[originally posted on Wine Disorder with some additional edits...had to repost because of the Blogger crash]
A group organized by Bob Semon (including Maureen N., Cole K., Cristian D., Jonathan L., Gail G., and others) met at Dino in order to try out some aged Vajra, '96 Barolos, and a smattering of rieslings...including an '01 Donnhoff we all hoped could age. I didn't take notes, so I'm hoping others who attended will chime in. My palate got struck down by the hammer of Bacchus midway through the night (and by some pickled green beans), and wines began to blur a little.
'01 Von Schubert Maximin Grunhaus Abtsberg Spatlese: Not bad, but it had this rather pervasive tart green apple note on the finish that I didn't care for. I brought this bottle home and the next day the apple note disappeared and the wine became rounder, with a smooth, honeyed texture. In hindsight, I think I preferred this on day one since the acidity was more pronounced. Decent value...can get these wines around $25-$35 today.
Actually got better on Day 3. A little more cidery, which is what I like (the honeyed texture and sweetness settling down), but still fresh and zippy fun.
'01 Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Spatlese: Beautiful and elegant. A lot more focused than the von Schubert. Everything was in the right place. My favortie white. Seems to be aging well. Definitely forward and fruity, but bracing with a fresh acidity that kept everything balanced. Much better than an '05 Donnhoff Norheimer Kirscheck Spatlese I had several years ago, though I detected a similar peachy/apple flavor profile, which I assume must be a producer signature. Donnhoff makes great wines, but out of my price range now, unfortunately. Wish I knew about this producer when they were $25 (only ten years ago) rather than in the $50-$70 range now.
'00 Vajra Langhe Bianco: A riesling made in an "Austrian" style, it was a little stark upon opening, especially after the Spatleses. Dry, mineral goodness. But, at the end of the night, opened up and a pronounced fruit flavor (peaches and apple...something I always pick up in good riesling) helped buffer some of the stark dryness. $35-$45 for recent vintages.
Token Red Jura:
'08 Gahier Trousseau Grand Vergers: Funky, weird, and interesting. Seemed almost screechingly acidic to me, but I don't have the most disorderly of palates. I liked, but didn't have a lot. Needs food. $25-$30.
G.D. Vajra is a Piedmontese producer that makes a wide variety of wines from native grapes. Their entry level wine, their Langhe Rosso, is a blend of several Piedmontese grape varieties, including nebbiolo, barbera, and dolcetto, with a little bit of pinot noir and freisa (around $15). They also make a Langhe Nebbiolo, 100% nebbiolo, that can be had in the $20 range and an entry level Barolo Albe that can be bought between $30-$40. All of these wines I had Wednesday night from Vajra (that weren't corked) were marked by elegance and balance. Nothing overtly fruity or jammy about any of these wines...great with food and a pleasure to drink on their own.
'00 Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & Fossati: Tasty. Well worth the tariff. ($20-$25 today).
'00 Barbera d'Asti Superiore: Showed very well. Elegant. Seemed like WOTN for
most people (not me, though I liked it a lot). Others claimed it declined by the end of the night, which isn't too surprising because of its age.
'07 Barbera d'Asti Superiore: I actually preferred the younger Barbera. I was in the minority, I think. Good structure and not as resolved as the '00 Barbera. I guess I must like my barbera on the younger side. These wines are $30 plus today.
'96 Kye: Corked. Bummer.
'06 Kye: Tannic and rustic. I liked this a lot. Reminded me of nebbiolo, which isn't surprising since freisa (the grape variety used in this wine) is a cousin of nebbiolo (the grape variety used for Barolo and Barbaresco). Too bad the '96 was corked. It would have been interesting to taste firsthand whether freisa nebbiolizes (that is pick up characteristics usually associated with nebbiolo). Expensive ($40-$50 today).
Token Red Burgundy:
'99 R. Chevillon Nuits-St. Georges Les Cailles: Seemed a little off. People were debating whether this wine was corked (we decided it was not). A little clipped on the finish. Maybe just awkward and young? It opened up later in the night. Probably needs to slumber. Chevillon Les Cailles now costs around $80-$120, depending on the vintage.
Barolo wines, made out of nebbiolo, a grape variety that produces light colored, aromatic wines high in acid and tannins, is considered the "king" of Italian wines. "Barolos" can be made in several villages in the Piedmont, the five most important being (from northwest to southeast) La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falleto, Monforte d'Alba, and Serralunga d'Alba. Generally speaking, the further west and north you go, the more forward, lighter, and "feminine" the wines become. Thus, Barolos from Barolo and La Morra tend to be silky, high-toned, red fruited wines with the least amount of tannins and acids among the five major Barolo-producing villages. On the other hand, the further east and south you go, the more structured, tannic, acidic, and "masculine" the wines become. Thus, wines from Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba tend to be darker fruited, bitterer, tarter, heavier, and more brooding. Castiglione Falleto, a village in between these two areas, are wines that are said to share both traits.
