Sunday, November 29, 2009
Our first visit was to Sandrone, one of the more famous Barolo wineries, having received high praise from wine critics over the years.
Barbara Sandrone met us at the winery and took us through one of the most complete tours of a winery I have had. She showed us the vineyard where their grapes comes from, Cannubi Boschis. She then took us through their entire wine making process, from where the grapes were brought in, through to the on-site bottling. It was an impressive, well thought out set-up, in which gravity was used to move the wine throughout virtually the entire process.
The 2005 Barolo itself was a classy wine, of great structure and length. One thing that was noticeable was some really nice French oak on the nose. The wine was matured in the smaller French barriques. The use of French oak is something that the younger, more modern Barolo wine makers typically use. This is in contrast for example to the traditional Bourgogno Francesco Barolo, where the big, slavonian oak barrels are used. I like both styles of wine, but if I had to state a preference it would be for the traditional, slavonian oak wines. French oak I guess is a somewhat familiar flavour/aroma, whereas Slavonian oak was unique to me. The fact the slavonian oak barrels are far bigger than the French oak barriques means that there is less of an oak influence on the wine as well.
At 90 Euros, this Barolo was beyond my budget, and I wasn’t sure that it was so much better than some of the 20-30 Euro Barolo we had tried, that it justified the price difference. In saying that it, it was a wine that was perfectly balanced and gave me the sense that it would age beautifully.
Our next stop was Sottimano, a producer of Barbaresco. Barbaresco is half an hour north of Barolo, and the regular refrain is that if Barolo is the King of Italian wines then Barbaresco is the Queen. Barbaresco follows a lot of the same guidelines as Barolo, but is aged for only 2 years, not 3 years like Barolo. It is generally considered less tannic and more approachable at a younger age than Barolo.
The thing that I took away from the tasting at Sottimano was a belief in the influence of terroir on wine. Not that I hadn’t accepted its influence previously, but Sottimano provides the clearest evidence of this influence that I had seen. Two of their Barbarescos are the Curra and Cotta. These are two major vineyards in the Barbaresco area that are pretty much next to one another. Andrea Sottimano produces his Cotta and Curra Barbarescos in exactly the same manner. The vineyard treatment is the same, the grapes are picked at the same time, and the winemaking process is exactly the same. And yet they are distinctly different wines. The Curra is a darker, more tannic Barbaresco, while the Cotta while also quite powerful has a freshness and minerality that the Curra doesn’t. Both are beautiful wines. The difference between the two wines is 500 metres. 500 metres and the slight differences that means in terms of soil, exposure to the sun etc. is the sole reason for the distinctive difference that these two wines display.
After lunch we drove over to Serralunga D’alba. This pretty hilltop town northeast of the town of Barolo, is renowned for having the most powerful, tannic Barolo. Given how tannic a normal young Barolo is, I was keen to see what Serralunga had to offer.
The first Serralunga winery we went to was Palladino. We were hosted by an older Italian guy (with his niece translating), who had visited Australia a few years previously. He had loved his time in Oz, and when he heard we were from Australia we instantly became best of friends! His Barolos were very tannic, though still enjoyable to drink in my opinion. The best thing about the visit there was that we got to taste barrel samples from 07 and 08 (06 was already in bottle). This was the first time I had done any barrel samples, and it was interesting being able to get a snapshot of upcoming vintages. Interestingly Palladino are experimenting with both French and Slavonian oak with their upcoming wines.
Our final winery for the day was Germano Ettore. This winery is another great place to see the influence of terroir. Their two top Barolos are the Prapo and Ceretta, which are two vineyards once again only a few hundred meters apart. Compared to other Barolos, both are very powerful and tannic, but when comparing the two side by side, it is obvious that the Prapo is the prettier more aromatic wine. The Ceretta was literally the most tannic wine I had the whole time I was in Barolo! Mouth covering tannins had you literally chewing for a minute after you’d swallowed the wine. In saying that, it still had a beautiful nose, and good structure and length. I bought a bottle and its going to be in my cellar for at least 10 years!
If you are wondering why we only managed 4 wineries in a full day of tasting, that started at 10am and finished at 5pm, it was because it was virtually impossible to complete a winery visit in under an hour. Our hosts were all so incredibly friendly and generous that I reckon each visit lasted at least an hour and a half. They pretty much all showed us their vineyards, took us through the winery, and when it came to the tastings would take us through every bottle of wine and be more than generous with the pours!
