Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seppeltsfield Lagrein 2010 (Barossa)

A challenge for me when reviewing wines, Italian grapes or otherwise, is to look for what is right and good in the bottle, ahead of going searching for faults and flaws. A positive screen rather than a negative one. But there are some wines where you 'get' the good bits quickly and then find yourself wondering why there is not more good to find and talk about. Especially for wines well regarded by other tasters, where what you find in bottle, glass and mouth does not seem to reconcile with that regard.

This 2010 release of a Barossa lagrein is part of Seppeltsfield's plan to add table wines to their fortified offering. My first impression was the note below:

Had a look at this tonight (blind first) and will revisit tomorrow. Thought it looked a bit spliced-together: smells & front palate of something ripe and rich (great colour), but the mid & back palate look like another wine entirely, with the primary fruit dropping off and acid taking over. Comes across as washed-out/dilute through the finish, which ends up being appealing in a refreshment-factor kind of way, but no sign of the fruit the wine started out with. Perplexing. Over-cropped? Young vines? Late-irrigated? Want to know more.
Apparently 10% cabernet sauvignon in this too. 2012 Barossa show trophy for best other red and 93 points from James Suckling too. Maybe I’ll see something else on a second day.
And should have a $20 rrp, not $39 ($31.50 at cellar door), nice label and all.

Tasted again the next day, there was a bit of an improvement, but no more than polish on the edges. Maybe I just do not 'get' this wine in some way (the back label refers to Lagrein as the 'Shiraz of Italy', Alps and all), but I'm happy in the skin of my opinion that this is just not that good.

13% alcohol, screwcap, gift.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yalumba Y Series Vermentino 2011

Yalumba's work with viognier might offer a path for pushing an Italian white into an Australian mass market. The bet is on with vermentino. It might even pay off.

There is a bit to smell here: citrus blossom & light jasmine. But it's discrete. No hothouse rush up the glass like a malvasia or sauvignon pungency. The palate is even, citrus again, with a bit of citrus pith and a decidedly salty character I find distracting. Just a bit of chalky texture on the way out.

Good value if you get it closer to $10 than the rrp of $14.95. There's refreshment, but that salty note distracts like a skipping track on a compact disc. Screwcap.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Greenstone 2010 Colorino (Heathcote)

This is the most exciting bottle of wine I have seen out of Heathcote. Colorino is one of the varieties traditionally blended with sangiovese to make Chianti. Colorino, along with other varieties such as Canaiolo, is seldom seen as a single-variety wine and Mark Walpole's Heathcote plantings have produced Australia's first straight bottling of this deeply coloured and well flavoured variety.

I first saw this wine about ten months ago at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show in Mildura, where it was the pick of the show stewards. In the intervening time, the plush waves of primary fruit have settled back a bit, revealing some of the character and detail in the wine. Purple fruits, flecked with red and black, now sit behind layers of good smells, including fresh bramble berries and a distinct blueberry perfume. Tannins are there, giving the deep colour and sturdy fruit rails to slide along. It is a wine of genuine interest and real refreshment. Hard to recall the last time I had a wine from Heathcote that could balance fruit, intensity and refreshment this well. The 13% alcohol may have something to do with this.

Hard to judge how this would age. Perhaps best to drink in the next two or three years, before that primary fruit backs away further.

And to finish, a story from Mark Walpole, one of the partners in Greenstone and a pioneer of Italian varieties in Australia. Usually, this fruit would be blended into the Greenstone sangiovese, for colour and other benefits. But in 2010, even a small blending knocked the sangiovese off its axis. The Colorino was too much, too assertive, too different and insistent on telling its own story. So a separate bottling for the first time.

Which brings me back to one of the questions threading through this blog: what if the Italian varieties that could perform best in Australia are not the standard front-runners from within Italy and the global experience of Italian varieties? Could some of these 'other' Italian varieties not just do better in Australia than back home, but what if they were able to outperform nebbiolo and sangiovese?

Sample. Screwcap. 13% alcohol. Should be $25-30 in retail.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Show sophistry

Wine shows, and the Australian systems of them, seem to be somewhat topical at the moment. Some of the dullest wine topics imaginable ensue, front-running being whether to score wines out of 100 or 20, or perhaps 20 with small increments. The usual shibboleths trot their way out onto stage: shows are about 'improving the breed' of wines, shows are important for communicating to consumers about wines... I could go on.

