Posts Filed Under on the road

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Among Idaho’s state slogans and motto (which have included Esto perpetua, “Great Potatoes,” “What America Was,” and “Tasty Destinations,”) was the phrase “Not California.”

The author (& friends) at “work” in Idaho

There’s a slight air of desperation and defiance in defining your identity in the negative; though in the case of Idaho’s budding wine production scene, it’s not entirely inappropriate: despite 150+ years of winemaking history, this is a state whose first AVA (Snake River Valley) was recognized less than fifteen years ago (and is probably more famous for Evel Knievel than it is for wine). Idaho’s other two AVAs – Eagle Foothills and Lewis-Clark Valley – are less than five years old, and one of those is a sub-AVA. Despite its visually stunning expanses, the state has a mere 1300 acres of grapes planted, almost all of it in the Snake River Valley, and is home to just over 50 wineries (for some perspective: California has about 4400).

We can forgive Idaho for having a bit of a petulant-attention-seeking-middle-child chip on its wine producing shoulder, because there’s little reason that the state can’t make very, very good wines. Formed from ancient volcanic and flooding activity, Idaho’s soils are sandy, sedimentary and well-draining, and its climate is dry with cold winters; all of which are good conditions for reducing pest and disease pressure for grape vines (and in some cases, allow the vines to be own-rooted).

Actually, there is one very good reason why Idaho wine doesn’t get the media luv right now: there simply isn’t enough of it. As Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz Dolsby told me when I visited the state last year, “our biggest problem is that we don’t have enough grapes.”

Following is a (very) brief overview of the wines that stood out the most to me during my Idaho travels. There are, I think, three basic themes that, like Idaho’s famous rafting rivers, run throughout the best of their vinous experimentation: a sense of purity (possibly helped by the lack of a need to graft on to American rootstocks), a pioneering spirit (sometimes to a fault), and a diversity that few American wine regions can legitimately claim to be able to match…

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Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

During my recent travels in Piedmont, I was part of a (rather large) media group that took part in a “Barbera Revolution” masterclass, held in the small town of Nizza Monferrato, organized by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e vini del Monferrato. There was nothing about that tasting of 2016 vintage releases to make me personally think that Barbera was undergoing some sort of quality revolution; likely a result of the fact that, given my history with the region, I was already convinced that Barbera in Asti was experiencing a quality renaissance.

So, no arms were taken up during the sampling of these 2016, but we did take up several glasses of promising Asti reds. Now that my stint with the My Name is Barbera program has wrapped up (for now, anyway), I felt comfy in taking a more critical eye on some of the latest Barbera d’Asti releases (not that you can ever fully take the critical eye from the critical guy, but I’ve generally avoided talking about Piedmonte Barbera here on 1WD while I was cashing checks for the video and blog work over at mynameisbarbera.com).

Here are my personal highlights from the tasting, many of which I think have been given short shrift from other critics in the past, and others that might be looking for US representation (importers… I’m looking at you!)…

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Asti Unleashes Two New DOCGs

Vinted on January 17, 2019 binned in Italian Wine, on the road, wine news

Speaking of Moscato d’Asti (see last week’s article for a deep dive into that topic, including a look at how stupid I can be), I thought it worth mentioning a topic that came up during that same media trip to the rolling hills of Piedmonte’s Moscato bianco growing region: Asti is unleashing two brand new DOCG wines onto the market.

Make it rain! Yes, I ate this. With Moscato. Yes, it rocked. Yes, I’d do it again.

Being DOCGs, these are to be just as regulated as the strictly mandated Moscato d’Asti DOCG, which is good news for Moscato lovers looking for something different (and, presumably, for the Italians looking for work enforcing the regulations!). Like Moscato d’Asti, the new DOCGs are made from 100 percent Moscato Bianco grapes grown in the region, but don’t require Moscato dAsti’s vintage declaration. Confusingly (for me, anyway), neither mentions the grape in its DOCG name. Anyway, here’s the run-down of the new categories, both of which offer a broader stylistic range of Asti Moscato…

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The Deceptive Complexity of Moscato d’Asti

Vinted on January 11, 2019 binned in Italian Wine, on the road

About ten minutes or so into Walter Speller‘s presentation on Moscato d’Asti, I realized that I was some kind of idiot.

Speller’s masterclass was part of a presentation given to media guests gathered at the bucolic Castello Gancia, smack dab in the heart of Asti and a focal point of the area’s recent UNESCO designation. It’s the kind of place that you imagine in your dreams of what Piemonte would be like (17th century architecture sitting atop gorgeous rolling hills… that sort of thing).

Anyway, it only took me about ten minutes into that masterclass for the cold water of facts to jolt me out of any residual dreamlike morning Piemonte trance into the realization that just about everything that I thought I’d known about Asti’s boisterous vinous calling card was, basically, absolute wrong. I’m betting that most of you reading this have gotten it wrong, too; the simple truth is that the simple pleasures of Moscato d’Asti – hands-down one of the dead easiest wines to enjoy – belie complexities that are pretty friggin’ serious.

I’m not talking about Moscato’s complexity in the nose, either; though a good argument could be made that, in terms of volume of aromatic compounds, Moscato Bianco is one of the most aromatically complex grape varieties in the world. But I am talking about… well, just about everything else that goes into making a finished, drinkable Moscato d’Asti product…

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