Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Sweet Spot: Trocken & Feinherb

An all-time favorite Riesling pairing:
Tagliatelle in Truffle Cream Sauce
I believe I have finally found my German Riesling sweet spot, and that is within the amazing styles of Trocken and Feinherb. It’s been quite a journey, arriving at this decision, and many thanks go to a couple of friends who put some amazing wines in front of me. I’m not saying that I haven’t loved and lusted after a number of Spätlese and Auslese level wines. However, it’s the racy style of a good Trocken and the almost impossible balance found in Feinherb that sings to my soul.

If you’re not already familiar with these terms, just started getting into Riesling, or have given up on Riesling because you think they are all just sweet wines, then let me give you a little background. First and foremost, you may be surprised to learn that the preferred style of Riesling in Germany these days are of bone-dry wines. Many of the sweet and incredibly ripe Rieslings you see on store shelves are being produced for our benefit. If sweet wine isn’t your thing, then you owe it to yourself to find a Trocken (Dry) Riesling. Trocken is a bone-dry style of Riesling that’s crisp and fresh with precise and focused fruit and minerals. They can be achingly enjoyable, as the acid seems to almost sear your gums, but then coaxes your taste buds to water, releasing an intense wave of fruit. The experience is one like you may have never before witnessed in your wine-drinking life. For me, finding a wine that produces this effect is truly thrilling—as was my recent experience with the 2011 Keller Nierstein Riesling Trocken.

Then there is Feinherb, a relatively new term in German wine, which could be compared to the designation Halbtrocken (half-dry). However, what Feinherb is all about is finding a perfect balance. The fruit is intense with all the minerals and acid that I love in Riesling. Yet, there’s also a small dose of balancing sweetness which give these wines a truly jubilant feel. They are not sweet, they are not dry—what they are is perfectly balanced. In many cases, like with the 2012 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Feinherb Ur Alte Reben, the intensity in the glass is simply incredible, and you can feel the weight of the riper fruit on your palate, but it stays within the lines and never bubbles over. Instead, it’s a wine that’s teetering on the edge, and it’s on that edge where I find the most enjoyment.

I beg you to seek out these wines. You owe it to yourself, especially if you’ve given up on (or never even started) tasting German Riesling. Admittedly, some of these will not be easy to find—but that can be part of the fun.  My advise would be to seek out the Selbach-Oster or Spreitzer, and go from there.  Enjoy!

On to the wines:

2011 Stein St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Spätlese feinherb - Aromas jumped from the glass of this young Riesling, showing ripe pear, peach skins, wet mineral laden stone and hints of lemon. On the palate, there was a yin yang of fruit, acidity and minerality. Grapefruit was foremost with an equal doses of acidity as expected from taking a bite, note the sprinkle of sugar on top. Ripe peach flavor and weight added balance, along with gorgeous saline minerals, which poured out as the mouth began to water. The finish made the cheeks pucker with slight lemon pith, hints of fresh honeycomb and inner floral notes. To say i enjoyed this wine would be an understatement. (92 points) Producer Website! (German Only)

2011 Weingut Keller Nierstein Riesling Trocken - An intense and pulsating wine with power and verve. On the nose it was highly expressive with peach and apricot fruit, lemon oil, minty herbal tones, and wet stone. It showed razor-like focus on the palate, like a bullet train, yet then suddenly blossomed into an explosion of tart orange and tangerine. The finish lingered long as the mouth began to water and lemon pith flavors turned to mineral stone. It's a beautiful wine. (93 points) Producer Website(German Only)

