It’s cold in New York. We all hustle to and from work wearing as many layers possible. Trudging through the snow and digging out parking spots. I look longingly into my backyard, dreaming of summer, and thinking of how this is the same backyard that I grew up in. I feel like that’s not the typical scenario these days. People growing up in a house, in a neighborhood, in a culture and being able to look back to that exact same place 35 years later, reflecting on all that happened.
Every happy moment, every cut and bruise, every triumph and failure—it’s all here. But the memories that truly stay with me about that backyard are the foods we enjoyed there as a family. Menus, which always included something off the grill, simple foods that were just fresh and properly seasoned. However, with each of these meals, there was always a pasta course, prepared with great care throughout the day and often with freshly made pasta. The first thing that comes to mind is Pasta con le Sarde. Yet, there was another that left just as much of an impression and makes for a perfect fit during these winter months: Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma speaks to me of Sicily. When I taste it, and when I breathe in that mix of wonderful aromas, I am transported to a simpler time when food seemed to magically appear out of your nonna’s kitchen. It’s a rustic dish that must be tasted to be believed, including a simple list of ingredients that meld perfectly into a melody of flavors that taste, to me, of Sicily. Imagine a pasta dressed with fried eggplant, fresh basil (grown right in this backyard), a tomato sauce and ricotta salata. Separate, these components are simple and highly enjoyable in their own way. However, together, they are magical.
This is also the first recipe of mine that appeared on a restaurant menu. I had been asked to prepare a pasta dish for family meal, only to be tasted by the head chef, who decided it was so good that it belonged on his menu. I present to you, my Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla Norma
3 medium-sized eggplants (look for the small to medium-sized Italian eggplant)
Durum wheat pasta (I like Piccheri)
24-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes (remove the seeds for the best results)
4 cloves garlic (crushed or fine dice)
1 small onion (fine dice)
½ teaspoon of dried oregano
½ teaspoon of red wine vinegar
1 tbls olive oil
Ricotta Salata, crumbled or rough grated (look for a drier, crumbly style)
Basil (one fresh bunch)
Oil for frying (grape seed oil is my preference)
Optional, ½ pound Pancetta or Guanciale
*A note about tomatoes. There are many options for tomatoes to make a sauce. You can use fresh (ripe) plum tomatoes, tomato passata (purée) or a can of San Marzano tomatoes (my preference). Honestly, there is nothing to be ashamed of in using good canned tomatoes. Finding ripe plum tomatoes can be very difficult, and I like to have tomato chunks in my sauce. Just look for canned tomatoes that are San Marzano, D.O.P. certified from Italy.
1) Prepare your ingredients. 1 ½ hours ahead of time, slice the top and bottom from each eggplant (do not peel them). Then, make ¼ inch slices vertically from top to bottom. Take the outermost pieces with the most skin, and slice them again into strips, creating both strips of eggplant and whole slices. Next, lay them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment or over a cooling rack. Salt each piece liberally. Allow them to sit for 45 minutes to an hour. (You can use this time to prep your other ingredients, and start a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.) Once the time is up, you should see a large amount of dark juices that have come up out of the eggplant (these are the bitter flavors that the salt has extracted). Rinse each piece of eggplant to remove all of the water. Then lay them out on a paper towel. Take another towel and press it against the tops of the eggplant, absorbing as much water as possible.
2) In a heavy gauge pan (I like to use a roasting pan over two burners), add enough grape seed oil to fry the eggplant. Turn your burners up to medium-high and allow the oil to heat through. You can test the oil by dipping the tip of an eggplant slice into the oil. Add the eggplant to the pan, but do not overcrowd it, as you can always cook the rest in a second batch. Brown them well and then flip to the second side. Once done, move to a paper towel-lined pan to drain. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
3) Place a saucepan over a medium flame and, once heated, add the olive oil. (*If using pancetta or guanciale, add them to the pan and cook off until crispy. Remove the cooked pieces from the pan and place them to the side. Then drain about 1-2 tablespoons of oil from the pan). Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Sweat the onions, then add the garlic. Once the garlic and onions have browned slightly, add the tomatoes, oregano and red wine vinegar, making sure to crush any large chucks with your spoon. Bring this mixture to a steady simmer, stirring regularly.
4) Add the pasta to the boiling water, following the instructions on the package for cooking time. The sauce should continue to reduce as you stir, and you should make sure to scrape any sauce from the side of the pan. When there’s about three minutes left for the pasta, take the strips of fried eggplant and slice them into a medium dice, then add them to the sauce. Place the remaining fried eggplant slices into the oven to warm. (*If using pancetta of guanciale, add ¾ of the cooked pieces to the sauce when there’s about one minute left for the pasta.) Taste the sauce, season with salt and pepper if necessary, and turn off the burner.
5) Strain the pasta and split between four plates. Spoon the sauce over the pasta and fan out the fried eggplant slices onto the plate. Add a healthy serving of crumbled or rough-grated ricotta salata. With a scissor or shears, snip the fresh basil leaves over the plating and drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta, and serve. (*If using pancetta of guanciale, add the remaining piece on top of the pasta as a garnish.)
So what should you pair with Pasta Alla Norma?
