Barbera 2010

Still thinking about the wines I tasted at VINO 2011 two months ago and some of the estate owners and winemakers I talked to. One of those that keeps recurring in my mind is Ca’ di Frara, a property in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region. Winemaker and manager Luca Bellani and Veronica Barri, who handles the marketing end, were so engaging — sort of eager and anxious together– and the wines they showed were also so engaging that I wish I had a glass or two sitting beside me as I write these words and sentences. (On the other hand, I’m sipping a glass of the Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, and listening to Glenn Gould play the “Goldberg Variations,” so I’m not like, you know, unhappy.)

The estate was founded in 1905 and is now owned by the third generation of the family, Luca and Matteo Bellani.

Oltrepò Pavese received D.O.C. status in 1970, though the area had long been considered an under-performer. The region lies directly south of the city of Pavese and south of the Po river — “otrepò” means “beyond the Po” — in the jutting triangle at the southwestern extreme of Lombardy, as if the province were making a tiny geographical genuflection. Oltrepò Pavese is a hilly area, extending toward the foothills of the Apennines, and around Oliva Gessi, where Ca’ di Frara is located, the chalk-like minerality of those hills benefits white grapes like riesling and pinot grigio.

For example, the Ca’ di Frara Apogeo 2009 is a raccolta tardiva, a late harvest riesling that is nonetheless bone dry, coming in at a comfortable 13 percent alcohol, and expressing a structure that I kept trying to find a different word for but kept landing on “beautiful” as a combination of stones and bones can only be when acidity, minerality and fruit are in perfect balance. (Think of Monica Vitti’s face.) Peaches and pears, a hint of lychee and quince; a crisp, vibrant presence, steely but not forbidding; and that line of limestone, taut, damp and radiant. Made all in stainless steel. Excellent. About $22 would be the price in the United States of America. Also made in stainless steel is the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Grigio 2009, again a late harvest wine fashioned in a completely dry manner, with 13.5 percent alcohol and projecting an astonishing and profound depth of chalky/limestone mineral character with a sort of inner strength and dynamism and purpose that very few pinot grigios made anywhere in Italy can evince. Another Excellent. Price would be about $20.

Of two reds, I was a bit dismayed by the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Nero 2008, which though fermented in stainless steel aged 12 months in oak barrels, lending it a deeply spicy nature but also excessive dryness and even some austerity. Perhaps this will be more tolerable after 2012. Alcohol is 13 percent. Good+. About $22. No such caveat attaches to Ca’ di Frara’s La Casetta 2009, a Provincia de Pavia I.G.T. wine that’s a blend of 95 percent croatina grapes and 5 percent “rare grapes.” There’s possible confusion here since in Lombardy croatina is usually known as bonarda, while a different croatina is called “uva rara.” Oh well, let’s just get on with things. I loved this wine for its unusual, authentic, countryside character, its spiciness, wildness and exotic nature, its intense black and blue fruit qualities that managed not to be too ripe or flamboyant. The wine ages in 50 percent French oak, a process that contributes shape and suppleness to the texture without compromising its individual integrity. Charming and delightful yet with satisfying depth. Very Good+. About $20.

I discussed in previous posts the circumstances and conditions that prevailed at Barbera Week 2010 in Asti — I returned to the U.S. a month ago today! — so I won’t go back over those details now. The conference was, as I have implied, hectic and exhausting and yet (as I hope I have made clear) exhilarating and educational, and we ate mounds of great Piedmontese cuisine.

In the the first part of “Cutting to the Chase,” I listed the best and worst wines we tasted in the area of Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Now it’s the turn of Barbera d’Asti wines from the Nizza sub-region and for Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba. The latter two have their own official DOC status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) but Nizza does not, being attached to Barbera d’Asti. These wines were experienced at blind tasting on the mornings of March 9, 10 and 11, at the Palazzo Zoya, at afternoon visits to wineries, at walk-around tastings in the evening and at dinner. Going back through my notebook and the tasting sheets, I count 140 wines from Nizza, Monferrato and Alba, several of them tasted two or three times in different situations. Generally, the wines from Monferrato and Alba rate better than the wines of Nizza, though there were clearly superior wines — and inferior examples — from all three regions.

I checked my notes carefully — seeing who was naughty and who was nice — to choose the wines listed today, because some of them, in multiple tastings, produced different reactions, and I wanted to weigh those reactions judiciously. For example, the Cascina Garitina “Neuvsent” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, that I tasted blind the morning of March 9 was, frankly, roiling with tannin but showed a lovely bouquet of smoke, minerals, dried spice and mint. That night, at another blind tasting of Nizza wines, all from 2006, the wine was “vegetal, off.” Which was the “real” Neuvsent?

On the other hand, I tasted the Villa Giada Bricco Dani, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, from 2007, 2006 and 2005 on the same day and admired the wine for consistent shapeliness, purity and intensity on each occasion.

So, let’s cut to the chase here and list the Best Wines of Barbera d’Asti Nizza, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba; an asterisk indicates superior quality. Again, I make no distinction between “modern” versions of these wines, which aged in small
French barrels, and traditional wines that aged in stainless steel tanks and large old casks.

<1> Bersano 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<2> Bosco Agostino Azienda Agricole 2007, Barbera d’Alba*
<3> Bottazza Azienda Agricola “Rubia” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
<4> Bric Cenciurio “Naunda” 2007, Barbera d’Alba*
<5> Bricco dei Guazzi 2007, Barbera del Monferrato
<6> Brovia Sori’ de Drago 2007, Barbera d’Alba* (I thought this was one of the best Barbera wines we tasted during Barbera 2010, and I devoted a separate post to it a few weeks ago)
<7> Cantina Iuli “Umberto” 2007, Babera del Monferrato (I didn’t care for this wine at the morning blind tasting but liked it very much at the evening event.)
<8> Cascina Chicco “Ganera Alta” 2008, Barbera d’Alba
<9> Casetta F.illi “Suri” 2007, Barbera d’Alba
<10> Cascina Lana 2007, Barbera d’Asti Nizza
<11> Castello di Uviglie “Pico Gonzaga” 2006, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore*
<12 Costa di Bussia Azienda Agricola “Campo del Gatto” 2008, Barbera d’Alba
<13> Elvio Cogno “Bricco dei Merli” 2007, Barbera d’Alba*
<14> La Casaccia “Bricco de Bosco” 2007, Barbera del Monferrato*
<15> La Scamuzza “Vigneto della Amoroso” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore (Also 2006)
<16> L’Armangia Azienda Argicola 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<17> Montalbera “La Briosa” 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
<18> Parusso Armando 2007, Barbera d’Alba Superiore
<19> Scarzello Giorgio Azienda Agricola 2007, Barbera d’Alba*
<20> Spinoglio Danilo 2008, Barbera del Monferrato
<21> Villa Giada “Bricco Dani” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza*

