Stuart George

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

“Dear Theo…”: Van Gogh at the Royal Academy

In Art and artists on March 31, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Last week I visited “The Real Van Gogh: The Artists and his Letters” exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

The exhibition ties in with the recent publication of Vincent Van Gogh – The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, a magnificent six-volume edition of 902 letters to and from Vincent.

The RA has borrowed over 35 letters, 65 paintings and 30 drawings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for what is the first major Van Gogh exhibition in London for over 40 years. It is unlikely that another Van Gogh exhibition will be organised on such a large scale. These are some of the most valuable works of art on the planet; the insurance costs must be horrendous.

Of course the letters and works of art are fascinating and superb. But the galleries were absolutely heaving with people pushing their noses against a Van Gogh canvas. The RA cannot be blamed for wanting to make as much money as possible out of such a grand exhibition but I wonder if it might be better to offer fewer tickets at a higher price to make the experience more pleasant. I did not have to pay the £12 entrance fee so really I cannot complain!

Among all the famous canvases here, one item stood out. Dated 23 July 1890, Vincent was carrying a letter to be sent to Theo when he shot himself on 27 July.

The letter has dried blood stains on it.

Two days later Vincent died, aged 37.

Advertisements

California Dreamin’… In Paris

In Tastings on March 26, 2010 at 12:28 pm

On Wednesday 24 March I was in Paris for a tasting of “Vins et Spiriteux des Etats-Unis” at the US Ambassador’s residence on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Such a tasting would be unlikely in the UK: The best wines are shown via their agents rather than at a generic gathering like this. I have been to California only once so do not know the wines at all well. Producers from such unlikely places as Colorado and Georgia were also showcasing their wares to what I suppose was an audience of top Parisian sommeliers, cavistes and journalists.

With the taste of the outstanding Léoville-Barton 2009 still resonating on my palate, the wines here were predictably a mixed bunch and too often striving for power rather than finesse. Randall Grahm’s 2004 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant was a ringer for Châteauneuf du Pape. It even had some Brett for added authenticity! I also liked the fleshy and luscious 2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia and Ridge’s rich and almost elegant 2006 Lytton Springs Zinfandel and Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. The two Au Bon Climat Pinot Noirs were soft, juicy and elegant – good wines.

There were some curiosities from Colorado that I had not encountered before. Boulder Creek Winery produces a Merlot/Cabernet blend called VIP Reserve 2006 that really wasn’t bad at all. There was a bit of excess oak but the mid-palate was pleasantly juicy and fruity.

Varaison Vineyards and Winery, however, is totally misguided. The earnest young man pouring these shockers told me, “We’re trying to produce wines that taste 20 years old without waiting that long…” He has succeeded admirably: The Chardonnay and two Merlots that I tasted were indistinguishable from each other – and from a lame Fino Sherry, for that matter. I am still staggered that somebody actually thinks these are good wines and that people will buy them.

Probably this “Judgement of Paris” was organised along standard French practices. But the tiny spittoons on each table were woefully inadequate for so many people and had to be emptied at frequent intervals, meaning that sometimes there was no spittoon at all. It all looked very nice but the logistics could have been better – says a London-based journalist!

Wine by One

In Tastings on March 25, 2010 at 3:51 pm

On my way back to London from Bordeaux yesterday I spent the afternoon in Paris, visiting a tasting of US wines at the Ambassador’s Residence on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré (more on this later) and then meeting a friend for a drink and chat.

David Cobbold is an Englishman who has lived in Paris for over 30 years. He knows Britt and Per Karlsson, the delightful Swedish couple behind the useful BKWine Brief. David had seen my blog via Britt and Per, so we were in touch and arranged to meet when I was next in Paris.

Although we missed each other at the tasting we met up afterwards and went to a new “bar, caviste, club” on rue des Capucines, near place Vendôme, called – quite wittily I think – Wine by One. It opened only two weeks ago.

We were shown around by Stéphane Girard. There are 100 wines available to taste by the glass in three different pour sizes: Impression, Tentation and Sensation! These wicked French names correspond to 3cl, 6cl and 12cl pours that are priced pro rata. So the cheapest pour is €1 for a 3cl slug of Catena Alamos Chardonnay 2008 or if you prefer there is a 12cl glass of Cheval Blanc 1999 at €140.

