BOISTEROUS BARBERA 2017

We weren’t sure how to title this one. The reference to Barbera is a murky one for some people. In Piedmont, Barbera is considered one of the ‘little’ wines, something of an everyday beverage with the grapes usually relegated to the lesser terroirs.

Barbera also has an image problem of a sort. What is it? There are so many variations. You’ve got something decidedly utilitarian and unadorned from a number of the larger producers in Piedmont all the way to someone like Braida who is shooting for the stars with carefully tended vineyards and an upscale oak regimen.

There are many personalities from firm and fruit forward to stern and acidic, and all of them perform better if the is food involved. Most recently in the 2013 and 2014 vintages, very difficult for the earlier harvest, ‘lesser’ grapes in particular, they mostly ranged from uninspired to awful. The 2015s and 2016s were at the other end of the spectrum, generally very good and often outstanding. Given the variations in style and dramatic swings in vintages, we couldn’t begin to guess what most folks think about Barbera.

The 2017 vintage isn’t going to answer the question of what Barbera should be. But it is a unique and joyful look at something the grape can be but rarely is. The short story of the vintage is crops reduced by weather quirks in the spring, low yields, warm dry summer, phenolic ripeness and an early harvest. The result is possibly the juiciest, tenderest, most engaging examples of Barbera we can recall tasting…ever!

Hey it’s early in the game, but there’s no reason to expect that the freakishly friendly 2017 Barberas we have tasted thus far aren’t a proper vanguard for what is coming (the 2017 Nebbiolos have been remarkably precocious as well).

Our poster child for what we have seen thus far is the Revello Barbera d’Alba 2017 . Billowing nose of spicy dark red fruits, supple palate with tender edges, gregarious and juicy every step of the way, the profile hardly says Barbera given the history of the grape here, though the flavors are varietally correct.

Also, at $15, it’s a lot of wine for the fare and, even though it is an uncommonly friendly version of the genre, it is just as food friendly as it should be as, under all of that fruit, there’s enough cut to get the job done.

WELCOME BACK: MATTEO CORREGGIA ROERO ROSSO 2016

This was one of our favorite under-the-radar labels from back in the 90s when Corregia was part of the ‘new school’ Italian troupe under the Marco di Grazia banner. Corregia’s wines always had an engaging warmth and suppleness supported by ample dark fruits, gentle acidity and ripe tannins. He was thrust into winemaking at an early age when his father passed away in the ’80s, and he himself was killed in a vineyard accident in 2001. In between, he decided to bottle his own wine and developed a very captivating, generous style that won a lot of friends

A lot of his new school Barolista associates at the time, who created a bit of a sensation with using modern oak regimens in their winemaking, developed big reputations in the press. Corregia made his bones with more modest appellations like Roero, Barberas and Nebbiolos from sandier terroirs. After his death, the winery understandably lost some of its mojo, and we went quite a while without seeing much of the label here. Being presented the wine recently rekindled our interest in this lCorreggia and brought back memories as it is the same kind of honest, generous, palate caressing, bright red that we recall from the days of yore.

It is still a family affair with son Giovanni working with long-time winemaker Luca Rostagno, and mom, Ornella, handling the business and hosting. There are no secrets here. This is 100% Nebbiolo from a sandy parcel surrounded by a forest. All is harvested by hand and the finished wine sees six months in big barrels. We couldn’t find a review more recent on the Roero than 2012. But Correggia was never a media darling, especially given the high-profile folks he was associated with, just a guy who made juicy wines people enjoyed drinking.

The wine is the important thing and Correggia’s style was then, and is again, pleasing and comfortable with a supple core of dark cherry fruit augmented with floral notes and brown spice notes. The Matteo Correggia Roero Rosso 2016 is a wine to drink with gusto and, while you can get contemplative if you want to, that clearly isn’t the point here. Glad to have them back, and the vintage probably played right into the house style. Some folks out there don’t take wines labeled ‘rosso’ seriously. We say ‘respect the Rosso’.

‘House’ Barbera: Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba Volupta 2015

Barbera is one of Piedmont’s great go-to wines.  Steaming plate of pasta? Barbera.  Hearty lasagna?  Barbera.  A good, ripe Barbera can hit it with a burger and fries as well.  It’s about the juice.  Barbera can be fussy to grow.  The acids can be too high and, when the vintage isn’t cooperative, you can get the lifeless examples of 2013 and 2014.  The thing is, most top Piedmont estates grow some Barbera.  It’s what’s for dinner.  But so often it is an afterthought to the more famous Nebbiolo grown higher on the hill.   But there are a few guys that do take their little wines as seriously as their flagships and one of them we have been working with for a long time is Agostino Bosco.

