February 28, 2007

Produttori di Barbaresco 2001s

On the heels of the Vietti Lazzarito tasting, Aldo Vacca of Produttori di Barbaresco came to town for another tasting at Pastaworks.

You might remember two years back, when I almost literally stumbled into a free tasting of the 2000s at this landmark spot. This year I planned ahead, and despite a staggering $5 tasting fee, managed to enjoy a sampling of 2001 Produttori di Barbaresco Riservas.

Aldo first poured the Rio Sordo, a lighter, pepper and cherry scented wine with nice floral elements. Aldo suggested this was the most approachable now, but the fierce tannin suggests to me it needs time. This is only ok.

Then came the Pora, a richer, redder fruited wine with more intensity that better matches the tannic structure than the Rio Sordo. This should age well but isn’t showing so pretty today. It’s certainly the more impressive of the first two wines.

Aldo then poured the Ovello, in another league from the first two with terrific depth and a cassis-tinged fragrance. In the mouth it’s chewy with more prominent fruit balancing the structure, I really liked this wine. It’s rich and ripe, but very precise.

Finally, the Montestefano, not Chateauneuf-like as I remember the 2000, rather Burgundian if you can believe it. Ripe Burgundy for sure, think macerated cherries with woodsy fragrance that speaks to me of both Italy and France. Still tannic as nebbiolo can be, I liked this but preferred the elegance of the Ovello just a bit more.

But wait, there’s Peter de Garmo of Pastaworks with a bonus pour, the 1990 Produttori di Barbaresco Montestefano. What a difference 11 years makes. This is classic Barbaresco, maturing with truffe aromas and terrific bottle sweetness already, yet still tannic and wound up on the palate. There’s great length and mature flavors, but the structure requires food or perhaps more time, though the aroma and flavor suggest this should be ready to go. Still, lovely stuff.

What a lovely tasting, made better by my running into a couple of old friends who invited me to a tasting of 2005 Cru Beaujolais, which I’ll report on soon. It turned out to be the best tasting I’ve been to in a while, with numerous wines I really enjoyed.

February 25, 2007

Vietti Barolo Lazzarito Tasting

The tasting group has reformed now that harvest and the holidays are over. Our first event of 2007 featured Vietti Barolo from the Lazzarito vineyard in the Piemontese town of Serralunga d’Alba.

Lazzarito has been described at the most modern Barolo in the Vietti line up in part for its barrique aging, something I didn’t know at the outset of the tasting. The élevage became pretty obvious as we moved through the wines.

Typically I favor Barolo and Barbaresco of a more “traditional” style, with longer skin contact during fermentation and aging in large, old oak Botti that allow for the right amount of oxidation without the toasty, woody influence of young, small barrels.

Of course rules have their exceptions, and these Lazzarito wines were certainly impressive and delicious despite some obvious oak. These are wines built to age and they are clearly of high quality. I suspect time will allow the elements to integrate further, though at the $80-$100 price per bottle, I also suspect I won’t have any to find out for myself.

To start, we tried an oddity, the 2005 J.M. Raffault Chinon Blanc, made from 100% chenin blanc in this Loire appellation known for its red wines of cabernet franc. This was clean and fresh, more sauvignon in character with a gooseberry edge that seemed a little manufactured, but overall it’s nice wine. I know others who love this wine more than I do.

Then we poured five vintages of Vietti Barolo Lazzarito. We began with the 1995 and this, I hope, was damaged somewhere along the way. The color wasn’t unusual, with a rusting if slightly brownish cast. Aromatically the wine seemed tired, and even though it opened to show hints of cherries, fenel and menthol, it never lost the dead leaf, papery quality of oxidation. It wasn’t corked. In the mouth, the same story. Some drying fruit flavors with brown spices and cigar tobacco, but tannic and a bit sour. Many in the group liked this wine, but this tasted damaged to me.

Next, the 1998, with a slightly darker blood red color that still hints at rust. This wine showed a clear sweet oak aroma, but with air gained lots of interesting cherry, brown spice, cooked meat, pepper and fenel aromas. In the mouth, the wine seemed more mature in flavor than its fresh, tannic structure suggested, but this is still a baby and I think it will age well. Still, it wasn’t as good as others that followed.

Then came the 1999, slightly ligher in color than the 1998 with its own hint of rust. The wine smelled of plastic at first, but developed a deep and intense fragrance that showed similar qualities of brown spice, cherries, and a hard to define melange of earthy, meat, and leather elements. Some tasters picked up an unappealing band-aid like brett aroma, but I found this wine quite attractive overall and wasn’t put off by the slight uncleanliness. In the mouth, it was ripe, round, even plush in texture with grippy tannin in the middle and finish combined with an already delicious bottle sweetness. Greath length, just terrific modern-styled Barolo once it had a chance to breathe.

The 2000 showed the roasted quality of this hot vintage, with a similar color to the 1998 and a complex roasted sweet cherry, leather, pepper and juniper aroma, and clearly a whiff of alcohol. In the mouth, it was tannic, roasted and powerful but still excellent, more Chateauneuf du Pape-like than most Barolo and showing some heat, but again just delicious. In my subsequent research about this wine, I found a note from review Steve Tanzer suggesting that Aldo Currado from Vietti finds the Lazzarito vineyard Chateauneuf-like “in terms of its ripeness and dark fruit flavors.” Interesting, it shows here for sure. This is extreme, but I like it plenty.

Finally, the 2001 that naturally had the most youthful color of the line up with an oaky milk chocolate element that turned out to be nicer than it might sound, blended into a high toned but still rich aroma. Got that? This wine showed more typcial nebbiolo floral character than any other wine here. What a gorgeous perfume that seemed to benefit from the barrique aging. In the mouth it was tight, tight, tight, more wound than any other wine here but so impressive with red berry, even cranberry notes amid the darker, earthy profile typical of all of these wines. This was my favorite wine but it’s all potential.

In sum, these were some terrific wines that make me think a little differently about small oak aging for nebbiolo. While I still wouldn’t choose to do that myself, there’s no denying that these wines are both “modern” and clearly of Barolo and clearly of one fine site. Just wish I could afford some.

February 04, 2007

1999 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc

We all know that sometimes a “great deal” isn’t so great. Wine is no exception.

When I find something significantly lower than market price, I always wonder if it’s damaged goods. Many times, it is.

But sometimes, the great deal is just that. Distributors close stuff out perfectly good wine when they who won’t be representing the producer in the future. Or when they’re getting rid of last year’s release to clear space for new wine. Or when they simply have too much of a particular bottling, especially if it’s known to be more obscure and perhaps harder to sell.

Who knows what it was a couple years ago with the 1999 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc, which showed up on close out in half bottles for $4.99. This should have been three times that price, and a nice deal at that.

I can imagine people thought the wine was getting old. And half bottles aren’t always big sellers. And despite that quasi-cult status of this southern France producer, really, who’s buying chardonnay, viognier, etc. blends from the hinterlands?

So I bought a few, and sadly drank the last one earlier this week. This wine is fully mature, with a golden yellow color and an amazingly complex aroma that mixes white Burgundy with the northern Rhone.

It has aromas of pples, yellow fruits, toast, sweet cream butter, an exotic star fruit note and then a hint of mint like a Ramondet Chassagne-Montrachet. In the mouth, it’s rich and round with minty yellow fruit, apples, soft acid that just carries the lush flavors to a nice long finish.

This is seamless wine, truly complex and perfectly mature. For five bucks. Some deal.