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Wine Tasting in Piemonte

Contributed by:
Asher Rubinstein

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to combine business in Europe with some pleasure travel, including an extended stay in the Piemonte region of Italy. Increasingly over the past three or so years, my wine path has taken me to Piemonte, which now comprises a substantial portion of my cellar. It was therefore a treat to be able to personally visit the vineyards and producers. I was in Piemonte during the 2006 harvest, which made the trip all the more special and memorable. I have been to many wine regions of the world, but few come close to the beauty that is Piemonte, in terms of not only its wines, but its scenery, cuisine and people.

On my first day, I went for a walk around Alba and came upon Lalibera, which had been recommended by a few people. The recommendations were warranted. With tuna tonello that rivaled the freshness of a top sushi restaurant, and then a plate of local veal, I enjoyed the 1999 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja. I ordered this not realizing that I have it already in my cellar. But I knew that I was scheduled to visit Cortese the following Tuesday, so enjoying this wine during my first meal in Piemonte was a good thing. Nice nose, classic Nebbiolo fruit, good structure, soft in the mouth but the tannins still provide good structure, hint of tire rubber. Six hours later (after my appointment at Ascheri), a rush of fruit explodes from the glass. Seems darker on the palate, with a bit of cola. Still young. Tannins have not let up, though they are fine. Lots of structure still showing after six hours of air. The next night, curiously, the palate shows signs of oxidation.

Ascheri Winery, Bra

After wandering around Bra, home of the Slow Foods movement, I enjoyed a great tour and tasting with Matteo Ascheri on a Saturday evening.

2006 Ascheri Dolcetto, Serralunga (from stainless steel) - Matteo repeatedly pointed out that this is Serralunga Dolcetto. Has been in stainless steel for only two days! Matteo notes the 14.5% alcohol; "too much", he says. This is young; way young. Needs to come into balance. But lots of fruit. The bugs are just loving this juice and are flying all over the place and nose-diving into our glasses. Matteo admits that this wine is "dirty" right now. I get sulphur on the nose, even though Matteo cites excessive CO2. I would like to try this out of bottle, after it has settled down.

2004 Ascheri Barolo Bricco e Coste (from barrel) - Wow. Lovely. So much fruit here. Very floral nose. Soft, fine tannins. Wow. My notes tell me to "buy this".

2004 Ascheri Barolo Sorano (from barrel) - Not as floral as the Bricco e Coste, more reserved, more classic and restrained. Tannins are very fine, slightly drying but not astringent.

Matteo is a big fan of the 2004 vintage. He thinks 2003 is too hot; 2005 good but more forward (drink now); 2006 too early to tell, but possibly another "drink now" vintage. 2004 will age nicely.

2001 Ascheri Viognier - The aromatics are more toned down than a young Viognier, which is to be expected. 25% oak aged. I find the texture buttery, perhaps from the oak.

2001 Ascheri Syrah - 100% Syrah, aged 30 months (!) in 100% old oak. Texture is soft, perhaps from the oak. Interestingly, Matteo says that he doesn’t blend in Viognier because the purpose of blending Syrah and Viognier in Cote Rotie is to give the Syrah a better texture, which doesn’t have to be done with Piemonte Syrah because Piemonte Syrah is grown in sandy soil. Lots of cassis and currant. Not sure this will age a long time. Varietally correct, but I think I would prefer a more structured Syrah.

Matteo hands me a bottle of the 1996 Syrah, the first vintage of Ascheri Syrah, which was never labeled nor released commercially.

Ascheri Grappa di Nebbiolo - The other grappas are clear; this is yellow/gold due to oak aging. Very nice, very smooth. Alcohol shows up on the finish. Enjoyable.

All in all, an excellent evening at Ascheri with Matteo Ascheri, who gave me much of his time, and once he noted my interest, I believe went deeper and further than with most tourists. I’ll also note the beautiful bed and breakfast which Matteo recently built above the winery, with very contemporary architecture and design, tres cool. Keep this in mind for a trip to Piemonte, as Bra is near many important vineyards.

