Monday, February 23, 2009

A Passion for Piedmont – The WBW 54 Recap

It’s been my pleasure to host the 54th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday – “A Passion for Piedmont” – here at McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail. There truly was a fiery passion for Piedmont expressed throughout the wine blogosphere. And it was no small task to give it all its much-merited attention. I hope you’ll all do the same. But before we get to the detailed roundup, here are a few stats to whet your appetites.

  • Overall participants: 51 53
  • Number of bottles tasted/consumed: 86+ *
  • The red to white ratio: 73 to 13
  • Barolo vs. Barbaresco: 7 to 15
  • Oldest bottle: 1995 (Where were all those Barolos from the 50’s and 60’s, guys?)
  • Most “popular” vintage: 2006 edged out 2007, 17 to 15
  • Most tasted variety: Nebbiolo (in all its iterations) soundly beat Barbera, 30 to 20
  • Instances of bodily harm: 1
  • Number of wines from Tuscany that managed to sneak into the mix: 1

* Not counting the imprecise nature of the 15+ Dolcetti tasted by Doktor Weingolb. Nail that number down, Marcus, and I’ll see what I can do with the stats.

Cory Cartwright’s thumb: injured in the line of duty and giving new meaning to the term Saignée.

Our assignment for this episode was simple: pick any wine from the Piedmont region of Italy, taste it and write about it. However, to keep things interesting in the weeks leading up to WBW 54, I issued two separate bonus point challenges:

  1. Write-up a red wine and a white wine, both from the same producer (and, of course, both from Piedmont).
  2. Write-up two wines, each made from the same variety (or varieties) but hailing from different sub-regions and/or different DOC(G)s within Piedmont.

Only one person managed to score points in both categories:

  • He goes by various monikers – Lab Director, Managing Principal, etc. – but whatever you call him just don’t let it be “blogger.” J. David Harden broke with the usually strict protocol at Rational Denial to host a Piedmont-centric wine tasting with some pals. They didn’t drink too poorly, either: Giacosa Arneis and Barolo, Barbaresco from Produttori…. Not only did he nab both bonus challenges along the way but he also threw in a pinch of pixie dust lest things get too serious.

As I’d predicted, the first challenge also proved fairly tricky. Only two bloggers – both from Québec, oddly enough – anted up for that one:

  • Though he promises an eventual translation, Julien Marchand put my French to the test with his profile of the wines of Michele Chiarlo on his blog, Chez Julien. He rose to the bonus point challenge, including a Moscato d’Asti in the mix with three of the reds produced by Chiarlo, one of his favorite wineries in Piemonte.

  • Clearing the same bonus point hurdle – he apparently found it easier than most – was Joe at Joe’s Wine. He covered a duo from the big house of Pio Cesare: the 2001 Barbera d’Alba “Fides” and a 2007 Piemonte Chardonnay “L’Altro,” finding the Barbera a bit more satisfying than the faultless but uninspiring white entry.

I opened the door more widely with the second bonus point challenge. Not surprisingly, more participants stepped in:

  • Good Grape’s Jeff Lefevere wrote one of the more confounding (and entertaining) posts of the episode, ending up with two Barbera that both, in his words, tasted “like strawberry’s marinated in vinegar-laced dishwater with some loose leaf tobacco floating on top.” Yum. Apparently, he finds little to like in general when it comes to European wines (relative to New World wines) in the under $35/bottle category. Kind of the polar opposite of my experiences but hey, we can all agree to disagree.

  • Kori at Wine Peeps scored points in the second bonus challenge – it fell right into her lap as she’d already done her shopping – by comparing a 2005 Barbera d’Asti from Vietti with a 2007 Barbera d’Alba from Damilano. The Vietti took the cake. No surprises there, as Vietti’s wines are not only widely available but are also consistently good.