In the past I gravitated toward Nero d’Avola, which worked well for its rustic, dark fruit and brisk acidity. Yet with time, as I began to explore more Sicilian reds, I found Nerello Mascalese to be a perfect pairing. One of my favorites is from Terre Nere, a winery which is making some of the best examples from Mount Etna. If you can imagine, these vineyards span the slopes of an active volcano, yet what’s in the glass has far more in common with red Burgundy than your typical Sicilian red. Much of this has to do with the poor volcanic soils and high altitudes of the vineyards. Frankly, it’s one of the most exciting, emerging wine producing regions in the world today. If you can’t find Nerello Mascalese, then your next best bet is Pinot Noir. Some of the most interesting Pinot I’ve ever tasted is being produced in cool-climate locations throughout California. These wines provide all there is to love about pure Pinot fruit, yet also pair perfectly with a meal. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
My top recommendations:
2013 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – This is a gorgeous wine of rich textures balanced by intense, focused fruit and dusty tannin. The nose showed depths of dark red fruit, spice and black earth. On the palate, it was intense and concentrated, yet perfectly balanced with crushed raspberry turning more to earth and minerals with a tannin heft, begging for at least of few years in the cellar before optimal enjoyment. The structure here was perfectly balanced to it’s fruit intensity. (Terre Nere at Morrell)
2013 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – The nose showed cool wild berry tones with floral perfumes, dusty soil and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, focused red berry fruit, which seemed to touch on all the senses with a finessed and brilliant feel, was contrasted by a coating of crunchy sweet tannin. On the finish, I found strawberry with inner florals and an almost woodland persona of crushed dried leaves and spice. Very well done and an amazing value. (Morrell)
Article, Recipe and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido
It’s not often that a vintage fully lives up to the hype we hear when the words from critics are “Best Vintage Ever!” A perfect example is 2000 Barolo, the Wine Spectator 100-point vintage, which has dissatisfied collectors for over a decade.
However, today I am ecstatic to report that 2010 Brunello di Montalcino really is worth all the hype. Having just returned from Benvenuto Brunello NYC, I found myself more excited to sit down and pen my notes than ever before. With 45 Brunello producers showing their new releases, it was impossible to taste everything; yet from what I was able to work through, the outlook is fantastic.
The 2010 vintage in Brunello started with slightly wet and cool springtime temperatures which carried on into the summer months. Alternating sunshine and showers throughout the fall, along with mild temperatures, gave growers all they needed to pick at leisure. It was a relatively late, yet healthy harvest; the resulting fruit was better than anyone could have hoped for. The most important role of a winemaker in 2010 was to allow the wine to make itself, showing a transparent mix of perfect fruit and terroir.
The 2010s present us with cool, yet powerful wines of radiant fruit, soaring, sweet floral perfumes and classic structure. Most are already showing well, yet the potential for the cellar is remarkable. Balance is the key, along with fruit intensity, which nearly masks their tannic structure.
This is a vintage that I will go long on, as these wines are sure to improve in the cellar and in value. If 2010 Barolo is any gauge of the demand for top-shelf Italian wine of this caliber, then we may all need to act fast—especially since we have yet to see Antonio Galloni’s scores on this vintage. If Galloni agrees with the majority consensus, then 2010 Brunello will likely disappear before it ever reaches retail shelves.
Below are my tasting notes of the best wines from my tastings. I’m sure that others will join this list as I work through more of the new releases; yet for now, this is a great place to start.
Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The bouquet seemed to leap from the glass with alluring, dark, savory tones of wild berry, rich earth, saline minerals, undergrowth, and animal musk. I found silky-soft textures on the palate with brisk acidity and remarkable balance as vivid red fruit, dried spice and inner floral tones enveloped the senses. It turned tart through the finish as its structure began to brim over yet maintained a beautiful mix of plum, spice and herbs throughout. (96 points) (website)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino V.V. 2010 – At first herbal and restrained yet blossomed in the glass to reveal cool radiant fruit, with dark-red berry, floral tones, soil and hints of citrus and undergrowth. On the palate, it showed intense tart berry with hints of herbs and a classic structure, turning more youthful and clenched through the finish. This is years away from its maturity and should be absolutely glorious after some time in the cellar. (96 points) (website)
Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – Rich, dark and sensual on the nose with wild berry and plum, lifting herbal notes, sweet florals and mineral tones, which seemed to turn savory with more time in the glass. On the palate, this turned darker and brooding with an autumnal feel to its berry and spice notes, yet there seems to be so much in store for the future. The finish lingered long, as tart red fruit was joined by earth and soil tones in a truly classic expression of Brunello. (95 points) (website)
Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed striking intensity, yet polished with its dark-red fruits, dusty spice, dry coco, earth and woodland tones. It opened on the palate with richness, showing depths of dark cherry, cedar, and hints of bitter chocolate. Dusty tannin lingered on the finish with a nutty, coco and espresso note. This is a dark beauty, and quite stylish, yet young and in need of 5+ years in the cellar. (95 points) (Morrell)
Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – This was stunning on the nose with a remarkably elegant and floral personality, showing red berry and plum fruit, which turned darker and deeper with air. Mulling spice, sweet florals and a hint of green apple added layers of depth. On the palate, silky textures gave way to a dark and caressing expression of red fruit, dried spice and mineral-rich soil. The structure here was nearly masked by its gorgeous fruit, finishing long. What a happy surprise this was from a producer who is new to me. (95 points) (website)
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The Uccelliera is drop-dead gorgeous in this vintage, showing a mix of sweet and savory red fruits, dried floral tones and hints of wild herbs. It was like silk on the palate, as ripe fruit seemed to envelope the senses, turning darker and sweet with time in the glass. A bit backward now yet focused and poised with perfect balance. It finished long with tannin-soaked red berries and spice. (95 points) (Morrell)
Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed gorgeous layers with dark floral tones, savory red fruit, crushed fall leaves, animal musk, potpourri, mint and hints of undergrowth. Intense and vivid on the palate yet balanced throughout with juicy acidity giving life to ripe, red fruits and spice. The finish showed a classic structure with clenching tannin, yet its lively fruit stayed present throughout the close. (94+ points) (Morrell)
