Archives for January, 2011

Touring in Italy 4: Casual Alba ristorante but silky reds

The atmosphere around Alba was playing up again; the fog or “nebbia” was hanging about too long, and this happy Australian wine explorer was keen to go tasting.

The “nebbia” fog of course is the basis of the naming of the local famous grape variety-nebbiolo, several centuries ago. There is no parallel to this variety elsewhere and it has very distinctive textural characters along the tannic side.

And after tasting comes lunch, the most important activity of an Italian’s day; that starts at 1:00pm and stretches until 4pm when businesses re-open. If you want something to purchase in a hurry, well too bad, even super-markets.

Barbera Bottle Fishing-Alba Truffle Festival

The truffle festival brings out some strange activities amongst the Albanese; and the most peculiar one is to see the locals fishing for bottles of barbera in the piazza; nobody ever catches a bottle because the circular ring is nigh impossible to snare a shiny full glass bottle.

And it’s all done for charity anyway-barbera catching!

On this Piazza Risorgimento 4, is La Poila, a sort of up-market pizza and pasta joint which was always full, and frustratingly difficult to find a table, and if one can make the queue, this proved to be the one ristorante on this visit that ran the seating part at snails’ pace.

Upstairs, and above this place was the sister ristorante, Piazza Duomo, a two star Michelin rated establishment which had some rather strange guest entry processes.

Unlike Australian restaurants where you can see the entrance and walk through to be greeted, this place is just a locked door at the downstairs level, and entry only happens when one pushes the buzzer to be “inspected” from above.

Hardly welcoming and obviously expecting the door to keep out the under-privileged. And I never got around to returning to try the fare.

At La Piola (tel 0173 442 800) the menu was pretty standard, but the service was shocking, and now we could see why the guests wishing to enter the ristorante would be frustratingly slow to be seated. There was an eating pileup too. The who cares principle was employed here.

We had pizza; great little green olives and anchovies (really big devils too) sitting on a savoury tomato base on the thinnest of crusts. Yum. Unlike Australian pizza where tons of different flavour/fillings are piled on to the one base, this pizza was just plain, simple and flavoursome.

And by the way, pizza making is a southern Italian kitchen practice (started in Napoli), so finding it in Alba is quite a recent activity.

I explored for wines-by-the-glass and they both had to be Barolo with pizza of course! What else? Barbera or dolcetto I guess.

Ceretto Nebbiolo d’Alba Berdardia 2007 14% (88) USD 6.50 per glass was great value, bright cherry fruit, great drinkability which wines of this denomination are expected to show, a lot easier than mainstream Barolo or Barbaresco. The company hq is on the outskirts of Alba town, but four wineries and a distillery are operated (Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Asti).

Ceretto’s other wine was Zonchera Barolo 2006 14% (91) USD 9.50 per glass, a thumper, young, deep violets, heady spice and tar aromas, then a silky palate which just sets off a mouthful of rustic pizza.

Swamped wines: Drink after Queensland flood submersion?

The recent Queensland floods and the flooding by the Brisbane River has caused monumental loss to both personal and business cellars in the River City.

Reports are now coming out that one Milton-based storage facility which went totally under was storing wine worth USD 20 million.

The other puzzling information to hand was that the operator made little effort to move the contract cellar stock to dry ground.

News of such losses emerge when owners are debating how to recover from this muddy dunking. They really question whether the wine is potable while assessing the contamination risk after the floodwaters are known to have high E. coli levels for this developed country.

On the face of it cork loses out. Wines closed with cork which in itself is a highly variable commodity, and terribly unreliable, can be deemed to have taken in water (and bacteria) and would not be a very enjoyable drink.

The older the wine, the more likely the water ingress given that cork has a bad habit of crumbling or going soft with time. One in 10 old bottles that I open would ever stand the test of holding together.

That being said, if the wine in question is Penfolds Grange (and one former Penfolds employee who owned 200 cartons of many vintages of this great red lost all in the Milton submersion), one would tend to overlook the contamination issue and try it.

