Sunday, January 16, 2011

Old Vintages of Barolo or Pour It and They Will Come

 There are wines that burn their way into your taste memory and turn rational analysis on its head. Somewhat like the magic of a great work of art, or the heartbreak of an exquisitely performed opera.  Try to bear this in mind because we are about to encounter one of those wines.

The Line Up
 The original line up for the tasting was two bottles each of the following wines: (My thinking, of course was that if one of these beauties was hopelessly lost, the other would, hopefully, still be palatable).
1962 Bersano Barolo, 1964 Giovanni Scanavino Barolo, 1978 Mauro Barolo, 1979 Bolla Amarone, 1981 Fontafredda Barolo and 1980 Brunello de Montalcino.
There were two more wines from the collection added to the list by popular vote: a 1981 Casa Vincola Nino Inferno and a 1984 Sassicaia.

 The guests for the evening were as follows:  two WSET Instructors with decidedly different teaching techniques, a Chef who also imports Italian wines amongst his other myriad endeavors, the wife of one of the WSET instructors, a very charming lady in her own right,  and a knowledgeable wine geek with no verbal inhibitions. We also had a friend with us whose wine knowledge basically consists of knowing what she likes, possibly not why, but who is never impressed by labels.  Add to the mix myself and, of course, Wendy, who shares most of the wine I drink and definitely all of the good ones.

1962 Bersano Barolo
  I had only  two bottles of this wine left in the cellar. The labels were scuffed and torn. Ullage was good, very high shoulder. I had high hopes for these; Barolos, produced before Barolo became a Doc. One bottle was the first to be opened  and was decanted for most of the evening. The second bottle was opened later and also decanted and aerated.  The nose never came around. To put it in wine geek terms, they ended up being DNPIM and PDTS. Do Not Put In Mouth and Pour Down The Sink. So sad.

1978 Mauro Osvaldo Barolo
 Typical old Barolo. Orange rim, light red colour . A little past its prime sadly, but still drinkable. Lots of sediment, still some tannins left, but soft. Still an enjoyable wine.

1981 Fontanafredda Barolo
 There was a lot of bottle variation between these two bottles. Both bottles were quite acceptable and drinkable. Bottle number one still had quite a bit of floral, rose notes while bottle number two had not as many aromatics. Both bottles had high amounts of volatile acidity, but in a juicy, lip smacking way. Clear, garnet coloured with an orange rim. Clean on the nose, but not a lot of intensity. Tarry with a tiny hint of sherry notes. Tannins were smooth, medium minus. This wine was full bodied with more on the palate than the nose. At its outside edge of being drinkable.

 1981 Casa Vincola Nino Negri Inferno
 I foolishly made a comment that I would open two more wines from my collection to be determined by a popular vote. Democracy is a terrible thing. We do not have any Infernos available here and, of course, we needed to try another nebbiolo. The nebbiolo character was there, but the Inferno lacked the power of the Barolos. Not a lot of aromatics remained, but this wine was still interesting on the palate. The nose was clean, but a little tired. The tannins in this wine were still much in evidence, as with the Barolos, but the refinement was lacking.

 1984 Sassicaia
 The Sassicaia was another one of the wines that everyone wanted to taste. I thought that it would be a good benchmark wine for the Barolos. Different region, different style. Wonderful wine, but the Barolos muscled it into the background and kicked sand in its face. It should not have been tasted with the Barolos. I have had this wine before and it was remarkable when experienced on it's own. I thought the Cabernet would stand out more when compared with the Nebbiolos.  That supposition turned out to be utterly and completely wrong.

1980 Brunello di Montalcino 
  Quite frankly, I did not intend to open this wine for this tasting. But, we had run out of wine. And...when you have a room full of wine geeks clamoring for more,  it is definitely in your best interest to keep them entertained. This is one of Wendy's favorites. "The Girl on the Label Wine". This Brunello also outdid the Sassicaia.  It has aged well, always lots of aromatics and fruit. As this was one of the wines tasted later in the evening, there were not a lot of detailed notes from anyone, just a lot of head nodding and lip smacking. It was picked as the second best wine of the evening. Every bottle of this wine that I have been privileged to experience has amazed me with its freshness and ability to persevere. Tannins like silk.

                                               1964 Giovanni Scanavino Barolo
At last we come to the star of the evening. Both bottles were virtually identical. The labels were almost perfect, ullage was as when just bottled. These were ready to drink upon opening. Everyone started out doing the tech notes on this go round. Tasted blind, this wine would have sung out Nebbiolo; tar and roses and violets in the background. The fruit was hanging on like a suit that has seen better days, but is so well-made you always choose it. When the first bottle was poured, the descriptors were flying about the room. Then, one by one, everyone seemed to have their moment of silence and meditation. It takes a remarkable wine to shut up a room full of of wine geeks with a glass of wine in their hands. Yet,we sometimes recognize when a wine deserves and demands our attention.  This is one of those wines. What  the  hell was this winemaker thinking when he was working with this wine? This is definitely a wine of its place and of its terroir. It must have been really incredible in its prime. Like Pavarotti's final performances, the power and the life is still there. Still breaking our hearts.

