Listening, Wine and Bach

My wife is out-of-town, visiting her sister. That means I can crank up the tunes. I was rockin' out tonight during dinner. My Sonos was shaking the house with - Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

What's fascinating about loud Bach is that you feel much the same as if you were listening to The Beatles or the Stones (yes, I'm old). The passion and beat makes you tap your toes. One of the compelling aspects of this recording (listened to loud!) is that you hear Gould's humming and grunts as he plays Bach with the same emotional intensity that B.B. King plucked Lucille on The Thrill is Gone.

Said Gould, "I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." Can you think of a better description of a great wine?

This is the why a point scale can never hope to define, or explain, much less quantify the experience of wine. It is too complicated to boil down this complex interaction of humans and nature over literally thousands of years to a decimal point.

Dinner tonight was pressure cooker wine-braised pork short-ribs (90 minutes) with a reduction made from the broth and for the wine 2010 Donkey & Goat "Five Thirteen" El Dorado, Red Wine Blend (47% grenache, 21% syrah, 16% mourvèdre, 10% counoise, 6% cinsault). Like Gould, this wine hummed and grunted in the background during its performance with a whiff of volatile acidity and a little funk, but like Gould it delivered. Exciting and fun it lifted the dinner to a new height. How many points? Don't insult it.

As Bach proved and Gould restated, there is real power in refinement, elegance and discipline. Power itself is not something to be revered. Powerful wines get high points because, as Gould said, they deliver "a momentary ejection of adrenalin." I think in winemaking a little reflection on Gould's thoughts on the justification and purpose of art can be applied to our craft. All to often we pursue the external, not the internal, or nature's purpose for wine.

To repurpose the Gould quote, the purpose of wine is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity. Powerful wines may give that injection of adrenalin on the first sip, but they do not deliver a sense of wonder and serenity instead becoming trophies to hoard.

It takes courage to let your own personal vision and passion show through in your work. You'll be hard pressed to find wine brands that roll off your tongue that have even a bit of courage.

When you first hear the humming on Glenn Gould's recording of the Goldberg Variations (both the 1955 and 1981 versions) you think something is wrong with the recording. Then, with repeated listening and a little homework on your part you understand that you are hearing something personal and truly expressive. With compelling, memorable wines the experience and requirements are the same.

It's not how loud it is, it's how well you're listening.


It was a serene experience. Peaceful and focused. We waited and he arrived seeming almost bemused by our presence. For us he was already a deity, which was a title he did not seek for himself, nor one he needed.

It was a cold spring morning and we could just see our breath as our eyes swept over the gentile beauty of Valpolicella. The air around us was hazy with the smoke of burning vine cuttings and the blossoms were just breaking on the trees. Just then his daughter appeared and led us down into his cellar. After a short wait he arrived surveying the group with a casual curiosity.

Over the next hour and a half he talked softly and smiled gently. For him it was enough to let his wines do all the talking. He was not looking for the deference with we treated him, but it fit him well. As always in such a group some did not understand what they were tasting, but he took no offense at their lightness any more than he did at those who where too ernest in their worship.

We tasted through the entire gallery of his creations. Their greatness requires no comment here

When we left I was the last to go. “Ringrazie, arrivederLa,” I said. I stood a good foot taller than the great man, who then reached up and patted my cheek and said, “bravo.”

We live in a “ciao” world, but to say “ciao” to such greatness just seemed wrong.

Ringrazie e ArrivederLa Signore Quintarelli

Pictured above is that tasting with Signore Quintarelli in the spring of 2000

The Sad Passing of Winemaker Baldo Cappellano

The sad passing of Barolo winemaking great Baldo Cappellano is marked by three wine bloggers who knew him well.