Of the corks which are questionable closing Bordeaux and Burgundy after the flood, one category which should not have succumbed will be Champagne – due to the internal pressure preventing any liquid ingress.

Then the above discussion is predicated on the assumption that the bottle, label and all, has been sanitised with a solution to kill the hazardous bacteria on surfaces and more likely wedged under capsules and the cork-glass interfaces. This will be some cleaning procedure.

Although I could give a tutorial on flooded wine bottle sanitation, that is best kept until another time.

Wines under screw caps are expected to be fine provided they are sanitised before drinking, as they are totally sealed down to bacteria level.

Just another advantage of the Australian use of screw cap; the only pity is that 80 percent of super-premium red wines remain under cork. But Moss Wood and Cullen cabernets for example, now USD 100, are reliably closed under screw.

Most Brisbane restaurants along the Boardwalk and Eagle Pier in this fair city suffered some water damage; and as a usual practice, wine was stored at lower levels – the ones which get wet first.

Liquor hygiene laws prevent restaurants from selling ex-flood wine in principle, however provided the customer is warned of the wines’ origins, there is an opening for restaurateurs to move it out at a discount. Many will, after a big washing job to clean down bottles.

Unlike the 1974 flood where the main integrity issue was loss of label (the days of gummed labels have gone), this time around the identity is quite plain given the strength of self-adhesive materials used in today’s label products.

However, wines of the ’70s and older will have lost labels if they went under!

Writer Tyson Stelzer took some technical advice on the consumption of wine after flood inundation and that can be found here:


Australian Wine Trade Flood Relief Raffle: Support for the flooded

Flash Flood Damage-Boireann

By the time the Brisbane River had broken its banks in several places the rain and flood devastation wrung on Queensland’s agricultural crops had been apparent for up to two months.

The Australian Wine Trade Flood Relief Raffle went up on writer Tyson Stelzer’s site last Thursday, January 13 after a groundswell of Australian wine businesses wished to support flood victims in principle but also their fellow wine producers who had lost crop.

And it became a no-brainer that wine grape crops would be lost after such incessant rain as the grape vines tried to turn off the torrents around their roots and the pelting rain, fog and mist that lashed leaves and developing bunches daily for so long.

Here is an update on the raffle progress from Tyson Stelzer’s site:

The plan is to raise a donation to the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal and other similar appeals through a wine raffle in a similar format to the Australian Wine Trade Bushfire Raffle of 2009.

Winemakers, importers, distributors: We would appreciate donations of raffle prizes. Perhaps a case of wine or two, a special bottle, a membership or event ticket? Please send the full name and retail value of your pledge to us by Monday January 31 but do not send wine yet (it will be sent directly to winners later).

Value of pledges to date: Day 1: More than $35,000. Day 2: More than $100,000,Day 5: More than $135,000 (from more than 180 companies); and on day 2 Fosters Ltd donated $500,000 via the Queensland Premier’s Appeal.

Retailers (online and shop front): We would like your help to sell tickets. This is a simple process as tickets will be generated and emailed automatically. Bank and foreign exchange costs will be covered. To date 46 retailers will be selling tickets when they go on sale on February 4 until March 4.

Within the wine industry there is a call to assess the levels of crop loss as there is every possibility of likeminded grape producers in other parts of Australia prepared to donate grapes to assist their Queensland colleagues who have seen the years’ work go down the river.

The flooding of Brisbane last week has been the most devastating in living memory; more particularly as the population and housing growth has doubled since the last memorable flood of 1974 which inundated Brisbane in exactly the same areas. The flood proofing dam-Wivenhoe has failed.

Elsewhere in Southern Queensland it is obvious now that urban development has run rampant in areas which were flood plains before white settlement; and over centuries river courses have changed little despite what is put in their path. In today’s case-housing.

In the suburbs inundated, a veritable volunteer army turned out to assist the clean-up last weekend, so much so that after passing the 25,000 mark, bus transport ran out. So some volunteers went home empty handed but most just turned up in areas heavily affected with gloves, boots, squeeze-gees and water blasters like the writer.

Our group headed for Sherwood Road, adjacent to the Rocklea wholesale fruit markets where a massive clean was under way to get back in business.

