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Nebbiolo

Swearing Like an Italian

I'm a unabashed fan of Luca Currado and his wines at Vietti. I had the pleasure of spending hours tasting through his cellar with him when I lived in Italy. He is a thoughtful and talented winemaker making extraordinary wines. Do not miss the current interview with Luca on I'll Drink to That with Levy Dalton, the consistantly excellent wine podcast. You can find it here.

In Italy, swearing is an artform as compared to English, where it is usually simply vulgar. In Italian swearing decorates the language adding life, spice and personality. In this interview, Luca leads us on a educational tour of this Italian artform. It's a delight!

The Vietti family story is very compelling and this interview touches on the entire modern history of winemaking in Piemonte, beautifully told by the colorful and delightful Luca Currado.

Nebbiolo

mascarello.0LU0amdHuReS.jpgA Barolo/Barbaresco tasting anywhere close to home is sure to attract me like a magnet. Is there anything more elusive than great nebbiolo? Outstanding examples of pinot and cabernet from around the world have long ago proven themselves, but nebbiolo from the Langhe Hills of Piemonte remains unchallenged.

The turf wars of traditionalist vs. modernist have calmed in recent times. The new wave has backed off on all the new oak and over-extraction (not yet far enough in my opinion), while the old guard is producing wines with softer tannins due to better vineyard management.

The St. Helena Wine Center hosted the following tasting last week. It was a bargain at only $20. I am always amazed more people don’t come to take advantage of such opportunities. The tasting:

Sottimano, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2006 ($24) - I bought three bottles and should have bought more. Perhaps the greatest value in nebbiolo anywhere, the Sottimano family could call this wine Barbaresco and sell it for four times as much. However as the vines are “only” fifteen years or so old they’ve decided to just sell it as Lange Nebbiolo. High toned, concentrated and still closed, this wine needs three for four more years to show itself. Sottimano is the most intelligent and light-handed of the modernists in the Langhe today. Simply great wines across the board.

Mauro Molino, Barolo Gallinotto, 2004 ($48) - The Molino wines are less over-the-top oaky these days and much better for it. Not my favorite style, but very well made and their wines show more nebbiolo varietal character than they did in the past. A very good wine at a very fair price.

Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin, 2004 ($65) - I just could not find much to like here. Just not to my taste, but they’re a serious winery that deserves respect.

La Spinetta Barbaresco, Vigneto Gallina Vursu, 2004 ($120) - Ever see the huckster selling sham wows on late night TV? He must be the marketing director of La Spinetta. This is an almost silly wine at a price that would be silly too - except that some people actually pay it. A rip off. Why would anyone pay $120 for this wine when you can buy a great Zinfandel (which this wine tastes more-or-less like) for a quarter of the price. Anyone who drops $120 on this wine is a fool. The wine version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Paolo Scavino Barolo, Bricco Ambrogio, 2003 ($62) - I have never really liked these wines, but respect Paolo Scavino for his passion and dedication to making great wine - that is just not to my taste. Unlike the cynical La Spinetta, which just went out to create wines that would get big points and big bucks, Scavino really believed in his vision. Happily he too has throttled back and is making more graceful wines. This wine is very good - very modern, but still tasting of nebbiolo and the Langhe Hills. If you like the modern style, this wine is for you, not the over-everythinged La Spinetta and it’s half the price to boot.

Mascarello Barolo Monprivato, 2003 ($88) - The nose just blew me away on this wine. Could this lifted, elegant and expansively delicate nose really be from the hot, hot, hot 2003 vintage? This is just a glorious wine and easily the best 2003 Barolo I’ve tasted. Sure their 04 is better, but this wine is nothing short of outstanding and a great accomplishment in such a hot year. This wine should really not be touched until 2013.

Rinaldi Barolo Brunate, 2004 ($150) - Well if you’re going to drop $150 on a wine you might as well get perfection and this wine is about as close to perfect nebbiolo as you’ll find. From a very, very great vintage, Rinaldi took the extraordinary fruit they got from the “Grand Cru” Brunate vineyard and got everything they could out of it. A true classic that should be aged for fifteen or more years before drinking. Today it’s all closed, tannic and promise, but this wine will deliver big time.

Oddero Barolo, 1996 ($70) - If a wine can cost $70 and be a bargain this is it. The 1996 vintage has proven itself to be among the very greatest vintages in Barolo and Barbaresco. However, if you think this wine is ready to drink you’re wrong as it’s still closed and young and needs many more years to reach its peak. Yes, it’s wonderful to drink now, but in five or six more years it should be astounding. If you think about the price of this wine in the context of how good it is and that it is already thirteen years old, I think you’ll agree this is a bargain. That a famous critic rated the flabby 1997’s higher than the regal 1996 vintage is a cruel joke on consumers.

Is the (2nd) Fiasco Over?

fiasco in italia Wine trade legend had it that the word fiasco entered the English language when the Italians flooded  the American market with mediocre wines after the war and destroyed their reputation for decades. The fiasco was the the name of the straw wrapped around those bottles of cheap Chianti, which became the symbol of Italian wine in the United States. Cheap, innocuous or worse -the straw covered bottles were omnipresent on tables covered with red checked table cloths and provided romantic light, covered with candle wax, in dorm rooms in the 60’s and 70’s.

