Archive for January, 2013

BARBARESCO – the “other” wine from Piedmont

January 24, 2013

I bought some Barbaresco for my cellar this week, which is what gave me the idea for this blog. As the sometimes “poor cousin” of the more notable – and expensive – Barolo, it has been a favourite of mine for many years.

Barbaresco is from the Piedmont region of Italy and made from the Nebbiolo grape (the same as Barolo). When I talk to people about this wine, I often say it is “red wine lover’s” wine. That’s because it is not big on jammy fruit, and it is also quite dry and tannic when it is young. So you have to really like this style, and be willing to cellar it for a while, to enjoy Barbaresco.

But if you have the patience, it can really pay off. After 8 – 10 years, the best wines – from good vintages – can become wonderfully complex. Dark purple turns to beautiful shades of brick; the nose has an amazing mixture of dried, earthy cherries, herbs and – with a few more years – even a port-like sweetness to it. In the mouth, you can find virtually no evidence of the oak these wines are aged in. Instead, there are smooth, soft dried cherries, fully ripe, but not jammy.

There are two things I like best about Barbaresco . The first is that it is one of the few wines that, at least for me, taste so much better after a dozen or so years of aging. “Old wine” can often be an acquired taste, but in this case you don’t get a dried out mouth of wood. Instead, there are these wonderfully complex aromas and flavours that go great with hearty stews, meats and hard cheeses.

The other reason I love Barbaresco is, relatively speaking, it’s a great cellar value. Now don’t get me wrong – I love its bigger brother Barolo as well. But most of the best Barolos are now in the $100+++ range. And that is out of my price range.

Barbarescos can be that expensive – Gaja made his reputation on them, and his are well over $100 a bottle. But many others aren’t.

Case in point, the ones I just bought. Produttori del Barbaresco is a cooperative that makes a regular wine and a number of vineyard designated reserve Barbarescos. The regular wine is great in its own right! I have been cellaring and drinking it since the 1986 vintage, and it is a solid bet for 8 – 10 years of development in the cellar. At $43 in Canada, that is a cellar bargain.

But the vineyard designated reserve wines are incredible! Asili, Ovello, Rabaj, Montestefano and others are all big, brooding Barbarescos that can easily last 15 years or more. In fact, a bottle of the 1985 Asili Riserva I had at age 20 was one of the greatest red wines I have ever drunk! Almost port-like in its richness, it was smooth and still ripe, with nothing dried out. Considering I bought it for $35 when it came out, that was amazing!

My most recent purchases have, alas, gone up quite a bit. The 2007 vintages of all these wines are now around $60. And while I am the first to agree that isn’t cheap, they remain the standard bearers for this wine. And with Parker giving them 94 – 95 points and a life expectancy of 20+ years, they will help me celebrate my retirement some day!

If you haven’t tried Barbaresco, buy the regular bottle and stash it away for a few years. I can almost bet – at age 8 or so – you will be amazed what it tastes like. And that will send you looking for the latest vintages of the Asili, Ovello, Rabaja and Montestefano!



January 16, 2013

After my new year’s “wine resolutions”, this is what I like to blog on next each year. As a “wine dweeb” who has been reading, writing about – and drinking – wine for almost 30 years now, I have discovered a number of words and phrases that should immediately make one suspicious if they are being used to describe a wine somebody wants you to buy!

1. It’s a “food wine”

This is the main one to watch for, year in, year out. The bottom line is – a wine better taste good on its own. Yes, there are some food/wine pairings that make the food and/or the wine taste better, but if you need food to make a wine taste better…then it is probably not a very good wine to begin with! So if you hear this one, stay away…far away!

2. It just needs a little time in the cellar to develop…

This is another one to beware of. Yes, there are some wines that will age and become better over time. But it is the vast minority! Over 99% of wines are made to drink right away, and should be consumed within a year. Often this comment is made to cover up the fact a wine – particularly a red wine— doesn’t have enough fruit in it, or is under-ripe. Time won’t solve either of these problems. My advice? Taste it…if you don’t like it now, chances are you aren’t going to like it much more in 3, 5, 10 or even 50 years!

