Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Produttori del Barbaresco: What every Nebbiolo lover should know.

The Produttori del Barbaresco is, without a doubt, the largest producer of quality-to-price ratio wines in Piedmont. With access to nine highly esteemed vineyards and a grower’s cooperative that is focused on quality wine production, the Produttori is able to provide a portfolio of Nebbiolo-based wines that can satisfy any palate and fit into any budget. The declassified Nebbiolo ($15 - $17) is one of the best in the region for the price and the Barbaresco normale ($25 - $35) can stand tall against its higher-priced competition in most vintages. For the serious nebbiolofile, the single cru riservas ($40 - $50) are all beautifully unique examples of Barbaresco and capable of aging for decades.

Our tasting group convened at Braeburn Restaurant in the west village to taste through 11 bottles spanning eight vintages of Produttori del Barbaresco. Initially the idea was for bottles from 1990 or older, but after hearing high praise for the recently released 2006 Barbaresco, it was decided to include a bottle for an early peak into its evolution. I will say early on that I’m glad we did because the 2006 was spectacular.

Flight 1 – Old bones, yet beautifully alive. The 1967 will be a wine I’ll remember for a long time.

The 1967 Calvalari de Tartufo Paijé Riserva was everything I wanted from an aged Nebbiolo. In this case, the sediment had been mixed in with the wine, yet it detracted only from its appearance. The aromas coming from the glass were of sweet dried raspberry fruit, a hint of Christmas spice, and tobacco, with a soured cream component and dusty potpourri. On the palate this came across as soft, full-bodied and warming, with tight red fruit verging on cranberry, leather and a hint of mineral-like copper penny. The finish was redolent of sour red fruit. I could drink this wine all night. Another taster, whom I respect highly, noted that it was over the hill. He’s probably right, but I loved it all the same. (93 points)

The 1979 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili Riserva, came across as slightly corked, but you could still sense this wine’s dark, earthy qualities through it all. On the nose, there was a burst of old library books, but with a little more exploration I found green peas, with dark, almost black fruits and topsoil. The palate showed tight with faded cherry and tar, but it gave way to a pleasant sour red fruit finish. I’d love to try another bottle of this wine to see it in all its glory. (Not scoring due to flaws in this bottle)

Flight 2 – The mature vintages – The 1982 showed what perfectly cellared Barbaresco can become with age.

The 1982 Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano was nearly a showstopper, and it was the first wine that I put to the side for post-dinner exploration. The nose was classic with soft, elegant red cherry, a floral perfume, earth and tobacco. The palate showed a yin yang of fresh acidity and bitterness that kept this wine fresh, yet highly interesting, as red cherry fruit rushed across the palate with a bit of honey and sweet tobacco showing through to the finish. (95 points)

The 1988 Produttori del Barbaresco Trentennio came across as a bit ripe and disjointed. I had trouble deciding if I liked, hated or loved this wine. The palate showed very ripe, yet tannic with a torrent of acidity. The nose came across as big and burly with red and black fruits. On the palate, I found ripe raspberry jam leading to a sour mid-palate performance and a finish of tobacco and ash. (84 points)

Flight 3 – The structured vintage – I’ll admit that I expected more form this wine, but I suppose that’s the problem with preconceived notions. It’s possible that it couldn’t live up to the hype I had expected on this night; it may bloom in a few years, but only time will time.

The 1989 Produttori del Barbaresco Pora Riserva was another star performer, yet it didn’t make it to my top three. All the components are there for this to be a giving, feminine and elegant Barbaresco, but I believe it will take time to show. On the nose I found herbal tea with honey, soil, rose petals and the slightest hint of black pepper. The palate was very balanced showing red fruit and spice with cedar box and cherry tobacco. This wine was very open for the first couple of hours, and then it shut down in the glass. (89 points)

Flight 4 – “It was hard to not make good Nebbiolo in 1990” were the words from one taster’ lips. 1990 is showing to be a truly great year for Produttori del Barbaresco. The last time I tasted through so many vintages, it was the ’85’s that truly stood out as the drinking vintage; but after last night, I’m willing to put the ’90’s high on my list of priorities. If you want high quality, mature Nebbiolo, 1990 is drinking very well.