Our cleaning property was 36 Melbourne Street, Rocklea, the mid-40s owner Simon was still in shock over this disaster. His double story cottage had flooded one metre over the upper floor and we were in the process of removing everything and water jetting the black mud from walls, and sludge from floors.

The debris from floods take on their own stench. In this case the mud was black as the surrounding paddocks are black soil, although the visuals of the Brisbane River in flood were very much a red, swollen torrent in turmoil.

Ruined Possessions at 36 Melbourne Street-authors IPhone pic

The flood smell is penetrating: and I can still smell it subliminally days later in the back of my nose. It’s a cross of a strange array of country smells; rotting timber, fungus, cow-yard, wet earth, horse urine, dog poo, even decomposing carcass. So for the thousands who aided the clean-up this was their background aroma for several days, and some for weeks.

For the volunteers, meal support was organised on the Twitter hashtag #bakedrelief or having thousands of hits from day one.

Currently from the website: Baked Relief – ADOPT A FAMILY is now taking registrations from people who are prepared to provide a meal once a week {possibly for up to a year} to a family who has lost their home to the floods.

The groundswell of wine industry support is reaching far and wide. Steve Flamsteed (born in Toowoomba where two residents lost their lives in a flash flood), winemaker at Giant Steps, Yarra Valley tweeted that next Friday’s Pizza and Pint night in the restaurant (21 January) would be fully subscribed.

In Whistler BC, the flood relief function at the Crystal Lounge will be held February 10th at 8:30 pm.

For further donations:

Big Queensland Wet: Granite Belt vineyards surviving

Flash Flood-Boireann Vineyard The Summitz

While floods ravage a Queensland surface area six times that of the UK, the State’s pristine wine growing district has not been spared.

“It took 60 mm overnight for the flood to start. Although the farms and vineyards are well drained, five weeks ago every dam in the Geographic Indication was full” said agricultural consultant Stephen Tancred from Stanthorpe yesterday. The town had another 50mm through the day.

So the need for the soil to take up moisture passed over a month ago, and it’s that sandy decomposed granite with underlying clay type soil throughout the district. Good for Mediterranean type grape varieties like barbera, tempranillo and nero d’avola, but without too much water indulgence.

The district’s water storage Storm King Dam has been full for weeks, and now that is starting to overflow through Stanthorpe town.

“Old style grapegrowers with experience have clean vineyards, while some new entrants have dropped the ball with the management of downy mildew, and some defoliation has taken place. With so much rain there is no farm work, so disease can continue to spread until the sun comes out again. However, the district harvest will be down. It will be late because it’s been so cold and wet. The apple crop is clean but we need sunshine to maintain it now,” adds Tancred.

Five kilometres south of Stanthorpe town yesterday the Broadwater River broke its banks from the run-off.

Broadwater Creek in flood via Stanthorpe

“Nearby we can hear the roar of the Severn River,” says Ridgemill winemaker and Strange Bird instigator Peter McGlashan. “The vineyards are holding up because veraison is yet to start, and it will be late. The main problem is access to the ground because the soil is sodden, but as this is some of the best draining soil in the State we should not need to wait long.”

The December rainfall total at Ridgemill was 206 mm and January total so far plus the last two days has been 120 mm to date. This pales alongside the 150 mm in an hour during Tuesday’s inland tsunami in Toowoomba or the 250 mm fall thru Wednesday over Wivenhoe dam (the main flood mitigant now threatening the State’s capital with severe water ingress).

The sudden rain storms have been quite regular for the past month, causing headaches for the damage to vineyards and forced trellis and drainage repairs when attention to canopies and spray regimes would be better spent.

“This happened at about 4pm on 5 January. I hope the driveway will still be there when the water goes. Michael’s drain entrance is under there somewhere. Will start on the ark in the morning, Noah,” says a philosophical winemaker Peter Stark from Boireann at The Summit, north of Stanthorpe.

Flash Flood-Boireann Vineyard The Summit

Like the latest
wine & travel news?

Subscribe to our mailing list and get Peter's latest posts to your inbox.