Posts Tagged ‘Barbera’
Barbera, a grape variety common in Piemonte and in much of northern Italy, does not have much of a press. In the Langhe, where Nebbiolo reigns in the form of Barolo and Barbaresco, it was seen mainly as a short-term wine to drink while you waited, in the old days for 10 years, for your Barolo to come around. Elsewhere it was regarded as a commodity grape, northern Italy’s answer to the Sangiovese which dominates central Italy. The fact that there were ‘frivolous’ lightly sparkling reds – frizzante – from Barbera did not exactly help, though lightly chilled on a hot day they can be very appetising. But when looked at positively, Barbera’s versatility is a real strength. Depending on where it is grown and how it is treated it can turn out almost any style from dull, thin acidic jug wine to rich, ageable, rounded wines of international quality. Barbera’s appeal to the grower is obvious – it is reliable, relatively early cropping (two weeks before Nebbiolo and from less good sites) and can give high yields. If you regard wine as a food you will plant it anywhere you can. If you want density and finesse, you have to work rather harder and accept much lower yields.
This last weekend Janet and I drank three interesting, contrasting examples. At the moment Janet is choosing all the wines we drink so that I get to taste them blind. It is a big responsibility for her and a real challenge for me! She is signed up Barbera-lover for its simple red fruit, usually unoaked, and characteristic high acidity. She is not overly impressed by tannins so its low tannin count is a bonus. We started on Friday with a bottle we have had for a few years but which I had forgotten about. No doubt we bought Barbera d’Alba DOC, Enzo Boglietti 2007 in an attempt to bring down the average, per bottle, price of his outstanding Barolo … ah, the little tricks we wine lovers pay on ourselves to convince ourselves that prized bottle are not really that expensive. However, Boglieti takes his Barbera very serious and it is of outstanding quality – for which we paid £11 a couple of years ago, an absolute bargain. Of our three wines, this strikes the perfect midpoint with its moderately-rich, almost sweet tasting, fruit which combines red plums with blackberries and a touch of smoke and palate weight from light oak. The acidity holds the richness in check, the density and quality of the fruit tell you that you are a million miles from simple refreshment. Even the best Barbera does not have the complexity and layers of interest of great Nebbiolo, but it is nonetheless a wonderful wine to drink and to cherish. Tasted blind I thought it was Primitivo from Puglia, which gives you an idea of its richness and weight, though I think I was more accurate about the former than the latter.
Wine number two was a wine we had recently bought at auction. We knew that the very best Barbera ages as we had drunk a magnificent magnum of Sandrone from 1998 with Mark Shannon, the Californian wine maker who now makes remarkable wines from the best bought-in fruit in Puglia. Buying at auction is always a bit of a risk but this was as safe a bet as there can be – six bottles in their original wooden case, reported to have been stored professionally and indeed it was in perfect condition. Like the 2007 discussed above, Ai Suma, Barbera d’Asti DOC, Braida 1998 (£28) threw an impressive sediment, a testimony to the rich colour of the Barbera grape variety. Ai Suma is a special wine from Giacamo Bologna, the ‘creator’ of modern oaked Barbera. Nowadays the talk is about backing off from over-oaking the very best Barbera. But back in the 1970s, Bologna created a whole new category by applying what he had learnt on visits to France to create a fine wine made from this grape variety which had previously been just for wine for quick consumption. We would probably not have had the current trend for great fruit-purity Barbera if you hadn’t had Bologna’s excursion into oak. And after 15 years in any case the oak on a wine has receded and the fruit (if it was there in the first place) reasserts itself. Ai Suma is a magnificent wine, not as well known as Braida’s single vineyard Bricco dell’Uccellone, but a special selection of very mature bunches left on the vine to gain some further concentration in the best years. Still very deep in colour, the nose greets you with rich, black, raisiny fruit perfectly integrated with some coffee and chocolate notes. The palate is the real treat with its great density and luxurious texture, counter balanced with Barbera’s fine acidity. Fifteen years young, it is will be fascinating to see where this goes next.
