There are so many good things about Piedmont that I could hardly have been more excited about the 54th edition of the Wine Blogging Wednesday. David McDuff’s theme, A Passion for Piedmont, was really my kind of thing.
I love just about everything about Piedmont, in every color and style. Recently, I wrote about Moscato, this Northern Italian region’s sweet little treasure, which I can’t get enough of. I keep going back to barbera, with its refreshing acidity and bright fruit that makes it such a terrific food wine. And the Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo from the 1998 vintage remains one of my best wine tasting memories ever: incredible depth, intensity, yet subtlety and softness as well.
Just last week, I had a chance to join a tasting of wines by Giorgio Pelissero at Le Cercle, a Quebec City restaurant and bar (and concert hall). Beyond the friendly conversation, we had the chance to taste some lovely wine, with great food matches. The 2006 Dolcetto d’Alba Augenta had exuberant dark fruit and licorice, with a lot of gumption and lovely texture that was nicely contrasted with a beautiful plate of gnocchi with tomatoes and basil. The basil and licorice accents complemented each other perfectly, while the tomatoes’ acidity highlighted the wine.
A 2005 Barbera d’Alba Piani, with its bright acidity, red cherry, slightly spicy notes and nice tannins showed a fair bit of wood that should blend in harmoniously over a few years in the cellar. The food match worked in reverse from the previous wine, with the acidity and tannic structure in the wines livening up an unctuous dish of braised lamb.
Giorgio Pelissero talked admirably of the demands posed by the various grapes of Piedmont, and the various terroirs that are better suited to each variety. And when asked about the famous quarrel between the “Ancients” and “Moderns” in Piedmont, with the moderns favoring small barrels and new oak, and a more fruit-forward style, he had an interesting answer. “If there is a debate between ancients and moderns, it is largely because the younger generations always want to do things differently than the previous generation.” And he also quipped another point about the difference between the two clans. “I spend 200,000 euros a year in new barriques. The traditionalists don’t have to. Now, tell me which is the crazy one?”. I guess I’ll have to taste his barolos over time, before I answer that one.
Pondering over Giacosa
In the meantime, I thought I could ponder that over a bottle of the 2003 Nebbiolo d’Alba by Bruno Giacosa, one of the most renowned producers in Piedmont, generally characterized as a more traditional winemaker. I love his arneis, an aromatic, delicate white that dances on the tongue – made from a grape that Giacosa almost single-handedly saved from extinction in the 1980s. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his barolos immensely, finding them balanced, subtle, complex, yet powerful and long-lasting. Pretty much ideal.
This is why I particularly wanted to share a tasting note on his Nebbiolo d’Alba, which I’ve enjoyed previously and found to offer great quality at a very decent price. Much more affordable, of course, than the barbarescos and barolos, but with all the inherent qualities of great nebbiolo. And I had this bottle of the 2003 that had been resting in my cellar for a year and a half or so. My dedicated bottle for WBW 54 was easily chosen.
But let’s point out that 2003, with its endless heat wave in Europe, was a tough year for winemakers. High sugars, lack of structure, lack of phenolic ripeness and low acidity: not a great combination for making wines that will last long in the cellar.
I had very pleasant memories of the 2003, when I first drank it two years ago. Nice fruit, good acidity, expressive flavors. But how did it evolve?
Well, the orange edges on the wine showed a clear sign of premature aging. And right after opening, the wine seemed to be heading into dangerous territory. On the nose, the fruit has faded while the relatively high alcohol (14%) has stuck around, giving the impression of cherries macerated in alcohol, with a bit of dark tobacco, bitter orange marmelade, and some animal notes on top. After a few hours of opening up, however, things seemed to have settled a bit. Prune flavors and aromas had emerged, as well as a bit of refreshing astringency on the finish. Not that the cherries-in-alcohol thing had gone away, but it had faded a bit. And in that condition, I think the wine could have done nicely with the braised lamb from the other night.
Overall, compliments can probably be given to Giacosa for bringing something originally pleasant out of this overcooked vintage. But it just isn’t enough to give this wine the balance that normally keeps nebbiolo going for years and years. You just can’t win them all. But that’s okay. I still love you, Piedmont.
Ready for WBW 55?
Now, if I was excited by David McDuff’s Piedmontese excursion, I’m even more excited about the next Wine Blogging Wednesday. Why? Because I’ll have the honor of hosting it, precisely one month from now. I’ll post the announcement and theme by the weekend.
Sneak Preview? It will be entitled “North vs South”.