Do Consumers Even Like Barolo?

Above: Which way Barolo? A signpost at an overlook in La Morra showing the distance to neighboring communes.

So, do consumers even like Barolo? It’s a sad question to ask if you’re a nebbiolo obsessive, but I think there’s some truth to it. Outside of the wine trade, it seems like most people just don’t respond to nebbiolo the way they do to, say, pinot noir or even sangiovese. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing for nebbiolo is an open question; but it most certainly has implications for producers in Barolo and Barbaresco.

I recently wrote an article about the current state of Barolo for the San Francisco Chronicle (you can read it here). And while it seems that producers in the region are moving beyond the (frankly tired) debate of traditional vs. modern when it comes to the identity of Barolo, there’s arguably an even bigger step necessary for the nebbiolo heartland: connecting with the people who actually enjoy their wines.

By enjoy, I don’t necessarily mean covet or collect, but rather the appreciation of Barolo (or Barbaresco) for what it is instead of as some sort of trophy. Sadly, the wines won’t ever be cheap but neither should the pricing continue to rise to levels where (most) wines are unattainable.

It’s unlikely that Barolo will ever develop an international high-end market (complete with knock-offs) equivalent to what Bordeaux has going on, and aside from a few rare bottles, Barolo winemakers aren’t anywhere close to the status enjoyed by their counterparts in Burgundy — a frequent comparison.

Happily, two recent trends suggest that there’s bright news for nebbiolo-lovers. First up, the current vintage in the market, 2006, seems to favor producers with a classical bent meaning that what’s in the bottle is an honest representation of the region’s terroir.

And perhaps even better news: after years of lavishing their attention on riserva-level bottlings or numerous single-vineyard ‘cru’ wines, winemakers in the region are turning a serious eye to their blended base wines, those labeled as Barolo, and often sourced from multiple communes. When I joined the Chronicle’s tasting panel for an overview of the 2006 vintage, we found several wines from this category in the $30- $40 range that showed the clarity and depth I love to see in nebbiolo. Good news indeed! You can read the results of that tasting here.

New Harvest: Anderson Valley on the Mind

(Above: Anderson Valley as seen from Handley Vineyards, spring 2005.)

California’s Anderson Valley has always had a special place in my heart, ever since I first drove through on highway 128 during a road trip from San Diego to northern Vancouver Island in 1996. I make it back to Anderson Valley once every year or so, and each trip is inspiring. From the awesome beauty of the place and the sense of community that exists there, to the wines — among the most honest wines made in California — it’s hard not to say I *Heart* Anderson Valley.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more going on in the local community these days than my short visits have allowed me to witness. Thankfully, the California Report recently posted an excellent radio segment about life in Boonville, the area’s main town. It’s a quick yet fairly thorough look at the region’s current social, economic and environmental situation, and includes a substantial amount of reporting on the local wine industry.

Listen – New Harvest: The Future of Small Town, CA: Boonville & Anderson Valley

(NB: The Boonville segment is the second part of series on the California called “New Harvest: The Future of Small Town, CA”. You can learn more about this promising series, view slideshows and listen to additional broadcasts, at the project’s website.)

Plenty of things in the Anderson Valley broadcast caught my attention, but of note was local David Severn’s mention of regional water issues with regards to the wine industry, such as the affects of grape-growing and vineyard development on the local watershed. This is an important issue throughout California, and certainly well-reported, but I’m glad to see the it raised in this radio piece. It’s something the wine industry should be talking about as often as possible, and in a way that’s completely public and transparent.

Hibernation, or, Summertime

The summer has been so cold out here in coastal California that I’ve been hibernating with all the grapes that are going to hit maybe 12.% alcohol this year. Or something like that.