“Worst” is a harsh word — perhaps we should say “wrong-headed” or “deeply insufficient” — but the following wines seemed completely unsuitable because of astringent levels of oak, tannin and acidity or for other flaws, mainly “off” and funky odors. No wine, certainly not red, should smell like “plastic flowers and Evening in Paris,” as one of my notes recorded.

<1> Bava Azienda Agricola “Pianoalto” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<2> Cascina Guido Berta “Canto di Luna” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Tasted twice; much better was the Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore, not from Nizza)
<3> Cascina La Barbatella “La Vigna dell’Angelo” 2006 & 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Another case of liking a winery’s “regular” Barbera d’Asti more than the Nizza version)
<4> Dacapo SA “Vigna Dacapo” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<5> Erede di Chiappone Armando Azienda Vitivinicola “Ru” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Yet again, this winery’s “Brentura” 2007, Barbera d’Asti, was superior to the Nizza bottling)
<6> Francone “I Patriarchi” 2007, Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2007
<7> Franco Mondo “Vigna delle Rose” 2006, Barber d’Asti Superiore Nizza (I did like Franco Mondo’s “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore)
<8> La Bruciata di Oscar Bosio 2007, Barbera d’Alba
<9> La Girona di Galandrino “Le Nicchie 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<10> Noceto Michelotti Azienda Agricola “Montecanta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<11> Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani “Bricco Preje” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<12> Prunotto SRL “Costamiole” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza
<13> Rivetto “Zio Nando” 2007, Barbera d’Alba (I wrote about Rivetto’s Barolos in a previous post)
<14> Scrimaglio “Acse” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Once more, a case of finding a winery’s Barbera d’Asti wines more attractive than its Nizza wines)
<15> Tenuta La Tenaglia “1930 — Una Buona Annata” 2007, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore (I quite liked this property’s “Giorgio Tenaglia” 2007, Barbera d’Asti)
<16> Tenuta Olim Bauda 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

This post concludes my coverage of Barbera Week 2010. You may read my contributions and those of my “Barbera 7” colleagues on the collective blog, I have more to write about my sojourn in Piedmont — a visit to Gaja; the whites wines of Piedmont — but those do not come under the purview of Barbera Week 2010.

During the four days of Barbera Week 2010, my fellow bloggers and I tasted 174 wines at the supervised blind tastings in the mornings plus more at walk-around tastings before dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and visits to wineries over three afternoons. Say, conservatively, 200 wines from Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, primarily from 2008 and 2007 and a few from 2006.

We made our concerns known from the first day: Too many of the wines were dominated by new oak from small French barrels; too many of the wines were dominated by hard tannins; too many of the wines were dominated by highly extracted jammy fruit, as if they were competing with Amador County zinfandel. In short, these were modern New World-style wines. Where were the lighter, more refreshing Barberas of yesterday, wines that perfectly matched the region’s traditional cuisine? Certainly there many of those too, but we bloggers, and the other journalists at the conference, were dismayed to see this rush toward modernity in the belief that the (presumably) American market prefers oaky, jammy red wines. On the other hand, producers have to sell their wines or they’ll go out of business; who are we to dictate how they make their wines?

That philosophical and economic debate is for another post. My purpose today is simpler: To name the Barbera d’Asti wines that struck me as the best on March 8, the first day of the event, and the first half of the morning blind tasting on Tuesday, March 9. At that point we went into a line-up of Barbera d’Asti wines from the Nizza sub-region.

Already, however, there’s a caveat, because during Barbera Week 2010, the wines were encountered under different conditions. At the blind tastings in the morning, we averaged 20 wines an hour, meaning that we devoted about three minutes to each wine. At the walk-around tastings, where circumstances were a bit more relaxed (though there’s always that crowded feeling at the most popular tables), we could take more time with the wines that we wanted to think about.

Tasting at the properties is another affair altogether: You sit in a tasting room, before a spread of breads, cheeses and salamis; the pours are more generous and you can ask for more if necessary; you can chat about the wines with colleagues and the winemaker. In the first two situations, notes are telegraphic, almost coded; in the third, notes are more detailed and thorough. Compiling the lists that follow here, I tried to take these different circumstances into account. The organizational principle is day by day, and I will indicate in what setting the wine was tasted. An asterisk designates superior quality. (The designation Superiore in Barbera wines may hypothetically though not necessarily imply qualitative achievement but means, literally, that the wines must be aged in wood for at least a year and attain a half-percent higher degree of alcohol.) The Barbera 7 bloggers talked frequently among ourselves about how reactions to the wines varied due to the situation in which we tasted them, not to mention personal preference, a different issue entirely.

I make no distinction here about differences in style or winemaking. The Boeri Alfonso “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, for examples, ages 12 months in French oak barriques (small barrels), while the Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, ages 7 to 8 months in large vats and 6 months in bottle and the Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna del Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti, sees both barriques and tonneaux (large barrels) for two years. I liked all three.

The best Barbera d’Asti wines of Monday, March 8, and part of Tuesday, March 9, from 115 that I tasted.

