26 April 2010

Bottle shock

I'd thought I'd lost the ability to be shocked. I was wrong. eRobertParker's forums are closed, and going subscriber-only.

We are a small company with limited resources and, after months of deliberation, we've come to the conclusion that it is in the best interest of the people who count most - our subscribers - that we change our policy with regard to the bulletin board. On April 27, the entire Mark Squires' Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com will become a subscriber-only forum, open only to subscribers of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate or eRobertParker.com. [...] Change is always difficult but, like this action, often necessary. We are sorry to say goodbye to those posters to Mark Squires' Bulletin Board who are not subscribers, and who have made valuable contributions. We will miss you, but our overwhelming goal is more focused support and assistance to our subscribers, who are our bloodline of support and make all the fascinating features of the bulletin board possible. We look forward to better serving our loyal subscribers through a more focused effort on them.

As a "protect your power and image" move, it's absolutely the right call. For 2005. And before. But now, in the social mediasphere, where collaboration is the value? Absolutely inexplicable. Everyone who is not the Wine Advocate wins big, starting...right now.

25 April 2010

To the Nth power

[moldy bottle]What is natural, and what is Natural? As explained in the previous post, “natural” is a guiding philosophy, not a set of rules. It’s possible (and even probable, given the lack of control inherent in the category) that no two natural wines are alike, and even more certain that any given set of natural producers will disagree on details of viticulture and vinification. Thus, a rigid external definition of “natural” is unlikely at best, and misguided at worst. Yet another reason to prefer “more natural” as the implied synonym, rather than bicker about this or that process leading to disqualification and banishment from the category.

Capital-N “Natural” is a placard. It’s a printed t-shirt, a social media fan group, an “ask me about indigenous yeast” campaign button. It’s a public statement that one is following principles one deems to be natural, because it’s important to the person making that statement that others know this. It’s a form of marketing. It’s coming out. It’s not necessarily a movement, though it often looks that way as commercial entities coalesce around the term. It’s an open self-identification as much as a philosophy, and what others think (and how they react) is now a matter of importance, whereas for a lower-case “natural” producer all that need to matter are the process and, hopefully, the result. Once interest moves beyond that to the market (of ideas or commerce), it’s no longer just natural, it’s Natural.

The whole idea of a Natural wine movement seems strange to oenophiles in many countries. Yes, there are importers and wine bars that trumpet “natural” as a guiding principle, but the majority of wine is not “natural” except in a very denuded sense of the term. (Nor, it should be stressed, is it ever likely to be.) There are natural and Natural producers everywhere, but the movement as a Movement – there’s that upper-case signification again – really lives and breathes in France. Especially Paris, where there are dozens of bars and restaurants that embrace, promote, and…after a fashion…are the only identifiable manifestation of Natural (vs. natural) that many will experience. There are establishments elsewhere in France, there are wine fairs and gatherings, there is a vocal and ever-growing base of media and fan support (and corollary hostility), and of course there are the producers at the heart of it all, but to really understand what Natural means and how it differs from natural, one needs to be on the ground in France, visiting both producers and their commercial advocates.

Any broadly-tasted observer of the natural scene might choose this moment to object, noting that an awful lot of the wines that fit into and in fact define this category come from Italy, despite a general hostility towards the concept in mainstream Italian wine circles. But the center of gravity remains in France. Why? Because it’s not about natural, it’s about Natural. Italians have managed to cobble together a few natural wine fairs as alternatives to VinItaly, but the seemingly genetic Italian antipathy towards organization and conformity makes the likelihood of a true national movement extremely unlikely. Even those Italian natural wine events exist mostly because they’re the nonconformist alternative, rather than an establishment position. If natural wine ever became a Movement in Italy, I suspect it would fall apart at the seams. (In fact, since there are competing natural wine fairs, in a way it already has.)

I and others like to joke that the French are terrible at marketing. In some ways, this is true. In others, it’s most decidedly not – what, after all, is the appellation system if not marketing codified into the very law of the land? – and when it comes to natural wine, producers seem to understand what I’ll call “marketing the minority” quite well. Capital-N Natural thrives because the alternative is the vinous majority, and there’s always something to position one’s self against. If that’s not marketing, what is it?

The odd thing is, France – for many wine drinkers – is already the alternative. Isn’t the Old World model of traditionally-made, structure-forward wine the philosophical opposite of the fruit-forward, low-structure, texture-oriented wine that has come to prominence elsewhere? Aren’t the legendary forms of French wine the very definition of one side of the traditional/modern dichotomy?

Yes, perhaps. But traditional/modern isn’t the same division as natural/interventionist. In some ways the practices of the naturalists are thoroughly modern, in that the rejection of control is based on a sound fundamental knowledge of the chemical consequences of each action. In others, they’re a modern freedom to market to a philosophy rather than live from sale to sale or bet one’s future on the reputation of one’s history and one’s neighbors’ histories, which is how the appellation system functions. But of course, the naturalists are in essence the über-traditionalists, rejecting not only the clever manipulations of modern winemaking, but also the tried-and-true manipulations of traditional winemaking. A naturalist, for example, might reject chaptalization even though it has been practiced by seven generations of her forebears, and even though it would allow a thoroughly traditional way of working and marketing the results.

One may work quietly but naturally and reap benefits anyway. A surprising number of producers do this, based on reputations already made and ensured by the quality of their wines or the fame of their sites. But others – especially the previously-unknown, whether they be newly-splintered growers who used to supply a cooperative, or young turks eager to prove their mettle – want and need a hook. Especially, in France, given the inherent (and arguably desirable) conservatism of the AOC system. That hook? Natural…capital N intact and, in this case, necessary…winemaking.

[dusty sheep]The thing is, a marketing hook inevitably leads to marketing-speak. And sometimes, that blather can be aggressive and hyper-critical, selling an old/new category of wine not on its merits, but solely on the points of difference and denigration that can be applied to the alternatives. Difference quickly becomes superiority, and superiority soon becomes a rhetorical target on which opponents of the Natural crowd can hang their objections.

“This wine is better because it’s natural” is a nonsensical statement, and yet one hears it a little too often from producers who should know better, but either don’t or feel that the marketing advantage still works to their favor. A wine is natural because it’s natural (apparently it’s made from late-harvest tautology grigio), but it’s better because it’s better, and the quantified twain ne’er shall meet.

