I attended a nice offline dinner this past Friday night here in Portland at Alba Osteria. As you might expect, Alba prepares food in the style of the Piedmont, and I found the variety of dishes we sampled, sort of family style, to be delicious across the board. This restaurant’s reputation locally seems well deserved.
For starters, we tried the 2006 Ferrando La Torrazza Erbaluce di Caluso, a white from the northern Piedmont that paired nicely with a Dungeness crab dish. Lanolin, flowers, and pretty yellow fruit aromas with a round, soft and then bright texture, fresh and clean wine and a completely new experience for me. Never had an Erbaluce before.
Then on to a mix of reds. Overall I enjoyed most of the wines, even though they were mostly more modern in style than I typically prefer. Lately I’m finding myself more pleased by some “new worldy” old world wines, and tonight was a good example of that.
First, a huge throwback. The 1982 Dessilani Caramino Riserva Vino da Tavola, a humble nebbiolo that is as old school as old school gets. Funky merde aromas at first that ease into nicely sweet tar and flower scents. Then nicely bottle sweet in the mouth, silky and a bit tart on the finish but really nice, especially with the tajarin with beef.
Next, the 1999 Clerico Barolo Pajana, which is pretty modern smelling with an oaky sheen and a dark crimson color. But in the mouth this is all nebbiolo, finely tannic and rich but clearly varietal if primary, a common them this night. I’m sure this will be more distinctive in another decade, but it’s solid now.
Then the 1997 Seghesio Barolo La Villa, with a slightly ligher color more in line with what I expect from nebbiolo. The aroma was deep and rich, oaky yes, but so nice with tar and flowers. The crime here is youth, as the finely tannic texture and tight flavors show this wine still needs many years to show its best. One diner said this and the Clerico were just too oaky, and it's true they aren't old school by any means. But they seemed like interesting wines and certainly not ruined by their less than traditional upbringing.
The 2001 Cabutto Barolo Riserva del Fondatore Vigna Sarmassa is controversial at first. Is it corked? Or does it normally smell like tree bark and mothballs? Neither. These elements fade with airing to reveal a nicely spicy, cherry smelling nebbiolo with another finely tannic, tight and primary flavor profile. Nice, but needs time.
My contribution was an odd bottle of 1999 Varaldo Barbaresco Bricco Libero, again a more modern-styled wine despite the import sticker of Casa Bruno, a local group I tend to associate with more old school stuff. Some ethyl acetate notes at first, then cherry pie aromas with oaky “crust” mixed in. Flavors were again cherry pie with a fine tannin structure, but the finish was marred by alcohol. Hard to read, I want to say this needs more time, but the heat the end is worrisome.
Then something different, a 1994 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. This was tremendous cabernet even if it still needs at least another decade. Strong cassis and nicely integrated oak aromas, without the wood sticking out, with cassis flavors that mix with a nicely earthy, woodsy note that I really liked. This isn’t mind blowing wine, and back in the day Quilceda Creek wasn’t the hot property it now is. But this is terrific wine and well worth holding for many more years if you have some.
Decanters got mixed up and I was tiring of red wines, but I think I tried the 2003 Giorgio Toscano IGT. If correct, this was inky, shoe polishy modern Tuscan wine with a rich, saturated flavor and lots of tannins. I wasn’t moved.
Finally, the 1996 Albert Mann Tokay Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives from half bottle. Pale, very young looking color with a bright, slightly petrolly aroma that is otherwise bright and youthful. Bright, fresh flavors with light honey notes and terrific, mouthwatering acidity, a medium body and a lingering aftertaste. A heavier, richer sweet wine would blow this out of the water. But in this context, this was fabulous and that’s more than enough for me.