Posts Tagged ‘Barbaresco’
With the whole world of wine to choose from, which three grape varieties would you group together for a focused red wine tasting where there is noticeable relationship between the varieties? The two Cabs and Merlot would be one obvious choice – but the range of styles around the world might lead to a loss of focus and what would you do about blends? Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre typically make a better blend than a comparison based on single varietal wines. Lea & Sandeman made an excellent choice with Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. This worked really well for two reasons. First, all three varieties make relatively pale wines which rely more on perfume, elegance and balance than just sheer power. Second, they are (probably!) my three favourite varieties of all – think sublime red Burgundy, evolving, long-lived, tannic Barolo and Barbaresco and finally, complex, herby, acidic Chianti and Brunello. How could it go wrong? With this quality of wines, it couldn’t.
The tasting offered a superb example to compare the styles of the three varieties, mostly in their classic regions. The Pinot from Burgundy, which travels the best of the three, was joined by a few choice examples from New Zealand and Argentina (yes). The Nebbiolo came from the Langhe in Piemonte, that is from its unsurpassed home territory. The Sangiovese came in its Brunello form only from Montalcino, one of its classic Tuscan expressions. The bulk of the tasting – in fact the two sides of the table you can see – was Pinot and Nebbiolo, with the Brunello an interesting side show with the producers present.
While these varieties all show marked, if subtle, variation from one vineyard to the next (thereby keeping wine writers in business), there are generalisations to be made. The Pinot at these levels (from generic red Burgundy up to some premier cru) were pale in colour, with fresh and attractive raspberry and strawberry fruit, moderate oak notes, relatively light in the mouth, around 13% of alcohol, present if unobtrusive tannins; in short, elegant and refreshing. They compliment food with their moderate flavours, refreshing acidity and poise. Of the many excellent examples, I would pick Domaine Theulot Juillot, Mercurey Premier Cru Les Combins 2009 for its perfume and elegance, the combination of lightness in the mouth and depth of fruit, and its length (£15.60 plus VAT). Great quality and value from a less exalted area.
Having worked up the rue de Pinot Noir, you take a 180 degree turn and head down the strada di Nebbiolo. It would be far to simple to state that you head down ‘tannin street’, but obviously this is the most marked change. These wines made from Nebbiolo have an noticeable structure which comes from a combination of higher alcohol levels, typically 14% though right up to 15%, and that wonderful tannic rasp which, if the fruit is ripe and it is well handled, makes for great, long lived wines. To be fair to these examples, the alcohol was not at all obtrusive but was balanced by fruit and acidity. The flavour and textural profile is rather different too: the red fruit is there (sour cherry) but is held together with the effects of ageing in, mainly, older and larger barrels. The wine has a steely tautness. This time two choices: an entry level wine of great quality: Nebbiolo, Langhe, Andrea Oberto, 2010 (£11.50 plus VAT) and a fine expression, Barbaresco from the Fausoni vineyard, Andrea Sottimano, 2008 (£29 plus VAT).
And finally ‘the brown one’, ie the type of Sangiovese grown on the Montalcino plateau, at 450m above sea level which increases the day/night temperature difference and gives a longer growing season, concentrating flavours. Most Sangiovese is not as pale as either of the other grape varieties in this line up and Brunello, with its long ageing in large oak barrels, is certainly the darkest of these three wines. Unfortunately there was no Rosso di Montalcino on show as that would have made a better comparison with the basic Pinot and Nebbiolo; but fortunately there were seven Brunello to be tasted! These wines (apart from the very best) do not jump out of the glass at you like some of those above – but they have a solidity, a lasting structure in the mouth which makes up for that. Interestingly, they were refined, not bold and rustic, with subtle sour cherry and sharp black plum fruit, restrained old oak, a full palate, with weight in the mouth with refined tannins and real length. The one that showed most promise for the future was Collemattoni, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007 (£22.25 plus VAT) with splendid refreshing sharpness; the current star, Fuligni, 2004 riserva with fabulous depth of fruit and complexity, the aromas now coming out of the glass … simultaneously rounded and demanding (£46.75 plus VAT).
Congratulations to Lea & Sandeman for this study in pale (mostly), red and elegant.
After the excitements of the Lea & Sandeman tasting (see previous post), more of the biggest names in Italian wine were on show at Armit’s ‘Blooming Lovely’ Spring tasting. Certainly they had the day for it, London being bathed in brilliant northern sunshine with temperatures higher than currently in Tuscany or even Southern Italy – briefly.