Here’s the important exception: for some producers, tradespeople, and drinkers, “natural” may be a desirable characteristic all by itself. People make philosophical choices about their purchases and their foodstuffs all the time, and why should wine be exempt? For such people, a natural wine does have an inherent advantage over a less natural one, because of what it is. But let’s not conflate concepts: an increase in desirability due to naturalism is not the same as a purely qualitative advantage. One may, given a certain philosophy, reasonably conclude that a natural wine is more desirable than a less natural wine even though one thinks that the less natural wine is, by some personal standard of quality, “better”…just as (for example) one might choose local agricultural products over transoceanic products for environmental and philosophical reasons, even though this means a net loss in the quality and/or variability of available ingredients. Choosing natural is a very different thing than saying natural is, by definition, better.

Advocates of naturalism engage in their own bad faith when they merge the two concepts, whether they’re just plain ignorant or because they perceive there’s a marketing advantage to be had. A producer or consumer may honestly believe that natural wines are qualitatively better for any number of personal reasons, but they cannot demonstrate this to others beyond doubt or counter-argument, nor can they prove a correlation between nature and quality. Even in the most amenable of universes, one in which natural is a widely-recognized cause quality (and that is not necessarily our universe), there would still be those who preferred alternatives. In that universe, “manipulated” (or “Manipulated”) might be the same sort of marketing hook that “natural” is now.

(By the way, cards on the table: I tend to prefer, all else being equal, “natural” wines for philosophical and organoleptic reasons. I think that diversity is generally enhanced when adjustments are minimized, and I greatly value diversity. I think terroir is obscured when changes are wrought to a grape’s intended expression of itself and its site, and I very much value both varietal character and terroir. I tend to dislike some of the common vine and wine manipulations – primarily those that elevate alcohol, limit structure, and create or encourage specific flavors – that very often go hand-in-hand with an interventionist philosophy. There are qualitative exceptions to my philosophical preference in each of these cases, however, and that is why I can’t cast my lot with the Natural crowd, but can and do support the generalized goals of the natural set.)

So yes, there’s bad faith on both sides. That said, let’s not over-equate those sides. Natural (capitalized or not) producers represent the thinnest possible wedge on the pie chart of all wine philosophies. They are a “threat” to no one except the incomprehensibly insecure, and are an actual threat to no one at all, because they’re only an alternative, not a theocracy. How can the existence of one style of winemaking hurt any other style of winemaking., absent legislation (from which natural winemaking could not be more remote)? It can’t, of course. If the varying and competing styles of are qualitatively appealing , there should be room for everyone at the table. What there probably isn’t room for is pointless sniping over who can and should use which term, or who has the right to a concept, or whose philosophy is “better.”

24 April 2010

It's only natural

[netted grapes] “This wine is red.” Say it out loud. Do any wine geeks within range raise immediate objections? No, unless they’re completely soused and apt to object to their own names unless supplied in song form. But is the wine actually red? Probably not. It might be magenta, purple-hued, infused with a pale salmon color, or bricking orange-brown at the edges. It might be nearly opaque, or it might be a faint tint in an otherwise transparent liquid. What it probably is not is plain-and-simple “red,” nor is exact correspondence with a specific wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum necessary in order to employ the term. It’s not white, pink, or orange? Then it’s red.

How about “this wine is dry”? Residual sugar can be measured and quantified, certainly, but sweetness is an organoleptic response, powerfully affected by factors beyond a quantifiable measure. And the seemingly crucial fact that very few wines are actually entirely free of any and all residual sugar probably won’t enter into this discussion, because “a dry wine” doesn’t mean “zero residual sugar,” and wine folk understand and accept this as part of their shared language. There might, if there’s to be any debate at all, be a discussion of apparent sweetness as experienced by different tasters, but that will probably be the extent of the controversy.

So let’s try another short, easy-to-understand, and useful phrase. “This is a natural wine.” Quickly now: cover your ears, lest you’re deafened by the escalating responsive din. “Natural wine doesn’t exist,” you will be told, with impatience and, sometimes, actual exasperation. “Wine doesn’t make itself.”

Yes, because that’s exactly what “natural wine” means to those who use it: grapes that ferment themselves, fall into a bottle that’s sprouted from the ground, acquire both label and closure thanks to the charitable works of passing insects, and then walk (on newly-sprouted bottle feet) to the nearest port for transport and eventual sale. It is then purchased by fairies and leprechauns to be consumed at the Midsummer feast while conjuring unicorns.

(Why isn’t there an HTML sarcasm tag? Or is it better to just assume that the entire internet is enclosed within one instance of the tag?)

This increasingly tiresome debate continues along these lines, unabated, as more and more wines self-identify as “natural.” But a lot of the arguments are in bad faith, because people insist on a strict definition for “natural” that neither corresponds to reality nor is demanded elsewhere within the language of wine.

Imagine that, hypothetically, there are exactly one-hundred things that a winemaker can do between and inclusive of vine, must, and bottle that will change the nature of the wine: additions, subtractions, and transformations. A winemaker might do four of them, or all 100 of them. Which of those wines is less a product of nature and more a product of human ingenuity? That’s an easy question to answer, and unlikely to be debated. So why does identifying the opposite condition lead to such indignant rhetoric? If the latter wine is less natural, what’s wrong with calling the former wine more natural? Without even digging into the marbled meat of the matter, but instead as a matter of language, it should be clear that these disparate reactions don’t make a bit of sense. If one pole exists, so must the other.

And “more natural” is really the full extent of what “natural” means in common parlance. With one caveat: a natural wine is more natural than an arbitrary less-natural alternative, while (here’s the caveat) remaining within some arbitrary and personal threshold whereby deformative manipulations have been eschewed to the extent possible. (In other words, Kendall-Jackson can’t sensibly claim itself natural because they use two fewer techniques than Gallo, but seventy more than Edmunds St. John.) It’s not a boast that no human has participated in the process, it’s not an assertion that the grapes were magically transformed into wine by the wave of a wizard’s wand, and it’s not an insistence that absolutely no agricultural or technological measures were undertaken. It’s a philosophical approach to the craft of winemaking in which the myriad opportunities for control tend to be ignored rather than taken, and in which most choices remain unmade. That’s tend to be, not must be. Enforced naturalism is fundamentalism, and fundamentalism is not natural winemaking, it’s religious winemaking. In fact, it goes against the principles of naturalism in that it, too, is a recipe, insisting on rather than allowing specific choices during the winemaking process. This matters because far too many observers incorrectly conflate fundamentalism with naturalism, and in fact the insistence that “natural” can only mean one single (and impossible) thing is to insist that naturalism is a synonym for fundamentalism. Which it most certainly is not.