But maybe there is a different kind of conversation available here. What if we started at the point of admitting the real reasons why the show system continues to function in Australia, and then went on to ask if there are other arrangements that could better meet those functions? What if we had no wine show system at all, but delivered the system's benefits (such as they are) in a different way?

Take 'improving the breed'. It's a fig leaf. The wines aren't the breed being improved. It is the people. That's the breed. The show system currently functions as a mechanism for 'training' wine people in wine opinion, including how to express those opinions and how to keep fitting in with shifting taste cultures. Some of this training function extends to people employed in wine but not currently judges or associate judges, through mechanisms such as stewarding and exhibitor's tastings.

The wines themselves are not the breed being 'improved'. What happens to the wines is a crapshoot. Assessments simply cannot be 'objective' or science-based under show judging conditions. Too many wines to taste, too little time, the absence of food, classed in muddles of different climates and styles, subject to the stylistic whims of un-published panel directions, taste assessments made about measurable attributes that then cannot be supported by measured evidence... It is an inherently-flawed process if the objective is to improve the breed of wines. It accelerates wine fads and style shifts, under the guise of vague rising-tide, all-boats-a-lifting metaphors. 'Elegant' cabernet, ripe shiraz from warm climes, rose that cannot be from bleeding juice, chardonnay full of bones or splinters... there is no linear trajectory of 'quality improvement' here, driven by the show system.

If we faced up to the function of the show system being to form and reform the people involved, to shape cultures of taste, then could we really say the show system is the best way to do it? Is it sensible trying to acquit what is really an educative and social-networking function by having wineries subsidise agricultural show societies who then subsidise wine people to drink together and learn from each other?

What would happen if every Australian wine producer put their budgets for samples, costs, staff time and travel related to wineshows into better education and training, including in local networks? More region-wide events for people in the wine game, buying in samples of wines for collaborative benchmarking exercises. More cross-region exchanges of information, including scientific and subjective information, could be funded through mechanisms more efficient and more proximate to the wine industry than outsourcing this to agricultural societies.

Would anyone in wine notice much of a difference in their sales and marketing from the absence of the shows, from the cursory or illusory marketing efforts of the show societies? I suspect the show societies would feel a loss from ripping up the current system and starting again, from scratch, at figuring out better ways to 'improve the breed' of wine knowledge and creativity. It might mean fewer exposures to the great and expensive wines of the world for some judges, subsidised by growers and wine businesses whose own people end up locked out of these experiences. But what if an alternative to the show system meant better, more capable people in Australian wine, leading to better wines as a result?

What do I come back to? The system does not do what it says it does. It accentuates faddish trends. It rips people off. It hides lifestyle subsidies for a privileged few. It is shockingly poor value for Australian wine businesses that send in samples. So tear it up. Boycott the shows. Let them wither and die. Face up to the hidden functions the system still serves, like improving the 'human breed' in Australian wine. And ask, squarely and clearly, if the real aim is people, their knowledge, networks and learning, then what is a better set of arrangements and institutions to get those benefits.

Australian wine, and those that drink it, deserve better.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2008 (Tuscany)

I cannot say I have my head around 2008 Chianti. Some big wines, some quite light & sprightly. No picture has gelled yet, so more shopping, tasting & drinking clearly needed.

Tonight, after a book launch and flying visit to Ainslie Cellars to taste Bryan Martin's new Ravensworth releases (including my second look at his 2011 sangiovese), it was time to grab a bottle and head to Pulp Kitchen for dinner. The bottle being the 2008 vintage Chianti Classico from Isole e Olena, one of my favourite Tuscan producers.

Deep, rich, dark. There are lots of purple fruits in this Chianti, with red fruits accents only to the main theme. But there is a beautiful wash of tannin; drying, ripe, nutty tannin, all through the wine. Ripe, but varietal. No loss of the sangiovese refreshment factor, even with the purple-fruited richness of the thing. Handled bread and oil, handled roast spatchcock, handled confit duck. Handled good conversation.

Not much more to ask of a Chianti, really.

$40, cork.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A wine review standard?

Wine scuttlebutt in Australia often includes the practice of wine criticism, especially around reviews, scores and what might be 'endorsements'. To me, wine journalism should follow the standards of journalism, such as sketched out in media codes of practice. But wine criticism, including the writing and publishing of reviews, tasting notes and scores, is in the main not done by journalists, nor done as journalism.