Sottimano

After driving through the beautiful and historic town of Neive, I finally found Andrea Sottimano’s place which is between the towns of Neive and Barbaresco. Andrea welcomed me warmly, we talked about some of our favorite rock music guitar legends (his: Hendrix, mine: Jerry Garcia), and we descended into the cellar for some barrel tasting.

We began by discussing the 2004 vintage, which Andrea described as "the vintage to have kids". He also said that it’s a vintage "to build a wall", i.e., buy a lot of wine, build a wall in front of the wine and forget about it, and then in many years, knock the wall down.

As we talked in the cellar, Andrea pointed to the oak casks built by Francois Freres. Interestingly, Freres asked Andrea for a sample of his wine and then tailored the oak specifically to Andrea’s wine.

2005 Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni (from barrel) - on lees, one year; new barrique (30%) only during malo. Some wood on nose, toasty. Lots of acidity (malo needs time, per Andrea). Nose of vineyard earth. Andrea calls this wine "elegant".

2005 Sottimano Barbaresco Cottá (from barrel) - Older vines, at least 50 years. Much more structured, dense, but rich and large. Andrea calls 2005 "fantastic", "less classical than 2004, but great". Very tannic, but the tannins are fine. Very rich. Long finish showing minerality.

2005 Sottimano Barbaresco Currá (from barrel) - Nose is a bit green/floral/bit of wood. Palate is smooth, elegant, silky mouthfeel.

2005 Sottimano Dolcetto d’Alba Bric del Salto - Nose: wow. Very rich, fruity, floral, sweet nose. Lovely palate, silky, fruity, perfect ripeness, hint of liquorice bitterness.

2004 Sottimano Barbera d’Alba Pairolero - From old vines. Seriously rich and captivating nose (same oak treatment: 30% new wood only during malo, then barrique). Palate is very soft, plush but not fat, minerality, very low tannins but good acidity. Andrea noted that this "is the first year I like my Barbera." Why? In the past, too much wood.

2004 Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo (from young vines, 10 years old, in Basarin, too young to be labeled a single vineyard Barbaresco). Nose: lovely, captivating Nebbiolo aromas, flowers, truly an impressive wine for young vines. Palate: very fresh, good structure, enjoyable, long finish. Again, impressive.

2003 Sottimano Barbaresco Currá. What saved the wines from the heat? According to Andrea, one year on the lees gave the wine freshness. Nose: light perfume, but not very expressive. Andrea agrees that it’s closed. Also, the bottle was just opened, and I suggest that this wine needs an hour to breathe. "Or tomorrow" says Andrea. On the palate, compact, lots of acidity. Needs air.

2003 Sottimano Barbaresco Cottá (borders Rabaja). The nose is much more open than the Currá. "A wine of richness and power", according to Andrea, compared to the Currá. The palate is dense, rich, surprisingly velvety tannins, forward and drinking very nicely today.

2003 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré. Nose: spicy, tea, seems to be hiding. Andrea calls it "more traditional, more austere". Regarding the palate, Andrea notes "no fruit, no richness . . . needs two to three years minimum."

After thirty minutes of air, I was amazed by the structure and concentration of these supposed "drink now" 2003 wines. Andrea was now calling them "complex" and citing their "minerality". With thirty more minutes, they changed again, showing very expressive, giving and open noses. The 2003 Currá gave off liquorice, mint and Middle Eastern spices. The 2003 Cottá was reminiscent of the forest after rain, and showed light spice. The 2003 Pajoré was still austere and tight.

2004 Sottimano Barbaresco Cottá - Nose: captivating, light perfume. Palate: According to Andrea, "like 1996, everything shut down and imploded. So much structure and things in this wine, but not expressive yet." Andrea also mentioned that his mother had recently opened an already-opened bottle of the 2003 Cottá that Andrea had opened two weeks prior, and it showed zero signs of oxidation.

2004 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré - Andrea points out the cloves on the nose, but for me this wine is not so expressive, but then again these wines were just opened and poured. The nose hints at what is to come, then the perfume emerges. On the palate, soft, Andrea calls it velvety, then notes that he expects it to shut down in a year.