The other problem with a debate being conducted along lines in which “natural” is not allowed to have any meaning beyond fundamentalist purity of practice is that both it and all related and opposed terms become laden not with meaning, but with inferred (not implied) value judgments. But this need not be the case. The employment of the term “natural wine” does not inherently presume an opposing category of “unnatural wine” (which is certainly a laden phrase), it simply places natural wine near one end of a range of practices and guiding philosophies. To pretend that that range does not exist, and is not represented by many producers at each point along its length, is ludicrous. And yet, this is what deniers of the concept of “natural wine” claim to believe when they insist that the term is without meaning; if one end of the range doesn’t exist because it can’t, then the other doesn’t and can’t either, and thus all wines are essentially the same in both intent and result. Which they unequivocally are not.

Some posit that the problem is the word “natural” itself, claiming that it does imply an opposite, unnatural practice. But if the popular counter-argument to natural wine is that all wine is inherently unnatural, existing only as the work of man, then why object to “unnatural” at all? If this is the case, “unnatural” must be assumed as a synonym for the word “wine,” in which case “natural” has no meaning at all. But didn’t our objectors just decide that “natural” is a synonym for fundamentalism? Clearly, they cannot have it both ways.

Obviously, the actual problem with “unnatural” is that it’s not a particularly marketable word (to say the least), and the fear is that customers will reject it as a result. In reality, then, this set of definitional objections aren’t about definitions, they’re about positioning product in the marketplace. And that’s not a linguistic, scientific, or a philosophical debate, is it? This is an clarion example of an argument being undertaken in bad faith. The problem isn’t “natural,” the problem is the fear that it makes selling the alternatives more difficult.

So how about the alternatives? “Less interventionist,” “less manipulated,” and so forth. Better? No. In general, the same people object, and for the same reasons: how does one sell “more interventionist” and “more manipulated” in a wine market in which endless bullshit about the natural gifts of a pastoral, vine-covered countryside is peddled by the most industrial and mindlessly commercial wineries in the world, with fake jitneys, fake overalls, fake dirty fingernails, and depictions of moldy barrel rooms miles from the glistening tank farms of reality?

But here’s the bald truth: some wines are more manipulated, more interventionist, and so forth. Honest producers will tell you why and how they manipulate and intervene, and will be both proud and explicatory as they declaim their thoughtful justifications for each decision. The desire for control, or in a more comprehensive sense safety, are part and parcel of a directed, goal-oriented philosophy of winemaking, one in which the myriad opportunities for meddling tend to be embraced rather than ignored. This is not bad. Let me repeat: this is not bad. A huge percentage of the greatest wines of history have been made with this philosophy, and great wines are still made this way. There are many paths to beverage brilliance, and naturalism is not the only one.

That said, a given producer, importer, seller, or drinker may choose – or prefer to choose – wines in just one mechanistic category, for reasons that seem good to them. This should not be viewed as an opportunity for opprobrium, as it so often is by winemakers (nor their fans) who manipulate more rather than less. Rather, it should be emblematic and celebratory of the diversity provided by a modern, scientific understanding of winemaking that allows, rather than forces or narrows, decisions in the vineyard and cellar. Natural winemakers who are not just following the recipes of yesteryear – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that path, either – are able to make a philosophical rather than practical choice because they have a fair idea of what will happen as a result. This is not really a rejection of the technology that their neighbors employ, but rather an embrace thereof for the purposes of rejecting its use. That’s an important difference.

Those who grow virulent at the mere mention of the word “natural” are ignorant at worst, but at best perhaps understandably tortured by the baggage the word has been forced to carry. The virulence is even more amusing when one understands that natural wines are a tiny percentage of all available bottles, and that the strength and volume of the objections are far out of proportion to the market presence of the wines that actually self-identify as natural. This, too, is explained not by an earnest desire for linguistic precision or rigid taxonomic categorization, but rather by resentment and hostility over the implications – though I rather suspect inferences are actually at work – of the terms for wines not categorized as “natural.”

So that covers the bad-faith arguments by those who oppose naturalism. What about the other side? For they and their arguments draw hostility from many who are not part of the natural crowd, and not always unjustifiably.

Well, there’s another category of natural-ness that’s not just a matter of less intervention, and I think it causes much of the artificial hue and industrial cry over the term. My personal shorthand for this category is Natural, as opposed to natural. And what does that seemingly insignificant capitalization mean?

That’s for part two.

19 April 2010

Eating the pig

Here's a break from the endless barbera postings (which are about half done, I'd estimate), and also the overlong essays. So what is it? Food, wine, Alsace. No more than that.

[half-timbers]Le Moschenross – Straight out of some forgotten century, through a hotel that looks like it might be decrepit and a lobby so dim that it nearly puts one to sleep, is this surprisingly bright, airy, but frozen-in-time restaurant. In most places, this would be ultra-traditional food, but in Alsace it actually qualifies a little adventurous, moving past the same fifteen or so dishes everyone else serves to…well, let’s call it twenty dishes.

I kid, but only a little. My salad with stuffed quail legs (good, albeit a bit more livery than I prefer) and thin-sliced foie gras is a typically Alsatian rendering of something that would otherwise be light: loading it up with liver and fattened liver is the local variation. (I’m a little surprised there’s neither ham nor starch.) Next is a venison loin, overcooked but flavorful, drenched in a rich meat sauce with excellent steamed-then-fried potatoes, a medley of white and green asparagus, and carrots. Honestly, the stars here are not the meat, nor the sauce, but the accompanying vegetables both stalky and rooted, which taste vividly of themselves. Not something one always finds in northern France restaurant vegetable cookery, especially in Alsace.

The wine list is somewhat short on local bottles (there’s one extravagantly-priced wine from the Rangen, but it’s a Wolfberger, and I’m disinclined to pay around $60 for cooperative wine unless it’s excellent…which, in the past, this bottle has not been), and in any case I don’t think a Rangen anything is a good match for Bambi in this particular form. And so…

Dopff & Irion 2006 Pinot Noir Rouge d’Ottrott (Alsace) – Surprisingly full. Red berries infused with wet soil, a little oak influence, and just enough textural plushness. A very slight bit underripe in terms of tannin, but otherwise well beyond competent and decidedly into the enjoyable realm. This is a somewhat industrial and middle-of-the-road producer that, a few years ago, was trying to make some qualitative steps forward. Maybe they’ve taken a few of those steps.