Of course, Italian wines long ago recovered from that debacle and are sold at prices on par with the the worlds finest. However, there was a second Italian wine fiasco. The first was them sending bad wine here, the second was our fault. We imported Italian varieties and proceeded to make some very boring wine from them. In the eighties there were a lot of high profile efforts to make expensive wines from Italian varieties in California and the category was even given a name: Cal-Ital. There was a lot of hoopla, but the wines were mediocre and expensive – not a good combination. Even today all too many American sangiovese and barbera wines look ridiculous when compared to Italian wines (or other American wines) selling for half the price. Those that deigned to attempt nebbiolo fell far shorter than ridiculous. What could the possible reason be to buy these American wines at $40, $50 or more when you could buy better Italian ones at $20. What made these Americans even worse is that they had no varietal character. They could have been made from zinfandel, merlot  or cabernet, but were not as good as the wines made from those varieties. Why buy an expensive sangiovese when a zin or cab that tasted better cost less? As you might expect, the Cal-Itals soon went out of fashion.

Is this second fiasco over? It may well be as some exciting wines from Italian varieties are finally being made up and down the west coast. They are distinctly New World, as they should be, while maintaining true varietal character. Cabernet from Bordeaux and Napa may not taste the same, but the family resemblance is unmistakable. Finally you can now say the some thing about a few wines produced from varieties like barbera, sangiovese and even nebbiolo. While most of the better examples seem to be coming from Washington there are a few Californians producing some exciting wines too.

Palmina_Nebbiolo I can think of no more stunning example of this new trend than the 2004 Palmina Nebbiolo, Stolpman Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley. This is a gorgeous wine that is true both to its variety and its vineyard. First of all it is perfectly pale, with a radiant garnet color. Dark purple nebbiolo, like pinot noir, is not to be trusted. On the nose it is powerful, yet elegant and laced with all the classic tar and roses you could want. However, it also shows its pride in its American birth with a round, warm spiced fruit forward personality. The firm classic tannins, that are a hallmark of fine nebbiolo, are very present suggesting that those that age this lovely wine will be well rewarded.

The second Italian wine fiasco is coming to a very happy ending.

Facing Facts

facing facts If you tell a big lie enough people will begin to believe it. That has been the case with James Suckling of The Wine Spectator who has repeated over and over again his ranking of the 1997 and 2000 vintages in Piemonte as great vintages. The winemakers there averted their eyes when this topic would come up, all to willing to take his PR blessing to help sell these wines at higher prices. On the inside the story was very different with “off the record” comments on how problematic these two hot vintages were. Most producers admitted that these two years produced extreme wines, atypical in character that exhibited overripe flavors and aromas, which overwhelmed the classic characteristics of nebbiolo. In other words the growers themselves didn’t consider these to be great vintages and felt the wines themselves had serious deficiencies. By no stretch of the imagination could 1997 and 2000 vintages have been considered great in Barolo or Barbaresco. Suckling was wrong.

Perhaps now those wines are long sold out, producers are more relaxed and open in their assessment of these two artificially hyped vintages.  In the Grape Radio video linked to below, Danilo Drocco, the excellent winemaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba in Barolo, leads a group through a vertical tasting of his wines and with a refreshing honesty, which is typical of Danilo, comments on the well known faults of these two vintages.

http://www.graperadio.com/podcast/GR-V-ENG-USA-2008-09-01.m4v

Hot vintages that produce big, soft wines that don’t age gracefully are not great vintages. Good vintages sure, but great vintages never. Too hot can have as many problems as too cool. Suckling incorrectly rated these two vintages and should fess up and adjust The Wine Spectator vintage chart to reflect a more accurate and widely held ranking. Ranking the 2000 vintage a perfect 100 points and 1997 an almost perfect 99, while rating more highly regarded vintages lower only damages The Wine Spectator’s credibility.

The reason for these dysfunctional ratings can be seen in Suckling’s own description of the vintages:

  • 2004 - Harmonious, perfumed reds, with fine tannins and lots of freshness (89 to 93 points)
  • 2001 - Aromatic, structured and firm reds with racy character (95 points)
  • 2000 - Rich and opulent reds with round tannins and exciting fruit; perfection in Nebbiolo (100 points)
  • 1997 - Superripe, opulent, flamboyant wines (99 points)

Once again, an American writer is seduced by opulence and flamboyance, while missing the beauty to be found in wines defined by harmony, aromatics and a lively, racy character. You’d be hard put to find a producer in Barolo and Barbaresco that will tell you that 1997 and 2000 are superior nebbiolo vintages to 2004, 2001 and 1996, which most producers believe to be truly great vintages for Barolo and Barbaresco.

Successfully avoiding strike three, Suckling rates 2003, another hot, over the top vintage, only 88 points and comments, “Many unbalanced wines due to an extremely hot growing season, but some nice surprises.” Oddly enough most winemakers, now better trained in how to handle hot vintages after dealing with 1997 and 2000, probably handled the heat in 2003 more deftly then they did in those two previous difficult vintages. You can see why serious collectors of Barolo and Barbaresco have fled The Wine Spectator in search of more reliable advice.

The video above from Grape Radio is a great piece of work and is well worth watching for the graphics and information offered. Danilo Drocco is perhaps one of Piemonte’s most underrated winemakers and he has transformed Fontanafredda into a reliable producer that often makes exciting wines. The Fontanafredda Barolo Serralunga is widely available and has been one of the best values in Barolo for years.

There is no shame in making mistakes when rating wines and vintages. With time, wine changes and you have to be willing to change along with it.


Pointless Points and Some Good Wines

circle the wagons There is no worse situation for tasting wines than big trade and consumer tastings. The format is always the same; a hotel ballroom with tables arranged like circled wagons waiting for the Indians to attack staffed by local wine reps with knowledge or not of the wines being poured. The room is crowded, hot and it's tough to get through the crowds to taste and harder still to get to a spit bucket in time. It's difficult to think of a worse situation to judge a wine.