The 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva was a roller coaster ride of a Barbaresco. Rabaja has always been one of my favorites from the Produttori, and this one did not disappoint. The nose showed elegant, sweet dark fruit with leather strap and fresh-turned soil. The palate showed a great structure with rich red fruit held tight by a tannic grip. This bottle reminds me a bit of the ’90 Conterno Cascina Francia as it comes across with a balanced and dark core of ripe fruit that’s still held tight by its structure. I’d say to buy this wine on sight and then put it away for another five years or possibly more. (95 points)

The 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Ovello Riserva had an all-star performance this night, and a number of tasters listed it as their wine of the night. This wine came across as all grace and elegance wrapped in a package of soft, sweet fruit. The nose showed aromas of black cherry, red floral notes, hints of molasses and tobacco. The palate showcased the refined structure of a Nebbiolo just coming to maturity, as soft red fruit washed across the tongue followed by clove and bitters. This was all kept in check by a balanced acidity, which left the mouth watering for more. (94 points)

The 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Rio Sordo Riserva was the least favorite of from all the 1990s. This wine left me feeling as if it never found its place between ripeness or finesse. The nose showed dark fruit with brown sugar, yet it had a freshness to it that was very inviting. On the palate I found red cherry and cedar, but it was a bit muddled and with a tannic finish. Honestly, it may not have been great, but it was still enjoyable. (88 points)

The 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco Moccagatta Riserva showcased another good, but not great, performance with sour red fruits, pepper, licorice and undergrowth on the nose. The palate had a good balance with resolved red fruit, holiday spice and honey. The finish was fresh. (89 points)

Flight 5 – High Praise – The 2000 vintage received such high acclaim from critics when the bottles first hit the market, but now we are watching as these wines battle with issues of balance. Unfortunately, I feel that the 2000 Rabaja is suffering the same fate. It is a big and, at times unruly wine that’s not completely unenjoyable but it’s certainly not my style.

The 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva was big and burly on this evening. It was very ripe but with a lot of structure beneath it all. One thing that kept entering my mind while inhaling the aroma of this wine was spiced ginger cookies. There was red fruit and tar, but it was so dark and hot that I couldn’t get past that almost sickeningly sweet aroma. The palate showed black cherry and licorice with tannins and acidity fighting for superiority. It’s very possible that this wine will calm down one day, but for now, I found it unpalatable. (86 points)

The 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Normale was fantastic for a young Nebbiolo. It was a textbook example with elegant red fruits, roses and tobacco on the nose. There was black cherry on the palate, as this showed to be very young, yet highly enjoyable, with a fresh balance of acidity and a big tannic shutdown on the finish. I will buy this wine by the case. (92 Points)

Find the 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Normale on Wine-Searcher.

If nothing else, this tasting served to prove, once again I might add, that the Produttori del Barbaresco is a force to be reckoned with in Piedmont. Cooperative wineries are not usually held in such high esteem, but in this case, it’s the exact opposite. The Produttori delivers such fine examples of Barbaresco, and at such fair prices, that a lover of Nebbiolo would have to be a fool to pass them up.

For now I must sign off… so that I can go buy some for my own cellar.

For another great perspective on this night of wine, check out The Fine Wine Geek

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Food & Wine in The Dog Days of Summer

I’m sitting with a cup of coffee on a lazy Sunday morning and trying to catch up with things as my busy summer season comes to an end. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful wines this summer with more to come in the next few weeks. I’ve included notes on a few I wanted to share with everyone today.

Firstly, two weeks ago was the release of my most recent article on, Bucatini all'Amatriciana. Where I ask the age-old question of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” This traditional Italian dish finds itself constantly downplayed in our society because of constant substitutions of its core ingredients and laziness during the preparation. In my most recent article, I show just how easy it is to make this stunning Italian classic that will blow you away. Your guests will never be able to eat this dish anywhere else, besides from your kitchen, after you show them just how delectable it can be.

