Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guest Post: Do Bianchi Does Barbaresco

If you've been visiting here for any length of time, you know by now that I’m a big fan of Jeremy Parzen’s blog, Do Bianchi. Whether he’s writing about the pleasures of orange wine, controversies afoot in the world of vini Italiano or the joys and rigors of touring with his band, Nous Non Plus, Jeremy’s work is always on point, insightful and entertaining.

When he wrote me a while back, to self-flagellate for having missed Wine Blogging Wednesday, “A Passion for Piedmont,” I told him he could make it up to me by guest blogging here at MFWT. Happily, he agreed to do just that. Doubly happily, he recruited a willing collaborator, his sweetheart Tracie B. of My Life Italian, to take the candid photos you’ll see below.

If you’re already a regular reader of Do Bianchi – and if you’re not, you should be! – Jeremy’s topic of choice will come as no surprise.

The podium is all yours, Dr. Parzen.

* * *

One of the things I love the most about Produttori del Barbaresco is how its winemaking practices have remained virtually unchanged since it began making Barbaresco in 1958 (technically the winery was launched as a Cantina Sociale in 1894). Few Italian winemakers can rival this iconic label for the terroir- and vintage-driven characteristics of the wines.

And as much as I love its single-vineyard expressions of Nebbiolo, my favorite is always the blended classic Barbaresco: on my palate, these are the truest expressions of Barbaresco and its unique power and elegance because they represent an overarching manifestation of the entire appellation, made from grapes grown by multiple growers across the territory. Each year, the best grapes from the best growing sites go into this wine. How do you determine where the best rows are? Simple: just observe where the snow melts first, they will tell you. 1967 and 1982 are two memorable vintages of the classic Barbaresco that I have tasted over the last few years (and I've tasted the crus going back to the late 70s): the wines of today are very true to the winery's beautiful, natural terroir-driven style.

The 2004 is surely to be one of the great vintages of this decade and the winery compares it to the "mythic 1990." I've tasted it a number of times over the last year and it seems to be closing up right now and showing more tight than it was last summer. I believe it's going through a tannic period of its development and as much of a joy as it is to drink it, I think it's best to lay it down for a while. I want to revisit it again around Christmas and see where it's at.

Although 2005 was a very good vintage and classic in its profile (part of a string a good vintages, 04, 05, and 06), unusually high temperatures in September made for a wine with fruit more forward than the 2004. Unfortunately, this more "American-friendly" vintage has driven up the price slightly. It showed wonderfully in the tasting the other day and while I don't think it will age quite as long as the 2004, I think this is an excellent Barbaresco that we can enjoy sooner than later.

2006 was another classic vintage, although again warmer than the 2004. I was thrilled to taste the 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo (made from fruit not destined for the Barbaresco) and I think it's an excellent value for the quality. I like to call it my "Saturday night wine" (the Barbaresco is a "special occasion" wine at my table).

I've translated the winery's 2006 vintage notes below.

    The 2006 vintage began with nice spring weather. The warm temperatures in the first half of May caused early flowering around May 25 (flowering usually occurs in early June for Nebbiolo). Temperatures lowered at the beginning of June but without adversely affecting the flowering and fruit set of the vines. These conditions led to an abundant harvest. July brought temperatures higher than average. But August saw milder and more pleasant weather with warm days alternated with cooler and more ventilated days. Unlike other regions in Italy, rainfall was scarce and as a result, the season was relatively dry, especially for vineyards with the best exposure, which were warmer and drier. The abundant amount of fruit made summer thinning all the more important in order to rebalance production and allow for good ripening.

    September arrived with healthy fruit with somewhat high sugar levels. But the development of the fruit and its aromas was however delayed, especially in the warmest vineyards with the best exposure. Two intense September rainstorms marked a break from otherwise summery conditions. The first happened around September 10 and this actually helped aromatic ripening to begin again and thus was helpful. The second rainfall arrived later, on September 25 and 26, when the fruit was already ripe. At that point, there was no point in waiting any more and as soon as the sun dried the fruit, we began to harvest on September 29 and we finished picking on October 7 after nine days of good weather that allowed us to harvest excellent, healthy fruit.

    2006 Barbaresco will be an excellent Barbaresco with natural alcoholic content higher than 13.5%, with intense color and good acidity. A good wine for aging, from another vintage in a string of good vintages including 2004 and 2005.

My advice: buy these wines, drink them, lay them down, live with them, pair them with food, save a glass of each and taste it the next day, open them on special occasions, revisit them, record your impressions, blog them... They never disappoint and their value simply cannot be beat.


lars said...

Thanks for the notes. I recognize The Austin Wine Merchant, too. John Livingstone-Learmonth, one of my favorite wine writers, who is not only a Rhône lover, but also Piedmont, wrote me in one of his letters back in 2002 that Produttori del Barbaresco remains one of the best values in the region and doesn't seek the fat style sought after by the U.S./international crowd. They have character and tannins, austere in their youth. Last summer I bought a mixed sampler of the straight Barbaresco from the vintages '01, '04, and '05 and asked the estate some winemaking questions. They destem 100% and sometimes do a very light cardboard filtration when needed. I liked all the wines tasted, but they need time in bottle.

Do Bianchi said...

McDuff, thanks again for the guest spot and generous words. It's great to be here (my first guest post ever!).

Lars, I have to confess that I'm not sure what you mean by "cardboard" filtration." I believe that the appellation requires filtration and I'll ask winemaker Aldo Vacca about it when I see him at Vinitaly. The wines do need time but I also believe they are meant for drinking: the Piedmontese don't cellar the wines as long as we do. As beautiful as these wines will become in 20 years, I believe that 5-10 years will reveal some of their greatest character (which inevitably will be lost in the autumn, if you will, of their life).

lars said...

Jeremy, I forwarded you Mr. Vacca's response to me last summer. Anyway, Dan, who was working the harvest and staying at my flat, while I was in NYC last October, reminded me that I had left an open bottle of either '04 or '05 for over a week in the fridge and upon my return it was still drinking beautifully. The timespan you give makes sense. It's similar to traditional Chateauneufs such as Versino.

Do Bianchi said...

thanks for sending Lars. I just shot an email to Franco to see if he can explain it and if not, I'll call Aldo in the next few days... thanks again...

David McDuff said...

It's an honor and pleasure to have you here, especially for your first guest post ever.

and Lars,
Thanks for the comments and discussion.

Why hold out, though, guys? You've got me interested now vis-a-vis the question of cardboard filtration and regarding Mr. Vacca's approach in general. How about sharing the info here (unless you feel it's confidential, of course)?

PS: I recently drank a bottle of the '04 Barbaresco that continued to develop and show well over the course of three days.

Do Bianchi said...

He did indeed write "light cardboard filtration." I'm going to try to get in touch with Aldo directly and get the details... stay tuned...

Tracie B. said...

hey mc d, thanks for the link, eye candy, and your sweet words! great post :)

David McDuff said...

The eye candy's all yours, Tracie, and you have JPz to thank for the post. He did all the hard work.

Thanks for sharing your pics -- and you're welcome for the link. MLI's now on my blogroll as well.

Alfonso Cevola said...


You doing a Zelig appearance?


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