Posts tagged ‘Piemonte’
Lucrezia Carrega, Malabaila di Canale (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I’ve just returned from eleven busy days in Piemonte and as usual, enjoyed a great time. The food was especially awesome this time, being able to dine at so many special places (Felicin in Monforte, Tota Virginia in Serralunga and Trattoria La Libera in Alba – this last one twice). Of course, there were a good number of excellent wines as well – is there a better red wine region in Italy than Piemonte?
Barolo and Barbaresco were the primary reasons I was there and I’ll report on the new vintages – 2009 for the former and 2010 for the latter – soon. But for this post, I’d like to note some other Piemontese wines I enjoyed this visit that were excellent.
I’ll bet you don’t think about sparkling wines when you consider Piemonte, but there are some excellent examples and I’m not referring to Asti Spumante. No, I’m talking about a category of sparkling wines known as Alta Langa. As the name suggests, the vineyard used for these wines are located at a higher elevation than most in the region, making them ideal for sparking wines, which require higher acidity for proper structure and balance.
What’s nice about Alta Langa is the purity of flavors in these wines. I’m not about to write that these are better sparkling wines than those coming from Franciacorta – both are metodo classico, by the way – as the Franciacorta wines tend to offer greater complexity as well as richness in the mouth. But what the Alta Langa wines lack in power, they more than make up for in finesse and varietal character. The best examples – I’ve tasted some lovely bottles from both Fontanafredda and Ettore Germano – are clean, ideally balanced and charming. Not a bad combination!
But now on this trip, I enjoyed the crowning achievement in Alta Langa to date – not only for my tastes, but also for many other Italian wine authorities. That wine is the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Zero” – in this case, the 2005 vintage. This is a wine that spent six years on the yeasts before disgorgement and that extra aging time has given this wine some added dimensions you don’t find in most examples of Alta Langa. There is a light touch of yeastiness in the aromas, although this is not a toasty, biscuity style in the mode of many similarly aged Champagnes. Rather, there are lovely pear and fig flavors, a rich mid-palate and an ultra-long, round, clean finish with excellent acidity. This wine really cleans your mouth and is especially marvelous paired with seafood.
By the way, I mentioned that other Italian wine authorities have also raved about this wine. Primary evidence of that is Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, having awarded this 2005 its highest rating of tre bicchieri; they did the same for the 2006 bottling, which I have yet to try, but certainly will. Here’s hoping that Palm Bay, the US importer for Serafino, will start to bring in at least a small amount of this wine soon so that American consumers won’t have to travel to Piemonte to taste this enchanting sparkler.
As for white wines, there are a surprising number of excellent types made in Piemonte, such as Gavi, Timorasso and Favorita and of course, Arneis. This last wine, the most famous of which are from the Roero district, situated across from the Langhe on the opposite side of the Tanaro River, has become a great success not only in Italy and throughout much of Europe, but also in the United States, both by the bottle and the glass. Most examples are tank fermented and aged to highlight the lovely fruit aromas and flavors, but there are few examples that are aged for a short time in wood.
I enjoyed two excellent Arneis from the beautiful, but underrated Roero estate, Malabaila di Canale. situated in that charming town. Both were from the 2012 vintage, a warm year that yielded forward, but more complex wines than in 2011. The entry level bottling has those beautiful pear and melon flavors so typical of the variety and is very refreshing, with impressive richness. The “Pradvaj” offering, from a lovely sloping hillside planting at the winery, is an outstanding Arneis, with a touch of honey in the aromas to accompany the classic varietal flavors; the mid-palate is quite generous and the finish is very long. This is a first-rate white wine that I’d prefer to pair with white meats (even veal) as well as most seafood. These wines are imported in the US, as they are Marc de Grazia selections and there are various distributors, such as Skurnik in the New York/New Jersey area as well as Robert Houde in Chicago. (The retail price on the Pradvaj is betwen $20 and $22 in the US; to me, the wine is worth every penny.)