He fought tirelessly against the homogenization and over-commercialization of wine and was a steadfast opponent of the use of international grape varieties in Italian wine. Memories of Baldo Cappellano « Do Bianchi

One of those gentle giants, long and weedy, he is winemaker, jokester, philosopher.
—Alice Feiring

The world of wine — and not just Piedmontese wine and not just the Barolo and Langa community (which he represented with authority) — is in mourning today for the sudden and cruel passing of Teobaldo Cappellano. He was a tireless activist and an advocate of lost causes — causes even more worthy for the very fact they were lost — because when you know that you have no chance to prevail, defending your beliefs is even more righteous.
—Franco Ziliani, Vino al Vino


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Save Brunello! A Debate

I received this press release below from noted Italian wine writer and blogger Franco Ziliani, who has been the source of so much good information on the recent "scandal" in Brunello. This should be well worth tuning into as staunch traditionalists Ziliani, Jeremy Parzen and the great Teobaldo Cappellano of Barolo take on hard core modernists Ezio Rivella and Vittorio Fiore. The modernist are lobbying to allow varieties other than sangiovese in Brunello di Montalcino. I shall be heartily rooting for Team Ziliani.

Face to face on Brunello

Controversial views of Ziliani and Rivella’s challenge, are the highlight of the first face to face on Brunello, developed after well-known facts that have involved the most famous Italian wine. The debate will see as protagonists the journalist Franco Ziliani, editor of the wine blog coupled with Barolo producer, Teobaldo Cappellano, and the oenologist Ezio Rivella, managing director of Villa Banfi for many years, coupled with the oenologist Vittorio Fiore. All it will be moderated by professor Dino Cutolo, teacher at Siena University, anthropologist and wine lover.  The “duelers” will challenge until the last word, supporting their theories, and all will be live broadcasted in streaming on and on www.vinarius.itThe rendezvous is on the 3rd of October, at the first floor of Palazzo del Rettorato, Via Banchi di Sotto, 55 in Siena.

Note: I assume you'll get more out of this if you speak Italian. If not, I'm sure we can depend on Jeremy to have a report in English on his blog, Do Bianchi.

Italy Guarantees Brunello

Italy ‘guarantees’ Brunello -

The recent “scandal” in Brunello di Montalcino has forced the Italian government to guarantee that all Brunello wines hitting the American shore are made from sangiovese and sangiovese alone. Funny, I thought that’s what the DOCG did.

The hypocrisy of the TTB in such matters is truly sad. Under the guise of consumer protection, the TTB continues to make the American market a mess with reams of confusing and contradictory regulations. Their wasting time on a matter the Italians were clearing handling on their own only shows how out of touch with the world of wine they are. Anyway, anyone who has gotten a look at the true majesty of Italian bureaucracy, which may be the most complex and convoluted in the world, would realize that the piling on of an American bureaucracy was redundant at best.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of this scandal is a new blog in English that comes from the heart of Montalcino itself. Alessandro Bindocci, who makes wine alongside his father Fabrizio at the outstanding Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino, has launched a blog that truly tells the story of making wine in Montalcino. The Montalcino Report gives you an insiders look at the news and vintage from people who really know what is happening. Anyone interested in the wines of Montalcino should subscribe to this blog.

Another important blog for those who, like me, are seriously smitten by Italian wines is Franco Ziliani’s VinoWire. Also in English, Ziliani, along with American writer Jeremy Parzen, author of one of my favorite American blogs Do Bianchi, offers up to the minute information on the entire Italian wine industry. Those that can read Italian will find Ziliani’s Vino al Vino blog another excellent resource.

Blogs like these really show how the Internet is changing the way you get information. If you follow these blogs and others like them the wine news you get from traditional print media will be old news by the time it arrives in your mailbox.

A Little Sad

mondavi It was a little sad. Our host pulled out a bottle of 1992 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and poured it around the table and we all immediately raised our glasses to the memory of Robert Mondavi, who recently passed away. The wine was lovely, everything a mature cabernet should be with a firm elegant character, a wonderful cigar box nose and that long, linear, intellectual finish that defines the variety at its best.

The sad part was not the passing of Mr. Mondavi, who lived a full and meaningful life into his nineties. It's hard to think of someone who lived a fuller life and no one left a bigger imprint on the American wine industry. The sad part was a wine blog post I read earlier in the day that grumped away about all the coverage of his death, wondered what the big deal was all about and why he should care. Writing a wine blog and not knowing about Robert Mondavi is like writing a blog about American history without knowing who George Washington was. How can a wine writer that doesn't understand the immense impact of Robert Mondavi provide meaningful commentary on the American wine industry? They can't and that's a little sad.