Our final wine was not in the same quality league as these two but it did show what medium priced Barbera can do. I Tre Vescovi, Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2009, Vinchio-Vaglio Serra is a very good supermarket bottle and shows what can be done at the £9 level. It is produced by the cooperative in the area around Vinchio and Vaglio Serra in the steep hills of the Alta Monferrato. Once poured it took a while to open up in the glass but when it had done it showed bright red and black berry fruit, a fragrance uncommon at this price level and the food friendliness and refreshment of this versatile grape variety. The wine is made with fruit from (undefined) old vines and with the highest sugar levels – this gives the richness and the ‘Superiore’ tag. It is aged before release for a year, six months of which are in large wood barrels. I think it has enough fruit concentration to age and winery suggests up to eight years.
After our Barbera weekend, here’s to next weekend!
Italy is blessed with a very large number of local grape varieties. One of the standard guides lists more than 500, others speak of thousands. More importantly, it has a significant number of great varieties – however much it’s fun to have something local, you still want it to make good wine or better . This tasting, a fund raising event for Cancer Research, to support Laura and Adam who had run a half marathon, focused on nine varieties – plus a bonus one. As such the emphasis was on a comparison of styles around the peninsula.
The evening started with Prosecco, an obvious choice for an aperitivo. Mionetto is a good example of what makes this a winner – initially frothy mousse, moderate apple and floral notes, OK, not a serious wine but perfect as people gather. The Prosecco grape is capable of more, but most of it is just like this, but perhaps without the stylish bottle and crown cap (far left in the picture above). The second wine was a famous name in disguise. Soave is a well known area also in the Veneto, with whites made from the Garganega grape. This was an excellent example, with good lime fruit, perhaps a bit of yeast compexity and a fine finish. The example was not from Soave itself but is Alfa Zeta’s Garganega della provincia di Verona, good and inexpensive – it was one of the two wines we had had at a family wedding. Would that much Soave was as good as this IGT (higher table wine classification).
Two more ‘serious’ whites followed in quick succession – just as in a half-marathon you have to keep up you pace! Verdicchio is one of Italy’s top white grape varieties. It is good drunk young with the best examples capable of being aged. Our example was Stefano Manichelli’s Verdicchio dei Casteli di Jesi (2007) from near Ancona in the Marche. This was a slightly controversial wine. Pale lemon in colour, the first impression was of complexity on the nose, flowers and some fruit, a serious structure. But this is followed by quite a serious whack of alcohol – 14.5° according to the label and we no reason to doubt it! Clearly a substantial wine but one that lacked balance. Much more easy to appreciate was Greco di Tufo from the historic firm of Mastroberardino. Despite coming from much further south, inland from Naples, its pronounced floral and mineral nose is followed by both good acidity and a moderate 13° of alcohol. This brief trot around the whites showed something of the Italy’s riches, even without having a space for Cortese (ie Gavi), Arneis (also Piemonte), Falanghina (Campania) or Inzolia (Sicilia), never mind all the international whites made successfully in Italy.
Five reds followed, again a small sample of a large field of possible runners. With the supper which followed we re-tasted the other wedding wine. Made from the Barbera grape, this is a superb Piemontese food wine, excellent value, deep plum to cherry fruit, high acidity, good finish. The example was from Riva Leone 2007. Back to Campania, we followed this with an unusual example of Aglianico. This top grape variety is usually made either for quick drinking or it is kept on the vine for maxiumum maturity and given serious wood ageing before (eg as Taurasi). Our example showed that even the simple wine has some ageing capacity. The de Conciliis family produce highly individual wines near the great Greek temples at Paestum. Our IGT Paestum Donnaluna came from 2004 and showed mature damson fruit, some balsamic notes and with good grip and acidity. You couldn’t easily buy a simple wine with this much bottle age in Italy – you need a UK wine merchant to keep it for you for a few years!
Isole e Olena’s Chianti Classico 2006 is an established minor classic. Made from the Sangiovese grape which is Italy’s most planted variety (10% of all production), it delivers a classy combination of developing perfume on the nose (well integrated fruit and oak ageing), brilliant sour cherry on the palate and that characteristic mouth refreshing combination of acidity and tannin. It is a worthy standard bearer for Tuscany’s great reds.