So what might a standard for wine reviews look like?

My initial thinking is that a wine review standard (something a reviewer or publication might sign up to in some fashion) could contain something like the following:
  • A clear description of what the reviewer wishes to receive (if they receive samples) and what they are not interested in receiving. A general statement about how wines are obtained for review could accompany this.
  • Any conditions for receipt and consideration for review. For example, does a price need to appear on the bottle? Are pre-final-label samples accepted for review? What images need to be supplied? Are there required types of information about the winery, importer, distributor or the wine?
  • If samples are received but not reviewed, a commitment that they should not be on-sold at retail or by auction without the consent of the shipper.
  • If scores, stars or similar rating systems are used, these should be explained clearly and obviously. For example, are scores 'within class' or universal. If there are standard conversions of your scores to other scales to hand (such as how your points convert to show medals), then this should also be clear.
  • If price is part of, or excluded from, the consideration of scores or ratings, then this should be made clear.
  • If there are charges for the publication of a review, or an image to accompany a published review, these are made publicly available. If charges vary depending on the type of wine, the treatment in the review publication, the size of winery or size of make of the wine, then this should also be specified clearly and publicly. If a reviewer is paid by a publication for a review, with copyright vesting in the publication, then the reviewer will not attempt to solicit additional payment from a winery for the review.
  • A clear statement about conflicts of interest and how these are handled, including situations regarding accepting direct or indirect funding from wineries (indirect funding to include travel assistance, accommodation etc). This statement to also cover any practitioner involvement in the wine industry (such as if the reviewer also makes and sells their own wine, or has wine made by another winery which you may or may not review).
  • If advertising appears in a reviewers own print publication or website, the conflict of interest statement should include words on the kinds of advertising accepted and the extent, if any, that this impacts review practice. 
  • A publication with multiple reviewers should produce a common conflict of interest and advertising statement covering all participating reviewers, with any exceptions to be clearly specified. All advertorial or advertising content is to be clearly specified as such.
  • A copyright and fair reuse statement. If small or large wineries are both free to use your notes, in part or full, with or without permission, payment or attribution, then spell this out clearly. A winery submitting you samples in the hope of getting a useful review should be able to know the conditions of review reproduction and use prior to sending samples in.
  • If the reviewer tastes and reviews with the assistance of other tasters and reviewers, the specific author or authors of a particular review or tasting note should be specified directly and accurately.
  • A common or default circumstance for tasting and reviewing should be described clearly and accessibly. For example, are wines tasted individually or in brackets? With or without food? Unmasked, blind or double-blind?
  • If prices are published, the type of price should be clear. For example, is it recommended retail price as supplied by the winery or distributor? Is it a cellar door price or list price? Review readers and users should be able to tell which.
That is my first go, and not in any particular order, at what might make up a standard for wine reviewing. I would be interested to hear what people think about this. In the main, I think my practice with this site stacks up fairly well against that list, but there are some points I miss, including having some of these statements clear and separate from the run of posting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vinea Marson Sangiovese 2009 (Heathcote)

Recently, as well as getting through pruning, I have been reading Kerin O'Keefe's book on Brunello di Montalcino. Drinking the 2009 Vinea Marson Heathcote sangiovese brings to mind some of the wines O'Keefe writes about as too rich, too dark to be Brunello. To me, some difference is fine in an Australian sangiovese, as surely there are paths with this grape that do not start in Chianti and end at Montalcino.

But the wine, even stating a 13.5% alcohol, looks like Heathcote and warm weather to me, more so than varietal sangiovese. It is a good wine, will age well and sat up straight next to braised beef. The tannins say sangiovese but the heart of deeply purple, verging on black, fruits says something else.

Not $44 of value here, for mine.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Carpineto Chianti Classico 2010

Good, ripe but not stewy, food-friendly Chianti for $20 or less... that sounds like the kind of wine I want to buy, drink and recommend.

The 2010 Chianti Classico from Carpineto is brought in by International Liquor Wholesalers and is 90% sangiovese with 10% canaiolo. Six months in oak, then 4-6 months of bottle age prior to release. Alcohol is 13%. Available at Dan Murphys for a $20. Good colour. Some varietal tannin. It is a touch over-ripe and slightly stewy for my tastes, just out-of-focus, but it sounds like a good package, does it not?