Understanding the sublime art that great wine can become is more than pulling the cork and giving it points. In every bottle of California wine that achieves greatness there will always be a bit of Robert Mondavi. To not understand that is to not fully know or appreciate that wine. It is the human spirit that raises wine from a beverage to an emotion.

We can be assured that there have been thousands of corks pulled from treasured old bottles of Robert Mondavi's wines in the last week and tens of thousands of glasses raised in his honor and memory. I can't think of a better tribute.

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Tony Rynders Rolls On

TonyR%20headshot.jpgWinemaker Tony Rynders, who has rolled up an extraordinarily long list of highly regarded wines in his ten years at Domaine Serene has moved on to his own business. Those of you who want to follow Tony can now find him at his new website and blog at Friends of Tony should drop by and leave their best wishes.

Natural Spoofulation

anfore gravner The passionate Alice Feiring and her new book, The Battle for Wine and Love, have fanned the flames of the natural winemaking debate. In particular she has bruised the feelings of the California wine industry, to which she has not been very complimentary. This has resulted in some lively back and forth on the side of the Californians in The Los Angeles Times, hardly a surprising forum for the pro-California view. I applaud Alice’s spirited attack on industrial wines and support of wines with personality and a sense of place. Her intensity has helped keep the debate a debate.

Extreme positions help sell books and it looks like Alice has done a good job in riling up the Californians and keeping her book in the headlines. I’m sure if the truth came out Alice, like me, has a long list of California wines she loves.

It’s becoming the spoofulators vs. the natural movement and the main spoofulators seem to be in California. Yet this raises the question of what’s really natural or not and at what point the line is crossed from one to the other. It’s not as clear as it may seem. At some point it is just as bad to do too little to the wine as it is to do too much. Bad wine is bad wine, natural or not.

Let’s take a look at the revered (I agree) wines of Josko Gravner in northeastern Italy on the border with Slovenia. Gravner ferments and ages his white wines on the skins and seeds for six or seven months in terra cotta amphorae coated with beeswax. This has a somewhat dramatic (to say the least) impact on the flavor and color of his wines. Is this natural winemaking or a kind of natural spoofulation? The wines of Gravner are extreme wines manipulated to that style by the hand of the winemaker. Are the techniques of Clark Smith more intrusive than this? I’m not sure this is a question that has been answered.

There are a few buzzwords out there that seem to define the natural wine forces: biodynamic, indigenous yeasts, little or no sulfur and never, never any machines.  Yet there are a whole array of interventions other than these that winemakers impose on their wines either because they dream of crafting great art like Gravner or because they are commercial winemakers that must put out a good tasting stable wine year-after-year to keep their jobs. It seems a bit preposterous to return to primitive methods of winemaking that more-often-than-not have the potential to produce faulted wines. Not all progress is inherently bad and any good winemaker will do everything needed to improve their wines. Many winemakers resolve this conflict between their desire to be part of the natural movement and the realities of putting better wine in the bottle by forgetting to talk about certain things when they talk to the press.

Great wines are made, they don’t just happen. That’s why they call them winemakers. There is an incredible array of tools and knowledge available to today’s winemakers. To not make use of any of these tools and techniques does not make any sense. However, what you do with these many new tools is all important. You can’t make wine without manipulation, but without a doubt you can’t make great wine with with over-manipulation. I believe in terroir. I have tasted it in wines way to often to have any doubt.  As long as a winemakers manipulations are designed to enhance that terroir I don’t have any problems with them.

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Debating Points: Spoofulation

debate I find George Will particularly irritating. The conservative columnist and television commentator is just too smart and well-spoken. All too often in face-to-face debates he shreds the argument of the liberal commentator across the table from him with his swifter wit and broader knowledge. It ticks me off no end.