The format is not really the problem. After all, these events are really cocktail parties designed to entertain trade or consumers. Serious tasting is not on the menu and that's not a reason to attend. If you go for serious tasting, you'll be frustrated. It's a party, not a tasting and I think distributors and other wine shows have every right to put on such events as that's what people, professionals and consumers alike, really want. After all, there's nothing wrong with having a good time with wine.

What's unfortunate is that some writers and bloggers attend these wine keggers and actually score the wines they taste. I don't care if you're using the 100 point scale or a 10 point scale (which after all is just an abbreviation of the 100 point scale) to try to accurately score wines in such a situation is a disservice to your readers. The reason it's not legitimate is that the results are not repeatable. Everyone knows that if you took the same wines and blind tasted these writers that they would come up with different scores. To repeat scores comparing wines tasted in perfect conditions to the same wines tasted in perfect conditions is difficult at best. To assume that you could repeat them going from the terrible circumstances of mass tastings to prefect conditions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest. If a writer cannot be assured that their ratings would be repeated within a few decimal points if they retasted the wines under different circumstances they should not publish those scores. It not only shows disrespect for those that make wines, but those that drink them.

That being said, I offer a few notes of my favorites from a trade tasting of over 100 Italian wines in Portland Oregon hosted by Columbia Wine Company. As usual, all are recommended, but are points-free.

Admiralty Imports

Barolo Canubi, Brezza, 2001 - A classic beauty that is nowhere near ready to drink. Big time tar and roses in this wine.

Barolo Chiniera, Elio Grasso, 2004 - All you could want from one of Barolo's greats. Rich, powerful and structured.

Barbaresco Riserva, Gallina, Ugo Lequio, 2001 - Another elegant classic with great balance. An excellent nebbiolo.

Sagrantino Montefalco, Antonelli, 2004 - Deep, rich and powerful with substantial tannins. Needs age or some wild boar right now.

Brunello di Montalcino, Caprili, 2003 - Finally Brunello that tastes like Brunello instead of barrique. Earthy, structured and complex.

Toscana VDT, La Gioia, Riecine, 2004 - Yet another lovely wine from one of my favorite estates in Tuscany. As always with Riecine, the balance of this wine is impeccable. This is their Super Tuscan. 

 

Neil Empson Selections

Franciacorta Cuvee Brut, Bellavista, NV - Consistently my favorite Champagne method sparking wine producer from Italy. This wine did not disappoint with its creamy, frothy texture and toasty fruit.

Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, 2006 - A big step up from industrial pinot grigio. Bright and citrusy with ripe, fresh apply fruit and good depth.

Soave Classico, Pieropan, 2006 - As always, just a stunning value in a crisp white that offers real complexity beyond its bright, refreshing character. A great white wine producer.

 

Kobrand

Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T., Sardegna, Barrua, Agricola Punica, 2004 - A dead ringer for Spain's Priorat wines from an old carignane vineyard on Sardegna. Deep, rich and powerful with a touch of porty ripeness.

Bolgheri Sassicaia, Sassicaia, 2004 - A perfectly politically correct wine with just the right amount of everything. Svelte and stylish. Their website is just terrible.

Toscana IGT, Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponte, 2005 - Deeply colored, powerful, rich and velvety with big, sweet oak highlights. A modern Italian wine of the first degree. Not for traditionalists. 

 

Wilson Daniels

Castello di Volpaia:

Chianti, Borgianni, 2005 - This is a very, very nice Chianti for the price. Real character and personality. Best of all it tastes like sangiovese, not merlot.

Chianti Classico, 2005 - You can see what a great estate this is by its straight Chianti Classico, which is a structured beauty with touches of black truffle and porcini mixed in with the ripe clean fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva, 2004 - A potentially exceptional wine with a few more years in bottle. Great character and complexity in a balanced wine of great length.

Coltasalla, 2004 - Always outstanding, Coltasalla is a single vineyard wine produced from sangiovese and mammolo only. Happily there's not a French variety to be found in the blend. A wine of great depth, complexity and personality that needs to be aged.

 

Winebow

Prosecco, Zardetto, NV - I've been seduced by this charmer for years. A delightful little pleasure.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2007 - As with everything Giacosa produces, their Arneis is a perfect example of this variety.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, 2005 - Smooth and velvety with a richness without heaviness. A good reminder how much I love wines from Valpolicella. This is a ripasso, which adds the extra texture on the palate.

Delle Venezie IGT, Pinot Noir, Kris, 2007 - This is just a pretty little pinot noir. Serve lightly chilled at summer picnics, with Asian food or pizza. Light, fruity and delicious, it's almost more like a dark rose than a red wine. Totally charming. It's a little sad to see it called pinot noir instead of the Italian pinot nero, but I understand the marketing decision.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Valdipiatta, 2004 - A blend of 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese) and 15% canaiolo that fortunately is not overwhelmed by a brief voyage in barrique before going into large casks. The angular, rustic character of Vino Nobile is preserved in this interesting wine. The edgy character makes this a great steak wine.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I have enjoyed, most under $20.