The main tasting finished with two substantial if very different reds. Perhaps the most unusual wine of the evening was made from Lacrima di Morra d’Alba. We are back in the Marche here with a grape variety which normally produces lusciously fruity even velvety wines with mulberry and damson flavours – very unusual, very local. But this bottle is not the normal early drinking style but comes from a named vineyard and has been given the serious oak and ageing treatment (Vigna San Lorenzo, Fattoria San Lorenzo, 2004, 14°). It had dense black fruit, obvious oak even after six years, great persistence, very good if quite demanding. The final red was in a more famous style if made predominantly with the underrated Corvina grape. This variety produces both the light and easy drinking Valpolicella and its big brother, Amarone della Valpolicella. For the latter the best grapes and sites are selected. The fruit is then dried on racks with wine being made from semi-raisined berries and then aged in oak. It can be very expensive (with reason given the work involved and the low yields) but the Cantina di Negrar do a decent, typical, example at less than £20 (2006, 15°). Even a relatively young wine has a slightly brown tone and the fruit comes with fine balsamic and leather notes. Despite its high alcohol level, this is more than matched by its substance and flavours.
As a final lap, we tried a wine which is difficult to characterise. What colour is it? A wine with marmalade notes and a drying finish? De Conciliis not only do fine Aglianico (see above), they also make Antece, from the Fiano grape, another great Campanian white variety. But this is a wine made from white grapes but in a red style, ie the skins are kept in the fermenting must for a couple of weeks. Hence the name Antece – wine as made by the ancients – except there’s would have normally been sweet and no doubt often tainted as well! Once you get over the shock of a pale yellow to orange wine with some tannins and no sweetness, it’s mildly addictive. The Italian half marathon is full of surprise turns!
Thanks to all those who supported this event for Cancer Relief – even with a small group we still raised well over £200. And there are plenty of grape varieties to do another half marathon as soon as we have all done some more training.
After the Capezzana tasting, the riches of Decanter’s Italian day at the Landmark Hotel. This has to be the best one-day introduction to the Italian quality wine scene in the UK and maybe beyond. It’s big – with 86 listed producers – and pretty representative, 13 out of 20 regions present, with Sardinia a surprising absence. A third of producers are from Tuscany with 16 from Chianti alone, but then we all know about that English love affair.
Faced with these riches, you have to choose. Janet and I concentrated on filling in a few gaps from our recent Piemonte trip and of course some Tuscan friends. Here are some of the highlights.
This winery, between the communes of Barolo and La Morra, has a great range of wines and of single vineyard cru. It is particularly pleased to be expanding its holding in the important Cannubi vineyard from two to ten hectares, leasing the additional land from Marchesi di Barolo, which will give them 60% of the cru. The investment is eye-watering, with one hectare of Cannubi in the €2m range. And so is the responsibility of moving from 9,000 to 50,000 bottles of this wine per year.
Of the wines we particularly enjoyed Barolo Cannubi 2005, squeezed between two great vintages, now showing better than most expected, with a very rich, complex nose and dense fruit. But a good word has also to be put in for the Barbera d’Alba 2007 in a modern oaked style (40% new barriques), but a good depth of fruit and quite luxurious.
Michele Chiarlo, while being based in the Monferrato region, has important wines from many key areas of Piemonte – whites from the Roero and Gavi, Moscato, an interesting sparkling wine which we drank when we were in Alba, quality Barbera and of course Barolo and Barbaresco. The highlights included the premium Barbera, La Court, Barbera d’Asti Superiore ‘Nizza’ 2006. This wine, which from the 2008 vintage has acquired DOCG status, is treated like the top wine that it is – low yields of only 1 kg of grapes per plant, harvested late in the middle of October, half fermented and aged in larger 650 litre barrels, half aged for 12 months in barriques and then for a year in bottles. It shows brilliant dense fruit, complexity and typical great acidity, a powerful but balanced food wine. The wine received the Gambero Rosso’s top grade of ‘three glasses’ in this excellent vintage, as well as in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s great value too at €26 – just over half what you would expect to pay for a Nebbiolo based wine of similar quality. All the wines we tasted here were very good or excellent: Arneis Le Madri 2009 and Gavi di Gavi Rovereto 2009 were very good, Barbaresco 2006, Barolo Tortoniano 2005 and Barolo Cerequio 2005 were excellent.
So, so far on this football day, an early 2-0 lead to Piemonte.