And the wines? Certainly there was no shortage of big names, from Italy and elsewhere – the 2008 vintage from the two Super Tuscan giants, Sassicaia and Ornellaia; wonderful Rioja from La Rioja Alta, and many more. Bruno Giacosa is a huge name in Italy but not as well known here. On this occasion, Giacosa’s very good varietal wines – Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo - were shown, wines you can actually afford to drink, not just collect. But the family who put this area on the map was certainly very well represented: Gaja, with wines from his three estates, Barbaresco of course, but then also his two Tuscan estates: Pieve di Santa Restituta in Montalcino and the second and third wines from Ca’Marcanda in coastal Bolgheri. So I could have written about the Super Tuscan aristocracy, Sassicaia versus Ornellaia versus Gaja in Bolgheri … riches indeed.
I have written previously in much more detail about Gaja in general and his Bolgheri wines in particular. Here I want to concentrate on the single vineyard wine, Sorì Tildìn, from the family’s home area of Barbaresco, Piemonte. The label is classic Gaja – the family name, effectively the brand name, is in big bold type, then the focus is on the vineyard name. Gaja eschews the Barbaresco DOCG classification, in favour of the simple Langhe Rosso; the message is, this is a bottle of Gaja wine, that’s all that matters. The style of the wine itself is highly characteristic – subtle and sophisticated, nothing remotely rustic or edgy, the perfect wine for the luxury worldwide market. Sorì Tildìn 2007 opens up with a beautiful combination of mature fruit, cherry and plums, seamlessly knit together with the cinnamon, smoke and mushrooms of presumably old oak. On the palate the mushroom notes are very evident, along with the refined fruit, a great depth of flavour and with the fine and abundant tannins which will give this a very long life, if you can resist the temptation to drink it. The overall impression now is elegance, finesse, if you will.
There is a catch of course – the price. A pre-VAT trade price of £150 a bottle is going to translate to £220+ retail. So, unless the price does not matter to you or indeed makes the product more desirable, you are going to start to think about the price in relation to the quality. For a third of that price, you could enjoy Gaja’s Super Tuscan Ca’Marcanda, but, good though that is, you might want something more authentically Italian. If it was my money, I would spend it on his Brunello (either Sugarille or Rennina, both around the £70 mark) which is the same price as the Super Tuscan. Interestingly, although the flavour profile of the grape is different, the sleek style is similar, no doubt a tribute to the Gaja approach and the practice of chief wine maker, Guido Rivella. So, the Gaja brand and quality in a Tuscan style for a fraction of the price of the Piemontese wine. Very refined drinking!
Stephen Brook MW has an enviable task – to pick some of his favourite newly released Barolo and Barbaresco and introduce them to the trade at a recent Decanter event entitled ‘Highlights of Piedmont’. He has to get his selection down to ten wines and so he can only nod at Dolcetto and Barbera as grape varieties and indeed to the Roero district. There are no whites at all which is a bit hard on Arneis, Cortese and Moscato. Understandably enough he sticks to Barolo and Barbaresco – seven wines to convey the most famous wine style to come out of Piemonte. But once we get to the heartland as it were, he is keen to play down stereotypes, Barolo v Barbaresco, traditionalist v modernist. Over all the message was: generalisation is dangerous.
Having been introduced by Pietro Ratti, head of the growers’ consortium and of the historic firm of Renato Ratti, Stephen Brook locates us. As he speaks on 20 September, the harvest for the Dolcetto and the white grapes has happened; now the producers are hoping for some more sun to finish off the ripening of the later picked Nebbiolo, the most important variety in the Langhe. The climate is not Mediterranean as people think. The Langhe, south of the Tanaro river, is within sight of the Alps and has harsh winters. And – to get to his theme – as it is a landscape of multiple slopes, small family holdings and some large vineyards with multiple owners, you can’t generalise about areas, terroir or weather conditions.
The naming convention followed here is: wine name (may be a vineyard name often preceded by Vigna or Vigneto), denomination ie DOC or DOCG name, producer, degrees of alcohol, year, followed in brackets by the commune of Barolo or Barbaresco where appropriate.
Fosco, Diano d’Alba, Salvano, 13.5°, 2009
The first wine is made from the Dolcetto grape. While not valued in the same way as Nebbiolo, this can make rich and glugable wines. Low in acidity and high in tannins, it is mainly intended to be drunk young. This example has a gorgeous, fruity nose, and sweet vibrant fruit set off with some tannins. You can tell that it would be good with food.
Lirano Soprana, Barbera d’Alba, Rivetto, 14.5°, 2007
The Barbera grape has come into the limelight in the last decade. Traditionally, with Dolcetto, it was seen as the everyday wine which the producers drank while they waited for the Nebbiolo to come round and soften. Now, it is produced in at least two styles, lightly oaked to allow the fruit to shine and with more new wood, especially French barriques to create a ‘serious’ wine. This example has to fall into the latter category, being aged in 50% new barriques and there is quite powerful if attractive new oak on the nose – vanilla along with the lovely red fruits typical of Barbera. It is another fine food wine. By contrast with Dolcetto, there is lots of refreshing acidity (great with tomato based sauces) but few tannins.
