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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Northern Italian Wines - August 28, 2006

I inflicted on our SantaFe group a tasting of Oltrepo Pavese wines last night (8/28/06), mostly Bonardas:

  1. Martilde Bonarda DOC:OltrepoPavese (14%) 2003: Med.dark color; fairly earthy/dusty some pungent almost closed nose w/ precious little fruit; earthy/dusty fairly hard/tannic tart slight licorice/pungent flavor w/ quite little fruit; fairly long hard/tannic earthy Dolcetto-like finish; maybe needs some age; much like Dolcetto in structure. $16.50

  2. Martilde OltrepoPavese Bonarda (13%) 2001: Dark color; earthy/dusty
    slight black cherry cola/licorice bit Dolcetto-like more perfumed nose; softer/lusher some black cherry cola/ pungent/licorice bit tannic flavor; med.long softer some tannic black cherry cola/licorice finish; much like the '03 but a bit more fragrance and softer. $12.00

  3. Martilde Ghiro d'Inverno Rosso (Bonarda; 14%) OltrepoPavese 1998:
    Very dark color; quite earthy/dusty some grapey/Dolcetto-like slight black cherry cola slight pungent/burnt/oak some complex nose; rather hard/tanniclicorice/pungent /DrPepper/ cola/black cherry light toasty/oak flavor; med.long big/extracted slight pungent/licorice/black cherry cola pretty hard/tannic finish; needs age; pretty hard & tannic on palate. $30.00

  4. BrunoVerdi Buttafuoco DOC OltrepoPavese (13.5%; www.MadRose.com)
    Very dark color; strong grapey/black cherry cola/some Dolcetto-like bit smokey/smoked sausage interesting nose; softer/lush black cherry cola/Dolcetto-like dusty rather hard/tannic flavor; med. long grapey/black cherry cola/DrPepper rather hard/tannic flavor; med.long quite hard/ tannic grapey/cola dusty finish; pretty concentrated but hard & tannic. $19.00

  5. Fratelli Agnes Possessione del Console Bonardo "Pignolo" (13.5%)
    OltrepoPavese 2001:
    Dark color; earthy/dusty slight licorice/pungent/black cherry/cola
    nose; softer fairly lush bit tannic licorice black cherry cola some Dolcetto-like flavor;
    med.short low fruit somewhat tannic slight fruit/black cherry cola finish; a rather rough
    & rustic red. $15.00

  6. FratelliAgnes Cresta del Ghiffi Bonarda DOC: OltroPavese (11.5%)
    Rovescala 2003:
    Dark color; strong grapey/licorice/spicy/RC Cola some Lambrusco-like nose; frizzante off-dry very grapey/black cherry cola/RC cola some tannic flavor; bit
    tannic/bitey frizzante black cherry cola/quite grapey finish; much like a Lambrusco in style but bigger and richer; very interesting wine & great w/ the salamis. $15.00

  7. FratelliAgnes Millenium Bonarda DOC: OltrepoPavese (14%) 1999: Med.dark color; pungent/ smokey/bit charred/toasty/oak rather licorice/grapey somewhat perfumed/aromatic nose; softer/ rounder/smoother somewhat black cherry/cola/gamey/licorice light toasty/charred/ oak fairly tannic flavor; med.long hard/tanic some black cherry/cola/licorice finish; has some toasty Fr.oak to it; bit pricey. $28.00

  8. FratelliAgnes Poculum RTW (Affinato in Barriques; 13.5%; Bonarda/old vine Barbera/Pinot) NV (2003): Black color; rather toasty/smokey/charred/oak some black cherry/cola/DrPepper/ spicy fragrant/perfumed interesting nose; very tannic/hard smokey/toasty/oak light black cherry/ licorice/pungent flavor; long toasty/charred/oak somewhat hard/tannic fairly light black cherry/ pungent finish; has a pretty strong hit of oak. $24.00

  9. Picchioni Buttafuoco DOC: OltrepoPavese (13.5%) CannetoPavese 1999: Verydark color; strong black cherry/cola/licorice dusty/old vines rather fragrant/perfumed some complex nose; softer/ rounder licorice/black cherry/cola dusty/earthy some tannic flavor; long dusty/earthy black cherry/cola/licorice some tannic finish; more approachable and my favorite of the bunch; great value at $16.00