Check it out on snooth: Bucatini all'Amatriciana

On to the wines; This has been a great summer for finding some moderately priced wines that deliver an amazing amount of pleasure. The three wines below are all fantastic and could easily stand tall against much more expensive bottles. They are all in the $30 - $45 range but would make for a great bottle to have at a special dinner.

2003 L'Arco Valpolicella Classico Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Classico Superiore (8/21/2010)
Opened four hours prior to dinner.

The nose, at first, showed rich chocolate cover cherry, but upon a second sniff, the details began to come forward with crushed fall leaves, undergrowth and cinnamon. The palate was remarkably finessed and showing ripe cherries, dried cherries, tobacco and flower petals. As it flowed across the mid-palate, bitters and spice came forward, yet somehow a slightly sweet component shined through. The finish is long... long... long with cherries and christmas spice.

My only regret is that I didn't buy more of this great wine. This is beautiful for the price ($35). I could convince someone that this cost more than twice its price. Stunning. (93 pts.) Find it on Wine-Searcher

2007 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley (8/15/2010)
Upon opening, an intense showing of cherry liquor with a sour bitter component but with time (2 hours) ripe plum came forward with soil, chalk dust and a bit of vanilla. The palate comes across as a bit sticky and sweet, at first, but rounds out into a velvety expression of raspberry fruit with cola and clove. The finish is long, soft and refined with red fruit.

It's fruit forward but still shows a good amount of earth and pinot character. I see this as a real crowd pleaser and will buy more. (91 pts.) Find it on Wine-Searcher

2006 Trespass Zinfandel - USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena (7/27/2010)
Trespass manages to walk that tight rope between richness and finesse, and they walk it so well. This bottles showed dark blue fruit and vanilla with chalk dust and a hint of heat on the nose. The palate is rich, soft... lush, yet finessed with dark cherry and allspice. The finish is long and shows sour red fruits.

Trespass continues to be one of the best performers from my cellar. This Napa Valley winery, is well worth seeking out. Check out their website here: Trespass Vineyards (91 pts.)

Lastly, a friend and fellow wine collector, Ken Vastola, has put together a new website, The Fine Wine Geek. His new sight (really and old site with an update and new home) focuses on near encyclopedic data of producers such as Bruno Giacosa, Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello and Sine Qua Non. This is a must see website for Barolo collectors and one that I’m sure I’ll use for regular reference. My favorite part are the Bartolo Mascarello pages that show his hand drawn labels, which are near impossible to find.

There's some really great stuff in the works for The V.I.P. Table in the coming weeks. Make sure to check back for weekly updates or set up a RSS Feed subscription. See you in another week.

Eric Guido

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cape May: The Victorian vacation destination

Whether it be romance, summer fun, or a lover of anything Victorian, Cape May has something for everyone, and what was once a sleepy Victorian summer retreat has now become a meca for good food and wine in south Jersey.

It was about ten years ago that I was taken to Cape May for the first time. What truly made the biggest impression on me during that trip was the corkage policy at the majority of restaurants. Or should I say the lack of, or need for, corkage. You see, the majority of restaurants in Cape May allow you to bring your own wine, free of charge. This guarantees a large amount of value for anyone who’s serious about the wine they love. Why buy a $150 bottle off of a wine list when you could simply bring the same bottle having only paid $60 at retail? However, don’t let this deter you from checking out some of the wine lists around Cape May, as I found out on this trip, where one establishment especially had a list that made me smile ear to ear.

Cape May simply has everything that I want from a vacation. Imagine if you will, you start your morning by waking up at your bed & breakfast or hotel. The breakfast is warming, prepared by your innkeeper. If you choose to make conversation with the other guests, it’s completely acceptable; however, if you’d like to keep to yourself, no one would mind. You have a cup of coffee on the front veranda as you make plans for your day.

Throughout the early morning into the afternoon, you could find yourself on a jet ski, a whale watch, or just lying out on the beach soaking up the sun. The evening finds you at one of many fine restaurants or on a sunset cruise followed by a carriage ride through the historic streets. The night ends sitting on the veranda with a glass of wine in hand, the sounds of the surf and a gentle sea air.

Words can’t describe the level of utter satisfaction I felt at the end of each day. I hope that my recommendations below will help you find Cape May as enjoyable as I did.

