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. 

Beppe Colla

He quietly moves through the winery with a slight limp. He greets visitors with a humble handshake and smile then goes back to his work. This quiet man is Beppe Colla and he is one of the giants of Langhe winemaking standing in importance alongside the greatest names of the region like Giacomo Conterno, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo,  Renato Ratti, Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado: people that defined Barolo and Barbaresco and laid the foundation for the wines of today.

For over fifty years Beppe Colla has made wine in the Langhe and has seen the transition of this zone from a region on the edge of disaster to the home of some of the worlds most expensive and sought after wines. From his first vintage in 1948 ( a disastrous vintage) and his just completed 56th vintage in 2004 (which looks to be an excellent vintage) he has seen it all and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the climate and vineyards of the Langhe zone and has personally experienced every vintage of the modern era of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is this incredible range of experience that he brings to winemaking at Poderi Colla.

After working for other producers, Colla acquired the Prunotto winery in 1956 and quickly set about turning it into one of the regions best wineries. In 1961, (in his opinion the finest vintage he has experienced) he bottled the first range of single- vineyard wines in the zone: Barolo Bussia, Barbaresco Montestefano, Nebbiolo Valmaggio, Barbera d’Alba Pian Romualdo, Dolcetto d’Alba Cagnassi, Freisa Ciabot del prete. Their quality and clear distinctive character convinced others to follow his lead and changed the entire concept of winemaking in Barolo and Barbaresco, which had always been blended wines. As a founder of the “cru” concept in the region Colla has firm ideas of what are the finest vineyards of the area and singles out the following sub-zones as the greatest nebbiolo vineyards:

Barolo: Cannubi a Barolo, Brunate a La Morra, Bussia a Monforte, Rocche di Castiglione a Castiglione Falletto, Vigna Rionda a Serralunga, Ginestra a Monforte
Barbaresco: Montestefano a Barbaresco, Rabajà a Barbaresco, Gallina a Neive, Rizzi a Treiso, Roncaglie a Barbaresco.

When asked what were his favorite wines he  produced during the time at Prunotto he singles out:Barolo Bussia 1961/1971/1982; Barbaresco 1964/1971/1978; 1961 Dolcetto d’Alba Caramelli; 1967 Nebbiolo d’Alba Occhetti; and 1971 Barbera d’Alba Pian Romualdo. Many of these classic Barolo and Barbaresco wines still appear on the auction market. I thought it was interesting to note that his favorites were not only Barbaresco and Barolo.

Looking back on almost six decades of winemaking Colla notes with satisfaction, “I have now seen, that after a first period of strong criticism, that all the producers have accepted the philosophy of bottling separately the different top vineyards.”

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.

Poderi Colla - traditional innovation

“Elegance, finesse, balance,” these are not words that many use when describing Burgundy, but for Barolo and Barbaresco words like powerful, tannic and potent are more common. However, for me, elegance, finesse and balance are the exact characteristics that describe the experience of nebbiolo at its finest. These characteristics are why lovers of either of these great mono-varietal wines also tend to love the other although they taste nothing alike. “Elegance, finesse, and balance” describe an experience not a flavor.

All to often, both Langhe winemakers and the press seem enamored of power. Giant, potent wines from the 1997 and 2000 vintages have received glowing notices at the expense of more refined and balanced vintages like 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Yet fine nebbiolo is not about size, but the tightrope it can walk between intensity and delicacy. Few wineries make wines that walk this tightrope as well as Poderi Colla.

Poderi Colla combines the talents of Federica Colla and Tino Colla, respectively daughter and brother of Langhe winemaking legend, Beppe Colla, who serves as winemaking consultant extrordinare. The Colla family originally brought Prunotto to fame and founded Poderi Colla after selling Prunotto to Antinori. “Elegance, finesse and balance,” are Tino Colla’s words when asked to define their wines and I could not agree with him more. Just as the wines of Prunotto were among the finest produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, today the wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe today.

