Tasting Notes : Versatility in a glass

 

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Orme 2013

Region : Piemonte, Italy

Grape : Barbera

Price : $17

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I have done quite a few Nebbiolo tasting notes in the past and it is clearly the most prestigious varietal in the Piemonte region. However it is far from being the most planted. That honor belongs to the Barbera grape which makes versatile, affordable wines. There are 2 DOCG appellations for Barbera wines : Barbera del Monferrato Superiore and Barbera d’Asti, centered on the town of Asti.

Eye

  • Clear
  • Low to medium minus intensity
  • Ruby in color

Nose

  • Clean
  • Medium plus intensity
  • Developing
  • Aromas
    • Red fruit, red cherries
    • Red fruit, strawberries
    • Nut fruit, cola nut

Palate

  • Dry
  • Acidity medium plus
  • Tannins low to medium minus
  • Alcohol med minus
  • Body med minus
  • Flavor intensity med minus
  • Length medium
  • Flavors
    • Red fruit, redcurrant
    • Red fruit, tart cherries
    • Black fruit, blackberries
    • Hint of smoke, very faint

Conclusion

  • Quality : acceptable
  • Price category : mid-price
  • Ready to drink

A little underwhelming in terms of body and intensity, but as advertised a versatile wine that would go well with many Italian dishes.

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Unlike any other, COS Rami 2011

Cos Rami, 2011

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 50% Insolia and 50% Grecanico

Price: 35$

Being a wine nerd has its perks, now I know some producers name, and I get very excited when I see one of their wines I never had on a restaurant menu. This past Tuesday I was dining at a reputable Italian restaurant in Harvard Square and I was giddy because I saw earlier that they had a COS wine I never had.

I have reviewed several COS wines this past year, including their Nero d’Avola or their Cerasuolo di Vittoria. All excellent wines but I was particularly impressed by their Pithos Bianco. A white wine that was the most original thing I ever tasted, they used maceration and fermentation in clay amphoraes to bring character to the traditional Sicilian grape varieties. When I saw the other white from COS on the menu, my choice was made.

The two grapes are traditional Sicilian white varieties, Insolia tends to be flavorful but lacks acidity and Grecanico is vibrant and acidic but more neutral. The Rami differs from the Pithos in 2 ways, the Pithos is 100% Grecanico and it has longer skin contacts and use of the clay containers.20140826_201957

Eye: a deep gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Citrus fruit with a rocky, mineral backbone, not steely like a Chablis but rather organic, earthy.

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium body, lots of aromas to taste, I get walnuts, a bit of citrus fruit, some flowers (I read someone describe it as “pot-pourri”). There definitely is some minerality under the fresh aromas. The body is nice, compact while not being underwhelming.

COS never disappoints. The Rami is a little less original than the Pithos, it’s not as marine and salty but it remains a UFO of a white wine. You don’t expect the color, you don’t expect the taste, you just have to enjoy them. I’d say it’s the missing link between the Pithos and a more normal white wine.

Food pairings: It’s an original wine so you can be creative with the pairings. I’m not sure fish would be the ideal candidate, I would recommend veal actually.

Overall opinion: In one word: Awesome. In more words: COS does Sicilian wines well. I encourage you to try their wines. Their reds are excellent but their whites are original on top of being top notch. Try this wine, I’m sure you never had anything like it.

Grade: 9/10

First night of summer, Orsolani Erbaluce

Orsolani, La Rustia, Erbaluce di Caluso 2012

Region: Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Erbaluce

Price: $18

I have been living in the US for the better part of 3 years now and I still hadn’t visited the nation’s capital. That oversight has been corrected last weekend as I flew down to DC to visit a friend. We sat down on the terrace of an Arlington restaurant of a warm Friday night and ordered a bottle of Erbaluce to ease the catching up process.

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce is a white grape from Piedmonte in Northern Italy. It can be used to make sweet, dry or spumante (sparkling) white wines. The sweet passito from Erbaluce grapes is apparently well rated. There is a dedicated wine region appellation for those wines, Erbaluce di Caluso. DOCG is the higher tier of Italian appellations (one step up from DOC). The grape and the appellation have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since the 1990’s but as far as I know, the grape isn’t widely used outside of Piedmonte. The wines tend to be well received though, and they are becoming trendier. I definitely see more restaurants carrying them than before.

orsolani Erbaluce

Eye: Pale lemon with strong hints of green

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, lime, grass and peach notes

Palate: dry, slightly sparkling, medium plus acidity, medium body

The aromas were fairly straightforward at first with white peach and lime in the foreground. The wine is lively with good acidity and a very light sparkling quality, very refreshing on a warm June night. Later on more complex notes come to play, more on the herb/flower side (lavender). The body is on the lighter side which reinforces the refreshing aspect.