There's even an Australian-market-friendly English back label with useful information.

But there is also a cork. And a cork-tainted bottle. The kind of taint is just assertive enough that many people would not return the bottle, instead choosing not to buy any more, perhaps writing off Chianti (and sangiovese) in the process.

Simply not good enough.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Vigna Cantina 2011 Trebbiano (Barossa Valley)

A sample bottle, courtesy of Mr Torzi, the man behind Torzi Matthews Vintners and the Vigna Cantina label.

Bottled under screwcap this has a brisk, fresh profile of lively acid over trebbiano fruit. The cool and wet year shows in the acid-first, fruit-second swing of the wine through your mouth. Whereas warmer years or sites, plus deft hands in the vineyard, can deliver a characteristic waxy texture in trebbiano (as was the case in the 2010 version of this wine), the 2011 has a different feel, almost like lemon sherbert. Deft hands show here too, as it feels like a swap of textures across the vintages, rather than two unrelated wines.

From 106 year old vines at Altona and Koonunga Dunes in the Barossa. Try with grilled fish or salt and pepper squid. $22 rrp. 12.5% alcohol.

I reviewed the 2010 vintage here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Argiano 2005 Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany)

Seven years can be the charm for sangiovese, much as it can be for shiraz. Seven years from vintage, cork gods being kind, sangiovese based wines not explicitly built for early drinking will have often taken on some softening of tannins without hollowing out the fruit.

This bottle of the 2005 vintage Brunello from Argiano drank well at dinner last Friday. A thank-you night for the people who helped me pick the sagrantino I have planted at Quarry Hill, we had dinner at Dieci e Mezzo in Canberra. After a Campari and soda and some Prosecco, we got into the food and this bottle.

A deep colour, there are pleasant candied cherry and nutty things to smell. And oak. Oak does show in the wine, but the fruit is not totally swamped. Argiano keeps their Brunello in oak for two and half years, starting with a year in French oak small barrels, before moving the wine to Slavonian oak in larger format botti for another year and half or so. A kind of new-school-plus-old-school approach. A bet each way?

There is oak on the palate too, but also ripples of sangiovese tannin. The overall impression is of fruit ageing gracefully, with oak as a buttress more than a distinct ingredient. Worth a look if you see it on a list and have a hankering for Brunello spread across old and new styles. I suspect the 2007 vintage is the current retail.

Website. $120 (list price). Cork sealed.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


This year the secret project has been to start up a balsamic vinegar line. The Italians call the series of progressively-smaller barrels the vinegar moves through a batteria or battery. This is a sequence of five or six, give or take, barrels, getting smaller as you move through the series & liquid evaporates. My first sequence starts with a 50 litre oak barrel. In a year, the balsamic will be moved to a 40 litre barrel, then 30, 20, 10 & 5 litres for the 6th year.

Where 'normal' wine vinegar starts with wine, which then acetifies courtesy of acetobacter converting alcohol to acetic acid, traditional balsamic is a different pathway. Instead of starting with grape juice fermented to wine, the start point with balsamic (most of the time, not counting the commercial, short-cuts processes) is unfermented grape juice that is cooked out over flame to make musto cotto. Reduced to about half of the starting volume by the slow boiling process, the cooled must is settled & transferred to barrel, along with a small amount of gluconobacter culture (a story in itself). Unless you already happen to have some balsamic & bacteria in the bottom of that barrel already.

Gluconobacter are a group of bacteria sometimes found in combination with types of acetobacter, but they operate quite differently. Where acetobacter eat alcohol to make vinegar, gluconobacter eat some kinds of sugars while they make acid. So no alcoholic fermentation needed in the traditional balsamic process.

From hand-picking sauvignon blanc grapes from Quarry Hill, to foot-crushing & basket-pressing the fruit, then settling & filtering the juice, cooking it out in my 92 litre stainless steel pot on a heavy-duty metal frame wok-burner over a couple of days to make the musto cotto... it has been a fascinating learning process. Not least about the hazards of do it yourself gas fitting.

Now the hard part. Staying hands-off that little barrel & let the gluconobacter do the work, racking & transferring down the line once a year. In six years time, perhaps something good. Though traditional balsamico from Modena takes 12 years...

