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Daily Glass: Pizza and Wine

December 2, 2019 3 comments

What do you think of pizza and wine – a perfect combo, right? Let’s talk about it.

On Friday, kids requested pizza. I’m generally not craving pizza (unless it is Frank Pepe White Clam), but I don’t object to it too much. Especially when I have two wine samples which should work well with pizza – Prosecco and Barbera.

The world loves sparkling wines, with consumption growing consistently year over year – you can find some interesting stats here. For the last few years, Prosecco bypassed Champagne as the world’s best selling sparkling wine in terms of volume – a bottle of Champagne is at least 3-4 times as expensive as Prosecco, so in terms of revenues, Champagne is still ahead. But let’s not get hung up on numbers.

Prosecco is made from the grape called Glera (the grape itself used to be called Prosecco, but it was renamed to make Prosecco a protected name, similar to Champagne). Prosecco is made using the method called Charmat (patented in 1907), where the second fermentation is taking place in the pressure-sealed tank as opposed to the bottle in Méthode Traditionnelle. Fermenting in the tank allows to significantly reduce the cost of the sparkling wine, as the whole process is a lot less labor-intense.

In 1919, Antonio Franco founded the Cantine Franco winery in Valdobbiadene in Northern Italy. In 1966, his son Giovanni (Nino) renamed the winery into Nino Franco di Franco Giovanni and went on producing white and red wines. In 1971, Nino’s son Primo, who studied enology, began working at the winery, focusing on sparkling wines – this was a pivotal moment, converting Nino Franco into the Prosecco powerhouse it is today.

Prosecco’s success is not given – it is a result of belief, hard work, obsession, and dedication. This year marks the 30 years since Prosecco first appeared on London markets, and it had not been even that long since its introduction in the USA (1992/1993) – all largely thanks to the efforts of people such as Primo Franco and Gianluca Bisol. Think about the success of this simple sparkling wine in just 30 years – it is definitely something to be proud of.

Before I share my tasting notes for Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (11% ABV, SRP $19.00, 100% Glera), I want to mention that there are two occasions to celebrate as it relates to this wine. One is more general – it is the 100th anniversary of the Nino Franco wine company, a great achievement in itself. The second one is directly related to the wine, and it is even more impressive – Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico became the wine #1 on the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 wines of the year 2019. Wine Enthusiast folks review tens of thousands of wines every year – to snatch the top position of the 100 most impressive wines of the year is not an easy fit and serious accomplishment.

How was the wine? Upon opening and pouring into the glass, the wine first filled the glass (I was using standard Riedel wine glass, not the flute) with a foam – not just a little “hat”, but almost a full glass of foam. The nose had very expressive aromatics of apple, peach, and guava. The palate was fresh and crisp, with more of the apple notes, tiny bubbles, and good acidity. All-around a good Prosecco, definitely more voluptuous and assertive than many. (Drinkability: 7+/8-).

Okay, now it is the Barbera time. Barbera is one of the well known Italian grapes primarily growing in Piedmont. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera del Monferrato would be a perfect accompaniment for a pizza, but the Barbera we are talking about today hails from … Lodi in California.

I never get tired of expressing my love and admiration of the Lodi wine region in California. Lodi is uniquely un-Napa in most everything – from the winemaker attitudes and low-key wineries to the focus on the Mediterranean grape varieties. Lodi is often considered to be a land of Zinfandel, but truth be told, Tempranillo, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Carignan, Albarino, Grenache Blanc are really running the show there. And Barbera, let’s not forget Barbera.

Barbera wines are clearly outshined in Piedmont by the famous siblings, Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced out of Nebbiolo grape. I was unable to find the fresher set of data, but at the beginning of the 21st century, Barbera was the third most planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera grapes are naturally high in acidity, and it is acidity which often needs to be tamed when it comes to Barbera wines. Compared with the finicky Nebbiolo, Barbera does quite well in the new areas, so over the past 30 years, it spread through Australia, Argentina, California, Israel, Texas and other places where this grape was never known before.