Driving up the coast last week (end of July), Ventura to San Francisco, via my car’s outside temperature display:

Ventura, 10am, 67 degrees (fog)

Santa Barbara, 10.45am, 66 degrees (sun and fog)

Top of San Marcos Pass, 11.15am, 71 degrees (sunny)

Santa Maria Valley, within site of the Bien Nacido vineyard, 12.15pm, 63 degrees (fog, some sun)

Pismo Beach, 12.35pm, 66 degrees (fog)

San Luis Obispo, 12.55pm, 70 degrees (clearing fog, sun)

Paso Robles, 1.30pm, 89 degrees (sun)

San Miguel area, 1.45pm, 91 degrees (sun)

Gonzales (roughly Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone), 2.35pm, 68 degrees (fog-sun)

Salinas, 3pm, 65 degrees (fog, wind)

Morgan Hill, 4.15pm, 71 degrees (sun, patchy clouds, bullshit traffic)

Cupertino (below Monte Bello), 5pm, 69 degrees (sun, fog to the north)

San Francisco, 5.55pm, 52 degrees (fog, wind, mist)

Summer 2010 on the California coast.

Cougar Beat: On the Prowl Live at WSWA

As some of you may know, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America is having its annual gathering in Las Vegas this week. This is where the distributor types come together for a series of meetings, tastings, back-room deals and good ol’ fashioned fun, Vegas style. Notable this year, of course, is the presence of Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker. Why Palin? Beats me because the whole organization is rather dude-heavy. But Mike Steinberger wrote an intelligent piece at Slate about the topic that’s worth a read.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. We here at Spume HQ, though we’ve never been to WSWA ourselves, have a plant at the convention. That’s right, we’ve embedded Cougar Beat our, erm, Vegas lifestyle correspondent. So, without further ado, we go to Cougar Beat’s live SMS dispatches from the conference: Continue reading

Real Live Wine Fraud

Not quite on the scale of the Jefferson bottles, but funnily enough the comment below appeared the other day on my earlier post about Nigerian Wine Spam.

Let’s see what “Julia” has to say:

Dear Wolfgang,
My name is Julia. I am from Moscow, Russia. I work for wine company. I have recieved a call from a man in London, who was seaking for Petrus wines for “VIP Party”. I did all the operation. I found the wines for him in France, the man from London  had sent the swift in order to confirm the payment.The french supplier had shipped 18 bottles of Petrus to London. Now the bank in France confirmed that the SWIFT is faked, the french supplier hasn`t got the money, the bastards had got the wines. I don`t know what to do….Could you advise me smth…. where to go…where do they usually resell the wines ? In London? To wine boutiques, restaurants…Any help would be appreciated. I am ready to pay the money for the help. The proforma was for 53000 euros. Julia

Interesting on many levels.

I wonder if it’s the same scammers, and this is their response to the original post? Do they like to target bloggers? Surly this is a person and not some web-crawling spam spider?

Anyway, as always folks, make sure to read through your comments. And anything about unloading some Petrus in London, Moscow, New York or anywhere else is 100% fake.

Side note: I guess this confirms that VIPs like to roll with Petrus.

Of Course They Grow Caberuct in Italy!

Engaged in research to prepare for a panel that I’m moderating this coming Tuesday in San Francisco on Alto Adige. Naturally this is the perfect opportunity to peruse my collection of 1950s/60s-era tourist guides to Italy.

Edition # 4 Italy: Veneto Trentino Alto Adige

The entire series is quite charming, filled with illustrations and old pictures (with hardly any scooters or cars; try finding that today!), but of course the information is dated (book #4 for instance carries no mention of Friuli in its title yet there are chapters on Gorizia and Udine, although the “Free Territory of Trieste” is omitted).

One of my favorite parts of these books is the section on regional eating and drinking, filled as you might expect with interesting historical tidbits about popular foods, wines and grapes. To whit:

And finally, all the way from the mountains to the sea there is a tasty and varied cuisine which varies according to the climate and the place.

The wine section for northeastern Italy:

Excellent wines are also produced, the red wines from the Garda district, the Lugana, Veronese wines, Bardolino, Valpolicella, wine from Val Pantena, Merlot and Caberuct,* both fine table wines. There are many brands of white wines: Gambellara frm Vicenza, Soave from Verona, Prosecco from the Conegliano hills, Cartizze from Valdobbiadene, the white wine from the Euganean Hills and from Collio, of which the best are the white <Sauvignon>, <Rhenish Riesling>, and <Tokay>, small vines which, transplanted in the first years of the 16th century, gave birth to the famous Hungarian <Tokay>. There are also first class wines from Friuli: the white and grey Pinot, Ramàndolo, Verduzzo and the Terrano from Carso; wines from Trent and Alto Adige, from Val d’Isarco; Téroldego from Mezzolombardo, Riesling, Terlano, Missiano, Traminer, and Kretzer. Then there are the sweet wines such as Piccolit from Friuli, Muscat from the Euganean Hills, Torcolato from Breganze; Vin Santo from Fregona and Casteltoblino, sparkling wines from Farra d’Isonzo, Conegliano, Valdobbiadene. In all they are a series of wines not as well known as they deserve to be.

