A Langhe and winding road
With apologies for the atrocious pun that adorns today's headline, it seemed as good a way as any to highlight the name of a wine region in Northwestern Italy's Piemonte that's not nearly as well-known to most wine lovers as some of the specific wines made there.
Langhe covers a fairly large and roughly triangular swath of rolling vineyard country around the town of Alba, just south of Asti. Its leading wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, will earn a place in just about any wine enthusiast's hall of fame. Dolcetto and Barbera are other familiar names of the region.
But print "Langhe" on a label, and many wine consumers' eyes will glaze over at this foreign and seemingly unpronounceable name. (Say "Lahng-gay," and you'll have no trouble being understood.) Established as a controlled appellation (D.O.C.) only 10 years ago, Langhe serves as a catch-all label for the region, incorporating Barolo, Barbaresco and the Dolcetto villages without absorbing them in much the same way as the Medoc includes Margaux and Pauillac and Napa includes Rutherford and Stag's Leap.
The premise behind the relatively late designation of an overall Langhe district, explains the Italian Trade Commission, is that the sought-after Barolo and Barbaresco wines "have overshadowed their minor siblings, even though the latter have enough character to win the praises of experts if only they were produced in a less crowded area. The introduction of the Langhe D.O.C. appellation in 1994 offered a small group of wines, which are an expression of the local winemaking traditions, a chance to find their own niche of the market."
Wines labeled Langhe may be red or white and may be made from any of several local wine-grape varieties, individually or in blends. Today's tasting features a Langhe wine from Bera, a quality producer that makes a variety of Dolcetti and Barberas. This Langhe DOC, which bears the proprietary name "Sassisto," is a blend of 90 percent old vines Barbera and 10 percent Nebbiolo, aged in oak barrels for 18 months and in bottle for another year and a half before being released the third autumn after the vintage. It's a rather austere, full-bodied red, very much in the Piemontese style.
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Bera 1999 "Sassisto" Langhe ($16.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, almost black in the glass, showing the typical earthy character that's commonplace in Northwestern Italian reds: "tarry" and "black-coffee" notes over austere black fruit, with a delicate floral scent akin to violets. Mouth-filling and tart, plummy fruit is present but not as forward as the bright, lemony acidity, with soft but perceptible tannins in the background. U.S. importer: Pellegrini Bros. Wines Inc., South San Francisco, Calif. (March 22, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: The dark, earthy flavors of duck make a fine match with Piemontese reds, and this one was no exception, offering fine service with prepared duck-leg confit (Grimaud Farms brand from Whole Foods Market), shredded in crisp potato pancakes.
VALUE: Appropriately priced in the mid-teens.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now, but tannins and acidity suggest that it may evolve into additional complexity over the next two to five years.
WEB LINK: For an English-language fact sheet on Sassisto, see the producer's Website,
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Unfortunately, this wine is not listed in the Wine-Searcher.com database. To find it locally, ask your wine retailer to check local distributors for Pellegrini Bros. wine imports.
Burgundy in May?
Last-minute discount now available
In the interest of filling the last couple of seats on our May 24-30 tour of Burgundy and Champagne, my associates at French Wine Explorers have decided to offer an attractive discount (on a space-available basis) for last-minute reservations.
This weeklong tour will offer an exceptional introduction to the vinous and gastronomic world of Burgundy (plus a bonus side trip to Champagne). We'll enjoy VIP-style visits at several top producers plus four-star lodging and meals at some of Burgundy's top restaurants including the classic Lameloise.
If you've been wishing you could join us on this memorable tour but felt the price was a bit beyond your reach, please contact me by E-mail (email@example.com) ASAP, and I'll be delighted to provide more details. For more about the tour, visit the French Wine Explorers Website,
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Friday, April 23, 2004