Starting from 1860, the land where Oak Farm Vineyards is located was simply a farm in the Lodi region of California where the cattle were raised. In 2012, Dan Panella, third-generation California farmer, replanted 60 acres of the old vineyard on the property, and this was the beginning of the modern history of the Oak Farm Vineyards. There is a wide range of wines produced at the winery starting from California staples Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel to the hardcore Italian range of Fiano, Barbera, Primitivo, and Sangiovese.

It is 2017 Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera Lodi California (15% ABV, $25, mostly Barbera with a small percentage of Petite Sirah for color and structure, 20 months in French, American, and Caucus (24% new) oak barrels) that we are talking about today. In a word, the wine was superb – dark garnet color, intense nose of cherries and tobacco, and mind-boggling concentration and interplay of flavor in every sip – cherries, tar, tobacco, roasted meat, perfect balancing acidity and 100% delicious wine. (Drinkability: 8). I would greatly drink this wine again at any time – with or without the food.

Oh, I guess I promised you some pizza. Yes, there was cheese and bacon/mushroom/onion pizzas. I have to say that prosecco was rather ambivalent to either, but Barbera worked quite well with the combination pizza.

There you have it, my friends. Italy meets California and vice versa, in many ways. But the important part is two delicious wines which you should find and experience for yourself. Cheers!

 

Lodi Thanksgiving – Wine Notes (There Was A Turducken Too)

December 10, 2016 8 comments

Yeah, I know – it’s been more than two weeks since Thanksgiving… Well, okay – let’s still talk about it.

I gave you some ideas about the Thanksgiving wines and food with my earlier post, so let me just start with the “prep” picture again:

thanksgiving prepAll the birds you see in this picture were converted into a Turducken – chicken inside the duck inside the turkey, all fully deboned except the legs and wings of the turkey. The dish was conceived in the 1980s in the South, popularized around the country in the mid-1990s, and now freely available for order most everywhere (or at least this is my impression).

Deboning takes a bit of a skill, but nothing impossible. There are different schools of thoughts as to how to assemble the birds and what to put between the layers – I used two different types of sausages – you can see them in the picture above. Overall, I tried to follow the recipe on Serious Eats, which is one of the very best “turducken how to” instructions you can find – “tried” is the best way to put it, as I made a few essential mistakes (not cooking the chicken fully first), which led to slightly overcooked dish – nevertheless, it was very tasty, and I would gladly do it again, despite the need to put in the work. Here are my “step-by-step” pictures, from the deboned chicken to the final dish:

There was plenty of other dishes at the table, but turducken was a star.

Now, let’s talk wine. As you can imagine, Thanksgiving gathering is a not the right place to take detailed notes on the wines. Therefore, I’m sharing here my general impressions.

The day before Thanksgiving the Fall shipment arrived from Field Recordings, and the first bottle which caught my attention was a California Pét Nat:

Pét Nat is a short for Pétillant-naturel, a sparkling wine made with méthode ancestrale, when the wine is bottled before the first fermentatoin is finished – very different from traditional méthode champenoise, where the sparkling wine is made with secondary fermentation in the bottle, done with addition of yeast and sugar. Pét Nat are typically fresh, unfiltered and unpredictable, which makes them even more fun than traditional Champagne. This 2016 Field Recordings Pét Nat Arroyo Grande Valley (100% Chardonnay) was delicious – fresh, creamy, with aromas of toasty bread and fresh apples – an outstanding rendition of Chardonnay.

This wine was the only deviation from Lodi. Our next wine was 2015 LangeTwins Estate Grown Sangiovese Rosé Lodi (12% ABV). While cold, it was crisp and loaded with cranberries, perfectly delicate, without any excess of sugar. As it warmed up, the strawberries took over, mellowing the wine out and making it slightly bigger in the body – and delicious in a whole new way. In a word, a treat.