Tino Colla sees the greatness of nebbiolo as coming from having a unique dimension, a “third dimension” as he puts it. That third dimension is the emotion that truly extraordinary wines can evoke. Most wines are two dimensional, but greatness comes from this third dimension and it is his goal at Poderi Colla to bring this experience to their wines. The soul of the Colla wines comes from their three outstanding vineyard locations:

Dardi le Rose, in the Bussia zone of Monforte in Barolo. The wines of this vineyard have been made by Beppe Colla since 1961. Bussia is not a vineyard, but a sub-region of the Monforte zone, just east of the Barolo commune, that includes such grand vineyards as Dardi, Pianpolvere and, in Bussia Soprana: Cicala, Gabutti, Colonnello, and Romirasco. All of which can appear under the Bussia name. The Dardi vineyard produces the most classic of Barolo wines, a style that requires significant bottle aging to release its full personality. The Dardi vineyard is at an altitude of 300 to 350 meters and is planted only with nebbiolo (60% michet and 40% lampia) in a perfect south, south-west exposure. Skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days. Aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 24 to 28 months.

Roncaglie, in the Barbaresco commune of the Barbaresco zone. Beppe Colla has made wines from this vineyard since 1956. The Roncaglie vineyard is in the heart of some of the Barbaresco commune’s finest vineyards. Located in the southwest corner of the Barbaresco commune, near the border with Treiso, the great vineyards of Roncaglie and Roncagliette forum an upside down “U” of perfectly exposed vineyards that would be a lot more famous if Gaja had not chosen to call his two vineyards located here Sori Tilden and Costa Russi instead of using the actual vineyard names. These vineyards produce some of the richest wines in Barbaresco combining depth of flavor with exotic aromatics. Besides the Barbaresco Roncaglie, this vineyard is home to the Barbera d’Alba Costa Bruna, Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo and the Langhe Chardonnay Pian Martino. The vineyard is between 240 and 280 meters above sea level. For the Barbaresco, skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days and aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 12 to 14 months.

Cascine Drago, located just outside of Alba near the Barbaresco zone was the property of Luciano Degiacomi, an old friend of Beppe, who ran the estate as a labor of love to feed his passion for wine. Degiacomi sold the property to the Colla family as he knew they would continue using the vines he had planted to make the finest wines possible. Here is planted nebbiolo for their Nebbiolo d’Alba along with riesling, freisa and the pinot noir vines that make the excellent pinot nero, Campo Romano. From these vineyards comes the dolcetto and nebbiolo for their blend Bricco del Drago, the original super-Piemontese blended wine. The vineyards here are between 330 and 400 meters in altitude.

Tino and Federica describe their philosophy as a commitment to “naturalness and originality”. Originality may seem a strange claim to make for wines so traditional in method and character, but in today’s world of wines made for judging, not drinking, the refined wines of Poderi Colla may indeed be original. These are wines made with as little human intervention as possible, even the anti-mold sprays used by most wineries are avoided in their vineyards, which are farmed in an organic style.

“Most of today’s wines are very similar, albeit obtained from very different climates and varieties: dense, dark wines with high alcohol content and loads of wood, oftentimes difficult to drink or match with food. We, on the other hand. wish to go in an entirely different direction, seeking not excess and forcibly “international wines”, but balance, finesse and original nuances. Our wines are not high-tech. They are man-made, with a strongly human element and outstanding concentration thanks to terroir and fruit and (no thanks to wood and machinery) and very sophisticated components. They are wines to be enjoyed with food, not to make a superficial splash at tastings,” say Tino and Federica.

One of the key aspects of the style of Poderi Colla is their obsession with picking their grapes at optimum ripeness - not over-ripeness. The super-maturity that mars so many Baroli and Barbaresci is the antithesis of the Colla style which features balance and complexity not power. “We don’t want a jammy nose,” says Tino Colla. “The passito flavors of Amarone are not correct for Barolo and Barbaresco.”

The wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe and the Barolo Dardi Le Rose and Barbaresco Roncaglie are a must-buy for anyone interesting in collecting wines for long-aging that exhibit the pure beauty of the nebbiolo grape. While the winemaking in the ripe 2000 vintage is to be commended for its restraint, the glories of the 1999 and 2001 vintage are very clear and the Colla’s have produced stunning wines in these fine vintages.

