Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gaja Vs. Barbaresco

Folks, I am reviving Cosa Bolle in Pentola, and the below is drawn from the latest issue. To subscribe to Cosa Bolle, please visit the Cosa Bolle site, at cosabolle.com.

Returning to this post, this week L'Espresso presented its annual wine guide, which is assembled under the able direction of Ernesto Gentili and Fabio Rizzari. In introducing the volume, Ernesto said that while there aren't as many great wines as there have been in past years, mostly because many producers are now presenting the 2002 and 2003 vintages of their flagship wines, he has noted a significant increase in the quality level of what's known as "vino base," or the basic inexpensive day-to-day wines. More good bottles with excellent quality-to-price ratios, and this is a good thing.

The reason for going to the presentation of a wine guide is of course to taste the wines that won the awards, and after Ernesto finished speaking we all trooped into the adjacent hall, where sommeliers were awaiting us. Just about everyone lined up to taste Giacomo Conterno's 1999 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, the only wine to achieve a perfect score of 20/20 (it's the second wine to achieve a perfect score in the 7 years L'Espresso has been publishing the guide), and though I'm certain it was superb, I was drawn to Gaja's 2003 Sorì Tildin Langhe DOC.

Why? Because it was one of the Barbarescos with which Angelo Gaja forged his reputation as one of the best and most innovative winemakers in Italy, if not the world. However, in 1997 he declassified it and his other single vineyard Barbarescos -- Sorì San Lorenzo and Costa Russi -- to Langhe Nebbiolo DOC for reasons that have never been clear to me; there were rumors that he was cutting his Barbaresco with something other than Nebbiolo -- the malicious said Cabernet -- a practice strictly forbidden by the Disciplinare governing the production of Barbaresco, and some people suggested that he decided to declassify because Langhe Nebbiolo can contain up to 15% other varietals, at which point he no longer had to worry about being nailed for fraud. It is possible, because he does now say that he adds 5% Barbera to all three wines -- in the past adding a little Barbera to raise the acidity of a Nebbiolo was common practice in Piemonte -- but he has always denied adding Cabernet to the wines, and to be frank his decision to declassify still makes little sense to me. One usually steps up -- and Barbaresco is Barbaresco's top wine -- not down a level to the catch-all appellation.

In any case, I tasted it: The 2003 Sorì Tildin is deep ruby, with a clean, rich, fruit driven nose that has jammy black currant fruit laced with cherries and deft oak and underlying spice. Enticing and elegant in an extremely international key; it shows great polish but I wouldn't necessarily associate it with Barbaresco. The palate reflects the nose, with rich, surprisingly vegetal berry fruit -- Nebbiolo can be quite vegetal, especially if it's a hot vintage (like 2003) and the vines were stressed, so vegetal doesn't mean Cabernet -- supported by cedar-laced tannins that flow into a long green tannic finish. It's woefully young, and needs at least 2-3 years to get its bearings. It's also very good, though I'd have to say in an anonymous oak-driven way: It could be from anywhere. In short, it's a wine that you will buy if you want to drink a wine by Angelo Gaja, and if you do you will like it, because it's good; even if you are a traditionalist you will find things to enjoy.

Score: 2 stars; it's a very good wine. However, if you want to enjoy an expression of the hills of Barbaresco, there are other options I would choose first. Which? Since I was at the presentation of the Guida De L'Espresso, I tasted the other Barbareschi Ernesto and Fabio chose to recognize.

Azienda Agricola Falletto Barbaresco Asili 2001
This is made by Bruno Giacosa, one of the Grand Old Men of the Langhe; it's a pale garnet hue that's much more in keeping with Nebbiolo than Sorì Tildin's ruby, with almandine rim and black reflections, and has a considerably more rustic bouquet with balsam and animal tang mingled with spice and wet underbrush and underlying berry fruit. Considerable backbone to it, and its animal nature is something I have found in Giacosa's wines before. On the palate it's rich, and elegant, with powerful berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins that still have a youthful splintery burr, and flow into a clean berry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. It's elegant but very young, and needs 3-4 years to really come into its own, though it will already be nice with a rich stew or a porterhouse steak.
Score: 92

Castello di Neive Santo Stefano Barbaresco Riserva 2001
Pale almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is delicate, with rosa canina and some sea salt mingling with spice and slight tar. Quite a bit going on in a lacy key. On the palate it's graceful, with elegant slightly tobacco laced red berry fruit supported by tannins that are just about velvety and flow into a clean savory finish. Quite deft in a very traditional key, and will drink nicely with roasts or stews, though I would give it another year to develop. If you like the style, it's well worth seeking out.
Score: 90

Produttori del Barbaresco Vigneti Rabajà Barbaresco Riserva 2001
Pale almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is rich, with deft herbal notes mingled with spice, warmth, red berry fruit and some sea salt. Quite a bit going on, and it feels quite young. On the palate it's rich, with full, powerful berry fruit supported by steely tannins that are becoming velvety, though there is again a feeling of youthful skittishness to them, and it all flows into a clean slightly tannic finish. Great depth, but underaged; it needs another year or two, and if you have the patience to give it a decade or more it will be extraordinary.
Score: 91

Produttori del Barbaresco Vigneti in Pora Barbaresco Riserva 2001
Lively cherry ruby with almandine highlights and rim. It's much readier than the Rabajà on the nose, with rich red berry fruit supported by some herbal notes and underlying tar, with fresh mint as well. On the palate it's full and smooth, and again much readier than the Rabajà, with ample red berry fruit supported by fairly sweet supple tannins that do reveal youth in the finish. By comparison with the Rabajà its tannins are laxer and less steely, and this difference will become more apparent with time; it's more approachable now, and I think will be less long-lived. Lest you think I'm saying don't buy it, it is also pleasant, and will contribute greatly to a meal featuring a hearty roast or a rich stew.
Score: 2 stars

With the exception of Produttori del Barbaresco's Vigneti in Pora, I found all of the other wines, and especially Giacosa's Asili and the Produttori's Rabajà, to be much more in keeping with what I expect from Barbaresco, displaying great elegance, backbone, and a certain slightly lofty distance of the sort I associate with Grace Kelly somehow. Continuing with the great actress similes, Sorì Tildin is more in the direction of Marylin Monroe. Beautiful, but more immediate and with less depth. I know some will say that the differences are in large part vintage derived -- 2003 is fleshier and softer than 2001 -- but I'm not so certain they're not attributable to philosophical differences. Barbaresco is Barbaresco, and Sori Tildin is going in another direction. We will find out when the 2003 Barbareschi are released.

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