Veneto Bianco IGT, Anselmi, San Vincenzo, Italy, 2006 - The lovely light gold color is a proper prelude to the balance of this excellent wine. So few producers get the concept of balanced richness in white wines. Substantial without the least bit of heaviness or cloying fruit or oak, the smooth creamy texture has just enough bite to keep it refreshing. As usual this wine is a tremendous value offering far more complexity than almost anything at this price point. Best of all, the second glass is better than the first. ( find this wine )

Riesling, Bergterrassen Fedespiel, Johann Donabaum, Austria, 2006 - A delicate flower of wine. A lacy mixture of floral and mineral. This is a style of wine that just does not exist outside of Austria, Germany and Northeastern Italy. If it does, I have not tasted it. Lean and delicate, this is one of those wines if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss all it has to offer. The finish is dry, but mellowed by the lovely fruit. (find this wine )

Riesling, Private Lumpkin, Lazy River Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon, 2006 - While inspired by Old World Wines, you’ll know right away this wine is from the New World. Richly aromatic with ripe apricots and pungent petrol notes, this wine is quite lush with a bit of sweetness accentuated by its fruit-forward style. Not for aging, but perfect for the best Asian cuisine you can find.

Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Essence, S.A. Prüm, Germany, 2006 - All charm and pleasure in this nice riesling for everyday drinking. Just off-dry, but with plenty of acidity to keep it alive, this is a wonderful wine for summer parties or for just keeping in your refrigerator for a glass when you get home from work. A very good starting place for those that don’t know the pleasures of riesling as it’s inexpensive and easy to find. One of those nice wines to enjoy without thinking too much about it. ( find this wine )

Nebiolo (yup, one b) d’Alba, Cappellano, Italy, 2003 - This is just a wonderful bottle of nebbiolo that is an amazing value. Unfortunately they don’t make enough to make it easy to find. Try Chambers St. in Manhattan and cross your fingers. A classic nebbiolo with lifting aromatics laced with tar, spice and that taught floral character only nebbiolo achieves. Still tannic and closed, it will improve for many years. Better than many expensive Baroli for a fraction of the price. Great wine from a great producer. Imported by Louis/Dressner

Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley, Skipper’s Cuvee, Dobbes Family Estate, Oregon, 2006 - This wine makes you wonder why more pinot noir producers are not looking more seriously at Southern Oregon. While the majority of top Oregon pinots are from the Northern Willamette, this wine is so good it should pique the interest of quite a few producers. Richly colored and very aromatic, it exhibits the classic cool climate personality that brought growers to Oregon in the first place. Compared to the price of most Oregon pinots these days this is a great bargain. ( find this wine )

Washington Red Table Wine, Three Wives, Remy Wines,  2006 - Young winemaker Remy Drabkin is someone to watch. Her tiny production under the Three Wives and Remy labels may be hard to find, but I suggest you try to get on her mailing list now. This release, a kitchen sink blend of Bordeaux an Rhone varieties from Washington is a very nice wine at a very nice price. Rich and brightly fruity, this is a great wine for sausages fresh off your grill. Remy has done a great job of crafting a distinctive wine with a clearly Northwestern style.

Rosso Orvietano, Rosso di Spicca, Tenuta Le Velette, Italy, 2005 - I love little Italian wines like this charming wine. Light, with an earthy fruit and lean, zesty character, it’s a perfect wine for simple pastas or pizza. Best drunk with a light chill in stubby bistro glasses on a warm Wednesday night, on your patio, with a dinner you quickly whipped together. Better yet it only costs about ten bucks.(find this wine )

Châteauneuf du Pape, Les Bartavelles, Jean-Luc Columbo, France, 2006 - Since Châteauneuf became a wine region on steroids, much loved by the Barry Bonds steak house crowd, it’s been hard to find a Châteauneuf you can drink with out blowing your palate and the next day. Here is a very nice wine, not a great wine mind you, but a very nice wine that is a pleasure to drink. Make no mistake this is not a light wine, but by New World standards it is quite restrained. With an alcohol level around 13.5% (many hotshot CdP’s push 16%), this is wine that can be drunk with ease and you can still go to work the next day. Most importantly, this is not a simple raspberry fruit bomb, but a wine that offers real varietal character and a rich earthiness and balance that is clearly and thankfully French.

Veneto Rosso IGT, Catullo, Bertani, Italy, 2002 (60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% corvina) - Normally I can stand these new wave Italian wines, but this is a very nice effort. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon overwhelms any touch of corvina character, but what I like is that that the wine is not overdone. You can taste the oak, but it is not over-oaked and is not at all over-extracted and still actually tastes like it not only came from Italy, but the Veneto. A nicely balanced wine that will pair well with lamb or veal. It is mature and ready to drink.

Moulis, Château Maucaillou, France, 2003 - It was with a tinge of sadness that I opened my last bottle of this excellent Bordeaux, but it was only a tinge. This wine, like most 2003 Bordeaux, is ready to drink. Frankly, I think letting wines from this super-hot vintage age is a very bad idea. The wines are lush and easy without the definition that is the hallmark of classic Bordeaux. Wonderfully fragrant, rich without ponderous fruit and with a long, soft cedar spiced finish I just adored this wine. As befitting the a last bottle of good Bordeaux, I served it with the best lamb chops I could buy. ( find this wine )

Pinot Noir, Corral Creek Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Chehalem,  Oregon, 2001 - I know that the 2001 vintage forced Oregon producers to a more lean style, but I admit that I love these wines as they age and wish more producers would make wines like this in more forgiving vintages. The nose is wonderfully layered with orange peel, spiced wild cherries and touches of wildflowers, vanilla and tart blackberries. Firm and almost taut on the palate with a graceful, almost delicate character with hints of tar, candied bitter orange and wild strawberries. I think this wine is perfectly ready to drink now and , in fact, may be at its high point. The tannins on the finish have evolved into that dusty, silky texture than only pinot noir achieves. A very good wine at its peak. ( find this wine )

 

Wine Notes

Recent tastes I’ve enjoyed, all under $20 except for the Barolo, which is about $40:

  • Isola de Nuraghi IGT, Perdera Argiolas, 2004 - Produced 90% from the monica variety, this is a wonderful bargain in a wine that actually has a distinctive character. No great wine here mind you, but a very interesting drink.  With just enough earthiness to keep it interesting and enough bright fruit to make it charming. A nice wine with hearty home cooking.
  • Barolo, La Morra, Mauro Molino, 2003 - Modern Barolo that manages to still taste like nebbiolo. Not my favorite style, but still a well crafted wine. Like most modern Baroli, it is approachable now, but should evolve into a better wine with more age. What I like about this wine is that it is still clearly nebbiolo in character as they did not try to erase all the edges of the wine.
  • Barbera d’Alba, La Morra, Mauro Molino, 2005 - Big, juicy modern Barbera that puts a velvety coating on your tongue then slices it with a acid stiletto. I’ve never had a real problem with the modern style of Barbera as the natural brilliant acidity, bright fruit and low tannins of Barbera marry well with oak. Loads of charm here, although California palates may find the acidity shocking, but by Piemonte standards it’s tame. What’s important is there is a lot of pleasure right up front in the wine and there is more than enough acidity to be great with food.
  • Nebbiolo, Langhe, Castello di Verduno, 2006 - This wine is nothing short of an outstanding bargain that you should grab cases of as soon as you can. It is a pure, classic Piemontese nebbiolo with all the tar and roses you could want. Not at all ready to drink (although I can’t resist it) and those with enough patience will be rewarded with a lovely wine. No it is not Barolo, but it’s darn close and better than many more expensive wines that (mis)use the name Barolo. Nebbiolo aficionados will love the biting tannins and the unique angularity that is possessed by nebbiolo alone. With another 3 to 5 years this should be a beauty.
  • Nero d’Avola, Siciia IGT, Rossojbleo, Az. Agr, Gulfi, 2006 - Big, ripe and fruity. A great pizza and burger wine. This is the type of wine you want to have a case around of in the summer to serve with all those grilled meats. Lots of pleasure with no thinking required, Yummm…
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Farnese, 2005 - A very nice everyday wine. Well balanced, lots of fruit with more than a passing hint of complexity. Nothing fancy, just good wine. An excellent party wine. Sausages anyone?
  • Côtes du Ventoux, La Vieille Ferme, 2006 - Is there a better wine value out there for your house wine? At $10 and under a bottle this is a winner that’s always easy to find. On top of that its got a screwcap so there are never corked bottles to pour down the drain. Best served lightly chilled in large gulps.
  • Bourgogne Rouge, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Gevery Chambertin, 2005 - I’ve written about this wine often, but every time I open a bottle I want to write about it again. The only thing I can say is this wine is alive, which for me is the highest compliment you it give a wine. It is just so bright and lively it can’t help but seduce you.  A great pinot noir bargain.
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    A Treasure Hunt in Manhattan

    barbettadining Like a treasure map in an old movie it was tattered and frayed and the rest of the place was well past its glory days. Everyone seemed from another time and the bustling world outside had somehow left them all behind.

    That's how I felt as I sat down to dinner in Manhattan's venerable Barbetta Restaurant, which passed its 100th birthday in 2006. The once regal dining room now seems a bit frumpy and worn. Like a Grand Dame trying to still play the femme fatale in her old age, Barbetta's age is not disguised by all the makeup. However, hidden under the stodgy and slightly tattered surroundings are some real treasures. First is the food, which is well executed traditional Piemontese cuisine. The food is well made country cooking, which however good, seems out of place with all the tuxedoed waiters and formal service. What's important here is that the cooking is solid because the main reason to eat here is the treasure map that is presented when you arrive at your table: the wine list.

    If you love the wonders of Barolo and Barbaresco this wine list will almost bring you to tears. The thick, if slightly worn tome, is filled with page after page of deep verticals from the finest producers of the Langhe zone. This is simply a stunning collection of Baroli and Barbaresci that exceeds many (if not all) of the restaurants around Alba itself. On top of this, the prices are not only fair, but outright bargains considering that you are dining on Restaurant Row in Mid-Town Manhattan. The only downside of this list is that it comes with a bored, grouchy sommelier whose main claim to the job seems to be that he was born somewhere in Piemonte. However, the quality of the wine list alone will overwhelm all of Barbetta's negatives for nebbiolo lovers.

    My wine selection for the evening was the stunning, classic 1995 Marcarini Barolo Brunate, which was priced under $100, an almost unbelievable value at any restaurant in the United States, is an amazing value by Manhattan standards. While there was a full range of the great vintages from 1996 on, I chose this 1995 over the more famous years as I knew it would be more ready to drink. I have been fortunate to enjoy the 95 Brunate many times over the years and it has never disappointed and is now finally reaching maturity. The aromas are fleetingly intense with a delicate lacework of fragrances that engage both the mind and body, this is nebbiolo at its hauntingly powerful best. Lean and grippingly brilliant on the palate with layer after layer of complex dark fruit, black truffle, burnt orange spices and lilting wild flowers riding on the firm, but not bitter tannins. Wines like this are more experiences than a drink.

    Barbetta is a veritable treasure chest for nebbiolo aficionados.