Tasting notes:

1999 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry and raspberry. The finish is concentrated, long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding, classic wine destined for long- term greatness; this wine needs at least ten years of aging and can benefit from more patience in good storage conditions. A classic Barolo that collectors should seek out. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2000 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Brilliant ruby, garnet, Just translucent. Deep ripe plums mixed with leather and dried roses on the nose. Big and rich on palate with a warm alcohol punch. A deep brooding wine with layers of bitter licorice and tar blended with sweet ripe cherry fruit. The finish is very concentrated and still closed with firm tannins made sweeter by ripe fruit and a warm, ripe richness. Perhaps the most ageable 2000 I have tasted and certainly among the most interesting. One of the few I would rate above an A. (Rating A+, outstanding)
2001 Barbaresco Roncaglie ($48)
Brilliant scarlet with orange garnet highlights. Quite translucent. Expansive, elegant wild flower highlights blend with an exotic spiciness and a firm, mineral tinged bittersweet raspberry fruit. A complete, pure nebbiolo on the palate. Firm black licorice, bitter tar and iodine touches intertwine with light hints of cassis and black truffles expand on the palate and grow in the firm, still angular finish. The tannins are still aggressive in the finish, but everything you could hope for is there and clearly this will be a grand wine in ten years or so. Classic in every aspect. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2001 Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, Langhe DOC ($26.00). Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Translucent. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark wild cherry. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry and wild strawberries expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. (Rating A, excellent)
2002 Nebbiolo d’ Alba ($24)
Brilliant light scarlet with orange hints. Quite translucent. The nose is layered with delicate fresh cherry fruit and bitter tar with a smoky porcini highlight. Elegant, balanced and restrained on the palate, it is already drinking well for such a firmly structured wine. The finish has plenty of grip, but is shows a silky gracefulness. Drink now and over the next several years. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating A-, excellent)
2002 Barbera d’Alba, Costa Bruna ($24)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Fresh, lively cherry aromas with a nice spicy touch. Very clean and lively on the palate with a brilliant, juicy finish. Drink this wine while young and fruity. A nice effort from a difficult vintage. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating B+, very good)
2000 Bricco del Drago, Langhe Rosso ($30)
Bright ruby with hints of purple and garnet highlights. Just translucent. Brilliant bright cherry fruit blends with earthy warm aromas on the nose. Forward ripe fruit with a sudden hard mineral impact. The finish has a dense ripe plum fruit blended with a firm tannic punch and a warm roundness. A unusual blend of clean sweet fruitiness with warm, brooding earthiness. The only Colla wine to see any barrique aging, some of which are new and aging ranges between 12 and 18 months. 85% dolcetto and 15% nebbiolo(Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo ($14 - Best Buy)
Brilliantly purple with ruby highlights. Just translucent. A fantastic dolcetto packed with mouth watering fruit. Expansive bright plums and cranberries on the nose lead to lively deep sweet cherry flavors with a fine mineral backbone and bitter tang. The finish is filled with warm raspberry fruit brought alive by a zesty acidity. Just plain delicious. drink now and over the next several years. Aged only in stainless steel. (Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Freisa, Langhe DOC ($14)
Freisa does not get any better than this. Brilliant bright ruby with purple highlights. Tooth jarring acidity explodes into deep sweet plum and blueberry fruit flavors. The finish is zesty with cassis highlights. A little gas is left in the wine for even more liveliness. Drink as soon as you can! (Rating B+, very good)

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato

AgataruchenavotaRuché just doesn’t taste like it comes from Piemonte. It is a graceful wine, elegant and floral with a body more defined by its lively acidity than its soft, round tannins. If there is a wine in Italy to relate to fine Beaujolais it is most certainly not the tart dolcetto, which is often referred to in that context, but the refined smoothness of ruché can be more than a little reminiscent of a Fleurie or Chènas. Of course, ruché is not Beaujolais and has its own distinct character, but as most people have not tasted this delicious wine it is a fair way to set a point of reference.

