Four Barbera d’Alba from the 2012 vintage including the excellent Andrea Oberto

As we continue to seemingly spend all of our money on paint, cleaning supplies, and pillows for staging, we maintain a need for affordable, interesting wines.  The 2012 vintage is a strong one for Barbera d’Alba so in this post I focus in on four selections priced from $13 to $18 per bottle.  These selections were all vinified in stainless steel with all but one aged in wood.  The wines ranged from rather ripe and forward to balanced.  The 2012 Mauro Molino, Barbera d’Alba offers a decent value with subdued flavors of tangerines, red fruit, and bacon fat. The 2012 Rocca Giovanni, Pianromualdo, Barbera d’Alba steps up a bit with better acidity, minerality, and structure leaving the impression of a good wine for the price.  Our hands-down favorite is the 2012 Andrea Oberto, Barbera d’Alba.  From the aromatic nose to the long aftertaste it is a wine you will want to smell and drink.  What’s great is that it is approachable right now, just give it half an hour in the decanter.  It is a clear step up from the other selections so go grab a few bottles! These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 Cascina Chicco, Granera Alta, Barbera d’Alba – $17
Imported by Vinifera Imports.  This wine is 100% Barbera sourced from vines averaging 10 years of age.  It was fermented in in stainless steel then aged in wood casks and used French barriques.  Alcohol 14%.  There seemed to be some volatile acidity on the nose along with linear aromas of fresh floral black fruit.  In the mouth were nice focused flavors of floral citrus fruit, watering acidity, and some rough structure. *(*) 2016-2019.


2012 Rocca Giovanni, Pianromualdo, Barbera d’Alba – $14
Imported by Monsieur Touton.  This wine is 100% Barbera sourced from vines planted in 1958 that underwent temperature controlled fermentation followed by 10 months aging in barrique.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose bore very ripe, grainy fruit aromas.  In the mouth the flavors were fruit forward before a tight, ripe core of black fruit came hint.  This had a mineral hint with salivating acidity and a dry, textured finish.  The wine shows some density, a little wood note, and leaves the impression of being a nice wine for the price.  ** Now-2018.


2012 Mauro Molino, Barbera d’Alba – $13
Imported by J.W. Sieg & Co.  This wine is 100% Barbera that was vinified then aged for six months in stainless steel tanks.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose of black fruit was lifted by both greenhouse aromas and fresh tangerines.  In the mouth were attractive flavors of tangerine red fruit that came across in a slightly creamy and subdued fashion.  It took on some tart flavor but that was tempered by bacon fat flavors.  ** Now-2017.


2012 Andrea Oberto, Barbera d’Alba – $18
Imported by M R. Downey Selections.  This wine is 100% Barbera sourced from vines in La Morra.  The fruit was vinified in stainless steel then 60% was aged for 8 months in stainless steel and 40% was aged for 6 months in new barriques.  Alcohol 14%.  This wine had a fine, proper nose.  In the mouth the black and red fruit was slightly brighter than the nose suggested.  There was both a citrus flavor and bacon fat aspect.  There was moderate structure with citric pithe tannins.  The aftertaste left flavor on the inside of the gums. Top-notch.  *** Now-2018.


Five bottles from old and new estates

Lou and I met up last week for some Spring Break bottles.  We each bagged up our wines for fun.  I was fairly confident that the 2013 Chateau Graville-Lacoste, Graves Blanc was mostly Sauvignon Blanc.  I could not place a location though and in truth, I am not sure if I have drunk a Graves Blanc before.  It turns out it only has a minority of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend which speaks to its strength.  This bottle proved to be on the young side so I’d check back in a year or two.  For the 2012 San Salvatore, Trentenare, IGP Paestum Fiano I guessed some chalky Italian white wine.  On the first night this wine was in perfect balance with a sort of fruit and acidity combination I usually find in German wines.  It drank perfect.  On the second night it was a touch softer and nuttier.

