Thirsty Thursday: Marchesi di Barolo, Maraia, Barbera del Monferrato, Italy 2012

I’m finding it hard reaching for red this Thirsty Thursday. It is still August.  Summer has yet to leave us. I do not want to hear the word Fall.  But then we have Barbera.

barbera grapesNo, not those perpetually rerun Saturday cartoons, but a big, fat black grape that grows like wildfire throughout Northwestern Italy.

Barbera makes for a staple red wine of the North, attached to regions like Asti and Alba. Yet nearly filling the Piedmont region and enveloping the familiar appellations of Asti and Alba ranges Monferrato: a hilly swath south of Turin (Torino).

piedmont doc wine map

Today’s Barbera del Monferrato DOC comes from Marchese di Barolo: grandaddy of famed, classic Barolo and Barbaresco.  It is 100% Barbera.  Yet because Monferrato is massive (that huge pink blob mapped above), this wine will be under $10 on any respectable shelf.

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbera Monferrato Marchesi di Barolo titled it “Maraia”: or rowdy kids. You know, the ones with the one-eyed dog, who roam the streets burning ants with a magnifying glass, playing endless amounts of baseball, and ending up in every single film from 1980 until 1995: when it stopped being cute.

Lucky dog.

Lucky dog.

So what does an inexpensive bottle of little rascals taste like?

Appearance: It has a clear yet dense purple ruby color with a short clear rim.

Aroma: At first soft vanilla and dry leaf (6 months of oak) then morph into a warming, intense black cherry syrup.

Palate: Snappy and dry, the palate prances about with bright, chattering acidity, minor tannin, and a medium minus body.

Flavors: A moderately intense array of bramble berries that blacken fingers leads, followed by tart orange juice, and finished with a light dusting of oak ash.

Conclusions: MdB’s Maraia Barbera is simple, playful, and delightful.  It displays Barbera’s twangy fruit mostly unadorned by oak. It is a perfect wine for the fruit and acid of red tomatoes: from caprese salad to pasta.  Well done (3 of 5) and perfect for summer.


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No EU Austerity Drinking Tour Monday

My apologies readers. This Monday’s EU Austerity Drinks Tour will have to wait until next Monday.  If I still have sanity and attached fingers, Thirsty Thursday’s wine recommendation will arrive.

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Thirsty Thursday: Chill with Blandy’s Madeira, 1998, Colheita, Single Harvest, Verdelho, Portugal

With summer’s heat upon us, we turn to whites, rosés, hell…anything chilled.  Although going too far might risk damnation:

jesus-popsiclesThank you internet, thank you (and yes, those are wine).  But if you’re not into drive-by Eucharists via ice cream trucks, how about chilling with something traditional yet all too forgotten: fortified wine.

America’s founders lived on fortified wines like Port, Sherry, and especially Madeira (the bar tab leading up to signing the Constitution saw 54 bottles of the latter). Why? Boats lacked air conditioning. The heat ruined most wines that lacked high alcoholic protection.  But fortified wines survived the trip.

Now most Ports are drunk cool, Sherries can range cooler, but Madeira should be chilled into the 40s. So break out the surf board, sun tan lotion, and get that brazilian…it’s summer!

This Thirsty Thursday we splurge on a wine from 1998, from a grape called Verdelho, from a Portuguese island called Madeira, from a seven generation producer known as Blandy’s.

Blandys Madeira 1998 Colheita Single Harvest Verdelho Portugal

Appearance: Clear, bright golden amber with guase-like legs.

Aromas: A monumental punch of hard cider, orange liquor, green fig, fresh grass, honey, and salt simply own my nose.

Palate: It is medium sweet but bright acids, vegetal pine tannins, and oodles of alcohol wash away any thoughts that this is dessert wine.  The body is full up front then leaned out, taught and serious by all its structures.  A fine line of viscous texture keep this from becoming too serious, too austere.