An important style which this tasting did not show is the simple Nebbiolo (eg Nebbiolo d’Alba), ie short maceration, often no oak, made for drinking within five years. It can be perfumed and fresh. Just right for a simple lunch and not expensive.
The warm up act continues with Sudisfà Roero riserva, Angelo Nero, 14°, 2006, made from Nebbiolo grapes in the Roero district, north of the Tanaro river and on sandier soils. There are two big advantages here: the wines are at their peak between only four and ten years after being made and they can be cheaper than those coming from south of the Tanaro, though this one at £26 isn’t. But this is a serious wine, from the pretty fierce 2006 vintage, quite perfumed already, high in tannins and with a spicy finish. The perfume will develop with some more years in the bottle while the tannins become tamer. It will be worth the relatively short wait.
Barbaresco and Barolo basics
Barbaresco and Barolo, the two principal quality wine zones (DOCGs) of the Langhe, respectively East and South West of Alba, are slightly confusingly also village names which give their name to the commune as a whole. So not every Barolo is from the area immediately around the village of Barolo, far from it. And then there are the plethora of cru, top vineyard, names, some of which cross commune boundaries. It all adds up to Burgundian complexity. Barbaresco is the smaller area with 700 hectares under vine, of which 500 is Nebbiolo, producing four million bottles a year. To qualify as Barbaresco the wine must be entirely made from Nebbiolo grapes from the delimited area and be aged for 26 months, only 9 of which have to be in barrels. While sharing much the same geology of marine deposits and fine clay, the area is – to risk a few generalisations – a bit more fertile than Barolo, a bit foggier, and slightly warmer, with the result that harvest is typically 5-7 days before neighbouring Barolo. The resulting wine is typically slightly lighter, more elegant and more approachable than Barolo. All these generalisations can be over-ruled by the year and the individual vineyard. As I tasted later in the open tasting, Barbaresco from a ‘big’ year can be less approachable than Barolo from a smaller year.
By contrast, the Barolo area produces 11-12 million bottles per year and the wine must be aged for 38 months, 18 of which must be in barrels. The times are longer again for riserva wines. Again there are marked differences between the various villages but broadly speaking one looks for elegance from La Morra and Barolo itself while the south eastern section, eg Serralunga d’Alba, initially tends to the dense and tannic.
And, while we are on basics, it’s worth pointing out that Barolo and Barbaresco are not your typical deep ruby red with purple edges which we associate with modern red wines. The comparison with Pinot Noir is instructive in the paleness but Nebbiolo is browner than Pinot, as the picture on the right shows. It is often called ‘brick’ but personally I have not seen many translucent bricks.
Rather like in Tuscany where Sangiovese’s acidity and tannins have to be tamed, here the task is is nurturing Nebbiolo. The rampant growth of the vine has to be checked and then the bunches kept on the vine until early October to reach full maturity if at all possible . The next decisions take you into the traditionalist v. modernist debate. Traditionally (ie during the last hundred years, before that the wines were sweet) the wine was fermented and then kept on the skins for 30 or more days, producing pale if tannic red wine. High temperatures could be reached in the fermentation period, resulting later in the ‘tar’ aromas which made up the classic ‘tar and roses’ combination. The tannins were tamed by long ageing in large oak botti, just like Brunello in Tuscany. 5-7 years was not uncommon. Young growers in the 1970s and 1980s, for example Altare and Gaja,changed all that, adapting approaches that they had seen in France, which after all is just on the other side of the Alps. The key features introduced by the modernists were:
- reduction of yields in the vineyard by green harvesting, aiming for full ripeness in the remaining fruit. This was highly controversial with an older generation who remembered real hunger and saw wine as a food. Interestingly, this last point is now being made again by the natural wines movement.
- moving away from bulk sales and growing for big firms to growing and vinifying your own wine, aiming for quality and higher prices
- cooler fermentation to preserve the fruit flavours and reduce extraction
- shorter maceration periods, eg 15 days, or even 5 days with a rotary fermenter, with less extraction of tannins and therefore less need to soften wines by long ageing
- maturing wines in new oak barriques which increases the wood to wine ratio, giving both more oxygenisation and more extraction of flavours from new wood and its toast. This was controversial, firstly because it was expensive and, secondly, because it changed the character of the wine in the early years of a its development. The wines were drinkable much earlier but had a sort of overcoat of vanilla and oak, we hope in a stylish sort of way.