  • “Piedmont nebbiolo should demand that I meet it halfway, seduce me with its perfume but not yield easily to a first impression.” Few truer words were written this month. They came from Wicker Parker Mike, who also provided a neat profile of the DeForville estate along with notes on their 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo and 2001 Barbaresco “Vigneto Loreto.”

  • Brooklynguy broke into Piemonte in high style (with a little help from his friend Asher), writing up no less than six wines: two examples each of Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo. By sheer coincidence, three of his choices came from the same estate – Paitin di Pasquero Elia – that I profiled in my WBW contribution. Nice work, Neil.

  • When Marcus, aka Doktor Weingolb, jumped at my WBW announcement, I thought for sure he was finally going to bring his blog out of retirement. But nope, he’s keeping it Facebook. That didn’t stop him from exploring Dolcetto with a vengeance, though. He lays claim to tasting over 15 examples, mostly from Alba but also including Dolcetti from Dogliani, Acqui, Monferrato and Ovada. Yowza!

  • Rockin’ it Old World Old School, Joe Manekin started out with what sounds like a fantastic bottle of Arneis from Giovanni Almondo. He then explored his love/hate relationship with Dolcetto, splitting 50/50 with wines from Anna Maria Abbona in Dogliani and Luigi Baudana, a very fine producer in Serralunga d’Alba.

  • Finally, Xandria made it two of three for the Brix Chicks (more on that later). She helped make me feel a little less conspicuous, as she too dug back into the archives for her contribution – a profile of the “sexy” reds of Barolo/Barbaresco producer Roagna – which she originally posted back in December. Xandria not only clocked bonus points but also wrote-up the oldest wine – a 1995 Barolo, still a mere youngster – of the entire WBW shebang.

And then there were forty-three…

  • Matt at A Good Time With Wine was pleased that our theme was timed well with an Italian food and wine pairing event he’s working on later this month, but was a little less pleased by his experience with the ’01 Paolo Scavino Barolo that set him back $80.

  • Tim played the Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo triple-play at Cheap Wine Ratings, with wines from Elio Altare, Beni di Batasiolo and Travaglini, respectively. He’s one of the few participants to have selected something from outside Piedmont’s Albese heartland, not only tasting a bottle of Travaglini’s Gattinara but also managing to score it for under $20, a CWR prerequisite.

  • Jim Eastman at Music & Wine checked out a bottle of Fratelli Ferrero’s 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo, finding it a touch short on the finish but a solid pairing with the modern spaghetti western video/music stylings of Vinicio Capossela.

  • Robbin Gheesling scored a double-first: her first WBW entry was also her first ever post at Tawny Times. Along the way, she nabbed a Fat Witch brownie to accompany her bottle of Giacomo Bologna’s 2007 Brachetto d’Acqui “Braida.”

  • Deciding to hold onto his Gaja for another occasion, Jason at Jason’s Wine Blog instead scoured the close-out bins at K&L Wines, sneaking in a Malvasia from Tuscany (oops) along with a Barbera d’Alba from Giacomo Borgogno and an ’03 Dolcetto d’Alba from Mauro Molino.

  • I’m not sure I understand the whole purple monkey thing, but my fellow Philly area blogger Joe, aka 1WineDude, certainly demonstrates a solid understanding of Pio Cesare’s 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba.

  • Michelle Lentz at My Wine Education, who hosted the first WBW in which I ever participated, posted not once but twice. She came up smiling in both cases, with Beni di Batasiolo’s 2006 Barbera d’Alba and the 2007 Gavi “Principessa Gavia” from Banfi.

  • A first time WBW’er, David at Too Many Good Wines enjoyed the 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo of Enzo Boglietti with a very un-Piedmontese dish of spicy Mexican chicken tortilla casserole.

  • Smells Like Grape’s own Taster A apparently likes the B. Barbera, that is. Oddly enough, though, this was her first experience with Italian Barbera (the 2005 Piemonte Barbera from Mattei) as she’d previously tasted Barbera only from Sonoma. How’s that for starting in reverse?