Voliero Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – Voliero is new name for me, but one which is sure to become known; the ‘10 showed a youthful yet vibrant bouquet of dark-red berries, sweet floral notes and hints of wild herbs. It was fruit-focused yet lifted and seemed to waft up continuously from the glass. The palate was driven with cool, radiant red fruit, which seemed to coat the senses. Utterly classic on the finish and guaranteeing an easy decade of development with hints of tart, bitter fruit lingering long. (94 points) (Morrell)
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose was intense with tart red fruits, undergrowth and dried flowers. On the palate, it showed a classic structure with balancing acidity. Notes of red fruit, spice, leather and herbs saturated the senses. Long with tart berry, spice and woodland notes on the finish. (94 points) (website)
Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The Il Palazzone was intense on the nose with masses of dark-sweet cherry, dried spices, brown sugar and hints of animal musk. It was dense on the palate yet was kept lively by a core of acidity in which dark fruit seemed to envelope the senses. Dark fruit lingered on the finish with an herbal twist and youthful tannins poking through. (93 points) (website)
Villa I Cipressi Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – At first the nose was dark and restrained, yet it blossomed with time in the glass to reveal herb-tinged, young-berry fruit, plum and hints of spice. Velvety textures on the palate gave way to ripe red fruits and balsamic tones with hidden tannin poking through yet balanced throughout. It finished juicy and vibrant with plum and hints of licorice. (93 points) (website)
Ferrero Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose was earthy and herbal up front with animal musk and a hint of mint, yet time in the glass added further depths with cherry, orange zest and spice. Silky textures ushered in focused, ripe berry fruit and inner floral tones with a presence of youthful tannin reminding me that this is Brunello. The palate-coating finish showed wild berry, hints of plum, brown twigs and spice. This is youthful to be sure, yet there’s a lot of potential behind its focused fruit on the palate. (93 points) (website)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino Fornace 2010 – The nose was herbal with tart red berry, fresh mint, and hints of cedar. On the palate, it was youthfully lean and structured with focused fruit. The tight finish showed dry red fruit and herbal hints. With time in the cellar, this should gain weight and momentum, making it a very classic expression of Brunello. (93 points) (website)
Bottega Brunello di Montalcino “Il vino dei poeti” 2010 – The nose was dark and brooding with red berry and undergrowth complemented by cinnamon spice, dried flowers and hints of animal musk. On the palate, it turned to savory tart berry, dry spice, minerals and herbs with a classic tannic tug on the cheek. It was structured through the finish with tart red fruit, dark plum and pretty inner floral tones. Quite polished with an alluring traditional persona. (93 points) (website)
Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose was exotic with a slight tropical twist to its red fruit and sweet floral tones. Ripe cherry, cedar and spice washed against the palate with a vibrant expression of Sangiovese, turning to bitter cherry and dry spices throughout the finish. (92 points) (website)
Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – Slightly muted at first yet opened significantly with time in the glass to display an evolved nose of wild berries, dusty soil, potpourri and crushed fall leaves. Silky, dark red fruit caressed the palate in a more savory than sweet expression with clenching tannin which saturated the senses throughout the finish, leaving only dried red berry in its wake. (91 points) (website)
Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed savory red berry, animal musk and mineral-laden stone with a dark, rich persona. On the palate, it was silky, verging on sappy with tart berry and dark, inner floral tones. The finish was long, as dried red berry saturated the senses with a tannic tug on the cheek. (91 points) (Morrell)
Capanna Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed vibrant floral tones and bright red fruit with hints of tobacco and animal musk in a pretty expression of Brunello. Focused, cool fruit was ushered in by brisk acidity on the palate. Intense wild berry fruit lingered long on the structured finish. (91 points) (morrell)
Sassetti Livio- Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed lifted floral notes and cool, tart red berry. On the palate, I found soft red fruit tones and herbs, yet it showed very little depth. It was long on saturating, dried berry fruit, yet tight on the finish. This is one to tuck away for a few years or decant beforehand. (91 points) (morrell)
Banfi Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio alle Mura” 2010 – The nose was forward with oak influences up front, yet showed pretty floral notes which added contrast to its rich berry and spice nose. On the palate, soft textures were made exciting by radiant red fruits with finessed herb notes. It turned darker with plum fruit and autumnal spice on the finish. (91 points) (morrell)
Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose was intense yet fresh, showing ripe berry and sweet spice, which turned to crushed raspberry and dark oil with time in the glass. It was lean with acid-driven textures on the palate, showing tart fruit and herbal tones which saturated the senses throughout the finish with a hint of woodland florals and funk. (90 points) (website)
La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed ripe red fruits with spice and dried leaves in a pretty, perfumed style. On the palate, it was youthful with tart berry, herbs and spice, yet it lost some momentum toward the close. Its structure showed more in the finish, which seemed clipped. This may gain weight and depth with time, but for now it remains an incredibly pretty Brunello on the nose. (90 points) (website)
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – The nose showed rich red fruit, plum and cinnamon spice. I found dark-red fruit on the palate with herbal mint and hints of leather. The finish was remarkably soft for its youth with ripe berry tones. (90 points) (website)
For more info on the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino
Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido
In my opinion, single-malt Scotch is the most stimulating yet polarizing spirit being made in the world today. Some people will immediately disregard it, while others obsess over it, quite similar to fine wine. Much of this has to do with that initial whiff at the rim of the glass with all of its power and heat up front. Yet it’s the patient taster who is rewarded, as the heat recedes and what remains are delicate, wondrous aromas. Sometimes the nose is sweet and heathery, and other times smoky and savory. In the end, much of this has to do with the barrel it’s aged in and for how long, but more than anything else, its the producer and process they use from start to finish. What I have searched for is the perfect Scotch, one that treads the fine line between sweet and savory—and at a price which represents a relative value. Great Scotch is not cheap, but it shouldn’t be exorbitant either.