Interestingly, Stephen Brook’s comment was that the effects of modernist approaches over against traditional ones disappear in 20-30 year old wines. They are noticeable enough in young wines (and remember ‘young’ here probably means up to 10 years). What shines through after 20-30 years is the different terroir, not the wine making style. Sadly, most of us will have to do with ‘young’ wines. Today’s excellent winemaking means that many Nebbiolo wines are ready to drink in the short term but the real treat would be to taste traditional wines which have come round.
Vigneto Brich Ronchi, Barbaresco, Albino Rocca, 14.5°, 2007 demonstrates today’s finesse. The wine is less than three years old and has been matured in a sort of compromise Austrian oval, a medium sized barrel. Stephen Brook praises its charm and lift, quite delicate for a Nebbiolo. Similarly approachable is Orlando Abrigo’s Vigna Rongalio Meruzzano, Barbaresco, 14°, 2006. This is made from fruit from old vines and the given a short maceration time and then aged half in large botti and half in tonneaux – perfectly illustrating the compromises now being made between traditional and modernist styles. My MW neighbour correctly called this wine as dumb or very slightly corked and the second sample was full of wonderful fruit.
Four Barolo wines followed:
Rocche dell’Annunziata Barolo, Mauro Veglia, 14.5°, 2006 (commune = La Morra), 80% of which is matured in barriques, indicating that Mario Veglia is a disciple of nearby Altare, one of the modernists. The wine leads with raspberry and floral notes and has great poise; it is light, perfumed and tannic. It is very young. 2006 was a good year which needs time to develop in the bottle.
Vigna Merende Barolo, Scarzello, 14°, 2005 (Barolo), from Giorgio Scarzello was quite tarry with good fruit and very obvious tannins, as befits a traditionalist. In general 2005 is more ready to drink now than either of its illustrious neighbours, but this needs more time.
Schiavenza, Broglio Barolo riserva, Schiavenza, 14.5°, 2004 (Serralunga d’Alba): some growers will identify one top site and in the best years make a riserva. This one from Serralunga d’Alba had a good roses nose plus cloves, lovely smooth texture, following tannins and was very, very long.
Slightly oddly, back to the normale, Vigna La Rosa, Barolo, Fontanafredda, 14°, 2006 (Serralunga d’Alba) was a creditable showing from the large company Fontanafredda. Moderately perfumed with a decent palate, again this needs time, reflecting the severity of both the place (Serralunga d’Alba again) and the year. Very long.
And finally, Bricco Boschis, Vigna San Giuseppe riserva, Cavallotto, 14.5°, 2004 (Castiglione Falletto). 20 days of maceration, matured in traditional botti, quite muted now, austere, fine tannins, very, very long. Try again in 10 years or more.
And the most remarkable feature of this tasting? After we had been sitting for an hour and a quarter, listening, tasting, writing notes, reflecting … I remembered to go back and observe the development of the wines in the glass. The wines had probably been poured for an hour and half and the array of perfumed red fruit aged in oak was just wonderful. That’s what makes Nebbiolo a great grape variety.
Giacosa Fratelli is rather different from most of the wineries we visited in our recent week in Piemonte. The winery is much bigger than most of the places we went to, a large, functional building coincidentally right next door to Bruno Giacosa, who, after Gaja, is probably the biggest name in Barbaresco. The business is based in Neive, one of the three main communes of Barbaresco, though the firm has its best vineyards in the Barolo area.
This tasting came about because of the success of Giacosa Fratelli’s Barolo Bussia 2005 which won a prestigious 5-star rating in a Decanter tasting late last year. When I enquired about the wine from Coe Vintners I discovered that they have a number of other Nebbiolo based wines from the same company and a number of vintages, the perfect opportunity for a comparative tasting. At a subsequent London event with Coe Vintners the wines tasted a little rough and not quite ready to drink but by then I had already bought the wines and all was set.
A fine wine supper with a group from Andover Wine Friends was a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the wines. First impressions are important. Nebbiolo, made for ageing, initially comes over as perfumed, only moderately fruity and tannic. Janet commented that she could smell the floral and woody notes upstairs as I was decanting the bottles two hours before the tasting. That pale ruby red with an orange edge even in young wines is also a bit different. Then there is the surprise when you taste the wines. We are so used to fruit led wines that the austerity of Nebbiolo is an initial hurdle to get over, followed of course by the mouth drying finish of lively tannins. It was always said that the growers used to drink the (fruity) Dolcetto and the (zippy) Barbera while they waited – for up to ten years – for the Nebbiolo to come around.