In the debate about so called “natural” winemaking we have the same situation. Clark Smith, winemaker, super-consultant and king of spoofulated wines as the owner of Vinovation, is becoming as irritating to me as Will and for the same reasons. Smith, who makes his own wines besides consulting and “correcting” wines for hundreds of wineries, just has too much knowledge and experience for it to be a fair fight when it comes to debating winemaking ethics with people who have never made wines themselves. All to often these people are known as wine writers. It does surprise me how many writers who have don’t have enology degrees and whose experience working harvests is more akin to adventure vacations than real winemaking come to consider themselves winemaking experts. After all, does a trip to a dude ranch make you a cowboy?

Smith uses his superior knowledge and experience to effectively dismantle the “natural” winemaking debating team’s positions (which I mostly agree with) as he did in a recent article published on Appellation America’s website called Spoofulated or Artisanal, which is well worth reading. Spoofulated, for those unfamiliar with the term that debuted on the Wine Therapy Forum and became part of wine lingo, refers to manipulated wines, which are often made in a style that appeals to Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator. It is a word used as an insult by those seeking a more terroir-driven winemaking experience as spoofulated wines all-to-often taste more-or-less the same.

Is spoofulation always evil? I don’t think so. Commercial wines, which are produced for consumers not seeking nuance or complexity, but just a “winey” tasting beverage are better wines than ever due to these techniques. For all to long these inexpensive wines produced in huge quantities were thin and faulted. However, now those seeking nothing more can easily buy clean, fruity wines that neither require nor invite thought or contemplation. It is a fact of the market that the vast majority of consumers are perfectly satisfied with such wines and want nothing more. Clark Smith and his methods are a positive boon to such consumers.

It’s when wines pretend  to more lofty goals that Clark Smith and I part company. I’ll draw an arbitrary line at the $10 a bottle point. That’s starting to get expensive and I think the consumer has a right to expect that wines with different labels will actually be different wines. The main problem with spoofulated wines is that they all taste the same. The differences get manipulated out as the wine is more-and-more manipulated. The fact that there are so many expensive New World wines that exhibit the bright simple ripe flavors of the commercial wines mentioned above is a real problem that is starting to destroy the reputation of places like the Napa Valley. Consumers that are willing to spend a significant amount of money for these wines are starting to realize how boring they are.

On the other end of the argument are writers who are “natural” wine fundamentalists who seem to believe the high point in winemaking knowledge was achieved by the Romans and any technique or knowledge achieved after Nero are unnatural manipulations that destroy a wines terroir. Of course such extremists only display their limited winemaking knowledge and a lack of sophistication as they (instead of the wines) are manipulated by winemakers who tell them only what they want to hear. While there are many winemakers who believe in and practice minimalist, natural winemaking, there are few to none willing to let several tons of fruit in a fermenter with problems become garbage without taking actions that don’t always meet these ideals. These are stories that journalists are unlikely to hear or understand if they did. Contrary to some writers opinions, winemakers sometimes actually have to make wine.

Spoofulators like Clark Smith and biodynamic guru Nicolas Joly actually have more in common than partisans on either side of the debate understand. Both are passionate, brilliant winemakers who are driven to pursue their vision of what makes a wine great. To make a truly great wine you need to ignore the ranting of journalists and the whims of consumers and make the wine you believe in. This is something that winemakers like Smith and Joly share.

As always, those that oversimplify issues are usually blinded to the finer points of the debate. 


Big Pinot

loring_wine_11310_m I never got the big pinot thing. Happily, it seems now that the pendulum is swinging the other way, best of all, it's back to my side. My biggest complaint about the point-driven fad for big pinot is that they really had no reason to exist. If you wanted a big wine there were varieties out there that could handle the job with more elan. If you want big drink syrah or zinfandel, which excel at the task, not super-charged pinot that is barely holding itself together as a wine.

Oddly enough I seem to have a new teammate in this struggle against goopy pinot noir. The odd part is that it is winemaker Brian Loring, the "poster boy" of big pinot. On a recent thread on Wine Therapy, winemaker Loring makes the following statement, "While I was the poster boy for "the darker side" of Pinot Noir... I'm happier now making wines that are in the mid 14s (alcohol) and have enough acid to live at least 3 or 4 years in bottle. I'm done with the "dry port" style... that just turns to prune juice after 3 years."