The range of wines is surprisingly Catholic: I have always felt that there are relatively few opportunities to try non-French wines in Paris. But Stéphane offers wines from Australia (Charles Melton Nine Popes 2006), Austria (Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Riesling 2007), New Zealand (Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008), South Africa (Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2005) and the USA (Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 1999), as well as the aforementioned Argentinean.

As at The Bottle Apostle in Hackney, the wines are stored and poured by Enomatic machines. These things cost nearly £9,000 each – Wine by One has 12 of them! They need to sell a lot of glasses of wines to pay for those…

Customers buy a “Smartcard”, or “WINEcard” as Wine by One calls them, which can be personalised (très chic!) and then top it up with however much they like, à la Oyster. The appropriate amount is then deducted when a wine is selected from the Enomatic. All the wines are also available to purchase by the bottle, including a smart selection of Champagnes that includes Salon 1997 at €300. Light snacks are served.

It’s good to see more of these “wine bars” emerging where one can taste prestigious wines at relatively little cost. Perhaps it’s the future of wine retailing…

Bordeaux 2009: The hype begins… Here!

In Tastings on March 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I was in Bordeaux earlier this week for a flying visit to see some paintings and to try some wines!

The en primeur circus begins next week though some UK writers were already assessing the 2009s… I have never been involved in the en primeur campaign and have always felt that it is quite ridiculous to buy and sell wines that are not necessarily representative of the finished product.

At any rate, with my friend Véronique Hoffmann-Martinot I visited Châteaux Langoa-Barton, Léoville-Barton, Pichon-Baron and Pichon-Lalande.

The first wine of the day was the 2009 Langoa, which was fruity and bright but retained the characteristic hardness of the estate. Blended from 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc, it should come of age from 2015 to 2025.

The 2008 was even tougher, the oak still apparent and creating tar/coconut aromas on the nose. The palate was very dry and austere. I thought it had a bit more acidity than the ’09 but that was merely my impression.

Léoville 2009 was also sui generis, much softer and more elegant than the Langoa. Although more closed on the nose, it was fuller and had more flesh than the first wine. Despite the high (77%) Cabernet content, it promised to become silky when mature. A very good wine, with fine length, to drink 2020-35. It will be interesting to see how Anthony Barton sells this: It is undoubtedly of outstanding quality and as such can command a high price. But the UK and USA markets are still quite fragile and there is an awful lot of Diageo stock sloshing around… I guess that he will price it at or about the price of the 2008, even though the ’09 is superior.

At Pichon-Baron we tasted 2009  Château Pibran, Tourelles de Longueville and the grand vin itself.

The Tourelles had a bright and fruity Merlot nose – 61% of this wine is Merlot, with 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc. Oak was more apparent on the palate, especially the grippy finish, but the middle was supple and juicy. Quite charming on the whole and to drink 2012–18, perhaps.

Pibran is made at Pichon-Baron but aged at its own estate. It had more structure, and particularly more tannic extract, than the Tourelles. The length was superior, too. Drink 2015–20?

As at Léoville, Pichon-Baron’s 2009 grand vin has a high Cabernet content – 67%, with 33% Merlot. Cabernet Franc has not been used here since 2006. The nose was bright and fruity, though again the palate was wearing quite a bit of new oak makeup. The fruit flavours and textures were beautiful but the oak makes this very hard and tannic at the moment… Fine persistence, though. Try 2015–25?

Véronique and I were apparently the first “journalists” to see Pichon’s new tasting room and “history” room… It all looks (and smells) very new – and very expensive.

Over the road at Pichon-Lalande we were given a guided tour of the château’s paintings – a rare treat. The main reason for me to come to Bordeaux was to see Sophie Lalande’s paintings and to write about them. Of course we also tried the wines!

The 2009 Reserve de la Comtesse was bright but earthy – the influence of Lalande’s St-Julien vineyards, perhaps – and more tannic and chunky than the finer 2008. Try 2013-20?

Pichon-Lalande’s 2009 grand vin had an even more viscous colour than the Comtesse but there was hardly anything on the nose. The mid-palate had rich, savoury fruit and finished with fleshy, almost chunky tannins – obviously a family resemblance to the Comtesse! The juicy acidity suggested that this could be aged 2015-25.

So that is a very brief look at what Bordeaux 2009 promises. To generalise, the best wines have wonderful richness and purity of fruit, with fine tannins and persistence.

