Posts Tagged ‘Barolo’
With a theme as big as North Italy, the Overton blind tasting group, where each member brings one or more bottles without much conferring, could have been very wide-ranging. We had a fairly representative sample, though no sparkling wine (Prosecco, Franciacorta, Asti) and one obvious classic missing – Amarone della Valpolicella. The selection was stronger in the whites than in the reds, which I at least was not expecting, but we did finish with one of the sweet rarities in which this country abounds.
|Italian wine makers in the north have a great range of varieties to play with, both local and the so-called internationals. So it perhaps wasn’t surprising that we ended up with two classy versions of Sauvignon Blanc from Mario Schiopetto 2008 and then Meroi 2008, both from Friuli, Italy’s most north easterly region. Neither was grassy and crisp, but both had good punchy fruit, some lime notes and great substance and length – plus some classy oak notes in the latter case. No danger of SB becoming a clichéd wine here.|
|Two further whites, rather less well known. Custoza, Monte del Frá, 2010 is a five way blend from a small DOC near Lake Garda, with pear drop notes, some residual sugar and a rich pear and apple palate. Pinot Bianco from Cantina di Terlano, Sud Tiröl/Alto Adige, 2010 showed some nice sherbet notes and cut apples. It probably needs some time in the bottle to develop its characteristic fatness.||
||We might have seen this coming as Inama has been the standard bearer for Italian whites in our local shop Caviste. Two members brought identical wines, a top quality Soave, Vigneti di Foscari 2004. This led to a predictable attempt to learn how to pronounce Garganega variety (accent on second syllable), now affectionately known as the Lady Gaga variety. Example one had rich, developed fruit with excellent vibrancy. Example two may have been slightly oxidised or perhaps stored in less than ideal ways and so was more advanced ageing – a fascinating comparison for two supposed identical wines.|
|On to the red wines. The next three wines were all made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte, though in different guises. The first Le Tense, Sassela, Nino Negri, Valtellina Superiore 2007, comes from much further north than Barolo, in fact north of Lake Como. Pale ruby, sour cherries, fragrant and medium weight – with its local varietal name of Chiavennesca. Number two was from a very famous||
|producer – Sandrone – but a minor DOC, Valmaggiore 2002, in the Roero, rather warmer than Barolo. This is grown on a steep sandy slope and produces a rather darker wine and relatively low in tannins, making some of us opt for Barbera – wrongly! Finally there was Barolo, Milani 2007, an entry level example of a great name – pale, fragrant, properly tannic.|
|The final two reds included a subtle example of a good quaffer, Alfredo Bugliani’s Valpolicella Classico 2010 – light, pleasant, lovely Corvina fruit. Then a rarity in England, Burgum Novum riserva, Lagrein, Castelfeder, 2005. The Lagrein grape is local to Alto Adige and this quality example was a dark ruby, with rich cherry and plum fruit and nice oak notes, quite full and rounded (Merlot was a reasonable guess).|
||A final rarity, courtesy of the producer La Sclusa who attended Decanter’s Friuli day on Monday. Picolit, native to Friuli, is a grape variety famous for floral abortion and therefore very poor bunch formation and very low yields. The wine is made then by semi-drying the grapes, further reducing the yield – and raising the cost. Picolit 2008 is a lovely golden colour, and then full of walnut, almond and toffee apple flavours, only moderately sweet. Some thought it was the wine of the evening.|
|North Italy – as with the rest of the peninsula – has a huge range of wine styles, local and international varieties, not to mention vinous curiosities. This evening showed a good sample of these, but only one evening cannot do justice to all. On now to Bordeaux …|
The setting is a very generous dinner invitation, a tour around a ‘cellar’ – that is, a very fine collection of wines, many of them old, in a well-protected garage – and congenial wine-appreciating company. Ten wines were served with four splendid courses, enjoyed by eight people. The highlights included Duval-Leroy’s 2000 vintage champagne and a 20+ year old bottle of Blanc de Noir and, at the other end of proceedings, a vin doux naturel from Priorat – yes, they do exist: Nus de Mas d’en Gil, not cheap but concentrated and delicious. But the two stars of the evening were Chateau Palmer 1982 and Giuseppe Mascarello’s Monprivato Barolo 1971.