Years ago, while attending a portfolio tasting of one of the top names in Scotch whisky, I had the opportunity to chat with their brand Ambassador. It had been a long evening, and tongues were loosened by a night of incredible food and fine spirits. My question to him, after spending the entire night fascinated by his vivid commentaries and stories about all things whisky, was “All loyalties aside, what’s the insiders Scotch?” His answer, without skipping a beat, “Highland Park 18-year.”
Highland Park isn’t a Scotch you’ll find at your average bar, nor at the corner store, and although it is more widely known today (having won numerous accolades), it still manages to fly securely under the radar. Hailing from the Orkney Islands of Scotland, Highland Park takes great pride in the over-200 years of experience, which the company has garnered since its creation in 1798. Changes here have been small throughout that time, and only in a pursuit of respecting tradition while improving the quality of their Whisky.
Highland Park is one of the few distilleries to use a traditional malting floor, turning each batch of malt by hand, allowing it to slowly germinate before the peating process, which imparts the true character to their whisky. It’s that level—or should I say, depth—obtained through the peat, which sets Highland Park apart from all others. Delicate, sweet and highly aromatic smokiness lingers in the glass yet never overwhelms the senses.
The aging regimen combines both Spanish and American oak, all seasoned with dry Oloroso sherry. The Spanish oak contributes dried fruit and spice, while the American oak adds sweeter vanilla and butterscotch. These lots are then combined for a “harmonization” period to allow all of the aromas and flavors to integrate. Add that perfect hint of peaty smokiness, and Highland Park may be the most “complete” Scotch in the market today.
Highland Park 18-year is a Scotch that every whisky drinker should have in their collection.
Highland Park 18-year — The nose was intense and layered, showing dried apricot, sweet florals, ginger, kiwi, cured meat, and smoke, with contrasting sweetness of butterscotch and honey. On the palate, it was weighty with vivid textures and flavors of dried peach, wood tones, and sweet spice. The finish was long, with lingering smoke, dried apricot, charred meat and hints of olive. A glorious 18-year Scotch. (Morrell)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
When we think about Giacomo Conterno, the first thing to come to mind is Barolo Monfortino and the Cascina Francia vineyard. Of course, this is an iconic producer who has been making what is considered to be the greatest Barolo of our time. For many of us, we look to the ‘entry-level’ Barolo Cascina Francia for value, which at $150 is still a worthy acquisition when compared to the $500+ that Monfortino can fetch.
Yet, it’s a select few who think of Giacomo Conterno’s Barbera—which is a shame. Maybe it’s the grape itself, and that many of us have been trained to think that an expensive bottle of Barbera will taste more of the oak it’s aged in, than the variety’s inherent traits and the vineyard it comes from. Most people are happy to sip their Barbera thoughtlessly with a plate of pasta or slice of pizza. The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with that, as Barbera is the perfect complement to nearly any cuisine. Yet to exclude this variety’s ability to make world-class wines of exceptional depth is a mistake.
Roberto Conterno, of Giacomo Conterno, shows us what Barbera is fully capable of when grown in the right location with low yields and aging in cask. The location is the Cascina Francia vineyard, with its predominantly calcareous soil, the same vineyard which produces Nebbiolo fruit for Monfortino. Located in the municipality of Serralunga and owned exclusively by the Giacomo Conterno winery since 1974, Cascina Francia is known to produce tannic rich, intense fruit, rooted firmly in the earth with a dark mineral core. When applied to Nebbiolo for making Barolo, the results are wines of epic structure which age for decades. However, these same characteristics apply to Roberto’s Barbera, yet with juicy, acid-driven textures, ripe fruit and earlier accessibility which the variety is known for. Low yields in the vineyard produce the intense, rich fruit, which is then aged for 21 months in medium-sized Slavonian oak casks.
The style is quite powerful and often overwhelming in its youth. However, a small amount of patience will reward you ten-fold. Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia Barbera transforms quickly in the cellar to reveal a wine of exceptional class and elegance. This is not your average table wine by any stretch of the imagination; instead it is towering, with dark masses of fruit contrasted by an acidic spine. I’m thinking steak now more than pasta, as this wine is haunting in its complexity—yet sensual all the same.
With prices of Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo going through the roof, the Barbera Cascina Francia provides us with an opportunity to experience the greatness of this vineyard and artistry of Roberto Conterno at a much lower price. Paying $50 for Barbera may seem expensive at first, but considering other options in this price range (from around the world), and suddenly it starts to make a lot of sense.
I am very happy to provide my tasting notes for the last seven vintages (missing ’09) of Conterno’s Barbera CF. Each note includes my ideal drinking ranges, and with a little hunting, each of these can still be found in the market.