2012 Weingut Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Rosengarten Riesling Großes Gewächs - The nose was enticing, showing intense spiced-apple with lemon accents, sweet yellow floral tones and moist minerals in a focused, yet fruit forward expression. The more time it spent in the glass, the more its fruit seemed to ripen and I found it difficult to pull myself away. On the palate, I found green apple, grapefruit, lime and wet stone, with sharp acidity contrasted by silky textures. Notes of bitter citrus peel seemed to coat the entire palate through the long finish along with herbal hints. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2012 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese feinherb Ur Alte Reben - A beautiful and truly seductive Riesling, the 2012 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Ur” Alte Reben explodes from the glass with aromas of ripe pear, yellow flowers, roasted walnut, saline minerals, and hints of brie. On the palate, it’s silky yet fresh with sweet and sour tropical fruit, lemon pith, slate and a hint if green olive. Lemon zest lingered long on the finish, as the mouth watered, slowly melting away the oily textures revealing a note of pineapple left behind. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger Riesling - The nose showed ripe peach, grapefruit, sweet spice, wax, and yellow florals in an airy yet gorgeously ripe expression. On the palate it played a sweet and sour act with grapefruit, grapefruit and more grapefruit, mineral stone and lemon pith with rich textures balanced by piercing acidity. The finish seemed to create a vacuum of flavor, which suddenly exploded into a rush of tropical fruits, spice and sweet inner floral notes. In a word, WOW! (94 points) Producer Website!

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Does Barbera get the respect it deserves?

This is a question that I often hear bouncing back and forth across the tasting table. I recently participated in a tasting of Barbera, and at one point or another everyone at that table sat back, stared at the glass in front of them in amazement and asked, “Why doesn’t Barbera get the respect it deserves?”

It must be difficult, coming from a region that produces two wines as prestigious as Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera always played the supporting role in Piedmont, being the wine of choice at the dinner table but the runner-up for prime vineyard space. In the end it’s all about economics: Why spend the money marketing a wine from a region that already has its claim to fame, especially when you can charge 200-300% more for a bottle of Barolo? But it goes deeper than that. The fact is that there’s a lot of mediocre to just plain bad Barbera out there. Why? For the same reason cited above: it plays runner-up for prime vineyard space. It fills the low-lying, poorly-exposed parts of Barolo vineyards throughout the region. In many cases it’s an afterthought, or a value wine created to wet the palate at the dinner table.

Roberto Conterno of Giacomo 
Courtesy of Rare Wine Company
Don’t get me wrong, there have always been producers who gave Barbera its fair shake (Giacomo Conterno and Vietti immediately come to mind). Yet we are now seeing more and more producers fine-tuning and pushing their Barbera to the world markets. Much of this has to do with the worldwide recession, which seriously slowed the buying power of many collectors. Producers realized it was time to focus more on their entry level and mid-range wines. Enter Barbera, which is naturally juicy and fresh with bright red fruit, yet can take on a more dramatic and bold profile with the right vineyard management and proper barrel treatment.

Barrel aging at Vietti, a true advocate of Barbera.
Speaking of barrels, you’ll see two very different styles of Barbera. At one time, many producers were masking these wines with a shroud of new oak, in an attempt to make them more “important” and age-worthy (Barbera is naturally very low in tannin). This practice has diminished to a large degree and the best producers who still practice it, have found the right mix of quality fruit and barrel. Then there’s the bright, juicy, woodsy, food-loving style of Barbera, which should be in everyone’s cellar for that night of Bolognese sauce or pizza. I cannot think of another wine which pairs with such a large variety of foods. Both styles are worth your attention. As the Vietti Scarrone below would be the perfect pairing for a Porterhouse, the Sottimano would be my choice for game, red sauce and stews.

A little bit about 2011 versus 2010

2011 has provided us with some very ripe and downright sexy Barbera. The warmth of the vintage and resulting fruit played right into the contrasting acidity of the variety. These are not “hot” or baked wines. Instead they are generous, with ripe (sometimes candied) fruit on the nose, rich textures and tremendous depth on the palate. They are refreshing yet bold. In some cases they can be dark and moody—but that textbook Barbera acidity keeps it all in line. I believe it’s a great mix, even though 2011's may seem like brutes next to the 2010’s, with their lean and restrained yet almost crystalline styles. The 2010’s come across as focused and pretty wines with a real classic feel, which is right up my alley. In the end, 2011 Barbera will likely appeal to a broader audience.

