Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Barolo - Popular with the Wine Fanatic
If you ask most people what is their favorite Italian wine, the response invariably involves a painful rehearsal of Anthony Hopkins' line in Silence of the Lambs where he mentions a "fine Chianti."
Italy produces a wide variety of wines. Some very great and others very poor. Besides, Chianti, there are others which make for interesting drinking like: Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Brunello di Montalcino. The first two are easy drinking, light bodied and great for parties and light hearted get-togethers. Brunello is a poweful red that is comparable in intensity and concentration to Napa cabernet sauvignons.
A non-mainstream, fascinating wine that evokes plenty of debate is Barolo. Barolo is not easy-drinking. No idle chit-chat with the stewardess, about her failed college plans, aboard the plane to the Bahamas for this one.
Barolo is a wine known chiefly by wine aficionados. College students and rummies aren't reaching for these bottles for a couple of reasons. First, the price will be out of their grasp and secondly, this wine is usually behind glass, lock and key.
The price for a good bottle of Barolo starts at $50 and goes up to about $150. A lot of variables can drive the price even higher if you are trying to buy from certain producers of an excellent vintage.
So, what's the big deal with Barolo?
If I ask you what is your favorite wine, you may think of Napa Cabs like Silver Oak, Robert Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, Screaming Eagle and Cakebread. All can be wonderful and all are somewhat similar. They are fruit bombs. Lots of cherries, rasberry, dark fruit, and jam flavors that might be spread on breakfast toast. As great as those flavors are and within the hug of oak, they can get boring, and when one wants a change, Barolo is there to meet that need.
Barolo is produced by a single grape variety, the nebbiolo. This grape produces a wine that provides flavors of black tea, spices, roses, anise and a hint of tar. A young Barolo usually is fiercely tannic and bitter, but with age can become soft, yet powerful with flavors of tobacco and mushroom that are gratifying and simply not available by any other grape. This is a grape that has proven very fickle and attempts to cultivate it outside of the tiny region of Piedmont, Italy have all failed.
Barolo secured its name from an Italian town located nine miles south of Alba in the Langhe hills. Alba does produce Barolo and Pio Cesare is one of the most respected producers.
The summer of 2004 was exceptionally hot and there was a fear initially that the grapes would suffer. Hot weather can produce flabby wines that lack a sufficient level of concentration of flavor. Fortunately, while 2004 was hot, it cooled off in the late afternoon and the end result was a wonderful vintage.
So, now lets turn to the tasting.
A word about stemware. Use crystal red wine glasses made for bordeaux. Spieglau or Riedel are excellent manufacturers. You cannot use those thick drinking glasses that were a long ago complimentary gift from the gas station with the purchase of a fillup of your grandmother's 1976 canary yellow station wagon with the faux wood planks on the sides.
The Pio Cesare Barolo is not in the least bit similar to your garden variety Australian red wine that has a screw cap that you simply twist off and pour. This Barolo must be decanted for three (3) hours. Why? By pouring into a decanter and leaving it for three hours, the wine will react with the oxygen it has been exposed too. This reaction results in a tremendous softening of the wine, yet at the same time will enable some of the flavors to soar (I know this sounds a bit over the top, but its true.). How do I know this? By painful trial and error. I too, scoffed at some wine critics demand for decanting and recall pouring a glass of barolo after opening and being confronted by sharp, acidic red wine that I could not fathom what all the fuss was about. People were over, we were chatting, I did some cooking return to this wine three hours later and low and behold, guess what? The wine had transformed from a sharp, acidic harpie of a red into a luxuriant (like I imagine Salma Hayek), soft yet soaring powder dry cherries and tobacco. So, as Dennis Miller used to say, "I don't mean to go on a rant but . . . ." decant, decant decant for three hours before sampling.
The other important serving suggestion is that barolo is to be enjoyed with food. It is not suitable for drinking on its own. It compliments roast (top sirloin), steaks, in gravy, and osso buco divinely.
In the glass, it is pale red, ruby. Similar to pinot noir, but that is where the similarity ends.
Pio Cesare Barolo is always exciting to nose. There is always a wonderful bouquet of wild flowers and strawberry.
Take a big sip and let it roll over your palate, and you will be surprised by the taste of soft tannins, dry cherry, strawberry held in a gentle embrace of black licorice, creamy acidity, anise, portobello mushrooms and tobacco. Nevertheless, this is a big bodied wine in spite of its subtle flavors woven together in perfect harmony.
The taste that lingers is powder dry cherry. It is as if the wine has dried in your mouth to the point of a powder black cherrie. Not puckering dry though. Wonderful length.
This is a big, robust red wine of great oppulence.
If you are tired of California Cabs, Australian and Chilean reds, this wine will offer a very different wine tasting experience. As you can see from above, it offers up unique flavors not found in other wines elsewhere in the world. I am not exagerating. This is why it is so expensive. In fact, in a poor year, some great producers will not bottle anything. 2003 was such a year.
Some critics have written that Barolo is an intellectual wine. A fairly elitist and snobby comment but there is a grain of truth to what they say. What they mean is that it is a wine that will intrigue some while confound others as they contemplate the taste.
When I first drank Barolo, I had read so much about it and expected to be knocked off my feet like I was when I discovered great Napa Cabs like Cakebread. This was not the case with barolo. Instead, I was intrigued, but unsure what to make of it, but days later I was still thinking about that wine. Learning to decant the wine for a long time and pairing it with a rich red meat brought me a deeper appreciation of this wine. Take a drink after a fork of red meat and the acidity that critics speak of is a zingy, spicy cream that completely compliments the food.
I served this wine to serious wine drinkers and they enjoyed it greatly because it was different, interesting and of course, a joy to drink. I would never serve this to people who no great affection for red wine or are the type who like reds that taste like cream soda. Those people will not enjoy this wine.
Pio Cesare is a wonderful winery and this standard bottling of their Barolo is no exception.
P.S. A quick note on the life span of this wine. Barolos like great Bordeaux can be stored for 10 to 20 yrs. As the wine ages, it will become less tannic, soften and improve. 2004 vintage drunk now is very young, and if you can afford it, I would recommend buying a case, and open one a year. Although the 2004 can be drunk now, most Barolos should not be opened until they are nine or ten years old from the vintage. This particular barolo is an exception.
It will hit its zenith around 2014.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.