On To the Tasting Notes:
2012 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Francia – The ’12 Francia Barbera can be best described as a rosebud on the verge of blooming. The nose showed tense aromatics with tart red fruits, spice, floral tones, minerals, mint and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, I found focused red fruits with clenched, acid-driven textures paving the way to secondary notes of wild berry, herbs and inner floral tones. Long with tart berry on the finish, which seemed to coat the senses. This is a wine in need of a few years in the cellar—dare I say another 2005 in the making? (93+ Points) Morrell *Note: as of 2012, Cascina Franica has been shortened to ‘Francia’
2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was intense and rich, literally leaping from the glass, with dark red berry fruit, rosemary, brown sugar, smoke and sweet floral tones. On the palate, the power of Serralunga was mixed with the ripeness of the 2011 vintage to present a Barbera of epic proportions, as flavors of black cherry and raspberry fruit were complemented by mineral and savory herbs; its brisk acidity kept it mouthwatering and fresh through the entire experience. The long, dark-red finish stained the palate and would not relent, as a slight bitter note added even more character. This is a formidable Barbera of intensity and exotic, almost sensual textures. I don’t see this maturing beyond a few more years in the cellar, but with a performance like this, there’s no reason to wait. (94 Points)
2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was enticing, yet massive, rising from the glass in waves, which seemed to change and intensify with each swirl. It showed dark ripe strawberry, brown sugar, cedar dust, menthol, floral undergrowth and, at times, a slight rustic note of barnyard. On the palate, it was tightly knit and focused with a balance towards acidity, as it revealed ripe red berries, sour patch apple, exotic spice and inner floral tones. It finished dry with berry extract seeming to coat the entire palate. This is youthful and clenched with the ability to go many years in the cellar. (93 Points)
2008 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was elegant, showing both richness and finesse with notes of raspberry, floral perfumes, dark chocolate, chalk dust, and hint of mint and rosemary. Soft, silky textures caressed the palate, delivering dark red berry, orange zest and spice, along with zesty acidity, which seemed to instantly refresh the senses. A bitter twang with tart berry lingered on its refreshing, clean finish. Enjoyable now for its gorgeous aromatics, yet still angular on the palate. I would give the ’08 another year before digging in. (92 Points)
2007 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – Dark crimson red color in the glass. The nose was like a basket of fresh-picked, super-ripe berries followed by holiday spices, new leather and a bit of oak. Some heat was present but did not detract from the experience. On the palate, I found masses of dark fruit, sour licorice, pepper and bitters. Very balanced with the acidity showing just a bit through the rich fruit. The finish was long but fresh with blackberry fruit. Rich and forward, the ‘07 shows all of the hallmarks of the ’07 vintage, and I see no reason to wait any longer. (92 points)
2006 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose showed crushed berries, cinnamon sugar, stems and undergrowth. On the palate, this was broodingly dark yet vibrant with black cherry, tar, Christmas spice and gorgeous dark chocolate on the finish. It’s a beautiful expression of Barbera, yet smaller-scaled than the ’07, which shows the elegance this varietal is truly capable of. (93 Points)
2005 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was autumnal, showing dried leaves and cherry, sweet spice and hints of citrus peel. On the palate, dried red fruits with a bitter twang, licorice and mineral soil tones swirled around the senses in a mouthwatering, slightly angular yet truly refined expression of Barbera. The finish was long and palate-staining with red berry, yet truly fresh. This was my last of six bottles, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed the development of this wine more than almost any other—drink up! (93 Points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
It’s time to put away the preconceptions and admit to the fact that Barbaresco can be just as great as Barolo.
I’ve been a fan of Barolo for as long as I’ve been into wine. It’s just something about its imposing nature and how Barolo makes you wait for it to blossom. There’s a challenge in loving Barolo, as you have to study and pay close attention to truly enjoy it. You don’t just open a bottle on a whim; instead you spend time deciding which bottle would be best at the moment and for the occasion. When you make the right choice and give Barolo the proper amount of air (in bottle, not decanter), you’re rewarded with an otherworldly experience. Barolo is in many ways about chasing those experiences. You won’t always find euphoria, and oftentimes you’ll be let down, but when you open a great bottle, it’s worth all the effort.
However, what I failed to understand is that the same experience can be found with Barbaresco, usually for less money and without having to wait as long as we do for our precious Barolo to mature. So you question if it can age as well as Barolo, and my response is a definitive YES! What it took to open my eyes was my involvement with a tasting group of friends who are all Barolo enthusiasts who met through Antonio Galloni’s website, Vinous. Often, the evening would call for a blind tasting, and in each of these a Barbaresco would manage to find its way in. Would it surprise you to know that in almost every instance, the Barbaresco came out on top?
What I find even more interesting is how often that Barbaresco is a Produttori del Barbaresco, which costs at least half, (if not less) than the Barolo it’s competing with. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. The growing areas of Barolo and Barbaresco are only separated by the town of Alba, and both are made entirely from the Nebbiolo grape. The biggest difference, other than variations in soil and exposition of the vineyard which exist throughout the communes of both Barolo and Barbaresco, is the aging requirement. For Barbaresco, the wines need only spend two years in the winery cellar (nine months in oak), while Barolo still requires three years (18 months in oak). Some say this has something to do with the earlier accessibility of Barbaresco, yet many producers choose to keep their wines in wood for much longer than required.
Another major reason for our misguided shunning of Barbaresco is how only three names truly defined the region over the past 40 years: Gaja, Bruno Giacosa and Produttori del Barbaresco. While Gaja and Giacosa’s Barbaresco were selling at the top end, excluding most consumers, Produttori remained in the shadows, which are often cast upon cooperative wineries. Even with their access to the region’s best vineyards and extremely reasonable pricing, Produttori remained an under-the-radar Barbaresco for collectors in the know. Today, these shackles have been cast off, and the Produttori del Barbaresco is receiving the recognition it deserves. What’s more, many of the growers who were once part of the cooperative decided in recent years to bottle their own Barbaresco. Quality wasn’t always as good as it is today, but in recent years, Barbaresco as a region has shown it can compete with its big brother on the other side of Alba: Barolo.
