The meaning of life


And on the eighth day…

Once upon a time…

There was a young man in college who sat quietly in an English Lit. course. His instructor, a tall, serious looking man who wore those corduroy blazers with elbow patches, announced “We won’t be spending much time on poetry… but we should be.”

He continued, “If I were to ask all of you what the meaning of life is, what would you tell me?”

We sat there silent in the morning cold of the classroom, terrified that he might actually call on one of us. The meaning of life? Dude. Seriously…

After scanning the room for any volunteers, he offered this: “It is the ability and willingness to communicate, isn’t it? And poetry, people, is the highest form of communication known to man.” He paused and let us all ponder this profundity.

Empty stares. I blinked and swallowed. Stealing a quick peek at the clock, I thought “Please God, let this class end.”

Believe it or not, this is a true story, even the part about the elbow patches (sorry, Prof. Parker). Years later, I can still picture him saying this and every so often, I hear those words when I least expect it. Sitting in the tasting room of Marchesi di Gresy, tasting my second Barbaresco, I said aloud “These wines… they’re… poetic.” Immediately, I realized how cheesy that sounded. I looked up at the other two guests of the winery, a pair of women from Canada, and offered an apologetic look. They smiled and nodded, “Oh… yes. Beautiful aren’t they?” Beautiful indeed. Sublime. Poetic.

Can you tell I like these wines?

If there is a serious challenger to the mystique and romance of pinot noir, it has to be the nebbiolo grape. After spending some time in both Barbaresco and Barolo, tasting a fair amount of their nebbiolo-based wines of the same name, I can say that whatever love affair I had with them in the US, I am now completely smitten and dedicated to spend the rest of my days with these multi-faceted beauties.

While I don’t have the memory and you likely don’t have the patience to hear about every Barbaresco and Barolo I’ve tasted, I’ll try and cover some of the favorites.. This post will cover Barbaresco, and we’ll reconvene at Barolo next time.

*  *  *


The enoteca in the heart of the village of Barbaresco is a great starting point for touring wine country here. You can ask directions, browse the walls (!) of Barbaresco, and shell out a few Euro for the flight of the day. I did all of the above, and like I mentioned in an earlier post, I really don’t remember much after the sixth glass. But I did have the sense to write a couple of these down.

The 2003 La Licenziana was amazing. A lot of acidity and tannin for a post-breakfast drink, but what can you do? I’ll bring my own cheese next time. Another beauty was an older (1999), rounder example from Sottimano, with extremely deep, tarry notes to it.

I should mention that if your not very familiar with Barbaresco and/or Barolo, you may need to tread carefully when introducing your palate to these wines. They can be tough when young, and require your patience when tasting them. The levels of acid, tannins, and even alcohol can be off the charts (Ironically, the color of these wines is the exception to the rule–  they are not extremely opaque and, therefore, deceiving in their intensity). And much of the literature out there regarding these wines would have you believe that you can’t really touch these wines for at least a decade.

There’s some truth to this, particularly for the bigger, sturdier Barolos, but don’t be afraid. They’re still beautiful and approachable in their youth, just in need of your patience, maybe a decanter, and some good ole’ fat. I made it a point to ask every winery I visited about their philosophy on wood– err– what type of barrels they preferred using. Traditionally, these wines used only very large wood casks for aging, thereby sticking to their guns of being high-acid, bitter-tannin “hard” wines that needed lots of time even after bottling to come around. IMG_2502

Stay with me here…

After some revolutionary people and wine-making practices took hold of the Piedmont region during the 70’s and 80’s, the wines of Barbaresco and Barolo became more, how should we say, “internationally friendly”, and allowed for much less time than previously needed in the bottle. BUT NOW, according to what I’ve seen and heard, there is a revival of the older ways of crafting these wines, and wineries will often make different batches of wine from the same vineyards, using both barrique and large cask, shorter and longer maceration times.

Call it a compromise. And likely, that’s exactly what it within the winery, where more modern technology is blended with some of the more traditional methods. Business is, after all, business, and many of these producers are selling the majority of their wines to markets less accustomed to the more traditional styles.

*  *  *

While I enjoyed the tour and tastes at Carlo Giacossa, the most lasting impression for me was their rosé, made from nebbiolo. Maybe it was because I was frying like an egg, and anything remotely cold would have been a like a gift from above. But I thought it was fantastic, neither overly fruity or tart. Salami and cold nebbiolo anyone?


The lighter side of nebbiolo

When I finally found Marchesi di Gresy’s winery, I realized that this was no momma-mia e poppa-pia outfit– this was a BIG winery set among breathtaking vistas of the surrounding countryside. I walked around the outside of the buildings.

Once. Twice.

There was no sign of anyone, and all doors and windows were completely shut. Finally someone let me in and I apologized profusely for being late (again). Can you imagine this scene? You’re working diligently inside the winery and you notice this guy in flip-flops, with an extended belly (lunch was good) scurrying back and forth outside your window staring intensely at every window, door, and crevice. Marone…


A great way to wrap up the day

I caught up inside, where cellarmaster Jeffrey, a transplanted kiwi who’s been working in Italy for the past twenty or so years, gave us an outstanding tour. Let me say, that was one hell of a winery. The setting inside the tasting room, along with the scenery out the windows, was fantastic. And the wines, from a surprisingly full-bodied yet dry sauvignon, to the magical Camp Gros Barbaresco, all had their own story to tell.

IMG_2509If you want a great introduction to nebbiolo, see if you can find a bottle of their un-oaked nebbiolo, simply called “Nebbiolo Martinenga”. It’ll be a fraction of the price for Barbaresco and a great wine for the summer, as it’s fresh and bright, yet still elegant and more earth-driven than fruit forward. After you’ve tried that, graduate to one of their Barbarescos. The 2003 Gaiun Barbaresco, displaying a gaudy amount of complexity in both bouquet and flavor profile, should keep you happy for a long time.

*  *  *

A friend of mine– we’ll call her “Leggo lady”– likes to use music and instruments to describe her wines. Bassy undertones. High-pitched, flittering mid-palate, and so on. I’ve always thought this was a brilliant way to look at wine. After all, wine has the ability to speak to us, to tell us stories of its history, its trials and successes. Sometimes a wine can be a bit dumb, not say much at all, or just bellow out something obnoxious like “I. HAVE. LOTS. OF. FRUIT.” Nebbiolo, on the other hand, sings a beautiful ballad and offers a full spectrum of instruments as backup. The volume levels, too, are dynamic, giving your palate alternating waves of quiet and strong. It’s music to my lips…

I suppose describing these wines as poetic or alluding to the “meaning of life” is a bit over the top. But not by much. Meaning, inspiration, even divine intervention comes to us in many different forms. I’ll take mine in a large wine glass.

Until next time where we’ll talk Barolo (the best for last?), be well, practice your prose, and ponder life’s deeper meanings.




~ by Jared on June 28, 2009.

7 Responses to “The meaning of life”

  1. When are you going to have your sit down with the pope ? You can share some nice vino !

  2. I never thought of describing they flavors of wine in that way, but it totally makes sense! By the way, dude, you are late in almost every entry! 🙂 Cracks me up!


  3. ya know, your killing me ova yeer. keep up the good work.

    • Hi Steve,


      Ironically, you have way more options and access to fine wine then I do, trust me. Try a bottle of that Barbaresco (Gauin or Camp Gros) from marchesi di gresy. Awesome. I believe Galaxy is the distributor in Portland…


  4. Interesting way of thinking about wines….good one.

  5. Thanks B&T. It’s always more fun to discuss wine “out of the box”…


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