  • I was surprised at how few examples of Moscato found their way into the mix this month. One that did, much to the pleasure of Pamela at EnoBytes, was the 2007 Moscato d’Asti “Vigneti Biancospino” from the modernist producer La Spinetta. “Spoodalicious,” says she.

  • Cory Cartwright at Saignée writes of the 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba “Munfrina” from Pelissero, “This wine is the super popular kid in middle school who ended up copping a junk habit in 11th grade that you thought you saw last week at Safeway. Overall, good workaday stuff.” That’s not how I usually think about my everyday wine, but good on ya, mate! Cory’s entry also takes the unofficial MFWT Photojournalism Prize.

  • Ribbie of Ribbie’s Weblog leapt straight from North Carolina’s Piedmont into our own Piemonte, embracing Ca’ del Baio’s 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba as a perfectly suitable pairing with grilled peppers and onions, steak and a side of fries.

  • Under the Grape Tree’s Kevin Keith professes his love for Piedmont wine, provides a thorough background on the history of Arneis as well as a tasting note for the 2006 Arneis of Valdinera, and then caps it all off with a touching tribute to a friend who is no longer with us.

  • Erika Strum, who has named her blog, Strum Erika, as many a Piedmontese producer names their estate (last name followed by first), compared two wines from Barbaresco, each hitting the market at widely different price points. Not surprisingly in this category, the $20 entry from Negro Giuseppe (that’s Giuseppe Negro to you and me) fell short of the $50 selection she chose from Marchesi di Gresy.

  • RJ at RJ’s Wine Blog, another first time WBW participant, found himself enjoying the company of a bottle from one of my favorite producers. The 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo “Gavarini” of Elio Grasso gave RJ a chance to consider the question of Nebbiolo’s ageworthiness.

  • Undeterred by a quirky bottle shape, Jonathan at Best Drink Ever found plenty to like in the 2007 Gavi di Gavi from Villa Sparina, even if its aromas did remind him of ripe Taleggio.

  • Sharon, aka Bloviatrix, struck a food-friendly fortune, finding a bottle of the latest vintage of G.D. Vajra’s Langhe Rosso (one of the few blended wines to make an appearance in this WBW) for the stunningly low price of $12. She also gets an unofficial MFWT prize for writing the post with the most links back to my site. Right on, Sharon!

  • The always thrifty Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 was one of the few participants to explore the sub-$10 realm in Piemonte, pairing a bottle of 2006 Stefano Farina Barbera d’Alba with a mid-week pasta dinner.

  • One of the few expectations I had going into this WBW was that the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco would be heavily represented. Boy was I wrong. At least Liza, one-third of the team at Brix Chicks, helped Produttori represent, writing up their 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo. She didn’t just love it; she found it “fog-o-menal.”

  • I was pleased to find Wolfgang Weber, Senior Editor at Wine & Spirits Magazine and author of the blog Spume, joining the mix for his first WBW. He dropped a very fine tasting note on the 1999 Barolo “Massara” of Castello di Verduno, a producer that’s new to me, and claims to have done it in less than 15 minutes. Not too shabby, WW.

  • John Witherspoon at Anything Wine jumped on the Barbera train, settling in with the 2005 Barbera d’Alba “Filatura” of Marco Porello. At a modest $17, it left him wanting nothing… other than a slice of pizza to accompany it.

  • Serge the Concierge came out of WBW retirement only to hit a few foul bottles before finally connecting with Cascina Lo Zoccolaio’s 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba “Vigna dij Sagrin.”

  • Hudson Valley Wine Goddess Debbie Lessner-Gioquindo struck out playing the shop by label game. Grabbing a backup bottle of Vietti’s 2006 Barbera d’Asti “Tre Vigne” saved her day.

  • Rémy at The Wine Case ponders the collective works of both Giorgio Pelissero and Bruno Giacosa, as well as a few other fondly remembered wines of Piemonte. He finally decided to focus on Giacosa’s 2003 Nebbiolo d’Alba, only to find it a bit disappointing, perhaps the fault of the extremely hot 2003 growing season.