I can’t describe 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi (14.5% ABV, 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Alicante Bouschet) with any other word but riot – tar, tobacco, roasted meat, herbs, dark, muscular, yet round – unique, different and irresistible  – the bottle was gone in no time.

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Graciano Lodi (14.5% ABV) was yet another treat – bright, clean, with a good amount of red fruit, herbal underpinning and firm structure. I’m very particular to Spanish grape varietals, and this Graciano rendition was definitely a world class, reminiscent of the best classic versions of the same from Rioja.

NV Lucas Late Harvest Zinfandel Lodi (15.8% ABV) happened to be an enigma. When I tasted the wine at the winery, the wine was mind boggling – rich, concentrated, and perfectly balanced. This wine is quite unique as it is made using the appasimento process, with the grapes partially dried under the sun for a few weeks to concentrate the flavor, before pressing. The bottle which I brought home, was a poor relative of the one I had at the winery – it was not bad, but was completely lacking the opulence and depth of the one I had at the winery. Oh well – this is still one of the pleasures of the wine drinking – you never know what you will find in the bottle.

That essentially concludes the report from our main Thanksgiving celebration. Next day, however, we left to see our close friends in Boston, and at their house, we had two unique wine encounters. One was 1993 (!) Nissley Fantasy Sweet Rosé Wine Lancaster County Pennsylvania (made out of Concord grape). The expectation was that the wine already turned into a vinegar, but instead, we found a port-like wine, with lots of sweetness and also some acidity, so well drinkable overall.

The last surprise was 2006 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz Australia (14% ABV), which was still well drinkable, with good concentrated dark fruit, touch of spices, good balance and full body. Well-drinkable 10-years old red wine shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – but this was actively ridiculed by all the aficionados “creature label” wine, which is not expected to last that long. The bottom line – this wine still delivered lots of pleasure.

Now we are fully done here – this is the story of my Thanksgiving celebration. Did you have any memorable wines this last Thanksgiving? Any unique and interesting dishes? I would love to know. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Magnum Marathon, Globalization!, #MWWC6 and more

December 11, 2013 9 comments

Barbera DamilanoMeritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #84, grape trivia – Barbera.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Barbera. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Based on the latest DNA analysis, which well known Spanish grape appears to be a close relative of Barbera?

A1: Spanish grape Monastrell (known in France as Mourvèdre) appears to be a close relative of Barbera (but ohh so different).

Q2: What well-known grape became popular blending partner of Barbera as of late?

A2: As of late, Nebbiolo, a close neighbor of Barbera, is often used in the blends with Barbera to round up the resulting wine.

Q3: The new technique was introduced in making the wines out of Barbera in the second half of the 20th century, which helped to improved the quality of the wines. Which one do you think it was:

a. Malolactic fermentation, b. Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks, c. Carbonic maceration, d. Reverse osmosis

A3: b, Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks, seems to be the preferred method to tame the acidity and add some tannins to the resulting wine, making it also age-worthy.

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Barbera-based wines rated in the Classic category

A4: False. But I have to admit that Barbera is only marginally there, with just 2 wines having 95 rating.

Q5: Fill in the blanks: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than _____, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than ____.

A5: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than Dolcetto, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo.

Talking about the results, Jeff, a.k.a. the drunken cyclist, answered all 5 questions correctly so he gets (again) the prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done! I also would like to mention Alissa, who put the quiz upside down and instead of answering the questions in the quiz, asked me a very interesting question. As a “bonus question”, I would like to pass it on to you: “Outside of Asti is a place which pays homage to a man who helped with the unification of Italy, commercialization of Italy’s wine industry, and houses the first regional enoteca in the Piedmont region. Name it.” If you know the answer, don’t be shy and comment away!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First, don’t miss the WTSO Magnum Marathon tomorrow, December 12. Starting at 8 AM Eastern time, WTSO will be offering large format wines, at least 1.5L or more in size. The wines will be priced from $24.99 to $499.99/bottle, and the new wines will be offered every 30 minutes or sooner, if the previous wine will sold out. The new wines will be announced only on Twitter, follow @WTSO so you will not miss out.