There’s also a too-sweet alisier eau de vie, fragrant and enticing but just not dry enough, that seems to straddle some middle ground between distillate and liqueur, and indifferent coffee. A good meal, comfortable and filling.

At a rented apartment between two noisy churches in Colmar – really, is it necessary for both to toll lustily every fifteen minutes all day and night? – a quick market-sourced dinner of dos de cabillaud, caramelized leeks, and paprika-spiced haricots verts needs a white wine. And though it’s not a question often asked in this region, why not savagnin?

Boch 2009 Klevener de Heiligenstein (Alsace) – Spice is a regular feature of Alsatian wines, but the spice herein is exotic, white-hued, and all up top. There’s slate, a sort of cold sultriness, and weight pressing down from above. But there’s good structure, too, and some fun leafiness. Nice wine.

[cabaillaud & klevener]Côté Cour – A modernist, slick, clean brasserie right on a busy church-side plaza, and clearly determined to lighten and modernize the local cuisine. Well…to a point. My carpaccio de tête de veau (not, despite the name, raw) is meaty but less complex and interesting than a version devoured a few months ago at the brilliant Le Comptoir du Relais in Paris, and it’s followed by perfectly-cooked rouget abed Robuchon-style butter slightly thickened by puréed potatoes. There’s even a little superfluous foam around the exterior. Everything’s quite good (especially the service), but I’d like to see a stronger embrace of the future rather than just gestures.

Coffee is Nespresso and is indicated as such on the menu (oh, one weeps for the state of French coffee), but the wine list – while young – is fine. Surprisingly, it’s reasonably strong in not only non-Alsatian, but non-French bottlings.

Barmès Buecher 2005 Riesling Herrenweg (Alsace) – Molten iron. Not just the aromatics, but also the weight and density. Almost a really good, dusty, all-mineral wine, but the heaviness is just too much, and eventually overwhelms the palate. Blame the vintage more than the house.

[piggies]Restaurant Barthodli – If anything here has changed since before the dawn of time, including the staff, I’d be shocked. Be prepared for Alsatian food in Alsatian quantities. For example, my first-course order of white asparagus with ham is nixed by the proprietress, who insists that it will be far too much food if I follow it with the second course I intend ; her advice is surprising, but after I receive a platter of a dozen incomprehensibly bloated stalks, exactly right. The accompanying sauces are a butter vinaigrette (of course) and mayo, and…well, what is there to say? The asparagus is excellent, the accompaniments too much, the marriage of the two surpassing.

Another Alsatian classic follows: veal in mushrooms (lots of both), with an accompanying pan of spätzle big enough for three or four people. It’s hearty, rich, mass-endowed food, and though I don’t know how much place it has in a modern society not engaged in transhumance, it’s good to know that it’s still available.

I consider a digestif, but instead opt for yet another local favorite: frozen dessert drenched in eau de vie (in this case, lemon sorbet swimming in marc de gewurztraminer). It’s as woozy as it is good. As for the wine list: the Bordeaux-minded will do pretty well with some mature-ish wines at good prices, but the Alsatian side, while lengthy, is probably less-represented in the actual cellar than it is the wine list. Which explains how I end up with a wine I’d never have ordered had it not been opened away from, and brought to, the table without asking if I’d like a substitute. Oh, well.

Joseph Cattin 2007 Muscat d’Alsace (Alsace) – As much structure and flaky minerality as perfume. Good Alsatian muscat has a strange palate action whereby it seems to be pressing against a wall, and this wine fits into that category. Short, as is fairly typical for this grape, but good.

Sparr 2003 Pinot Gris Mambourg (Alsace) – Way, way, way too sweet and structure-free. The aromatics haven’t developed, the syrupy texture is off-putting, and the wine is just a mess.

[bisexual door]Back at the apartment, this time surrounded by old friends (of twenty years running) who’ve driven from northern Lorraine. We’ve goose foie gras in terrine form from the masterful Liesel, which is by far my favorite type and expression of fattened liver, and after the tenth or eleventh lecture of my life (from the proprietor) on how vendange tardive pinot gris is the one and only wine one could ever consider serving with goose foie gras, I feel a little blind tasting is in order.

Vincent Stoeffler 2006 Riesling Kirchberg de Barr “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – Decidedly light and Bas-Rhin-ish. A bit hollowed-out. Stainless steel, very light sweetness, elegance but not much poise. Just OK.

Pierre-Paul Zink 1999 Pinot Gris “Vendange Tardive” (Alsace) – Coppery minerality, spice, bronzed pear, finely-flaked textural swirls. A really gorgeous wine…neither overbearing nor overly sweet (there’s plenty of sugar, but enough acidity to counteract). Quite long. Very tasty.

Jean-Paul Schmitt 2002 Gewurztraminer Rittersberg “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – 500 ml. Spiced yellow plum, cashew, and fruity bacon fat up front, but then everything fades rather more quickly than I’d like. A good first third, but after that it’s disappointing.

There are twelve tasters to poll, and I ask three questions: what are the wines, do you like them, and which did you prefer with the terrine? The third wine is the easiest to identify (one even ventures a very specific guess of Kaefferkopf), but guesses about the first two are all over the map; literally, in the first case, as two of my friends engage in a very long debate about how the wine absolutely must be German. The second results in answers that cover the full range of possible responses. But the most important question is about the marriage with foie gras, and here the vote is: four for the riesling, two for the pinot gris, and six (including me) for the gewurztraminer. Yes, there are the individual wine qualities to consider, but this result is revealing nonetheless. Of course, after the unveiling, I’m treated to yet another long discourse on why pinot gris was actually the right choice all along, despite the lecturer’s expressed preference for the gewurztraminer…

Wistub Brenner –This restaurant has everything going against it: widespread fame, a position right on a key junction in Colmar’s touristy “Petite Venise” district, a large terrace (underused during these chilly-to-overly-layered-French-folk spring days), and a menu that looks and feels like hundreds (maybe thousands?) of others in the region. But no. The food, authentic and relentlessly traditional, is extraordinary. There’s not a surprise on the menu…at least, not that I can see…but unless one can’t tolerate the region’s traditional cuisine, there’s nothing to do but love what’s on the plate.[escaping statue]

I start with the best presskopf I’ve ever had, the meat and gelatin in perfect proportion and both of surprising intensity, and follow with tourte de la vallée: essentially a compressed pork pie, thick and surrounded by a delicious pastry crust. To finish there’s an intense raspberry sorbet swimming in marc de muscat, a perfect marriage of fruit and flower.

