On Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba & Wine Schools
Bosco Agostino is a winery in the region of Alba, a town in the famed Piedmont wine region in northwest Italy. For oenophiles and gourmands (the town is also revered for their white truffles) the Alba brand is an impeccable one. Last month, Arron, one of our managers, took a trip to Italy, and predictably, allotted some time for the sacred gastronomic grounds. Even better, he was led around the countryside of Barolo by Andrea Bosco the third-generation grape grower, whose winery bears the same name as his. When Arron returned, he spoke excitedly about many of the wines and people he encountered, but perhaps none more so than Andrea. When the wines were listed this week, I was excited to tap in to Arron’s nostalgia. Even more exciting was to find the Barbera so substantive.
Check out the Piedmont wine map. Can you see Alba? Just south of the Tanaro River
New Old School
A common thing among winey people is to assess the character of the wine as “old school” or “new school”. Frankly, I haven’t been drinking long enough (or even around long enough) to really understand the distinction. It is generally accepted that “new school” is akin to New World. Translated, it is experienced as lots of fruit, alcohol and/or oak.
But now it seems that old school is the new new school. It is no coincidence that many of our favorite producers are anti- interventionist, and some proclaim to make wine completely naturally. Since technology was not historically a word used to describe the winemaking process, it’s hard to argue the point. But as Chris pointed out in his Syrah article earlier this week, a lot of “New World” producers are making wine with “Old World” sensibilities. To explore the idea further, I referenced Hugh Johnson and James Halliday’s Vintner’s Art, which tackles this very subject.
For the purposes of that particuliar text, Piedmont is synonomous to the prestigious Nebbiolo grape. But when discussing Nebbiolo, the next breath can be spent on the native Barbera. It is an essential threading in the proud fabric of Piemont’s wine tradition. It is a fair expectation that it can be found alongside Nebbiolo on most of the region’s top sites. For producers like Andrea, whose grandfather starting farming grapes in 1904, he has the benefit of familial tradition (especially crucial when farming the same land) and modern application; ie, old school and new school. Looking at the wine from this perspective, it looks something like this:
The 2007 vintage in Piedmont was warm, even and early. The grapes were picked a full three weeks prior to the harvest from the 2006 vintage. While the earlier picking is somewhat indicative of the vintage (producers did not want overly ripe fruit), the same reasoning is now commonplace in Piedmont. In Vintners Art Johnson and Halliday talk about the declining favor of late harvest, high alcohol, high tannin wine. This is seen incrementally over the last 30 years and validated in tasting. So that's old school viticulture in Piedmont.
In the cellar, the wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks (definitely modern) and “pumped over”. This refers to a method in which a valve siphons juice from just underneath the dense cap of floating grape skins and pumps it over the top. The juice filters through the cap, along the way, picking up color and weight. This happens 3-4 times daily.
Then comes the cellaring regiment. The cellaring program is a series of decisions that critically affect the personality of a wine, and is probably the most hotly contested element in “new/old-school” winemaking debate. In Piedmont, large wooden casks are less common than the (59 gallon) French barriques. In this case, 30% of the wood is new and the remaining 70% used. The wine is stored in these barrels for 14-15 months before bottling. This, by “old-school” (Nebbiolo) standards, is a short amount of time.
And though Barbera doesn’t have always the constitution to withstand that kind of barrel aging (mainly because its lush aromatics would be sacrificed), the new norm in Piedmont still seems to be less time in oak.
Perhaps the economy, perhaps the generation, perhaps the consumer are to blame, but at least in this example, the approach has been a success. We’re left with a supple wine with exceedingly generous black cherry aroma. The palate is soft and full, unmistakably oaked, but not overly, high acid, but no sharp edges. In all, this would be considered a “modern” wine-suited for international palates, yet technically correct for Barbera d’Alba.
Posted July 10, 2012 • Filed under Wine
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