And it is quite a wait. Traditional Barolo and Barbaresco is made by long maceration of the wine skins in the must, 20-30 days or even more in some cases, followed by some years in large, relatively inert oak barrels. The wine has to then have a year in bottles before it is released an absolute of minimum of two years (Barbaresco) or three years (Barolo) after the harvest. So a five year old is still a young wine, perhaps a decade off its initial peak with several decades ahead of it in the best cases.
Our five wines were a good sample of styles and ages. The first two were generic Barbaresco and Barolo, in other words wines made from grapes from anywhere with the two adjacent wine regions of those names which flank the town of Alba. Both were from the quite tricky but ultimately decent 2005 vintage. And both these wines were true to to type, the Barbaresco being rather more approachable and ready to drink after five years, the Barolo more structured, denser and still quite demanding. Both have notes of Turkish delight (rose water) and red fruit on the nose.
Barolo Bussia 2005 is quite a step up and this was the wine that got the 5 star rating. This is a single vineyard wine from the magnificent Bussia vineyard with its long, undulating, south facing slope. The biggest difference in the finished wine is riper, fuller fruit. The wine continues to be high in acidity and tannin but despite being bigger is more approachable because it is better balanced.
Also true to type was the difference between the two Barolo single vineyard wines. The Bussia vineyard (or at least this part of it) is in the Barolo commune, while the Vigna Mandorlo is from the adjacent commune of Castiglione Falletto. They may be only a few kilometres apart and both are still in the quality wine area of Barolo but the geology has changed. The wines of Castiglione Falletto are characteristically more structured, more demanding, longer lived.
Barolo Vigna Mandorlo 2004 is from the excellent 2004 vintage now just starting to get into its stride. The perfumed nose is wonderfully pronounced but the wine is much tougher, all set for the long haul to vinous perfection. The vineyard name itself, Mandorlo, is the historic name of the best, top, part of the Rivera vineyard, on the steep slope just below the picturesque town of Castiglione Falleto. There is a perfect picture of it on the introductory page for the whole Italian section of the latest edition of the world wine atlas (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson). Life’s not fair is it – it’s both beautiful to look at and a great wine!
Our final wine is a 1996 vintage of the same wine, coming up to the mid-point of its second decade. In the last ten plus years, the wine has knit together into a seamless velvety texture and a richer, deeper unity in terms of flavours. You could try to describe this (balsam and liquorish from the wood ageing, fruit more in the blackberry, mulberry range), but the point is that they are no longer individual components. The tannins and acidity are still with us but now provide structure for this remarkable wine. This really makes the point – if it’s a well made wine to start with and from a good year, these bottles do develop into something far more than the sum of their parts. The perfume develops, the austerity remains but now as a component of something which is much more than a glass of wine – a glass with a history, a range of sensations for nose and palate, a place of course, a stimulus to the brain as much as to the senses.
This winery is appropriately enough near ‘three stars’ (Trestelle), itself a sort of mid point between the three Barbaresco communes – Treiso, Neive and, of course, Barbaresco itself. But the three stars could also refer to the three daughters of the family or indeed to the excellent quality of the wine in relation to price.
The winery covers all the bases – four Barbaresco, one other Nebbiolo wine, a Dolcetto, two Barbera and then, somewhat surprisingly, three white wines. Paola, who showed us around, gives the simple explanation that this is because of her father’s love of white wine, in an area basically given over to reds. We are in the last gasp of the Moscato d’Asti zone so one of them is of course Moscato. The other two are different takes on Chardonnay.
wines. ‘Moscato Trefie’ is a reference to the three daughters. Paola and Valentina work here and Federika makes patisserie – for which of course the delicious, slightly sparkling wine, sweetish but with a herby tinge, is a perfect accompaniment. The two Chardonnays are unoaked (Luna d’agosto 2009, with a bit of native Cortese in it) and oaked, Sermine 2009, extremely good value at €5 and €8.50 respectively.
For the Barbaresco a range of oak is used. The simpler Langhe Nebbiolo is matured in the traditional large oak barrels, Barbaresco Marcarini and Asili see a divide between large barrel and barrique treatment, while Barbaresco Pora is raised in tonneaux – a sort of half-way house in terms of size. Is there a profound wine making reason for this? No, it’s because there isn’t much of it.
In many ways, Ca’ del Baio is a near perfect winery to follow for the wine lover. It’s got that real family feel, they seem relaxed about their success; there are no airs and graces, just a great range of wines at good prices. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2008, Bric del Baio, spends 12 months in large barrels, has a lovely perfumed nose and good fruit. Elegant every day drinking at €8 – if you live in Italy of course. Equally good and good value are the prize winning Barbaresco:
- Valgrande 2006, which gets the traditional treatment of two years in the large botti. Still very young and slightly rustic but full of fruit.