1. Agostina Pavia e Figli “Moliss” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
2. Bersano Cav. Dario “Ca d’Galdin” 2007, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)
3. Boeri Alfonso S.S. “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
4. Ca’ dei Mandorli “La Bellalda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
5. Cantina Alice Bel Colle SCA “Al Caso” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting; all stainless steel, no oak)*
6. Cantina di Nizza “50 Vendemmie” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
7. Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane” 2007, Barbera d’asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
8. Cascina La Ghersa “Vignassa” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and at dinner)
9. Costa Olmo Azienda Vitivinicola 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006 (Blind tasting)
10. Crivelli Marco Maria Azienda Agricola “La Mora” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)*
11. Damilano 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
13. Guasti Clemente “Boschetto Vecchio” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
14. Marcaurelio Vini Azienda Argicola “Terranuda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery)
15. Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna dei Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
16. Tenuta Il Falchetto Azienda Agricola “Lurëi” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (I was unimpressed with this at the blind tasting but loved it when I tasted it at the winery)*
17. Tenuta La Fiammenga 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
18. Tenuta La Pergola “Vigne Vecchie della Cappelletta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting; at the latter also the version from 2006, which was excellent.)
19. Tenute dei Vallarino Azienda Agricola “La Ladra” 2008, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)

And the ones that seemed beyond the pale because of excessive oak and tannins and daunting austerity (or other flaws):

1. Agostino Pavia e Figli “La Marescialla” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
2. Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa “Casascarpa” 2006, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)
3. Borgo Isolabella S.S. “Maria Teresa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
4. Braida di Giacomo Bologna “Bricco della Bigotta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting)
5. Cantina Vignasone “Selezione” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
6. Cantine Sant-Agata “Cavale” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
7. Casa Vinicola Dogliotti SNC 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
8. Cascina Galarin “Le Querce” 2007 & 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
9. Cascina Garitina “Caranti” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; controversial, some tasters thought this was corked)
10. Castello di Razzano SSA “Vigna Valentino Caligaris” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
11. Cocito Dario Azienda Agricola “Violanda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
13. Il Cascinone Gruppo Araldica “Rive” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
14. La Gironda di Galadrino “La Gena” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
15. L’Armangia Azienda Agricola “Sopra Berruti” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery, where I liked it a bit better, though as the winemaker told us, he “likes an austere style”)
16. Tenuta La Fiammenga “Paion” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; I truly admired La Fiammenga’s “regular” Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2007, but the Paion bottling was earthy, leathery, dry and austere)
17. Tenuta Olim Bauda “La Villa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
18. Villa Giada “Ajan” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

In a few days, I’ll be posting about the best wines of the Nizza sub-region and of Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, and then we’ll say adios to Barbera Week 2010, though I have a separate story coming about a visit to Gaja in Barbaresco.

The Barbera 7 were busy on Thursday, March 11. In the morning we arrived at Palazzo Zoya at 9 for a blind tasting of 40 red wines of Barbera d’Alba, followed by a walk-around tasting of many of the other, non-Barbera wines of the same producers, which, on the fourth day of the conference started to feel a lot like work. Then we were allowed to eat lunch.

The conference, basically, was over, and we were heading out of Asti to visit nebbiolo properties that our leader, Jeremy Parzen, had set up, but the organizers arranged for us to have a van (adorned with the “Barbera Meeting 2010” logo) for us to use in trundling around the countryside. It took longer than expected for Jeremy to pick up the van, though, and we didn’t get away from the square near the Palazzo Zoya until almost 2:30, headed, well, I didn’t exactly know where. It turns out that a young man hanging around with us was Enrico Rivetto, the proprietor of his family-run winery high in the hills of Loirano, near Alba. In his car, he led us through narrow winding roads, up and up, twisting and turning, until we reached a summit on which the winery perched, surrounded by a stunning landscape of snow-covered hillsides and vineyards and distant villages. Across the valley stood the hamlet of Sinio and the haunting Castello Serralunga d’Alba, dim and shadowy.

The heritage of winemaking in the Rivetto family goes back to 1902, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the family purchased the Loirano estate from the Counts of Vassallo. The winery is now surrounded by 89 acres of vines.

After a tour of the cellars, we assembled in the cozy Rivetto tasting room to try three vintages of the Rivetto Barolo Leon, made from vineyards planted in 1990 and 1975. Depending on the year, 10 to 30 percent of the wine is aged in small French barriques, the rest going into 3000-liter Slavonian oak casks. These were followed by the Barolo Riserva 1997.

Rivetto Barolo Leon 2001. The first impression is of amazing structure; the wine is sturdy and substantial but with a sense of fleetness and lightness from keen acidity. The color is medium ruby with a hint of brick-red at the rim; the nose teems with macerated black cherries and plums supported by roasted walnuts and walnut shell, somehow like a warm piece of toast. The wine is quite dry, dense and chewy, permeated by slightly metallic tannins and fairly austere on the finish. Try from 2011 to 2015 or ’16.

Rivetto Barolo Leon 2000. The color is brick-red with a touch of garnet at the rim; the bouquet is sedate, a sweet amalgam of dried spice and flowers and a heaping portion of dusty minerality like crushed slate and granite, slightly dampened by rain. One is, however, on the receiving end of a mouthful of soaring tannins, finely milled, perhaps, well-grained and integrated but almost impenetrable. Will they subside and become more tolerable in three or four years?

Rivetto Barolo Leon 1999. A ruddy brick-red/garnet color seems at one with aromas of spiced red currants, plum dust, potpourri and lavender with, as a sort of bonus, a fillip of dried orange rind. Flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and black cherries are enveloped in deeply rooted tannins and granite-like minerality that feel ageless. This is an ecclesiastical wine, packed with the elements of old wood, incense and ancient dust that we associate with silent country churches. If it didn’t possess such dignity, the Rivetto Barolo Leon ’99 would beg, on hands and knees. for a roasted pheasant. Through 2016 to ’20.

Rivetta Barolo Riserva 1997. At 12 and a half years old, this nebbiolo-based wine is warm, rich and spicy, very attractive indeed, but the structure of the wine is tremendous, with expanding tannins and swingeing acidity. One wishes it were a bit more generous.