Unlike the 2003's, which seem to open up and express themselves after thirty and then sixty minutes of air, these 2004's shut down half an hour after being opened. Andrea, like almost every winemaker with whom I spoke in Piemonte, is very keen on the 2004's long-term.

All in all, a fascinating and lengthy visit with a talented and passionate winemaker. Andrea was quick to note my appreciation for the wines that he loves so much, and once noted, opened bottle after bottle for me to experience. His passion and enthusiasm were things to behold, and this visit was one of the most memorable winery visits I have had anywhere.

Paitin

After returning to Neive for a quick lunch, I drove to my appointment at Paitin, which is in Serraboella near Neive and Mango. I had met Giovanni Pasquero Elia, the winemaker, when he was in New York this past August and we had a great dinner at Rothman’s Steakhouse with some of the NYC wine folks. This is a small family operation, and while I waited briefly for Giovanni, I met the family patriarch, Secondo Pasquero Elia, his wife and Giovanni’s brother and co-winemaker, who were all hard at work running around and attending to various harvest tasks.

Giovanni gave me a quick tour and then we headed upstairs to taste the following wines from bottle.

2005 Paitin Arneis "Vigna Elisa" Roero - 24-36 hours of skin contact, then 6 months on lees. Nose is very fragrant, honeysuckle. Palate: zesty, juicy, concentrated, minerals. Giovanni says that his Arneis is atypical in that it drinks well old.

2005 Paitin Dolcetto Sori Paitin - 6 months in neutral barrels. The nose is very inviting, cool fruits. The palate shows good acidity, cool fruits, slightly drying tannins on the finish. Ok, but not very compelling.

2005 Paitin Barbera Serra Boella - 8 months in oak, just bottled less than one month ago. Giovanni pointed out that this vineyard has an eastern exposure. The nose is bright, like the Dolcetto that preceded it. The palate is soft, not very tannic but with good acidity. Ok, but not very compelling.

2004 Paitin Barbera "Campoline" - 18 months in one new barrel. Southern exposure, which Giovanni says is the warmest. The nose is completely different than the Barbera Serra Boella. The nose is very bright, bit of vanilla, oakier but not toasty. The palate is also very soft, but the finish is longer. Giovanni thinks this will be better is two years.

2003 Paitin Nebbiolo d’Alba "Ca Veja" - from 10 year old vines. The nose shows a lot of spice. The palate is quite tannic and acidic. Impressive structure, given the youth of the wine and the heat of the vintage. Giovanni cites the eastern exposure of the vineyard, which is not as hot.

2001 Paitin Barbaresco "Sori’ Paitin" - 25% new barrique, 25% two year old barrique, 50% old large barrels. Giovanni tells me that he is moving towards more new oak and larger barrels. The nose is earthy, with dark fruit. The palate is very rich, with good structure, tannins are firm but approachable, needs a few years to soften and develop.

2004 Paitin Barbaresco "Sori’ Paitin" - The background to this wine is interesting. First, it goes from steel to oak to steel to bottle. As Giovanni explained, the steel stage is used to get the sediment out, rather than filtering. Also, wine from all the barrels goes into one stainless tank, per Giovanni, for uniformity. What I tasted was from stainless steel, after oak and before bottle. Second, Giovanni called this wine a "Black Moon" wine. Reminiscent of Biodynamic, some winemakers will never bottle or can fruit during a black moon. (Cue the Black Crowes’ "Black Moon Rising" as background music). The nose was very hard to evaluate, slight sulfur, needs time. Giovanni mentioned that the nose reminds him of the 1996. The palate is very primary, though it shows lovely balance (which I underlined in my tasting notes, so apparently I really meant it). Giovanni mentions that "the tannins are strong but not heavy". My conclusion is that this should be drunk now for texture and concentration, but not for flavor.

