Marchesi di Barolo in Houston
I woke up one morning recently with a smile, thinking of my luncheon plans. One of Houston’s most successful wine wholesale/distribution personalities, Elizabeth Gallagher Heilman, had invited me to lunch at RDG in Houston, the successor restaurant to Robert Del Grande’s Café Annie — as an historical aside, I did the first serious wine list at Café Annie in the early ’80s.
The honored guest would be Elizabeth’s friend and client, Anna Abbona, fifth-generation owner of Marchesi di Barolo, and a fellow oenophile, imbued richly with a passion for wine, a magnetism forfriendship and a life full of joy. This is so obvious — just look at her unassuming, glowing smile. Just the name of this Piedmont winery, which was making great wines as early as 1859 and was purchased by Anna’s ascendants in 1929, evokes thoughts of generations of great wines of class and breed.
Of the wines we shared, I had three favorites. The first is Barbera d’ Alba “Ruvie” 2007. Barbera d’ Albaand Barbera d’ Asti, when well made, are among my favorite reds in the world that are priced below$20. This particular wine is 85 percent Barbera and 15 percent Nebbiolo. It spends one year in barrel, some in small French oak and the rest in traditional Slavonian oak casks. It is then aged one additional year in Slavonian oak prior to bottling. The aroma is wild berries and spices, and the wine in the mouth is well balanced with hints of sweet oak. A perfect match with meat pizzas and a tremendous bargain at $17.
The second favorite is the Barolo 2005, which ages in small, medium and large Slavonian oak casks for two years, with a small portion aged in toasted French oak barrels of 225 litres. The wine is then bottled and held at the winery for an additional year. It has noticeable, beneficial vanilla spice and roses in the bouquet, and it is medium- to full-bodied with breed and elegance. Excellent with roasted chicken with mushrooms or meat and hard cheeses. A top-class Barolo with a superb pedigree for only $50.
The last is the Barolo “Sarmassa” 2005 — the wine in the accompanying picture. One hundred percent Nebbiolo, this wine is produced exclusively from the hill of Sarmassa, one of the most prestigious hills in the commune of La Morra. It is aged partially in Slavonian oak casks and in French oak casks of 30 and 35 hectolitres for two years, with some aged in 225 litre French oak casks exclusively. It is also then bottled and aged for an additional year before release. This is a more intense wine, and along with the vanilla and spice,there is that hint of tar and faded roses that is one of the trademarks of Barolo (although these roses are more fresh and wild than faded!) With a slightly bigger body and more depth, this is the perfect wine for Piedmont-style, braised beef entrees. Whereas both of these Barolos are drinking well now, the Barolo should be at its best within about six years and for a number of years thereafter, and the Sarmassa should continue to improve for 10 or more, and still be drinking beautifully, if well stored, for up to 20 years. A Super-Piedmont for $85.
Recently Tasted, Highly Recommended White Wines
Macon-Villages Louis Jadot (Burgundy) 2009—Pure, fresh Chardonnay aroma. Bright flavors with excellent acidity. Perfect with a chicken salad sandwich from Nielson’s Deli. Great value.$12
Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Napa Valley 2008 — After reading the winemaker’s notes, you won’t be able to resist…“orchard aromas of Bosc pears and Gala apples against a backdrop of fleshy stone fruits and pineapple. A stripe of exotic spices, including notes of nutmeg and cinnamon, gives way to subtle aromas of panna cotta and warm hazelnuts.” A steal at $20
Jorian Hill Viognier Santa Ynez Valley Estate Grown 2007 — Farmed with organic and sustainable methods, the Jorian Hill vineyards produce a scant, beneficial harvest of 2 tons per acre. Definitely a winery to watch for great things in the future from Viognier and Shiraz! $30
Migration Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2009 — This is the second vintage of the first Chardonnay produced in the 35-year history of The Duckhorn Wine Company. The ’09 vintage was spectacular, leading to a complete wine with a “…compelling balance between vibrancy and finesse.” Winemaker Neil Bernardi fermented 24 individual lots for potential inclusion in the final blend, and usedwhole cluster pressing and wild yeast fermentation. About as good as Chardonnay gets! $30
Patz & Hall Chardonnay Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2008 — Patz & Hall was one of the first California wineries to focus on producing outstanding , super-premium vineyard-designated Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and introducing them to a broader audience outside of wine clubs and tasting rooms.
Today, in the Patz & Hall offices, pictures of the vineyard owners they have made famous (some already were) adorn the walls — in this case, Larry Hyde! This wine was made with 100% malolactic fermentation, aged in 50 percent new Burgundian barrels and bottled without filtration to retain all the character and complexity of the Hyde Vineyard terroir! $55
By Denman Moody