Heyberger-Salch 2007 Muscat “Cuvée Égrappée” (Alsace) – Floral but weedy, with a strappy vegetal note. On the upside, there’s a ton of acidity, but I don’t know that it serves this wine all that well. A few more days on the vine wouldn’t have hurt.

Léon Beyer 2006 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Very dry, almost to the point of being parched, as is the Beyer style and predilection. As such, there’s little in the way of stone or tropical fruit, but instead dried nut powder and the aromatic remnant of beef jerky. Very solid structure. To know if this is ever going to be good, one will have to wait at least a decade. Possibly longer. Worth noting: the wine is inexplicably caveated to me (by the waitress) as “sweet” – which it is most certainly not – and yet three fellow diners reject it as too dry and too bitter.

Trimbach 2004 Riesling “Réserve” (Alsace) – Minerality with little else except some lime-scented acidity. The minerality takes several forms – sheet, powder, and rod – and it’s both dominant and restrained. Very particular, but appealing nonetheless, though one has to like ultra-austere riesling.

Muré 2004 Pinot Noir “V” (Alsace) – Weird in all the ways that Alsatian pinot noir is usually weird, this grand cru pinot noir (it’s from the Vorbourg, hence the not-so-secret code on the label) doesn’t live up to its terroir, except in this way: the fruit’s somewhat soupy, the structure’s both spiky and insufficient, and the wine hasn’t been well-handled in the cellar. Which, it must be admitted, doesn’t much say grand cru to me. A rough go.

Bertrand Eau de Vie Sorbier (Alsace) – That’s “rowan” for English-speakers. Lurid blueberry irreparably marred by a fetid sous bois staleness. I really, really hate this.

Bertrand Eau de Vie Vieille Prune (Alsace) – Standard, straightforward. Some spice, some old raisin, some wood. Not very interesting.

06 April 2010

Hastae pudding club

[hastae logo] “Why all this technology? Don’t you like the wines you made before? Why are you changing everything…modifying, intervening?”

While it may not be the question that defines the day, it’s the question that sets the day on its inexorable path.

Up until now, we’ve been doing what one does at large-scale tasting events: sniffing, swirling, sipping, spitting, and scribbling. Some of us with pen in hand, others with space bar under thumb. But today’s a little different. We’ve been bused to an underground space that’s both wine/food showcase and assembly hall, and we’re now being treated – if that’s the word – to a PowerPoint presentation on some viticultural research aimed at improving the quality of barbera grapes in the Piedmont.

The research itself is pretty fundamental: Guyot vs. spurred cordon vine training. The former is traditional to the region, and the latter is being explored as an alternative (or, it might be more accurate to say, a replacement). Three years of research have been applied to this question, and we are here to both listen to and taste the results.

Now, it’s true that non-farmers are going to have an inherently limited enthusiasm for this sort of material. And while it’s as clearly-presented as it can be, there’s every reason for many of the assembled to feel like tuning out…especially after yet another morning of palate-numbing tasting. But those who don’t hear some interesting things along the way. And those who do? Well, by the time we get to the end of that leadoff question, I think pretty much everyone’s awake.

Why fool around with training methods? Curiosity, certainly. But there are specific goals in mind, and several are mentioned right from the beginning. The first is no surprise, given the mumblings from producers we’ve already met: a reduction in either total or the malic portion of barbera’s acidity. The second is a greater concentration of anthocyanins, which brings along with it a parallel concentration of tannins…and if there’s one thing these new-styled wines probably don’t need, especially if they’re going to be raised in barrique, it’s more tannin. (Incredibly, the wines taste-tested during these trials had both grape seed and oak tannins added. Yes, added.) In any case, it’s the third that causes more than a few eyebrows to crest: better preservation of color while the wine ages.

Is this really an important goal? “Color needs to remain permanent as wine ages,” we’re told. Well, why? To distinguish barbera from its notoriously pale-hued neighbor nebbiolo? Because the worldwide market for well-aged barbera has been shying away in recent years for insufficient purpleosity? Because the ultimate goal of any wine should be opacity to the end of its days?

There’s no answer forthcoming. And here’s another goal they have in mind, though it’s relegated to the accompanying text and not mentioned in the presentation:

The Guyot pruning used in most parts of the […] Piedmont does not enable the operation to be mechanized […]. Its substitution with a spurred cordon training system, easier to perform and partially or totally workable mechanically, can lead to a reduction in management costs […].

Finally, there’s the maraschino cherry on this modernizing sundae:

[B]arbera, in environments of average fertility and if pruned with the spurred cordon method, can take advantage of a number of buds slightly higher than the one obtained with the Guyot method.

So: lower acidity, long-term color stability, higher yields, more tannin, and lower-cost mechanical harvesting…this is all just terrific news, and really focused on the key qualitative differentiators that will bring barbera to the next level. (The “natural” set will like this, though: the higher antioxidant levels that also result mean a lessened need for preservational members of the sulfur family.)

Most of the rest of the presentation is devoted to charts and graphs that demonstrate the conclusions of the study…conclusions which, in the minds of those funding the research, do indeed lead to higher-quality barbera. Others, with different goalposts, might reach opposite (or at least less definitive) conclusions even before tasting the wines. I write with my biases already on display, but of course this – as with so many other such debates – will very much revolve around matters of preference. Those who think barbera is not big, dark, dense, tannic, or lush enough will embrace these results with enthusiasm. Whereas we lonely few contrarians can only look on with dismay.

[cheese & confiture]Except it turns out we’re not so lonely after all.

Today’s research is being promoted by Hastae, a group of wineries that won’t be viewed with enthusiasm by anyone of a traditionalist bent: Berta, Braida, Chiarlo, Coppo, Prunotto, and Vietti. Michele Chiarlo, certainly Piedmontese eminence personified, is himself in attendance, and will be presenting tangible evidence of the research’s conclusions to the assembled, as well as answering any questions the group might have. And it turns out that we have some.

