by Chris Ryerson

Our string of fantastic visiting winemakers continued this week when Mario Andrion of Castello di Verduno stopped by on Wednesday night accompanied by Marcella Bianco (daughter of the estate owners). Other than the Produttori del Barbaresco, we have more wines in our cellars from Castello di Verduno than any other producer, so their visit was a great opportunity to sample current releases along with older wines from our list.

My overall impression of the line-up was of wines that are traditionally made, strive for perfect balance, can easily stand the test of time, and seem to be getting better and better under Andrion’s stewardship. He took over as of the 2001 vintage, so it was interesting to compare the 1998 and 1999 Barbarescos “Faset” with the current release 2005 Barbaresco and 2004 Barbaresco “Rabajà.” All four wines represent the best of traditional winemaking, yet even accounting for the age of the two older vintages, the two newer releases seem to be just a touch more cleanly made.

The 1998 Barbaresco “Faset” is medium-bodied with slightly chalky, creeping tannins. Dark, dusty raspberry fruit mingles with hints of menthol, dried flower, earthy and oolong tea notes. The primary fruit flavors are definitely fading behind a more prominent layer of delicious tertiary flavors – the reason we all love older wines. The 1999 Barbaresco “Faset” offers much more obvious primary fruit notes, and as expected of the vintage, is more full bodied and has more pronounced tannins. The fruit takes on a slightly darker tinge here and the vinous notes are less evolved: warm spice and cedar stood out to me. While the 1998 seems to be hitting a plateau in it’s maturity, the 1999 still has several years to go before it really reveals itself. They were both delicious with the Charcoal-grilled Paine Farm pigeon with carmelized Brussel sprouts, pancetta, and caraway as well as the Spezzatino of Watson Farm spring lamb with baby carrots, artichokes, and salsify.

In addition to the current release Barbarescos which I’ll discuss in a moment, we also featured the 2008 vintages of Castello di Verduno’s entry level Langhe Nebbiolo and the Pelaverga Piccolo “Basadone.” The Langhe Nebbiolo is a crowd-pleaser with mild tannins (for Nebbiolo), and ripe, candied cherry and cranberry notes softened by just a touch of vanilla. Delicious. However, the Pelaverga Piccolo, which is indigenous to their village of Verduno, was far more interesting and unique. The pale pink/rose petal color and delicate aromas lure you in to a surprisingly structured wine. The faint strawberry, red cherry, watermelon, floral, and bitter herbal notes are tightly knit within this light-bodied wine and are supported by the perfect balance of acidity and tannin. A perfect companion for our House-made dry-cured salumi.

Finally, Marcella and Mario brought two new releases with them. The 2005 Barbaresco normale is tasty, but still somewhat one-dimensional. Earthy notes dominate, with red cherry, raspberry, and a hint of baking spice in the background. The alcohol is completely in check, and the tannins not too formidable. While somewhat understated right now, it seems to have the perfect balance needed to evolve into a beautiful elegant wine. In comparison, the Barbaresco “Rabajà,” from the much-heralded 2004 vintage delivers quite an impact now as well as amazing potential for the future. Dense, perfectly ripe fruit barely masks notes of tobacco and rose petal waiting to poke through. It shows astonishing depth and complexity, the tannins are firm, yet have a velvety touch that allow for enjoying the wine now, and the finish billows around on the palate for at least 60 seconds. It was a thrill to taste this wine and I can’t wait to see what complexity emerges over the years ahead. It is, without a doubt, the finest wine I have tasted in the last year.