The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Aldo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile 2007

On a day like this when the wind howls at my window and the snow piles up at my doorstep, I yearn for my favorite wintry drinks: Port, Amarone, even a hot toddy. To be perfectly honest, I would not normally choose a Barbera for drinking in December; if I were given a choice, I would probably decide on a heavier wine with more tannic structure, like a Bordeaux or Cote-Rotie. But this particular Barbera is Aldo Conterno’s 2007 Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile (Editor’s note: that link is to the 2006 because the ’07 is yet to be put on our website). This is Barbera from a Piemonte master. Today, even in the midst of the snowpocalypse, I am only too happy to be drinking Barbera

I became a loyal fan of Poderi Aldo Conterno when I first joined IWM back in 2007. My first taste of the 2000 Barolo Granbussia Riserva was certainly an unforgettable experience; however, at $250 a bottle, it is not an experience that I can regularly repeat. But the Conca Tre Pile at less than $40 falls solidly under the category of “affordable luxury” for many people. My first impression of this wine was that it was a bit closed. (Although to be fair, none of the glasses in my apartment allow for proper swirling!) The nose, while very pretty, was not really jumping out of the glass, so I set it aside for a while and got to work on making dinner. After all, what is a good wine without good food to complement it?

An hour later, I sat down with a steaming plate of my improvised version of bucatini all’amatriciana and returned to my wine glass. The nose was much more aromatic and pronounced now, showing lots of dark, almost prune-like fruit. In fact, the fruit showed a much darker character than I would have expected from a Barbera. On the palate, the wine expressed its typical vibrant acidity along with a slight earthy undertone, pairing well with the smoky and tangy tomato sauce and making my mouth water for another bite of pasta with every sip. On the finish, this Barbera was uncommonly tannic; this is mostly due to its aging in barrique for twelve months, but the tannins were undoubtedly magnified by the heat from the crushed chilies in my pasta sauce.

At the end of the meal, my plate was cleaned and my cup drained, and I’d had a wholly satisfying experience. The 2007 Conca Tre Pile, while not an overly complex or thought-provoking wine, is a welcome addition a simple meal–whatever the season.

Nice to See You Again, Beaujolais Nouveau

Keeping in Touch with What Wine Might Be all About

This time of year everyone talks about Thanksgiving, and more than making me think of family dinners past, it reminds me of my first wine tasting experiences back in culinary school. We were supposed to be learning how to pair wines with our food, and naturally, all of the students looked forward to these weekly sessions—they were certainly my favorite part of class. Our chef instructor had been the wine steward at Windows on the World, and he was always quite solemn as we discussed the wines, their different aromas and flavors, and how they would stand up to certain foods. It was all quite serious and analytical, and many of my classmates were just plain bored.

But the class I remember best was just a few days before Thanksgiving, and the wine that we tasted in that session was a Beaujolais Nouveau. The chef told us the story of how every year on the third Thursday of November, the winemakers in the Beaujolais region bottle some of their wines after only a few weeks of fermentation and release them as Beaujolais Nouveau. Then on “Beaujolais Day” messengers would race from the vineyards to Paris with the first taste of the new vintage. Of course, the wine is simple, fruity, and not at all serious –it can be more like drinking grape juice than actual wine. Yet no one seemed to be having a problem with finishing their glass.

As we were tasting our Nouveau, another of our chef instructors stopped in to taste a glass. Chef Dominique was a tall man with a thin moustache and the thickest French accent I had ever heard. In his chef’s jacket and toque, he was the quintessential French chef. We asked him what he thought of the wine, expecting him to dismiss it completely and to mock the silly Americans for their unsophisticated tastes in wine. But as he took a sip, a twinkle came into his eye. He smiled and said simply, “It’s fun!”

And when it comes down to it, isn’t that really the point of wine?