Incredibly I never knew that Chateau de Vaudieu is an 18th century estate. French books from the 19th century often include the de Vaudieu name as amongst the best of Chateauneuf du Pape.  This includes la Nerthe and de Condorcet.  Today the estate is owned by Famile Brechet and Philippe Cambie is the consultant. The 2012 Chateau de Vaudieu, Chateauneuf du Pape is clearly young and rugged so I would cellar it for a year or two.  The 2012 Chateau de Vaudieu, Amiral G., Chateauneuf du Pape is all old-vine Grenache which delivers hedonistic flavors.  It is weighty yet textured with plenty of salivating acidity and just enough structure that it comes across as more drinkable than the first.  It is a lovely wine with a very long aftertaste which coats the gums.   Finally, the popped-and-poured 2012 Xavier Vignon, Xavier, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau held its own.  Its a brighter wine that was initially rounded and subdued in a way that I thought Chateau Mont-Redon.  Of course I was wrong, it was a sexy Rasteau, that finally revealed its origins after a few hours of air.  It was not out of place with the regular Chateau de Vaudieu.  The Graville-Lacoste was purchased at Pearsons, the Xavier Vignon at Fleet Street Wine Merchants, and the remaining bottles at MacArthur Beverages.


2013 Chateau Graville-Lacoste, Graves Blanc – $18
Imported by Kermit Lynch.  This wine is a blend of 75% Sémillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Muscadelle sourced from ~45 year old vines on soils of clay and limestone on fissured rock.  It was vinified and aged in stainless steel.  Alcohol ?%.  At first there were grassy, Sauvignon Blanc aromas but with air, deeper notes from the Semillon developed.  In the mouth were lighter, white fruit with a clear start and tart finish. Seems young. **(*) 2016-2020.


2012 San Salvatore, Trentenare, IGP Paestum Fiano – $23
Imported by Banville and Jones.  This wine is 100% Fiano sourced from vines on calcareous clay that was vinified and aged in stainless steel.  Alcohol 13%.  This was a crisp wine with perfectly, enlivening acidity.  The wine was textured with a long aftertaste of chalk.  With air the wine remained lively on the tongue but showed nuttier flavors.  It had lovely balance, a more prominent fruit profile, and an attractive citric tang in the aftertaste.  **** Now.


2012 Chateau de Vaudieu, Chateauneuf du Pape – $40
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is a blend of 74% Grenache and 26% Syrah with the later aged for 14 months in barriques.  Alcohol 15%.  The nose revealed higher-toned aromas that were followed by similar flavors on the tongue tip.  The wine developed weight in the midpalate then eventually showed its rugged, youth in the finish.  There was also good acidity and an aftertaste that brought dense, grapey flavors, spices, and a touch of heat.  This wine is approachable now but best cellared for the short term.  *** Now-2025.


2012 Chateau de Vaudieu, Amiral G., Chateauneuf du Pape – $90
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is old-vine 100% Grenache which was aged for 18 months in demi-muids.  Alcohol 15%.  There was a smooth, weighty yet textured start with dry cinnamon spices.  The wine comes across as more forward but it still has very fine tannins supporting the blue fruit flavors.  It show grip in the back of the throat as it ends of salivating acidity and flavors that stick to the gums.  Long aftertaste.  **** 2017-2027.


2012 Xavier Vignon, Xavier, Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau – ~$23
Imported by Petit Pois Corp. This wine is a blend of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre that was aged 50% in tank, 25% in demi-muid, and 25% in smaller barrels. Alcohol ?%.  There were young grapey aromas that had a hint of raisins.  In the mouth was a rounded start with flavors that became bluer towards the finish.  With air the wine took on attractiveness roughness with a firm structure of very fine tannins supporting the wine.  It finished with spicy, black fruit that had both smooth and rugged aspects.  *** 2017-2025.


A pair of Oregon Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage

The effort involved in the final preparation of our current house for sale and the purchasing of our new house will continue to occupy all of my spare time for at least the next week.  So please bear with me!  In the mean time we recently tried two Oregon Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage.  This was a warmer than average vintage, particularly when compared to 2011.  The 2012 White Rose Estate, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley clearly needs time in the cellar.  It remained firm over two nights and did not give up too much. The 2012 Lenne Estate, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley reveals the warmth of the vintage with generous, complex fruit. It is a fun, fuller than nought, Oregon wine that should be in a great spot next winter.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 White Rose Estate, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $35
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from multiple vineyards.  The majority whole-cluster fruit was basked pressed then aged for 11 months in 10% new French oak. Alcohol 13.2%.  The varietal aromas made way to a tart start with more obvious structure in the mouth.  The wine remained firm with good acidity and very fine tannins.  It became drier with youthful roughness in the finish.  Needs time in the cellar.  **(*) 2017-2022.


2012 Lenne Estate, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $37
This wine is a barrel selection of 100% Pinot Noir sourced from estate vineyards that was aged for one year in French oak barrels.  Alcohol 14.1%.  There were ripe, spiced aromas.  In the mouth the ripe cherry fruit was underlaid by a developing and complex note of bitters.  The flavors turned blacker with an attractive cola-like aspect that made for a spicy, complex, textured finish.  The long finish made way to some vanilla notes in the aftertaste.  ***(*) Now-2022.