I applaud Brian for his guts and honesty. This is an almost unbelievable statement for a winemaker to make these days and only someone of great passion would take the risk. I can't wait to try some of his new wines.

While this is a testament to Brian's integrity and devotion to winemaking, it is a strong indictment against those wine writers who gave 90+ score-after-score to wines, which in Brian's own words, "that just turns to prune juice after 3 years". I can't fault Brian for this as he was doing what he truly believed in and when he found it was the wrong path changed directions. As in all art, not everything works. However, the so called expert critics should have known better. Once again reviews provided by "sixty second tasters" fail the consumer.

With all varieties there will be excellent wines made that range from robust to delicate. However, wines that are over-the-top should be easily recognized by any critic worth following.

Perfection in Pleasure

jeanpaulbrun.jpgA more beautiful line-up of wines you’ll not see from one producer than the 2005 releases from Domaine des Terres Dorées. Each of Jean-Paul Brun’s current Beaujolais releases are nothing short of perfection in pleasure. These are among the prettiest wines you will ever look at, smell, taste or fondly remember.

It’s no surprise these gems are imported by Louis/Dressner, who comments on their web site about Brun’s wines, ” Brun’s view is that Beaujolais drinks best at a lower degree of alcohol and that there is no need to systematically add sugar to the must (chaptalize) to reach alcohol levels of 12 to 13 degrees. So he chaptalizes minimally or not at all — depending on the vintage and the cuvée. His Beaujolais is made to be pleasurable — light, fruity and delicious — not an artificially inflated wine that shines at tasting competitions. Only a minimal amount of S02 is used at bottling to keep the wine fresh and “headache-free”. Fermentation naturally produces a lot of CO2, which acts as protection against oxidation during aging; leaving some in the wine at bottling time also helps to keep it fresh. Filtration is also minimal so that the wine keeps its original fruit and aromas. Brun’s wines are not ‘blockbusters’ in the sense of ‘big.’ The emphasis is not on weight, but on fruit: Beaujolais as it once was and as it should be.”

I have never tasted a wine from Brun that was not delicious and in the excellent 2005 vintage he has reached new heights. While Brun’s Beaujolais à l’Ancienne seems readily available in many markets, his Cru wines are not. If you want them I’d quickly check out Chambers Street Wines as they seem to have most of the few bottles available.

The first thing that these wines have in common is that they are absolutely alive. Not just lively, which they are, but alive. While most wines lie dead in the bottle waiting to be consumed, Brun’s wine seem coiled like a spring in the bottle waiting for the experience of your palate to complete the winemaking process. Next is a brilliant, ruby purple color that seems to radiate out of your glass. Then there is their purity. There is just something about these wines that that communicates the purity of the process that brought them to your table. You’ll not taste cleaner wines.

Brun’s 2005 Beaujolais releases:

  • Beaujolais à l’Ancienne - this has been my house wine of choice for several years now. Always perfectly balanced and mouthwatering, I can think of few wines that can bring alive such a broad range of foods. You’ll need to buy this by the case as you’ll find yourself grabbing for a bottle again and again. While always delicious, this wine has reached new heights in pure pleasure in 2005. While drinkable now, it will certainly keep for a few years.
  • Fleurie - a high strung, delicate flower of a wine. Electric and racy with a graceful swirl of wildflowers and spice.
  • Morgon - Richer and rounder, but no less alive. Deeply zesty black fruits open into minerals, spice and lilting wisps of cassis. Weightless power.
  • Moulin-a-Vent - The biggest, most powerful delicate wine I’ve ever tasted. With some kind of sleight of hand, this wine teases the palate with a richness that refuses to be heavy handed. A brilliant wine with amazing complexity and a balance that should inspire all winemakers.
Jean-Paul Brun is nothing less than a great winemaker.



Belli Gemelli

The passing of winemaker/artist Bartolo Mascarello caused much  concern for the future of the label, but anyone familiar with the Barolo scene knew that Bartolo’s daughter, Maria Teresa, had taken the reigns of this venerable estate some years ago and, if anything, had only improved the wines. While a majority of the attention deservedly goes to Maria Teresa’s Baroli, those missing her other wines are making a mistake.