Flavors: A complex, intense array of flavors vie for attention: dried orange peel and orange liquor, lime, green fig, honey, creme brulee, vanilla syrup, salt, white pepper, white smoke… One could go on for months, this 1998 is endless.

Conclusion: Bandly’s 1998 Colheita Madeira Verdelho is outstanding stuff (5 of 5). Chilled: it is mouthwatering, bright, complex, and honestly still in its youth.  It reminds me of Islay single malt scotch: serious, challenging, yet so rewarding.

Whereas most wineries age their wine for a year or two, this sees fourteen.  Fourteen.  Imagine, making something and then sitting on it, making no money, then when that newborn is ready for high school, bottle it and pray it sells.

Now all that time in barrel, baking in hot rooms (the estufagem process), makes the wine immortal.  You can age it for decades.  It will taste the same open for over six months.  For around $60 a 500ml, that’s an investment.

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Damp in Lyon: Crozes-Hermitage, Roman Theaters, Basilica, Cathredral and a Big Clock

125 Days into our EU Austerity Drinking Tour, we leave Avignon reinvigorated for Lyon (see last Monday’s EUADT post).

EU map New York to Lyon Day 125Highs and low punctuate the experience. We nearly miss our train because Avignon has not one station, but two.  Yet we catch the last bus to the TGV speed train.  It flies up the gorgeous Rhône Valley like a whisp of a cloud on the wind.

Rhone Valley MountainsThe vineyards of Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage sprawl everywhere. In little time our train deposits us in Lyon. The city is an urban sprawl.  It renders Avignon quaint, parochial.  Children beg and grope as we swap to the Metro. However, our Lyon apartment is spacious and the kitchen wonderful.  We try to go out.  Then it pours.

Lyon City HallThe Mediterranean’s sun has left us.  Cool, continental Beaujolais and Burgundy sit north of Lyon.  We can feel the change.  To test our unscientific theory, we try the nearest Rhône valley wine under 10 Euros:

Cave de Tain, Syrah, Crozes-Hermitage, France 2009. €8.40

Tain grows its own Syrah in the Rhône’s famed northern region of Crozes-Hermitage.

Appearance: It looks a clear, medium ruby purple. Aromas: Young (in 2012), medium intense aromas of Whisky barrel and vanilla and caramel lead, followed by classic white pepper, and cranberry sauce. Palate: It feels dry, with tell-tale cool-climate medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium alc 12.5% all of which lead to a medium body.  Flavors: Tain tastes of tart cranberry and red apple. Something a bit leafy, salty, and lean emerges…plump, spicy, Chateauneuf du Pape this ain’t.  Oak only shows mildly on the medium length finish.  Conclusions: So Cave de Tain is good quality (3 of 5), correct to type, lean Syrah: so we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The next day the funicular takes us to another tour through antiquity.  We must suffer a helsinki syndrome for Rome, having left the field of archaeology years ago, we still visit every ruined theater, temple, and sewer in striking distance.

Tracy Roman Odeon LyonFeeling guilty, we skip the museum.  However, wandering the Odeon, Theater, and adjacent temples and market stalls (still bearing bright yellow and red fresco) transports us.   We jump to the 19th century Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica.  Inside, riotous mosaics trace Lyon’s religious history with psuedo-anthropological yet Hollywood-ian flair.Mosaic Lyon BasilicaThe view doesn’t hurt either…

We then tumble down the hill into old town. A myriad of medieval alleyways intersect and open onto Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral:

Lyon Saint-Jean-Baptiste CathedralIt has extremely old blue and red stained glass and a great collection (vestments from Napoleon’s wedding, columns from Constantinople, really old books). But the real treat is Lyon’s Astronomical Clock replete with 1400s automaton:

Tune in Next Monday for the birth of film, bubbly Burgundy, and a orange wine from Jura.


