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Sibelius and the Serraboella Barbaresco: A Sweet Burn
by John Axelrod ©2015

”Sibelius is so concentrated and exact. With Sibelius you feel that if one drop touches your skin it would burn right through the bone."
Simon Rattle 1998

With Sibelius it's a cold burn, a reminder of that frozen, melancholic tundra of the Finnish landscape. However, that intensity can also reveal a deep beauty. The Barbaresco, the feminine side of the Nebbiolo grape, is like Sibelius, in that it is often overshadowed by the more popular King of the Reds, the burly Barolo, just as Sibelius was often unfairly criticized by those who preferred Schoenberg, Stravinsky or Strauss. We know what Sibelius thought of these critics: “Never pay any attention to what critics say…Remember, a statue has never been set up in honour of a critic!”

I’m not so curious about what Sir Simon thinks about critics but I do wonder what he would think about the 2004 Serraboella Barabesco?

This is one statuesque wine. For some connoisseurs, it is the “Queen of the Barbaresco.” Robert Parker says: "The flagship 2004 Barbaresco Serraboella is made in a generous, expansive style that provides balance to the wine’s structural components. Sweet spices, toasted oak, dark fruit, tar and menthol are just some of the nuances that emerge from this harmonious, complete Barbaresco. This is a very representative wine in this vintage. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2024." 92 points

OK, I’ll throw my hat in the ring. On a cold, autumn night in Torino, after a concert, I succumbed to the lure of the white truffles from Alba in season, and I discovered this Barbaresco that most abundantly burned a warm feeling in my veins and blessed my tastebuds with a powerful, yet fruity, well rounded and elegant wine. It is a wine as undefinable as is the feminine essence itself. There are many elements to this one grape that challenges the sophistication of the cabernet sauvignon. This Barbaresco is the drink to have, at 14% alcohol, while listening to Sibelius, cuddled upon a couch, comforted under a blanket, next to a roasting fire. While the tone poems and early works of Sibelius may ask for repeated listenings, the late works, such as the Symphony 7, prior to his early “retirement” from composing, better compliment the often abstract, harmonic stature of the Barbaresco.

Sibelius's music characterizes the melancholic and rugged north, the flow of the icy wind over the sea, the ebb and tide of the water, the endless arcs of sound that penetrate the timbre of the orchestration like the northern lights in the Finnish Lapland. The Serraboella Barbaresco is grown on rough hills in the cool Langhe region of Piedmont in northern Italy. Made by Silvia Cigliuti, this Barbaresco is from the Fratelli Cigliuti winery situated on the Serraboella hill, 350 meters above sea level, overlooking the village of Neive. Neive is one of the three villages that produces Barbaresco from the Nebbiolo and the Cigliuti is made from 30 year old vines. The wind from the sea chills the valley and produces the particular microclimate on these hills to make this distinctive wine. That it s barreled in less time than the Barolo also contributes to the minimum tannins yet strong flavor.

But the best way to draw the proper comparison is upon first impression. While the 2nd and 5th Symphonies may get most of the attention, the 7th is the one movement work that chills the bones and becomes so omnipresent that once set sail it is impossible to turn back. Sibelius’ unique use of metric modulation, allowing rhythmic units to establish different tempo changes as if modulating harmonies in time, allows the music to keep the ear guessing and the emotions engaged. It may feel cold, but the burn is sweet.

And with this Barbaresco, the rich, ruby color and an intoxicating perfume stimulate the senses. Its velvety texture and flavors of violets, spice box, sweet tobacco and dark fruit, indicate a wine of endless curiosity in its complexity. Indeed this is no ordinary woman and no ordinary queen. There is much beneath the surface. And perhaps after all that C major back and forth in Sibelius, its abrupt ending astonishes in the same way the final drop of this rich wine occurs much too quickly. We are left wanting more.

Sibelius himself said: “If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances.” The Serraboella Barbaresco is exactly that: a mosaic of marl and sand and soil and wind and water that produces a wine that is a world unto itself. Now, if anyone knows how to send a bottle to Sir Simon, Im sure he and Magdalena would enjoy this wine for a Pre-Christmas cuddle on the couch.

John Axelrod
©Copyright 2015