As for the prices…

Project Front Foot update

In Cricket on March 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

A message from Vic Mills:

It’s close to a year since I first wrote to you about Project Front Foot. Much has happened in the intervening months. I am, in fact, just back from a second successful trip to Mumbai where I was able to deliver a further 140 kilos of kit to our various partners. To summarise the past twelve months:

Due to the volume of kit taken to Mumbai in October 2009 and March 2010 we have been able to extend our original intent beyond Dharavi and place kit with an orphanage in Chembur along with three schools in villages close to Mumbai.

The hope, during an extended return visit this coming autumn, is to set up and run a series of coaching clinics at the Chembur orphanage and at those schools in rural Maharashtra with which we have links.

During my recent visit I was able to strengthen ties with the Indian Gymkhana Club at King’s Circle. We currently run coaching sessions at the ground three mornings a week between 9 and 11. With an expected increase in coaches for the start of next season we hope to add a further morning session.

During the June to September close season, Chris Way and Krishna Pujari, who run PFF in Mumbai from their Dharavi Community Centre, will put together a fixture list of some sixteen games for next season.

We already have the 24 October pencilled in as the PFF Big Bash: a sponsored day-long tournament involving teams from Dharavi and Chembur. The event will be held on the small grassed oval in the orphanage grounds. The format and number of teams has yet to be finalised, but is likely to resemble our version of the Indian Premier League.

While in Mumbai I was able to meet with the Principal of St Xavier’s College, Father Frazer Mascarenhas. The hope, once the exam season is over, is that some of his students will help with the coaching duties at our King’s Circle ground.

As we look towards another Kit 4 Kids appeal in the coming weeks, the hope is to take PFF into the neighbouring counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.

PFF is currently the subject of a project by third year media students at Lincoln University. On my recent return from Mumbai I was able to hand over four hours of footage shot in and around Dharavi.

We continue to receive positive support from the local media courtesy of BBC Radio Lincolnshire and the Lincolnshire Echo.

We remain indebted to British Airways for their continued support.

Online since August last year, all of the above can be found in greater detail on the PFF website www.projectfrontfoot.org and includes all the latest news, blogs, and picture galleries.

If your club is able to provide kit of any kind – age range 8-18 years – then do let me know and we can organise collection or delivery. I can always be contacted on vsmmedia@hotmail.co.uk and, from the 24 April, will be back in the UK and on my mobile 0795 625 0069. Many thanks, once again, for your time and interest. I look forward to hearing from you.

In search of Monica Bellucci: Afterthoughts on Barbera Meeting 2010

In Tastings on March 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm

As one of the now notorious Barbera 7, I tasted all the wines at the Barbera Meeting 2010 event held 8-11 March in Asti. Late arrival at lunch was due to conscientiousness rather than lack of hunger!

The Barbera 7 hard at work

With the other tasters I got a very good overview of current Barbera styles and winemaking in Piemonte. Before arrival at a snowy Torino Caselle airport my hopes were high for a week of good quality, characterful wines that would drink superbly with suitable food. At least that was my memory of Barbera from northeast Italy.

Many friends sometimes express envy at my lifestyle (they haven’t seen my overdraft!). I can assure them that getting up at 3am on a Sunday morning to go to Stansted Airport is no fun at all. Nor is tasting 68 brutally acidic and tannic red wines at 9am on Monday morning all that enjoyable. By the end of that the Barbera 7 tasters were as drowsy as a sunflower in the evening, our teeth as black as Queen Elizabeth’s.

A typical Barbera d'Asti

The Barbera d’Asti wines tasted that Monday were hugely disappointing. The overall quality was poor, with far too many egregious wines that were faulty and completely unacceptable. Some were as botoxed and unattractive as Donatella Versace. Surely no conscientious wine merchant in the USA or UK (or indeed anywhere) would touch these, which beggars the question as to why they are made at all. Who is buying these wines? There is a thirsty domestic market, admittedly, but not so thirsty as to drink Barbera that tastes and looks more like balsamic vinegar than wine.

Most of the wines were as soaked in oak as the Piemonte landscape was covered in snow. They were awful, with rebarbative tannins as thick as ragù sauce. It was disingenuous of winemakers to claim that the wines were “young” and needed some ageing: Tannic young wines become tannic old wines. (Vieux Château Certan 1948 was still tannic when I drank it a couple of years ago!). And the best Barberas, even with all that acidity, do not seem to endure more than four or five years.

Donatella Versace. Can you spot the difference with the Barbera?