When our visit to Rivetto concluded, the Barbera 7 piled back in the van and headed to Neive, a town that I’m certain has its charms, but the most we saw of it was a flat section of light industry, warehouses and railroad tracks at dusk; we could have been in Newark. We were looking for the office and tasting room of Bruno Giacosa, a renowned, indeed revered producer of Barolo and Barbaresco. Read what Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman write in the second edition of Italy’s Noble Red Wines (Macmillan, 1992): “Bruno Giacosa is without question one of Italy’s — make that the world’s — finest winemakers. A man of few words but eloquent talent, Giacosa has the ability to bring out a richness of flavor and intensity of character in his wines, to produce wines of meditation. The man is an artist.”

We didn’t meet the elderly Bruno Giacosa; he had a stroke in 2006. For an account of Jeremy’s visit to Giacosa in February to taste wines with the man himself (and Jeremy’s bride, Tracie P), see this post on Do Bianchi.

Unlike most of the winery tasting rooms we visited while we were in Piedmont — comfortable, homey, welcoming –the tasting room at Bruno Giacosa is about as amenable as a doctor’s office. Winemaker Giorgio Lavagna didn’t provide an array of cheeses, salamis and bread sticks; it was just us and four glasses of superb nebbiolo wines.

“Twenty years ago, Giacosa decided not to follow fashion,” said Lavagna, a man so modest and sincere that the thought of taking his picture seemed to me to be a violation. (Not so fellow Barbera-blogger Whitney, who posted this image of Lavagna on Brunellos Have More Fun.) “He doesn’t like modern wines. He’s a traditionalist and a classicist. He makes the wines he wants to make. The style of Giacosa is to have very clean wines with as little intervention as possible to show the grape variety and the terroir.”

Bruno Giacosa was born in 1929, but his family had been making wine since 1871. He went to work for his father and grandfather at the age of 13 and took over the business when he was 20. Since 1996, the company is divided into two parts. Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa makes wine only from the property’s estate vineyards; Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa makes wines from purchased grapes, benefiting from long-term relationships with excellent growers and vineyards. In fact, until 1982, when Bruno Giacosa purchased the Falletto vineyard, the firm owned no vines; now it owns 37 acres.

Here are my notes on the wines we tasted:

Bruno Giacosa Valmaggie Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008. This is a Casa Vinicola wine; it had been in the bottle three months. The color is moderate ruby with a slight garnet rim; an intoxicating bouquet of leaves and moss permeated by dried red currants and plums is laced with minerality akin to crushed gravel. The wine offers quietly spicy red and black fruit flavors, more spare than obvious, and is substantial without being weighty or ponderous; it is, in fact, quite lively, with terrific tone and presence, an engaging (yet serious) combination of personality and character. Still, after a few minutes Valmaggie ’08 is awash with dusty, grainy, chewy tannins that dictate a couple of years in bottle. Drink through 2018 to ’20.

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007. This is an Az. Agr. Falletto wine, from one of Piedmont’s greatest nebbiolo vineyards. Seductive aromas of dried spice and flowers are wreathed with smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries and deeper notes of briers and brambles. The wine is very young yet not awkward or adolescent; it delivers too much in the way of austere tannins and staggering acidity for any such foolishness. Sip by sip, it feels geological, as if it were moving at the speed of the vineyard or the pace of geography. Despite the tannic structure, though, the wine is lively, lithe and agile, a testimony to the marriage of detail and dimension. Drink from 2012 or ’14 through 2024 to ’27.

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santa Stefano 2007. The Wassermans write of Bruno Giacosa’s Santa Stefano: “It is, for us, simply the single finest example of Barbaresco today,” their “today” being some 20 years ago. Would there be any reason to alter that assessment now? Fanatics of nebbiolo could no doubt go to the barricades in defense of Asili or Santa Stefano; cooler imaginations might say that each is great and that they are different. Bruno Giacosa’s Santa Stefano ’07 is notably earthier and more girt with granite-like minerality than his Asili ’07; even the aromas, from depths of warm tar to elevations of spiced and macerated red fruit, seem layered in geological strata, with, at the top, an almost winsome filigree of dried rose petals, and that perceivable only after 30 minutes of coaxing. The wine is quite dry, leaning toward austerity, and with bastions and buttresses of tannins, though, as is the case with the wines of Bruno Giacosa generally, there’s also a quality of vivacity and transparency to the structure. Try from 2014 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30.

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Rocche del Falletto 2004. This wine spends 30 months in casks and two years in bottles; it has just been released. As a reserve wine, it gets what is usually called the “red label,” though the hue is more distinctively maroon. The color is brick red infused with glowing garnet; the bouquet, reticent at first, is warm and spicy, a little fleshy; macerated red currants, cherries and plums peel away to reveal licorice and mossy earthiness. And then, in the mouth, the tannins take over, not hard, woody, parched tannins — oh, poor Barbera! — but tannins that feel natural, authentic and essential to the character of the wine; nonetheless, they also feel unassailable. The paradoxical quality is that whatever the monumentality of this wine — and it possesses immense size and scope — it exerts a sense of ineffable delicacy and decorum, a presaging of its future.

Great wines destined for aging are balanced from the beginning of their existence in the bottle, through development into the accomplishment of maturity and into slow decline. The point is that the intention of the balance shifts, the wine’s gravity and focus are transformed through the cool, dark years into different aspects of inevitability; in a great wine’s beginning lies its end. If you manifested the fiduciary prowess to afford a case of this wine — $3,000 to $3,600 — and the appropriate cellar and the necessary patience, you could have a fine old time testing this theory for the next few decades, that is, through 2030 or ’35.

These four wines from Bruno Giacosa brought another impression, that they are not heavily extracted to produce deep colors or jammy flavors, that they are not induced or coerced into performing beyond the purposefulness of the grapes or the character of the vineyard. I don’t mean that the examples of Rivetto Barolo Leon we tried earlier in the afternoon fall into the manipulated category. I enjoyed those well-made wines, particularly 2001 (guardedly) and the irresistible ’99. There is, however, a degree of extra achievement, both in the vineyard and the winery, that lends to the Bruno Giacosa wines aspects of elegance and finesse as well as power that most wines do not reach.

