I passed! Time to celebrate!!!!
As you may have seen from the About Me page, I recently received my final passing mark for my last WSET Diploma class. The Diploma level is definitely a serious commitment, and I put in a ton of time and effort over the past two years into passing the 6 units. I am still waiting for the final confirmation from the WSET of my completion of all the requirements, but I would like to think that barring any serious issue I am done. And that is why the day I received my grade, it was time to celebrate.
Normally people like to celebrate a momentous occasion with Champagne, but on this day I was conflicted. Certainly the idea of popping open a nice bottle of bubbly crossed my mind when I was thinking of how to rejoice in my accomplishment. And I would bet that many WSET Diploma students choose beer or whiskey over wine since they have certainly had a lot of the latter while they were studying for the Diploma. But I chose to go a completely different route. Rather than going for the bubbles or beer, I went for a legend.
It wasn’t my intention to buy the Bartolo Mascarello 2001 Barolo when I walked into Berkeley Wine Company after getting home from work. But after talking to the owner, Dave, about both the Diploma and my new project, he steered me to the Bartolo. I wanted a wine that had some age to it since I was going to be opening the bottle later that night, so the 2001 was a nice fit. And I wanted a bottle that leaned more towards the traditional side of Barolo. As part of this project, I needed a reference point for how Barolo had been made for years and years (and decades and decades). With the Bartolo Mascarello, I was firmly in the traditional winemaking camp. I walked out of the store with a smile on my face, and a head full of excitement and expectation.
I am an explorer and wine is my sea…
One of the main reasons I chose Barolo as my first area of focus was because there is so much I do not know about the many producers in the region. Since I am not “in-the-business” (as they say in the wine world), my exposure to individual wines and producers is limited by what I personally buy. So in many ways In Pursuit of Winefulness is a tool for discovery for me. I now have the time, energy, and focus to explore as many different producers and bottlings from a region as I care to, without having to taste more broadly to satisfy an upcoming exam. In trying more and more wines from more and more producers, I hopefully will stumble upon some that I am truly and deeply moved by. I will hopefully find a producer or two (or more!) that makes me stop and seek out more wines from them because of the quality of the wines that I try. And since I am funding this on my own dime*, hopefully those producers do not force me to break the bank for just one bottle. With the Azelia Margheria 2008, I may have stumbled upon my first of those wines.
Two bottles of the 2008 Margheria has been in my cellar for some time, purchased awhile ago after my Barolo class at Italian Wine Merchants. I did not have any prior background with Azelia before the first night’s tasting. I tasted one of the bottles over the course of 4 nights (sometimes the job, kids and getting up early to make it to the gym before my daily commute limits the time I have at night, so I can only sneak a single glass in before its lights out for me).
On the first night I mini-decanted a sample for about an hour and tasted after putting the kids to sleep.
How do you celebrate a great week of vacation and an easy car ride home? With a bottle of wine! (clearly)
After unpacking the car and taking care of everything that has to be done when you get back from vacation, I decided I wanted to make a new purchase rather than go through the bottles I have in my cellar. Plus I had to buy my dad some beer since there was none in the house after being gone for the week. Thankfully my local wine store, Berkeley Wine Company, has a great selection of Barolos (and Brunellos and various other Italian selections), both new vintages and older offerings. After looking over my choices, I “settled” upon the Rocce dei Manzoni Barolo Big’d Big 2004. I had no prior knowledge of Rocce dei Manzoni, so in some ways this was a fairly “blind” tasting.
The bottle immediately went into my cellar for the afternoon. As the evening approached I opened the bottle and poured a glass, but left the glass to decant in the cellar for about an hour. After putting the girls to sleep it was time to sample my new purchase.
- In the glass, the wine was a fairly dense garnet, firmly in the medium plus range.
- The nose was still youthful, showing a moderate level of intensity. There was a sense of brooding and darkness to the cherry and cedar aromas. It was as if there was a weightiness to them. Layered on the fruit and wood were strong vanilla and licorice aromas.
- On the palate, the acidity was moderately high, as were the tannins. The tannins were smooth, but had an overall consistency of cotton in how they filled the mouth. The body and alcohol were medium plus, which matched the intensity level of the flavors. The wine bubbled over with vanilla and black cherry, reminiscent of Black Cherry Vanilla Breyer’s ice cream. Caramel, coffee and pomegranate flavors also swirled through the mouth. The finish was quite long.
Tasting notes play a vital role in being mindful of wine, and despite how much their role has been debated recently, they do serve a worthy purpose.
Having experienced the rigors of the WSET up through the Diploma level, I am used to creating tasting notes. But even well before I started any formal classes, I was using tasting notes as a way to focus my attention on the wines I was tasting. The practice of writing a tasting note, no matter how rudimentary, demands you at least be paying some attention to what you are drinking. Tasting notes also lay a foundation upon which true experience is properly built. When used properly, tasting notes allow you to understand a wine. They allow you to relate that wine to others you have experienced in the past. They build upon each other and play off of each other to help shape your wine knowledge. Tasting notes also provide some insight into not only the wine in your glass, but into yourself and how you approach wine.