The Monferrato wines were marginally better, showing more concentration and structure than those of Asti, but the Nizza subzone did not seem to have strong enough an identity to venture into the world by itself. There are already enough DOC(G)s in Italy to confuse overseas markets. Piemontese wine might become as tangled as a bowl of spaghetti if yet more names emerge.

I guessed that Barbera d’Alba would prove to be the best of the wines we would taste. Happily I was proved right, though even in that tasting of 30 wines there were at least five that were unacceptable due to excessive levels of brett or oxidation. Barbera d’Alba is something of a mixed blessing: It is planted on the most privileged terroir of Piemonte – of Italy! – but in the Barolo and Barbaresco villages it will always be second best to the mighty Nebbiolo, treated as Gina Lollobrigida rather than Sophia Loren. A pity but understandably necessary.

Barbera d'Alba

Barbera is not a very pliable grape but it is low in tannin, high in acidity and high in anthocyanin, all of which supposedly make it eminently suitable for barrique aging. That so many of the wines showed excess oak is probably down to ham-fisted winemaking rather than any intrinsic fault with Barbera or the Asti terroir.

There are four ways of ageing Barbera: In steel tanks; in barrique; in botte; or a mix of steel and wood, either barrique or botte. Ageing in bottle can then follow any of these. Hardly anybody seems capable of making it work in barrique. Botte is the “traditional” method and often gives good results. The tank-only versions can give much pleasure but lack the structure of wines that have been buttressed by time in wood.

Barolo

After the first morning’s tasting of Barbera d’Asti wines I wrote on this blog, “So diverse were the colours, aromas and textures of these wines that it stretched credence to credit them all as Barbera d’Asti. Britain has few laws but on the whole they are obeyed. Italy has so many laws that they are totally ignored. It has been near impossible thus far to find a Platonic ideal – a Francesca, if you will – of Barbera.” (I have since decided that Monica Bellucci is my ideal). The Barbera DOC(G)s are typically Italian in their entropy.

Although some controversy was caused by the largely negative comments, my fellow bloggers and I would like to extend a large grazie to Wellcom for so capably organising the event and for inviting us to attend.

A perfect bottle of Barbera

Thanks also to all the producers that hosted us during a very busy – sometimes too busy – week in Piemonte.

Finally, thank you to the other members of the Barbera 7 for being such likeable and amusing companions: The not unpulchritudinous Whitney Adams; the Long Haired Lover from Liverpool Jon Erickson; the God of Thunder Thor Iverson; the, like, really American (to my English eyes and ears) Cory Cartwright; the surprisingly potty-mouthed Fredric Koeppel; and, most of all, the uxorious Jeremy Parzen.

If you judge a man by the company he keeps, Jeremy would leave a very favourable impression. If you judge him by the woman he marries, Dr Parzen must be quite special…

A new dawn? Barbera d’Alba at Barbera Meeting 2010

In Tastings on March 11, 2010 at 10:31 am

Happily, this morning’s tasting of Barbera d’Alba from the 2008, 2007 and 2006 vintages has confirming my pre-match expectations that Barbera d’Alba would prove to be the best of the wines tasted this week.

Here is the evidence that Barbera planted on the privileged terroir of Barolo and Barbaresco can reach heights scaled nowhere else in Piemonte. The consistency of colour, flavour and style in this selection of 30 wines far exceeded anything presented to us during the previous three days. Apart from one aberration, there were no real shockers here.

Bravi Astigiani!

But I am still no closer to finding the definitive Piemontese Barbera…

148 Rather neutral flavours but really nice texture. Good wine.

149 A hint of shoe-polish oak flavours spoils another nicely-textured wine. But I suppose I could force it down…

150 A bit dusty on the nose and finishes dry, but a pleasant enough mid-palate.

151 First bottle corked. Ditto second.

152 Chewily (oak) tannic. A pity because the fruit is, like all the wines here, good – much more concentrated and elegant than any wines that we have had previously.