The wines of Bruno Giacosa are imported in the U.S. by Winebow; they are expensive. The website for Rivetto indicates that their wines are available in a handful of states, but I cannot find who the importer or importers might be.

Few are the wine regions of the world that don’t have a festival or conference devoted to their traditions, geography and wines. From Paso Robles to the Loire Valley, trade groups and vinters’ associations mount annual meetings to showcase current and upcoming vintages, with attendant lectures and discussions about marketing, technical matters and consumer perceptions. Some of these festivals are relatively ancient and steeped in ritual, while others expound the spirit of “wine country lifestyle” and gourmet food competitions. Some are international in scope (VinExpo), some are national (VinItaly and Wine Australia), and some are devoted to the elucidation, not to say the worship, of a single grape, as the West Coast of the United States treats pinot noir, zinfandel and petite sirah.

The annual Barbera Meeting in the Piedmontese town of Asti centers on a region and a grape, that is, the zone where Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba are produced. The four-day tasting event, March 8 to 11, was sponsored this year by the Province of Asti and the Assessorato all’Agricoltura, and the cities of Casale Monferrato, Asti, Nizza Monferrato and the Consorzio di Tutela Vini d’Asti e del Monferrato, with further support from Cassa di Risparmio di Torino. It was organized and promoted by Well Com, a publicity firm based in Alba.

Barbera Meeting 2010 was highly structured. Each morning there was a blind tasting, from 9 until noon (on Monday) and 9 to 11 (Tuesday through Thursday), that focused on a particular segment of Barbera production: Barbera d’Asti DOC 2007 and DOCG 2008 on Monday; the same vintages with emphasis on the Nizza sub-zone on Tuesday; Barbera del Monferrato DOC and DOCG 2007 and ’08 on Wednesday; and Barbera d’Alba DOC 2007 and ’08 on Thursday. These tastings, 177 (or so) wines altogether, occurred at the 14th Century Palazzo Zoya in Asti.

Following lunch, the journalists and members of the trade were divided into groups and bussed into the countryside for visits to three wineries selected by the organizers. Reconvening at some usually grand venue, the writers and trade representatives along with producers, winemakers and local officials would attend a large walk-around tasting of many of the other wines made by the producers from that morning’s tasting, followed on a catered multi-course dinner with more wines on the tables. Dinner didn’t conclude until 11 most nights, so arrival back at the hotel in Asti was often at midnight or later. (And did we need a banquet three nights in a row? By Wednesday night, we were giddy with exhaustion.) This was the schedule Monday through Wednesday; on Thursday, the meeting concluded with lunch, though we bloggers kept up a busy round of winery visits and late nights through Saturday.

The innovation for Barbera Meeting 2010 was the introduction of six American wine bloggers and one British blogger, a group organized by Jeremy Parzen (image at right) of Do Bianchi, that was intended to lend an air of immediacy and accessibility to the proceedings, or, as the material prepared for the meeting put it: “to [spread] at a global level the knowledge of Barbera and its birthplace, through the influent contents published by the bloggers.” This content was posted on the bloggers’ individual platforms and gathered on the group site, Barbera2010. How successful, effective or influential this attempt at Internet innovation was remains to be seen. The fact that the bloggers’ largely negative reactions to the wines made the print and television news in Italy and that the controversy was picked up in America testifies to some perceivable yet indefinable level of impact.

Tasting together, eating meals together, traveling on vans from town to town together allowed the bloggers periods of reflection and discussion (if not naps) on the purpose and structure of Barbera Meeting 2010 and its generally hectic and crowded activity and rather elusive purpose. As one of the participating bloggers, I have suggestions that might improve the flow, the logistics and the effectiveness of the enterprise. (And let me say first that we could not have gotten along without the care and organizing principles of Marinella Minetti and her staff at Well Com, whose every concern was our comfort. Thanks too to the members of the Association of Italian Sommeliers who poured the many wines for us each morning.)

1. Get a new graphic designer and logo. This is pretty cheesy.
(To be fair, I just heard from Jeremy Parzen that he designed this logo specifically for the group Barbera 7 blog, in “the spirit of punk rock blogginess” — he’s also a guitarist — and that it’s not connected to the official Barbera Meeting print or online material. Sorry, Jar!)

2. Define more clearly the purpose and scope of Barbera Meeting. At no point were we informed about the selection process for the blind tastings in the morning and the walk-around tastings in the evening, nor was it made clear how the wineries for the afternoon visits were chosen. I would have been far more comfortable as a taster and blogger if I had known why I was tasting the wines put in front of me. Was there a preliminary competitive stage? A juried tasting? Do the producers simply alternate every year? Do they belong to a club? Is participation by invitation? If by invitation, what are the criteria? And what’s the motivation for all of this tasting anyway? If there was a discernible or desired result, other than to give us the experience of encountering so many wines, it eluded me. I felt a bit as if I were tasting in a vacuum.

3. Exert control over the wines presented by the producers. This suggestion is controversial, and I offer it tentatively. Naturally, the producers that provided the wines for the blind tastings wanted to offer their best products, which it turned out, in their interpretation, were the Barbera wines, the “important” wines, aged in barriques of which we were most critical. Often when we visited a winery, we discovered non-barrique Barbera wines, of whatever category, that we liked better for their integrity and authenticity. Perhaps producers selected for inclusion in the blind tastings should be required to present both “old style” and “modern” Barberas that would offer a glimpse of their range of technical philosophy. Or perhaps that requirement would result in too much complication.

4. Give us time to do what we were invited for. For most of the week that we were in Asti, our group of bloggers left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and returned at midnight. At no time during the day was there an opportunity to perform our assigned task, so most of us ended up writing and posting from midnight until 2 a.m. or so and then getting up a few hours later to sit at the breakfast table doing the same. Tasting wines and blogging simultaneously, which we also tried, detracts from both efforts. What we needed was an hour after lunch and an earlier return to the hotel at night to write and post.

5. Limit the winery visits to two each afternoon. This suggestion is a corollary of number 4. If bloggers were given more time to write, the hours allotted to visiting producers, however educational those visits may be (and were), would necessarily be truncated.