Year in and year out Andrea Bosco seems to stuff more fruit into his Barbera than almost anyone we can think of.  That riper, somewhat plump palate has an almost New World feel to it, yet the personality of the fruit itself is unmistakably Italian.

As we mentioned, we have sold many vintages of this, but the Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba Volupta 2015 might be the juiciest yet.  Why don’t more people know about this producer?  Well, first off, this isn’t some fancy Piedmont estate trying to pass itself off as a ‘small family farm’.  This actually is a small family farm with good holdings and a good dose of passion.

Second, they are not with one of those large international import companies that make sure they have all of their wines in front of critics.  This hands-on operation doesn’t have the staff to do that.   So you see little in the way of press, though this did get a 91 from James Suckling and comments, “Plenty of blue fruit, slate and violets to this Barbera on the nose as well as hints of resin. Full body, fine acidity and a fruity finish. Drink now.”  But this wine delivers in the glass as a compelling, easy going, authentic mouth full, especially this year.

The estate itself consists of four hectares in the La Morra area divided among Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto.  The family existed as growers for decades until they decided to make their own wines in 1979.  This Barbera is a blend of two different vineyards, one with 20-year-old vines in clay and limestone and a southwest exposition, the other 30-year-old vines in tufa and limestone with a southeast exposition.  The blend yields a wine with ripe dark red and black fruit, sufficient but never intrusive acidity, not a lot of evident tannin, and a minerality that adds an interesting textural underpinning.   In other words, perfectly tasty yet deceptively serious Barbera.

 

LUSH, ENGAGING BARBERA FOR A SONG: CA’VIOLA D’ALBA BRICHET 2015

Beppe Ca Viola is ‘one of the most important oenologists in Italy’ according to multiple sources that write about such things, yet unless you are pretty deep into Italian wine you have likely never heard of him.  He started under the wing of one of the superstars of Piedmont at the time, Elio Altare, who encouraged him to bottle his own efforts early on, and has gone on to be a consultant at a number of elite addresses.  He is working or has worked with the likes of Pecchenino, Albino Rocca, Vietti, Sette Ponti, Damilano, and Luigi Einaudi, something of a who’s who lineup  But, while his credentials are pretty impeccable as a consultant, it is his own efforts from his winery near Dogliani that really get us excited.

As much as we are and have been fans of Ca Viola for a decade or more, there have been precious few opportunities to taste his wines.  Production is small, distribution here has been a little inconsistent, and the wines, for as good and distinctive as they have been, haven’t been getting the media attention that they deserve.  We have a bit of a hard time deciding what to think about the general lack of coverage and enthusiasm on the part of the critics for a producer of this caliber who makes such an engaging style of wine.

His wines are consistently among the best of Italian producers, and there is a tenderness and perceived sweetness to the fruit component that sets them apart from most Italian efforts, yet the wines don’t lose their ‘Italian’ identity in the process.    The Ca Viola Barbera d’Alba Brichet 2015 is from a variety of vineyards with an average vine age of 20 years-old, farmed organically (though they haven’t concerned themselves with the ‘certification’ process) fermented with only native yeasts, and put in large barrels for 12 months.

The resulting wine, no doubt aided by the lush 2015 vintage, is loaded with evident plum/blackberry fruit that is tender and juicy but fresh and light on its feet.  The tannins are refined, the acidity is ripe and well integrated, and the whole experience is engaging.  This is a Barbera that drinks like a Pinot Noir and is fruit driven enough to drink on its own, though it sings with food as one would expect.

This particular rendition even go a little love from the  press, a 93 point tout and some compelling words from James Suckling, “There’s minerality on the nose of this Barbera, but also some smoky complexity, not to mention brambleberries and blackcurrants. A structured palate with firm tannins, refreshing acidity, and a succulent, chewy finish. Drink now.”  As to that ‘drink now”, absolutely.  This is a Barbera where it will be hard to put down the glass and a thrilling example of the kind of flashy, engaging, well priced wines we expect from Ca Viola’s own label.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE OF A KIND BARBERA SOURCE

Our subject here is the Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato Perlydia 2012.  What’s special about it?  Well, we have presented wines from Valpane before and they are delicious examples of the breed.  But what makes this house unique is that this 2012 is the current release!   What kind of vintner holds on to his Barbera this long before going to market, sometimes for more than a decade?  One who follows his own heart.

Clearly Pietro Arditi, the ‘Barbera whisperer’, listens to the wine and not the ‘metrics’ of 21st Century marketing.  Now this didn’t happen completely by accident, mind you. The land gave him some juicy, vibrant fruit to work with, then he decided to keep the wine in botti (large neutral barrels) or cement until he deems it ready.   What does six-year-old Barbara taste like? This particular effort is loaded with red berry fruit, but the spice and terroir notes are more expressive and better meshed because the lower acidity from bottle age lets them be.