153 Just a bit oak-dry on the finish but otherwise good – rich fruit, plenty of acidity and quite elegant.

154 Best one yet – rich fruit, not over-oaked, crisp finish. Good.

155 A bit more acidity than 154 but otherwise similarly styled.

156 Neon ruby, very vivid and viscous. Underwhelming by comparison on the palate! Rather neutral. But it looks good!

157 The first conspicuously oaked wine of this tasting. A travesty… Otherwise another flight of good wines.

158 Brett on the nose and palate. No.

159 As per 156 rather neutral and underwhelming…

160 Finishes dry and charmless. No.

161 Nice, juicy texture but spoiled somewhat by brett flavours.

162 This reeks of cheese! Blue cheese… Bacterial spoilage? Brett? Yuk.

163 Bright fruit and juicy acidity but the flavours are unappealing.

164 Not quite as bright as before… A return to the underwhelming style of 159 and 156.

165 Juicy acidity on the finish that buttresses the rather Brett-influenced flavours.

166 Ditto.

167 Chewy wood tannins. Unappealing.

168 Toasty new oak aromas. No.

169 Dusty nose but pleasantly supple and juicy palate. Not bad.

170 Farmyard nose – not necessarily unappealing to a silver fox like me – and a supple palate. Not bad.

171 Bretty nose. Palate much worse, finishing with deeply unappealing flavours.

172 Ok but rather neutral and underwhelming.

173 Slightly dusty nose. Palate not all that appealing in the middle but finishes bright, sweet and juicy. Not bad.

174 Nicely textured but rather neutral flavours. Perfectly drinkable though.

175 Vaguely oxidised on the nose. Palate even worse. No. The first of three Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2006s to be tasted.

176 Again rather neutral and underwhelming.

177 A bit oxidised on the nose but a Nebbiolo-like texture – silky tannins buttressed by plenty of acidity. Grown-up wine. Good.

Monferrato Mon Brave?

In Tastings on March 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

Mercifully we had to taste only 24 wines this morning rather than the 60+ of the previous two days.

There were still far too many wines that had been botoxed by oak and lacked freshness but on the basis of this selection Barbera del Monferrato is richer and more powerful than Barbera d’Asti.

Two wines were for me conspicuous. No. 128 was bright ruby purple, fruity, relatively simple, juicy, unpretentious. What Barbera – and Italian wine – is all about.

The final wine (147) was Nebbiolo-like in its structure and aromas. Not bad at all for grown-up drinkers who can cope with something more than sweet fruit flavours and oak makeup.

Paradise Lost? Barbera Meeting 2010

In Tastings on March 10, 2010 at 9:05 am

As I sit this morning in the splendid Piazzo Zoia in Asti, the snow falls like tears from a cloud. There has been six or seven inches overnight here; in Alba there is over a foot, I am told.

Last night my fellow bloggers and I tasted 30 or so examples of Barbera d’Asti from the subzone of Nizza. We were invited to ask questions of the winemakers. The issue of oak was raised and the temperature in the room became colder than outside. It was a question that needed to be asked: Why is Barbera d’Asti, from Nizza or elsewhere, so often rendered undrinkable by over-enthusiastic use of oak? The answers were prickly and often disingenuous.

It breaks my heart to see what is, or can be, one of Italy’s most spirited and enjoyable red wines turned into the pariah of US wine bloggers. I have fond memories of Aldo Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba Bricco delle Viole, which I expect to taste tomorrow with other Alba examples. In principle these should be the best Barbera from Piemonte, planted on its most privileged terroir.

Surely they cannot be any worse than the wines that we have tasted since Monday. Admittedly I am guilty of gluttony and lust over the last couple of days but the violent storms and icy rain (it’s snowing here…) inflicted upon the sinners in the second and third circles of Dante’s Inferno would be less painful than the banshee-like acidity, the senile fruit and the oak – oh the oak! – of the wines here. My lips are more chapped than a polar explorer’s.

So diverse were the colours, aromas and textures of these wines that it stretched credence to credit them all as Barbera d’Asti. Britain has few laws but on the whole they are obeyed. Italy has so many laws that they are totally ignored. It has been near impossible thus far to find a Platonic ideal – a Francesca, if you will – of Barbera.

Below are my notes from Monday’s tasting at Palazzo Zoia. It is irrelevant to cite specific names and producers here because the overall standard was so uniformly disappointing that it is better for the notes to serve as a general overview.

1 Viscous ruby purple, as bright as this Asti morning. Some minerality on the nose. Young, recently bottled? Crisp acidity but refreshing rather than bracing. Fruity tannins. Fun. Now to 2013.

2 Colour as before. Recently bottled? A bit stinky on the nose. Lush fruit. Very moreish. A good example, the fruit showing lots of Barbera tipicità.