  10. Picchioni BriccoRivaBianca/Buttafuoco DOC: OltrepoPavese (14%) 2000: Black color; bit reduced/ gunpowder/pungent quite charred/burnt/oak some licorice nose; soft/round/ripe very smokey/ charred/burnt/toasty/oak light black cherry cola/licorice flavor; long pungent/ smokey/ charred/oak bit tannic light black cherry/cola some dusty finish w/ modest tannins; underneath a pretty good wine but slammed w/ new Fr.oak. $32.00

  11. FrancaPellegrini Falco della Solinga/Buttafuoco DOC: OltropoPavese (Barbera/Uva rara/ Croatina + Ughetta della Solinga; 13.5%) CannetoPavese NV (1998): Dark color; very strong unpleasant/wet dog fur/funky rather oxidized no fruit nose; funky/wet dog fur bit tannic/ dried out no fruit flavor; med. wet dog fur/oxidized/funky no fruit finish w/ some tannins; seems pretty funky & oxidized; DNPIM. $18.00

  12. FrancaPellegrini Mandorla della Solinga DOC: Rosso OltropoPavese (Old vine Croatina; 14%) NV (1998): Dark color; bit alcoholic gunpowder/used fireworks/funky/wet dog fur somewhat oxidized slight licorice/pungent nose; softer some wet dog fur/oxidized slight lush/licorice/earthy slight cola/fruit flavor; med.long wet dog fur/funky slight licorice rather funky finish w/ some tannins; not as funky/oxidized as #11 but pretty off. $19.00

  13. FrancaPellegrini Bricco della Solinga/Buttafuoco DOC: OltropoPavese (Croatina/Barbera/ UvaRara/Ughetta della Solinga; 13.5%) 2003: Very dark color; rather toasty/oak strong black cherry/licorice/cola/DrPepper lots of fruit nose; softer/rounder rather charred/toasty/ oak  strong black cherry/cola/licorice fairly tannic flavor; long toasty/smokey/oak strong black cherry/ blackberry/dusty fairly tannic finish; lots of fruit therein beneath all the Fr.oak; needs several yrs perhaps. $29.00

  14. FrancoPellegrini PassioneRossa VinoAromatizzato Alla China (Ingredienti: VinoButtafuoco OP DOC; Zucchero; Alcool; China e infuso di erbe e spezie; 16%) Cannerlo Pavese NV: Med. dark color; very strong/perfumed/aromatic herbal/spicy/thyme nose; slightly sweet very herbal/bitter chocolaty/spicy quite complex flavor; very long/lingering herbal/spicy/ bitter finish; a very intriguing wine; one of the best (of a dozen or so) Chinatos I've ever had; kudos to Roberto.  $46.00