Ruché now sports its own DOC, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, and this small zone in the hills just outside of Asti is responsible for all the production from this rare variety. Now that DOC status has been awarded to this region you can expect to see production expand perhaps making ruché easier to find. This is one of those wines that one sip is likely to inspire gulps and case purchases. Ruché is pure forward fruit flavor.

Ruché is a bit of a mystery vine. Local wisdom says it is an ancient variety probably indigenous to the Monferrato hills. Even the origin of the name is unclear with some claiming it came from the name of a local monastery while another source points to a resistance to a particular vine disease. Whatever the case, little documentary evidence exists and the history of ruché is more folklore than fact.

Cantine Sant’Agata is making an exceptional assortment of ruché wines and excellent wines from Asti’s two other important red wine vines: barbera and grignolino. Founded in 1916, the present generation, Franco and Claudio Cavallero, produces 150,000 bottles of wine from their own vineyards, which total 30 hectares. Other than a small amount of chardonnay all their vines are indigenous and all their wines are of excellent quality and value.
Tasting Notes:
2003 Cantina Sant’Agata, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, ‘Na Vota ($19)
Brilliant ruby with a just a touch of purple, quite translucent. Smooth, forward ripe cherry vanilla nose with a bitter tinge. a touch of cassis and lovely hints of wildflowers and violets. Firm and fresh on the palate with flavors that expand and grow mirroring the forward yet complex fruit and flowers of the bouquet. In the finish the cassis dominates carried by a refreshing acid zip.(89) The warm 2003 vintage produced particularly rich versions of lesser known Piemontese varietals like ruché. grignolino and freisa and you should keep an eye out for them as they are now in the market. They also offer a special selection ruché, Pro Nobis, to continue the Beaujolais reference, it is to regular ruché what Moulin-a-Vent is to normal Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics of the ‘Na Vota on steroids. I will confess I prefer what I consider the more balanced ‘Na Vota, but I am probably in the minority on that choice with most consumers preferring the chunky Pro Nobis.

A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines (Northeast and other states)
Imported by Siema Wines (southeast and other states)
and other importers including: Wine Appellations

Barolo, Tenimenti Fontanafredda, La Rosa, 1999

FontanafreddalarosabottleLike Bordeaux and Burgundy, Barolo is a complex patchwork of communes and vineyards where sometimes the space of only a few meters changes the character of the wines produced. In Barolo and Barbaresco these differences were often lost as production was dominated by large producers who bought grapes from throughout the region and labeled them as simply Barolo or Barbaresco.

However, the explosion of estate bottled wines in Alba has been changing this and slowly-but-surely the market is becoming aware that there are differences between nebbiolo grown in Serralunga d’Alba and La Morra - just as there are recognized differences between St. Julien and St. Estephe or Corton and Volnay.

The commune Serralunga d’Alba is on the eastern edge of the Barolo zone and the sandstone soils produce some of the most tannic and structured of Barolo wines. At the northern tip of Serralunga, as it reaches towards Alba, sits the great La Rosa and Gattinera vineyards that surround the historic Fontanafredda estate. This estate is indeed part of Barolo history and some of the earliest Barolo wines produced came from these cellars – a tradition that dates back to 1878.

However, the greatness that was Fontanafredda had gone into hibernation until it was rescued by the bank. That’s right the bank – Fontanafredda was acquired by Immobiliari S.p.A, Gruppa Bancario Monte dei Paschi di Siena, who has also invested in two Tuscan wine properties, Poggio Bonelli and Chigi Saracini. This influx of capital and leadership has launched Fontanafredda on the road to reclaiming past greatness.