This line of thought brought about an idea within the group to organize a Barbaresco tasting—and so that’s exactly what we did. It was a tasting that would contain the three top names from Barbaresco, namely, Gaja, Bruno Giacosa and Produttori del Barbaresco. We also included two other names from the ’85 vintage who are still around to this day: Pasquero-Elia and Castello di Neive.
So what were the results? The notes are below, yet I must expand on a few of my thoughts. Firstly, both Pasquero-Elia and Castello di Neive have made major improvements over only the last few years. In 1985, Castello di Neive was selling their best fruit to Bruno Giacosa (too bad we couldn’t compare the two of them), yet this wine still held its own. Second, The ’85 Produttori del Barbaresco showed yet again that they have always been a force to be reckoned with. This being the top wine of the first flight, and showing wonderfully, it would have been interesting to have an ’85 Barolo next to it. What’s more, the ’01 Produttori del Barbaresco Rabaja may have been painfully youthful, but it’s full of potential. As for the Gaja, it appears this wine has simply seen its best days.
Lastly, this truly solidifies in my mind that Bruno Giacosa is simply a master of his craft. Sourcing the perfect grapes and using them to make such towering expressions of their kind is truly remarkable. If you can find them—and afford them—then these are wines to have in your cellar. The ‘98s were spectacular on this night and will continue to drink well for many years, while the ‘01s are masterpieces which should go on for decades in our cellars.
1985 Mixed Barbaresco
1985 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbaresco Sorì Paitin – In what appeared to be an unsound bottle more than a wine that’s over the hill, the ’85 Pasquero showed madeirized, sweet cherry joined by herbaceous notes, stewed tomato, and soy. Dried red fruit with muddled, old wood notes marred the palate. This finished with a somewhat enjoyable cherry and brown sugar note, but it was ultimately a flawed bottle. (N/A)
1985 Castello di Neive Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – A classic old Nebbiolo nose with a rustic feel, showing dried cherry and flowers, with animal musk, barnyard, a hint of cinnamon, and in the background, musty parchment, which was possibly a slight hint of TCA, yet didn’t hurt the experience. On the palate, it was lean and tart with herbal cherry and soil tones, leading to a dry finish with notes of spice and tobacco. Very rustic, still enjoyable, yet a bit dried out. (91 points)
1985 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora – The ’85 Produttori Pora Riserva was a different animal entirely from the rest of the flight. Here I found an initially restrained nose which blossomed in the glass with dark red fruits, soil, dusty coco, wood smoke, and hints of animal musk. On the palate, it was fruit-focused with rich red berry, drying out a little, yet still elegant and refined. Soil and savory herbal tones added to the experience and faded to a medium-long finish of red berry and earth tones. An absolutely beautiful wine in its maturity and still kicking with both feet. (94 points)
1985 Gaja Barbaresco Sorì San Lorenzo – The ’85 Sori San Lorenzo appears to be past its prime. In ’85, Gaja was using French barrique, and the nose, while still interesting, simply didn’t show any characteristics of Nebbiolo. I found dark red berry, baker’s chocolate, tobacco, licorice and a hint of dried flowers. It was pliant on the palate, yet herbaceous more than fruity and muddled, with notes of white pepper and dried spice. The finish showed a bittersweet personality, as ripe berry turned tart, than sweet again. (88 points)
1998 Barbaresco + One 2000 (Drinking beautifully)
2000 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà – My initial worries about this wine were settled with time in the glass, as a dominating note of fresh celery was replaced by an exotic mix of spiced red berry compote, mineral stone, roses, undergrowth and a hint of orange zest. On the palate, it showed rich, velvety textures with cherry and strawberry fruit, tobacco and sweet inner floral tones. It finished with focused hints and ripe tannin as a note of dark red berry lingered throughout. (92 points)
1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà – The ’98 Giacosa Rabajà was much more pretty and elegant than I had expected as it opened in the glass to reveal a beautiful bouquet of dried flowers, red fruits, tobacco and undergrowth. On the palate, it was elegant, focused, and dare I say ethereal in its feminine structure. Dried red fruits were made juicy by its brisk acidity and lasted long throughout the finish. (93 points)
1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili – The nose of the ’98 Asili was pure Nebbiolo seduction, showing dark red fruits, cherry tobacco, cedar, roses, and a grounding note of earthy mushroom. Silky textures contrasted by ripe tannin tempted the senses and delivered ripe flavors of dark-red fruit, which turned tart toward the mid-palate, with hints of earthy and blueberry skins. The youthful and intense finish showed dried fruits and tobacco. It’s exciting to think about the potential in this glass; what a beautiful wine. (95 points)
1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Frankly, I find it amazing how silky, perfumed and utterly feminine Giacosa’s Santo Stefano is. The ’01 has always been a favorite of mine, and this experience showed how Giacosa manages to capture the terroir of the Santo Stefano vineyard. Perfumed floral notes lifted from the glass with notes of ginger, minerals, crushed berry, mushroom and tobacco. It was like silk on the palate, as layers of focused, dark red fruit coated the senses in a sweet yet savory expression of Nebbiolo with inner florals and hint of menthol. Long and structured on the finish, this wine finished with a ringing note of pure balance. (96 points)
2001 Barbaresco (Masterpieces for the cellar with decades of maturity ahead)
2001 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà – The nose was youthful with its exuberance, showing sweet perfumed fruit, exotic spice, savory herbs, notes of roasted meat, and moist earth. Tart red fruit saturated the palate with acid-driven textures and hints of dark earth. The finish was dry and structured with lifting inner floral tones. Years away from maturity and difficult to gauge now, the ’01 Produttori Rabajà is in need of time in the cellar. (92 points)
