Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barolo and Barbaresco, What's the Difference?

Source: Wikipedia

Are Barolos and Barbarescos perceptibly different? Shouldn't the same grape (Nebbiolo), grown in appellations less than 20km apart, produce nearly indistinguishable wines? This Friday I once again seek to answer the question I posed more than two years ago - is there a defining difference between these wine regions?

Most books and web sites describe the wines made from the earlier-ripening (typically) Barbarescos as softer, elegant, more approachable. I like Bastianich/Lynch's comment in Vino Italiano, The Regional Wines of Italy:

Traditionally, Barbaresco was thought of as finer and more feminine than Barolo, the "queen" to Barolo's "king."

Most other writers feature a similar line of broad characterization - Barolos are heavier, more tannic, and require more cellar time to soften up, while Barbarescos are more approachable, perfumey, refined.

Of course, these comments are generalizations - with a plethora of producers working miniscule plots (not to mention different techniques in the winery) is it truly possible to define "Barolo-ish"? And will our small sample of '98 and '00 bottlings from Barolo and Barbaresco (four bottles) give us enough information to find that "sameness"? (Or will we simply drink a lot of wine)

I will let you know after Friday....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Do Whites Age? Lopez de Heredia and Chateau Musar

Ok, so my last post on aging dry white wines was pretty lame - after all those whites barely four and five years old. Big deal? Fine, here's some really old s%$t - a 21 year old Rioja, and a "youthful" 9 year old from Lebanon...

The 1989 Lopez de Heredia Rioja (white) Dark, dark amber amber in the glass...dusty, minerally, on the nose...papaya, dried apricots and fresh lemons in support. Youthful, with crisp citrus and creamy almond - surely the vintage on the label is a typo? Terrific structure, elegant and complex with a terrific finish. Vintages has a few more bottles on line (and for $4 less than I paid) - buy some.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$59 (LCBO)

The 2001 Chateau Musar (white) was more yellow gold, visually not showing its age despite nine years in the bottle. But it was more oxidized on the nose, with almonds and melted caramel, buttery. Softer, creamier on the palate with luxurious, spicy (nutmeg) finish - terrific, if only slightly less structured than the Lopez de Heredia above.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$35 (LCBO)

Wow, what an education - astonishingly good, well-aged, dry whites from Spain and Lebanon - and surprisingly affordable! I'm going to clear some place in the cellar..

(PS - I have to thank
Neil for plugging the Lopez de Heredia - if it weren't for him I would never have responded to this recent Vintages offering...cheers, Neil)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Do White Wines Age? An '05 and '06 from Rioja

Do dry white wines "age"? The answer is yes, of course - any wine book will tell you that certain whites can improve with some quality time in the cellar.

But who actually gets to taste aged dry whites? Recall your last trip to your favourite resto - how long was the 'vintage white' section? Probably didn't have one. Did the sommelier recommend a five or ten year old white "from their cellar"? Probably not. And chances are that your buddy with that 4000 bottle cellar only has a few sweet German wines in his/her "white" section (if there any white wines at all).

So this mythical wine - the Well-Aged Dry White - became a bit of a quest for me a few years back. Realizing that the wine shops and restaurants would not satisfy this curious corner of my wine mind, I made a concerted effort to squirrel away some whites - Aussie, German and Alsatian Rieslings, some Chablis, some Champagne, and tonight's two bottles of Spanish Viura...

The 2005 Palacios Remondo Placet started all funky, seemingly tired and past its peak, but wow - did this ever open up - dried apricots, dark caramel, butter cream, canned pears and guava, some almonds and floral/soapy notes. The first sip mirrored the first nose - tired, past its prime - but as it opened some tangy citrus and minerality showed up, revealing tremendous finish and persistency for old wine ... wow, she's still got it! Even more impressive, it tasted better on day 2 and day 3.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

The 2006 Palacios Remondo Placet barely showed any sign of age - crisp and fresh from the get go, adding funky papaya, soapy floral, citrus peel and quince. Notably minerally on the palate, with tasty bitters, difficult to find a more delicious, smooth, and complex white - with enough acidity and minerality to indicate that it is nowhere near its peak.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

There is no doubt that a few years in the JoeCave did not harm these wines, with the '05 gaining nuance and '06 seemingly newborn. And Palcios Remondo has made a tremendous case for Rioja whites from the Viura grape.

But four or five years is not "age" - for that you have to wait for my notes on a 20 year old white Rioja...

(both were impeccably paired with a homemade seafood paella)