2003 Paitin "Paitin" Langhe - 100% Cabernet from the Langhe, late harvested, 13% alcohol (Giovanni says possibly more). 200 cases produced. Nose shows a bit of chocolate. The palate is soft, plummy, tannic but not plush and velvety, more smooth. Very interesting. By this point, Secondo Pasquero Elia had joined us, and laughed when I expressed surprise that he was producing a 100% Cab wine in Barbaresco. But then again, the previous day I had tried 100% Langhe Syrah.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable visit with Giovanni. I think my palate prefers more traditional wines, whereas his trend seems to be toward a more modern, fleshy style, with use of more new oak. Nevertheless, Paitin wines are enjoyable and well made and I recommend them.

Gaja

The next morning, I drove into the town of Barbaresco for my appointment at Gaja. I was looking forward to this appointment perhaps the most of all my scheduled appointments, for various reasons. First, well, it’s Gaja. Second, they don’t allow just anybody (not that I am a "somebody".) If you’ve seen the film Mondovino, you may recall the shot of the large gates to the winery and the sign, in multiple languages, stating that Gaja is not open to the public. Indeed, there was another American couple waiting in the tasting room when I arrived, and their first question to me was "how did you get this appointment?"

Well, despite my high hopes, this was my most disappointing winery visit. The Gaja staff is an extension of their marketing program, and I was continuously reminded of how great Gaja is. In contrast to the mom and pop winemakers who invited me into their living rooms, gave me three hours of their time and opened multiple bottles for little old layman non-ITB me, visiting Gaja was like visiting a Napa winery, minus the baseball hats and olive oil for sale. Finally, the three wines poured in the tasting room were hardly compelling, to wit:

2004 Gaja Sauvignon Blanc "Altendi di Brassica" - From a vineyard near Sperss, 8 months in stainless steel then into barrique. The nose is lightly herbal. The palate is herbal, with a long finish and a hint of toffee candy (oak). Not as much acidity as I would like, although the charming Sonia insists that this is a ten year wine.

2004 Gaja Ca’ Marcanda "Magari" - 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc. Nose is creamy, toffee, hint of pine forest. Soft palate, very light tannin, oaky plummy fruit, perhaps more elegant and less forceful (less weight on the palate) than a California blend, but this still comes across as a modern, oaky wine.

2003 Gaja Barbaresco - a blend from 14 vineyard sites. Nebbiolo nose, slight tire rubber, hint of alcohol. The palate is softly textured, with silky tannins. Elegant for a 2003 hot vintage wine. I don’t get the sense that this will be a long-lived wine.

Giacomo Conterno

Not surprisingly, the Gaja appointment ended earlier than I expected, and I spent the afternoon driving through Barolo and towns nearby, such as Serralunga d'Alba, Monforte d’Alba and Dogliani. Serralunga was very cool because of its medieval castle and the quaint town which built up, in concentric circles, around the castle. I had been impressed with driving through Neive and the hills outside of Barbaresco, but the hills around Barolo and towns nearby were equally if not more stunning. Later in the day, I headed to Giacomo Conterno, very close to the center of Monforte. This visit was the apex of my trip and was the exact opposite of the disappointment that Gaja had been.

Roberto Conterno met me in the large banquet room, and shook my hand vigorously. The lovely Sabine translated, although Roberto understood everything I said in English and spoke it well also.

We began with the 2004 Giacomo Conterno Barbera. Wow. Perhaps the best Barbera that I’ve ever had. Smells pure and clean. Reserved plum and dark fruits. The palate is just lovely. Juicy orange acidity. Silky smooth mouthfeel. So much flavor and it’s light on its feet.

As we were tasting, Roberto’s eyes light up as he suddenly remembered that in my fax, I had asked to taste the 2004's from barrel. Apparently this is not orthodox procedure at G. Conterno. Off to the cellar we went.

2003 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia (from barrel) - The nose is lovely, showing hints of cloves and orange peel. The palate, though Roberto calls it "easy", is nothing to sneeze at. It’s actually quite impressive, not too tannic and can be drunk now. Long juicy finish. Roberto notes that "it’s already well balanced."

2004 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia (from barrel) - Of all the 2004 barrel samples that I have tried on this trip, this is the prettiest. On the nose, lovely, floral, captivating, pure and intoxicating. Moving on to the palate, Roberto calls the fruit "major", and adds that the tannins are "alive" and that they need two to three more years of aging before he will bottle. The wine is totally smooth, light on its feet, although it is very well structured. The tannins are still on my tongue after a finish of longer than a minute.