On the blind tasting front, there was as always good news and bad news: I got the old left bank Bordeaux correctly (the general area and style, not the individual chateau and year, I hasten to add) but I couldn’t place the Barolo, which was rather surprising given that I taste far more Italian wines than claret. However, my normal fare is not 40 year old Barolo! What I missed were the tannins … but by the time a wine is this old the tannins are not what they were.
Both wines were in good or even very good conditions. The claret was remarkably lively – as Robert Parker told everyone (and made his name) it was a good year: the quality showed particularly in its richness, ripe fruit softened with age, no shouting Cabernet Sauvignon notes as, with the passage of time, all has been melded into a harmonious whole. This bottle didn’t quite make its 30th birthday but it was a tribute to the development of fine and quite assertive claret.
The Barolo was more difficult to spot but then it was another ten years older. It showed very fine clovely and red berried aromas, in colour pale ruby with hints of garnet, and a taut palate of real length. That tautness was what remained of the acidic and tannic structure of the Nebbiolo grape. It was a very beautiful old wine. For my palate, I would have liked to try it at 20 and 30 years – I guess that I would prefer this wine with more of the red berries flavour and rose perfume of a younger wine. Monprivato is one of the great historic vineyards of Castiglione Falleto (one of Barolo’s villages), six hectares in all, mid-slope, at 280 metres above sea level, for which there is documentary evidence going back to 1666.
Some guests noticed the slightly unusual bottle shape, that is neither Burgundy nor Bordeaux, while I puzzled over the bottle count given on the label, which counted the numbers produced in ‘Albeise’. I had forgotten or perhaps never understood that the good inhabitants of Alba – between the Barbaresco, Barolo and Roero wine areas – had created a distinctive bottle for their great wines. It apparently goes back to the eighteenth century and was resurrected in 1973 by the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi – though obviously Mascarello was using it before this.
Thanks to Lefty and Trish for a great evening … may your bottles age ever more gracefully and us with them!
The June meeting of the Overton-based blind tasting group was the usual mix of fine bottles, some disappointments and perhaps the least good wine we have ever had (is that sufficiently polite?). And it was a large tasting – 17 bottles. While it is difficult to concentrate for that long (even for those of us who are committed ‘spitters’), this was partly due to some members bringing interesting pairs of wines to taste side by side. As always, the food at the Red Lion was excellent. The photos this month are on my IPhone so there are no technical issues to discuss, you will be pleased to hear!
|Wines 1 & 2 we agreed were in the old world. The Gavi di Gavi (ie Gavi from the commune of Gavi not just the DOCG as a whole), Minala 2009, was mid yellow in colour with a gold tint, quite warm on the palate, pleasant apples/pears fruit, balanced. Once we knew we were in Italy, I guessed Gavi. ‘Never more than pleasant’ says Oz Clarke, which is a bit harsh of a wine which can be dull but has some fine examples.|
|Much more fashionable is the Albariño grape from NW Spain, the Rías Baixas region bordering the Atlantic. Most wines are unoaked, to maximise the Viognier peaches/apricots aromas. But this producer has one barrique for a wine from 100 year old vines right by the sea. Albariño Barrica, Goliardo A Telleira, Albariño Rías Baixas 2009: richness is the key quality, ‘tinned peaches’ someone offers as a tasting note. For me, by the standards of a premium white wine, I am not sure there is quite enough going on.|
|It was not difficult to spot that this was Riesling – green apples and petrol notes on the nose, high acidity, some residual sugar. Most tasters thought it was new world, perhaps because of its assertiveness. In fact it was Domaines Schlumberger, Kitterlé, 2005, Alsace Grand Cru. The Kitterlé vineyard has perfect exposition getting sun from morning to night, on a slope of 30-60°, with poor and sandy soil, giving concentrated wines from very low yields. The wine was mineral and developing those characteristic petrol notes, a good weight, characteristic-ally fatter than the same grape variety across the border on the Rhine.|
It was a great idea to bring two wines from the same Meursault-Genevrières vineyard in Meursault, Burgundy, separated by eight years and produced by two different branches of the Jobard family.