It’s Charles Scicolone who offers the confrontation that starts this report. The answer he receives is unhelpful, though it too will set a tone for the day’s discussions and debates: a disagreement with the base assumptions of the question (though the details of this disagreement are elided), followed by a complaint that the question itself is “a little insulting.” But while the barbera brain trust doesn’t offer an actual answer to his question, I think I can provide one.

A near-immediate follow-up to Scicolone’s question that wonders if too many grapes might now be on non-ideal sites, since the better wines of the past seemed perfectly quality-oriented, brings another evasion (“it’s impossible to comment on that”), and then this: until now, growers have apparently not had “incentives” to improve their grapes, and thus were “forced” to make the older, more traditional styles of wines because their production and yields were too high.

The current answer is brought to a coda with, “our research is intended to make bad wines better.” And so, there’s the answer that wasn’t made explicit: they didn’t like the wines that they made before.

An aside…while this little contretemps has been escalating, I’ve moved from my seat in the middle of the room to a standing position against a post, nearer the back. From here, I am more an observer of than a participant in the proceedings – at least visually – and while I do not want to over-dramaticize the scene around the room’s perimeter as a “panic,” it’s clear that tensions among the organizers are high. There’s excited whispering, there’s a lot of agitated frowning and gesturing, and there’s rapid movement to and fro. Onstage, Michele Chiarlo – who is seated – spends much of his non-speaking time with head down and a hand on his forehead, projecting a certain angst, if not actual pain. But while the profoundly negative turn to what was intended to be a purely informational event seems to have the organizers on edge, it’s not clear what they can do. Cut off discussion? That would be transparent and counter-productive. So, they’re forced to wait and watch, like the rest of us. And I think that, if they knew this would be the less confrontational of today’s two interactive fora, they might be breathing a little easier.

Or not.

There’s not a lot of time to muse on this, though, because we move immediately on to the third confrontational comment in a row. (That’s out of three, by the way.) Our third interlocutor notes that even if one accepts that the modern wines we’ve been tasting are more “balanced,” it is at the cost of “recognizability” and the defining character of barbera.

We get two answers to this. The first is from Michele Chiarlo, and it is declarative: “wine is a good wine when it sells.”

The potential problems with this statement have been the subject of innumerable philosophical works, so I feel neither the need nor the desire to delve into them here. From a certain mercantile perspective, of course, it’s “true,” even though it gets us quickly to a state in which Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is the best white wine of Italy, because it sells more than all the others. As a guiding philosophy behind winemaking decisions, I admit I find it profoundly depressing. But that’s a personal reaction. Certainly I don’t find it difficult to understand; starving for one’s vocation is no more inherently noble than starving for one’s art. But I’m also glad that not everyone sees it Chiarlo’s way.

Chiarlo will double down on his assertion a little later: “Now we export to sixty countries. Before, we could only sell in Piedmont.”

It’s left to Professor Vincenzo Gerbi, one of the project’s researchers, an oenologist from the University of Turin, and the speaker who has been covering most of the day’s technical bases, to attempt a less overtly commercial response.

“Barbera, more than any other grape variety, owes its character to acidity. In the past, people have boasted – for not the right reasons – about this acidity. […] We can produce balanced and great-tasting barbera, [and w]e can do so while maintaining the defining character of barbera.”

Here is another a clear refutation of the barbera of the past. That barbera – the crisp, light, red-fruited, acidic-food-requiring wine described in pretty much every wine compendium – is to be dismissed as a necessary failing of the past. Barbera must be sold in ever-increasing quantities, and the new methods and styles are the mechanism by which that will be accomplished, and this new paradigm is here to stay.

Then, Gerbi lobs this little bomblet into the proceedings: “some producers used barriques; this was a mistake.” This with Michele Chiarlo just a meter or so to his left.

[grappa]No matter the institutional desire for an end to the confrontation, we do have a schedule to keep, and so matters come to a natural end as we proceed to a pair of very long tables for a comparative tasting. A very manageable four wines this time, produced by the Hastae group as part of the research trials described above. They are presented to demonstrate a point. And they do.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Deep purple, plum, black cherry. A large-boned and firmly structured wine with good palate intensity. Fruit-dominated, but balanced and solid.

Hastae 2007 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – More obvious alcohol, more “present” fruit. Graphite-textured tannin. Packs a wallop.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Guyot) (Piedmont) – Strong acidity and chewy, reddish-tinged fruit. A little frayed.

Hastae 2008 Barbera d’Asti (spurred cordon) (Piedmont) – Many shades darker than the Guyot-trained wine…in fact, nearly opaque. Purple milk chocolate shake.

Conclusions, then? From this grand sample of four: I certainly, as might be predicted from every vintage generalization I’ve yet heard from the producers here in the Piedmont, prefer the 2007s to the 2008s, for reasons of better balance, fullness, and structure. But that’s not what I’m here to taste. I’m here to taste training methods. And I’m afraid that within each couplet, I prefer the old school Guyot wine to that made from spurred cordon vines. What I can’t go on to say is that I can clearly identify the reasons for that preference from the research conclusions presented earlier. In both cases the spurred cordon wines reflect the qualities and flaws more common to modern, internationalized wines, but this must be caveated by noting that the ’07 Guyot bottling is no ultra-traditional throwback…not that would one expect otherwise from this collection of producers.

After talk and backtalk, there is lunch. A fine one, in which there’s salad in a Zorb, some excellent local delicacies, and a pair of interesting verticals.

Chiarlo “Cuvée Pietro Chiarlo” Metodo Classico Brut (Piedmont) – 50% cortese and 50% chardonnay. Oxidized and sulfurous…a nice trick. Coppery. Ripe, ripe, ripe fruit. Clumsy and goofy; Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford.

Hastae 2005 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Big, ripe, but balanced. There’s a light chocolate sheen, but good – no, make that great – acidity. Very good in the New World style, albeit with the pinched finish so common to the genre.

Hastae 2004 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Sweaty. Brittle tannin hardens the wine, yet the midpalate is mushy; a weird counterpoint. It’s pretty good, to be honest, but in no way could it be called stylish. Perhaps it’s entering a closed stage.

Hastae 2001 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Softening, obviously and dramatically, with leafy soil, black pepper, and spiky acidity. Lots of character, but at the expense of quality.

