German labels, California Barbera
While I'm dealing with last-minute pre-travel chores - including packing - before taking off for Burgundy and Champagne this weekend (more about how that will effect next week's publication schedule below), let's devote today's space to a couple of quick follow-ups on recent Wine Advisor articles.
Today's tasting report features a really exceptional California Barbera, the Italian-born grape variety that's the subject of this month's inquiry in our Wine Tasting 101 wine-education program. Although it's not a budget wine by any stretch, if you like hearty, rustic Old World reds, I think you'll find it $20 well-spent.
First, though, let's return briefly to Monday's discussion of German wines in general and the delicious 2002 Mosel Riesling from St. Urbans-Hof in particular. In speculating about why so many wine lovers find German wine daunting, I mentioned polysyllabic words and complicated wine labels as possible issues.
One good approach, as several of you pointed out in follow-up E-mails, is to skim lightly over the arcane language of AP numbers and Pradikats and Oechsle numbers and simply rely on the names of specific producers who've built a track record of quality and consistency over time. This is not bad advice, and of course many of us do the same with trusted producers from every wine-producing nation.
But how to choose a quality producer? One option for Germany is to check the label for a tiny logo that features a stylized heraldic eagle and grape bunch (pictured above in our HTML/Graphics edition). This is the trademark of the Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter, VDP for short, the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates.
This trade organization - akin to the Gallo Nero ("Black Rooster") producers in Chianti - traces its roots back to 1897, and now comprises more than 200 of Germany's most respected wine producers. Its process is conservative, and its rules are strict: "From vine to wine, member estates are obligated to exceed the legal norms set for all German wines."
As marketing concepts go, this one is exceptionally discreet. The VDP logo on Monday's wine measures just 1/2-inch in height and is placed at the side of the label, beneath the bottle size, alcoholic content and that inscrutable AP number. But it's worth looking for - even if you have to tote a magnifying glass to the wine shop - if you're looking for producers who take their German wine seriously indeed.
The VDP Association's Website,
TALK ABOUT WINE ONLINE
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Seghesio 2001 Sonoma County Barbera ($22.79)
This is an inky, dark reddish-purple wine, with luscious, fruit-forward aromas of deep, plummy fruit, a whiff of blueberries and a dash of vanilla. Swirling in the glass brings up intriguing elements of smoke, toast and even a hint of rare, red meat. Bold aromas lead into full and ripe flavors, tart acidity framing warm black fruit. A rustic Barbera in the Old Country style, it would make an interesting "ringer" in a flight of Northwestern Italian reds. (May 15, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Rare beef is its natural companion, but it made a surprisingly good partner with a hearty but meatless dish of potatoes baked with Swiss Emmentaler cheese accented with fresh dill and a shake of cayenne.
VALUE: Above everyday wine prices at $20-plus, but it's more than an everyday wine. Fair value. (The "suggested retail" price on the winery Website is $25.)
WHEN TO DRINK: Barbera isn't traditionally made for cellaring - in its native Piemonte, it's for drinking up while the more pricey Barolo and Barbaresco matures in the cellar. But this wine's power, intensity and balance suggest that it won't suffer if you hold it for a few years.
WEB LINK: You'll find a 2001 Barbera fact sheet on the winery Website here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Compare prices and find sources for Seghesio Barbera on Wine-Searcher.com,
Admin Note: Next week's publication schedule
As I mentioned above, we'll be spending this weekend in Paris, followed by a week touring Burgundy with a quick side trip to Champagne. Because of this travel schedule, the Wednesday and Friday editions will take a brief vacation next week, as will the Thursday Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
Assuming that the demons of technology don't curse this plan, however, I do intend to distribute the regular Monday editions on May 24 and May 31, although they may appear in your mailbox a few hours or even a day off schedule.
I'll also make every effort to post periodic trip reports, tasting notes and photos on WineLoversPage.com, and encourage you to check our Front Page frequently if you would like to follow along. We'll resume the regular publication schedule at the first of June.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004