- Asili 2006: from a hillside which gets the sun all day, 10% matured in barriques for a little added richness, great nose of fragrant red fruit, a little bit of spice, typical high tannins and acidity which will carry it into a glorious maturity (here’s hoping for the rest of us). Tre bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso 2010. All this for €20 at the winery.
- Pora 2005: quite restrained on the nose, does not have the opulence of the 2006s but still good.
Thank you to Paola and Valentina for a great visit. Sadly the wine is not available in the UK. Thanks also for the recommendation for the fabulous La Ciau del tornamento, super sophisticated restaurant in Treiso with food and a view da morire! And I learn from the web site, a 30, 000 bottle cellar … fortunately we only had time for one excellent course and left refreshed and with wallets intact.
Having finished the posts from Vinitaly, we return to our week in the Langhe, home of the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo. The message at Bruno Rocca’s family winery in Barbaresco is clear. However much they are completing an impressive new winery under the current house, the heart of the matter is the land. It is only now after three decades that the new winery has become a priority, until then it was buying the best possible sites. Daughter and marketing manager Luisa explains: her father of course has to sit in the office at times but always with a sense of impatience, he would always rather be in the vineyard. Or, as the brochure says, ‘The wine which grows here is the mirror and soul of its land’ – to translate the Italian version very literally.
Thirty years ago the previous generation were selling wines in demijohns and now the new winery nears completion. Such is the speed of change when you get the basics right. And Bruno Rocca has been happy to learn from from others including a period in Burgundy. Not only is the Cote d’Or not that far away (give or take the odd range of Alps) but the similarities are very obvious: many, small family wineries; a smallish wine zone with seemingly infinite if miniscule variations of terroir; passion for the local and the particular; red wines of subtlety and elegance. The recent conference in Alba which focused on Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo was on to something. If they had added Sangiovese, some of us would have been in wine heaven!
Bruno Rocca has a full range of wines – no less than four Barbaresco, a red blend, two Barbera, a Dolcetto and – perhaps with a nod to Burgundy again – a Chardonnay. We chose to go the red route. It is always interesting to taste the Dolcetto because it tells you about wine making standards. All the attention in the Langhe is on the wines made from Nebbiolo and after that Barbera. The Dolcetto, made for drinking young, is a lovely purply red, with quite a dark cherry nose, quite complex, very drinkable indeed. It carries its vineyard name, Trifolé, truffle in the local dialect.
The second red, Langhe DOC Rabajolo, is a blend and contains – shock, horror – Cabernet Sauvignon! 50% of the Bordelaise foreigner, plus 25% each of Nebbiolo
and Barbera. Bruno Rocca himself appears just in time to explain that he thinks the Cabernet ripens well here and loses its greenness. Certainly, after the deep ruby red colour, the aroma is of ripe fruit, not typically mint and blackcurrant. The wine has spent 16 months in barriques in their first and second years of use. The Barbera makes a big contribution to this wine, which does have that characteristic Italian edge of bitterness.
The final wine has to be Barbaresco of course, in this case the cru Rabajà 2007 – this seems right given we have been driving up and down the Rabajà road to reach the various wineries. The 2007 had just been released and like all Nebbiolo is pale ruby red with a characteristic orange tinge, even in relative youth. It has spend 18 months in barriques and a further 12 at least in the bottle. The maturation in the future will be in the fine, traditional brick built cellar with its wonderful barrel roof. After some clove and spice notes, the fine red fruit is prominent, very rounded and already well integrated, but also some hazel nut and butteriness. Very refined, complex, a fitting climax to the visit.
But we must return to the land. Others can give a technical explanation of why it is so suited to fine red wine production. We can enjoy meeting the people, tasting the wines and being surrounded by a very beautiful landscape.
Many thanks to Bruno and Luisa Rocca. The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines.
This smallish family firm produces six wines, all red, with a total production from six hectares of 40,000 bottles a year. As Danilo explained, there are just three of them in the firm, so the up side is that you get to do a bit of everything. He had worked previously as a sommelier in the Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Claridges. The down side of the family firm is that at some times of year, no one can have a day off.
There are three entry level wines (Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo of course) and three top wines, two Barbaresco cru and one blend, called Seifile, 80% old vine Barbera and 20% Nebbiolo.
The Dolcetto 2008 is all that you expect of a young wine, aged for a short period in stainless steel vats, and then released to charm the drinker with its fresh red fruit and lovely cherry nose.
By contrast, the two Barbaresco come from named vineyards and are aged in different ways. Barbaresco Manzola 2006 comes from a sandier area and is the more traditional of the two, being aged for two years in large oak botti. It has a very perfumed, refined nose of mint and red fruit. It’s still a young wine with some rough edges but has many years ahead of it.