2005 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia (from barrel) - Roberto calls the nose "sweeter". To me, it is also a very pure and inviting nose but not as developed as the ‘03 or as perfumed as the ‘04. Roberto states that the ‘05 "is not inferior to the 2004". The palate is round, smooth, not tannic. Roberto agrees that it is "soft" and "more immediate than the ‘04" (you see, his English is very good). It is not tannic and it has not yet shut down, surprisingly.

Back upstairs in the banquet room, I am treated to two pours of the 1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino. The first is from a bottle that had been open one hour. Its nose is pure, clean, just fruit, and my notes repeat that it is very pure. The palate likewise is pure and smooth and the finish is simply explosive (which I had underlined in my notes, so again, I really meant it). The second pour is from a bottle that had been open for three days. Its nose is also pure, clean, showing no alcohol and, remarkably, no traces of oxidation. Roberto states that "the perfume is superior" to that of the wine that had been open for one hour. There is no trace of oxidation on the palate at all. It is smooth, enticing and seductive.

On my way out, Roberto asks what are my plans for dinner. He tells me that "the guys from Cru" are on their way over, and did I want to join them for dinner. Not an invitation to decline. Roberto writes the name and address of the restaurant on a piece of note paper, and plans are made. Back at my hotel, I ask for directions to Antica Corona Reale "de Renzo" in Cervere. "Sir," they ask me, "are you aware that this is a Michelin star restaurant?" Could this get any better?

The genius at my hotel sent me along unlit back roads from Alba to Bra and then Cervere. Somehow I managed to find this place. This was not the first time in Piedmont that I cursed my lack of GPS.

I did not take notes during this dinner, but needless to say, it was exceptional. Although truffle season was "officially" a week away, they were bountiful on the table that night. We started with a 1996 Champagne that I did not write down, but I think it was from Pol Roger, and an interesting orange-colored dry wine from Friuliano (may have been some rare red Tocai?) that Robert from Cru opened.

Roberto Conterno walked in with a magnum of his 1988 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino which was just exceptional. We ordered a few bottles from the wine list, including the 2000 Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja "Red Label" and the 2000 Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi. Obviously, none of the wines were slouches. In particular, the Giacosa’s purity and symmetry were stunning, and it was forward and drinking exceedingly well. But the 1988 Conterno Monfortino was a special, special wine and it stood worlds apart from the other worthy wines on the table. Pairing it with the Rinaldi, for example, was a mismatch because the length, concentration and power (coupled with grace) on the Monfortino was just astounding. Thank you again, Roberto, for your exceeding generosity.

Finally, Robert from Cru opened the 1967 Chateau d’Yquem which was just icing on the cake of an already very special and memorable dinner.

Cortese

The next morning, I drove from Alba back through the Barbaresco region to the Cortese winery. I was met by the friendly and sexy Tiziana Cortese who gave me a tour of the family winery and then led me through a tasting. Her brother, Pier Carlo, is the winemaker. The winery, like many of the producers whom I visited, is part of the family’s house. In this case, the family’s backyard is the beautiful Rabaja vineyard, the source of some of my favorite Barbaresco wines (like the Giacosa Red Label from the prior night).

2001 Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja - Nose shows some light spice. The palate is very balanced, with good fruit. The wine is a bit reserved, but tannins and acidity and everything else is completely in-line.

2000 Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja - The nose is more open than the 2001. The palate is very soft, round and this wine is certainly ready. It is somewhat light-bodied. I went back to the 2001 to compare, and noted that the structure on the 2001 is much more evident.

1999 Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva - Tiziana informs me that in addition to being sourced from older vines, the Riserva gets an extra year and a half in wood (as opposed to the normal 18 months for the regular wine) plus an extra two years in bottle. The nose shows some light perfume. The palate shows lots of power, but it is soft around the edges. Elegant, long in the mouth, the tannins are soft and sweet. Yum.

Cortese made a Riserva in: 1996, 1999, 2001, 2004 and maybe will produce one from the 2005 vintage.