Unfortunately, the Francois Jobard 2000 was suffering badly from that Burgundian disease, premature oxidisation – caramel and cardboard is not an attractive combination. The young wine (Antoine Jobard, 2008) had attractive limy fruit with excellent vitality.
|A rare moment in this group – a rosé and an unusual one, Harbourne, England, 2001 – and yes that’s not a misprint, it is 10 years old. Slight strawberry nose and then … ‘appears to lack any form of palate’ … ‘made in Scotland?’ ‘grape juice and Irnbru?’. Probably the worst wine we have tasted in this group and brought in jest by one of us who has a limitless supply of unusual bottles. Quite instructive nonetheless – we take fruit on the palate for granted until it’s not there.|
|Those with eagle eyes will see that the label still tells us that this is Ch. d’Angludet, AC Margaux, 1974. We of course did not know this at the time. A mushroomy nose, a rather sour palate and still some tannins. After about ten minutes some sweet raspberry/ strawberry fruit began to emerge, so it was well worth the wait. Impressive for Bordeaux of this level at this age in a poor vintage – the judgement, ‘mediocre’, from Michael Broadbent is quite kind.|
|This started with pronounced bottle stink so we parked it for ten minutes. Bottle stink was the consensus, not faulty, just not showing. Eventually some fruit emerged but this wine did not shine. Definitely a disappointment from Mommessin, Santenay, Burgundy, 1993. But there was much better Pinot Noir to follow, not that we knew that.|
|After the struggles with the last three bottles, this was straightforward pleasure – pale and fragrant and pretty obviously Pinot Noir, but quite weighty and structured. Most went for New Zealand but it turned out to be ‘Knox Alexander’, Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley, California, 2007. Some of the vines are Burgundian apparently, but the wine is definitely from a warm and reliable climate. Time for some food and give the note taking a rest.|
|Two new offerings from Caviste: Ch. Puy Castéra, Haut-Médoc 2008 and Domaine Cheveau, Saint Amour, Les Champs Grillés, Beaujolais 2010. No notes on either of these – but both good examples of Bordeaux and Beaujolais respectively – I did say I was having a rest from note taking.|
|For me this was the wine of the evening, pale ruby with a brick red edge, fresh on the nose but with a bit of ageing, violets and red fruit, but then a real vitality on the palate, great elegant tannic structure and fine acidity. I was in Pinot Noir territory thought the ‘pale colour + tannins’ should have pointed me to Nebbiolo: Barolo DOCG, Castiglione Falletto Scarrone, Bava, 2000 To decoded the label: from the Scarrone vineyard of the commune of Castiglione Falletto, immediately east of the town itself. The producer is Bava.|
|Another pair of wines, the first red, the second for comparison … white. Two young Australian classics just arrived in a very small consignment at Caviste. I don’t think anyone spotted the producer, Spinnifex with its Lola 2010 and Taureau 2008. The former is mainly a Rhône blend – Marsanne, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Ugni Blanc – a really intense wine bursting with energy. The latter is Tempranillo, Graciano, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon – Rioja meets South and South West France in Australia? Buy now and do not drink yet!|
|With this final red, I knew what it wasn’t but not what it was. Ripe fruit, plums and damsons on the palate, deep in colour, rich with excellent acidity. After a few exclusions we agreed on Italy and some wanted to make this Sangiovese. Tuscany was a good guess but not that grape variety – too dark in colour at the very least. In fact it was a Super Tuscan Merlot: Girolami, Castello di Bossi, IGT Toscana, 2001. Late picked Merlot, 28 days of maceration, oak aged for two years – a powerful, forthright wine.|
|And finally … a sweet wine with a complex nose of apples, caramel, honey, not very acidic but balanced. No real clues here for Stefano Inama’s Vulcaia Aprés Veneto Bianco IGT, Vino Dolce 2001 – being late harvested Sauvignon Blanc (no less), part fermented in acacia barrels and then matured in barrels for 9 months. A suitable climax, and along with the Barolo, a favourite wine of the evening.|
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.
The winery of the historic family firm of Renato Ratti sits overlooking a magnificent sweep of vines, just on the edge of the town of La Morra. Sig. Ratti made a significant contribution to wine making here, being first off the mark with the classification of the important single vineyards, the ‘cru’. The winery used to be in the old abbey which is now a wine museum and it is entirely consistent with the standards shown here that the new winery has been tucked into the hillside which you can just about see on the picture above. With the new winery, first harvest 2005, they have gone to great lengths to create something very beautiful and functional, which enhances the spectacular view rather than detracting from it.
