Stuart George

Posts Tagged ‘Barbera Meeting 2010’

Bye bye, not buy buy, Barbera

In Restaurants/wine and food on May 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

The recent travel chaos caused by Eyjafjallajökull – no, I can’t pronounce it either – meant that my fellow blogger and Barbera 7 colleague Cory Cartwright was stranded in London for several days before being able to return home after almost two months on the road.

We arranged to meet and had dinner at my local curry restaurant Hot Stuff, in Wilcox Road SW8 where My Beautiful Laundrette was filmed in 1985. (Wilcox Road can be seen at 5:38 in this clip – it hasn’t changed!)

Hot Stuff is unlicensed so operates a BYO/no corkage policy. The food (and company) is great so I usually take along some bottles that otherwise might not be opened in a hurry.

Cory and I started with a 2004 Juve y Camps Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava. Let’s face it, most Cava is filthy – and old Cava is even filthier than that. But this was really good, still fresh and lively, and about as rich and complex as Cava can ever be.

A couple of weeks ago I received some samples from a Barbera producer that I had been interviewing via e-mail for an article on Barbera d’Asti. His answers to my queries had been as forthright and unapologetic as his performance that snowy night in Nizza. Nonetheless, he generously offered to send me a few bottles to retaste.

I made sure not to look at my tasting notes from the Barbera Meeting 2010 and to try the wines with Cory and some good food, unprejudiced by previous experiences. We opened the elegant, albeit rather heavy, bottle and poured some Barbera d’Asti into our glasses. We sniffed… and nearly puked. The wine might as well have been labelled as vinegar, so appallingly high was the acetic acidity. We dared not try it again for fear of further upsetting our appetites.

We opened the Nizza bottling. Mercifully, it was not over-oaked and had a relatively pleasing texture but again it reeked of acetic acidity. These two bottles, or at least the first one, were completely unacceptable as wines made to be purchased and drunk.

I am saddened that the owner of this estate – by all accounts a distinguished man – genuinely believes that he is making “wines of excellence”. Indeed, at the Nizza meeting he shouted back at somebody who had the temerity to question the use of oak with Barbera, ““Do you know anything, anything at all, about wine?”

To paraphrase Kipling, what should they know of Barbera who only Barbera know?

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…

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!