Mainstay Inn

What was once a gambling hall and bordello is now one of the premier bed & breakfasts in Cape May. The story goes that the rail-less veranda and high windows were designed to allow patrons to escape easily in case of a police raid. Well, this may have once been a bordello, but today it is the epitome of Victorian style.

Entering through the front door, you are whisked away to another world where period-styled furniture, lighting and art adorn the massive hall and public rooms surrounding you. William Morris printed wallpaper, Victorian oddities and period instruments can be found throughout the house.

The spacious guest rooms are just as ornate and extremely private. You become lost in this staged Victorian world, and you could almost convince yourself that the house and staff are yours to command. Being only one street away from the beach, you can hear the waves on a quiet night and indulge in the sea air wafting through the lace curtains. From the second floor landing, you can climb a ladder to a private perch at the top of the house, where you can watch the surf, curl up with a novel or observe the entire town.

The surrounding gardens are perfectly manicured with a large assortment of flora. Benches, statues and winding paths lead you around this secret garden as you sip a cup of fresh morning coffee or enjoy an afternoon cup of tea. Breakfast is taken on their large veranda while you immerses in nature. Seriously, you could become lost enjoying the all the Mainstay has to offer.

Website: The Mainstay Inn

Dining Out:

Lucky Bones

If it’s a relaxed atmosphere, good food and cold beer that you crave, then Lucky Bones is the place for you. Lucky Bones can be seen just as you cross the bridge into Cape May. It’s a locals’ destination with a down-to-earth feel, extensive menu and extremely friendly staff. If I was a local, I could easily see myself making my stop at Lucky Bones a weekly ritual after a hard day of work.

Website: Lucky Bones

The Carriage house

What would a Victorian seaside town be without a Victorian tea party? Sound a little corny? I beg to differ. An afternoon sipping tea (iced tea is available) while enjoying course after course of bite-size delicacies can be the perfect remedy to distress from the day-to-day grind.

Also worth mentioning, is the tour of the Emlem Physick Estate, on the same property as the Carriage House. The Physick Estate is basically a house tour of a true Victorian mansion. This tour takes you through the daily life of a well-to-do Victorian family as well as their servants, all while touring a gorgeous Victorian home.

Website: Mid-Atlantic Center for the arts & humanities

The Ebbitt Room

The Ebbitt Room was the unfortunate experience of the trip. The food was good but not great, and the menu was confusing, as was the staff. This was a rare occasion where I regretted opting for the tasting menu with paired wines. The wines by the glass left much to be desired and the timing of the courses was horrible. It’s sad that this was one of my favorites from the previous year’s trip. I may give them another chance in the future, but for the first time visitor to Cape May, there are so many great restaurants to explore, and so I'd stay away from the Ebbitt Room for a while.

Website: The Ebbitt Room

Washington Inn

This is one place where I didn’t want to bring my own bottle. Word on the street was that Washington Inn had a great wine list, but what they didn’t explain is that they also had a cellar full of gems that were moderately priced. This night, I bought a bottle off the list, a 2000 Monsanto Chianti Classico, Il Poggio. A bottle that that was marked up to only $20 above street value.

As for the food, well, I didn’t go in expecting the best since it seemed like an after thought behind the wine list, but the food was incredible. Or maybe that’s not even saying enough. Basically, I went to the Washington Inn expecting a good meal, but what I left with was the best meal I’d had while in Cape May.

Anyone who follows my work knows that I find crab cakes to be one of the best representations of a restaurant’s quality. I find it to be a standard to which I can judge the commitment to quality, freshness and imagination. The Washington Inn succeeded on every level with a perfectly fresh, crisp and seasoned example. Add to that the absolutely amazing red pepper cream sauce that adorned the plate and you have a dish that screamed indulgence.

The pork chop, which was cooked in a wood-burning stove, was perfectly seasoned with a crispy slice of bacon, polenta, sauté spinach and a rich, smoky sauce beneath. I don’t ever remember having pork from a wood stove done this well. It was all at once succulent, smoky, salty and sweet, and with a sprig of rosemary that truly drove my senses to the brink of satisfaction.