     

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    Wine Notes

    Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

    • Weiβburgunder, pur mineral, Trocken Franken, Fürst, 2006 - Pur mineral indeed.  This is a razor blade of wine with electric acidity and flavors that slap your taste buds awake. Served with fresh Dungeness crab it was an amazing match. It took me three days to finish this bottle and it never changed a bit.
    • Riesling, Winninger Uhlen Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Freiherr von Heddesdorff, 2005 - Bright and refreshing and a wonderful aperitif. Clean apricot with just a hint of petrol, I enjoyed the first two glasses as an aperitif on two days after work and finished the bottle with some Thai carryout. I think it is better to drink this younger rather than cellaring it as it seems all about the fruit.
    • Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast, 2005 - One of the best California pinot noir wines I’ve tasted. Great balance, weight and structure. One of those pinots that deftly blends both bright fruit and funk into a wine of unending interest. The finish lasts longer than you can wait to take another sip.
    • Pinot Noir, Walter Hansel, Hansel Family Vineyards, Cahill Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2005 - An excellent pinot noir that had the unfortunate luck of being served next to the Littorai. However, this is an very good pinot noir that exhibits what could be called the best characteristics of a balanced California style. Rich without being jammy with an lush balance and a lingering finish.
    • Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Michel-Schlumberger, 2005 - Appropriately big, but not over the top.  You won’t confuse this syrah with grape concentrate. Meaty and oaky with a firm structure and more than enough fruit to carry the alcohol. I liked this wine quite a bit as it’s so hard to find a California wine that knows how to be big with dignity.
    • Nebbiolo Langhe, Serralunga d’Alba, Germano Ettore, 2005 - A real classic angular nebbiolo with tannin to spare. So many nebbiolo wines these days seem to try do disguise themselves as zinfandels these days, it’s wonderful to taste a wine like this that lets the true character of its variety sing its own song. This wine will be much, much better in two or three years, but I drank my three bottles anyway. Note to self: buy more ASAP.
    • Rioja Riserva, Muga, 2003 - What’s the deal with Rioja? The overt oaky character that I would hate in most wines just seem to work in Rioja. Muga is one of the premier estates in Rioja and this wine does not disappoint. Fragrant and elegant with a sweet oaky character that slides silkily across the palate with an underlying acidity that lifts and brightens the rich oaky fruit.
    • Brandy, Germain Robin, Anno Domini 2000 - I’m a long time fan of the California brandies produced by Germain Robin, but I had not heard of their 2000 Anno Domini when a bartender friend recommended I give it a try. I was stunned at the quality of this brandy, which literally blows all the big commercial Cognac houses out of the water when it comes to quality. The depth and complexity displayed by this spirit cannot be overstated. Except for a few producers, buying Cognac is a waste of money these days when there are spirits like this outstanding brandy.

    Wine Notes

    Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

    • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
    • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
    • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
    • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
    • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
    • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
    • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
    • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
    • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
    • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
    • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
    • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.

    Barolo Bussia Dardi La Rose, Poderi Colla, Monforte d'Alba, 1999

    Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry, raspberry. The finish is concentrated long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding classic Barolo destined for long-term greatness. One of the wines of the vintage.

    Barolo , Cavallotto Bricco Boschis, Castiglione Falletto, 1996

    Bright, translucent ruby with just a touch of orange at the edge. Explosive, earthy smoky aromas with a touch of underlying caramelized rasaspberries and a hint of Graham’s 20 year-old Tawny Port. Exceptionally complex. On the palate it is at first lean and tannic, but this is a façade as the wine soon broadens into layer upon layer of complexity. Bitter chocolate and bitter cherry flavors lead into a long warm earthy finish. Try to keep this one at least until its tenth birthday. If you must drink it now decant it for at least three hours before serving. Traditionally made Barolo wines have a unique blend of aromas and flavors they make them among the most interesting wines in the world. No simple black fruit references here, but all sorts of one-of-a-kind sensations. Dried roses and leather are the classic ones and they are certainly there, but add to this mushrooms, truffles and a certain wildness.

    Barolo, Fontanafredda, La Rosa, Serralunga d'Alba, 1999

    Bright ruby/scarlet with just the lightest hint of orange. The aromas are an exotic mix of ripe dark fruits and leather and dried porcini mushrooms. Smoky ripe plums show in the nose and on the palate with layers of dusty burnt cherries and bitter oranges followed by firm, hard tannins that are somehow surprisingly round in their intensity. The finish is restrained by its intense tannins, but the powerful complex fruit flavors are already starting to show through. Tasted over a four day period and the wine was still fresh and showing now oxidation on the forth day. Definitely a wine for long-term cellaring.

    Barbaresco Bric Balin, Moccagatta, 1999

    Bright deep scarlet. Very oaky first impressions on the nose, underlying smoky plumy fruit. Oak also apparent throughout the palate. Firm, somewhat astringent fruit is made more astringent by wood tannins. Under the fruit and wood tannins ripe plumy fruit struggle to keep up. Not a good first impression. I would prefer to see less oaky astringency overlying the already tannic nebbiolo from a fine vintage. Still overall a first class serious effort at the modern style. Not recommended for barrique haters.

    Barbaresco Palazzina, Montaribaldi, 2000

    Amazingly generous for such a young wine. Bright ruby with garnet hints. Round and ripe in the nose. Deep plums, with and underlying bitter wild cherry and a hint of orange. Underneath is a clear earthy nebbiolo varietal note. Rich and lean at the same time. Start out big and sweet then implodes into tannin. The finish is long and complex and although this wine is not nearly ready paired with intensely flavor foods like fatty, charred American steak it can be consumed now with pleasure

    Nebbiolo d'Alba, PIra, Bricco dell'Asino, 2001

    Brilliant scarlet, hints of ruby and a touch of garnet. Just translucent. Spicy ripe plums with layered sweet vanilla oak. Smoky, charcoal aromas add complexity. Firm and structured on the palate. Loaded with ripe plums and cherries with a distinctive tang of chewing tobacco. Starts out medium bodied, but then expands magically in the mouth into an explosion of tannins, tobacco and wild dark fruit flavors. A really exciting wine to drink. With short term aging - 1 or 2 years - you will have a great bottle.