A good deal of what you will find on In Pursuit of Winefulness will be my tasting notes*. But my intent is to not simply dump a bland and boring two-line description of a wine here along with some random two (or more recently three!) digits thrown together, as I do not believe there is much value in that approach. Instead my tasting notes for a wine will attempt to offer a complete description of the wine and the experience it brings. It is my hope that my tasting notes will allow you to experience a wine alongside me. My notes should give you a sense not only of the wine, but how it relates to the overall wine world. And more importantly, how it relates to my wine world. Reading my tasting notes should allow you to see, smell, taste and enjoy a wine through my eyes. No matter how objective one tries to be in writing a tasting note, notes remain deeply personal and reflect one’s personal views on the wine. My notes represent the building blocks in my overall accumulation of wine knowledge and experience. And in publishing them here, hopefully they can be building blocks for your knowledge as well.
Rounding out the vacation wines here with the Marcarini La Serra 2010. I was excited to try this wine, as I have previously tasted the 1991 and 2003 versions. The 2003 was very much a traditional developed Barolo, showing the standard rose and tar along with notes of balsamic vinegar, plum and cherry. The 1991 was flat-out outstanding. The acidity was still very much present, keeping the fruit flavors alive with an intensity that made the wine seem 15 years younger than it was. A beautiful orange peel aroma and flavor complemented the cherry, strawberry and rose notes. The wine was well-balanced, richly layered and had a long lingering finish.
Marcarini unabashedly promotes themselves as adherents to the traditionalist ways of winemaking in Barolo. For Marcarini, and current winemaker Manuel Marchetti, traditional winemaking begins in the vineyard. The La Serra vineyard sits in the La Morra area of Barolo, with its more prominent calcerous marl soil. La Serra also sits at a higher elevation in La Morra (400 meters above sea level), which provides the vineyard with extra circulation of air and greater ventilation among the vines. In the winery, both the La Serra bottling and it’s sister the Brunate bottling undergo extended fermentation times (4 to 6 weeks) and the wines are then aged for at least 24 months in medium-sized oak casks.
Based on my past experiences with the Marcarini La Serra and based on Marcarini’s traditionalist ways, I assumed the 2010 would convey a sense of restraint and would not seem out-of-place, unlike the Ceretto I tasted just days before. My tasting would show my expectations to be justified.
For the second of my beach wines, I managed to sneak in an afternoon tasting, rather than my standard time for tasting which is to wait for the kids to be asleep. There are few things more relaxing than being on vacation and spending an afternoon on a balcony near the beach with a glass of wine (see my first post for my view). This was definitely one of those occasions where wine was more than something to analyze and deconstruct. The Rivetto on this day was to be enjoyed first; a complement to the scenery and the moment. The particulars of the winery and how the wine was made would have to take a backseat. Instead the wine shared time with the just-partly cloudy sky, the quiet of being near the beach, and the overall peacefulness of having a few spare minutes to myself. Ah, the joys of summer down the shore.
Alas, I did manage to jot down some notes on the Rivetto before the moment fully took hold. I am still focused on recording the experience after all, even if my attention is not solely on the wine…
Man that first “official” In Pursuit of Winefulness tasting note was tough. I need a vacation…
At least I was able to find three wine candidates at the local liquor store (Shell Liquors in Long Beach Island – surprisingly good selection) that fit my current Barolo theme to keep up the momentum.
My vacation companions
I started with the 2008 Ceretto Zonchera. Tasting occurred over the first two nights of the vacation.
The Ceretto family has long been an established wine producer, not only in Barolo and Barbaresco, but throughout Piemonte. Three generations of Ceretto’s have endeavored to transform grapes into something more meaningful. Bruno and Marcello Ceretto sought to highlight various vineyard plots and how they resulted in distinct wines, and as such they began producing single-vineyard bottlings. Modern advances began to be incorporated over time, although current winemaker Alessandro Ceretto has recently implemented a return to more traditional methods.
The Zonchera bottling is produced from grapes from the Zonchera (or Zonchetta) vineyard in Barolo, just south of La Morra. The 2008 vintage was fermented in stainless steel for 14-15 days, and maceration took place over 15-25 days. The wine then matured for 12 months in French barrique, followed by an additional 12 months in larger barrels, before completing its maturation in the bottle.
As a start to In Pursuit of Winefulness I decided to open a bottle with some age to it. Barolo’s can exhibit a great deal of longevity, and in fact many examples require years of aging before they fully reveal themselves and all they have to offer. I thought it would be best to set a baseline for the project of where a Barolo could go if given a proper amount of time before opening. In looking over the choices I had, I thought the 1998 Fontanafredda Paiagallo Vigna La Villa fit exactly what I was looking for.
