Thursday, 13 June 2019

BING Barolo

Ever been to Barolo? Cute but surprisingly small and insignificant bearing in mind the global reputation of Barolo wine. St. Emilion, even Montalcino are more substantial. Perhaps to counter that the Comune of Barolo has taken initiatives to put Barolo on he map in a more substantive way that just being at the epicentre of the great vineyards of the area.

D'Agata with friend (Ian: "Don't worry, she's married.")
As we have seen in the previous post, they turned to the redoubtable Ian D'Agata to help them. Who could have been better?

Barolo's long establsihed festival is called Collisioni and has featured some big name pop musicians over the years as well as having a more cultured, more bookish side. Think Glastonbury plus Hay on Wye.

D'Agata has supplied a food and drink element to Collisioni but has also initiated two wine events, 'Indigena' for wine professionals and BING, Best Italian Native Grapes for anyone who might be interested and many were.

It was to BING in particular that we were drawn although we did attend a more academic tasting as well (see previous post).

BING promised 300 bottles and indeed there may well have been that amount. There were plenty of native grapes of course but not all were Cinderellas. Inevitably, Nebbiolo had a number of exhibitors for example.

Our first stop was chez Grosjean, prominent producer from Aosta with Fumin, Torrette (which is mostly Petit Rouge with perhaps Mayolet and Cornalin in the blend), Pinot Noir etc.

By coincidence we had flown in to Torino the night before and enjoyed a bottle of Grosjean Petite Arvine at the fantastically plutocratic 'Del Cambio' restaurant.  We hasten to add we only arrived there following a couple of less than positive experiences attempting to find a table at other Torinese restaurants.

Ristorante del Cambio is a historic place (1757) where Cavour was a regular and everyone should try to eat there once in a lifetime if they can or else just go in and take a peek. The staff there are very nice and amenable.

It is not overpriced by any means and standards are high. We had to try the speciality of the house: Finanziera - a strange combination dating back to 1450 of meaty outcuts (including cockscombs) in an intense reduction sauce. Considered 'cucina povera,'. Oh well, we once ate donkey in Cremona.

Next, an opportunity to clear up a confusione. We had been aware of  Maculan's Vespaiolo (funny the sign should say Vespaiola) for many years. It's a nice grape making full bodied dry wines or else sweet ones. Maculan are the great producers. We had a senior moment however when we suddenly recalled a red wine of the same name. We asked the Maculan people about this but they had no idea what we were talking about. Then it dawned on us we were thinking about Vespolina. Not a million miles from Vespaiolo but perhaps knowledge of BING varieties is not universal even in Itlay, even in wine circles, thus providing further proof of the need for BING.

 Acting on a tipoff from the man himself (Mr. D'Agata that is), we made for the Quartomoro stand from Sardegna. There was written the word Arvesiniadu. In America they have trouble pronouncing Pinot Noir (Pee-No Nwah). What are the chances of any of us absorbing Ar-ve sin eeadu? Well we'll just have to practise because Arvesiniadu is a major discovery and Quartomoro make a fantastic wine from it.

Arvesiniadu is described in Native Wine Grapes of Italy as 'a true Sardinian native that is now almost extinct.' It was brought back to life by a group of local growers collaborating with experts at the Consorzio Interprovinciale della Frutticoltura di Cagliari and the University of Sassari. They go straight into the Slotovino  Roll Call of Honour.

Ian also mentioned that there was a completely unknown variety called Muristellu to be found here. He was right in that we had never heard of Muristellu but Muristellu may be a biotype of Bovale Sardo.There is another Bovale though - Bovale Grande - again unrelated. What is often referred to just as Bovale is not anything to do with the Spanish Bobal as many supposed. Both Bovales have been  linked to various grapes including Graciano, Cagnulari, Carignano, Monastrell and others, No wonder Native Wine Grapes of Italy says more research is called for.

Whatever the reality may be, Quartomoro's MRS (shorthand for Muristellu) is another amazingly beautiful wine. We were so taken by MRS Muristellu and ARV Arvesiniadu that we begged the Quartomoro people to let us buy a bottle of each. Readers, they wanted to give them to us. We won't describe the argument that followed but suffice it to say that an agreement was reached and we were able to take these two wines home with us.

downstairs signpost
There was an upstairs and a downstairs but in the handy leaflet the grape varieties had been listed. Of these, we were particularly interested in Malvasia di Schierano, Malvasia Rosa, Albarossa and Bracchettone.

