Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 11

11 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

As we approach the halfway point of this Advent campaign, I gingerly unwrap today’s offering and the bemusement arrives as if on cue: Another 2013! 2013 is the new 2018. Or something. And its a Barbera d’Asti with a lovely label. Hmmm. I begin recalling what I know about this grape. Barbera is a high acid low tannin variety, although it is also very darkly pigmented, containing roughly twice the color compounds of Nebbiolo. Although the grape does best in Piedmont, and in the Asti DOCG specifically, it is the third most widely planted black grape in Italy. Barbera is lauded as being easy to grow and rather tolerant of mistakes in the vineyard or cellar; it yields decent wines even at high yields in rich soil. Although historically such wines were quite austere and characterized by piercing acidity, they have evolved into an approachable, soft, rich style that is often permeated by the telltale chocolate and vanilla aromas of new oak. As is the case with most indulgences, moderation is everything. Some argue that the trend towards oak aging has gone too far. Regardless, Barbera could be a grape on the cusp of international superstardom. It does well outside of its native land and its pacific temperament lends itself to a whole range of styles, from crushable easy-going reds full of juicy red and black cherries to wines more regal and age-worthy.

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Not afraid of oak is La Spinetta, founded by Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti in 1977. La Spinetta produced the first single vineyard Moscato in Italy, and the present wine, Ca’ Di Pian, was their inaugural red. La Spinetta eventually added holdings in both Barbarsco and Barolo, even spreading beyond Piedmont into Tuscany. Their philosophy is summarized as ” 90% of the work we do at La Spinetta is in the vineyards, with just 10% in the cellar”. 75% of their vineyards are farmed in accordance with biodynamic principles, and chemicals are used at a bare minimum in those that are not. Indigenous varieties are coveted, with La Spinetta seeking to let native grapes reflect local conditions as opposed to using international varieties to score points. Besides, Barbera is more than capable of providing colour. Vine ages range from 35 to 65 years old. Green harvesting is used to keep yields low. Cooperage is 80% new medium toast French oak barrels (225 liter barriques) and the cellar is constantly controlled for temperature and humidity. This is all well and good. My burning question is, why the rhino?

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Well, the folks at La Spinetta freely admit that there is no veridical connection between this rhino and the wines. “A whiff of barnyard, albeit with an exotic languid turpitude that suggests a rhinoceros on the savanna”. No, the truth is that one of the Rivetti brothers, Georgio, is a fan of this celebrated drawing and woodcut by German artist Albrecht Dürer, and therefore figured he’d throw it on the labels. This woodcut does depict a real animal in Lisbon, Portugal in 1515. It was the first animal of its kind to arrive in Europe.

I digress. Ca’ Di Pian comes from younger vines (6-20 years old) that hail from two sites, Castagnole and Costigliole. Together these sites occupy about 23 hectares, feature southern exposures, and the vines grow on calcareous soil at 300 metres elevation. All this taken together makes me expect something reasonably ripe and fruity, but ultimately quite balanced. Fermentation takes 6 or 7 days in roto-fermenters, known for efficient, relatively heavy extraction of colour, tannin, and flavour, followed by 12 months in the aforementioned French oak regime. The claim is that this can evolve for 10-15 years in bottle.

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (this Diam is much better that avoiding cork taint than it is at holding my interest.)

Violently purple in the glass, this wine smells of dark chocolate covered coffee beans, along with something more confected, like Turkish delight covered with the aforementioned chocolate. Fennel seeds and black liquorice, black plums, black cherries, blueberries, balsam, fig Newtons, Cuban cigars, leather watchband, a touch of musty cabin or old sawmill. The dark fruits are flashing some prune and black raisin underneath the oak. I find the palate more balanced than the nose. The fruits can breathe a bit here, and there’s even a touch of candied grapefruit peel knocking around with the usual suspects listed above. As I keep sipping these disparate elements merge into a rather pleasant whole, one that pairs rather well with this pepperoni and back bacon pizza. Neatly divides the fresh fruits on the one hand and the figs and dates on the other, with a solid foot in both camps. Perhaps the dried wins the nose while the fresh wins the palate? The acidity is at a comfortable medium level, enough to avoid any sense of decrepitude, and the tannins are expectedly smooth. My brain vacillates between “I would prefer less oak” and “relax, its fine”, with this cognitive dissonance eventually resolving closer to the latter perspective. Relax and enjoy with a clean conscience: not a single note of rhino.

89 points


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