The image above is a close shot of some of the 32 jets on the Mongolian wok burner, with the 92 litre stainless steel pot of must cooking out on top. Beautiful to watch at night, if a bit noisy from the air-mixing Venturi effect the system uses (sounds a little like a jet engine when it gets going).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Yarrh 2004 sangiovese (Canberra)

The Yarrh vineyard is an attractive, gum-treed site wrapped around by bush and not far from Ken Helm's Murrumbateman cellar door. Sangiovese is a strict mistress in regions marginal for it, such as Canberra. Everything has to line up: soil, water, vine health, bud counts, shoot vigour, shoot length, fruit load, season. Bryan Martin, of Ravensworth fame (and a big part of Clonakilla) has shown how sangiovese can perform in Canberra, but this wine fleshes out that story.

Maybe a sign of the Canberra roots I've put down, I've been having a bottle or two of this most years for the past seven years. Like old jackets shift smells and change their fit over years, seeing and feeling the aging path of this wine has been a satisfying thing. Tight and red-fruited, with a hint of something dried-herb & tobacco as a younger wine, this has aged well (though my bottle before this one had largely fallen over). In it's old age, this has become more local and less varietal, without losing overall appeal. The wine now shows aged red fruit, a touch of leather & mint, and something elusive, nutty & sweet, like a toffeed hazelnut. A good showing, from what I think is my last bottle. Congratulations to the winemaker, Fiona Wholohan, and the site.

A satisfying, if surprising pairing for this: bucatini in a sauce of onion, zucchini dice, black pepper and gorgonzola dolce, thinned with pasta water. The aged, nutty, toffee character of the wine made an excellent fit with the sweet yet blue cheese of the sauce and the comparative bitter of zucchini skin.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hamilton's Bluff Sangiovese 2005 (Canowindra)

The Hamilton's Bluff vineyard at Canowindra can turn out the goods with sangiovese. Not too close to the richer, wetter and hotter parts of the district (near Cowra in NSW), there is vigour enough for the vines without washing out colour and flavour. But what I have enjoyed about the couple of vintages of this I have had, including this 2005, is that there is a distinctiveness to the wine. It has a softly-aged richness of texture, something gently-creamy about it, that is genuinely appealing. As well as being an excellent example of graceful aging under screwcap, at around $25 a bottle this is both good value and a good return to the people who grew the fruit, made the wine and brought it out to market in its prime. Roast lamb with borlotti beans cooked off in the tray at the end of the roast makes a good match, or just good bread & a bottle of spicy olive oil.

Their website is worth a look, both for the wine and Julia Andrews' writing about their vineyard, business and local area. Personal and personable.

Older nebbiolo

In anticipation of what should be a good dinner this Friday at Scopri in Melbourne. The theme is aged Barolo and Barbaresco. I'm anticipating some of my prejudice against nebbiolo and in favour of sangiovese may be challenged by this lineup:













The two encounters I have had so far with well-aged nebbiolo have been underwhelming, but I have an open mind.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese 2009 (Maremma, Tuscany)

Under screwcap and sub-$15 at retail in Australia is a pretty good start for an Italian sangiovese. From the Maremma, the 2009 Tenuta Sassoregale offers bright red fruits, a hit of tangy refreshment and a touch of varietal sangiovese tannin. The fruit does dip on the mid-palate and wash out somewhat on the finish, but this does not really matter if you have a plate of pork sausages on the table and a weeknight urge for sangiovese. Decent and another example of the value (and screwcap certainty) now coming in from Italy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A Tuscan idea that works well with Nero d'Avola, spicy shiraz or a richer style of sangiovese.

Take a kilo of beef shin and dice it into cubes of an inch or bigger. Crush six cloves of garlic. Grind a tablespoon of black pepper. Mix that all together, then add some tomato puree (130 grams is good) and 250ml of red wine. Touch it up with a bit of sea salt, then transfer to a heavy-based pan. Pour in enough water to cover the meat and cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered, for three and a half hours. Or until it is very tender. Stir occasionally to stop it catching and top up the water from time to time. There should be almost no liquid at the end.

Goes well with bread and a green salad. The pepper is the key to the distinctive flavour of the dish. It's one dish that shows really well with low or un-salted bread in the Tuscan style.

