Weekly Practice Tasting... Italian Classics, An Exercise In Compare & Contrast...


This week, we decided to focus on the Italian classics, or I should say, those red wines from Italy most likely to show up on the exams: Piedmont, Tuscany, Valpolicella...

Other than being super interesting in contrast, it was also wonderful to taste such beautiful wines.

Below is a recap of my tasting notes as well as my exercise in compare in contrast.

In an exam situation, the wines would be put in context with a question like "the following wines are from the same regions, each made with a different grape (a predominant grape), confirm grape, region and asses quality".  The point here is to understand the diversity of style from grape & origin.

The 1st flight, from Piedmont:

- Massolino Dolcetto D'Alba DOC 2010

- Pico Maccario Tre Roveri Barbera D'Asti Superiore DOCG 2006

- Pasquale Pelissero Bricco San Giuliano Barbaresco DOCG 2008

- Massolino Parafada Barolo DOCG 2006 

All 4 wines clearly showed restrained fruit character, even as the Dolcetto was clearly the fruitiest of the 4, and savoury and "mineral" qualities which, together, suggest an "old world" style of wine making.  

As an aside to my tasting notes, i mention above "mineral" in quotes because in italy, that sensation is most often referred to as "sapidity".  A gustatory quality that reminds one with a kind of saltiness, even if not salty as such. More  unlike the succulent savouriness that one get when eating salami or a hard cheese for example.  In any case...

Further, all 4 wines showed moderate to high level of alcohol as well as moderate to high level of acidity and a generally wide spectrum of aromatic complexity.  This suggest a temperate climate and a premium region where ripening can be extended well into the fall season while keeping good levels of acidity.  Compared to the next 2 flights, the Barbaresco & Barolo certainly showed a more "austere" character and certainly more tightly "knit" suggesting their origin as being from a cooler in climate than the Tuscans.

Piedmont is consistent with the above and clearly, 4 different styles and grapes in the same flight reinforce this region, being a fascinating melting pot of all kind of interesting grape varieties.

The Dolcetto was definitely "fruitier" than the other 3 displaying red fruits and a touch of violets.  As well, clearly purple in color, and with a crisp, linear fruit character which suggest absence of oak.  The wine was smooth yet supple and lean on the palate.  Juicy, lowish in tannin, with moderate acidity, it is well balanced and has a decent length.  A dry, red wine, light & fruity, to enjoy without complication as appetizer or, as I like to call this kind of wine, on a Monday night.  Lovely.

The Barbera was already more serious, but not quite as much as the last 2, and still very much a "fruity" type of wine.  Here, the fruit character is rounder, more subdued and restrained than the previous wine.  That roundness overall, as well as the savoury quality and medium garnet color suggest use of oak.  However, absence of sweet spices, and vanillin leads to think that old oak was used, possibly large barrels/casks.  It displays darker (blue & black berries) baked fruits as well as tertiary notes reminiscent of forest floor, leather, and a slightly roasted quality.  This reinforce the use of oak, but also suggest maturity.  Compared to the Dolcetto, this wine is higher in acidity and lower in tannins.  Certainly more structured than the 1st, but not as much as the last 2.  Consistent with Barbera grapes. With 14% alcohol, it is well balanced and ready to drink now.  The palate is juicy, supple, and savoury.  The length is moderate and sapid.  A good wine.  A smooth & medium style to drink young.

The Barbaresco & the Barolo are made from the same grape, namely the Nebbiolo.  Here the 2 wines display similar character and structure in line with both being made made the same grape:   high acidity, high chalky tannins, and a floral quality of aromatics together with earthy notes.  

The Barbaresco is "predictably" gentler and more delicate than the Barolo somehow showing less concentration, and more advanced aged quality.  Its fruit character is certainly savoury and shows a great deal more tertiary notes.  Certainly, this is a wine that has seen oak ageing, but, from the absence of sweet spices and general sweetness of fruit, in old barrels/casks.  It is complex on the nose, with chalky & grippy tannins.  Clearly, it needs time and the question is wether it has enough fruit concentration to last what it needs to soften that grip.  Certainly, it would be loverly to drink with food now.  With a medium length, savoury & delicate complexity, this is a good wine and will benefit from further ageing (2-3 years) and continue to develop.  A smooth & medium wine, to enjoy over time.

The Barolo is more serious altogether with clearly, even if a little bit of a cliché, more concentration than the Barbaresco.  Right on the nose, we can smell a certain "density" of the aromas.  Tight & compact, it displays quite a bit of primary fruit with black cherries and rose petals, even if dried/baked, as well as tertiary notes of forest floor, earth, and leather. The roundness as well as savouriness of the aromatics clearly suggest much time in oak and again, absence of "sweetness" suggest old, large oak.  The tannin is firmer than the Barbaresco, but not as grippy.  Certainly thicker and more concentrated.  The length is long with a very good complexity and sapidity.  Delicious.  A very good wine.  Rich & full, it needs more time and will certainly continue to develop more complexity for another 5-10 years.

