Wines to stimulate the intellectRebecca Taylor
13/06/2012 11:24:00 a.m.
I recently sat down with wine friends for a blind tasting where the theme was “red wines of Piedmont.”
Piedmont, in Northern Italy, is the home of the Nebbiolo grape, from which the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo are made. The best of these wines have extraordinary ageability due to their tannic structure and high acidity, and they also offer enormously complex layers of flavours and aromas. Unfortunately they come with a price tag to match! Don’t get me wrong – I’m the last one to whinge about an evening spent tasting Barolo and Barbaresco, but this was one of the hardest tastings I’ve ever done. Not only are the wines high in tannins and acidity, but they are also intellectually demanding.
Interestingly, the only wine of the tasting that was not Nebbiolo, a Barbera D’Asti, which was also the cheapest and simplest of the line up was very highly rated by all but the most experienced member of the group. Perhaps this was because all those difficult wines had left us fatigued and something a little more accessible and fruity was a welcome relief.
It got me thinking. I always like to compare the appreciation of wine with art, music and literature. Many masterpieces are dense, difficult and can seem impenetrable. It’s tempting to regard these as being elitist and resent the people who wax lyrical over something we just don’t “get”. The most satisfying works of art need to be approached in an informed manner. The great thing is that it’s not that hard to learn the background information that unlocks the key to appreciating a masterpiece, though it takes a little patience.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of instant gratification. I confess that my own tastes range from the highbrow to the ridiculous.
Just as I wouldn’t fancy struggling through James Joyce every night, or listen solely to avant garde atonal music, I don’t really want to drink these demanding wines all the time. It just wouldn’t be relaxing. Sometimes we need the wine equivalent of a page-turner or an old favourite CD, but I feel my life would be the poorer if I had never read any Shakespeare, listened to Bach, or tasted a truly intellectually stimulating wine. We benefit from a challenging aesthetic experience from time to time.
A good cost effective introduction to wines from Piedmont is Ca’ Del Matt Barbera D’Asti 08. Quite dark in colour, this has a fragrant, fruity nose of plum and blackcurrant overlaid with a resinous note. Firm tannins and refreshing acidity accompany an earthy palate reminiscent of dried figs, with a beef stock character. Good long finish. $27.00.