Don’t worry though, there is surprising freshness and life to the fruit. Bottled unfiltered and unfined, fermented entirely with native yeasts, there is a gregarious, fruit-forward element to Valpane’s wines as well as great purity of flavor.

The Perlydia is 100% Barbera harvested from vines planted only in 2000, but it delivers the same joyous mouthful of fruit as do all of the Valpane wines. That little bit of bottle age really helps the wine to get into gear quickly and the ripe, somewhat resolved tannins and lower acidity make for an uncommonly delicious drink without a lot of fuss.  To do all of this careful raising of the wines for this kind of price is an added bonus and makes Valpane a rather unique wine to offer.

LITTLE ITALY, PART ONE: DOLCETTO

Dolcetto days are here again.  It has been tough couple of years for Piedmont.  While Nebbiolo is king, the everyday wines like Dolcetto and Barbera are the mainstays of the vintners as well as fantastic food choices for us Americani.  The problem for both was back to back ‘stinker’ vintages.  Yes, thanks to some late sunshine, the 2013 Nebbiolos have been juicy, complex and dazzling.  Everybody is looking forward to the Barolos and Barbarescos.  But the Dolcetto and Barbera, often planted in the lesser sections of some of the top vineyards, got hit with untimely rain and couldn’t hang on until the sun shined.  As to 2014, it was all kinds of difficult across the board.

For those reasons, there simply hasn’t been very many choices for the category …that is until the 2015s started showing up.  It’s a brand new day, with ripe, plump and engaging examples of both started to show up on supplier lists.  The success of 2015 hit Piedmont as well, and the Dolcettos are no exception.  We dare say that the turnabout seems even greater here than most other European regions.  Whereas in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone were also pretty good in 2014, in this part of the world it was not.  So the difference between the 2014s and 2015s borders on staggering, the salient point being we have some seriously good Dolcetto at hand now.

The Piemontese love Dolcetto for its outgoing fruit, food versatility, and attractive pricing (the Piemontese are notoriously frugal).  You can even put a slight chill on it for service on warmer days, and it will play with virtually anything from a hearty Italian stew to a plate of salume.   It’s one of Italy’s best ‘little’ reds,  and we’re  pleased to have not only good stuff to sell, but really engaging juice to drink thanks to 2015.  To that end we have three fine, fresh examples from some of our favorite sources.

The story of Olek Bondonio is a little unusual.  Olek, who has eastern European roots as well as Italian, visited the estate he currently operates in summer as a child.  He then made his name as a competitive snowboarder before becoming a winemaker.  His family has been involved here for some 200 years but Olek only started making wine here in 2005.  His Barbaresco comes from the Roncagliette, perhaps better known by the name used by his neighbor, Sori Tildin.  He is very ‘hands on’ when it comes to working the vineyard but he is all about letting the vineyard shine through.

The Olek Bondonio Dolcetto d’Alba 2015 reflects that attention to detail with a great purity to the fruit and inviting scents of blue fruits, violet, and a little almond skin.  Sleek and polished, the expressive fruit of the vintage is perfectly punctuated by fresh acidity and the kind of lift that makes this an easy quaff.   It’s what Dolcetto is all about, with the extra added attraction of coming from storied dirt.  The vines are 30-50 years old, all is done with native yeasts and gravity flow, and it’s bottled unfiltered.

Andrea Bosco is the passionate young owner of Bosco Agosatino, named for his father and founded by his grandfather in 1904.  Again here all of the juice is state grown, all within the confines of La Morra, and the surface area of the estate is around 10 acres.  The hillside faces south west and it composed of clay and limestone, and 70% of the Dolcetto vines are over a half-century in age.   The fermentation is controlled and done entirely in stainless steel to both preserve the gregarious fruit and prevent the extraction of unwanted tannins.  As you may have expected, Andrea’s single-vineyard Agostino Bosco Dolcetto d’Alba Vantrin 2015 is something of a fruit bomb with effusive blackberry and mulberry character, a streak of minerality and earth, and just enough cleansing freshness to keep things on point.

Finally, it’s hard to talk about things like Dolcetto and Barbera without mentioning perennial all-star Luca Currado who seems to do everything well all the time.  Granted the young vignerons above have established themselves as players but no one is more passionate than the folks at Vietti.  While Luca’s Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba Tre Vigne 2015 isn’t necessarily as ‘aristocratic’ as Olek’s (serious dirt for Dolcetto) or as ‘big’ as Andrea’s, it is plump, engaging and very likely to disappear while whatever the discussion is continues.  Friendly and harmonious.

It’s great to have Dolcetto back on the shelves, and this time around we have some great Dolcetto thanks to our network of proven producers and the gloriously decadent 2015 vintage.