The second flight from Tuscany:

- Querceto Chianti DOCG 2010

- Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2008

- Tenuta Di Sesta Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2007

Lovely flight.  Clearly warmer in character than the 1st flight.  More savoury as well.  Here, we can smell generally riper grapes with slightly jammy and baked qualities in the Riserva and the Montalcino.  We have also a broader textures and somewhat richer, fuller mouthfeel, consistent with warmer regions.  Here, the wines, although complex in their own way, seem more "loosely-knit" than the Piedmontese.  We are in the presence, once again, of savoury and sapid wines.  Especially the Chianti Riserva and the Montalcino.  All of which, I would say, are consistant with Italy and Tuscany in particular.

The Chianti is the lightest of the 3.  Clearly made to enjoy now and definitely ready to drink.  The wine displays young, crisp, and linear red cherries, spices, and a touch of floral notes.  The aromatics together with its pale ruby color suggest no use of oak.  The palate is supple yet lean & crisp.  Somehow, the wine is not as high in acidity and tannins as one would expect from a wine made of sangiovese.  However, with moderate alcohol at 12%, it is in balance and displays some length of the after-taste.  A dry, light & fruity red wine to enjoy now without complication.  Pretty much in the same league as the Dolcetto above, but not showing as well, even if pleasant. a "nice" wine that I would not mind having by the glass in a restaurant.

The Chianti Classico Riserva is clearly more serious & structured.  Deep ruby all the way to the rim, it shows the promise of concentration.  The nose is dense and complex with notes of ripe black cherries, spices, herbs, and the beginning of what appears to be leather and tobacco leaves.  So far, these qualities reflect the fact that classico are generally more complex wines and riserva are made with riper grapes.  The palate is consistant with sangiovese with moderate to high acidity, firm dusty tannins.  The alcohol is medium at 13.5% and well integrated.  The wine show concentration on the palate and a very good balance promising much ageing abilities.  With a moderately long length, it is a very good wine.  A rich & full dry red wine that can age for another 3-5 years and continue to develop extra complexities.

The Brunello Di Montalcino is the most elegant of the 3.  Pure Sangiovese thoroughbred.  The wine is pale garnet with a wide tawny rim.  The aromas are clearly the most savoury of the 3 with a "balsamic" character in line with long ageing in oak.  However, absence of sweetness whether in spices of in fruit quality suggest large and old oak.  The nose is complex with spices, forest floor, smoky wood, and certainly savoury.  The palate displays richness, a moderate to high acidity and moderate, silky tannins.  With moderately high alcohol at 14%, the wine is well balanced, and the length is long and intense making it a very good wine.  The structure and fruit character suggest an advanced age and moderate promise of further ageing.  It can age another 3-5 years and continue to develop complexity.

The 3rd flight, from Valpolicella, in the north-east of Italy:

- Bertani Villa Novare Vigneto Ognisanti Valpolicella DOC 2007

- Bertani Villa Arvedi Amarone Della Valpolicella Valpantena DOC 2007

Here the clue of where we are is really in the plushness of the Amarone.  Clearly made from dried grapes with a unique aromatic expression and a dense, plush mouthfeel.  Even if fruitier than the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese based wines, the wines display clear restrain, savouriness and sapidity of the "old world".  

The Valpolicella is clearly more simple than the Amarone.  Somewhat in the same league as the Barbera above.  Although with a good structure, it is a wine to enjoy young while it is fruity and juicy.  The aromas display some notes of cherries, violets and a touch of spices pointing to the use of Corvina & Rondinella in the blend.  A slight green note spices things up.  The wine is round and savoury with hints of sweet spices suggesting barrel ageing, perhaps not old but not very young either.  The high acidity and moderate to low tannins confirm the use of corvina in the blend and together with moderate alcohol at 13.5%, the structure is consistent with the temperate climate of Valpolicella.  The wine is well balanced and shows a moderate & juicy length.  A good wine.  A dry, smooth and medium red wine to be drunk young. 

The Amarone is unmistakable.  High alcohol at 15%, moderate to high acidity lifting a dense and rich palate.  It has moderate to high tannins but they are plush and velvety.  In fact, if one word can describe this wine it is the word plush.  This plushness together with rich aromas of baked cherries & raspberries bitter chocolate and a touch, if only slight, of dried raisin point to the use of the "appassimento" method of drying the grapes before fermentation.  The wine is savoury, round, and well integrated and together with the "plush" tannins we can think the wine was aged in old, large oak for some time. This is confirmed by the general restraint and elegance of the wine. The balance is excellent and the length moderately long.  A very good wine.  Rich & full, it has enough concentration and structure to keep and evolve for another 3-4 years.