    Barbaresco Rabajà Giuseppe Cortese

    The incline of the hill is steep and every speck of the grayish soil bakes in the hot sun. The entire slope is a wave of vines and the southwest/south exposure means not a leaf misses a moment of sunshine. This is the famed Rabajà vineyard located just outside of the town of Barbaresco. Certainly this vineyard was created to produce exceptional nebbiolo and a vineyard of similar potential in Burgundy would be considered a Grand Cru. However, there is no such official breakdown of vineyards in Langhe; just an informal acknowledgement among those in the trade as to what the great vineyards are - an acknowledgment clearly defined in the selling price of the wines, grapes and land.

    The sun drenched calcareous and clay-heavy soils of Rabajà produces Barbaresco wines with a unique combination of power and elegance that makes them approachable in their youth, but rewards those who cellar their bottles with wines of great complexity and refinement.

    From vines in the very heart of this special vineyard come the Barbaresco wines of Giuseppe Cortese, a small producer making a fine range of wines only from their own grapes. In addition to Barbaresco Rabajà, Cortese produces the excellent Barbera d’Alba Morassina and Dolcetto d’Alba Trifolera  from a vineyard area just to the south of Rabajà. The wines of Cortese have been improving consistently for years and in recent vintages they have been releasing some very fine wines. Giuseppe Cortese, after decades working as an agronomist for other top producers, founded his own estate and now with the next generation - son and daughter Pier Carlo, an enologist, and Tiziana - they are making this estate a must for collectors of traditionally styled wines from the Barbaresco zone. While the fermentations have a slight modern touch, their Barbaresco does not see a small barrel, spending the years in large casks of 17 to 25 hectolitres ranging in age from new to nine year old. Only the Barbera Morassina sees barrique and with excellent results, once again showing the affinity of the high acid/low tannin barbera for small French oak barrels in controlled doses.

    Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva, G. Cortese, 1996 ($75) Bright light ruby with garnet. Quite translucent. Exotic earthy nose with ripe plums, burnt orange, porcini and tar. On the palate it is complex, powerful and still very tight. The finish is very long with layer after layer of tar, ripe plum and bitter chocolate tied together by the substantial tannin. A stunning wine in a classic style that is a worthy addition to any collection, this wine needs five or more years to open even though it spent three years in cask and another three in bottle before release.

    Barbaresco Rabajà, G. Cortese, 2001 ($45) Bright light ruby with orange and garnet hints. Quite translucent. Elegant, floral nose with rose petals and violets blended with a buttery tar. Full structure on the palate with layers of complex flavors: dried leaves, tar, orange spice, warm tar and ripe plum flavors all of which continue into the long finish that has a touch of cassis to balance the considerable tannin. A wine with excellent aging potential. 

    Sottimano 2002

    Dolcetto_bric_del_salto_2004Andrea Sottimano rushes into the small tasting room of his family’s winery in Barbaresco. He is covered with dust and sweat, removing his hat he smiles disarmingly and says, “sorry, I’m late”.

    You know right away that this is no gentleman farmer’s estate. Andrea was, as always, out in the vineyard working their vines. At the Sottimano estate they take the phrase “great wine is made in the vineyard” to a new level. Each of their vines is treated like a Bonsai tree in a Japanese garden. Nothing is too much for these vines to ask.

    The ultimate proof of their skills and dedication in the vineyard sits in the glasses in front of me as Andrea pours the full range of their 2002 vintage. This was a year so difficult that many producers gave up, selling their wines off in bulk. The Sottimanos did not give up, but attacked their vineyards with a vengeance, reducing yields to ridiculous levels. This intensity extended beyond simply reducing bunches as they even dropped the lower half of the remaining bunches to the ground.

    If you’re wondering why they do this it can’t be for the money. The Sottimano Barbaresci sell for under $75 – or less than many Napa Cabernets that harvest many tons an acre more than they do. This is a work of passion and they have even reduced pricing to encourage consumers to try their 2002’s. If you don’t have a cellar to age your Barbaresci the recommended eight or so years before they mature, these wines are a must buy as they offer pure nebbiolo pleasure in a package ready for drinking sooner rather than later. This is not to say they will not develop nicely with several more years of aging.

    The 2002 Barbaresci from Sottimano are not the greatest Barbaresci you will ever taste, but they are an amazing accomplishment and will provide delightful drinking while you are waiting for their exceptional 2001’s and 1999’s to mature. In another testament to their skills in the vineyards, their 2000’s offer more complexity than the simple charming, forward wines offered by most producers.

    Sottimano new releases:

    2004 Dolcetto d’Alba, Bric del Salto
    Brilliant purple. Rich, juicy blueberry and loganberry fruit. Mouthwatering, zesty and fresh. Drink now. My mouth waters just writing about this charming wine.

    2003 Barbera d’Alba, Pairolero
    Bright ruby with a hint of purple. Ripe chocolate bittersweet aromas mixed with ripe, yet tart sweet black raspberry. Expansive and alive on the palate. The finish is long with rich brightness and a touch of cassis.

    The 2002 Barbaresco releases of Sottimano, all are highly recommended. Tasters will be hard pressed to separate these wines from many producers 2001’s in a blind tasting.