The folowing are photos of Albarossa bottles not on show at BING but in a showcase in the lecture hall of the Castello di Barolo where the tutored tastings took place. Someone believes in Albarossa for sure;

In the show too, Albarossa figured quite widely considering it's origins. It is a 1938 crossing of Chatus and Barbera. Giovanno Dalmasso thought he was making a cross between Nebbiolo and Barbera but his Nebbiolo was Nebbiolo di Dronero aka. Chatus.

We should have investigated Brachettone because it is not just Brachetto with longer grapes. Growers like to call it Birbet because there is a well known brand of Salami called Brachettone. D'Agata tells us Brachettone is more rustic and wild than Brachetto with greater salinity and acidity. It just shows that you can never do everything at a big show like BING.

For example, this bottle of Incrocio Bruni 54. We know about Incrocios from Luigi Manzoni and Rebo Rigotti but not so far about Bruno Bruni. His was a particularly amusing story which nonetheless had a happy ending. The 54 refers to the number of attempts he made to cross Sauvignon Blanc with Verdicchio. On the face of it not the most difficult thing to do but apparently it was and 54 was the number of attempts poor Bruni made to achieve this. When he finally succeeded he lost all interest in the matter and had nothing more to do with it.

The happy ending is that the wine as realized by the interesting Terracruda estate is quite wonderful and proved a crowd pleaser at a tasting with some friends.

Terracruda is between Pesaro and Urbino and pactices low-impact methods with everything being done by hand.

 Their other claim to fame was a Garofanata in purezza. Garofanata is actually an offspring of Trebbiano Toscano but never mind. It has a personality all of its own and a very pleasant one at that.

Of course there were other grapes we had never heard of. One, Malvasia di Schierano had not just one but two producers.


Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco seems to be a DOC. The grape is Malvasia di Schierano.

Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco in the glass.
Gilli by Cascina Gilli is made from two red Malvasias, Malvasia Nera Lunga as well as Malvasia di Schierano.

Dlica in the glass

Cascina Gilli's Dlica is from the same varieties but sweeter - the grapes having been dried.

Ca del Prete

The other poducer of Malvasia di Schierano was Ca del Prete, a certified biological producer from Pino d'Asti. This wine, MALVè has a beautiful garnet was nicely petillant.As Ca del Prete describe it:

La bacca aromatica di un antico vitigno del Monferrato, coltivata e vinificata rispettando il disciplinare comunitario di VINO BIOLOGICO, regala questa sorprendente bollicina rosa extra dry.
Un vino moderno nato dalle antiche tradizioni contadine,

We're not sure it was Extra Dry, more amabile really.

Moscato Rosa sounded vaguely familiar and we found we had included this as one of the many varieties recovered by Emilio Bulfon. He of the Slotovino Roll Call of Honour of course. The Malvasia Rosa at BING was made by Marco Donati.

not your usual car park view
Having been a bit deprecating about the village of Barolo we should mention the exquisite scenery around there with other even more picturesque places such as Serralunga nearby. The above is a photo taken from our hotel car park.

There are also a number of natural 'Amphitheatres'. Impressive.

Gianni Arnaudo is the architect (2010)
L'Astemia Pentita means the Penitent Teetotaller.
What is that on the ceiling?
Stand in the right spot and you'll see.
You can tell you are in one of the world's great wine-producing areas when you come across archtecture such as the l'Astemia Pentita winery.

Risotto al Barolo - delicious
And of course there is good food to be had,

with wines from E.85 - E.3,900. The choice is yours.

Congratulations to all concerned with this opening edition of BING.It was as instructive as it was fun. We are sure of its continuing success and recommend it to all who can make their way there next year.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The Barnham of Barolo presents the first edition of BING.

This is not a post about cherries or indeed about Barolo. It is about Best Italian Native Grapes: a two-day event organised by that Barnham of grape varieties, Ian D'Agata at Barolo, the capital of Nebbiolo.

We had never actually met Ian D'Agata despite going on about his marvellous book 'Native Grape Varieties of Italy' in these pages, so an ad. in 'Decanter' sparked the idea of attending BING and hopefully meeting the author.