Finally, a few lovely reds. First there was the Cappellano Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” 2008. My companion and I had been through the ringer tasting so many examples of Barolo and Barbaresco, so for dinner we wanted a red with very modest tannins. Barbera was the perfect choice and with this offering from Cappellano, we found the ideal Barbera. Teobaldo Cappellano, who passed away a few years ago, was a strict traditionalist with all his wines and made some celebrated examples of Barolo over the past few decades. What you had to admire about him – and this is stated in Italian on the back label – is that he did not want his wines to be rated with numerical scores, preferring that any particular journalist or critic merely write about the wine itself, its special flavors and its pleasure. What a great man and what a wonderful philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if this attitude were more in the norm of what wine would be about today?
Anyway, this Barbera, proved that Cappellano cared a lot about all his wines, not just the famous ones (Note: Teobaldo’s son Augusto now makes the wines and has continued his father’s memorable work). This wine, from the Gabutti cru in Serralunga, was steel aged with fresh blackberry and myrtle flavors, backed by good richness on the palate and a juicy, flavorful, very elegant finish with a clean, round note. What an ideal wine for just about any food, from simple pasta to sautéed duck breast or lumache (snails). This is imported in the US by Rosenthal Wine Merchants.
Finally, a few words about a marvelous Dolcetto, the Chionetti Dogliani “San Luigi” 2011. I love Dolcetto and as I hadn’t tasted a single example during my trip as of the final evening in Alba, I was eager to taste one. This one was everything I expected. Chionetti, established in 1912, has been one of the standard bearers for Dolcetto in the lovely town of Dogliani, a little bit south of the town of Barolo. The producers here pride themselves on the power and complexity of their offerings of Dolcetto, believing that other versions, such as those labeled as Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba, are relatively minor league by comparison (this is their opinion, not necessarily mine).
Given that, some offerings of Dolcetto from Dogliani (the DOCG versions are now identified simply as Dogliani – the grape name is omitted from the label), can be a bit overdone, sometimes in ripeness, other times in terms of cellar work to attempt to produce a more powerful wine. Thankfully, that was not a problem with this single vineyard offering from Chionetti (San Luigi is one of the producer’s best and most consistent offerings). This newly released 2011 – appropriate as this wine has only modest tannins – is a sheer delight with black plum and raspberry flavors, very good acidity and an elegant, supple finish. This is a textbook example of Dogliani and if more examples were made in this fashion, perhaps Dolcetto from Dogliani – as well as other examples of the variety – would enjoy greater sales success.
It was a perfect accompaniment to the dish of seppie nere (“black” octopus, if you will) I enjoyed at Trattoria La Libera. I’d also love to pair it with rabbit, lighter game birds and delicate pastas. The wine in imported in the US by Vinifera Imports.
So there you have it, a selection of wonderful Piemontese wines, all meant for the dinner table and not a single one named Barolo or Barbaresco. Sometimes, the greatest pleasures are indeed the simplest!
After spending a bit of time in the province of Asti tasting Barbera last week (thanks to the organizers of Barbera Meeting 2010), I can report on one aspect that is rarely mentioned regarding this variety; the ability of Barbera to age well.
In reality, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Barbera can age; after all, this is a variety with nautrally high acidity. Yet, as the grape also has extremely low levels of tannins, many wine publications emphasize this factor. The writers of these journals naturally compare Barbera to Nebbiolo, a very tannic variety that does produce long-lived wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. But of course, the potential to age is not just the amount of tannins, it’s a balancing act, as some vintages of Barolo such as 1989, 1996 and 2001 age better than vintages such as 1990 and 2000, as the latter two vintages don’t have the proper acidity levels for long-term pleasure.
Yet, given the history of Barbera as a simple, high-acid wine best served with antipasti, it’s easy to see why few have considered Barbera as a variety that would be thought of for its longevity. The most widely planted red variety in Piemonte, it has been referred to as the “Coca-Cola” or “Pepsi-Cola” of the region, hardly a term of endearment. So when a few producers started to focus on making a more “serious” Barbera (for lack of a better term), these vintners turned heads in the area.