Her current releases of 2004 Bartolo Mascarello, Barbera d’Alba, Vigna San Lorenzo and 2005 Bartolo Mascarello, Dolcetto d’Alba, Vigne Monrobiolo-Ruè are beautiful twins, though certainly not identical twins as they each reflect the beauty of their varieties and vineyards, but are twins related by a pure winemaking style that makes them both sing on the palate.

These are two wines that lift the spirit and your meal. No they don’t challenge the complexities of her Barolo, nor should they, but you will find no better examples of Barbera and Dolcetto in their purist form. These are wines to buy by the case (if you’re lucky enough to be able to do so) for drinking over the next several years.

Hot Pepper

Norm McKibben is Walla Walla. Obviously, you also have give credit to Leonetti, L’Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon, whose great wines showed the possibilities of this region, but it was Norm that pushed it over the top. In 1991 he planted Pepper Bridge and in 1994 he purchased Seven Hills Vineyard making him the owner of two of the Northwest’s finest vineyards and the two vineyards that define Walla Walla. 

As well as Norm speaks, nothing can speak better than his wines at Pepper Bridge, which are nothing short of spectacular. The Pepper Bridge wines, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, are wines that make you stop and take notice that you are tasting wines on a different level. Sourced from both Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards, these wines prove the potential for greatness in wines from Walla Walla.These are world-class collectibles that should be cellared for years before pulling their corks. Those that wait will be rewarded with wines of incredible depth and complexity. Those that don’t will get the same thing, but on a lower plane of consciousness.

La Gramière on Tour

gramiere on tour.JPG

La Gramière Côtes du Rhône, the new wine from our favorite winemaker bloggers in the Rhône, Amy Lillard and Matt Kling, is on its inaugural world release tour. Pictured here, I show a bottle of  La Gramière  around Oregon’s Willamette Valley and our vineyards at Anne Amie. However much I want to try a bottle of their new wine, as it is unfined and unfiltered I will give it a month or so to adjust to its new surrounding here in Oregon. Natural wines like La Gramière, which are produced with as little intervention as possible, require patience on the part of the consumer as their natural harmony is disrupted by the stress of travel. Just like you are blasted by jet lag when you travel back-and-forth over long distances, natural wines need time and rest to show their best. When the time is right I will share my comments on their new wine. However, I will certainly not “review” it as this wine is a statement of passion shared with us by Amy and Matt and this is to be respected at all costs as something all to rare in winemaking today.

Welcome to Oregon La Gramière!

(you can welcome La Gramière to your house by calling importer Kermit Lynch at 510.524.1524 )

Road Warrior: Vietti on Tour

LucaCurrado_MarioCordero.jpgLuca looks tired. At times his eyes wander off and many a suppressed yawn tries to pass his lips. Yet, each time a new person steps before him to ask a question he has heard hundreds of times before he lights up and answers with enthusiasm and charm. He comes back to life for each individual because what he makes means something special to him and he wants them to know.

This Luca is none other than Luca Currado, renowned winemaker for the famed Azienda Agricola Vietti located in Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Barolo region, Italy’s crown jewel of wine. The name of Vietti is one of this regions most important names as Luca’s father, Alfredo Currado (son-in-law of founder Mario Vietti) played an integral part of making Barolo what it is today as he was the first to bottle single vineyard wines and started the trend that made the white wine Arneis one of Piemonte’s most successful wines. Luca, along with brother-in-law Mario Cordero have taken their father’s success to even higher levels firmly establishing the Vietti label as one of the Langhe’s premier brands.

Luca looks tired for good reason. He has just finished an exhausting harvest and has immediately hit the road to promote his wines throughout the United States and then, after a day or two at home, he’s off to Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is just one of the three trips Luca makes to the USA every year. Yet, with this brutal schedule he is still able to treat every question from every consumer as important - no matter how many times he has heard it. Why is he doing this? The Vietti name is well established in all the world’s markets and they will easily sell the modest amount of wine they produce from their 70 acres of vines. Just watching Luca answers the question. He is on the road yet again because selling the wine is not enough. Luca wants people to understand what they are drinking and why it tastes the way it does. Luca pushes himself back on the road because he believes in their wines. The same passion he puts into growing the grapes and making the wines goes into selling the wines. He wants them to know why they like his wines.