3 Lighter colour. Fist bottle corked. Second bottle cleaner but still unpleasant. Dry finish, austere. Charmless. About as pleasant as listening to Tuvan Throat Singing

4 Ruby purple. Juicy, verging on tartness. As with 2 this is giovanissimo… Try with food!

5 Ruby purple. Dark fruit flavours, lots of tipicità. Some dry tannins on the finish but the flavours are appealing.

6 Purple turning to orange at the rim. Yeoman-like structure and texture but no worse for it…

7 Lighter colour. Confected and vulgar on nose and palate. Yuk.

8 Back to the colour of 6. The first barricato wine of the day! A travesty of what Barbera can be and, secondo me, should be… Oak and Barbera is a combination as unlikely as oil and water.

9 Ominous orange/garnet colour… Thoroughly Maderised. A wine that is tired – terminally. Anybody who buys this wine , or indeed makes it, needs a lobotomy – preferably frontal. Barberic.

10 This is much better, but almost anything would shine after the previous wine… Some oak here but it supports rather than overwhelms the fruit. Non c’e male…

11 Orange/garnet but mercifully much fresher and more spirited than 9. Crisp acidity and some rustic tannins on the finish. A good example of Barbera in the yeoman style.

12 Back to pyrope. Recently bottled? Similar to the first wine.

13 Lighter colour. Not very fresh, with the palate particularly unappetising…

14 Similar colour to before. Awful… Bovril on the nose and vulgar oak-derived flavours on the palate.

15 Lighter colour. Even more confected than 7… yuk.

16 Light colour. Unripe and charmless.

17 Orange colour. Little vigour or freshness here, with a very unappealing finish.

19 Orange. A most peculiar nose, recalling the leafiness of Chilean Carmenère more than the dark fruits of Barbera! Appealing in its own way but not at all typical.

20 Colour as before. Another decrepit wine that completely lacks freshness or verve. Awful.

21 A bit more purple. Ah, this is much more like it! Nice fruit but ever so slightly compromised by over-enthusiastic use of oak that mars the lovely flavours and leaves dry tannins on the finish.

22 Burnt rubber on the nose. Absolutely ghastly.

23 A paucity of freshness, like too many wines before…

24 Pyrope, the deepest and most viscous colour yet. Its appearance suggests an attempt at extraction… This is confected and vulgar, wearing far too much makeup.

25 Lighter colour, turning to orange at the rim. Again confected and sickly sweet. Che peccato…

26 Deeper colour than 25 though not as impenetrable as 24. Intolerably ugly flavours derived from heavy-handed use of oak. Awful.

27 Purple turning to garnet. Sweet and juicy mid-palate but scarred by its lack of freshness. The nose hints at oxidation.

28 Orange garnet. A touch of Bovril on the nose… Manca la freshezza.

29 Colour as per 24. This has been to the same beauty salon as 26 and 14… Unsubtle oak overwhelms the fruit. Yuk.

31 Viscous purple. First bottle corked. Second bottle fleshy and brightly flavoured. A good example of il dolce stil novo that shows how oak and Barbera can work together in harmony.

32 Purple orange. Finally something drinkable! Quite tannic for a Barbera but this is offset by the characteristic acidity. Not bad.

33 Viscous purple. Similar nose to 28, hinting at Bovril… Dry, austere tannins on the finish. Unappealing.

34 A bit lighter than before. The nose is not quite as appealing as the palate, which is relatively low in acidity for a Barbera but has those lovely dark flavours.

35 Orange colour. Far less polished than the previous wine but an honest example of Barbera – which is to say that it has lots of acidity and slightly perturbing aromas…

36 Purple turning to orange. Not a great wine but one of the best example yet in this tasting – plentiful acidity, dark cherry flavours, some tannin. Italianissimo and probably great with food. Yum.

37 Lighter colour. Similar styling to 36 but with less stuffing. Tasty finish. Yum.

38 Orange. Like 28 this lacks freshness.

39 Pyrope, as dark as Alba’s night. It is interesting to taste this after 38, which I suppose would be an “old-fashioned” or “classic” style of Barbera. As its neon colour suggests this is very much in the dolce stil novo. Sweet, juicy fruit but compromised by the oak. Nonetheless there have been worse wines than this here today and it is a good example of the modern school.

40 Lighter colour than before! This seems rather half-hearted… It has some modern stylings, notably the depth of colour and dry tannins, but its texture is quite rustic. I think it should have the benefit of the doubt!