One of those quite famously was the late Giacomo Bologna, who started to experiment with aging in French barriques for Barbera instead of the usual large casks (botti grandi). He focused on specific vineyards and decided to harvest the grapes a bit later than normal, looking for a riper, more powerful wine that could age. A later harvest meant that the acidity would decrease, but given its naturally high levels to begin with, Bologna and other producers reasoned the wine would still have sufficient acidity and balance.
I attended a special tasting at the winery (known as Braida di Giacomo Bologna) in Rocchetta Tanaro, a short ride from the town of Asti, which was hosted by Giacomo’s daughter Raffaella and son Giuseppe. There are three top-end bottlings of Barbera d’Asti: Bricco dell’Uccellone, Bricco della Bigotta and Ai Suma. The last, meaning, “I’ve got it,” in local dialect is a wine made from very late harvested grapes and has a notable ripe quality when young, yet rounds out nicely with several years in the bottle. The other two wines have rightly been celebrated as among the finest of all Barbera; from year to year, the press has favored one or the other – Uccellone from older vineyards and displaying greater intensity, while Bigotta is generally a bit lighter on the palate, though this is all relative, as it is a deeply concentrated wine in its own right.
Here are notes on the wines presented in this tasting at the winery:
2001 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Roast coffee and dried cherry aromas; beautifully balanced from start to finish with excellent concentration and very good acidity. 5-7 years more on this.
1999 Bricco della Bigotta
Medium-full with very good concentration and excellent acidity; nice complexity with a lengthy finish with distinct herbal notes. 3-5 years on this.
1998 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Raspberry and dried brown herb aromas; notable acidity- wonderfully elegant. 3-5 years on this.
1997 Ai Suma
Maple and dried coffee aromas with a light raisiny note; excellent concentration with notable grip in the finish. Though 1997 was not as great a year in Piemonte that some have proclaimed, it was ideal for this late-harvest wine. 5-7 years more.
1996 Bricco della Bigotta
Coffee, dried strawberry and cherry aromas; excellent concentration; very good acidity; quite round and complete; 5-7 years on this – maybe longer?
1995 Bricco dell’ Uccellone
Nearing peak, this has distinct herbal notes and very good concentration; 2-3 years on this.
The other producer I visited this day was La Ghersa in the small commune of Moasca (population 461, as it was proudly pointed out), near the town of Castelnuovo Calcea. This estate is run by Massimo Pastura and with a last name like Pastura, you can imagine how nature plays an important part in his winemaking!
My fellow journalists and I were treated to a vertical tasting of seven vintages of their Vignassa bottling. Produced from a single vineyard planted in the first decade of the 20th century, this wine is a Nizza Superiore, one of the most restrictive DOC designations in all of Italy. Yields are quite low and vineyards must be south or south-east facing to catch as much of the sun as possible; these factors combine to yield deeply concentrated wines.
Instead of giving notes on each wine, a few overall comments. The differences in the wines were due to vintages – 2000 being rather simple with moderate acidity, whlie a wonderful year such as 2004 showing excellent depth of fruit and structure. This tells me two things; the consistency of the winemaking as well as the excellence of the site. The oldest wine we tasted was the 1989, a legendary vintage for Piemontese reds; this has wonderful balance and complexity and was quite stylish, though nearing peak. I’d have to say that my favorite wine was the 1996; Massimo commented on how this is not a vintage that is discussed much for Barbera, but after tasting this wine as well as the Bricco della Bigotta (noted above), I’d have to state that 1996 was an outstanding year for Barbera. There is plenty of still-fresh black cherry fruit and the mid-palate is wonderfully generous, while the acidity is simply beautiful. The lengthy finish and fruit persistence argue for another 5-7 years.
These wines offered more proof not only of the excellence of Barbera, but also the surprises one finds in Italian wines. Barbera as the everyday soda pop wine of Piemonte? Not from these two producers!
A few months ago, I wrote a post on the great red wines of Piemonte made from the Nebbiolo grape. Included in that post were the two most famous reds of the Langhe, Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, I would like to go into greater detail about Barbaresco.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Produced entirely from Nebbiolo, Barbaresco originates from vineyards in three communes east of Alba: Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive as well as a small section of Alba itself known as San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. The wine must be aged for a minimum of two years with one of those in oak casks of any size. The wine is released after three years (the 2006 vintage of Barbaresco is the current one on the market in 2009), while a Barbaresco Riserva can be released four years after the vintage.