Having said all this, I must add that I learned a tremendous amount about Barbera wines and the nuances of their production at Barbera Meeting 2010. Visiting various wineries in the afternoon offered a great deal of insight not only into how the wines get made but into a whole heritage of concerns and values. In addition, the hospitality we received at the properties was superb, and even if I never meet some of those owners and winemakers again, I will think of them with gratitude and affection.

Map from vinonyc.

Last Tuesday — that would be March 9 — our group of bloggers, aka The Barbera 7, along with other journalists and people in the trade, were bussed to the town of Canelli in the Nizza sub-region of Barbera d’Asti winemaking. First there was a presentation about trellis methods and then a discussion that went on too long for people who had been up since 6:30 (me, anyway) and had already been simultaneously tasting and posting to our blogs all morning, and finally we got to sit down to lunch in the charming Ristorante Enoteca Regionale di Canelli, where the chef is Riccardo e Diego Crippa. The multi-course lunch he offered illustrated, generally, all that’s great about how eating gets done in Italy, with simplicity and freshness.

First, to whet our appetites, little dishes of breaded and fried anchovies and green olives, salty, briny and savory. With these nuggets we sipped glasses of Michele Chiarlo’s Pietro Chiarlo Brut Blanc de Blancs, made from 50 percent cortese grapes and 50 percent chardonnay, in the champagne method. This immensely appealing and spicy sparkling wine featured notes of pears and peaches, smoky almond and almond blossom, with hints of quince and ginger and candied lime peel. It made a fine accompaniment to the bracing effect of the anchovies and olives.

Next up, a sort of deconstructed Nicoise salad with tuna and marinated vegetables and fresh herbs served in — your eyes do not deceive you — a plastic globe. Yes, we had to take the top off the contrivance to eat the salad, a device that must had seemed to the kitchen, what?, clever, witty, innovative, who knows? I think I may safely speak for the Barbera 7 when I say that I would have been happy to eschew the Snow-Globe in favor of an honest salad plate. Hence the title of this post, “An Almost Perfect Lunch.” (Actually, though, I suppose this course is a visual pun on the phrase “salad bowl” or maybe “salad bowling.” Would that work in Italian?)

The following course was a beautiful little vegetable terrine with a green pea sauce. The waiters were fairly short on food explanations, and there wasn’t a written menu, so I can’t tell you what vegetables went into the terrine, but the dish was lovely: mildly flavored, slightly earthy, fresh and remarkably Spring-like on a day when it began to snow at about 3 in the afternoon and didn’t stop for 24 hours. This was a warm terrine, by the way; notice that the top is crusty from the broiler, a nice touch.

A triumph of the Italian sensibility — nothing fancy, nothing wasted — the next course brought a plate with about 10 small ravioli stuffed with (probably) veal and a touch of (perhaps) ricotta or some other soft, slightly tangy cheese. That was it, and you could not have asked for anything more satisfying or complete. Well, a scant sprinkling of Parmesan was helpful in this spare landscape.

Naturally we indulged in a cheese course, and if I had been industrious, I would have tracked down a waiter or manager and recorded the name of all four cheeses and spelled them correctly, but lunches like these tend to go on for about two hours, and by this time my primary consideration was a nap. Suffice to say that the cheeses were excellent and that they provided the proper contrasts in scent, flavor and texture. In fact all the regional cheeses we sampled last week — and most wineries we visited put out a glorious spread of cheeses and local salamis — were intriguing and delicious in their different ways. The smidgeon of La Brea Tar-Pits in the middle of the plate is cogná, a sort of mustard made from grape must. Its effect is appropriately primordial.

Finally, dessert. There it is. A scoop of chocolate gelato and a scoop of something bright yellow and half a pear that tasted not altogether ripe (or too processed). Again, an almost perfect but not quite perfect lunch. I would have been happy with a plate of cookies to go with the powerful espresso — like a train engine in a tiny cup — that followed.

Were we allowed the nap we all desperately needed? No, friends, we were trundled off to another venue for a tasting of 26 Nizza Barberas that concluded in the acrimonious dust-up about Barbera philosophy and techniques that several of my colleagues have (or are) posting about, followed by another grand dinner and more wines and arrival back at the hotel in Asti around midnight.

When the group sat down to lunch, the tables held four bottles of Quorum, a Barbera d’Asti made in collaboration among the houses of Michele Chiarlo, Prunotto, Braida, Coppo and Vietti. Launched in 1997, the consortium is called HASTAE, after the Roman name of the city of Asti. The wine is produced only in the best vintages from a hectare of each of the five members’ best vineyards, and the winemaker is always someone from outside Piedmont who has not worked with the barbera grape before, an interesting if slightly bizarre (and surely unnecessary) concept designed to level the playing field, so that none of the five producers dominates the others. Profits from Quorum are donated to charity.

We sampled Quorum from 2005, 2004, 2001 and 1999. (Not the ’03 of the image here.)

The 2005 and ’04 make an immediate impression of what the wine’s American importer, Folio Fine Wine Partners, calls “star power.” The wines are indeed incredibly seductive, rich, resonant, vibrant and lively, with deep black fruit flavors, deeply-rooted spicy elements and the soft, cushiony oak and soft velvety tannins that we associate with so-called “icon wines” from around the world. The ’04 brings out more smoke and tobacco and black olive, as if it were a cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend from St. Julien. The 2001 did not show well; the color is already ruddy garnet with a brick-red rim, and its primary features are brown sugar, baking spice and old leather. The ’99 was much better than the 2001, firmly-knit, smooth and mellow.

So that’s fine, but where’s the juicy, flinty, vivid barbera grape in all of this international styling? The problem with collaborations and wines pepped up with oak is a certain sleek and polished sameness, a “seen-it-all-before quality” that precludes regional integrity and authenticity. In one sense, the Quorum wines are impeccable; in another sense, they’re boring. They offer character but lack personality. And they were too “important” for our lunch. We really needed something lighter; a young, delicate, bright-cherry, acid-powered and thirst-quenching Grignolino would have been ideal.

As readers of this blog and of the collective “Barbera Meeting 2010” blog know, we seven blogging writers were deeply dissatisfied with the oaky arrogance and heavily extracted self-importance of many of the Barbera wines that we tasted over four days last week.