Finally the “Barolo Wars” of the nineties are fading away as producers step back from the excesses of experimentation and emulation to combine the best knowledge of modern enology and viticulture with the distinctive methods and vineyards that made Barolo great to begin with.  The Vietti wines are some of the best examples of this modern, yet more thoughtful and sensitive style. You cannot categorize the Vietti wines as either “modernist” nor “traditionalist” as they combine the best parts of both schools and don’t approach the excesses of the extreme modernists. Luca’s father Alfredo would probably not be pleased to see the barriques in their winery and these are not his fathers wines, but what they do have in common is dedication to excellence - something they both have achieved.

The following wines were tasted on Luca’s recent visits to Liner and Elsen Wine Merchants and Alba Osteria, both in Portland Oregon.

  • Barbera d’Aba, Tre Vigne, 2004 - Brilliantly fresh and clean with deeply concentrated black raspberry fruit. Very lively and mouthwatering with a wonderfully zesty bittersweet finish. ($22)
  • Barbera d’Alba, Scaronne 2004 - If there is a more complex barbera out there than Scaronne I’d be hard pressed to name it. A big wine, but not simply chunky big like Spinetta. Dramatic and intense while still maintaining that punchy barbera verve. Densely colored and expansive from start to the never-ending finish. Wait a few years for this one to grow up. ($43)
  • Barbera d’Asti, La Crena, 2001 - Deep, earthy and brooding with almost a nebbiolo like firmness. A big (not heavy) wine that has no business with a pasta, but would be more at home with a big aged prime steak. Great complexity, with layers of earth and porcini over rich wild black cherry fruit.
  • Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2004 - Bargain hunters pay attention. Here is real nebbiolo character for under 20 bucks. Fresh, bright fruit flavors soon give way to classic leather and dried rose characteristics that can only belong to nebbiolo. Forward by nebbiolo standards and more than drinkable now, I’d still age this another year or so to really squeeze all the complexity you can out of it. A great starting place if you’re new to Barolo and an everyday treat for hard core Barolo nuts. ($20)
  • Barolo, Castiglione, 2000 - Brilliant , classic dark garnet color. Warm and floral on the nose with only sweet touches of tobacco and tar. Round and forward (by Barolo standards remember!) and already drinkable if matched with rich foods. One of the more focused wines you’ll taste from the warm 2000 vintage. The Castiglione selection is still only aged in the large traditional barrels, but exhibits some of the same rounded tannins many modern-style producers hope for. If you have not tasted a Barolo before this is an excellent introduction and a good buy. ($40)
  • Barolo, Rocche, 1998 - A classical beauty with a brilliant translucent garnet color and aromas that won’t let your nose leave the glass. Lean and mean and fantastic - perfectly combining the unique intertwined dance of bitterness, bite, grace, delicacy, power and sweetness that makes for great Barolo. I would wait a few more years as someday this will blow you away. ($90)
  • Barolo, Rocche, 1999 - If you have any chance to buy this wine do so because this is great Barolo. Take all the best parts of the 1998 and turn up the volume and you get this wonderful wine. Far more concentrated than the 98 it still retains the same balance and elegant structure. Nowhere near ready to drink, it’s still closed and brooding. Wait at least five more years and you’ll have a truly fine bottle of Barolo. ( $90)
  • Barolo 2003 new single vineyard releases: Rocche, Brunate, and Lazzarito (all $116) - One sip of these baby blockbusters sends your palate into sensory overload. Huge and round, as you would expect from the burning hot 2003 vintage, Vietti has still put together a group of wines that retain balance - albeit a very rich, powerful balance. It is important to note that while these wines see barriques, they only age in small barrels for six months and spend the majority of their time in traditional large Slovenian oak casks before bottling. Certainly not yet ready to drink unless you happen to be serving well-aged wild boar tonight, with moderate aging - say about 8 years or so - these should be some excellent wines.  In fact they’ll be just right for drinking while your still waiting for your 2001’s and 1999’s to grow up. The tannins in all of these wines are very substantial right now, but are really quite round, soft and integrated for Baroli this young.  As you would expect, the Rocche is the most graceful and fresh of this trio, showing good structure and the wonderful bright floral character that this vineyard always seems to show. The Brunate is a huge mouthful of Barolo that expands and overwhelms the palate with its depth and richness. As usual, in spite of its girth, the Brunate is charming with an almost forward appeal. The Lazzarito will almost take the enamel off your teeth with its biting, powerful tannins and deep bittersweet fruit laden with tobacco and tar. Incredibly intense and powerful, this is a wine you should not go near for years to come as it has plenty of aging to do. I’d say eight years is the minimum for this high-strung monster. If you want drama this is your wine. My vote out of these three would go to the Rocche, but it’s too early to make that call. Tasting them together is a great look at the different characteristics of these vineyards.

