25 March 2010

Lurëi of hope

[asti vineyards]Talk. All talk.

That – or more accurately, listening to someone else talk – is what we’ve been doing since this morning’s massive blind tasting. Lots of talk. Little action.

I don’t know if it rises to the level of a truism, but in my experience, it’s generally the case that wineries who talk an awful lot about what they do tend to be the ones who don’t do it very well. A blizzard of words – whether they be oenogeekery or marketing blather – usually precede, and surround, wines that need all the help they can get. And I’ve never been asked “what do you think of the wines?” by an eager proprietor who’s just poured me a half-dozen tastes of liquid excellence. Those who make really good wine…well, they don’t need to ask. They already know.

So I suppose it’s no real surprise that this, our third and final winery visit of the day, is a little light on the talk. It’s not that there’s no information imparted. It’s just that we’re tired, that the winemaker can sense that we’re tired…and that the wines here at Il Falchetto speak for themselves.

There are some early signs within the little talk we do get, though. Some hints. Some promises. At one point, during a discussion of green-harvesting (grapes are dropped on the barbera vines until four to five bunches are left, depending on vintage characteristics), our host says that more are left on white-grape vines “to preserve acidity and limit sugar.”

Imagine that!

Yeasts? Inoculated, and chosen for “freshness.” Wild yeasts have been tried, but after some unclean ferments have not since been encouraged. The moscato d’Asti is a special case, however: yeast is cultured from a “mother” preparation that’s already well past its twentieth birthday.

And that’s it. Which is to say: there’s more talking, and there are answers to questions, but the really vital information is in our glasses. Which we proceed to with all due haste.

Il Falchetto 2009 Langhe Arneis (Piedmont) – Very lush fruit in the banana realm, but there’s an edge to it that’s more plantain-like…something greener and less ripe, combined with a textural ripeness that suggests, but does not deliver, an element of tropicality; a sort of Musa equipoise, if you will. Crystalline minerality coalesces over the course of a fairly long finish. Balanced and quite nice, perhaps with the potential to be even more than that.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Lurëi (Piedmont) – A dramatic wine, and for a change that drama has been written by the authors Grape and Site, not the infamous ghostwriter Tonnelier. High-toned minerality dominates this wine, which is firmly-structured with graphite-textured tannin and great acidity. “Fruit,” such as it is, is dark and scowl-visaged. Very, very impressive.

Il Falchetto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso (Piedmont) – Made from three very different sites from which the overall harvest lasts about a month, then given the sort of treatment a winery gives it’s “flagship” wine (that is: well over a year in barrique). Which means we all know what’s coming. Low acidity leaves roundness in its wake, and the tannin is extremely fine-grained. While the fruit is still of a reddish hue, it’s suave and sophisticated in the manner of…well, the name that immediately comes to mind is Gaja, and one may interpret that based on how one feels about that winery. There’s a bit of heat showing its reddened neck, as well. While it’s very good in the modern, “important” style, I don’t like that bit of heat, and I really don’t need yet another wine that tastes like this.

Il Falchetto 2003 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso (Piedmont) – “Smells like an ‘03” comments a fellow taster. Tastes like one, too. Dense – almost syrupy – but still red-fruited (an achievement of sorts). There’s also heavy tannin that’s not quite ripe, and shows hints of dill and allegations of unresolved powder. Everyone (me included) talks about the heat and overpowering fruit of 2003, but it’s really the chewy, undeveloped, yet massive tannin that’s going to bring to many of these wines to an early demise, not the fact that they’re neutron fruit bombs. The finish is chalky sludge. I suppose this is OK for the vintage, but that’s not exactly high praise.

[barrel + bottle]Il Falchetto 2007 Monferrato Rosso “La Mora” (Piedmont) – A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and barbera. The greenness of the first two grapes (in contrast to barbera, that is) really sticks its neck out here, and not in an unpleasant way. There’s minerality, good acidity – and now we can thank the home team’s grape – and while it’s not all bad given that it’s a blend for which I don’t have much personal use, milk and oak really stew up the finish.

Some group musings on this wine lead to a short narrative on the presence of “foreign” grape varieties in the Piedmont. Along the way, our host tells us something that I find a little shocking. Apparently, one is allowed and even encouraged to “rescue” old vineyard sites within the various DOCs, but one may not use the best DOCs on wines from those replanted vineyards. Since there’s no market for the region’s traditional grape varieties as lesser-denominated or table wines, wineries wishing to recoup their expenses and eventually capitalize on these vineyards are – I’m using our host’s word here – essentially “forced” to plant non-indigenous varieties.

OK, no, what I said a moment ago is a lie. I find this a lot shocking…if it’s true. Is it? Is there a “rest of the story” that I’m missing? This would explain a lot about what’s going wrong in this region, if it’s so. But it still seems like a wholesale abandonment of patrimony, and while I would defend a winery’s choice to take this path on their own (provided they dropped the protected appellation), I find it inexplicable that a country’s or region’s wine law would encourage it.

Well, anyway, there’s still some tradition left to taste. We’re in the heart of moscato country, and here’s one from four different sites that, according to our host, provide “four different perfumes.”

Il Falchetto 2009 Moscato d’Asti “Tenuta del Fant” (Piedmont) – Very fresh, sweet, and pure. Orange and apple blossoms with bright malic acidity (or at least so it seems) and hints of cider. Really fun.

I don’t want to over-dramatize and say that this winery has restored my faith in barbera. I only really liked one of the three we were poured, after all…though I also enjoyed the two whites. But after a day in which I’ve tasted depredation after depredation for reasons of aspiration as often as indifference, it’s refreshing to taste wines that – even if they stray from my preferences – are able to express themselves without coaching from the finest minds of Allier, Tronçais, and Nevers.

Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See http://barbera2010.com/ for details on the people and entities involved. My tasting notes have not been influenced in any way, nor has my work on this blog and/or my own site, but the content of any work appearing only on the official Barbera Meeting 2010 blog may (or may not) have been edited for content.

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