So that was it for our 3 days in Barolo. I want to go back. While I feel I got a great insight into Barolo, the place and the wine, in another sense I feel like I only scratched the surface. As most of the wineries are small, family owned businesses, there are hundreds of Barolo producers, while I only tried wines from 10-15 wineries. I didn’t even try a wine from Castiglione Falletto, one of the main Barolo sub regions. Barolo is both a place and a wine, and I love both!
Another thing I haven’t even mentioned are the Barberas and Dolcettos of the region, which I loved as well . . . as well as the cheese and the chocolate! This is something I will post on as well in future.
My main thoughts now are, when can I get back there, and when will I be able to regularly afford to purchase Barolo in Australia which is normally $100 per bottle and more!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Was going through a restaurant's wine list, and contemplating ordering a reasonably expensive wine, when I saw the winner of the 2009 Jimmy Watson trophy, the 2008 Eden Road Hilltops Shiraz. Often interested to see whether a trophy winner lives up to the hype.
Really nice dark purple. The nose was the highlight. Beautifully aromatic, with lavendar, spice, and some nice French oak. On the palette it was really enjoyable, easy drinking, being very plush with really nice fruit. Its got decent length, and not much to talk of in the way of tannins.
As a wine that was being sold for $15-$20, its superb value, and I'd happily pay $30 for it.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Interesting wine . . .
Had this last night with dinner at an Italian restaurant. The first thing you notice is that it's cloudy. Its the light red that you get with a lot of pinot, however you can't see through it because of the cloudiness.
Raspberries and strawberries on the nose, but its reasonably understated and certainly not the obvious nose you get with a lot of Aussie Pinot. Something else was there that I couldn't quite put my finger on but it was possibly a bit yeasty.
On the palate it is savoury, long, and has some soft tannins that I liked. It also had a biterness and/or sourness that I couldn't quite work out whether I liked or not. Generally speaking I quite like sour cherry flavours in wine, and even don't mind a hint of bitterness, but this somehow just marginally crossed the line whereby on some mouthfuls I really enjoyed it, whereas on others it was just a bit too bitter and sour.
So while this wasn't a wine for hedonistic pleasure, it certainly had appeal and had me thinking about the wine the whole way through. Its too young to be drinking it now, but i reckon it might just turn up beautifully in a few years time. Going to put my remaining bottles in a dark corner in the cellar . . .
If it is not obvious yet, I am a pretty big (and unashamed) fan of the Barossa Valley. Part of the attraction is historical, part of it is based on the evidence I see in the glass more often than not. If I can drag myself off the couch long enough, I may write an unsolicited defence of the Barossa, but now is not the time, and that is not the subject of this blog.
In a wine industry dominated by the big players (the Constellations and Fosters of the world), it is always refreshing to find a family owned winery that makes honest wine – there are lots of them out there, but sometimes you need reaffirmation that this is the case.
Speaking of this type of winery, I am an unashamed fan of the Kellermeister /Trevor Jones in the Barossa. A couple of good mates put us on to them in 2004/5 when we shared several very good bottles of Barossa Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1998 vintage.
Most would be familiar with the Trevor Jones Wild Witch Shiraz – a wine that consistently rates highly and for $55-60 is very good value (if you have not heard of it – grab a bottle asap). In my opinion the Trevor Jones upper end Reds are by far their strong point – primarily their Shiraz. They also make some nice fortifieds and desert / sweet/semi-sweet whites that you do not see that often at other wineries (where a sweet rose or a half-hearted moscato is fast becoming the pacifier wines of choice!).
One of the premier wines in the Kellermeister range (the entry level / everyday drinking range, sitting below the premium Trevor Jones range) is the Black Sash Shiraz. Black Sash uses vines that are over 100 years old, and is matured in French oak (as I think are most / all of Trevor Jones’ wines). It retails at the cellar door for $32+. I tried the 2004 Black Sash at a tasting in 2005 and was impressed. At the same tasting and the one the following year, I purchased a few bottles of the 2002 Black Sash Shiraz (based not on my tasting of it, but on vintage alone....).
I had a bottle of the 2002 last year and was unimpressed. It appeared past its best, and possibly affected by brettanomyces (I am no expert in that type of thing). I opened another bottle last weekend, and my flattering impression of the nose was of ‘old washing-up rags”!!. Granted, it opened up after decanting, but had dead fruit notes and a pungent nose. I swear the cork was poor and it had affected the wine.
Given that I have several of the 2004 Black Sash Shiraz in the cellar, I was a bit concerned (I was recalling the compelling arguments I gave to the better half, convincing her that buying more than 5 bottles was of this wine was ‘of national importance’).
Therefore, it was time to crack open one of the 2004s to set my mind at ease/ confirm my fears.