On to the notes:

2011 Sottimano Barbera d'Alba Pairolero - The nose showed black cherry with sweet spice, hints of new leather, plum and mint. On the palate, it was smooth and round, with dark berry fruit and clove complimented by a cooling minty note. The finish was gentle and clean with tart red fruits lingering and hints of tannin tugging at the palate. (89 points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $23

2010 Francesco Clerico Barbera d'Alba Bussia - The nose was fresh and lively with wild red berry fruit, cedar, herbs, licorice and floral notes. On the palate, it was rich, soft—unassuming, yet completely satisfying with wild berry fruit and herbs ushered in by vibrant acidity. The finish lingered long yet fresh with minerals and red fruits. This is an excellent food wine and great value. (91 points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $18

2010 G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba Superiore - The nose showed spiced red berry, hints of herbs and minerals with dry spice in an elegant display. On the palate, it was juicy with masses of depth, ripe dark fruit, hints of spice and herbal tones. The finish was long with juicy red fruits and a hint of licorice. This is a beautiful Barbera with tons of class. (92 Points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $36

2011 Vietti Barbera d'Alba Scarrone - The bouquet of the '11 Scarrone pulls you in with rich, dark notes of plum, blackberry, spice, hints of brown sugar and licorice. On the palate it's a large scaled wine, yet kept in check by brisk acidity. Balsamic tones along with cherry liqueur, exotic spice and dark chocolate seem almost to rich to handle yet all the pieces fit into place. The mouth-watering finish showed saturating spiced cherry, bitter coffee and hints of herbs. (93 points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $33

2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cerretta - The Cerretta was a much darker and richer expression of Barbera next to the Cascina Franica. The nose was rich with intense black cherry, violet floral tones, black soil, dark chocolate and a hint of burnt sugar. In the glass, I found a dark and intense wine balanced by its high acidity with flavors of black cherry, currant, stony minerals and smoky notes. The finish coated the senses in bitter black fruit and then exploded as its acidity kicked in and made the mouth water. Drinking now, but should continue to drink well for many years to come. (93+ points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $51

2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia - The nose was enticing with massive waves of aroma wafting up from the glass, which seemed to change and intensify with each swirl. Showing dark ripe strawberry, brown sugar, cedar dust, menthol, floral undergrowth and, at times, a slight rustic note of barnyard. On the palate, it was tightly knit and focused with a balance towards acidity, as it revealed ripe red berries, sour patch apple, exotic spice and inner floral tones. It finished dry with berry extract seeming to coat the entire palate. I found myself deeply in love with this wines intensity on both the nose and palate, wondering how it will blossom over the coming years. At this time, it's still highly enjoyable, but I can't help but feel there are even better things to come. (92 points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $51

2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia - The nose was intense and focused with red berry fruit, balsamic notes, herbs, saw dust and airy floral tones. On the palate, it was center focused and tightly coiled yet still seemed to touch all the senses with raspberry and black cherry fruit, minerals and herbs with brisk acidity keeping it mouthwatering and fresh. Tart berry saturated the palate throughout the finish, with inner floral tones which seemed to last forever. This was regal and elegant yet painfully young and should seriously reward the patient wine lover. (94 points) Find in on: Wine-Searcher! avg. $51

Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dueling Blind Barolo Vintages

Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido

2001 & 1999 Barolo
Two classic vintages, both in need of time, yet just starting to show their early maturity. Why not put 2001 against 1999 in a blind tasting? We all have our preconceptions, which in some cases were shattered as we unveiled these wines. What’s more, recent reports on 2001 have called it uneven in its maturity, and some have raised the question of if it will go on to be considered a great vintage down the road.

On thing this tasting certainly proved is that there should be no fear that 2001 Barolo from the top producers will go on to be prolific, classic wines. Of course, as noted, these are the top wines of any vintage and finding a reference point here can be difficult. In fact, I don’t recall the last time I saw such a collection of the who’s who in Piedmont. If you’re looking to put something special in the cellar, you can’t go wrong here.