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Avignon (P2): Fort St Andre, Monastary Charteuse, and Chateauneuf du Pape from St Clementin

We reached Avignon and blasted through the Pope’s Palace and a wine from Visan on last Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour post (Avignon P1).  Somehow, Avignon’s light, air, and quiet reinvigorated us, even though we should be dead after 123 days of backpacking.  Coffee and our YMCA’s view of morning rush hour don’t hurt:

Today, we forgo Avignon’s home of popes and stay on the Rhône’s right bank: Villeneuve lez Avignon.

We climb winding streets past a sentinel tower that watches over our YMCA.

Avignon TowerVilleneuve emerges in a valley devoid of people.  Its light feels cool and gray.  This town provides a modest repose -comfortable, like a river-rounded stone-  contrasting Avignon’s bombast.

Villeneuve ArchWe head uphill to imposing Fort St Andre.  Through the gates and alone, we go into full Monte Python mode, singing the theme and getting lost in search of grails and sites on our printed map.

Tracy Aaron Avignon VilleneauveThe view is spectacular. Room after room served various pope-protecting functions.  The massive oven, the powder store, the quaint chapel, the loo…

Toilet Fort Saint Andre VilleneuveAfter the Fort we grab quiche (yet again…it’s damned near to impossible to eat on the go, cheaply, without meat in France), cheese, and almond paste deliciousness.

We then enter La Chartreuse: a 14th century monastery built for retiring popes and Franciscan isolation.  Fort Saint Andre peers at us through its shelled-out, medieval church.

La ChartreuseThrough a narrow door, we imagine ourselves as hooded monks returning to our solitary, stark rooms in silence.

La Chartreuse Monestary Here, the tireless work of praying for popes and contemplation went on.  This was a factory for salvation.  Human interaction was minimized, even dinner arrived unseen in a niche.

Chartreuse Food DoorBut austerity wasn’t all misery.  Forsaking sex, money, pleasure, the world etc. didn’t mean you didn’t get a posh bed, deck, and private backyard garden to play with.

Chartreuse Cubicle bedLong bleach-white halls wrap around to a small chapel with vibrant but flaking, frescoes.  Before leaving we find the well painted by Fall.

Watering hole ChartreuseBack at our clifftop YMCA, with the patio to ourselves, we open the cheapest Chateauneuf du Pape we could find:

Compagnie Rhodanniene (n) Saint Clémentin, Chateauneuf du Pape, France, 2010.

Saint Clementin CdP 2010Wines from the appellation Chateauneuf du Pape can be some of Southern France’s most expensive, and not just because it is named after Avignon’s Papal Palace (which didn’t happen until 1893…marketing genius!).  The Grenache dominant blend sees warm ferments, higher alcohols, and gallons per acre limited to half of what Bordeaux can do.  This equates to some of France’s most robust and pricey wines.

But Saint Clémentin cost us €16.74.

Appearance: It looks a dark, deep, clear ruby, with noticeable legs.

Aromas: Young and moderate aromas of kirsch, cherry jam, vanilla icing, and nutmeg all remind me of a Christmas pudding, a flaming Christmas pudding.

Palate: The higher acidity surprises us as does the unobtrusive medium alcohol (13.5%), tannins, and body.  This feels bright, balanced, and athletic.

Flavors: Black cherry, oranges, ground pepper, and old oak carry for a medium plus length.

Conclusions: Saint Clémentin’s CdP 2010 is very good (4 of 5).  It is well balanced, if a bit lean, as one might expect for 16.74.  It’s a bit too young, but mildly oaked and hardly tannic. All its verve and zippiness have likely cooled down when writing this.  We manage to tame that acidity with baguette and cheese: the local, melty, honeyed yet tart, Saint-Félicien du Dauphiné cheese: fantastic.

The best pairing of all is watching the sun set over Avignon from our perch at the Villenueve YMCA.  I sketch it while my wife books out trains and stays into the next month.

Avignon DrawingLyon awaits in next Monday’s post.  But for now, Avignon is perfect.


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