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili – Giacosa was firing on all cylinders in ’01, as comparing the Asili and Santo Stefano was like splitting hairs, yet the Asili won out in the end for its balanced richness. The nose showed beautiful dark floral tones, ripe berries, holiday spice, chalk dust, and undergrowth. On the palate, it entered silky, yet turned tart toward the middle with ripe tannin clenching the senses. Red berry, spice and inner floral notes lingered into the finish. As youthful as this is, it’s still enjoyable now for its yin yang effect, like silk versus sand, and never grows tiring. (94 points)
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano – This showed a lifted and elegant nose of pretty rose, strawberry, minerals, and licorice with a hint of orange peel and dusty spice. On the palate, it showed silky textures, in a focused and very pure expression of red fruit with hints of spice and zesty acidity. The finish was clean and youthful, yet it held back, as the fruit dried slightly and a tannic grip completed the experience. (94 points)
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà – I had a truly moving experience with the ’01 Rabajà Riserva, as the nose opened up to reveal dark raspberry, cocoa powder, dusty spice, floral rose, a lifting hint of menthol and crushed fall leaves. It was so imposing and rich yet fresh and lifted at the same time. On the palate, rich red fruit and spice saturated the senses and nearly enveloped this wine’s massive structure, causing me to wonder just how much better it will be down the road—it’s still so enjoyable now. Tannin coated and clenched the palate through the finish, yet its intense berry fruit continued to prevail; simply gorgeous. (98 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido
Not too long ago, Syrah couldn’t be considered a contender on the world’s stage of grape varieties. At the time, it was basically the Northern Rhone and Australia which managed to produce such opposing examples of Syrah, that you’d be hard pressed to make the connection. Although Syrah of the Rhone had achieved notoriety through the likes of Hermitage, with its haunting depths and long life in the cellar, these wines were snatched up quickly by a relatively small and devoted following. However, in a short period of time, Syrah has found its way around the world.
Much of this has to do with the Rhone Rangers, originally a small group of American winemakers who took their love of Rhone varieties to the vineyards of the west coast. It took many years to convince consumers of the possibilities Syrah presented in Californian soils and climate, yet their loyal following grew, as did plantings of Rhone Varieties in Washington State, Oregon and even Virginia. Syrah gained the most interest, showing the world that there was a happy medium between the dark, earthy and herbal Rhone versus the rich, almost confectionary Shiraz of Australia. With this, consumers began to look more to Syrah’s origins. Suddenly the Northern Rhone was in the spotlight, yet with nowhere near the production to fill demand.
Today, Syrah is a major contender with expressions spanning from dark earth and structured to the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Many are perfectly suited for early appeal, while others are built for decades of enjoyment. Excellent examples can be found from the United States, France, Australia, Italy, Spain, South Africa and even Israel. You only need know the style you prefer, and my hope is to help you onto that path with a few of my recent favorites listed below.
The Northern Rhone
I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning. Syrah is thought to have originated in the Northern Rhone; grown primarily on two steep hillsides along a short swath of the Rhone river valley. Yet today, you can find excellent examples from throughout the south of France. However, it’s in the Northern Rhone and the designations of Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, St. Joseph and Cornas, where you’ll find a classic expression of Syrah. Hermitage is considered the heights to which this region is capable of. Syrah here speaks of the land, with savory notes, earth and minerals up front, yet with time in the glass, you’ll find mulberry and blackberry fruit. These wines are structured and often hard to understand in their youth—yet well worth the wait, as you can see from a recent taste I had of the 1988 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie. What’s more, at the table, I can think of nothing better to pair Lamb. The two simply seem to be made for each other.
2011 Michel & Stéphane Ogier Côte-Rôtie – The nose was highly expressive, showing herb-tinged blackberry fruit and road tar with licorice and hints of black pepper. On the palate, it was silky, painting broad strokes of ripe black fruit across the senses. Seamless comes to mind, and focused as well, with a “drink me” personality. Hints of tannin, black pepper and medicinal herbs lingered through the finish. (92 points) (Morrell)
1988 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde – What a stunning performance from the ’88 Guigal Brune et Blonde, as the nose opened with soil and undergrowth, yet quickly gained momentum as plum and herbs were joined by raw meat, animal musk and chalky minerals. On the palate, it was unbelievably rich for its age, yet refined, showing dried berry, citrus rind, savory broth, cracked pepper and dried spice. The medium-length finish was silky-soft. Very nice! (94 points) (Morrell)
California: Central Coast, Sonoma
In my opinion, Syrah in California is capable of producing a perfect synergy between the wines of the Northern Rhone and Australia; and when they do, it’s magical. You can find two distinctly different versions of Syrah here, such as the intensely ripe, high octane style of Jonata or the dark, rich, earthy stylings of Donelan. Many people will argue which is the better wine, yet it’s all a question of taste. For me, it’s the latter of the two, as I seek balance and ageability. Both are rooted firmly in the earth, yet with intense fruit and serious depth. For the beginner, I believe California is the best place to start with Syrah, and you can adjust your fruit-to-earth preferences from there.