As for 99’s, it’s all been recently said. A retrospective tasting from two years ago put me on the hunt to acquire as much ’99 Barolo as possible. There have been naysayers, yet as time goes by, and more collectors and critics taste these wines, it is becoming apparent that 1999 will go down as one of the top vintages of the nineties—it may even surpass 1996 one day. What I truly love about these wines is their rich, ripe character contrasted by firm classic tannin structure. I taste a ’99 Barolo, even in this young stage, and receive so much satisfaction from not only its current state, but also the imagining of what it will one day become. These are beautiful wines worthy of our cellars.

Flight 1: This was a wonderful performance from the 2001 Bartolo, a wine that I have always been weary of. Inconsistency in this wine’s history, confirmed in the tasting notes of many other writers, leads me to believe an experience like the one below is in no way guaranteed. I couldn’t call out the producer in this flight, but I was sure I guessed the vintages right from their performances. Imagine my surprise to find the results were the exact opposite of my expectations.

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose was classic, showing dusty cherry, cedar, crushed fall leaves moist earth and dried spice. On the palate, it was lean on entry with tart cherry and inner floral tones yet grew richer as it coated the senses with noble tannin. The finish was youthful with an acid, tannin tug across the palate, accentuated by lingering notes of dry red fruit, minerals and soil tones. Beautiful. (94 Points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose was dark and inviting with black cherry, cranberry, hints of menthol and dusty, dark earth tones. Tart red berries clenched the palate in a tense, tightly wound expression of Nebbiolo, along with notes of cinnamon and inner floral tones. Tannin held the palate firm on the finish, with tart berry lingering long, yet drying out the senses. (92 pointsFind it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 2: For me, the most striking thing about this flight was how completely different the 2001 Ca d’Morissio was from the straight 2001 Monprivato. However, they were both equally enjoyable, for completely different reasons.

2001 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d'Morissio Riserva Monprivato – The 2001 Ca d'Morissio was a dark beast of a wine, with intense crushed raspberry, herbs, wood smoke, raw beef and soil laden minerals. On the palate, it was rich yet with a truly classic feel. Tart cherry and autumnal spices penetrated the senses, yet held firm, restrained—clenched. On the finish, lingering dark-red tart berry fruit and inner floral notes lasted long against its formidable structure. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose was striking in its expression of bright, ripe red fruit, rosy floral tones, cinnamon and a lifting note of menthol. On the palate, it showed as a classic mid-weight Barolo, with soft yet focused red fruit and mineral tones. Tannin coated the senses throughout the finish, yet that red berry note continued to ring true. It would seem that there are many years of development ahead for this wine. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

1999 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose was beautiful, with dark, spiced cherry sauce, dusty minerals and a hint of VA. Yet on the palate, this wine took a downturn for me, as it was tight, ungiving and seeming almost diluted. The finish showed hints of red fruit yet remained unyielding. Maybe this was a bad bottle, yet others at the tasting seemed less bothered by its performance. (N/A) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 3: The 1999 Brunate Le Coste was a game changer within this tasting and really made me stop and think. The taster next to me called this flight as G. Rinaldi only moments before I was about to come to the same conclusion. They were both unique and beautiful wines.

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste – The nose was exotic and dark, inciting excitement over reaching deeper into the glass as ripe black cherry, cinnamon spice, sweet balsamic tones and a hint of mint created a gorgeous bouquet. On the palate, it was dark, ripe, intense, juicy—lovely. Showing dark red fruit, accentuated by exotic spice and dried floral notes with a classic tug of Nebbiolo tannin. The finish was long with dried fruits, yet youthful and restrained. There are many years of development ahead of this wine; I only wish I had some in the cellar. (95 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste – Spiced cherry, licorice and sweet rosey floral notes make up the bouquet of the 2001 Brunate Le Coste. On the palate, it is still tightly wound in its structure, yet showing intense tart black cherry fruit and savory herbs. The finish was tight as a drum, youthful yet satisfying as the fruit clung to the center-palate. (92 points) Find it on Wine-searcher!