For this visit I had made the classic mistake of not having recharged the camera batteries which died suddenly on me. So these pictures were taken on an Iphone – which seems particularly good at capturing the colours of red wine. Here we have youngish Barbaresco, with its pale ruby red and hint of orange at the edges.
The second cru is Barbaresco Rombone 2006, the vineyard which surrounds the winery and which is more limestone and clay than sand. Along with ageing for one year in large botti and a further year in barriques, this produces a more austere wine, though still highly accessible with good fruit. It has a more powerful nose than its compatriot and perhaps a yet longer life – if you can avoid drinking it, of course. It is one of the features of Barbaresco, in comparison to Barolo, that the wines are drinkable earlier.
It is always a particular pleasure to visit the smaller, family wineries and many thanks to Danilo. The wines are attractive priced at the winery and available in the UK from the Real Wine Company, Stoke Poges.
There is a very assured feel about the entire operation at Albino Rocca in the village of Barbaresco itself. The vineyards have been build up to an impressive 23 hectares and the usual excellent job has been done in hiding the winery under the house. There is also the obligatory beautiful view of the hills of Barbaresco and the town of Neive.
Within the winery the equipment is very up-to-date and the longer term wines rest in beautiful large botti. Our guide was Monica Rocca who expertly showed us round and introduced a good sample of their twelve wines.
As we had tasted so few whites from south of the Tanaro river (ie in Barolo or Barbaresco), we started here with white. La Rocca Bianco, 2008, is made of Cortese grapes, the mainstay of the Gavi zone, further east in Piemonte. In colour it is an attractive mid straw yellow on it way toward gold and has a very good nose of vanilla and some quite tropical fruit. It is fermented and aged in French barriques, rather like white Burgundy, whose style it follows rather successfully. On the palate it is not quite knit together but it will be very good. It’s a rarity in that there is so much demand for the reds of Barbaresco, it takes determination to grow Cortese. They also have Chardonnay and Moscato.
The first of the important reds we taste is Gepin (dialect for Giuseppe), Barbera d’Alba 2007, made from 50 year old vines. It is aged for 14 months, half in botti grandi and half in barriques in their second and third year of use. The aim of preserving the fruit is well executed but this is much more sophisticated than most Barbera you taste – it has clearly been handled very, very well. (Compare at a similar quality level the much denser style of Bruno Giacosa.)
In this area, in the end, there is always Nebbiolo. The first of two, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008 is made from the younger vines, though there is a range from 10 and 60 years. Maceration is limited to four days to produce easily approachable wines to be drunk young, with the smell of fruit to the fore. A rather less traditional label for this wine completes the picture.
The climax of the visit is the chance to taste one of the three Barbaresco cru which Albino Rocca produces, Vigneto Brich Ronchi 2007. (The others are smaller parcels, including one which is a riserva from this vineyard.) This was a very good year in Piemonte and it shows in this wine, which is aged for two years in wood, 80% in botti grandi and the rest in barrique. The 2007 already has a well developed and integrated nose, red fruit above all, lovely perfume typical of Nebbiolo, already very drinkable with soft tannins for the style and medium acidity. Sold with a suitably golden label which emphasises the gentle rolling hills and the vines of Barbaresco.
With thanks to Monica Rocca. The wines used to be imported in the UK by Justerini & Brooks but there is currently no UK stockist.
This estate was created in 1990 when Elvio Cogno decided to set up in his own name, having previously been part of an important partnership. It is now run by Walter Fissore and his wife Nadia (Elvio’s daughter) who showed us around this beautiful farm house (cascina) which serves as winery and home. It has great views of the town of Novello and of the surrounding countryside on all sides. It is very unusual in that they have an undivided piece of land around the winery of 11 hectares.
We were treated – and I mean treated – to a very generous tasting of the entire range, including a very rare white made with a local variety.
Langhe Bianco Anas-Cetta 2009, just bottled but not yet labelled. The grape variety, Nascetta, is yet another interesting Italian grape variety on the verge of being lost. Here is it make a semi-aromatic white wine of real personality, stirred on the lees for 6 months, with a good structure, with both fruit and floral notes, quite exotic but would also be good with food. Can age. Let’s hope we hear more of Nascetta in the future.
Dolcetto Vigna Mandorlo 2008: Nadia recounts how demanding this grape is in the vineyard and the winery. Despite always being overshadowed by the demanding Nebbiolo and even Barbera, it has delicate thin-skinned bunches which get burned on hot sites, go mouldy if it rains and drop their grapes at the slightest provocation. In the winery it needs lots of aeration. This example shows it at its best: lovely fruity nose, highly drinkable, not a wine of great substance but delicious.