Let us not, however, be completely negative. We were exposed to many splendid wines, primarily in the pre-dinner walk-around tastings and in the winery visits we made when not strapped to our chairs in the tasting hall at the handsome mid-14th Century Palazzo Zoya in Asti.

Our leader, Jeremy Parzen, finagled a visit for us to Brovia, a producer founded in 1863 in the town of Castiglione Falletto in the Langhe region. The winery is operated by the fourth generation, sisters Elena and Cristina Brovia and Elena’s husband Àlex Sánchez, a Spaniard who moved to Piedmont in 2001. Sánchez gave us a tour of the winery and selected the wines for us to taste.

Half of Brovia’s 5,000-case production is Barolo, and we’ll talk about those wines another time. What I particularly want to mention today, because of our disappointment with so many other Barbera wines last week, is Brovia’s Sori’ del Drago 2007, Barbera d’Alba.

Made all in stainless steel, from vineyards planted in 1970 and 1993, Sori’ del Drago 2007 offers a bouquet teeming with smoke and tobacco, bacon fat and spice and roasted and macerated black fruit with a tinge of mulberry. About halfway through my notes I wrote, “wow, this knocks everything else out of the water.” All aspects of this wine feel inevitable, its pinpoint balance among acidity, fruit and structure; its vibrancy and resonance; its almost unearthly purity and intensity; its soft, grainy chewy tannins and crushed-gravel minerality. I said to the assembled bloggers: “I could drink this every day,” and I wasn’t kidding. No, this is not an “important” wine, but it superbly fulfills Sanchez’s requirement for “identity and pleasingness.”

Brovia also makes a Barbera d’Alba 2007 called Brea, which ages half in stainless steel and half in one-, two- and three-year-old French barriques. I found the wine rich, almost jammy, obvious and uncharacteristic. As an expression of the barbera grape, Sori’ del Drago beats Brea by a mile.

The wines of Brovia are imported to the U.S. by Neal Rosenthal. Prices for Sori’ del Drago 2007 range from about $20 to $28.

If readers have been following these posts from Asti and Barbera 2010, you know that we have been at the limits of despair and patience over the quality of the Barbera d’Asti wines, many of which we have found to be stridently oaked and punishingly tannic. Not that we doubt for an instant the sincerity of the producers and winemakers; these are honest and hard-working people. What we question is the misguided nature of the techniques in the winery and the errant vision these winemakers and producers have for their wines and their region.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning we tasted blind about 40 Barbera d’Asti wines from the sub-region of Monferrato. My previous entry was posted while we went through these Monferrato wines, and as I mentioned, they seemed not so tannic and woody though, as I have asserted during the past few days, there were problems of consistency. Still, one felt a glimmer of hope.

After the tasting we headed out, as we had done on Monday and Tuesday, to the countryside — now picturesquely buried in snow — to visit a few producers from the region featured in the morning’s tasting. Naturally, yesterday was devoted to several wineries in the Monferrato area.

Let me describe two of those visits.

At Danilo Spinoglio, Cascina Narzo, near the village of Sala Monferrato, we gathered in the comfortable tasting room where a welcome fire burned on the hearth. A rustic table held platters of local cheeses and salamis — one does not often apply the adjective “sublime” to salami — and bread sticks so fresh and crisp that Adam and Eve probably snacked on them in Paradise. Spinoglio does not make profound wines and apparently has no desire to do so, and therein lie their real and, to me, irresistible virtues. Wines of delight and satisfaction are completely as legitimate as wines of supposed profundity, and since the attempts at profound wines so far this week had us beating our heads futilely against walls of wood and tannin, it felt like a respite to sip Spinoglio’s direct, authentic efforts.

From his 33 hectares of vines, Spinoglio makes a crisp, fresh, lively Cortese 2008, that carries the general Piemonte designation, and a refreshing Grignolino di Monferrato Casalese 2008 that features lovely dried cherry and cherry pit notes. His Monferrato 2008, made from freisa grapes, offers a hint of spritz, along with dried cherries and red currants, with a surprisingly dense tannic structure and a trace of bracing bitterness of the finish. Both the Monferrato Dolcetto 2008 and the Piemonte Barbera 2008 are clean, flavorful and charming, with the sort of lively acidity that keeps us coming back for another sip. Spinoglio’s Barbera del Monferrato 2008 is uncomplicated, nicely balanced and integrated and downright tasty with flavors of spiced and macerated black cherry, red currant and plum.

Spinoglio’s most serious wine is his Barbera d’Asti Superiori 2007, made every other year. The wine is “raised” in barriques, small barrels of French oak, but Spinoglio cycles the barrels through three-year sequences, so only about 25 percent of the oak is new with each designated vintage. This B. d’A. S. ’07 is all dried spice and flowers, an amalgam of red fruit both dried and fresh, a little sweet ripeness balanced by a little bitterness and the swingeing acidity necessary to the grape. Tannins are fairly dense yet kept to the background, where subtle oak lends the wine shape and a bit of woody spice. This is not the most serious or profound Barbera d’Asti Superiori, but it delivers lovely tone and character, and unlike many examples we have tried this week, it’s pleasingly drinkable.

Our next visit, and the longest of the day, was to La Casaccia, in the village of Cella Monte, where the lively and engaging Giovanni Rava happily showed us around the vaulted 18th Century cellars dug into the sandy, crumbly tufa soil that characterizes the region. Befitting his technical or engineering background — Rava told me later at dinner that he spent 15 years “cooped up behind factory walls” — he explained the history of brick-making 200 years ago, the composition of the soil, the uses of obsolete winemaking equipment and more things than are dreamt in your philosophy. We tasted La Casaccia’s wines in the dining room above the cellars, a room made homey with old family portraits, antique furniture and shelves of books. Giovanni’s wife Elena, as quiet as he is voluble, had prepared a simple yet delicious lunch — especially the kale and leek quiche and the polenta with tomato sauce and sausage — to match the wines.