  • Frank at Drink What You Like nailed one of my favorite food and wine pairings: Dolcetto and pepperoni pizza. His juice of choice was Marco Marengo’s 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba.

  • Ok, so I exaggerated a little (but just a little) about the relative absence of Produttori pieces. Diane Letulle selected the 2005 Barbaresco of Produttori del Barbaresco for her write-up at Wine Lover’s Journal.

  • Doug Cook, data cruncher extraordinaire behind the wine search engine Able Grape, broke out what might be the most eclectic trio of wines represented this month. On top of a Barbaresco from one of his favorite small producers and one of the few examples of Freisa to make it into the mix, he wrote-up a white made from a Piedmontese grape called Timorasso that I’ve yet to try. Thanks for making my to-do list longer, Doug.

  • “As I buried my nose in the glass, I could smell the decaying underbrush along the strada di Rio Sordo as it dips down off the main road and I shivered a little at the thought of the cold fog setting in.” Rachel Black shared a bottle of Cascina delle Rose’s 2001 Barbaresco “Rio Sardo” with her significant other – that’s Doug at Able Grape – and writes about it from her own perspective, one that’s as much personal (she’s spent much time in Piemonte) as it is professional (she’s a food anthropologist and educator by trade).

  • Also taking a more experiential approach, as he so often does at Wine Camp, Craig Camp recounts a dark night’s journey to the warm hearth at Trattoria Nonna Genia, finding along the way that, “There are some traditions that cannot be improved on.”

  • Lyle Fass hated his WBW bottle, the 2006 Langhe Freisa “La Villerina Secca” from Brovia.

  • Greg Dyer, penner of The Cab Franco Files, added to the Produttori del Barbaresco tally with a bottle of their 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo, rating it high on his QPR scale. I only wonder why he didn’t write-up a Piedmontese Cab Franc….

  • John The Cork Dork seems to have enjoyed the 2000 Barbaresco “Vigna Marcarini” from Elvio Pertinace’s Cantina Vignaioli, even if he was a bit wary at first of possible cork taint.

  • Barbera is Rob Bralow’s go-to variety when handed a wine list, so it was an easy step for him to write-up a 2006 Guidobono Barbera D’Alba at his blog, Wine Post.

  • Wannabewino’s own Sonadora took a decidedly old school approach – ordering over the phone from an on-line retailer – to acquiring a decidedly modernist selection, the 2006 Dolcetto d’Alba of Luciano Sandrone. Glad to have nudged you back to Italy, Megan.

  • Richard Auffrey has been exploring Piemonte for some time now at The Passionate Foodie. He came up with one of the more unusual selections in this month’s WBW, a passito method, non-vintage Arneis called “Arcass,” from Cascina Chicco. His post also includes a thoughtful overview of the viticultural history of Arneis.

  • Another double-poster, Edward at WinoSapien didn’t quite make the cut for the bonus point challenges but did find plenty to like in both Ceretto’s 2007 Arneis and Vietti’s 2005 Langne Nebbiolo “Perbacco.” As always, Edward's notes are succinct, poetic and illuminating.

  • Bethany of 2nd Ferment made her WBW premiere, checking out wines from two of Piedmont’s larger wineries, Pio Cesare and Michele Chiarlo. Even though both improved with a little airtime, she didn’t find much to like in Chiarlo’s ’07 Gavi. Welcome, Bethany!

  • Yep, I “cheated,” cracking open the McDuff travel journals to write a winery report based on my visit at Paitin di Pasquero Elia way back in February 2006. If I were glory seeking, I’d award myself double bonus points. But, as host, I think it’s only fair to count myself out of eligibility. The bottles we tasted, however, are included in the overall statistical summary of this month’s event.

