Saturday, January 26, 2013

Violets & Tar (Barbaresco)

"Violets & Tar" is my all time favorite wine description and I'm not sure I even know what violets and/or tar would taste like.  It's actually an aroma anyway (like so much of wine tasting) and the textbook bouquet of Italian Barbaresco according to wine critic, Alan Richman, is "violets and tar".  To continue, the taste of the wine should include: cherry, truffles, fennel, and licorice, and then with a little age a Barbaresco may become smoky, earthy, and leathery on top of the intrinsic flavors mentioned above.  To sum up in my own experience, this wine starts out with violets and tar on the marquee (nose) but then, between the cherry and licorice, the violets and tar envelope and assuage the tongue in the tasting experience and then in the aged version of Barbaresco, the earthiness darkens and dirties the wine and the tar tarnishes the cherry and violets.  Somehow in my meandering I think I just nailed it!

Barbaresco is made using 100% Nebbiolo grapes from the delimited Barbaresco region within the Langhe area of the Piedmont district of Italy.  Nebbiolo, the least well known noble red grape variety, produces two of the finest red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco, and within ten miles of each other!  Each wine validates the reason for wine appellation laws.  Barolo, the more esteemed wine, is a darker, more intense and longer lived version of Nebbiolo.  Barbaresco is lighter and fruitier and drinkable earlier.  Barolo has been compared to Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon); Barbaresco, to Burgundy (Pinot Noir).  So why such a difference?  Terroir, of course.  The soil in Barbaresco is a calcareous marl while Barolo features that along with sandstone and clay.  The climate of Barbaresco is maritime influenced, moderating temperature extremes; Barolo is at a higher elevation and strictly continental.

Both Barbaresco and Barolo were sweet reds in the 19th century.  Due to the late ripening nature of Nebbiolo, the grapes had to be picked before late October when seasonal rains would form a destructive mildew on the berries.  French enologist Louis Oudart is credited with first fermenting young Nebbiolo grapes dry inside Barolo wineries in the late 19th century with Barbaresco following suit in the 20th century.  Now global warming is solving the problem of ripening those grapes earlier.

Barbaresco has always suffered by comparison with Barolo.  Nineteenth century Barolo was known as "the wine of kings and the king of wines", a tough act to follow.  Barbaresco only received its acclaim after World War II when investment money poured in from Gaja, Bruno Giocosa, and other great Barolo makers.  Barbaresco is one-third the size of Barolo with a resultant one-third of the production.  In its favor in these times, the wine seems to be ready to drink in a third of the cellaring time compared to Barolo, which perhaps explains the Barolo makers' investment in Barbaresco.

Last Friday's wine tasting was highlighted by the 2008 Franco Serra Barbaresco.  The bottle was opened at 2pm and continued to improve at 7pm when we had to close.  Please join us this Friday, February 1st 5-7pm, for our weekly tasting and lets see what new and exciting wine unfolds before us then.

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