Fontanafredda is one of Barolo’s oldest wine producers. During the past century, the winery has certainly seen its share of ups and downs, but it remains a forceful presence in the Barolo landscape. Winemaking in recent years has found a middle ground between the traditional and modern camps. Maceration typically occurs over a 20-30 day period. The wine is then matured in barrique for 12 months for cask for an additional 12 months months before a further year in bottle prior to release. Grapes for the La Villa bottling come from Fontanafredda’s vineyard of the same name in the larger Paiagallo vineyard outside of the city of Barolo. Paiagallo lies just southwest of the famed Cannubi hill, and sits above Tortonian soil. The Tortonian soil typically results in a lighter, less structured but more perfumed expression of Barolo as compared to wines that hail from Barolo’s more eastern vineyards.
The bottle I tasted came directly from my cellar, where it had resided for several months. Tasting occurred over three nights.
So where to begin on this trip through Winefulness? With the King of course.
Let’s explore why Barolo gets top choice.
I was first properly introduced to Barolo wines while my wife and I were dating and living in Manhattan. We would frequently dine (and had our first date) at I Trulli. And although there are many reasons to recommend I Trulli: delicious food (Sardinian saffron dumplings are out of this world), outdoor garden seating and beautiful fireplace, one of the main things I Trulli excels at is its wine list. The list is extensive, and is filled with many many back vintages. From the wine books I had read at that point, I knew Barolo was regarded as one of the top wines from Italy, so in my effort to seem sophisticated and knowledgeable, I would typically turn to the Barolo section of I Trulli’s wine list. Thankfully the list didn’t just include recent releases (which would have numbed our mouths and prevented us from tasting our food), but it had many back vintages to choose from as well. My first tastes of Barolo then were ones that were ready to be consumed and enjoyed, and ready to provide a splendid introduction to the possibilities of the region. And obviously the environment of a beautiful restaurant and the beginning stages of love helped make the wines taste that much better.
The seeds for a relationship with Barolo had been planted, but admittedly other wines still remained at the forefront of my attention. However a few years ago I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about Barolo (and its Piemontese partner, Barbaresco), so I attended a wine tasting/course on the two at Italian Wine Merchants, a great wine store on 16th St in Manhattan. In the class we explored several examples, and I was blown away by the great heights that Nebbiolo could achieve in the two regions. I bought a lot of wine that day, and decided to devote out a large section of my wine cellar to Barolo and Barbaresco.
However, I could never give my full attention to Barolo with all the tasting and learning that was required across all the wine world as part of my WSET studies. But I would stare at the bottles I had purchased and always felt their pull on me. I always knew the would eventually draw me in to their world and all of its wonder. And in many ways that draw was what led me down the path of deciding to start this blog. I knew that to learn Barolo, to truly feel like I knew it and felt comfortable with it, I would need to give it my full and utmost attention.
Welcome to my little corner of the wine world. Why don’t you come out to the balcony and join me?
In Pursuit of Winefulness started as a bit of “next steps” for me. I recently completed my Diploma courses from the WSET, and since I have a full-time life outside of wine world (check out the About Me page), I was looking for something to help channel my wine passion. I have been interested in learning about wine (the regions, varietals, vintages and people involved) ever since I started drinking wine. While I was reading or studying or taking whatever course I happened to be in, I had a reason to focus my attention on all the intricacies of wine. But with the Masters of Wine a bit further on the horizon (with its pesky requirement that you need to work in the wine business for 3 years), I sat down to think of ways I could keep the same level of focus without a test or deadline hanging over my head. And thus, this blog was created.
The world of wine is vast and you could spend years and years studying it and still not really know wine. Or at least even come close to knowing wine, because wine is ever-changing. It is easy to enjoy wine with only a minor effort, and many people stop there. But for me, there is more to learn. For me, wine is interactive, and the more you know about wine the more interactive it becomes. A glass of wine can become more than a refreshing thirst-quencher or a regular purchase at the supermarket or local liquor store. Wine can provide a glimpse into other worlds, allowing us to wonder: Where did it came from? Who made it? How did the flavor of cherries combine with spice and flowers? Why do I keep remembering that bottle I drank two weeks ago?
All of these questions, and many many more, can flow out of a glass of wine. And the more you look to answer those questions, the more questions come forth. But rather than become disheartened thinking there is never an end-point, there can be enjoyment in seeking those answers and finding new questions. That is how wine is for me.
But with all of these questions, it can be easy to lose focus and not truly engage in finding the answers. You may think you are engaged, but knowledge remains at the surface. That is why wine calls for you to be mindful. Mindfulness to me is being present in the moment, focusing on the moment and all that it brings. Being fully and truly aware of what you are doing right now. Allowing whatever you are doing to have your full attention. Wine can act as a gateway to this state of mindfulness. Call it a state of winefulness. It is contemplative. Sometimes it is hidden and sometimes it is mysterious. Many times you only come to understand a wine when you spend some time with it. Allow it to pour into all of your senses until it becomes a part of you.