The grilled fillet with sweet onions, asparagus, and blue cheese was outstanding. This dish was such a delight with its smoky sweet aromas that were brought home with a whiff of fresh sage. It was silky smooth on the palate with that melt-in-your-mouth character that a perfectly medium rare can provide you with. The blue cheese gave a total woodsy funk and a bit of sour bite to the smoky sweetness. This plate made it to my top five of steaks I’ve ever eaten.

2000 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio - This showed cherry, saw dust and animal musk with potpourri and cinnamon, crushed fall leaves and a hint of olive on the nose. The palate was just as interesting as the nose, as flavors of strawberry, dried cherry, clove and wood pencil washed across it. All of this was kept lively and fresh by a vibrant acidity, which led to a long red fruit finish with silky tannin. This wine is drinking beautifully now and, although I don’t see this as being an Il poggio for the ages, I’d say it has an easy decade ahead of fine drinking and possibly more.

Website: Washington Inn

Looking to do some wine tasting?

Turdo Vineyards & Winery

Turdo Vineyards & Winery is a husband-and-wife team run from vineyards and a tasting room built around their home. The vines are still relatively young and space restrictive; however, the passion is there and the potential for making good wine is absolute. I was so pleasantly surprised to find some of my favorite Italian varietals being grown so close to home. Turdo is absolutely worth a visit and the tasting is quite enjoyable.

Following are some wines that this establishment offers, along with my notes:

2008 Turdo Vineyards Pinot Noir Turis – The nose showed chalk, green stems and red fruit with a bit of a medicinal aroma. On the palate, I found sour raspberry, young strawberries and a clean, fresh finish.

2008 Turdo Persara (blend of cabernet, merlot, syrah and sangiovese)– The nose showed dark fruits, some blackberry and undergrowth. On the palate, this showed blackberries with citrus rind and cinnamon with a full, yet fresh performance. The finish continued with blackberry and citrus.

2009 Turdo Vineyards Barbera Turis – This showed a vibrant red color in the glass with aromas of cherry and underbrush. On the palate, I found big red fruits and fresh acidity. However, the finish was marked by a metallic aftertaste. It's easy going, unpretentious and would have rated higher if not for the finish.

2008 Turdo Vineyards Sangiovese Turis – An interesting nose of strawberry, cedar and underbrush. The palate showed a soft full body with cherry fruit and new leather, but the finish is quite dry and revealed this wine’s tannic structure. I'm interested to see what a year in my cellar might do to it.

2008 Turdo Vineyards Nebbiolo Turis - This showed red fruit and spice on the nose. On the palate, I found strawberry, blueberry and some cedar on a full-bodied frame, yet the wine managed to stay lively due to a well-balanced dose of acidity. The finish was of medium length with blackberry showing.

Website: Turdo Vineyards & Winery

Also be sure to visit: Cape May Whale Watch for an amazing cruise into the Atlantic in search of whales and dolphins... but bring your sea legs.

Friday, August 6, 2010

If I had to choose one winery?

Recently, I was involved in a discussion amongst collectors that really made me think. If you could have the portfolio of one winery in your cellar, and nothing else, which would it be? Most people first thought of that prized bottle that they hold on a pedestal and others were quick to answer a winery with a portfolio of wines that are great but all very similar. I answered, Vietti.

Why? Because with five years of serious wine collecting under my belt, I can think of no other winery with such a high level of quality and vast selection as Vietti (with Ridge vineyards as my runner up). What truly started me on the road to collecting wine with the intention of cellaring and enjoying throughout my life was a Vietti wine, namely the Barolo Rocche. It was “that” bottle, the one that convinces you that a wine can cost $100 and be worth every penny and also the wine that shows the overwhelming positives of buying a wine at release and cellaring it to mature perfection.

Don’t misinterpret me, Vietti is not just about $100 bottles of Barolo. Even I would get sick of drinking Barolo every night of my life… well, maybe not.