I also tried some Marolo Grappa Barbaresco Rabaja (from Cortese, but due to Italian law, a winery cannot produce both wine and grappa, so often another company, in this case Marolo, makes the grappa). It was very sweet for a grappa, and not harsh at all.

Triziana gave me a bottle of 2005 Cortese Langhe Chardonnay, which I opened the following week in France. So I have now tried a 100% Piedmont Syrah, 100% Piedmont Cab and 100% Piedmont Chardonnay. What strange times in which we live. Cortese’s Chardonnay was not toasty-oaky, but it was quite tropical.

After Cortese, I drove from Barbaresco to the towns of Barolo. I concentrated on La Morra, which I had not yet visited. Then I visited the Vajra Winery in Vergne, the highest village in the hills around Barolo.

Vajra

Both Aldo Vajra and his wife apologized repeatedly that due to harvest, they could not spend more time with me, but despite this I had a delightful tour and tasting and did have a chance to speak with Aldo as he and his staff de-stemmed grapes that had just been harvested.

2005 Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba, Coste & Fossati, a blend from the Coste and Fossati vineyards, this only saw stainless steel. The nose is excellent, very fruity and inviting, with deep berries. The palate is nice and forward, lots of berries, good acidity, very user-friendly and bright. Amazingly, this bottle had been open for three days and showed zero signs of oxidation.

2004 Vajra Barbera d’Alba - I took no notes on the nose, and found the palate to be soft, with hardly any tannins, and very round. This bottle had been open for two days, with no oxidation.

2004 Vajra Barbera d’Alba "Superiore" - Sourced from old vines from the Bricco delle Viole vineyard, aged in steel and then big new oak barrels. In what was becoming a trend, this bottle was open for three days and - surprise - no oxidation. The nose is deep, much more so than the normale, showing berries. The palate is smooth, direct, with bright berry fruits, decent acidity but not much tannin, not surprisingly.

2005 Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo - From young vines and aged only in steel. Open for three days. The nose is very bright, with raspberry/strawberry froth. The mouthfeel is very soft, smooth, soft tannins, strawberry fruit and nice acidity.

2002 Vajra Barolo "Albe" - "Albe" means sunshine in Italian, referring to the three vineyard sources (Fossati, Coste and La Volta) with three different exposures to the sun. This 2002 Barolo had just been bottled, after four years in large oak that was previously used for Barbera. This is meant to be drunk (defined as within ten years). In 2002, Vajra did not make a Bricco delle Viole Barolo; that juice went into this wine. No notes on the nose. The palate is soft, showing a bit of old leaves with a hint of sweetness, and a browner, stewed quality.

2001 Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole - From older vines. Bottled two weeks prior. The bottle had been open for three days. Vajra believes that this wine can keep for twenty years. Much more structure than the ‘02, yet soft in the mouth, with bright cherry/strawberry fruit and smooth and sweet tannins.

2001 Vajra Freisa "Kyé" - I am informed that Freisa is the "grandfather" of Nebbiolo according to genetic tests by Turin University. A soft wine, yet the structure is apparent, with cherry and strawberry fruit. The tannin on the finish dries the mouth.

2003 Vajra Freisa "Kyé" - Nose is bright, with cherry/strawberry fruit. The palate is similar to that of the 2001, more tannic, also with good direct fruit and a good tannic backbone.

2005 Vajra Moscato d’Asti - A nose of summer blossoms leads to a palate of green apple, honeydew, pineapple and a bit of lime acidity.

Vajra Barolo Chinato - Intentionally not sweet, hint of bitterness on the finish, tastes of fruitcake, with a dry finish. If the Moscato is the wine for an outdoor summer day, this is the wine for a winter evening at the fireplace.

With more apologies that barrel tasting cannot happen because it’s harvest and everyone is running about, I am invited to taste a few wines in stainless steel tanks. The 2006 Vajra Dolcetto (from the Alfonso vineyard) was picked four days prior (on 30 September) and the second pressing was earlier that very day (3 October). It tastes like fermenting grape juice. The 2006 Vajra Moscato tastes like white grape juice, sweet but not overly, with no added sugar.