As one of the largest and oldest estates in the region they had a core of outstanding vineyard holdings - most notably La Rosa and Lazzarito in Serralunga d’Alba and La Villa (a sub-section of Paiagallo) in the Barolo commune to build upon. Under the leadership of Director General Giovanni Minetti and winemaker Danilo Drocco the entire Fontanafredda line has seen marked improvement, but what is most exciting is the introduction of a range of single vineyard wines from their classic vineyards which they have called Tenimenti Fontanafredda. This important range of wines includes offerings from all the important DOC and DOCG zones of the Alba and Asti region. Each is a single vineyard selection and the stars are, of course, the three Barolo selections; La Rosa, Lazzarito La Delizia and Paiagallo La Villa. The Tenimenti Fontanfredda releases make this estate once again a producer that should be considered by anyone who loves Piemontese wines and the 1999 La Rosa is a wine that deserves consideration from serious collectors.

Tasting Notes: 1999 Tenimenti Fontanafredda, Barolo, La Rosa
Bright ruby/scarlet with just the lightest hint of orange. Just translucent. The aromas are an exotic mix of ripe dark fruits and leather with hints of dried porcini mushrooms. Smoky ripe plums show in the nose and on the palate are followed by layers of dusty burnt cherries and bitter oranges that are still held in check 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 no oxidation on the forth day. Decidedly a wine for long-term cellaring. Imported by Wine Wave

Nebbiolo d'Alba, Bricco dell'Asino, Pira, 2000

Much is made of the Barolo Wars between the new and old style in Piemonte. One thing for sure,   if you love the new oaky style of Barolo you have to pay a lot for your pleasures. It seems the lowest prices in the modern style start around $50.00. No, Pira Nebbiolo d’Alba is not a Barolo, but the vineyard is just outside the DOCG and for around $30.00 this Nebbiolo d’Alba offers depth and complexity that can rival some of its more famous and expensive neighbors.      

Nebbiolo d’Alba is often misunderstood as a kind of declassified Barolo or Barbaresco, but they are in fact distinct DOC’s. While the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC surrounds Barolo and Barbaresco one cannot become the other. Declassified nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco becomes Langhe or Piemonte   Rosso — not Nebbiolo d’Alba. It is clear that there are vineyards in the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC that can produce wines of the same character and depth as some Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. They may not surpass wines from the likes of Brunate and Cannubi, but the best vineyards can clearly deliver wines of great character. Bricco dell’Asino is showing the promise to be one of these vineyards.

The Pira family acquired this estate in the 1960’s, but it was the arrival of GianMatteo Pira that launched this estate towards top quality wines. The Pira estate has become famous for their extraordinary Dolcetto wines from the Dogliani zone. Don’t confuse this estate with the excellent Barolo producer, Luigi Pira, in the town of Serralunga d’Alba. This Pira estate is located right on the border of Monforte d’Alba and Dogliani and so is allowed to produce wines with both the Alba and Dogliani place-names. GianMatteo’s dark and powerful Dogliani Dolcetto wines are among the best  of Piemonte and now, with the 2000 vintage, he is making a Nebbiolo d’Alba worthy of serious attention. He has aged this wine 100% in barrique and the toasty oak flavors will please fans of new-style Barolo.      

Tasting Notes: 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 delicious wine to drink. With short term aging - 2 or 3 years - you will have a great bottle. A Jens Schmidt Selection, Imported by Montecastelli Selections.

Barolo, Francesco Rinaldi, Barolo, Cannubbio, 1996

A really gorgeous mix of bright scarlet with radiant garnet that foretells of the elegant pleasures to come. Lean and dusty on the nose with hard bitter licorice and dried rose aromas slowly opening into ripe deep bitter cherry fruit. The initially hard attack on the palate grows into a graceful yet assertive blend of tannins, sour cherry, ripe raspberry and a lively mint with a leathery touch. The finish walks a tightrope between tense tannins, bitter black fruit flavors that grow into an almost juicy, yet delicate fruitiness.

I just purchased this bottle off the shelf in Portland (E and R Wines) for $60 and I can’t help but  wonder why anyone is buying the 2000’s while there is so much great wine from other vintages available. I just grabbed the last two bottles of 1996 Produttori dei Barbaresco Riserva Pora at a local gourmet grocery for $36. Everywhere I go there are bargains like these wines. Let the Wine Spectator readers grab up those fat 2000’s and spend time looking for the 96’s and 99’s scattered throughout the USA.