Hastae 1999 Barbera d’Asti “Quorum” (Piedmont) – Graphite tannin, succulent red fruit, and style. Great acidity. Hearkens back to an older style, with a little more verve.

Tasting these wines, with and without food, several things occur. First, Hastae makes good wines, whatever one thinks of their style and their understandability as barbera d’Asti. Second, their style is either veering precipitously towards the modernistic or age shifts their wines into an older, more traditional mode; I suspect the former more than the latter. Third, these are definitely wines that reward age with change, even if they don’t always get better. And fourth, I have not once wished that the wines had held on to a darker, more youthful color. Who cares?

The second vertical is spirituous – the only time this trip in which we’ll actually be asked to consume grappa, rather than engaging in our own late-night volunteerism – and it’s only a vertical because I request one. Everyone before me gets a glass and a choice, while I ask if a small vertical might be arranged. This seems to please the waitstaff, and the idea spreads. Trendsetting is not my usual mode, but in the spirit of spirits, I won’t cavil.

[grappa]Hastae 2003 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Round and very vintage-marked. Extremely sweet. More like a dessert wine than a grappa, frankly.

Hastae 1999 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Feet. This smells like feet. Also, spices (nutmeg, mostly) and baked caramel apple. Why is there so much overt sucrosity?

Hastae 2005 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Waxy and weird with spice and sweet brown sugar.

Hastae 2004 “Quorum” Grappa (Piedmont) – Ripe apple and spiced honey, with a lactic finish.

OK, these aren’t good at all. Were they labeled “barbera liqueur,” I’d probably be fine with them. But as it is, they’re high fructose grappa syrup. No thanks.

Lunched, wined, and spirited, we prepare to board the bus to our next destination. Snow is falling, and our transport grinds into a lower gear. We’ve somewhere to go, but getting there is going to be harder than anyone knows.

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.

02 April 2010

Nizza man's world, but it wouldn't mean nothin'...

[empty journal]More Asti barbera, this time in the subzone of Nizza. Is there a difference? Read on. And see this post for important disclaimers.

Avezza 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Sotto la Muda” (Piedmont) – Heat and chocolate-covered strawberry candy bar…the cheap kind you’d find in a supermarket or drugstore.

Bava 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Pianoalto” (Piedmont) – All possible forms of brett, moving through the full range of effluvia to Band-Aid, etc., etc., etc. It’s like one of those demonstration wines for “find the flaw” tastings they put sommeliers and MWs through.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Concentrated, dark, jammy fruit, chocolate, tannin, and some welcome minerality. But then there’s lactic and stale butter notes, followed by cocoa butter and a lotiony texture. Tannic lotion…what a concept!

Isolabella della Croce 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Augusta” (Piedmont) – Eucalyptus lozenge, fake cherry, and pink peppercorns. Huh?

La Barbatella 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Vigna dell’Angelo (Piedmont) – Zinfandel-like jam, and an olallieberry fruit soup. After this dalliance with character, the milk and dark chocolates clamp down hard, with gallons of vanilla pouring into the void. Finishes with a lacquer-like residue that’s difficult to extricate from my mouth.

Lana 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Freshly-tanned leather, dark cherries, and a bit of something that feels like spritz (though it could just be unusually fresh acidity; my palate’s a little damaged by this stage) that adds some vibrancy.

Dacapo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Vinga Dacapo (Piedmont) – Incisive dark berries. Clean and clear. That spritzy feeling returns. There’s a little dark chocolate, but this has both persistence and a certain measure of style.

La Gironda di Galandrino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Le Nicchie” (Piedmont) – A tickle of volatile acidity hovers over chocolate sludge infused with malt powder, barley, and hops. It’s chocobeer!

l’Armangia 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry…all with the slowly-hardening texture of cement. An impenetrable pudding of a wine. Where’s the Lactaid?

Chiarlo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “La Court” (Piedmont) – Stink. Stank. Stunk. Weeds, the most brackish coffee, vegetables…and then, for good measure, a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Nocento Michelotti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Montecanta (Piedmont) – Old socks soaked in fruit residue. In case it’s unclear, I did not care for this.

Pescaja 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Solneri (Piedmont) – Smells like freisa, which at this point is better than the many alternatives, I guess. Strawberry, celery salt, fresh fruit slices. I kinda like it. I don’t know what it is, but I’d drink it.

Prunotto 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Costamiole (Piedmont) – A fruit bomb, friendly and approachable, with milk and vanilla doing battle on the finish. Just, you know, in case there was any doubt that the wine could be made from anything or be from anywhere.

Tre Secoli 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza (Piedmont) – Herbal oak, vanilla-scented oak, coconutty oak, oak, oak, oak, oak grappa, and stewed garbage fermented in oak. Mmmmmm.

Vietti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Crena (Piedmont) – Ghirardelli chocolate (that’s not praise, by the way), the salty tang of the ocean, then more chocolate. Textured like half & half.

Villa Giada 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Dani (Piedmont) – Stinky vegetables, brett, weeds, black cherry, and cassis. Finishes with Band-Aids on Styrofoam.

Garitina 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “Neuvsent” (Piedmont) – Roasted tomato dusted with peppercorns, celery salt, and carrying the unmistakable aroma of pork. Just bizarre.

Giovinale 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Anssema (Piedmont) – Banana Froot™, black cherry, and a soapy sludge of vanillin (yes, I mean the fake stuff) with layers of cemented tannin.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Canto di Luna (Piedmont) – Jam residue, vanilla, tannin, oak, and heat. As boring as an overworked wine can possibly get.

Gazzi 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Praiot (Piedmont) – Big, shouldery fruit with dark chocolate and tannin that dries out the wine rather quickly. I can’t say I’m disappointed that it does so, either.

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Barcarato (Piedmont) – Fresh plum marred by a horrid soy milk texture and clover pollen.

Malgrà 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Mora di Sassi (Piedmont) – Huge, plummy, and supple. Actually stands up to the vanilla and chocolate shakes that are threatening to dominate it. Well, it does for a while, and then the finish goes completely to hell in a syrupy, fake-fruited handbasket.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Preje (Piedmont) – Vanilla, coconut, strawberry, and plum…but, remarkably, the fruit and oak here are well-integrated. Pretty good in its internationalized style.

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.