Oddero

My final visit to the Oddero Winery near La Morra. I was welcomed and led around by the gracious Cristina Oddero.

2004 Oddero Dolcetto d’Alba - 100% stainless aged. The nose is bright and focused. The palate is very clean, with more depth and a darker profile than other Dolcetto I have tasted on this trip, with plums and dark berries.

2001 Oddero "Furesté" Langhe Rosso - A blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Barbera, 16-18 months in new and old oak. The nose is spicy, with cedar oak spice. The palate is soft, softened by the oak.

2004 Oddero Barbera d’Asti - Aged in large oak barrels and barrique. Lovely nose with a hint of vanilla. Palate shows bright berry fruit, vanilla. Not very complex, but enjoyable.

2004 Oddero Barbera d’Alba - Slightly oaky nose, along with plenty of bright berry fruit and a slight hint of cedar. Cristina and I agree that the palate is more tannic than the Barbera d’Asti, with healthy acidity also. Firmer and more structured, this Barbera will age.

2001 Oddero Barolo Mondoca di Bussia Soprana - This bottle has been open all day and seems pruney and oxidized slightly on the nose. Palate doesn’t give off much. Not very impressed. Closed?

1999 Oddero Barolo Mondoca di Bussia Soprana - When I tell Cristina that I smell flowers, she smiles and sells that the smell of dried roses is a characteristic of this wine. Floral nose, soft and fresh. The palate shows a soft texture, not very complex at this point. Then again, this wine has been open for a few minutes only. I prefer the Vigna Rionda.

2001 Oddero Barolo Vigna Rionda - A Tres Bicchieri wine from Gambero Rosso. Cristina tells me that Vigna Rionda is the "most powerful" Oddero vineyard. Strong liquorice on the nose. Cristina says that Rionda typically shows liquorice and truffles. My notes regarding the palate read: "Wow. Extremely delicious. Lovely Nebbiolo strawberry fruit, liquorice, hiding a huge wealth of tannins. Light on its feet, not much weight in the mouth. Curious when this will deepen and broaden. Right now, very easy to drink." Cristina likes the 2001 more than the ‘99 because she finds the nose better on the 2001. (I bought them both.)

Finally, I tasted the Oddero Grappa di Barolo "Vigna di Plaustra". Not as smooth as some of the other grappa this week, but still good.

I’ll also add that I opened a bottle of the 1996 Oddero Barolo Vigna Rionda in France the following week. It took about two or so hours to open up, but showed a lovely palate of roses, liquorice and tar. More mature, more supple and smoother in the mouth than the younger ‘99's and ‘01's I tasted at the winery, but the ‘96 was still a baby, with years to go in its evolution.

The next day, I left Piemonte, after a thoroughly excellent time.

A few final impressions:

- A GPS system is essential. Italian roads are difficult. After a while, I took it as a given that I would get lost, and built extra time into every trip.

- Italian radio is quirky. As I was driving through this scenic land, I was treated to Italian pop songs followed by the likes of the Village People’s "Macho Man" and then an uptempo version of "Hava Negilla". This last song was quite appropriate, as I heard it the day before Yom Kippur (which I spent, rather inappropriately, in Piemonte).

- Being in Piemonte during harvest is a real treat. Everywhere the smell is of fermenting grape juice, a heady mix of sharp red fruit scents (pomegranate, plum skins . . .). They say that the mind remembers smells more than sights and sounds. This is a scent that I will not soon forget.

- Winemakers were almost all unanimous that 2004 is a classic year. Many compared 2004 to 1996. 2003, as we all know, was hot and will not be a wine to age. 2005 looks good, but is too early to tell. 2006 looks promising.

- The winemakers who I met in Piemonte were all wonderful, warm and welcoming. There were hardly any egos visible. They are people who are passionate about their wines and their land, and they are not complicated by status or affected by accolades from the press. The traditionalists have been following family technique for generations, without concern. It’s a refreshing contrast to some winemakers in the USA who are determined, from their first vintage, to make cult wines.

Finito.


Useful Links

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