“[W]arm weather is on us, and what better refreshment than a cold sparkling wine”: The forgotten wine columns of Jane Nickerson from the 1940s and 1950s

I spent some of my free time this winter reading recent newspaper articles about wine.  One particular article focused on the wines of Domaine de la Romanee Conti stating that “bottles are so rare from the smaller vineyards that drinking the wine is always a great event.”[1]  The domain in general produced “the greatest of all the red Burgundies”.  This was much in part due to the domaine being the first to estate bottle the wine a practice that was “revolutionizing the wine industry of Burgundy.”  I should add that I consider anything published in the 20th century as recent.  This particular article was published by The New York Times in 1951 and the vintage of focus was 1947.  This was an “outstanding” vintage but the wines were not yet ready to drink.  Sam Aaron of Sherry Wine and Spirits was quoted, “Assuming their potential of 100, one might say they have achieved at this point seventy-five”.  Sadly I could not find other instances of this scale but it was briefly thrilling to think that the 100-point scale for wine was used in New York during the 1950s!

Empire State Building at night. c.1937. [0]

Empire State Building at night. c.1937. [0]

Far more important than the contents of the article is that it was written by Jane Nickerson.  She was the first food editor at The New York Times from 1942 through 1957.  Jane Nickerson wrote frequently and extensively about food in all forms but she also wrote about wine.  Sometimes her column was a mixture of short news on wine, food, and restaurants but other times the column was dedicated exclusively to wine.  For this post I surveyed over 100 wine related articles she published between 1946 and 1957.

I have only remotely looked at wine journalism in the 20th century let alone culinary journalism.  A quick investigation into Jane Nickerson reveals that she is a highly regarded food editor; if somewhat overshadowed by Craig Claiborne.  Strange enough there seems to be more attention to her writing on food than wine.  In reviewing her wine writing it is clear to me that she developed a deep interest in wine.   Yet she seems to be missing from the history of wine journalism.  In this post I do not try to place Jane Nickerson’s writing into a larger context.  For that I recommend you read Kimberly Voss’ book “The Food Section” as well as check out her website Women’s Page History.

Robert Lawrence Balzer related that he begin writing the column “Concerning Wines & Foods” for the Beverly Hills Citizen in 1937.[2]  This was “the first regular wine column west of New York City.”  Perhaps he was alluding to Jane Nickerson in mentioning New York City.  Robert Lawrence Balzer eventually wrote about wine for the Los Angeles Times from 1964 through 1995.[3]  Thomas Pinney wrote of Robert Mayock’s efforts in the early 1940s and that Hank Rubin, Bob Thompson, and Jefferson Morgan were amongst the earliest postwar wine writers.  These authors were all in California.  Frank Prial began his wine column for The New York Times in 1972 and is the first east coast author to be mentioned by Thomas Pinney.

Jane Nickerson’s wine writing is so different than that of today.  She began to write about wine when the wine market in America was redefining itself.  Her articles track the return of the American armed forces, effects of rationing, national efforts at promoting wine, and the increasingly diverse selection of imported wine.  The stage for post war wine journalism is clearly set by the title of one Nickerson article, “War Brides, Beware! The GI wants a wife who can cook something tastier than dehydrated eggs”.[4]  Before World War II, Americans only drank an average of half a gallon of wine per year as compared to the French at 40 gallons per year.[5]  Consumption had steadily increased with the repeal of Prohibition but the wartime rationing of grapes for raisins and tankers for transportation stymied the increase.  By the spring of 1946 the Wine Advisory Board was planning for an increase in wine consumption because “many men who were in Europe learned to drink wine, and undoubtedly will continue to do so.”

Simultaneous to a changing domestic wine selection, the importation of European wine had to be redeveloped.  Hampered through the two World Wars many German wines had largely been absent for decades in America.  Within France there was wine rationing and transportation issues that had to be resolved before long-favored wines could be enjoyed again.  Frank Schoonmaker, the wine importer turned spy and writer, chronicled the postwar wine scene in France in the pages of Gourmet magazine.  During the German occupation and even in the years afterwards, transportation was deeply impacted.[6]  Both people and goods traveled slowly by gasogene, a car or bus powered by boiler that burned charcoal or wood.  Though wine rationing was in place, there were areas were the wine could not be transported from.  As a result, the one bottle per week ration could entitle you to “as much vin ordinaire as you can carry away.”