Marchesi di Frescobaldi
In the Tuscany room, I noticed that Frescobaldi had bought a fine range of wines including top Brunello and Chianti. But there was also the chance to taste two Super Tuscans, which draw on the cultural and religious symbolism of the Mediterranean, Lucente and Luce. From these bottles beams the sun rays in embossed golden splendour – can the wines live up to this? Lucente 2007 – the affordable option – has very good medium weight fruit, good counterbalancing acidity, a decent second level Super Tuscan. Luce 2006, a 50/50 Sangiovese/Merlot divide, spends two years in barriques and emerges with deep, dense, colour and aroma (prunes and cherries, balsam), great fruit (the Merlot of course to the fore) and lively acidity (Sangiovese makes its mark). Perhaps a wine for tasting rather than drinking, but an excellent achievement nonetheless.
Having tasted this company’s top Vernaccia di San Gimignano at Vinitaly, I was keen to catch up with at least the other whites in the range from this producer. Maria Elisabetta Fagiuoli introduced the wines herself and fully justified the company’s slogan Sono Montenidoli – ‘I am Montenidoli’, or rather less likely, ‘They (the wines) are Montenidoli’. This part of Tuscany is the product a great prehistoric salt-water sea, a land of fossil filled limestone which can produce whites of real character.
The Vernaccia tradizionale 2007 is the product of long maceration on the skins and has very good complexity on the nose though it is rather flatter on the palate. I love this style but if you prefer something cleaner, more fruit led, then there is Vernaccia Fiore 2007, with freshness and even delicacy, some fruit, pleasurable drinking. Il Templare 2007 is a real marmite wine (Gambero Rosso agrees: these wines don’t leave you indifferent …): 70% Vernaccia, 20% Trebbiano gentile, 10% Malvasia bianca, a distinctly cheesy opening, then herbaceous notes, nice texture, good lemon and melon fruit. We also enjoyed Canaiuolo 2007, the unusual rosé made from Canaiolo, a Tuscan grape usually relegated to being a blender with Sangiovese. Here it produces a nicely balanced, quite floral wine for summer drinking.
Dutch investment, French know-how and biodynamic agriculture is the package at this very contemporary venture, near Riparbella close to the Tuscan coast. Dominique Génot remembered us from our visit on a tempestuously rainy day in May 2007 and judging by the wines, since then things have gone from strength to strength. A fine sweet wine and a dry white have been added to the entry level if excellent Pergolaia (90% Sangiovese) and the top wine, Caiarossa. The grape mix for the latter sets new standards for a multi-grape wine in Tuscany – you could be in the southern Rhône: around 20% each of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, plus 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Alicante, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre. Or to put it another way, that’s 40% Bordeaux, 30% Rhône and 30% Tuscany. The show offered three vintages:
Caiarossa 2004: is now beautifully knit together, with a fabulous nose of ripe fruit and savoury wood, rich in texture, complex, satisfying.
Caiarossa 2005: squeezed between two great vintages, this shows more herbaceous notes but still very creditable.
Caiarossa 2006: do not drink this wine yet! Not that there is anything wrong with it but it is going to be outstanding with its great depths of fruit, zippy acidity, so much potential – currently very young.
Oro di Caiarossa 2006 and 2007: late harvested Petit Manseng, slow strong pressing of whole bunches, two days of cool maceration, then barrel fermented for eight months. A delicious sweet white with apple and nut flavours. The 2006 shows some oxidation (there are risks in that long slow fermentation), the 2007 is exactly what the maker intended: a sweet wine with freshness, notes of acacia honey, good fruit, very good.
We left the tasting early – me for football reasons, Janet heroically filled in the time shopping. The cup final, which looked like it could be a mismatch between the top and bottom teams of the Premier League, exceeded expectation with a match full of incident and interest: competitive, lots of goal mouth incident, bad tackles, two missed penalties. Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners but somebody ought to explain to them that the ball is supposed to go between the posts, you don’t get any points for hitting post or bar. To complete the perfect Italian weekend in England, the winning cup final manager was of course an Italian.
Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence. And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ. Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972. All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, well to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.
Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings. But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines. For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986. They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.
The use of barriques is interesting here. Usually expensive new wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo. This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques. Very clever.
Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva. The former comes from the younger vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months. It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo. However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo! This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long. An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.