For someone who started making wine less than a decade ago, Rava shows the instinct combined with craft of a great winemaker. His red wines epitomize the nature of detail and dimension that we require of interesting and complex wines as well as the combination of power and elegance that makes the best impression on the palate. We tried six vintages of Rava’s Vigna San Pietro Barbera d’Asti Superiori, from 2003 to 2008 and were struck by the consistency of the wine, even accounting for vintage variations, and not just the consistency across the curve of development but the remarkable sense of expansiveness and generosity, of balance and integration that these wines evince, qualities we have not see much this week. We also tried three vintages of the Caliché B. d’A. S. — 2001, ’03 and ’04 — aged in French barriques yet smooth and harmonious and all delivering wonderful weight, tone and presence.

The vines of La Casaccia are cultivated along organic principles; 2008 was the first year that the labels were allowed to carry the organic designation.

Later that evening, at a tasting of wines by many producers in Monferrato, we encountered other wines that were equally impressive. I’ll mention those when I can get to them in a few days, but pay attention when I write about an incredible pinot nero (pinot noir) from Cantina Iuli, the Nino 2007, that aged — get this — 27 months in one-year old barriques and yet manages to capture the essential delicacy and purity of the grape. You have to love that sense of integrity married to individuality.

I’m sure My Readers understand that this trip by seven bloggers to “Barbera Meeting 2010” is a press excursion paid for by the event’s myriad sponsors. Our airplane flights and hotel accommodations were paid for, and we are provided with a number of lunches and dinners that are also attended by members of the trade and the Barbera d’Asti producers and winemakers. We gain experience and perspective; the organization’s entities and the wine producers receive our ideas and opinions and (potentially) valuable exposure. Have tasted about 220 wines in two days, I’ll say that I have gained considerable experience and perspective on a wine region which I had never visited.

Don’t worry that we can’t be objective. If you check the official blog — — you’ll see that we bloggers have been critical about the punishing and debilitating amount of oak and tannin in many of the wines, and that we have questioned the motivations and the techniques of the winemakers who overload their wines on the front end and diminish the pleasure of their wine’s fruit and vibrant acidity, an essential feature of the barbera grape.

In fact, yesterday morning the local newspaper in Asti carried a story the gist of which was that the bloggers were being critical of the wines tasted the first day (Monday) and that the principal criticism is the issue of wood. Yours truly is the first person, or first blog, quoted in the story. And we heard this evening that today (I’m writing this at 12:44 a.m.) there will be a similar piece in a national paper. We’re called “Barbera Boys,” a bit of nomenclature that does not sit well with Whitney, the lone woman of our group. (I would not dream of suggesting a correction to “Barbera Boys and Their Mascot Whitney.”)

Anyway, we encountered more wood and more tannin and a surprising amount of controversy yesterday afternoon and evening in Nizza, a town that’s the center of a Barbera d’Asti sub-region, with cheeky journalists and offended producers both expressing passionate beliefs in the wrongness or rightness of their winemaking techniques. I think that all of us bloggers will be posting about this strenuous and very important debate, since it has to do, ultimately, with the survival of Barbera d’Asti as a viable representative of a grape and region.

Obviously, there’s more to come.

Snow lies on the hillsides of Piedmont, blanketing the dormant vines. The weather is chilly, but the clouds cleared away and the sun shone all day. The wineries we visited yesterday afternoon were chillier, as they always are, with their cellars dug into the ground and their tank rooms paved in concrete. As one estate owner said, though, with unerring truth, “You have seen many steel tanks and wooden barrels. I won’t detain you here.” These are not fancy or elaborate wineries; no celebrity architects designed these facilities. All is simplicity, family tradition and concentration on a singular purpose.

Yesterday morning, at the Barbera Meeting, we tasted 68 or 70 examples of Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti Superiore from 2008 and 2007, with a few from 2006. After a light lunch, mostly roasted vegetables, our group boarded a small bus and drove into the countryside, where in the course of the afternoon we visited three small family-owned properties, each with its unique — O.K., eccentric in some cases — philosophy and emphasis. I think our favorite of these properties was Tenuto Il Falchetto, where the Bricco Paradiso 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, was one of those wines that makes you go, “Oh, right, this is what we’ve been looking for.” (There were also dawgs outside. which I liked.) At each estate we were welcomed and provided with spreads of focaccia and other wonderful breads, salamis and local cheeses, delicious and intriguing, some of which I would like to find at a cheese shop in Asti, if possible.

We got back to Asti about 7:30 and were taken — after our driver run a stop sign and got into an altercation with a man whose little delivery truck he almost ran over — to Villa Basinetto for another tasting at which many of the producers from the morning event presented their full roster of wines. I tasted through the lines of Giacomo Bologna “Braida” — unusually for the region, they make a riesling — and Tentuta La Pergola (they make an untypical blend of nebbiolo, bonarda and barbera in the Bric du Siva 2004, Monferrato Rosso, a wine of great dignity and character) and was pleased to discover the eccentric and entirely lovable wines (like a rollicking blend of syrah and ruché!) of Bricco La Morra, presented by the highly eyewear-conscious Marco Maria, whose photo you see here.

This tasting was followed by a pretty damned splendid dinner catered by Ristorante Il Cascinanuovo, about which I will have more to say in a follow-up post. Our group was joined by two winemakers, Massimo Pastura, of Cascina La Ghersa, and Franco Cavallero, of Cantine Sant’ Agata, who of course went and obtained bottles of all their wines for us to try with the meal. I was particularly taken with two of Pastura’s white wines, his Il Poggio Gavi 2009 and the Timian 2007, made from the timorossa grape, and I thought that his La Ghersa Viguassa 2005, a Barbera d’Asti Superiore from the Nizza sub-region, was one of the best of the whole day. Not to get too far ahead of the dining post, but Viguassa ’05 was terrific with a shallow bowl of Zuppa di patate e fagioli borlotti con maltagliati all’uovo, that is a soup of potatoes and beans with egg pasta, a prosaic description of a modest but rich and mellow dish I thought about with pleasure long into the night.

That whole day added up to tasting about 120 wines. And now it’s another day, and the waiters are starting to pour the first flight.

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