Flight 4: I was very happy to be able to call this flight as Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, although I did mistake the vintages. They were both beautiful, classic wines in need of considerable time in the cellar. I will say, that if you wanted to cellar one wine from this tasting, over the long term, the ’99 Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia would be my pick.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – The nose was dark and enticing with an exotic twist and all the iron, mineral-laden Serralunga character you could ever hope for. A mix of ripe strawberry, brown sugar, orange peel, tea leafs, iron and rich dark soil tones formed the bouquet. On the palate, it was firm yet crystalline focused, showing dried red fruits, dark soil tones, and a hint of grapefruit. Tannin continued to build throughout the finish nearly masking its tightly coiled fruit and permeating notes of dried florals and fall leaves. It was an unbelievably beautiful wine. (96 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Even darker and richer than the ’99, the nose on the 2001 Cascina Francia pulled me in, showing red berry, moist black soil, floral rose, rosemary and minerals. On the palate, it was youthfully lean with sour red fruit, yet gained momentum and focus as ripe strawberry developed along with inner floral notes and savory spice. The finish continued to impress with its saturating red fruits, inner floral tones and lingering minerals yet remained clenched in need of more time in the cellar. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 5: This flight was a total mystery to me. Giacosa has a way of throwing me for a loop, especially in a blind format. As such, I have stayed with my initial impressions with these tasting notes to avoid any sway the labels may have had after the unveiling.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was rich and intense with dark red fruits, cinnamon, cedar, and hints of herbs. On the palate, red berry fruit played a sweet and sour act on the senses, while inner floral and tobacco notes completed the experience. Tannin shut down the finish, allowing only a hint of red berry fruit to linger. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was earthy and somewhat vegetal with tart red berry, sweet peas, and parchment. With time the fruit became sweeter and dark, yet a formidable earthiness remained. On the palate, it was lean showing tart red berry and spice, which lingered throughout the finish with stern structural components tugging at the cheeks. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 6: I was very happy to correctly guess the first wine as the ’99 Giacosa Le Rocche del Falletto; what I didn’t realize is that the second wine was the exact same thing—ouch! (Originally there were three wines in this flight.) Going back to my notes, they were extremely similar; I’m guessing it was probably differences in conditions of the bottles and time of double-decant, which may explain the slight differences. I went with my first tasting note, as I believe it was the best representation of the wine.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was all at once intense, yet elegant and truly radiant. A bouquet of dark red fruits, plum, rosy florals, dusty spice and minerals wafted up from the glass without any coaxing. On the palate, it opened with bitter cherry, yet fleshed out turning riper and softer with a savory meatiness, dry spice, saline minerals and inner floral tones. The finish was tight yet focused with red fruit, cinnamon and gorgeous autumnal character. (97 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose showed a ripe mix of crushed berries, dry spice, menthol, leather and hints of herbs in a dark, warm and inviting bouquet. On the palate, it started youthfully lean with tart cherry, gaining mass and riper character as it wrapped around the senses. A woody balsamic note lingered long with sweet exotic spice and violet floral tones. The finish was the epitome of dried flowers and fruit with dry spice lingering long. (98 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!
It was a tasting of epic proportions!

Check out: The Fine Wine Geek, for more notes and photos.

In closing, I would be remiss not to mention the excellent service and location provided for this tasting by New York Vintners. New York Vintners is a specialty wine shop in Downtown Manhattan, which appears small upon entry, yet as you pass behind a curtain separating the wine selection from the rest of the store, you come to realize that this is much more than a simple retail location.

New York Vintners has a full kitchen with tasting table within sight. As well as two floors below where they hold educational classes, their wine cellar, and a cellar tasting room (seen in the photo). The food, prepared by Chef Ryan Smith, was a perfect companion to help us through tasting these youthful wines. It was truly a culmination of vinous and culinary perfection.