Friday, April 15, 2011

Killer B’s on the Wisconsin River

MadisonWineScene (MWS) was at the Piedmont Killer B’s wine tasting, April 14, at the Blue Spoon, 550 Water Street, Prairie du Sac, 608-643-0837,

The Killer B’s denote the great wines of the Piedmont region of Italy (the area near Turin, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics) -- Barbera, Barbaresco and of course Barolo.  

Barbera grapes produce high acid, moderately tannic wines that are sometimes used in blending because they can add structure to a lighter wine and softness to a tannic wine. Because of this versatility it is often bottled as a varietal with labels such as Barbera d’Alba or Barbera d’Asti – Alba and Asti being sub-regions of Piedmont. Barbera is the most commonly planted grape in the Piedmont, and the third most commonly planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. A Barbera would be typically paired with Italian fare like pasta or any dish with a tomato-based sauce

Barbaresco and Barolo are made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is only grown in Piedmont.  Barbarescos are required to be aged a minimum of two years while Barolos are required to be aged a minimum of three years.  The wine is light colored and takes on a brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass as it ages. Both wines are very tannic and require long aging (although the tannins in Barbaresco soften faster than those in Barolo, and therefore make them more approachable to drink at a relatively earlier age).  Adjectives frequently used for those wines are big, muscular, and chewy. However, mature Barolos, if you are willing to cellar one for 30 years, are described as having the velvety texture of rose petals.  Food pairing: Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner.

In terms of deals this was better than anything that Groupon could ever offer.  For $30 a person one got a generous pour of 11 wines. No, really, 11.  All 11 of the wines were of superior quality but the four Barolos described below were outstanding. It would be rare to find them in a retail store in Madison, and most restaurants anywhere would price these wines at several hundred dollars a bottle.  

On the same day, the Wall Street Journal carried an article ( -- Introducing the Other B: Barolo about the attempts of Barolo producers to stimulate interest in China in top Italian wines. Bottom-line: buy these wines before the Chinese bid up prices to insane levels as they have done with first-growth Bordeauxs.  The article also offered this incisive observation: “Often you see people drinking French wines with Italian food, and you’re thinking, ’It doesn’t make sense,’” said Nick Pegna, managing director in Hong Kong at Berry Bros. & Rudd, which recently hosted five visiting winemakers from Italy’s Piedmont region.

Props to Mike Boss of the Blue Spoon and to General Beverage for finding these wines and arranging this event. The tasting was held in a room overlooking the Wisconsin River – which was running high and fast and white-foamed that evening – seemed to be in a hurry to get to Prairie du Chien.  

The finalists for best of show in this tasting were:

  • The 2005 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio, from Scavino, was a full-bodied wine with lots of dark fruit.
  • The 2005 Barolo Bric del Fiasc, also from Scavino, was rich but softer than a typical Barolo. The fruit was strong and the wine certainly lived up to it’s title of King of  the Scavino cellars.  This was the best of the three offerings from Scavino.
  • The 2005 Barolo Cannubi – the third offering that night from Scavino – had an aromatic bouquet, fruit, length, balance.
  • The best of show however went to Sandrone’s 2004 Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  Beautiful color, well-knit fruit and tannins.  All that was needed was a medium-rare ribeye.
The Scavino label includes 14 different wines, including some Barberas and an entry-level Barolo, but their single-vineyard Barolos – three of which are listed above -- are typically among the finest in the region. The Cannubi vineyard is the most famous historical cru of Barolo with the first bottle being made in 1792, and the vineyard has mythic status among Barolo lovers.

The other seven wines that were showcased were:

  • 2008 Luigi Tacchino Barbera del Monferrato
  • 2006 Ca Bianca Chersi Barbera d’Asti
  • 2007 Venti colle dei Venti Barbera d’Asti
  • 2008 Marziano Abbona Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba
  • 2007 Boroli Langhe Rosso Anna (not technically a Barolo since it is blended with Merlot)
  • 2004 Poderi Elia Serracapelli Barbaresco
  • 2004 Eugenio Bocchino Lu Barolo
Of these, the Ca Bianca Chersi and the Boroli Langhe Rosso Anna dominated the others. The former was rich, earthy and fruity while the latter will be an ideal pairing with summer grilling being light, drinkable, and approachable.

The Blue Spoon has similar wine tastings every month.

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