14 December 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: cascina delle rose, barbaresco

In principal, one goal of anyone making wine naturally - organic, biodynamic, or anywhere in between - is heightened expression of terroir. I'm of the opinion that the success of the venture is most perceptible when one evaluates it across the boundaries of individual domaines and regions; in general, one might say, natural wines tend to reflect more dramatically the vicissitudes of the vintage and the composition and exposition of the soil. This is because, when compared to the panoply of invasive techniques available to the contemporary winemaker, natural winemaking is a fundamentally subtractive process. It is, at least in part, a resistance to overcorrection of naturally occurring traits.

Nevertheless, when we use terms like "non-interventionist," we risk obscuring the fact that winemaking itself is one big intervention. What we taste in a glass remains a product of the individual habits and customs of a given estate. Evaluating wines is always a more or less informed stab in the dark about which traits come from the whims of nature and which come from the whims of man.

This brings me, finally, to my conflicted feelings about Cascina delle Rose, a 3ha organic Barbaresco estate we visited in Piemonte this past August. The estate had come highly recommended from two different sets of friends - a surprise, since despite having tasted the region's wines pretty exhausively, I'd never heard of them. Estate owner Giovanna Rizzioli was a marvelous hostess, intelligent and expressive, and the best of the wines we tasted reflected the same qualities. There was, nevertheless, across the range of wines, a rigidity of style that felt determined by something other than the terroir of the estate's 3ha of vineyards. (Cue darkness, stabs.)

The wine education cliché runs that Barbaresco is the "queen" to the "king" of Piemontese reds, Barolo. The former is lighter in style, earlier to mature, and presents what can be called a more feminine profile: grace over tannic heft, a certain delicate sweetness of fruit.

These qualities derive from both the more northerly terroir itself, and also the Barbaresco appellation guidelines, which permit one year less oak aging than Barolo. Within Barbaresco, Rio Sordo and newly identified neighboring appellation Tre Stelle (1995), the two crus produced by Cascina delle Rose, are often cited as being among the lightest and earliest maturing: if Barbaresco is the queen, these are princess crus.

Even taking all this into account, however, I found myself unable to explain the curious, effeminate lightness of Cascina delle Rose's wines, which were to Barbaresco what "How To Love" is to the Lil' Wayne discography.

Though it will be unnecessary to frequent readers, I should here reiterate that my own tastes in wine are high-pitched enough to bother canines. I really dig light wines with high acid. But I don't prize these qualities at the expense of typicity. The 2009 Barbaresco "Rio Sordo" I tasted from barrel at Cascina delle Rosa was very fine, with a vitamin / cinnamon nose, and powdery tannins - but it was by far the lightest "Rio Sordo" I've ever tasted, as if whoever made it were allergic to tannin and funk.

Cascina delle Rose's other cru Barbaresco, "Tre Stelle," derives from an historic cru that only recently attained separate recognition from the DOCG authorities, having until 2005 been officially considered part of "Rio Sordo." At present Cascina delle Rose are the only ones using the new cru designation, which in the case of their "Tre Stelle" does indeed seem very warranted.

Some quite old bottles bearing the name of the "Tre Stelle" vineyard.

The barrel of 2009 we tasted had been moved recently, but the wine showed little sign of discomfort, instead showing focused Kit-Kat bar aromas, a fresher palate than the "Rio Sordo," with sharp red fruit that just seemed to smile more.

The overall translucent lightness of the wine, however, was still very much of a piece with the wines that preceded it: the aforementioned "Rio Sordo," a 2008 Barbaresco, a 2008 Barbera d'Alba "Donna Elena," a basic 2009 Barbera, a 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo, and a 2010 Dolcetto d'Alba "A Elizabeth" - none of which varietals showed with quite their usual grain or heft.

I still liked them. But as a critic it would be remiss of me to just accept that their lightness and immaculacy is a function of terroir alone. And I can't help feeling that it defeats some of the purpose of organic / natural viticulture when the house style is so defined in the cellar.

There are a variety of factors, to be sure: Cascina delle Rose perform no punching down of the cap during fermentation, and fermentation for their Nebbiolo is relatively short, at 15-21 days on average. Cold stabilization, the process by which wines are made more acceptable to the uneducated public by expelling their harmless tartrites via rapid cooling of the wine before bottling, is practiced on all the wines. Rizzioli's son Davide is the current winemaker; he seeks to avoid over-extraction at all costs, employing a relatively tiny press, with no de-stemmer.

Paradoxically, the, ahem, fruits of all this caressing in the cellar are most evident in the tiny quantities of grappa produced at Cascina delle Rose. There are two, one of Barbera and another of Nebbiolo: both are among the most profound and enjoyable grappi I've ever tasted.* Apparently their expressive qualities derive from the sheer amount of juice left over in the marc after very very very gentle pressing.

* A little like saying: "By far the most profound and enjoyable fistfight I've ever engaged in." But seriously, these were very good, and performed far more than the menial palate-cleansing, stomach-settling, inhibition-removing functions of your average grappa.

Cascina delle Rose
Strada Rio Sordo, 58
Tre Stelle
12050 Barbaresco
Tel: +39 0173 638292

Related Links:

N.D.P. in Piemonte: Saint Peter's Country Chapel
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Stefano Bellotti & Cascina degli Ulivi, Novi Liguri
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Trattoria della Posta, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: G.D. Vajra, Vergne
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Giorgio Barovero, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Case della Saracca, Monforte d'Alba
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Walter Porasso at Bovio, La Morra
N.D.P. in Piemonte: Vinoteca Centro Storica, Serralunga

Some uncharacteristically fawning and uncritical coverage of Cascina delle Rose @ DoBianchi
A nice informative profile of Cascina delle Rose @ PiemonteReview
Some beautiful non-wine-professional coverage of Cascina delle Rose @ TrailOfCrumbs
A profile of Cascina delle Rose @ PolanerSelections
A good in-depth profile of Casina delle Rose @ BerryBros.&Rudd, although the piece is marred by a bullshitter paragraph around the end wherein the barrels of CdR's wine are said to age "silently," as though barrels were typically very garrulous or chatty or continued to ferment loudly while aging. Stop bullshitting, wine salespeople ! Of course the barrels age silently. They are inanimate objects.

1 comment:

  1. Just visited Cascina delle Rose this weekend. The proprietor poured us his 2010 Tre Stelle, along with the most recently bottled vintages of barbera and dolcetto. I found them all very light, but then he popped the cork on some older bottles, which had more depth. He also gave us barrel samples of the 2011 Rio Sordo and Tre Stelle, both of which had far more oomph than the 2010. I wonder whether the winemaking philosophy is applied perhaps with insufficient regard for the vagaries of individual vintages.