Next, I came across a very interesting article by Mike Veseth of The Wine Economist fame, talking about Globalization of wine and food. Actually, his article in itself is already an aggregation of a number of other articles. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, so please head to Mike’s blog to read it.

Now, it appears that The Drunken Cyclist is definitely a star of today’s Meritage. In addition to correctly solving the quiz, he is behind two noteworthy events. First, as a winner of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #5 (#MWWC5) – Congratulations, Jeff! – he announced the theme for #MWWC6, which is going to be … Mystery. Sharpen your pencils, or may be flex your fingers, get your thinking cap/hat/fedora on and start writing. #MWWC6 Rules and regulations can be found here.

Second event is also a brainchild of TDC, and it is a secret Wine Santa project. The idea is to get all the bloggers (and readers) who is interested in playing a secret wine Santa by sending the wine to the completely unsuspecting recipient (and of course also getting the one him- or herself) to provide their address information back to Jeff, who will then randomly assign the aspiring alcoholics in pairs. All the rules can be found here, and if you are interested in participation, make sure to get back to Jeff not later than this coming Friday 12/13.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #84: Grape Trivia – Barbera

December 7, 2013 10 comments

wine quiz pictureThe Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, with the focus again on the red grapes, and today’s subject is Barbera.

It is interesting to see the level of difference in the available information for different grapes, especially when it comes to the historical data (not that it is unexpected). When it comes to the grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, absolute majority of the different sources converge on the 17th century as the time when Cabernet Sauvignon become known as the particular grape. When it comes to Barbera, the range of opinion is rather stunning – some sources say that Barbera was mentioned for the first time only in 18th century, some say it was 13th, and some of them put it even back to the 7th. Therefore, I can’t tell you when Barbera first became known as a grape, but as a fun fact, do you know that Barbera is 3rd most planted grape in Italy, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano? Today, there are about 70,000 acres of Barbera planted throughout the Italy

Barbera is one of the main grapes in Piedmont, where it is often planted right next to its noble neighbour, Nebbiolo. Typically Nebbiolo takes over the best spots on the hills, and Barbera is planted right under. Some of the best Barbera wines are produced in Asti, Alba and Monferrato areas in Piedmont, with Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato having the DOCG  status (highest quality standing in Italian wine classification). Of course Barbera is planted in many other regions in Italy, such as Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and others. Barbera spread out all over the world with Italian immigrants, nowadays planted in Australia, United States (California, Texas and others), Argentina, Brazil, Israel and other countries.

Barbera grapes have dark thin skin. Barbera has a well known tendency for overproduction, so the plantings have to be controlled to achieve higher quality of the wines. Barbera typically has high level of acidity and low tannins, which makes winemaking somewhat challenging to produce wines which will be able to age well – of course ageing in the oak barrels helps with that. One of the well known characteristics of Barbera wines is intense berries aroma, and the wines typically have a medium body, at least in the classical Italian versions ( some of the New World Barberas can be quite bombastic). Barbera wines are generally food friendly with their inherent acidity, and they complement quite well a wide range of traditional Italian dishes.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Based on the latest DNA analysis, which well known Spanish grape appears to be a close relative of Barbera?

Q2: What well-known grape became popular blending partner of Barbera as of late?

Q3: The new technique was introduced in making the wines out of Barbera in the second half of the 20th century, which helped to improved the quality of the wines. Which one do you think it was:

a. Malolactic fermentation

b. Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks

c. Carbonic maceration

d. Reverse osmosis

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Barbera-based wines rated in the Classic category

Q5: Fill in the blanks: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than _____, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than ____.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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