2010 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine – The nose showed dark fruit, while presenting an attractive woodland persona, as a bouquet of blueberry skin, blackberry, savory herbs, ginger cookie, and hints of pepper lifted from the glass. It flowed effortlessly across the palate in a velvety wave of rich, dark fruit, contrasted by a spine of tingling acidity. Wild berries, lavender, and black pepper came together toward the close and lingered long through the finish. It was remarkably fresh throughout with soothing textures on the palate backed by a balanced structure. A joy to drink. (93 points) (Morrell)
2010 Jonata Winery La Sangre de Jonata – The La Sangre de Jonata was ripe and intense on the nose with crushed blackberry fruit, sweet spice, ginger cookie, violets and rich dark soil. It entered the palate with a wave of velvety textures, coating the senses in blackberry fruit and currant, along with dark chocolate and herbs. An unapologetic whiff of heat was perceptible on the finish, yet with all of the dark fruit concentration, bitters and spice that share its space, I can see the attraction. (92 points) (Morrell)
Is there any grape variety that doesn’t grow well in Tuscany? It took some time for tastings to prove Syrah in Tuscany to me, yet now it’s taken full hold of the region. Originally, these vines were planted to be ultimately blended with Chianti, which is still done to this day. It was only a matter of time before producers realized Syrah’s potential as a varietal wine. What Italy brings to the table is a more acid-driven version of Syrah, with that alluring Tuscan spice and dustiness, which seems to find its way to most wines of the region. Luigi d’Alessandro has done remarkable things with Syrah in the town of Cortona, which seems to get better with each vintage. The only issue here seems to be price, as I’ve yet to find an enjoyable, entry-level bottle under $30.
2008 Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro (Manzano) Cortona Syrah Cortona Migliara – The nose was intense with mixed berries and spice, dark chocolate and earthy herbal notes. On the palate, it was aggressive with its concentrated red and black fruits, pepper and teeming acidity that kept it fresh and lively. The finish was long and palate-coating, showing a glimpse of this wine’s structure as the fruit slowly melted away. (94 Points)
The history of Syrah, known as “Shiraz” in Australia, goes back to the mid-1800s. In the United States, the popularity of Shiraz suffered in recent years due to large amounts of overly-ripe and unbalanced wines flooding the market. However, this is a shame, because Australia is capable of producing outstanding examples of Shiraz—some ready to be enjoyed upon release and others with a truly regal structure married to intense fruit. The Two Hands below is a perfect example of the latter. In Australia, you’ll find a thicker, richer, (sometimes) sweeter version of Syrah. Notes of dark chocolate and confectionary spice are often found due to the heat of the region, yet the best of them can also obtain a perfect balance. You can’t go wrong with my suggestion below.
2012 Two Hands Shiraz Bella’s Garden – The aromas reached up from the glass, showing ripe black fruits along with cherry, dusty clove, cinnamon and a hint of cracked pepper. It was poised on the palate, yet with an unbridled intensity lurking beneath a sheen of ripe black fruits, dark chocolate and spice. Dark fruits saturated the senses throughout the finish along with fine grain tannin which promises years of development. (93 points) (Morrell)
If you made it this far, then I hope you’ve also decided to seek out a great Syrah. It’s an amazing grape which often does not receive the recognition it deserves. It can also produce world-class wines, which age for decades in your cellar. I am officially a believer, and I hope I’ve done my part to put you on the path as well.
Many would say that the battle between modern and traditional Barolo is over, and that the lines have been blurred into a new category of “classic.” This may be true to some degree. However, I can’t help but notice how the wines of the “traditional” producers have become so popular—and scarce, with prices rising up into the stratosphere. The fact is that the hunt for traditionally-styled Barolo is on, and finding it at a decent price is the real challenge.
This brings me to Cascina Fontana, a true traditional producer, whose prices have yet to jump. However, I don’t see that lasting much longer. Only three months ago it was announced that the 2010 Cascina Fontana was awarded the Tre Bicchieri for Gambero Rosso’s 2015 price guide; it’s only so long now before this property begins to receive major international recognition.
Although this name may be new to you, the fact is that the Fontana family isn’t new to Barolo; they have been making wine for six generations with a close family connection to the house of Bartolo Mascarello. Owner and winemaker, Mario Fontana, oversees every aspect from the vineyard to the bottling and follows the same techniques taught to him by his grandfather. The Barolo is a blend of vineyards (as the true traditionalists insist), primarily from Castiglione Falletto and La Morra. In the winery, their Nebbiolo sees a long maceration in stainless steel followed by a two-year slumber in large Slavonian oak. One major difference here is that Mario ferments and ages each of his vineyard parcels separately and then blends them before bottling for the perfect vintage wine. In other words, the blend can change from vintage to vintage, yet you’re likely to have a more balanced and age-worthy wine even in off years. For Mario, it’s all about letting the Barolo show its true traditional character.
Simply stated, with the popularity of 2010 Barolo, the renewed love of traditional producers, and the recent recognition of Cascina Fontana by Gambero Rosso; this is a wine that deserves much more attention. If you are a fan of Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi (Who isn’t?), then it’s time to check out Cascina Fontana.
2010 Cascina Fontana Barolo – The nose was classic Barolo in every way and seemed to reach up from the glass, showing rich plum and cherry, dried spices, balsamic notes, dark floral rose, and crushed fall leaves. On the palate, it was vibrant and surprisingly open for its youth, as notes of tart cherry and minerals were contrasted by ripe tannins with an attractive bitter twang. The finish showed palate-coating tannin with a lingering core of focused red fruit which promises many years of development. There’s so much here to love, and especially at this young stage, I was truly impressed with its highly expressive bouquet. (93 Points) (Morrell)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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