  • Proud WBW founding father that he is, Lenn Thompson of LennDevours wanted to participate so badly that he carted a bottle of Ascheri’s 2006 Dolcetto d’Alba from Long Island all the way up to the Finger Lakes (where he was attending Palate), only to find that it was corked or otherwise rendered undrinkable. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

  • Alex of Eating Leeds snuck in under the gun, representing our sole contribution from the UK. She found her palate somewhat at odds with the high acidity in Balbi Soprani’s 2006 Barbera d’Asti. And like me, she’s apparently not a big fan of Barbera with tomato-based pasta sauce.

  • Our final effort (at least at this point in time) comes in courtesy of Mairead at Fill Up On Bread. Her originally well-laid plans for WBW were set harshly and abruptly aside when wildfires spread through her area in Melbourne, Australia, on February 7. Ten days later, she and her family were still helping with the Red Cross’s relief efforts. Somehow, she still found the time not just to remember about WBW but to drink, write and post as well. The fact that she wasn’t able to come up with a Piedmontese wine, given her situation, is entirely beside the point.

That’s all we wrote. My thanks go out to everyone who participated. If I missed anyone, or if anyone feels I cheated him or her out of bonus points, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Addendum (26 February):

A late entry, or rather an entry I've just found out about, has come in from Andrew Barrow, who makes it two from the UK and 52 overall with his post at Spittoon. Andrew liked the simplicity of the 2007 Dolcetto di Diana d'Alba from Via Collina, even if he was turned off by its shiny silver label.

Addendum (3 March):
This just in.... Making up for missing out on the "official" WBW date, and bringing our grand total up to 53 participants, Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi has thrown his hat into the ring by writing a guest post about the current releases from Produttori del Barbaresco, right here at MFWT. Thanks, Jeremy!


Anonymous said...

Wow, David, thank you for organising this wonderful WBW. I've been enjoying reading all of the posts. As I make my way down the fantastic list, I get increasingly thirsty for Nebbiolo.


Rachel aka @nebbiolata

Anonymous said...

Good job on the french-reading David...! I finally got around to translate my post in English... sorry for the little delay...!

You can read it over at my blog.

One little thing though... I'm from Québec City, not Montréal...! :)

David McDuff said...

I'm almost always thirsty for Nebbiolo, Rachel, so I eompletely understand your reaction. Thanks again for participating.

And Julien, I can always use a little practice. I figured out the Montréal mistake earlier today and just changed it to Québec. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Great Round up David! Wonderful number of participants this month!

Anonymous said...

Well I'm certainly glad my injury wasn't for all for naught, but i hope my next post is less...messy. Excellent posts all around.

Edward said...


An excellent and generous round up. I can see you lured many out of WBW retirement, which I think says much for the topic and in particular the host.

RJ's Wine Blog said...

wow, nice wrap-up...looking forward to the next WBW.

Anonymous said...

Well done!

One small correction: my bottle was a 1999 Massara, not an '04. Even more confusing is the fact that I put a label from the '01 on the post because that was all I could find.

David McDuff said...

Thanks, all, for the kind words. As you mention, Richard, it was cool to see some old WBW hands come out of retirement.

And Wolfgang,
Thanks for the correction -- duly changed. I guess it was too much to expect that I'd be able to write my way through all those snapshots without crossing up a number somewhere along the line.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sure... pick on my money, why dontcha?!???!!

David McDuff said...

What can I say??? The only logical mascot here would be a hound in a trench coat and I'm not going there....

Taster B said...

Fantastic round up! btw...I have a special place in my heart for the Purple Monkey... :)

Lyle Fass said...

Great roundup!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Hey, Thanks McDuff.
I go and pull strings to get you an Award and you don't tell me about this?

What am I chopped liver?

I'm calling Luca Brasi

David McDuff said...

Easy, ACE. How was I to know you'd be interested in such a boldfaced mommy blogging exercise? It's not too late....

Joe said...

I had no idea there were two sets of bonus points or I would have totally nailed both of those...Cheers, and nicely done!

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