Monday, January 10, 2011



Barolo is one of the great wines of the world.  It was one of the first DOCGs granted, in 1980, which attests to the quality of wine produced in the region. This is a small DOCG, all of seven miles long and at its widest five miles, in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  Barolo wines have an ability to age for decades. The only grape permitted is the tannin monster, Nebbiolo.

Fontanafredda in the 1900's
It has been called the “King of wines and the wine of Kings”. Barolo was one of the favorite wines with the nobility and the ruling Kings of Savoy. The King of Savoy, Carlo Alberto owned various wine making estates in the region.  His son Victtorio Emanuele founded the estate Fontanafredda and the colors of the House of Savoy are still visible on the Frontafredda buildings to this day. Wine made by Kings and for Kings.

 Barolo and Nebbiolo both have a long history in the region but we will only highlight some of the important dates. Nebbiolo was mentioned as early as the 1200s. Some early legislation was enacted in 1909 to try and define the area and protect the name of Barolo. The boundaries changed a few times in the 1920's and in 1930 and again in 1934. However, there was little change in the region during the war years. In 1966, Barolo was awarded its DOC and its DOCG in 1980, again with some small boundary changes.

 The Barolo zone has many different mesoclimates, soil types and altitudes that have broad effects on the wine produced. To simplify the complicated geology, there are two basic soil types producing two broad styles of wine. The wines of the Serralunga Valley tend to be a little bigger, with more tannins and higher alcohol. This area has a sand and limestone soil structure. The Central Valley to the west, La Morra, and the Barolo commune itself, to me, have more perfumed and truffle aromas, with less tannins.  This valley has more clay and manganese in the soil. The wine producer can at times override the terrior though; it is best to compare one producer's different versions.

 There are eleven communes in the DOCG.  Five which produce the majority of wine: Barolo, La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and Monforte d’Alba . The other six are Verdune, Novello, Diano d’Alba Grinzane, Cavour, Roddi and Cherasco. These communes have been further divided into Cru style vineyards, somewhat similar to Burgundy. These vineyards though, have not been assigned a status as have Burgundy’s premier crus or grand crus.  The Slow Food Group spent quite a few years researching and mapping these vineyards. This mapping was built upon Renato Ratti’s “Carta del Barolo”. Many producers since the eighties have been doing single vineyard bottling; you will see the name of the vineyard on the label. Some producers still only bottle a regional wine made from blends from vineyards all over the region, which is more traditional. Their thinking is that a blend of various vineyards makes for a better fuller wine. With all the possibilities of commune vineyards, producers and soil types you could have a nice lifetime hobby tasting all the variations and styles.

Barrique at Marquis de Barolo
There has been some controversy in the past about how Barolo should be made. There are the tradionalists and the so-called modernists. The tradionalists use long maceration periods of 20 days or more and use older, large barrels called botti, usually made from Slovenian oak. This style produces the more tannic, lighter colored versions of Barolo. The modernists use much shorter maceration times, seven to ten days and use smaller barrique size barrels, made from French Oak. This is the more international style with more approachable tannins, more color and fruit. A huge controversy developed in the 1980s, when families warred and even went their separate ways over how to make Barolo.  It now seems that more producers are falling into a middle ground. The end result is that these wines are more approachable and can be enjoyed without years of aging, as in the past.

 I thought this was interesting. It is taken from article eight of the DOCG regulations on what Barolo should be.
Color: garnet red, shot through with orange.
Odor: characteristic perfume, ethereal pleasurable and intense.
Flavor: dry, full, robust, austere yet velvety and harmonious

Annual production: 8 million bottles depending on vintage.
Aging: must be aged for three years, one must be in wood. Some producers will age longer. Yields: 56 hl/ha or 3.2 tons per acre.
Acreage planted: 4285

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of ItalyA Wine Atlas of the Langhe: The Great Barolo and Barbaresco VineyardsBarolo to Valpolicella: Wines of Northern Italy (Faber Books on Wine)The New Italy: A Complete Guide to Contemporary Italian Wine

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Longer in the Minor Leagues or a Zero Dosage Champagne in BC

We finally now have a Zero Dosage Champagne in British Columbia, yea! We actually an importer that has balls and will give us something else other than Brut to chose from.  My hats off also to the LCB buyer who put this one on the shelf.
 Champagne Lallier is a small family producer who have crafted this wonderful zero dosage Champagne. Zero dosage refers to that there is no sugar added at the disgorgement. The grapes come from Grand Cru grapes 70% pinot noir and 30% Chardonnay from Avize/Cramant. The quality of the grapes really show in this Champagne. Golden colour with a little touch of amber. The Chardonnay puts some citrus in the aroma and add in butter and brioche. Good mousse and long lasting bubbles. This wine has been aged for four years in chalk cellars.  This is an excellent food wine, sharp as a razor and full bodied. If you are thinking  gift giving, it has attractive in the box packaging.  In my opinion you can not get  better  Champagne for the price point in British Columbia.I have added the LCB SKU to help you find this one. This is now my house Champagne.  I look forward to a long full filling relationship. Hopefully it will keep my hands off the Salon that is stashed away.

Price: $ 89.95 Volume: 750 mL SKU: #14274
Imported by VonAlbrecht