Hello friends. We have the return today of an old list-member favorite, Indie’s wonderful Langhe blend: Vino Rosso del Popolo (translation: Red Wine of the People). It has been more than two years since we’ve offered this one, and that’s not on purpose, but instead the result of a number of logistical/import challenges. I’d write about those challenges, but I’d like to keep you all awake, so instead we’ll focus on the wine.
The main thrust of the offer will be the Popolo, which is actually a little less expensive than the previous two times we’ve offered it. Popolo was a really fun wine to write up originally, and since it has been several years since that initial offer (the 2011 vintage, offered in Feb 2013), I’m going to excerpt broadly. And then please note: we’re also going to include another wine under the Cantine di Indie label, the geeky-delicious Polpo Rosso (Red Octopus) from Sicily, at the bottom of the offer.
Everything tastes better on vacation. We all know this.
I suspect it’s largely due to the oddball effect, an idea I first encountered in a remarkable New Yorker profile of neuroscientist David Eagleman by Burkhard Bilger back in 2011. Bilger writes about the oddball effect as: an optical illusion that Eagleman had shown me in his lab. It consisted of a series of simple images flashing on a computer screen. Most of the time, the same picture was repeated again and again: a plain brown shoe. But every so often a flower would appear instead. To my mind, the change was a matter of timing as well as of content: the flower would stay onscreen much longer than the shoe. But Eagleman insisted that all the pictures appeared for the same length of time. The only difference was the degree of attention that I paid to them. The shoe, by its third or fourth appearance, barely made an impression. The flower, more rare, lingered and blossomed, like those childhood summers.
This effect, according to Eagleman, explains why “Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.” In other words, when your brain is experiencing new impulses, it slows your sense of time down, and you experience them more fully. You pay more attention to the fonduta con tartufi when you’re sitting in a restaurant in the Piedmont because the experience is utterly unfamiliar. The mac-and-cheese you make every Wednesday you barely notice anymore.
The oddball effect definitely explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain it all. Sometimes things taste better on vacation because the locals keep the choicest parcels for themselves. Langhe Rosso is not a category that shows up too frequently outside of, well, the Langhe itself. We get plenty of exports of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, bottled varietally. But the declassified blends of the three grapes, the ones that are vinified unfussily and well-loved by the locals for their food-friendly rusticity and early-drinking character and easy-on-the-wallet price? Those stay home. Mostly.
Fortunately, the folks at Indie Wineries (a terrific importer of small-production, hand-crafted wines) managed to talk one of their Piedmont producers into bottling a Langhe Rosso just for them. They created a new label (Le Cantine di Indie) and called the wine Vino Rosso del Popolo. In the early days, the wine was bottled by Bocchino; these days it’s Valdispinso.
The blend here is 45% Nebbiolo, 35% Barbera, and 20% Dolcetto. The nose screams Nebbiolo, which is clearly dominating the aromatics of the other two varietals. It offers cherry and orange peel fruit, tea leaves and tar streaks, and just a hint of the haunting rose petals that characterize the best Nebbiolos from this part of the world. On the palate, the Barbera and Dolcetto add lovely fleshiness and accessibility to oft-inaccessible Nebbiolo, and the overall package possesses loads of stuffing, especially at this sub-$15 tag. Bright, fresh, and juicy on attack and mid-palate, this rolls into a finish with plenty of Nebbiolo’s tea-leaf chew and attractive rusticity.
It’s characterful, food-friendly wine (with a great label), and every time I get near it I want to cook something Piemontese: Tajarin al Sugo d’Arrosto (pasta with sauce made from the drippings of a roast) or Brasato al Barolo (beef braised in Barolo) or Tagliatele di Castagne con Ragù d’Anatra (chestnut tagliatelle with duck ragu). I’m really happy to see this wine return to our portfolio. It’s a remarkable value, and a good way to make time slow down via the power of a new experience.
I’m not 100% positive why the folks at Indie chose to call this Polpo Rosso. I figure it’s either a) that they think the wine would be a perfect pairing with grilled Octopus; or b) that they want to torture honest wine retailers who have to tongue-twistingly explain the difference between Popolo and Polpo. Or maybe both.
Regardless, it’s another beautiful bottle to look at, with beautiful juice inside. In this case 100% Nerello Mascalese. It’s a variety that does famously well in Sicily, where expensive, age-worthy wines are produced on the slopes of Mt. Etna. This one comes from the opposite end of the island, near Palermo, and it offers a completely different, more accessible version of the grape.
It clocks in at 12% listed alc, and poured into the glass looks like the lovechild of a rosé and a Pinot Noir. It’s a pale, pale red. The nose is gloriously expressive: red fruit and spice, minerals and flowers. In the mouth, this is light, chuggable, with a core of spicy red fruit complemented by terrific mineral and sanguine notes. I’d treat this like a rosé and put a little chill on it. It would be wonderful with salmon this summer (as an alternative to Pinot Noir) or coq au vin this autumn. And of course it would be wonderful with grilled octopus if you can find some.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.