3. Fruit-filled, ripe and alcoholic wines are not sophisticated

This one really bugs me! First of all, wine is made from grapes, which are fruit; it is therefore logical that it should taste like fruit (rather than wood)? Second, if we eat our fruit and vegetables when they are ripe, why wouldn’t we want our wines the same way? Who wants to drink something that tastes green (like a sour apple or rock hard pear)? Anyone who has tasted a ripe California Cabernet, bursting with blackcurrants, knows just how wine should taste. And finally, the alcohol thing…the fact is, the riper the grapes, the more sugar, the more alcohol, plain and simple. As long as the wine isn’t unbalanced because of the alcohol level, it just means you can’t drink as much of it. But you aren’t supposed to be drinking it to get drunk anyway, right?

4. It’s the vintage of the century!

Every year, it seems, somebody is touting the most recent vintage from some country or region as “the best ever”. The fact is, that just can’t be the case every year!

Yes, in most countries/regions, vintage variation is extremely important. But even in a so-called “great year”, winemakers still have to make a wine great! It is almost impossible to generalize across a vintage and expect everything to be great. More often than not, this is an excuse to raise prices across the board. My advice here is two-fold. First, try the cheapest wines first. If it is truly a good vintage, you will taste the difference in a $12 wine for sure. Then, for more expensive wines you have purchased in the past, take a look at how much the price has gone up. If it isn’t a lot – say, a few percent – it’s probably worth it. But more than that? Probably note. And for the highest end wines? I would stay away from them. They will have probably gone up the most in price, and is that really worth it?

5. It’s a 90 point wine, so it must be great!

Finally, beware the wine reviewer (says the wine reviewer)! Seriously, though…wine reviews, and ratings, are totally subjective. Too begin with, it is way more important to read the description in the review – what kind of fruit is there? what other flavours and smells? – than the rating itself. Also, if you are going to trust a wine rating/reviewer, get to know his or her style first. Robert Parker, the Wine Advocate, is a guy I know likes wine with lots of fruit in it…and so do I. I have been taking his advice for years and very rarely have I been disappointed. So if I see him raving over a wine, the chances are I will like it. Some of the other reviewers or wine magazines…not so much. Oh, and by the way…make sure the wine that is supposed to be a “90” is actually the right vintage. I don’t know how many times I see shelf talkers in wine/liquor stores promoting one vintage, only to have a different one for sale!

So there you go…five things to watch out for as you start your wine year!


2013 New Year’s Wine Resolutions

January 9, 2013

Happy New Year and welcome to the first wine blog of 2013!

I always try and spend a little time thinking about any “wine resolutions” I have to start a new year, so here are few for your consideration:

1. Drink my white wines young

This is a continuation of a resolution from last year, as I started to find that many of the white wines in my cellar were getting too “old” before I drank them. In particular, the Chardonnays had gotten so golden and oaky that I couldn’t taste the fruit anymore! So “drink’em young” is the motto for white wines, with the exceptions of Rieslings and Gewurztraminers.

2. End the Garnacha and oaked-Malbec experiment

Last year, one of my resolutions was to “suck it up” and try more Spanish Grenache-based wines, as they offer tremendous value (according too many critics). But…well…it didn’t work. Something about the way the oak integrates into these wines just doesn’t work for me. And it is the same thing with oak-aged Malbecs – the fruit seems to get lost in the wood. So, bye-bye to these wines!

3. Avoid the red Bordeaux temptation

I was successful in this one last year, and vow to repeat it. Given the style of most Bordeaux – or at least the ones I can afford – I just don’t like the woody, herbal, lean style of these wines. Even those rated highly and said to age for years just seem to get woodier over time. So no matter the accolades and scores, I will not go there again this year!

4. Spend a little more per bottle on wines I really like

I had a number of older Rhone wines (Syrah and Grenache-based) as well as Barolos and Barbarescos over the holidays, and realized once again how much I love these wines when then get to be 10, 15 and even 20 years of age! The challenge for me over the last few years, however, is the prices for most of them (including even Chateauneuf du Pape) have skyrocketed over my $50 a bottle limit, so I haven’t bought many. Well, without breaking the bank, I am going to change that this year! As I get older, I want more of these wines around to drink…so if it means spending $60, $70 or even $80 on a very highly rated wine that will age that long, I am going to do it!

5. Write a wine book on the best BC wines

Finally, I have been thinking for years about writing a wine book specifically focused on the BC wineries – and wines – that I think are the best. Well, this is the year I am going to write it! Watch for it on my website in either the spring of summer of 2013.

So there you go – five wine resolutions for 2013. Now, on with the year!