Close up you can see the beautiful lines of the winery and the roof gardens which partly enhance it and partly hide it from view. Inside is just as impressive in terms of functionality, with a system which means that the grapes are only touched once and the various levels being used to create different temperature zones as required by the process. By the time you get down to the private reserve, the bottles share their space with a bit of exposed earth which demonstrates the humidity level perfectly with a soft, slightly mouldy surface.
We tasted two wines, starting with Nebbiolo d’Alba, Occhetti, 2008 (€11), a typical pale ruby red, with plenty of perfume and lovely smooth tannins. The fruit is on the lighter side but nonetheless delicious. I’m not sure about the Napoleonic soldiers’ costumes which adorn this range of wines, but I suppose they speak of the history of the area.
Altogether more serious is the Barolo Rocche 2004 (€40), Rocche being the name of the vineyard which has attracted plenty of important producers in recent years. The wine is complex and sensual, with a multi-layered nose of mint, balsam and prominent red fruit. It finishes at the moment with something quite edgy, with its still young tannins and acidity and good length. This wine gets a rather grander label in gold.
Thank you to the winery for arranging a visit at short notice and for a very good guide. The day was the only grey one in our week, but fortunately I had taken some pictures on the previous day when the sun shone.
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.
Elio Grasso has 16 hectares in the Barolo area with spectacular views of Serralunga d’Alba. Mind you, you almost give the ghost before you arrive because, although it is just outside of Monforte d’Alba, to get to the estate you have to go three quarters the way around a hill to be facing nearly back from whence you came. We had just about given up thinking we were lost (ho sbagliato strada is a very useful phrase) when the sign Elio Grasso told us we were in the right place.
Outside the winery there a horticultural curiosity: a 120 year old ivy ‘tree’, grown up around and now completely encompassing its metal frame. It turns out to an appropriate introduction to the amazing feat of engineering you will see within the winery. Overall, the property is so beautiful that it is featured on the cover of the wine atlas of area, against formidable competition. However, you do need a helicopter to photograph it because of the steepness of the hillside! This steepness led to the typical Piemontese style of training wines along the contour line of the ridges (giro appoggio) – kinder to the human beings who work the vines, but more dangerous for tractors.
Once inside the building, the winery simply sits behind the tasting room, most of it completely hidden from view. As we were to meet elsewhere, there are two cellars, one which can be heated so that the malolactic fermentation can take place. Grasso is very emphatic that in his wines the malo will take place in inert stainless steel containers, to avoid any extraction from wood vessels. The new cellar is a vast U-shaped tunnel which goes deep into the hillside, at one point 48 metres underground. Needless to say, this is a steady temperature, perfect for maturing wines in wood or in bottles. Although our hosts were emphatic that they could only care properly for the amount of vineyard they already have, one couldn’t help noticing that there was a great potential for expansion, perhaps in another generation.
We tasted the four wines ready to be released, including their three great Barolo, but not the Chardonnay which wasn’t ready. The Grasso are great hosts. I casually admired the new edition of the atlas of the Langhe area (Slow Food Editore 2000, 2008) and could only just prevent Marina giving me both the Italian and the English versions.
Barbera d’Alba Vigna Martino, 2007: 15 months in barriques; dense fruit, great ‘salty’ attack (decided that sapidity is not really a word), excellent. Said to age for 10-15 years. Barbera is rapidly coming up on the shoulder of Nebbiolo as a great wine, often at 1/3rd of the price.
Barolo Gavanini Chiniera 2006: the Nebbiolo grapes from which this choice wine is made are grown on chalky, sandy, soil from which the aim is to make wines with finesse. It spends two years in large Slavonian oak barrels (botti). In other words, it’s a traditional Barolo. The nose is all spices and nutmeg, already a balanced wine with persistent if quite refined tannins and acidity. There is a marked contrast with its stable mate also from the same year:
Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Matè 2006: the soil here is a mix of chalk and clay, leading to more muscular wines. Matured in botti as above. It already has fine aromas of red fruits and some flowers but is much tauter, more structure in the mouth. Needs time.