A consideration that is as important as the location where the grapes are grown (i.e., the terroir), is whether the producer is a "traditionalist" or a "modernist." Traditionalists macerate the juice from the crushed grapes on the skins during fermentation for a longer period of time than modernists (generally from 20-30 days if not longer) while modernists have shorter maceration times (7-15 days). The longer the juice macerate on the skins, the more tannin and acids leach into the juice, creating a bitterer and tarter wine that can age longer. Modernists are also more likely to use temperature controls when fermenting, and oftentimes intentionally start malolactic fermentation, which converts sharp malic acids (acids found in apples) into softer, lactic acids (the acid found in milk), making the wines creamier and less tart. Another consideration is whether the producer uses additional "modernist" techniques, such as a roto-fermentors (that is a fermentation vessel that rotates, which speeds up the maceration process, but arguably produces facile, fruitier wines that are less interesting), micro-oxygenation (a process that introduces oxygen to the wine in small doses to make them softer and fruitier), and reverse osmosis (a process to reduce alcohol content, necessary to balance overripe grapes that have too much sugar). The final consideration is the "elevage" vessels used to age the fermented wine before bottling. Traditionalists age their wines in large "botti," ranging from 3000-5000 liters in size made out of neutral, used oak (either Slavonian or French oak, though Slavonian is considered more traditional). Modernists tend to use smaller "barriques," that are around 225 liters in size, made out of new French oak (the same barrels used in Burgundy and Bordeaux). When wine is stored in these "barriques," they tend to age faster, become softer, less tannic, less acidic, and fruitier because the pores in the oak allows oxygen to come into contact with the wine. Also, new French oak tends to confer "woody" and "toasty" aroma to the wines and sometimes even a "vanilla" or "toast" flavor. Generally, even modernists are moving away from barrique, using larger vessels (500-1500 liters) and using fewer new oak barrels during elevage.
Basically, a traditionalist wine is considered a vin de garde, that is a wine meant to be cellared for years if not decades. Traditionalist wines tend to be structured, tannic, acidic, and fruity. Modernist wines, which can be and should be drunk much younger, are fruitier and less bitter and tart, but arguably less distinctive as well. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I've actually enjoyed a modernist Barolo recently from a recent vintage. But, as a friend of mine told me recently after tasting several modernist wines, he thought he was drinking "red wine" and not "Barolo," with none of them conveying the distinctive terroir stamp and varietal characteristics one would expect from wines from Barolo.
The wines below are all traditionalist wines from the 1996 vintage. 1996 is considered one of the best vintages in the Piedmont in the past 30 years. With global warming, Piedmontese wines have become generally fruitier and less tannic and acidic in the past 15 years, making them more accessible, but less cerebral. 1996 is considered the last truly "classic" Piedmontese vintage, characterized by good fruit and aromatics balanced with pronounced acidity and tannins (i.e., structure). However, because of its structure, these wines need a lot of time so the tannins can resolve (i.e., become less bitter) and acidity less pronounced. Right now, these wines all showed young, and in my opinion, a little shut down. I would check back in 2016.
'96 Brezza Barolo Castellero. The most forward of the Barolos with this interesting ashy component. But still plenty tannic. Obviously very young. No need to hurry. Castellero is a vineyard located in the village of Barolo, which probably explains why the wine was as forward as it was. Brezza range from $30-$50, which is a good value for Barolo.
'96 Cappellano Barolo Gabutti Otin Fiorin Franco: Tannins, tannins everywhere, and all the boreds did shrink. Tannins, tannins everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Kidding. I actually liked this quite a bit even if it is a mouthful of drying tannins. But nothing that a little T-I-M-E won't cure. Gabutti is a vineyard located in Serralunga d'Alba, which accounts for the dense tannin content in this wine. This wine will be a monster when it finally resolves. I just wish I had some in my cellar. The Gabutti "Franco" is around $120 for recent vintages. The grafted vines version probably $70+.
Another interesting factor is that Gabutti is a sandy vineyard. This is important because this particular wine comes from grapes grown on ungrafted vines. 99% of the grapes in the world are grown on vines grafted on rootstuck from grape species that evolved in North America. This is because a louse known as phylloxera, indigenous to the Americas, devours rootstock from grapevines native to Europe (that is all grape vines that produces wine). During the 19th Century, phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards in Europe, and these were later replanted with vines grafted onto phylloxera resistant, American rootstocks. While this solved the phylloxera problem, it also arguably changed the flavors of the grapes. The Cappellano grapes from this particular wine, because it is grown on soils that are inhospitable to phylloxera, are from ungrafted vines. Cappellano also makes a wine from grafted wines from this vineyard as well, which I am now eager to one day try out.
'96 Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole: Elegant (noticing this to be a typical Vajra characteristic). Obviously, still young and could use more time. But still, lovely. Bricco delle Viole is from the village of Barolo and is located at an altitude of 450 meters, which is considered high. The high altitude (and thus cooler climate that is nonetheless well exposed to sunlight) probably accounts for the wines elegance and focus. This wine is around $70-$90 for recent vintages.
'06 Vajra Moscato d'Asti: Bright, fresh, and vibrant (to me). Effervescent and refreshing. Probably around $18-$20.
'89 Roberto Anselmi Recioto di Soave I Capitelli: Unctuous and syrupy. Someone compared it to butterscotch. Not cloying or saccharine at all and it was interesting. BUT, I don't think I'm much of a dessert wine person, so I can't really judge it on its merits.
Arneis Dessert Wine (Forgot the vintage and producer): Similar to the Soave (unctuous, sweet, and intense). Well made. Not cloying, but the texture got to me. But, like I said, I'm not a dessert wine guy usually, so I can't judge. $40 for a half bottle, not available in the U.S. (Hand imported, as we say).
Great wines. Even better company. '96 Barolos need more time (surprise, surprise). Vajra ages well except when corked. Donnhoff seems to handle age (at least up to age 10). And softshell crabs are tops.