(pictured above Luca Currado and Mario Cordero)

La Gramière! On The Water!

 News from La Gramière:

“Colorado, Germany and California - here comes La Gramière! Yup! It’s a very busy time as far as shipments go. On October 2nd we shipped 60 cases to ColoradoPict0033_1 and then on the 6th, 50 to Germany. Our garage, where the wine is stored (in a temperature controlled setting, of course) only has river rock on the ground. At bottling we leveled the palates and then stacked the wine on case by case. This poses a problem when it comes to moving an entire palate though, no way to get a fork-lift in, or even a pallet mover. Hmmm. We built a platform for the pallet-mover to roll on and placed an empty pallet on the ground. Then we put a second empty pallet on top of the first, and subsequently re-stacked all 60 cases onto two pallets for the Colorado shipment. In Europe the standard wine box only contains 6 bottles. As you know, in the US, it’s 12 bottles. So for US customs we had to tape two boxes together in order to say that there were 12x750ml bottles equalling 9 liters of wine in each box. More fun with tape here at La Gramiere! Of course when the transporter arrived, he didn’t have a pallet-mover like he was supposed to, so we had to go borrow one from the village garden store. Luckily they could do without it for awhile! When we rolled it in and it wouldn’t fit under the slats! The pallets were too low! UGH! We finally got the first one out with a little prying and tugging, then the second one was much easier. Luckily the truck driver was super nice and more than happy to try every option in order to get them out! I won’t even go into the pick-up for Germany. It’s another funny story, but too long for this post!On Monday they are picking up 4 pallets, 200 US cases, or 2400 bottles, heading for Kermit Lynch’s store in Berkeley. Needless to say, we are spending the weekend working on our paletting techniques!”

la gramiere: Colorado, Germany and California - here comes La Gramière!

Everyone who has followed the lovely story of La Gramière on their blog should get their orders in now as their wine is on the way to the USA. I’m calling in my order for a case to San Francisco tomorrow!



The Passing of Henri Jayer

henryjayer.jpgAnyone who loves pinot noir reveres the name and wines of Burgundy’s Henri Jayer and it is with great sadness I note his passing just reported by Burghound’s Allen Meadows on

“It is with deep regret that I inform the board members that Henri Jayer passed away last night after a long illness. Jayer was renowned and admired the world over for his lush, seductive, well-balanced and impeccably crafted burgundies and was arguably the most famous Burgundian winemaker ever. Just as importantly, he unquestionably has had the greatest impact and influence among today’s generation of Burgundian winemakers. He was a man of strong convictions about how wines should be made but the superb quality of his wines, even in difficult vintages, certainly provided persuasive evidence that his methods worked. And the auction market voted with its pocketbook as well, according Jayer wines enormous valuations, indeed on a consistent par with those of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
I knew Jayer for years and also admired and respected his philosophies, work ethic and ultimately, the results he so consistently achieved. Hanky J, as he was affectionately referred to, will be missed. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and admirers.

Please click here for the growing and moving tribute thread on