After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon. With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo. Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005. These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti. The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5? of alcohol and lots of extract. This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.
The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana. Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels. It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose. By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.
Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return. First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa. Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine. Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years. Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes). Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5? of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol. This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.
This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week. As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.
Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra. The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.
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.
Annette Hilberg arrived in the Roero area from Germany 26 years ago and now seems very settled. She and her husband were about to set off for a tasting of old vintages of Barbera at the end of a long day. She was clearly excited about this, which is great to see in those in the trade. The pleasantly chaotic cantina has spectacular views over the land to which this small winery is very committed. Although not technically ‘biodynamic’, they style themselves ‘bio-ergo-dynamica’, putting the ‘work’ into biodynamic you might say. And this work has been put to good effect – these wines are highly individual, notable for their fully ripe fruit and great clarity. Their Nebbiolo d’Alba has regularly received the highest recognition in national awards.
But because we showed interest in local styles, we started in Vareij 2008, made from Brachetto grapes (80%) and Barbera. It could be called Birbet (see Malvira’), but people would expect it to be sweet. It is markedly aromatic, full of ripe fruit (and so tastes sweet), with medium acid and tannin. The small proportion of Barbera grapes is to give the wine better balance through that grape’s acidity. The wine is apparently much appreciated in Northern Europe.
The more typical reds come in two styles. Barbera d’Alba 2008 was perhaps not quite up to expectation so it was declassified but it still yields wonderfully rounded fruit, very drinkable indeed. Meanwhile Barbera d’Alba superiore 2007 has a very complex nose, slightly caramel, then rich ripe fruit with tamed acidity which takes a while to assert itself in the mouth. We tasted this after the Nebbiolo discussed below because of its greater forcefulness.
Nebbiolo Langhe 2007 is made in a traditional style with ageing in large casks. It has a very sweet, perfumed nose, alpine strawberries, very very delicious. Annette adds that it will be excellent in three to four years. By contrast Nebbiolo d’Alba 2007 gets the full 24 months in barrique treatment. Aromas of vanilla and spices are accompanied by bright red fruit, the trademark Hilberg roundedness in the mouth and more tannin.
This German-Italian co-operation is clearly very fruitful, with more than a little help from the phases of the moon and loving attention to the land and cellar.
Just down the road from Malvirà in Canale itself is Monchiero Carbone which is the product of the two named families joining forces in the present husband and wife team. Again, the winery is hidden from view, here underground, below the courtyard of a traditional dwelling. Parts of the cellar are very old, going back a couple of hundred years, and you can still see the steep steps down which the large barrels used to be rolled. The treatment these days is rather more gentle and controlled.
They produce a good Arneis called Recit 2009 (‘little king’ in dialect), which is complex and long, with a slightly vegetal edge and an Arneis cru, Cecu d’la Biunda 2009 (the family name for one of the grandfathers). This grows in very sandy soil – like a beach – and has a strongly mineral character. It is said to age for five to ten years which I am sure it would.
We also tasted three reds with one bonus wine to follow …. Mon Birone, the hill on which the vines grow, is the winery’s Barbera d’Alba 2007. It is made from low yields and three weeks of maceration ensure a deep colour and plenty of fruit, followed by a year and a half in barriques from Burgundy. This hot year has produced a slightly caramelly effect over the deep red fruit, plus a hint of treacle. As in the Langhe, the most sought after wines are from the Nebbiolo grape and there are again two levels, starting with the Roero DOCG Srü 2007. Again slightly pruney fruit, but properly fragrant, with elegant tannins. The sandy soils produce wines which are much more quickly approachable than those of the Langhe.
The top wine is Printi 2006, Roero riserva DOCG, which is aged for three years, two of which are in oak. The result of growing on soils a bit closer to those of the Langhe and traditional wine making is a wine of greater substance, more tannins and greater longevity. Deeper red fruit, some leather and balsamic notes, rich, still highly tannic and good acidity. And all this for €18.
The longevity of these wines was shown by a taste of a bottle of a 1990 which had been opened the day before for some Japanese journalists. This was then a Roero superiore but is the predecessor of today’s Srü. Though slightly oxidised, it had kept its freshness and had developed mushroomy notes, with lovely soft tannins. It had certainly kept its colour well as the photos shows (1990 on the left).