Fri 15 Jun 2007
“I don’t like the French barrique,” said Enrico Dellapiana, making a round motion with his hands to indicate the shape of the famous 59-gallon oak barrels that play such an important part in the world’s winemaking. “They have no place with the nebbiolo grape or in Barbaresco.”
While producers all around him in Piedmont are turning to barriques to pump up the spice, vanilla and toastiness of their Barolos, Barbarescos and Barberas, at Dellapiana’s Cantina Rizzi estate in Treiso (cantinarizzi) you will find only large casks of Slavonian oak, once the traditional vehicle across much of northern Italian for aging red wine but now disappearing. By “large,” we mean 25 or 50 hectoliters or 660 or 1,320 gallons. The effect is to give the wine shape and maturity — Barbaresco is required to age two years in wood and two in bottle — without blatantly influencing flavor.
Dellapiana is in the eastern U.S. to promote the family’s Barbaresco wines. Cantina Rizzi, a young estate, founded in 1973, makes Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba, a chardonnay, two dessert wines and a grappa, but “Barbaresco is what we are about,” Dellapiana said. We’re having lunch at Cafe Society in Memphis, and I’ve ordered veal to go with the red wines. He’s showing three examples of his craft: The Barbaresco Riserva, a blend of several vineyards, and two single-vineyard wines, the Barbaresco Fondetta and the Barbaresco Boito, all from the terrific 2001 vintage. The wines are imported by Opici, in Glen Rock, N.J.
The immediately noticeable factor is that these Barbarescos are not dark purple but are a lovely, radiant deep garnet color. “This is the true color of the nebbiolo grape,” said Dellapiana, “which you don’t see much anymore. Barbaresco should not be heavily extracted or concentrated.”
The Rizzi Barbaresco Riserva 2001 offers aromas of cloves, dried raspberries and black cherries and macerated and roasted black fruit. Layers of subtlety and nuance provide a mouthful of dried spices, dried flowers and dried fruit that after a few moments in the glass expand into blueberry, rhubarb and Orange Pekoe tea. It’s a meditative wine, quiet, elegant yet powerful and vibrant, and it will drink beautifully from now through 2010 to ’12. About $32. Excellent.
The Rizzi Barbaresco Fondetta 2001 quickly escalates and intensifies every element. The color is slightly darker, more ruby/garnet, and tannins are dense, chewy, a little grainy, but the wine is still heady and seductive, utterly smooth and harmonious, revealing depths of complex spiciness and black fruit flavors and a substantial presence that forgoes some of the previous wine’s elegance for the sake of power and seriousness. Now through 2012 or ’13. 400 cases. About $42. Excellent.
Third of the trio, the Rizzi Barbaresco Boito 2001 is riper, meatier and fleshier than the Fondetta, with lots of tobacco and lead pencil, a touch of black olive and fathoms of dark, spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. The wine is vibrant and resonant and hefty yet displays, paradoxically, beautiful balance and a sense of delicacy. Now through 2010 to ’14. 400 cases. About $42. Excellent.
These Barbarescos are perfect for roasted veal or lamb, game birds and hearty stews.