The first hopeful sign was the screwcap – no concerns about random oxidization from a poor cork. The second positive sign was the nose of the wine (floral, sweet, fresh and even juicy) and the colour. While hardly ‘ethereal’ (what Barossa Shiraz is?), it had a nice dark red hue.
With a bit of a swirl, the darkfruit and spice notes came out, and there was a hint of the typical liquorice.
In the mouth, the wine was smooth and already well integrated (at least to my taste-bud challenged palette). In the background, the drying tannin and oak supported the dark plumb, slight sour dark cherry and more all-spice flavours, with the fruit definitely leading the flavour charge. Once again, as with the nose, there was an almost juicy fruit aspect to the wine in the front palette. There was the usual flavour gush in the mid palette (though not flabby) and it finished with the alcohol nicely subdued and not noticeable.
The lively fruit finished with more of the pleasant sour dark cherry flavours and spice (which came out the longer the wine was decanted). The tannins softened over the course of the evening. I assume it has another 5-10 years left in it easily. I could not identify any secondary characteristics in the wine.
With my faith restored in the Kellermeister range, and my taste buds looking forward to the several 2004 Black Sash Shiraz wines in my cellar I settled back to enjoy the evening. I will have to test out the remaining 2002 Black Sash – the cork may not be to blame for all of them, and I have had all the wine in storage since purchase. One thing is for sure – for $30-35, the 2004 Black Sash is a great bottle of wine. Worth double the price in my biased opinion (#Edit - perhaps worth up to at least $4 Brown).
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Of course, everywhere you drove there were vineyards, often located quite dramatically on steep hillsides. This just whetted my appetite for the tastings in the afternoon.
After lunch we went to a number of wineries, including Damilano and Francesco Rinaldi & Figli. However, the one that stood out was Borgogno Francesco.
We drove into the winery on a whim, seeing it as we drove along. We weren't really sure whether they did tastings so we approached the house a bit sheepishly. We were greeted by an elderly man with a big smile and firm handshake. In my non existant Italian, and his non existant English, we worked out that we wanted to try their wines and were invited into their house.
We were greeted by a pretty chaotic family scene where a young girl was chucking a tantrum. Ushered into the kitchen we met a woman who spoke really good english. She was the daughter of the elderly man, who she explained was in fact Francesco Borgogno, the owner and winemaker. We soon struck up a great conversation with plenty of translation going on between myself on Francesco. The winery and the vineyard (Brunate which sits between Barolo and La Morra) was initially run by Francesco's father, and now Francesco's son was doing most of the winemaking. Francesco pronounced that his was the best Barolo. Without context that would sound like a pretty arrogant statement, but the way in which he said it, it didn't seem arrogant at all, and you could see it was borne out of pride for what his family had produced over many years.
The Barolo we had was the 2005. The first thing I noticed was the price. 16 Euro. This was the cheapest Barolo we had seen to that point, with most being around the 25 Euro mark, and obviously a number being a lot more than that.
The nose was beautifully fragrant, with roses and licquorice noticeable. The wine is from the famous Brunate vineyard, which typically produces very aromatic Barolo and this was definitely the case. It is also aged in large salvonian oak barrels, so there is not much noticeable in the way of oak on the nose.
The palate was full bodied, rich, with good length, and once again had some beautiful tannins.
This was one of the most enjoyable Barolo's we had tried thus far, and it was far and away the cheapest. We nabbed a couple of bottles.
All through the tasting, the family were incredibly friendly, with all sorts of cheese and meats coming out and very generous tastings (we had to almost physically stop Francesco from pouring us another glass!). The young girl's tantrum continued throughout much of the tasting, but was all part of the big Italian family experience. They were incredibly generous, and almost seemed honoured that a couple had travelled all the way from Australia and were tasting their wines, which to me was ridiculous seeing I felt lucky to be drinking such quality wine for free.
A memorable Barolo to match a memorable experience!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I am at home this morning, as a leak in our bathroom has caused a veritable flood in our bedroom, and having done what I can to salvage the situation I am now waiting on the plumber. The plumber said he'd arrive between 10 and 11, which frankly could mean he will saunter up a 3pm. As such, I believe its a good time to write about the trip my wife and I made to Barolo, in Piemonte, Italy in May this year.
We had an amazing 3 weeks in Europe which saw us in London, Paris, Turin, and of course Barolo. While all the other places were suitably wonderful, with great weather to match, the 3 days we stayed in Barolo were for me the highlight.