And the usual ramblings from the BloodyPulpit:
    1. When arranging this tasting, I thought it would be nice to have some artisanal salamis to accompany the wines. They were: a. DiBrunoBros. Sweet Toscano Salami (www.DiBruno.com) b. D'Artagnon WildBoar Saucisson c. DonaJuana Soria Brand Sausage (www.DonaJuana.com) LaEspanola Meats/Spanish Table d. Fra'Mani Salametto/Paul Bertoli e. Salumi DryCured Salami (www.SalumiCuredMeats.com) /Armandino Batali f. Salumi Mole Salami They were a big hit. I'm not to sure who makes the DiBruno salami. The DonaJuana is made by LaEspanola Meats in Harbor City and one of my favorite Chorizos. The Fra'Mani comes from Paul Bertoli's now operation in Oakland. The Salumi ones are from Armandino Batali up in Seattle. Because of demand, they're getting harder & harder to obtain, alas. The WildBoar I found a bit on the bland side, but the others were terrific. Beats OscarMeyer anyday. Pig parts rule.
    2. Most of these wines came from Roberto at WineExpo in SantaMonica. An absolute treasure when it comes to Italian wines, sparkling wines, and finer Coturris.
    3. I've been making it a task to search out some of the lesser known Italian wines to get an understanding of them and widen our horizans. Alas, the wines were widely disliked by the tasting group....they did not taste like the Piedmontese or Tuscan wines they far prefer. As a group, I thought they had this hard/tannic backbone that was pretty brutal on the palate. For most of them, there was a distinct earthy/dusty note on the nose w/ a slightly black cherry character. The ones the group seemed to like the most were the ones that had a notable French oak component. Sigh!! The frizzante/slightly sweet Ghiffi was widely viewed as flawed by those who knew Italian wines. I thought it rather a neat wine and, as Paul Bertoli suggest for Lambrusco, a perfect foil for the salamis.
    4.Bonarda: In the Oltrepo, this is the local name for Croatina. In the Vaseline, Bonarda refers to the Uva Rara grape. Then there is Bonarda Piedmontese, which is a near-extinct indigeneous variety unrelated to the others. There is a sizeable planting of "Bonarda" in Argentina. But this "Bonarda" is, in fact, the same as the California Charbono, known in France as Charboneau or Douce Noir. There appears to be no planting of either Croatina or Bonarda inCalifornia.
    5. From the Net:  Oltrepo Pavese DOC:  [ohl-TRAY-poh pah-VEH-zuh] Large DOC zone located in the southwestern corner of Italy's  Lombardy region, south of Pavia. Two of the designated wines-Buttafuoco (which means "sparks  like fire") and Sangue di Giuda ("blood of Judas") can only be produced in a smaller subzone  located in the northeastern part. These two red wines are made from Barbera, Croatina, Pinot Nero  (pinot noir), Uva Rara, and Ughetta (Vespolina). They both can be still but are usually frizzante.  The Buttafuoco is dry; the Sangue di Giuda ranges from dry to sweet.
    These same grapes are used  for the Oltrepo Pavese rosso and rosato. Other wines made include the red varietals Barbera,  Bonarda (Croatina) and Pinot Nero and the white varietals Cortese, Moscato (muscat), Pinot Grigio  (pinot gris), Riesling Italico (Welshriesling), and Riesling Renano (riesling). Many of these are  allowed to be frizzante (some spumante) and can range from dry to sweet.
    6. So...what do I think of Bonarda?? As Bill The Cat would
    say..."Pfffhhhhtttt". This tasting did not make a good case for Bonarda as the next great variety. It tastes not at all like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo. That's the problem with the Italian wine industry...they make too friggin' many different wines. They can't even call the same grape by the same name in different regions!! As strong and well-focused and smoothly-run as is the Italian government, you'd think they'd enact rules or legislation to insure naming consistency!!    There are a lot of indiginous varieties there that are relatively obscure. They're obscure for a reason...they deserve to be. The sooner they are allowed to go extinct, the better. Like the Mora barn owl and the Rosedale black cockroach, there's no real need for these species in the world. If I were a grower in Pavia, I'd rip out all my old Bonarda vines and put in Cabernet and Merlot, buy some new French oak, and make a world class wine from them. This rustic/peasant Bonarda dreck is NOT worth anyone's time and effort to drink. There's just too darn many grape varieties in the world as it is.    It's sorta like Viognier. When I first tasted the Grillet and Vernay in the early '70's, they were kinda pretty wines, but not that exciting. There was only something like 20 acres in the world and the grape was on the brink of extinction. I recently tasted thru 8 Viogniers from Lodi, Clarksburg, and DunniganHills. They were all soft/fat/porky/Pillsbury-DoughBoy wines w/ a rather candied nose. The sooner Viognier becomes extinct, the better. Chardonnay makes a great/world-class/ serious wine; that's all we really need in this world. End of rant.
    7. Bonarda aging: Most of these Bonardas had a rather hard/tannic, fairly acidic backbone to them. I wonder if they have what it takes to age and turn into something interesting/good. Or if they're like Piedmontese Dolcetto, whose structure they remind me of, and won't age worth diddly-squat. The only data point I have is wines 1 and 2. The '01 had more of a fragrance and perfume to it than the '03. The two '98's did not make a good case for aging Bonarda, though.
    8. Take a rustic/peasant/country Italian wine...slap it upside the head w/ a healthy dose of new French oak....voila....a pedigreed super-whatever Italian wine worth an additional $15/btl!! Whatta simple formula.
    9. I was gitting a lot of Dolcetto-like character in many of these Bonardas. Not so much in the aroma or flavor as in the structure and mouth feel. For this comparison, I was highly ridiculed by the group. Although Dolcetto is widely acclaimed to be a soft/drinkable almost Beaujolais- like wine meant for early drinking; I find lots of them to be on the acidic side with a bitey/ tannic mean streak under all the fruit. That character I was finding in many of these Bonardas. Of course, since I've not been to Piedmonte, I know nothing of Dolcetto in its native/authentic guise.


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