Food pairings: I think it’s fairly versatile; we had it with some cheese. It would work well with fish, seafood and chicken.

Overall opinion: Very refreshing with a lot of aromas, a good summer wine

Grade: 7/10

More affordable Nebbiolo ! Petterino Gattinara

Petterino Gattinara 2000

Region: Gattinara DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

Grape: 100% Nebbiolo

Price: around $35

I spent last weekend in New York City and, while taking a walk in the East Village, I came across a wine shop. Well, this being a wine blog, you probably know where this is going right?

I went in, browsed a little bit and then found a pretty well stocked Italian section. I had a pretty good Gattinara recently and so, when I saw another wine from that DOCG I was intrigued. When I saw the vintage and the price I was more than intrigued, and after that it was a matter of paying, going home and getting a couple wine glasses.

I wasn’t going to let an occasion to drink some good Nebbiolo pass, especially an older vintage. Nebbiolo is a wine that tends to ages beautifully and reveal itself more and more as time passes. I was excited to try it for myself. In terms of ageing, this particular wine spent 3 years in oak barrels, pretty much on par for the course.

Petterino

Eye: pale garnet, orange- brownish rim, typical of older Nebbiolos

Nose: Clean, intense, red fruit (raspberries, cherries) with a distinct tar smell and some pot-pourri like flowers.

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, very soft and smooth tannins, long finish with coffee notes

The contrast with the Travaglini is immediate. I described Travaglini as a denser, more intense Pinot Noir, this Petterino is nothing like that. There are still red fruits aromas, raspberries and dark cherries but all is underlined by intense earthy flavors such as leather or tar. The tannins are present but extremely well rounded which makes the wine extremely easy drinking. Even 15 years in, the acidity is still there. The final is very long and offers notes of coffee. It’s incredible to see how different 2 two wines from the same town can be. Of course the age (2007 vs 2000) might be a factor, but it remains such a huge gap. Two completely different experiences.

Food pairings: I had it on its own but it would work well with any meat dish or even game. It would definitely hold its own. Some of the aromas might seem a bit funky to pair with food (tar for instance).

Overall opinion: Once again, Nebbiolo doesn’t come cheap and even if Gattinara is an affordable alternative, I was still surprised to get a bottle this old for this price. I’d say it is closer to the traditional image of a Nebbiolo with the pale garnet color and the strong tar notes on the nose. I would also recommend trying it if you can put your hands on it; it gives a totally different perspective on the grape than the Travaglini.

A Nebbiolo you can afford, Travaglini Gattinara

Travaglini Gattinari 2007

Region: Gattinara DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

Grape: 100% Nebbiolo

Price: around $30

Sometimes, you have to treat yourself. Maybe you’ve been a good boy. Maybe you’ve had a bad week. Maybe you just feel like giving yourself a present. In any case, I was in such a self-indulging mood and coincidentally, it was Restaurant Week in Boston. So reservations were made at Erbaluce, one of the top Italian restaurants of the city. Luckily I went with my wine industry friend, she handles the bottle selection, and I can just relax. She selected a Nebbiolo from Gattinara to go with my wild board and her rustic pasta.

Gattinara is one of the Piedmont DOCGs (premium growing regions). It is not as famous as some of the others like Barolo or Barbaresco but it is a more affordable alternative to those classic Nebbiolos. Contrarily to Barolo and Barbaresco, Gattinara allows for some blending:  a minimum of 90% of Nebbiolo grapes with up to 10% Bonarda di Gattinara and no more than 4% of Vespolina. The one we had however is 100% Nebbiolo, which is a common choice for producers in Gattinara.

foto-gattinara-w270

Yes, the bottle has a weird shape

Eye: deep garnet

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, red fruit (raspberries), vanilla

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, soft tannins, long finish

The likeness to Pinot Noir from Burgundy is there. Body and acidity and soft tannins match, so do the primary aromas of red fruit (raspberries mainly). The oak is present (minimum 1 year) and gives out vanilla aromas. Where it differs from a Burgundy though is a distinct mineral quality on the finish. It gives the wine a denser, tighter feel than Pinot Noir. For lack of a better word, I’d say it gives the wine a greater sense of urgency, whereas a Pinot Noir takes a leisurely stroll, the Gattinara is desperate to give you a message.

Note that this is a 2007; Nebbiolo wines have a reputation of being hard to drink young. I’m not sure how that extends to Gattinaras. The acidity in this one was medium-plus so I assume it already has mellowed out somehow. A younger wine could be a lot tarter with more aggressive tannins.

Food pairings: I had it with wild boar. Not a bad combination but I think it would work better with a more traditional red meat. I can see it working with cheese too.