Barolo is the name of the town, which lends its name to arguably the premier red wine in Italy. Barolo is an hour and a half south of Turin, in the region of Piemonte. Its is an undulating area, dotted with lovely hilltop towns, full of vineyards on wonderfully steep slopes, with the Alps providing an amazing backdrop to it all. It is incredibly pretty, and is often described as "Tuscany without tourists". I agree.
I would go there even if there wasn't any wine of interest to me there. That there was just made this trip even more memorable.
Barolo is not a grape, but rather a designation of quality if you like, or Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG). To call your wine a Barolo it has to
- be 100% Nebbiolo
- come from a specified area which includes the area around the town of Barolo, as well as nearby hilltop towns like La Morra, Novello, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga D'alba, Verduno, Cherasco, Verduno, and Grinzane Cavour. Indeed around some of these towns it is only certain designated areas that can produce Barolo
- be aged for 3 years - 2 in the barrel and one in the bottle
- minimum alcohol of 13%
- maximum production of 8 tonnes per hectare
I'd read lots of great things about Barolo, that it was the "King of wines, and the wine of Kings" etc., but I'd never even tried a nebbiolo (a very rare varietal in Australia), let alone a Barolo. The other thing I'd consistently read was that Barolo was very tannic and often verged on the undrinkable in its youth, but then would age beautifully over 10-20 years. So while I was excited, I also was slightly concerned that in tasting young Barolo we wouldn't be doing the wine any justice.
Our first day in Barolo, we arrived around lunchtime. After having lunch and settling into our bed and breakfast, we set off in the mid-afternoon to wander around the town of Barolo. After wandering along some lovely little cobbled streets, the first place we stumbled upon was the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo, which essentially is the wine tourist centre for Barolo. This was a great place to start, as the people there were able to give us an excellent overview of Barolo wine in general. For a few Euro we were also able to taste a reasonable selection of wines. My first Barolo tasting.
I wouldn't say I was 100% hooked from the first tasting I did, but I was pretty close. The first thing you notice is the colour. Barolo, even young Barolo is always light red colour with an orange tinge. Coming from Australia where many of our wine are normally very dark red, and even dark purple and inky at times this was definitely something different. The next thing is the smell of the wine. In some way this is the highlight of Barolo. The first couple of Barolo's I tried, and pretty much every subsequent Barolo, smelt beautiful. Cherries, strawberries, and roses, were the smells I consistently got with the first couple of Barolo's I tried, and then depending on the wine there were other smells like licquorice, spice, plum, and vanilla. These were the most fragrant and interesting smelling wines I had ever stuck my nose into. In some ways similar to the nose you might get on Pinot Noir, but better (not that I've ever had a truly top Burgundy).
On the palette you'd typically get the same fruit you got on the nose, but what was really noticeable was the length, structure and . . . bloody hell . . . the tannins! If you swirled it around in your mouth a few times your mouth would just be covered in these amazing, long lasting, chewy tannins. You'd stand there just chewing the tannins long after the wine had disappeared down your gullet.
I could see what people had meant when they talked about how tannic young Barolo was. However, I disagreed with them on one thing. I loved it! Saying Barolo verges on the undrinkable in its youth is ridiculous. These people who spout this line need to take a drink of Harden up!
Admittedly, the tannins are so strong that you wouldn't want more than a couple of glasses at a time before your palette was destroyed, and also I wouldn't bother pairing a young Barolo with any food other than bread, as the tannins would overpower any flavours you had in the food. But as for simply having a glass of young Barolo on its own, I'm all for it. Obviously Barolo gets better with 10-15 years in the bottle, with the tannins softening and the secondary characteristics coming out, making it a more complex, savoury style of wine. However, please don't ever believe the line that young Barolo is somehow undrinkable in its youth.
The rest of the afternoon, we wandered along the main street in Barolo where there are a number of little wine shops where you can do tastings of various winemakers from around the immediate area. We got to talk to a number of winemakers, and gradually started to get a sense of different vintages (though we were largely drinking 2005), and the different subregions and vineyards of Barolo. Most importantly we got to try numerous Barolos. Every wine was different, though they basicaly all follow the same path of having a beautifully fragrant nose, while having great structure and incredible tannins on the palette. The best way I can describe it to people who have never had a Barolo, is to imagine a wine with the nose of a beautiful Pinot Noir, with the palette of a young, tannic Cabernet. To me it's almost perfection.
If i wasn't quite hooked after the first tasting, then I was 100% hooked on Barolo by the end of the afternoon, with the alcohol, and the romanticism of being in a beautiful hilltop town in Italy on sunset, undoubtedly playing their part. I was now looking forward to the next day, when we would get in the car and drive out to a number of the wineries where we had made appointments. I couldn't wait!!!