intense and fragrant aromas of violets, cinnamon, vanilla and concentrated berryfruit. The palate shows elegance and finesse yet power and structure with well balanced acid and tannins building from the middle towards the finish (92 points). 

One of the crown jewels of Pio Cesare is the Bricco vineyard near the village of Treiso, source of the estate’s single vineyard Barbaresco. The 2003 “Il Bricco” Barbaresco is made with super-ripe fruit of which the biggest part has spent 3 years in new French barriques. The aromas of this deep purple wine disclose cherry, raspberry, spice, vanilla, tobacco and a hint of toasty oak. The extraordinary balanced palate is intense and concentrated with a core of sweet red fruit giving way to tightly knit tannins and fresh acidity on a long and lingering finish. This wine needs at least a couple more years in the cellar to show its colours (94 points).

The philosophy behind the generic Barolo is comparable to that of the Barbaresco, with fruit sourced from 8 different vineyards within different zones of the appellation to create complexity while winemaking aims at producing a traditional style. The 2003 Barolo shows a garnet colour with an orange tinge in the glass from which a fragrant bouquet of violets, sweet red fruit, licorice, cloves and toasty oak are released. The full-bodied palate is incredibly smooth with  mouthdrying tannins and balanced acid towards the very long finish. This delicious wine combines power and concentration with a graceful austerity and promises a long life in the cellar (94 points).

The family-owned Ornate vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba is one of Barolo’s best, delivering fruit that adds breadth, concentration and structure to Pio Cesare’s top wine. This is Barolo at its best with delicious aromas of blackberries, vanilla, licorice, tar and roses. The perfectly balanced palate has a smooth and creamy mouthfeel where layers of sweet fruit, toasted oak and fine tannins dominate in an exquisite and persistant way. This is a masterful polished wine that will show its class and distinction for at least the next 15 years (95 points).     

Marcarini Barbera D’Alba 2004

July 31, 2007

img_3001.jpgIf there is one wine that I should drink more often now it’s Barbera d’Alba. This variety can be really attractive when the climatic conditions are absolutely right but the wines that I’ve seen from the wet 2002 and scorching 2003 vintages were either too thin and diluted or baked and high in alcohol. Luckily producers got back on track in the big and cool 2004 vintage resulting in a new supply of typical wines with vibrant fruit and high acidity. I think there is even more reason to be optimistic now that a lot of growers regard Barbera as a serious variety: the grape is planted in far better sites, yields are lowered significantly and grapes are only picked when fully mature. Marcarini cultivates 2,5 hectares of Barbera on two sunny sites in La Morra and Neviglie so that the grapes attain optimum ripeness. The resulting wine shows a fragrant nose with lovely ripe cherry, raspberry and plum aromas complemented by sweet oak. The same whistle-clean and pure fruit is offered on a palate that is marked by well integrated oak, velvetly tannins and a finish with lots of zingy acid. This is a very good modern wine that hasn’t sacrificed any of its typical features. 91 points.

Source: Trembath & Taylor/Dave Mullen  Price: $39  Drink: Now-2010

Web: www.marcarini.it