This was an idea I got from a good book on artisanal businesses in Tuscany (including the potter for whom this dish goes with the hottest time in the kiln-firing): Lori De Mori & Jason Lowe, 'The real flavour of Tuscany: Portraits & recipes from 25 of Tuscany's culinary artisans'. Worth a look, including for portraits of two Tuscan wine growers (Contini Bonacossi & Fonterenza).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bagna cauda & kangaroo

A simple idea, good with a barbera or spicy shiraz. A sangiovese could also work well, but not too light or too 'serious' a wine.

Marinate some kangaroo fillet in olive oil and quite a lot of pepper. You can't really overdo the pepper. Let come up to room temperature in the marinade.

Make a version of bagna cauda. A little butter, some olive oil in a small pan. Warm gently while you cut and crush 4 cloves of garlic & 4 good anchovy fillets. Gently heat both of these in the warm butter and oil. No colour. Break with tradition & finish with some capers and chopped parsley. Yes, veering to salsa verde. Hold off on thoughts of lemon zest. Rest off the heat, covered.

Take a barbecue grill up as hot as you can. Sear the roo, starting with the drier side. A minute and a half each side on a really hot barbecue, then a rest, should give you medium rare. As soon as the roo is off the heat, rest, bathed in the bastardised bagna cauda. A five minute rest, then slice across the grain to serve with the juice & sauce (and a bit of broccoli).

Tried with a barbera and also a spicy shiraz from the Adelaide Hills, with both working well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hand-selling an Italian

Last year, I started to help out with Sunday cellar door work at Eden Road Wines, who bought the old Doonkoona vineyard and winery at Murrumbateman. It is a good spot on the Barton Highway and on the granite that runs through the two Clonakilla vineyards.

I have not worked directly in wine retail since a stint between 1991 and 1994 when I lived in Sydney. In those days, working as a wine waiter, I shifted bottles from a list split between Australia (Rosemount chardonnay, semillon chardonnay, TR2) and Italy. Many a bottle of cheap Chianti, raffia fiasco and all, did I flog, not to mention Frascati and verdicchio from the 'genuine' fish-shaped bottle.

On-premise to cellar door is a difference, but some of the performance is shared. Both are based on conversation as much as labels or price. I may have an unhealthy sense of the fun of retail, but it can be among the most social, and sociable, acts of commerce. Having a good list, with good values, certainly helps the conversation, and the Eden Road range makes for easy selling.

Within that range, there is a 2009 vintage blend of barbera (90%) and cabernet sauvignon (10%). The barbera fruit comes from the Grove Estate vineyard at Hilltops (around Young, in NSW) and the cabernet from a Murrumbateman vineyard. It's a wine I enjoy drinking, which makes selling it easier, but I've also found the cellar door sales experience with this wine to be an excellent test of what this blog is all about: the fit between Australia and Italian vines.

Only a very small percentage of cellar door visitors have any familiarity with barbera. More have some experience with Italian wines or varieties in general, but that number is still quite small. I have the barbera blend in the tasting lineup after the shiraz-based wines and the contrast in fruit profiles seems to serve the barbera well. The mix of ripe cherry and blueberry fruits (perhaps some of the blueberry is Hilltops as much as the variety?) with bright acid seems to be immediately appealing to most visitors.

The conversation that seems to work best with this wine at cellar door involves talking about food as much, if not more, than the wine itself. Sometimes we talk about Italian foods in general, other times about how the high natural acid in barbera fits with high-acid food (like a fresh tomato sauce for a simple pizza, or a vinegar/oil dressed grilled vegetable dish). Another line of conversation involves situations: how the barbera fits with circumstances such as going around to a friend's house or out to a BYO when the cooking, menu or group ordering is not known. Only occasionally is there much conversation about the details of the wine itself, such as what the 10% cabernet does to extend the wine and give it structure.

As good as the wine is, as settled into itself, barbera is still a hand-selling proposition at cellar door. But that hand-selling seems to be effective, and mainly so through a conversation where food is at least as important as the bottle. Maybe my own interest, or effort, pushes through here as well, but this wine sells, even to people coming to barbera cold. I wonder if that would be the case with a more tannic variety such as sagrantino or even sangiovese? Maybe a different kind of conversation, a different set of foods?

But I also find a distinct satisfaction in introducing people to something unfamiliar and seeing that introduction jump past doubt, over indecision and novelty, and into real pleasure.