Hail to the King
New World winemakers are crafting excellent wines from Old World varieties, with the exception of Nebbiolo—Piedmont still reigns.
On a trek through West Coast wine country not long ago, I had the opportunity to sample wines of such quality and craftsmanship that it made me appreciate once again the growing maturity of American winemakers. In Napa Valley, I tried a Cabernet Sauvignon that was as good as any I've had from Bordeaux. At another Napa winery, I discovered a Sangiovese that rivaled some of the best Chiantis I've ever enjoyed. In Sonoma, a Chardonnay and, in Oregon, a Pinot Noir, both brought the best of Burgundy to mind.
There will always be exceptions, however, and that exception is Nebbiolo. On that same West Coast swing I tried a Nebbiolo with the winemaker looking on, awaiting my approval, and I have to say it was one of the worst experiences of my wine-tasting life. It was undrinkable, and it was all I could do to be polite.
This goes to show that there is only one Piedmont. If winemakers in California, with all its diverse microclimates, cannot yet find a way to craft quality wines from the Nebbiolo grape, it is merely a testament to the unique terroir of Piedmont and the talents of its winemakers. I've often thought of the Nebbiolo-based Barolo as the King of Wine; Barbaresco shares that title. Their richness and depth cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
This issue is devoted to the Kings of Wine, still holding on to the throne despite changes in response to changing tastes among New World wine drinkers. Barolo is a full-bodied wine, no question, but Piedmont winemakers have made great strides in taming their tannins and making them more approachable, sooner. In fact, as Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski points out in his article, Barolos are quite versatile at the lunch or dinner table—their acidity makes them good candidates for lighter fare.
This month, we present a tasting feature on Barolo and Barbaresco. Our tasting panel sampled over 120 wines; ratings and reviews of the most worthwhile are presented here, along with profiles of some of the people who are crafting the top-scoring wines. Producers enjoyed a number of great vintages in the 1990s. Our tasting panel samples the Barolos of the '98 and '99 vintages, and Barbarescos from 1999 and 2000. Our tasting feature is the definitive guide to finding and enjoying quality wines, with all the information you need—price, score, producer—when you set out to find the best of Italy.
In this issue, Monica Larner takes us on a tour of two regions of Central Italy, Umbria and Le Marche. These regions are often overlooked as visitors motor or train to Florence, Venice, Rome and so on, or bask in the glories of nearby Tuscany. But quite convenient to Rome (two hours by car), this area has much to offer, including the town of Perugia, where all those fine Perugina chocolates are made.
Also in this issue, Jeff Morgan sorts through all the misconceptions about kosher wine and offers some exciting new sources. Steve Heimoff cites the most promising new American Viticultural Areas in California, ones you're likely to see on wine labels in the future.
Salmon is very much in the news lately; questions are being raised about possible health risks of eating farmed salmon. Michele Anna Jordan summarizes the recent findings and includes a couple of delicious recipes. Vodka is the subject of F. Paul Pacult's Proof Positive column, and he addresses a subject of serious consumer interest and the butt of a few dozen jokes—that is, the very elaborate packaging and bottle design of premium vodkas. Are consumers being dazzled by costumery? Are they paying too much for etched glass and not enough for what's in the glass? The piece raises some provocative points.
Whether it's California's AVAs, kosher wine, or Barolo and Barbaresco, our aim is to cut through the confusion so you get better quality wines for your money. It's all in the name of la dolce vita.