41 Viscous purple/orange. Very charming and sexy (e italiana!) but too polished for me… It doesn’t really taste of Barbera.

42 Colour as before. Ghastly nose of oak-derived flavours. Moreish palate structure – crisp and bright – but not a bit like Barbera.

43 Turning to orange. Nice, quite sexy texture but lacks freshness.

44 Purple turning to orange. Sweet and juicy, with a supple finish. Very appealing and moreish but it ain’t Barbera!

45 Deeply coloured. Very crisp, chewily tannic and surprisingly appealing!

46 Orange/garnet. Verging on one of this wines that lacks freshness… Drink up. Palate better than nose.

47 A bit more purple. Similar to 46 – unappealing nose but the palate has a pleasingly rustic tinge.

49 Viscous purple. C’e troppo legno… The wood scars the fruit like a mole on the face of a pretty ragazza.

50 A bit lighter. Dreadful. Badly reduced? What on earth went wrong here?

52 Purple. Sexy and lush palate but it tastes only of oak. No.

53 Ditto! Less oak influence but still untypical, if rather moreish…

54 And again… Why not label it “red wine for those that don’t care about where it comes from?” To put Barbera d’Asti on the label is a travesty.

55 This is more like it. Dark cherries on the nose. Moreish but retaining a rustic edge. Not bad.

55b Inky purple. The oak shows more on the palate than nose. Bitter, charmless finish. Not one for me.

56 Purple/orange. Shoe polish flavours. Yuk.

57 Like 40 this is neither fish nor fowl…

58 Oak, especially on the finish. No.

59 Purple turning to garnet. This is in the rustic style that for me epitomises Barbera from Piemonte. It recalls wine 36.

60 Viscous purple/orange. Sweet new style, with aromas of oak. No.

60b Colour as before. Like 40 this is a rather lame attempt at making a sexy Barbera. It doesn’t work.

62 A bit more purple. Sexy, lush palate paired with oak aromas. Not for me.

63 Lighter colour. This is good, with a bright finish. Mi piace.

64 Confected and vulgar, with an overly-sweet mid-palate.

65 Ditto, but without the sweetness. Quite tart.

66 Purple/orange. Back to my platonic ideal, à la 55! Morello fruit and a rustic texture. What Barbera d’Asti is all about!

66b Purple/orange. Unappealing nose scarred by VA. Short.

67 More purple. Oak on the nose. Palate quite lush but not characteristic.

68 Purple. The nose has some character but the palate is very dry and charmless. No.

68b Colour as before. Oak on the nose – yuk. Ditto on the finish.

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon… In Asti

In Restaurants/wine and food on March 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

This morning (7 March) I had a painfully early start to catch a 7am flight from Stansted to Turin. But there are some things that are worth getting up early for…

I am in Asti this week to attend the Barbera Meeting 2010. Such an early arrival meant that I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with my fellow bloggers this evening. I was told that there was probably only one restaurant open in Asti today, so off I went to Ristorante Aldo di Castiglione in Via Giobert.

Aldo is hidden behind an innocuous door that also leads to several private apartments. One has to press the buzzer to obtain entry – quite daunting on a cold Sunday afternoon in Asti! A brusque “si?” preceded a more welcoming entry into the restaurant.

I was seated by the delightful Franca Masoero, who with her husband and sister (or was it daughter?) runs this quintessentially Italian restaurant. Did I want antipasti? No thank you. A warm starter, then? Yes please. Signora Masoero brought me a plate of gnocchi with a salso di pomodoro e basilico. The gnocchi was beautifully soft, just the way I like it, and the sauce wonderfully fresh – especially for March.

My primo piatto was guancia di vitello in a red wine sauce (Barbera, I think), accompanied with mashed potato. It was tender, not too fatty, really tasty and as simple and unadorned as the restaurant’s bare brickwork and unostentatious lighting. With this I drank a half-bottle of 2008 Coppo Barbera d’Asti l’Avvocato – supple, medium-bodied, bright Barbera fruit and a tickle of VA, but to criticise it for that would be to miss the point. It was perfect with the vitello and surprisingly good with the dessert of bonèt, a Piemontese speciality of eggs, sugar, chocolate and amaretti. It was not all that sweet so was an effective abbinamento with the Barbera.

An espresso braced me for the walk back to the hotel. Offers of grappa or more wine were declined in the knowledge that Tom Hyland had organised a pizza evening for us tonight!