01 April 2010

Wandering a d'Asti trail

[water & window]Back to the salt mines of blind tasting…and back to Asti. Again? Yes, again. The first 33 wines are a retread of yesterday’s ground, though I can’t really complain given that yesterday’s lineup was too long to begin with. Anyway, here they are: more barbera d’Asti from 2008, 2007, and 2006, in both regular and superiore forms. See this post for important disclaimers.

Isolabella della Croce 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Maria Teresa” (Piedmont) – Purple nurple. Already. In the first wine of the tasting! Well, this is going to be an exciting day. Solid fruit, albeit of the Welch’s jelly variety, and tasting as if from those little plastic cups they serve at diners. So, you know, actually “solid” fruit in colloidal form.

Franco Mondo 2008 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – …and now, from wine number two, there’s wood. Is that wood? It’s nasty, whether it is or not. Blackberry brandy as well. A nearby taster identifies this as corked, and so we try a second: apple, guava, and an improved texture, but still nasty. TCA, if present in the first bottle, may have improved this wine.

Pico Maccario 2008 Barbera d’Asti Lavignone (Piedmont) – Walnut syrup, cooked apple jam, thick and overly burdened with tannin.

Olim Bauda 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Villa (Piedmont) – First bottle abusively corked. Second: big fruit, tannin, and vanilla. Tastes a little like a Slushie. I’m thinking strawberry/plum flavor.

Villa Giada 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Ajan” (Piedmont) – Very thick, zinfandel-like fruit. Explodes, MIRVs, then explodes again. Light vanilla plays a role. This is kinda fun, though it’s neither serious nor barbera as any sane person would recognize it.

Chiarlo 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cipressi della Court (Piedmont) – Unpleasant. A wrenched (and wretched) nose of stale hay and decay leads, unceremoniously, to a plate that’s at least acceptable for a moment. A hint of strawberry, and then…crash…sludge and effluvia. Disgusting.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2008 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Ladra” (Piedmont) – Brett and other more overtly fecal aromas. Tastes like vomit. No, really: the bile here is unmistakable.

Cavallotti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ La Mandrana (Piedmont) – A fun, slushy fruit bomb, OK in its pinkish-purple, Freon-toned, entirely plastic style. Finishes reasonably well.

La Barbatella 2007 Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont) – Rich. Vanilla and full-throated jam…a fruit bomb extraordinaire. How this is indistinguishable from the larger sort of Central Coast pinot noir is beyond me. The finish is even hot. It’s a dead ringer!

Lana 2007 Barbera d’Asti “l’Anniversario” (Piedmont) – Strawberry jam with ash, a nasty, plastic texture and cheap milk chocolate on the finish. Bad.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso (Piedmont) – Dark berries, dark chocolate, eucalyptus. A solid wall of New Worldish ornamentation, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Coppo 2007 Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” (Piedmont) – Smucker’s strawberry jam, imitation Nutella. Ugh.

Costa Olmo 2007 Barbera d’Asti La Madrina (Piedmont) – Grape jam with a hint of maple syrup. Excuse me?

Erede di Chiappone 2007 Barbera d’Asti Brentura (Piedmont) – Pure fruit in a bomby sort of expression and a short, vanilla-dominated finish. I’d like this more if the label said “zinfandel,” but it’s certainly not an unpleasant wine.

La Gironda di Galandrino 2007 Barbera d’Asti “la Gena” (Piedmont) – Smoked toast and tar with some of the grossest wood aromas I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. It’s not just that there’s too much wood, it’s that the wood has to have been infected with quercal syphilis or something.

[stained notebook]Gazzi 2007 Barbera d’Asti Praiot (Piedmont) – Flat, dull, and oppressed.

Bersano 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Cremosina (Piedmont) – First bottle corked, or so it appears. Second still dull, but with a grainy, dead apple-like aroma. Maybe also corked. Maybe both have a different problem. Maybe the wine just sucks.

Cantina di Nizza 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “50 Vendemmie” (Piedmont) – Mint and other herbs, light strawberry fruit, and Pixy Stix. Oversmoothed, with a candied fruit character that reminds me of the worst kind of California pinot.

Garitina 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Caranti (Piedmont) – Starts fresh and plummy, all crushed fruit and…wait, is that grappa? It’s not the bottle, it’s the whole damned factory. Then: freshly-assembled upholstery, and a horror show of a finish.

Franco Mondo 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Vigna del Salice (Piedmont) – Vanilla, coconut rum, tequila. Another horror show.

Dezzani 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “La Luna e le Stelle” (Piedmont) – Incredibly dense. Berry jam and vanilla on toast, with chocolate and ashes fresh from the fireplace. Finishes quite charred.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Croutin (Piedmont) – Spirituous (mostly cassis liqueur), sludge, cement. A neutron star of a wine, in which gravity sucks everything in, and allows nothing interesting or alive to escape its clutches.

Scrimaglio 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Acsé (Piedmont) – Vanilla, praline, toasts, coconut. Absolutely obliterated by wood. Soulless.

Olim Bauda 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Rocchette (Piedmont) – Dead wine, dead rocks, dead wood. Were they trying to make motor oil from these grapes? Well, that didn’t work either.

Tenute dei Vallarino 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore La Ladra (Piedmont) – Plum-flavored Fruit Roll-Up, plum, blueberry, black cherry, blackberry…hey, actual fruit! It’s like a revelation.

Vinchio e Vaglio Serra 2007 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “I Tre Vescovi” (Piedmont) – Early-maturing notes, plum, baked apple, and graham cracker pie crust. A little absent, but the palate’s got a certain litheness to it. Frankly, this is odd.

Scarpa 2006 Barbera d’Asti “Casa Scarpa” (Piedmont) – Milkshake and candy. Completely fake-tasting, dressed with cheap costume jewelry, bedecked with rhinestones, and caked with bad makeup. But, you know, there’s good acidity. Sigh.

Guido Berta 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Piedmont) – A warm fireplace of cooked fruit, nuts, and oddness. Very lactic.

Guasti 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Boschetto Vecchio (Piedmont) – Soft, pillowy fruit, cotton candy, and strawberry/cherry fruit. Wifty.

Poderi dei Bricchi Astigiani 2006 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco del Perg (Piedmont) – Mint, eucalyptus, thyme, and tight berries. The midpalate is open and even a little plush. A soft, lactic finish. Good but anonymous. As The Beatles sang, it’s a real nowhere wine…

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.