Wednesday, 16 April, 2014

Published December 06, 2013
Wines for early drinking
Young wines present a taste profile that can offer up surprises, writes NK YONG
BT 20131206 WINE6A 865529

Piedmont varietal: Dolcetto grapes ripening in Nieve, Piedmont. Dolcetto is a varietal which makes simple, delightful and refreshing wines. A good example is Sandrone's Dolcetto, a light wine, fruity and fresh, for daily drinking and meant to be drunk young. - PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BT 20131206 WINE6A 865529

LOOKING for a reasonably mature wine to drink with dinner, I came across my last bottle of Cims de Porrerra Classic 1996. At 17 years of age it should be quite mature. It had been some time since I last drank one and it would be interesting to see how this 1996, the first vintage of Cims had matured. It was very enjoyable, its colour showing just a tinge of brown against a deep red.

There was an aroma of fresh ripe fruit, and the palate showed surprisingly good freshness and the taste of well-ripened fruit. The wine was full and lush, without much tannin. I thought had begun to lose some of its fruit, though, and true enough the next day the thinness of the palate confirmed this. This was the last of a case of 12, bought locally in June 1999, soon after release at $73 per bottle, not exactly modest in price.

Bodega Cims de Porrerra was founded in 1996 as a joint venture between Jose Louis Perez Verdu, Llis Llach the musician and the Porrera Cooperative. The winemaker was Sarah Perez, Jose Louis's daughter.

She told me she also had to spend much of her time in the vineyards with the wine-growers overseeing the viticulture, an essential part of a winemaker's responsibility. Cims is 85 per cent Carignena and 15 per cent Garnacha, and the 1996 was the first vintage. A passionate and committed wine-maker, Sarah did a great job with the wines and they rapidly gained the reputation they deserved. In the early 2000s, she relinquished her job - she was raising a family - and her younger brother took over.

There are innumerable wines which, like Cims, are meant for early and enjoyable drinking at a price that would not cause any hesitation. We have never been so spoiled for choice. I have in mind the Barberas I had in Piedmont in October this year. They were eye-openers. I had, to my loss, not paid much attention hitherto to Barbera but this October visit changed my mind.

As usual we made the mandatory annual visit to Azienda Vitivinicola Giacomo Conterno, Piedmont's most famous producer. Despite the major construction work going on (the cellars were being enlarged), Roberto Conterno who now heads the winery very kindly received us. The winery sits on the crest of a small hill in the rear of the village of Monforte d'Alba and thus has a commanding view of the valley below and the mountain range in the distance. A beautiful site. Brunello Riserva Montfortino, Giacomo Conterno, is unquestionably Piedmont's finest and greatest Brunello, desperately sought after world-wide. (It reminds me of Roumier's Musigny!) His other wines, the regular Brunello, Brunello Cascina Francia and his Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia are equally popular and hence also scarce.

Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia 2011, Giacomo Conterno (8 Oct, 2013)

(15 per cent alcohol.) Made from Barbera fruit grown in the same vineyard, Cascina Francia in Serralunga as the Nebbiolo fruit for the Barolo Montfortino.

This may be just a Barbera but what a specimen it was. Black-red, with a sweet fruity nose; a very dense wine, very concentrated ripe fruit, with a light touch of tannin and beautifully balanced. What impressed most was its amazing freshness. It left the mouth feeling so sweetly fresh and the high alcohol hardly noticeable. At a market price today, about 40 euros (S$68) in UK, it is great value, if still available.

Barbera d'Alba 2011, Sandrone

Black-red, with a light bouquet of ripe fruit. Great freshness, very rich in ripe fruit, but quite tannic. A bit heavier in texture than Giacomo Conterno's Barbera Cascina Francia.

Other Piedmont producers I have visited and whose Barberas are worth looking at are Pio Cesare's single-vineyard Barbera Fides, Paolo Scavino, Elio Altare, Guido Fantino, La Spinetta, Roberto Voerzio, Vietti and Clerico.

It is Barbera and other wines in the same category that this column wants to highlight. The tendency to stick to familiar names and familiar wines is normal human habit, basically laziness.

Sticking to familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir wines means missing out on a huge variety of exciting and very drinkable wines out there. On a commercial note, we checked out the store prices of Giacomo Conterno's Barbera Cascina Francia against other producers. The recent release of Cascina Francia was available at 60 euros, the other Barberas being priced around 30 to 40 euros. A great bargain. Could not resist buying a bottle to drink along the way!

Dolcetto is another varietal grown in Piedmont which makes simple, delightful and refreshing wines. For a good example, try Sandrone's Dolcetto. At around $40 locally, it is well worth the price. It is a light wine, fruity and fresh, for daily drinking and meant to be drunk young, soon after release. You could think of it as Italy's equivalent of Bourgogne Rouge and France's Beaujolais.

I should conclude with an account of the other wines that we tasted at Giacomo Conterno, just for completeness and because they are worth bringing to the attention of readers.

Barolo Cascina Francia 2009, Giacomo Conterno

(Tasted Oct 8, 2013 at the winery.) This Cascina Francia is Giacomo Conterno's "regular" Barolo, the Montfortino is the Riserva. But there was no Montfortino Riserva in 2009!

A medium dark red beginning to show brown tints. Very faint light aroma of ripe fruit. On the palate, lots of fruit, very ripe and fruity, but still very youthful and not fully developed. A touch of hollowness on the mid-palate, finishing a little short. Needs much more time. Would be good to see this at 10 years' age.

Cascina Francia is Giacomo Conterno's vineyard in the commune of Serralunga, which Barolo producers consider the foundation stone of great Barolos. In great vintages, it produces powerful, rich and complex Barolos with great ageing potential.

Barolo Montfortino Riserva 2006, Giacomo Conterno

(14.5 per cent alcohol; 7 years in barrel. Latest release.) A medium brownish red, with a very elegant refined bouquet, almost perfume-like. Very rich entry, intense and compact wine, with lots of extract, went down smoothly, with very long finish.

A great wine, at seven years old, starting to drink very attractively, but clearly still very youthful. Needs much more time. Would be good to see this at 20 years of age.