It was not until the Spring of 1946 that Frank Schoonmaker anticipated the return of “magisterial clarets…gay, crackling Vouvray…venerable Hermitage…pale Chablis”.[7]  He wrote that there was “probably about as much fine wine in France as there ever has been”.  The French had done an extraordinary job of hiding these precious bottles by “bilking, cheating, duping, and deceiving the Germans on every possible occasion and in every possible way.”  He foresaw that these better bottles would be released in small parcels at a time and at strong prices.  There was to be no cheap French wine in America for some time.  He felt, then, that Californian wine would have no competition.  It was in the fall of 1947 that Frank Schoonmaker felt that “at last, a potable American vin ordinaire is not altogether a mirage”.[8]  He did admit he felt “it will probably be more difficult than it sounds” to find satisfactory wine.

Jane Nickerson helped people select and find good wine.  She began to write about wine for The New York Times when there was a growing thirst for both domestic and imported wine.  There was a need to educate the public not only on how to store and serve wine but also on narrowing down the best selections from new Californian wineries and those of returning European estates.  To educate herself, Jane Nickerson attended tastings such as those held by the Wine and Food Society of New York.  However, she primarily interacted with the leading wine experts in the city.  This group included the legendary wine importers, writers, and retailers Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine,  James Beard, Sam Aaron, and Robert Haas.  There were but few post-Prohibition wine books published in America so the importance of Jane Nickerson’s columns should not be neglected.  In this and future posts I hope to shed light on the forgotten early history of American wine journalism.

[0] Empire State Building at night. c. 1910. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL:
[1] News of Food: Red Burgundies of 1947 Vintage Here From the Domaine de …By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 26, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 26
[2] Volumes of Taste : A Collection of Old and New Books to Grace Any Wine Lover’s Library. By Robert Lawrence Balzer; July 01, 1990. Los Angeles Times. URL:
[3] Robert Lawrence Balzer dies at 99: L.A. Times wine writer. Elaine Woo. December 09, 2011. Los Angeles Times. URL:
[4] War Brides, Beware!: The GI wants a wife who can cook something tastier than dehydrated eggs. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 17, 1945; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM11
[5] News of Food: American Vintners Plan for Resumption Of Pre-War Rise … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 23, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 9
[6] Schoonmaker, Frank. “France A.D. 1945”. January 1946. Gourmet Magazine.
[7] Schoonmaker, Frank. “New Wines of France”. May 1946. Gourmet Magazine.
[8] Schoonmaker, Frank. “Vin Ordinaire in America”. October 1947. Gourmet Magazine.

Loading casks of wine on to boats at Madeira. 1910.

This 105 year old image show casks of wine being loaded onto small boats at Madeira.

Embarque De Vinho Na Calhete. 1910. [1]

Embarque De Vinho Na Calhete. 1910. [1]

[1] “Como se prepara um nectar”.  Serões; revista mensal illustrada. ser.2 v.10 yr.  1910. URL:

An article about my history of wine research in The Washington Post

April 7, 2015 2 comments


It was four years ago to this month that I published my first post on this blog.  I have always written about the wines which I drink at home and with friends.  However, it is the history of wine that has always been the prime focus of my efforts.  These historical posts captured the attention of Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for The Washington Post.  I am excited to be the subject of his most recent article What did the founding fathers drink? And other pressing wine questions.  This article will run in print on Wednesday so be sure to share it online as well as pick up a copy!  I have a fascinating post coming up so check back tomorrow as well.

Categories: History of Wine Tags:

“Vines under glass” : Global warming vineyard research in Japan

The rapid advancement of science and technology in the 19th extended into viticulture and vinification.  By the mid-19th century, horticultural and pomological societies developed a focus on the grapevine with an eye towards wine production.[1]  Within the United States, these private societies were the precursors to efforts funded at the state and federal level.  Agricultural research centers and universities were created that, in part, studied all aspects of viticulture: climate, soils, how grapevines grew in different locations, the best training methods, pests, and diseases.  This research even took place on government funded experimental vineyards.  Parallel to this effort, advancements in chemistry enabled those curious about wine to define its very constitution.  And of course that very crucial step between the vine and wine, winemaking, was treated to a full range of technological advances and side branches.

By the mid to late 19th century multiple forces came to bear on viticulture and vinification.  The development of a railway network, steamships, and agricultural banking systems coupled with the spread of phylloxera meant that the international wine market was in a state of flux.  French winemakers fled from France as Algerian and Spanish wineries tried to supplant the former demand for French wine.

