The two week countdown has begun for the 54th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, which will be hosted right here at MFWT. Just in case anyone missed the original announcement, this month’s topic is “A Passion for Piedmont.” All you have to do to participate is to pick any wine – red, white, rosé, bubbly, sweet… you get the picture – from Piedmont (the northwestern corner of Italy that is, not the middle of North Carolina), try it, write about it and report on your findings. Having your own blog makes it easy but is absolutely not a requirement. You’ll find a more complete description of how to participate back in my original announcement. I’ll post the instructions again as our date – Wednesday, February 18, 2009 – draws nearer.
I also promised/threatened to issue a bonus point challenge or two as our deadline draws nigh. Just what those bonus points will be worth remains to be determined but, at the very least, you can rest assured that they’ll move your report to the head of the class when I publish the summary of participants. So, without further ado, the first “Passion for Piedmont” bonus point challenge is:
Drink a red wine and a white wine, both from Piedmont and both from the same producer.
Sounds easy enough, right? I don’t hear too many wine bloggers complaining about second bottles. But remember, Piedmont is red wine country. White wines are certainly produced but are fewer and further between than their red brethren. Half the challenge will be in the shopping alone. So get to it. I’ll be interested to see what you find.
I’ve already been doing a bit of Piedmontese practice – with wines, that is, not the local dialect. For no particular reason, the focus of late has been on Barbera. Here’s a quick note on one that really grabbed me by the bootstraps.
Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina,” Elio Grasso 2006
$36. 14.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ; and Martin Scott, New York, NY.
Elio Grasso’s Barbera is made from the fruit of a single vineyard, fermented in steel and then aged in French barriques (half new and half one-year-old) for one year, followed by a minimum of eight-months aging in bottle prior to release. In addition to the wine’s single vineyard origins, it’s really the use of small (and especially new) French oak barrels (as opposed to steel-only or larger casks of Slavonian oak) that would lead some to brand it as “in the modern style.” The structure of Grasso’s Barbera, however, is more than up to integrating and balancing with that oak. In a good vintage it can be quite age worthy and will be outlived, in fact, only by the estate’s bottlings of Barolo. (The label image above is borrowed from the 2001 vintage.)
When I first tasted the 2006 upon release, roughly six months ago, it was tough. Tight’s not the right word; it was disjointed, awkward and ungiving, even if all the parts seemed to be there. Only six months on, it’s quickly coming into its own, showing beautiful concentration and presence. It’s already eaten up the oak, which has left only a nuance of toast and spice, nothing at all to interfere with, much less mask, the wine’s expression. Barbera’s fruit-forward nature is all there, with plums, blueberries and blackberries in spades, but there’s also force and substance. Just as the wine is handling its oak, it’s also carrying its naturally high acidity with ease, showing not a hint of Barbera’s tendency toward tanginess. At the same time, it’s that acidity – along with gentle but perfectly balanced grip – that lets the wine carry its weight and frame with grace. This one’s a baby right now, but already a pleasure to drink.