There are more than 60 geographical designations that can be named on a bottle of Barbaresco. Most of these are cru (vineyard) designations, which were most recently reorganized in 2008. Among the most famous cru designations in the Barbaresco zone are the following:
- Sori Burdin (Bordini)
Asili Vineyard, Barbaresco
Soils throughout the area are generally Tortonian, which are the younger of the two predominant soil classifications in the Langhe; the other, older soil is from the Helvetian era. As the yonger soils are not as deep as the older ones, wines from these soils tend to be more approachable upon release and do not have as intense a tannic profile. This is one of the primary reasons why the wines of Barbaresco are more approachable than those from Barolo, as that zone is comprised of more Helvetian soils.
As Barbaresco is a much smaller area than Barolo and has a shorter history, Barbaresco is not as well-known as its neighbor. Add in the fact that Barolos in general can age longer than Barbarescos and you have a situation where Barbaresco is usually thought of as a “lesser” wine than Barolo. This is quite unfortunate, as Barbaresco is a great wine in its own right.
Two Great Producers
While there are not as many famous producers of Barbaresco as compared to Barolo, there are two in particular that have done a tremendous job of elevating the image of Barbaresco. These two producers – Angelo Gaja and Produttori del Barbaresco – have a different approach to winemaking, but each in their own way have done tremendous work in the promotion of Barbaresco.
Gaja is the master salesman who makes wines from great sites and charges a good deal of money for his wines – if you want a bottle of Gaja wine, you have to pay for it. But what you get is a wonderful offering with great depth of fruit and a lovely expression of site. The wines offer tremendous complexity, are elegantly styled and age well. They are made in a modern style of winemaking (aged in small oak barrels), yet the wood rarely overwhelms the fruit.
For years, Gaja produced several bottlings of Barbaresco, from a normale to cru bottlings from Sori San Tilden and Sori San Lorenzo, but some years back, he changed the designation on these last two wines to Langhe Nebbiolo. This has alowed him to alter the wines in slight fashion – often these wines now contain a small percentage of Barbera, to increase the acidity of these wines. Thus Gaja now only produces one bottling of Barbaresco each vintage, while his most famous offerings are no longer known as Barbaresco. This has angered some of his fellow producers in this area, yet the truth remains that for many consumers, the name Gaja is the most recognized with Barbaresco.
As for Produttori del Barbaresco, the message here is much more tied in with the land and not an individual; in fact, managing director and winemaker Aldo Vacca is about as far removed from Angelo Gaja as you can imagine. Reserved and insightful, Vacca produces wines that reflect the terroir of Barbaresco as well as any wines do. This is a cooperative producer with growers from several of the finest crus in the town of Barbaresco supplying their grapes.
Each year, there is a regular bottling of Barbaresco from the Produttori and in the finest vintages, the cru botlings – nine in all – are produced. The wines vary in intensity with examples such as Pora and Ovello offering less concentration and tannins than those from Montefico and Montestefano, yet all beautifully express their site’s terroir. One of the principal reasons for this is the winemaking, as each wine is aged solely in large casks (botti grandi), which minimize wood influence while emphasizing the varietal character. These wines offer aromas of dried cherry, cedar, persimmon and orange peel which changes to a profile of balsamic as they age. Impeccably balanced, these are in my opinion, the most classic representation of Barbaresco and some of Italy’s greatest red wines.
There are of course, dozens of other excellent producers of Barbaresco. These include:
- Bruno Giacosa
- Ada Nada
- Fiorenzo Nada
- Marchesi di Gresy
- La Ca Nova
- La Spinetta
- Bruno Rocca
- Rino Varaldo
The message then about Barbaresco is that it should be examined as a great wine in its own right instead of being constantly compared to Barolo. The 2007 bottlings of Barbaresco will be on the market in the fall of 2009 and these wines should offer exemplary proof of what a great wine Barbaresco truly is!