With more than 300 wines drawn from Italian varieties to be tasted there was little risk we would not be there at this 1st 'edition.' There were other events too, one called 'Indigena' also founded  by D'Agata would be celebrating its second 'edition,' Indigena is for professionals only whereas the general public can and did attend BING in numbers.

Indigena is described as ' three non-stop days of guided tastings, seminars, conferences, state of the art lectures and winery visits.  “… a veritable think tank on the philosophy, principles and practices that are at the basis of the cultivars grown in various territories all over the world, not just Piedmont and Italy, as well as all those wines made in Italy and the rest of the world” (D'Agata).

Did we call D'Agata Barnham just now? Well, yes because he is also involved in a big festival in Barolo called 'Collisioni:'

'Collisioni is Italy’s largest music, literature and wine and food festival that celebrated its tenth birthday this year. A unique moment that happens in Barolo every year, where over the years ten Nobel Prize Literature winners, James Ellroy, Richard Ford, Atom Egoyan, James Ellroy, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Art Spiegelman, but also Sting, Elton John, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Depeche Mode, Neil Young, Robbie Williams, Jamiroquay, Placebo, Deep Purple and many more fine artists have played.
Seven years, ago Ian D’Agata was asked to lead a wine program for Collisioni, as its location in barolo clearly emant that enogastronomy should also be part of the unique experience.'

D'Agata's has been writing and telling about wine for over 25 years. He is an Italian correspondent of the Chinese magazine TasteSpirit, Contributing Editor of Decanter and co-author for ten editions of the “Guide to the Best Italian Wines D’Agata & Comparini.”  He one of the first three founding members of the International Terroir Association at the Terroir Renaissance International Wine Symposium in Shangai inducted by none other than Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. In addition, he has taught history of Italian food and wine culture at the master in “Food Sciences” of New York University, and wine marketing in several Italian universities. As a lecturer he is invited around the world to talk not only about native vines, but also about the relationship between wine and health.
Of special interest for this blog, he is actively involved in the recovery and rescue of ancient, almost extinct native vines with the aim of making them vinified again.

He also has a new book out this September.

In 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy, D'Agata sometimes refers to his 'scientific background' but you have to search quite a bit to discover hs ia actually a trained medical doctor specialized in pediatric gastroenterology and pediatric liver transplants who studied at Cincinnati, Harvard and Montreal universities, such is his modesty.

Meeting Ian was a real pleasure. Although pulled in a thousand directions on the first day of BING he had time to wecome us, chat a while, point us in the direction of wines of particular interest, introduce us to this and that producer and generally be the genial host. He was the same with everyone there.

We managed to attend a vertical tasting chared by Ian of Friulano wines from Schiopetto from 1992 - 2017. Our particular interest was due to the fact we had just planted a Friulano descendent, 'Soreli' ourselves - a resistant form of Friulano obtained by the Vivai Cooperativo Rauscedo (VCR).

Thanks to D'Agata's chairmanship of this event it became completely riveting, memorable for all kinds of reasons. Firstly Ian is a laugh-riot with a joke a minute. He called the room to order by imitating a lively fanfare. That did the trick. He is obviously supremely experienced in these events, simultaneously translating from the Italian for the benefit of the international audience of tasters, moving things along, picking out the salient facts, holding straw polls an generally creating a lively atmosphere. He is the universty lecturer one always hoped for an so rarely found. It helps that he has a large voice and clear delivery!

Of those salient facts which he drew from what otherwise might have seemed a routine event, here are a few;

1. Mario Schiopetto was the first to make a wine 100% from Friulano grapes which he did only in 1965.
2. He was the first to use temperature control in the area.
3. In the 1960s Italian white wine only lasted around 6 months before deteriorating. He illustrated this by asking the audience if anyone could remember a good Italian white wine dating back to before 1990 (nobody could).
4. Schiopetto can be described as the Father of the Italian White Wine Renaissance.
5. Along the way were apercus on the subject of native grape varieties in general. For example, he noted that most big producers get rid of old vines (old varieties) because they are not productive, Friulano hates water and bad results if it rains during the harvest.

D'Agata is also familiar with terroir (the subject of his next book) and discussed the Schiopettino vineyard in Capriva from personal knowledge.

All fantastically impressive and instructive as well as good fun.

We'll deal with the many Best Italian Native Grapes on show at BING in our next post.