Overall opinion: Nebbiolo doesn’t come cheap; this Gattinara from Travaglini is a more than decent example of this varietal at a very reasonable price. If you want to get a feel for that noblest of Northern Italian grapes I would recommend it, strongly.

Bonus: this wine was the subject of a blind-tasting contest

The best kind of fog, Nebbiolo

It’s a particularly ugly day in Boston from a weather standpoint. It’s been raining and snowing at the same time, a fact that meteorologist describe as “wintry mix” which sounds like a cereal brand or a granola bar. Rain, snow and fog don’t make for a great early Spring. Actually, fog might help. If you translate fog into Italian, you get Nebbiolo which is way more fun to be around than fog.

So, Nebbiolo is an Italian red grape variety from the Piedmont region (Northwest Italy, capital Turin).

1034px-Piedmont_in_Italy.svg

It is considered the noble grape of the region, which I guess makes Barbera the bourgeois grape and Dolcetto the peasant grape. That’s actually a pretty accurate comparison because Nebbiolo is a really fussy and temperamental grape. Seriously, it makes Pinot Noir look easy to grow in comparison. Nebbiolo is extremely fragile, needs constant care and takes forever to ripen. It is also very particular about the type of soils and climate it needs to grow properly and thus, can only be cultivated on the very best tracts of land. All those factors contribute to its rarity and its “nobility” status.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo Grapes

Why do people bother growing it then? Well, it produces spending wines. That might have helped. Wines made from Nebbiolo have extremely high acidity and tannins level. Often they are way to tart to be drunk early. Most high quality Nebbiolo requires oak aging and then a few years in the bottle to reach its potential and be enjoyable. A peak Nebbiolo makes me think about a tighter, denser Pinot Noir where the gamey, Fall-like notes of Burgundy would be replaced by more peppery, spicy notes. That’s my own experience however, generally accepted descriptions of Nebbiolo insist on aromas like roses, liquorice, mulberries or even tar.

The most famous appellations for Nebbiolo are the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs in Piedmont with high reputation and price both. Other DOCGs for Nebbiolo include Gattinara and Ghemme. There is also a DOC, Nebbiolo d’Alba. Outside of Piedmont the grape is not widely planted even so there are Nebbiolo wines from California and Australia.

I’ve been drinking a few Nebbiolos recently and I was I could drink some more because it is usually great stuff. But the relative rarity, high reputation and necessary ageing makes it an expensive passion, especially for Barolos and Barbarescos. Other DOCGs and DOCs are more affordable and they tend to be easier to drink young. It’s usually a good bet if you can find one of these at your local wine shop.

Sicilian ambush, COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2010

Region: DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy

Grape: 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato

Price: around $28

Cerasuolo COS

I was ambushed last night and it was awesome. My wine industry friend called me up to tell me she disagreed with my notes on the COS Nero di Lupo. I apologized and reminded her that I’m really a novice and I need practice (which is true). So she improvised a practice session last night: I had to taste salty water, tea, sweet water and lemon juice to map the sensations on my tongue. Then there was a quick reminder of the tasting process and then, there was wine (tasted blind). And of course the wine was the COS wine I said I wanted to try the day before, of course… That was evil, but a nice kind of evil. Anyway, COS Cerasuolo, the DOCG wine from this winery, my third wine from COS was tasted last night. As an aside, Arianna Occhinpinti is actually the niece of one of the COS owners, it has nothing to do with the price of beer but I love useless information.

Eye: medium garnet

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity. Red fruit notes: cherry, raspberry, and strawberry

Palate: dry, medium + acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium + tannins, lengthy finish

The red fruit aromas from the nose are present, especially raspberry and cherry, strawberry takes a backseat and the cherry would be more a tart cherry than a fully ripe one. Cerasuolo means cherry in Italian so the aroma must be pretty topical. The finish is long with an oaky quality. The wine takes you through phases one after another it’s pleasant without being overly complex. Compared to the Nero di Lupo the fruity flavors are a lot redder, probably a Frappato contribution. Over reviewers talk about herb flavors, like rosemary and even a mineral quality. I can see the rosemary lurking somewhere, the minerality eluded me I must say.

Food pairings: Grilled meat cooked with herbs like thyme, rosemary or bay leaves, also pasta with the same type of herbs, a great food wine all around I think.

Overall opinion: I am yet to be disappointed by a COS wine. I loved this bottle and I could drink it all day. It does not try to overwhelm you with oak or tannins, it has fruit but not to the detriment of acidity, alcohol or complexity. I’ll start hunting the Frappato and the Pithos Rosso from COS so that I can show the world I truly have a one track mind.