One of the best ways to learn about Italian wines is to try them with local foods. You might be lucky enough to dine at a friend’s home when you’re in Italy, but for most of us, a trattoria, osteria or ristorante will be our dining experience.
There are so many wonderful eateries in all of Italy, but for me the greatest number of these are concentrated in a small area of the province of Cuneo in Piemonte. This is the area that is home to the charming Dolcetto, a red wine with delicious black raspberry and cranberry fruit; the tangy Barbera with plenty of spice, high acidity and very light tannins and the regal red pairing of Barolo and Barbaresco, both made exclusively from the Nebbiolo grape. (more…)
A red variety grown in Piemonte that literally means, “little sweet one.” Light tannins, balanced acidity and juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, mulberry and cranberry. Dolcetto produces a wine that is very charming and easy to drink in its youth.
White variety grown in north central Piemonte; the most famous example is Erbaluce di Caluso. High acidity and lemon fruit; versions range from a light dry white to a refreshing sparkling style.
Beautiful white variety of Campania, grown in various areas of that region. Very high acidity and fruit flavors ranging from apple and pear in the most simple bottlings to quince and kiwi in the best offerings. Generally not oak-aged, though a few producers do barrel age the wine.
White variety grown along the coast of Campania; very high acidity and flavors of citrus and pear. Usually part of a blend, along with varieties such as Biancolella and Ginestra.
Another beautiful white variety, most famously grown in Campania, though a few producers in Sicily work with it as well. Medium-full to full-bodied, this has fruit flavors of pear and citrus along with distinct notes of honey. Some versions are meant for consumption within 2-3 years, while the most concentrated offerings from the best producers can drink well for 5-7 years, thanks in part to the grape’s excellent natural acidity.
A red variety used in the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria in Sicily. Cherry, berry fruit and very soft tannins. There are a few producers that bottle Frappato on its own.
Formerly known as Tocai Friulano, the name was changed to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokay (this was also done in accordance with European Community regulations concerning protected names of wines). One of Friuli’s great white varieties, with complex aromas of pear, apricot and dried flowers. Lively acidity and a light minerality.
Red variety of Calabria that is the principal grape of Ciro rosso. Raspberry and strawberry fruit with light tannins.
The primary grape of Soave. An underrated white variety with aromas of yellow flowers and melon with very good acidity. This grape is as misprounced as any – the correct pronunciation is gar-gan-ah-guh.
One of Italy’s great white varieties, grown primarily in Alto Adige. Gewurz means “spicy” in German – this then is the spicy Traminer. Gorgeous aromatics of grapefruit, lychee and rose petals with lively acidity and distinct notes of white spice. The best versions are quite rich, with some having an oiliness on the palate.
White variety grown along the coasts of Campania- especially in the Costa d’Amalfi DOC. High acidity and fruit flavors of pear and lemon. Usually part of a blended white of the area.
One of the major white varieties of Campania; flavors of lemon, pear and dried flowers with very good natural acidity and often a note of almond. Medium-full, this generally is not as full as Fiano, but is quite complex. Most famous example is Greco di Tufo, from the province of Avellino.
Beautiful red variety from Piemonte; almost no tannins, with refreshing cherry and strawberry fruit and very good natural acidity. Meant for consumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date.
White variety from Sicily; most versions are simple with pleasant acidity and flavors of pear and citrus. Grillo is produced both as a stand-alone variety and also as part of a blended white.
Red variety of Marche; most famously as Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Medium-bodied with cherry, berry fruit, moderate tannins and good acidity. Produced both as a refreshing style for early consumption and a fuller style with more tannins and longevity.
One of Alto Adige’s most wonderful red varieties with intense color (often deep purple), youthful, but not overly aggressive tannins and very good acidity. Fruit flavors of black plum, black cherry and raspberry. Fruit forward and despite its richness, often quite approachable upon release.
Red variety most famously grown in Emilia-Romagna. Produces a lighter red wth cherry-berry fruit, zippy acidity and very light tannins. Best known in its slightly sparkling (frizzante) offerings.