    Fausoni
    Rich translucent ruby. Spiced, tobacco, tar and smoky cranberry aromas. A wine of great nebbiolo purity with very good depth and structure. Not at all simple or overtly forward, yet already approachable.

    Currá
    Brilliant ruby garnet. Smoky and meaty with bitter current and ripe fresh red raspberry. Very structured and still closed, but still drinkable with pleasure. The finish is warm. Mouth filling with warm spiced tarry highlights. As usual, Currá is a brooding nebbiolo.

    Cottá
    Brillant ruby garnet. Firm, earthy and leather aromas mix with dense bittersweet black cherry. Very tarry and generous on the palate with a richly tannic finish blended with sweet burnt blood orange and long bitter tar accents. Big and intense throughout with a warm rich, tannic finish.

    Pajoré
    Always the most elegant of the Sottimano Barbaresci, this wine does not disappoint in 2002. Brilliant ruby garnet. The wonderfully refined nose is full of roses, violets and pomegranates. On the palate it is full of spices, smooth bitter cherry and ripe blackberry all mixed into a velvety yet tannic package. Irresistible.

    Basarin
    A new vineyard section recently purchased by the Sottimano family. In an ultimate statement to their dedication to quality, the Sottimanos have decided to wait another ten or so years to call this wine Barbaresco again and will just sell it as Langhe Rosso. This means they will sell it at about 1/3 the price that they could selling it as Barbaresco, even though they are fully able to do so both legally and morally. While not up to the level of their other 2002 Barbaresci, it is still a very nice wine and better than many Barbaresci sold on the market. It is a bright ruby garnet, with an elegant spiced nose. It is bright and fresh throughout. Refined and balanced, the finish is vibrant with a firm, tannic finish.

    Shortly I will follow up with some comments on the Sottimano family’s equally deft touch in the cellar.

    Pictured above, 2004 Dolcetto from Bric del Salto at harvest.

    Ca' Rome Barolo and Barbaresco

    Everything is in its place: each item in perfect order and sparkling clean in a perfect combination of art and science. “Everything is special here,” says Romano Marengo “The wine, the lights and me”

    Everything is indeed special at the Ca’ Rome winery located just outside the town of Barbaresco where the Marengo family: father Romano and his son and daughter, Pino and Paola make some of Langhe’s most elegant wines. The small winery is both a museum and working winery as the walls are carefully decorated with winemaking artifacts from the Langhe zone in a beautiful combination of art and functional design. This is one of the cleanest and most thoughtfully organized wineries you will find anywhere and all this attention to detail is reflected in the superb quality of their wines.

    After thirty years as an enologist Romano realized his dream of having his own estate and Ca’ Rome was born in 1980. The family produces wines only from their own vines and only in great years. Recently the Marengo’s sold off their entire production from 2002 as not up to their standards. It is impossible to buy a bottle of Ca’ Rome that is not of the highest quality.

    Romano and his enologist son, Pino, make wines at Ca’ Rome that are refined, elegant and extremely complex: not the kind of wines that hit you over the head. These are wines that grow and expand on the palate into a perfect harmony of the power of nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco with a restrained elegance that is hard to describe, but an experience to taste. These wines dance across your palate — not take it prisoner.

    The Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Ca’ Rome are traditional in style with most of the aging taking place in large 25 hectoliter barrels of Slovenian oak. Their color is textbook nebbiolo showing a translucent brilliant ruby with garnet hints and the flavors realize the promise of these beautiful tones. However, winemaking at Ca’ Rome is not 100% old-style as about 30% of the nebbiolo is aged in 225 liter French barrels. This touch of new oak adds a layer of complexity to these wines without adding a bit of new oak flavor.

    The Marengo family is fortunate to have some of the best vineyard locations in the Langhe with Barbaresco vineyards in Rio Sordo and their “cru” Maria di Brun and Barolo vineyards in two of Serralunga d’Alba’s finest locations: Cerretta and Rapet. The character of each vineyard shows clearly in their wines and is accentuated by their light touch in the cellar. Considering the prices of Barolo and Barbaresco these days the wines of Ca’ Rome are tremendous bargains. Also highly recommended is the excellent Barbera d’Alba La Gamberaja from vineyards in the Serralunga zone and their soon to be released 2003 is about as good as Barbera gets. “It’s perfect,” comments Romano with a sly smile.

    He might be right.

    Tasting Notes:
    2000 Ca’ Rome Barbaresco Maria di Brun ($65)
    While most winemakers are more enthusiastic about their 2001 wines, winemaker Pino Marengo is smitten by the pleasures of his 2000 vintage offerings. One taste of this wine and you understand his enthusiasm for the vintage. The color is a glittering light ruby with garnet and orange hints. The rich nose is very complex with layers of good Cuban cigars and tar blended with plums and bitter cherries. The wine is powerful, yet extremely balanced without a hint of over-ripeness. The finish is packed with bitter tar and baked cherry fruit. How can a wine have tannins so intense, but so refined at the same time? I would suggest at least five more years of aging before enjoying this excellent Barbaresco.

    1999 Ca’ Rome Barolo, Cerretta ($60)
    Radiant light ruby with garnet. This brooding nebbiolo has a hard mineral/iodine note that blends with the aromas of dense tar with ripe spiced plums. The texture is wonderful seeming lean at first then expanding into a concentrated blend of dense wild berries, licorice and tar flavors. The finish is incredibly long with sweet tar flavors requiring a toothbrush before they go away. The tannins are still intense at this point and I would wait until at least 2010 before pulling the cork on this stunning wine. This wine is probably available at some great prices as retailers make room for the hyper-hyped 2000 vintage so keep an eye out and if you see a deal grab every bottle you can.