The fact is that Vietti is a producer of some of the best quality-to-price ratio wines coming out of Piedmont, Italy today. With an entry level, yet absolutely stunning Barbera Tre vigne and a fresh and bubbly Moscato d’Asti under $15, they fill the any day nitch. The Roero Arneis is a versatile, floral and mineral driven wine that can satisfy your thirst for both an unassuming as well as a thought provoking white wine. The extremely affordable Nebbiolo Perbacco is practically an entry level Barolo in all but name.

In fact, Vietti has a wine for just about any palate and any occasion. Their upper tier Barolo and Barbaresco are seductive and nuanced with the potential to age or be enjoyed young. And then, of course, there are the Barolos. First, the affordable, blended Castiglione, which receives fruit from a number of esteemed vineyards and, at an average cost of $45, is a serious value. Then, a set of unique, single vineyard bottlings, which are each, tailored to fit any preference of Barolo, whether it be the traditional and finessed Rocche or the oaky and rich Lazzarito.

Can you tell I'm smitten?

Well, it’s all that and more. If you know Vietti, I’m sure you agree, and if you don’t, then I suggest you seek them out. Because whether you have a ten bottle capacity wine fridge in your kitchen or a 10,000 bottle cellar you call home, these are wines that belong in everyone’s collection.

I’ve assembled my most recent notes on some Vietti wines I have in my cellar. Each is worth seeking out and please keep my scoring system in mind. Where many wine publications have submitted to the idea that great wine should always be 90+ points, I find that system flawed and leaving little room for the definition of great wine. In my book an 87 is a pretty good score and a 90+ is when you start getting into the truly stunning examples.

2008 Vietti Roero Arneis - Shows the color of golden yellow straw with whimsical aromas of spring rain, white flowers and lime. On the palate you find granny smith apple, green melon, and orange rind, all carried by vibrant acidity with a laser-like focus. The finish shows citrus fruit and leaves your palate feeling cleansed and refreshed. (89 pts.)

2009 Vietti Moscato d'Asti Cascinetta Vietti - Very refreshing with a semi-sweet spritz, a bit of yeast on the nose and white stone fruit on the palate. Very popular with the crowd I shared it with. Limited notes. (87 pts.)

2007 Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne - The color is a deep reddish purple. On the nose I found red fruit with floral notes, cedar and a slight funk of undergrowth. A lively expression forms on the tongue as its brisk acidity makes the mouth water yet bombards it with sour cherry fruit. Juicy cranberry is on the finish, which stays fresh for what seems like a minute. This is textbook Barbera at a great price. (90 pts.)

2006 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco - Tasted between 3 to 6 hours of decanting. What a treat, with a nose full of black cherry, tobacco, new leather, and a bit of anise and undergrowth. The palate shows sour cherry, earth and citrus-prune on the mid palate. Medium bodied with a fresh but slightly tannic structure, this is followed by a long finish with raspberry fruit. Simply put, this is one of the two best Langhe Nebbiolos that I've ever had. (91 pts.)

1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche - Darker color than expected with a dark ruby red fading only slightly around the edges. The nose on the wine is incredibly expressive with deep black cherry, prunes, dried flowers and beef broth, initially. With more time in the glass, you find crushed, dried leaves and fruit compote. The palate is still masked to a small degree by a wall of tongue coating tannin, but still enjoyable with red fruits, tobacco and iodine. The finish shows bitter cocoa and sour cranberry fruit. (93 pts.)

2000 Vietti Barolo Rocche - Bouquet of fresh cut flowers, tobacco and leather with berry fruit. Full bodied with present but fine tannin and raspberry fruit. A little hot but so enjoyable. Long finish. (92 pts.)

2005 Vietti Barbera d'Alba Vigna Vecchia Scarrone - This bottle was almost like a Zinfandel in its spicy and woodsy notes but with the kick of a Barbera that kept your mouth watering. What more could I ask for in a pairing with Risotto? The nose was a candy shop of dark fruit turning to blueberries and with a super long mouth coating finish. (94 pts.)

If this article has really peaked you interest in this amazing winery, I strongly urge you to check out their website. Vietti is a family run business that can trace its roots back to the 19th century, Their website is an excellent resource for information on the family, it’s wines and even some great Piedmont recipes. Check it out here!