A few things that caught my eye:

Kretzer is a term for a rosé of Lagrein, although it’s unclear from the context here if that’s what’s meant. It could just be Lagrein.

You don’t hear much about Torcolato these days (but in 1993 it was newsy).

*Huh? Caberuct?!?

Wine of the Week: That Old Black Magic

Time to take a break from all that Italian wine here at Spume. One of the more notable wines this week comes from Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John.

That Old Black Magic, 2006 California Red Wine, Edmunds St. John

This feisty blend of syrah and grenache feels spicy and lean — more about savory flavors than sweet fruit, though there’s enough California power to give it an appropriate New World charge. Edmunds co-ferments the grapes for this wine from three vineyards, Wylie and Fenaughty (both in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills), and Eaglepoint Ranch up in Mendocino. I was surprised by the wine’s finesse and texture, which was silky without being overly generous or stupid. Edmunds’ response to my question/statement about the relationship between co-fermentation and texture:

Not just texture, but harmony, and integration. It’s amazing, after pressing into cask, I didn’t rack until August of the year after harvest, and bottled right after the rack. Glad you liked it! The nose, I think, is pretty persuasive…

“Persuasive” is an excellent word for it. A lovely effort, worth tracking down (I found my bottle at Castro Village Wines in San Francisco, where it was about $21). You can learn more about That Old Black Magic here.

Skin-Fermented Fiano from the Volcanic Highlands of Campania

What a week for wine! As indicated earlier, I was in New York for the latter half of last week for VINO 2010, a massive conference of seminars, tastings, meetings, dinners and the like, all celebrating the contemporary world of Italian wine in the US. I’ll get to details of wines tasted at the event, as well as notes from the panel I participated in, later but first a little indulgence.

One of the more notable wines I tasted all week was a fiano from Calitri, in the Irpinia highlands deep in inland Campania. Think the other side of Mount Vesuvius and you’re about right. Head south a little too, through the raw farmland, mountains and ancient Germanic castles on the road to Basilicata.

Don Chisciotte 2006 Fiano Campania IGT is a an unusual take on one of this region’s most promising indigenous white varieties from the father-uncle-son team of Michele, Pierluigi and Guido Zampaglione. Made in a natural style — ie, organically farmed, with no additions of yeast, enzymes, or chemicals; limited use of sulfur — it’s also fermented on its skins, where it acquires a distinctive golden-orange hue.

(Above: Skin-fermented fiano and a bowl of just-fried hushpuppies. Note the similarity in color.)

I met Guido Zampaglione this past year at ViniVeri in Verona where he was pouring wines from Tenuta Grillo, his winery in Monferrato. Don Chisciotte is a project Zampaglione started with his father and uncle at their family’s Il Tufiello estate in Calitri, where they’ve long been growers of organic wheat, oats and sunflowers. Two hectares of fiano vines were planted in 2001, at an altitude of around 800 meters (2,600+ feet). The high-altitude viticulture in this part of Italy is part of what makes the region so thrilling.

This ’06, found at Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan, is an unusual wine — not for everyone, but certainly interesting. and worth checking out. On top of apple/ stone fruit flavors and the gripping texture from the skin fermentation, we noticed a curious spice component, sort of like curry. Pretty groovy stuff.

Production is quite low — apparently there’s around 5,000 bottles produced — but it’s the kind of thing that will attract attention, and apart from Antece from Bruno De Conciliis, it’s the only skin-fermented fiano I know about (though I’m sure there are more).

For more about Il Tufiello and Don Chisciotte, check out the farm’s blog. Also, Jamie Goode weighed in on the 2007 vintage of this wine a couple weeks ago.