Barolo Rüncot riserva 2004: made in only the best years, this riserva is a more modern creature, being matured in the smaller French barriques, again after the malolactic fermentation is completed. It also spends up to two years in bottles before release. The nose is more prominent, spicy again, cloves in particular, good fruit, very rounded and supple in the mouth. Despite its six years, it’s still very young. It’s very instructive to taste the two different styles (and three different vineyards) side by side.
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.
Being an orderly sort of soul, in general I much prefer to go to a themed tasting, rather than a broad sweep across regions. Comparison is a very powerful tool but I would rather limit the field and try to learn a bit more about an area or grower in depth. Occasionally you get the best of both worlds, as happened at a recent Coe Vintners tasting, which took place at Home House, a private club in Portland Square. Billed as a fine wine tasting, it certainly lived up to that with quality wines from Champagne and Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, a few Italians and Spaniards and even the occasional Australian. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Olivier Humbrecht of whom more anon.
In the general tasting some tables really stood out:
Sumptuous Champagne from Pannier and from Dampierre. I particularly enjoyed 1999 Pannier Egerie and the corresponding non-vintage Rosé. The latter has a lovely raspberry and strawberry nose, balanced fruit and refreshment, delicious. The 1999 has good freshness alongside some interesting, mushroomy tones, a nice weight in the mouth I was less enamoured of the Pannier Blanc de Noir, ie made as white wine from the juice of black grapes. It was certainly distinctive with yeasty, even doughy smells to the fore. Dampierre was also excellent, especially the Family Reserve Grand Cru, 2000: toasty, hazelnuts, good fruit and very long. Altogether much better value than the Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes, white of 1998 (still tasted rather closed) and the rosé of 2002. Of course if someone else has the wines in their cellar and the patience, that might be another matter entirely …
I also tried the Barolo and Barbaresco from Giacosa Fratelli, not least because I had bought a mixed case of these for a forthcoming tasting. Overall conclusion was that they really need time to get out of their rather rustic youth (the two basic wines) though the 2005 Barolo Bussia has already has some perfume to offer. A tasting in 2014-20 anyone? This was even more the case with promising red Burgundy, eg PC Clos de Thorey Monopole, Nuit St Georges, 2006 from Antonin Rodet – I could taste the youthful acidity hours later! But in ten years time it will be wonderful.
No need for delayed gratification, however, with the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, though they too will develop with age. Olivier Humbrecht was showing a great range of wines, 13 in all. I concentrated on the ones that were new to me, especially from the Clos Windsbuhl vineyard. The firm’s comment is:
“The Clos Windsbuhl is, with the Rangen vineyard, the least precocious site that we cultivate on the estate. The higher altitude, the old rocky calcareous soil, its location near the forest all participate to create a slow ripening process. Often criticized in the past for this characteristic, we think that on the contrary, it helps the grapes to keep a structure based on acidity and not alcohol, and also that the vines have more time to ripen the grape physiologically.
Humbrecht explained further that the vineyard is around 300 metres above sea level, 100m higher and so cooler than most, and that it has a mixed history. Before they bought it, the older owners had worked for quality (only really good vineyards had names historically in Alsace) but then there was neglect, overplanting, overproduction in recent times. Having acquired it on the basis of its ancient reputation, they have grubbed up the new vines but kept the old ones.
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2007: made with the fruit of the old vines, this is an amazing combination of crisp fruit and structure in the mouth. Wow!
Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl Vendanges Tardive 2005 – rich, dense, even tending to oily texture from late picked picked grapes, medium sweet but with good acidity, absolutely delicious.
Another vineyard featured was the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, very steep (to the point that it has to be ploughed using a winch) and South facing. In addition to the two Pinot Gris I missed in the excitement (2005, 2001), there was:
Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2007, a superb complex nose of honey, nuts and something herby/herbaceous, rounded in the mouth, melons, ripe fruit in general, even pineapple, with a refreshing finish. Excellent.
I finished the Zind-Humbrecht table with Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles 2005, a wine with well over 100 grams of residual sugar per litre – a huge, sweet sticky, but with great marmaladely flavours and counterbalancing acidity, and great persistence.