Is the glass half empty or simply empty?
Striving for the perfect wine experience
What an inducement. The invitation asked me to come and enjoy wines from: “Piemonte Land of Perfection’s.” This is the home of Fiat and the first sector of Italy to acknowledge the industrial revolution; however, what was important to me is the fact that the region produces most of the best-known wines, including Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Malvasia, and Asti Spumante. I was definitely motivated to show up even though I had to get to Desbrosses Street, a part of the city I absolutely hate because of the inadequate transportation to get there.
Looking for perfect
My students complain that I am asking them to be perfect, and they are inclined to go along to get along. Perfection is the last item on their “to do” list. So – when the invitation to the Piemonte wine tasting suggested that my attendance would provide me with the perfect wine experience – I was going to be there. Little did I know that I really would have to cross valleys and streams, blocked sewers, traffic jams, drowning taxis, and non-working subways to make it cross-town during one of the worst rain storms of the decade, in order to taste the allegedly perfect wines.
I thought I dressed for the weather with rubber and plastic shoes, a rain cape (hooded), and an umbrella. I was totally wrong. Getting from East 57th Street all the way to the Tribeca was like wading through the ocean to get to China.
OK. I made it! First stop was the Ladies Room to try to repair the damages. No sooner did I take a look in the mirror – when the entire room went dark (New York does not do bad weather), and I was in the midst of a blackout. I decided to skip the bathroom since I was not sure who was there and where it was – and headed off to meet “perfection.”
Because of the atrocious weather, I arrived unfashionably late, and the event was in its last hours of operation; from the folks I spoke with, the event was closer to the last throws of death. There was absolutely no food available; not a crumb, not a cracker, not a fruit slice, and the waiter I tripped (to get his attention) told me their current task was to clean up and not to offer any more tidbits. I could have a clean glass and a tasting brochure, but after that I was on my own.
I flipped through the tasting book to determine the breadth and depth of the wines available and to select a few vineyards that would make for an interesting experience. As I approached the first table, I found the vintners busy speaking Italian to each other. I tried to get their attention by standing in front of them with an empty glass extended in their direction and a finger pointing to the bottle I wanted to try. I received no response. Then I tried to reach for the bottle myself; I was given an evil eye and a brusque, “What do you want?” “I would like to try the Muscato d’Asti 2011 or the Barbarea d’Asti 2011.” I received a very bored expression and the fellow responsible for pouring turned back to his friends and continued their conversation.
Although I am slow, I did get the message and definitely moved on! Some tables had clusters of friends and family drinking away as though it was a birthday party and I was an uninvited guest, other tables were empty (bereft of bottles), leaving only a soiled formerly white table cloth behind. What to do? I had valiantly swam through torrents of rain water to get here; I was not going to leave without tasting a few of the purportedly perfect wines.
This is what I was able to taste:
1. Azienda Agricola Seghesio: The Seghesio family has been in the wine-making business for more than 100 years. Like other families dedicated to the soil and the grape, they are attentive to the vines, carefully select the grapes, are vigilant as the wine ferments, and strive to maintain the quality of the Pajana della Ginestra, historical Barolo vineyard.
- What I sampled: Langhe DOC Nebbiolo Ruri 2007.
- Aged in 20 percent new French oak barrique.
- What I got: A treat for my nose! Dark cherries almost overripe but “just.” Similar to inhaling a rose that is just about to die – but, because of luck, you are treated to one last inhale before it must be tossed into the toilet.
- A feast for my eyes! A deep burgundy, ruby red, even magenta. A wonderful depth of color that signals winter evenings sunk into deep velvet chairs and fireside chats.
- A disappointment for my tongue! The first sip was harsh and the tannin dried my throat.
- Good news for my mouth. Surprisingly, the final moment was pleasant, and I was able to conjure up dark red cherries and visions of ripening eggplants.
2. Renato Ratti: The first to vinify a Barolo from a single-vineyard (Barolo Marcenasco 1965) and to develop a map of the historical crus of Barolo, Ratti is considered the most important innovator for Barolo wines. Pietro carries on the passion of his father for high-quality wines. The new cellar was completed in 2005 and is the first in the area that uses gravity for vinifing. Conceptually, it was designed for creating the lowest impact to the land and the environment.
The Marcenasco vineyard site lies within the Barolo subzone of La Morra, which is known for yielding very aromatic and perfumed wines. The vineyard location has both southeast and southwest exposures and takes its name from the ancient village of "Marcenascum," which has been known for cultivating the Nebbiolo grape variety for as far back as the 12th Century ( http://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=800270 ) .
- What I sampled: Barolo DOCG Marcenasco 2008.
- What I got: Inhaled the aroma of apple orchards after a rain shower modified by a hint of licorice.
- Good news for my eyes: Visibly beautiful cherry red.
- Fruity in the mouth and a smooth finish but the tannins left me with a fuzzy tongue.
- Yummy with aged cheese and robust red meat (preferably grilled).
3. Marenco SRL: More than 100 years ago, Michele Marenco started to make wines. His first vineyard, “La Marchea” is located in the Bagnario Valley. Today, the firm is lead by Michele’s three great-granddaughters, Michela, Patrizia, and Doretta. The grapes are picked by hand although the rest of the operation is state-of-the-art. Modern technology allows Patrizia (the oenologist) to work effectively and efficiently, from the soft pressing of grapes to the temperature-controlled fermentation, continuing through to the refining of the wines and the use of barriques, and finally bottling in a sterile environment.
- What I sampled: Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Piento 2011.
Unique aroma (think of rose petals, strawberries. and raspberries). The flavor comes from its natural sweetness, intense aromatics. and low alcohol (around 5.5 percent alcohol by volume).
- What I got: Eye candy – ruby red with pink highlights.
- What I tasted: Bubbly, sparkling, frizzante, more like a “pop” than a wine; sugary sweet, bordering on Dr. Pepper; actually refreshing and definitely a need for more than one glass.
- Perfect for parties for the “I” and “Me” generation, especially a Hampton summer lawn party fundraiser. Definitely well-matched with fruit tarts, chocolate, or Amaretti di Mombaruzzo, a traditional amaretto biscuit from the Acqui Terme area.
I do want to continue to introduce my taste buds to the wines of the Piemonte region. Perhaps in the future, the representatives of the vineyards will be more interested in the people tasting and writing about their wines then they are in conversations with each other.
The PR people may want to reconsider using the word “Perfection” – since it raises expectations to a level that can disappoint. I would also recommend that the tasting notes and accompanying brochures be written in US Standard English, and not be someone who translates the information from Italian to English without a serious edit.