Space is at a premium in the fermentation room so the Cogno have installed these unusual but very practical square vessels.
Barbera d’Alba 2007: matured in the pretty neutral large botti, which preserves the wonderful fruit of Barbera while smoothing out some of the rough edges of very young wine. Great depth of flavour of cherries and cherry stones. Very good indeed.
Montegrilli 2007 Langhe DOC: a slightly unusual blend of 50% Barbera and 50% Nebbiolo which are actually harvested and vinified together. This calls for clever judgement as there can be a couple of weeks between the optimum moments for the two grape varieties, though I suppose it also has the advantage of spreading out the periods when the business of crushing grapes and making wine is at its most demanding. A successful marriage of the fruitiness of Barbera and the potential elegance of Nebbiolo.
Barbaresco 2006: the Cogno rent some vineyards in nearby Barbaresco (Neive) to produce 3,000 bottles of this very elegant Nebbiolo.
Barolo Cascina Nuova 2005: the first of a series of their Barolo, very perfumed, elegant, and with a good grip. Good value too at €26. It’s interesting to see that, as everywhere else, with good practice in the vineyard Barolo has crept up to 14? of alcohol. The ‘green pruning’ whereby you reduce the number of bunches a vine is carrying means that the remaining bunches ripen fully and give the possibility of elegant and substantial wines, such as this.
While we taste, Nadia answer my question, saying that the Piemontese word for the little stone or brick huts you seen in the vineyards is ‘ciabot’ (pron. cha-bot), a sort of glorified garden hut for tools, shelter and perhaps even a little bed for that siesta. There must be an Italian word for them but it’s the local word which everyone uses.
Barolo Ravera 2005, 14.5?: Ravera is the name of the vineyard and this is the first of three cru wines, ie from single vineyards. This has an amazing nose of mint, balsamic and floral notes, with high acidity and tannin, made to last and to develop, but perfectly drinkable now. 2005 was one of a series of good years here, as long as you were lucky and missed the hail. Delicious and long.
Barolo Vigna Elena 2004: This fun label – drawn by daughter Elena when she was three – is evidence that the next generation may major in graphic design rather than wine. But the wine is exceptional, made separately only in the best years and from a vineyard planted with Nebbiolo Rosé, a type of the classic grape. It’s a semi-riserva, being released after five years, three of which are in large botti. It has a beautiful nose, elegant, supple and long, pulled along by a proper streak of acidity, the tannins less noticeable. Excellent; got 5* in a Decanter tasting.
Barolo Bricco Pernice 2005: another very good Barolo, but one that needs time on account of its more obvious tannins. Has great potential.
Thanks to Nadia and Walter (who was just off to the meeting of the consortium, to which Sig. Ratti had just been elected as president – see later post). These excellent wines are currently looking for a UK importer.
Arriving in a famous wine area for the first time is wonderfully exciting. As you drive from the airport (in this case Turin), you pass through the neighbouring countryside which is flat as a pancake, if lying between the snow-covered Alps and the ‘ridges’ which give the Langhe its name. As you approach your destination you begin to see famous wine names on the road signs – Barolo, La Morra and many more, which of course are first and foremost the names of villages. Despite having now done it many times, it’s amazing to see the names of one’s favourite drink on the map or on road signs!
On the outskirts of the smallish town of Alba, you drive past the factory which produces its most famous product – Ferrero Rocher. So this is hazelnut and chocolate heaven as well as a town perfectly situated between Piemonte’s red wine appellations – Barolo and Barbaresco. A simple lunch at the Vincaffe is an introduction to the fact that Piemonte is one of Italy’s gastronomic centres – fantastic mixed antipasti of raw beef, veal with a slightly tangy sauce and and a chicken and nut (of course) salad, followed by soup of peasant proportion or gnocchi – time to lie down and surrender.
Wine by the glass offers immediate interest. If you ignore the famous names for the moment you can try the local grape varieties – Arneis for white (quite famous), but als0 white La Favorita and in the reds, Freisa. The last named, by Pellisero, has very ripe fruit, low acid and tannin and dense, herbaceous, fruit, nearer to prune than plum. Delicious and could only really come from here. In the evening we drank one of the staple reds of the region, Barbera. Its has a good light ruby colour, medium in weight, beautifully balanced in terms of acidity and tannin, far too drinkable. A bottle disappears in no time. It’s great value too – this example which hasn’t been a oak barrel, so the lovely fruit is what you get, is €14 in a restaurant. (Giovanni Sordo, Barbera d’Alba, 2008). No doubt there will be plenty of time for the mushrooms, pasta and in another season, truffles for which the place is renowned, but that’s a great start.