Grapevines in a 19th century greenhouse. Gardening Illustrated, Volume 18.

Grapevines in a 19th century greenhouse. Gardening Illustrated, Volume 18.

However, it wasn’t just wine that was being shipped about, grapevines were being transported too.  Winemakers and investors realized that to get ahead during this devastating period, they had to best the French with similar wines that drank just as well but earlier.  The wines of Bordeaux were king which meant that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, amongst other varieties, popped up in both likely and unlikely places.  Thus we see vines purchased from first growth estates cultivated in Spain and California.  Hot climate winemaking became all the rage so out went vines to Algeria, India, and even Palestine.

The vineyards of France did recover to provide a fabulous series of 20th century vintages.  However, these 19th century seeds of experimentation and adventure have quietly returned.  I first heard of these efforts nearly 20 years ago went I visited my graduate school roommate in Japan.  He was spending a year at the University of Tokyo learning technical Japanese.  His particular work involved translating Japanese research papers focused on grapevine and soil interaction.  These studies took place in large greenhouses where each individual vine was in a large pot each with its only regulated water supply.  This is was not much different than any vine nursery.  However, with this setup researchers could study every combination of vine and soil.

Irrigation system for grapes.  From McEvoy Ranch. Flickr.

Irrigation system for grapes. From McEvoy Ranch. Flickr.

Large scale studies of grapevine pests and diseases have seen the development of compartmented greenhouses.  To prevent anything from escaping, these greenhouses have controlled ventilation, temperature, humidity, and water supply for the grapevines.  These greenhouses have also been used for controlled studies on the impact of global warming on grapevines.  By raising temperatures and adjusting humidity and water supply a variety of scenarios may be tested in advance.  Large-scale LED arrays were even introduced to simulate more sun filled days.

Research at the University of Tokyo at Shibuya is now being conducted with the Bordeaux Research Institute.  In what is an inevitable combination of viticulture science, greenhouse technology, and knowledge of global warming the vineyards of Saint-Emilion are being simulated in Japan.  As a UNESCO World Heritage site, where some of the most remarkable wines are made in the world, there has been a steady increase in ripeness and alcohol level.  In short, the wines of Saint-Emilion are no longer what they used to be and there is an effort to produce the famed wines of the past.

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion are composed of clay, silt, and sand over a hard layer of bedrock.  What is remarkable is that the shallow limestone soils only extend some 50cm before the impermeable bedrock layer.  This compact geologic structure means the soils can be recreated elsewhere.  Thus in large greenhouses in Japan individual vineyards have been recreated.  The base layer is a man-made composite that simulates the bedrock.  Above that is the half-meter layer of soil which was prepared by cultivating virgin soil with samples from St.-Emilion.  The greenhouse itself is climate controlled with an advanced watering system to simulate rain and LED lighting arrays.   The vineyards were cultivated with massal selections from the very vineyards they are recreating.

Commercial greenhouse with lighting.  Mizzou Magazine.

Commercial greenhouse with lighting. Mizzou Magazine.

Several years ago several universities and estates (think Premier Cru Classe A) started a new a project based on the existing greenhouse infrastructure.  This project simulates the daily climatic conditions in an effort to reproduce the famed vintages of the past.  This, of course, also required the construction of period winemaking equipment and barrel aging cellars.  This is all possible because advancements in 19th century science saw the development of climate studies and weather recording.  By coupling daily weather observations, vineyard and winery journals, and historic climate models, the daily life of these vineyards was mapped out for more than 100 years in to the past.

Of course vines grow and react to their environment so some sort of starting point was required.  Fortunately the devastation from phylloxera meant the wide scale replacing of vineyards in the late 19th century.  This period then marks the start “year” of the project.  With each progressive vintage the weather simulation and wine production is expected to close in on what really happened in the past.  For redundancy and development of best practices there are three simulated vineyards for each real vineyard.  The hope is that all three will converge but issues from nematode growth, insects, to yeast prove to be a bit more difficult to control.  Still, there is time ahead.  The first significant milestone is the “1899” vintage that will be harvested in 2030.

Growing grapevines under glass is a practice that was performed for centuries in cold climate England.  Today it is used to counter the destruction  of historic vineyards due to global warming.  In ours and subsequent lifetimes we will see the return of monumental vintages such as 1900, 1928, 1945, 1961, and 1982.  The question is, at what point will the researchers stop repeating history?  Will they be able to implement a new controlled cycle where we have a new “1961” every five years or will they simply “correct” the future version of past vintages?

[1] April Fool’s!


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