Diary: 13 – A month and more with Roero

It is over two months since my last post and time has flown. We have been in the peculiar UK version of Covid-19 lockdown (‘we would appreciate it so much if you would please stay indoors etc’), work at the WSET has been busy, this website is getting a major update and, of course, there has been no travel. But if I can’t go to Piemonte, then Piemonte – through the co-operation of producers and the magic of Zoom – can come to me.

Through the good offices of the Roero consorzio, headed up by Francesco Monchiero and with huge help from his wife Lucrezia Scarsi (of Monchiero Carbone), I have received wines from a good number of top Roero producers. I have then set up Zoom calls with them and interviewed them about their estates, their grape growing, winemaking and the commercial challenges that they face. Together with the producers I met at Grandi Langhe and those I visited in January, I have built up a very good picture of Roero and its wines.

Here are some of the key points that have emerged:

  • with fast-draining, sandy soils and moderate rainfall, the conservation of water in wells and in the vineyard is vital. Erratic and heavy rainfall is increasingly a challenge on soils that erode easily.
  • the key to making Arneis is protective winemaking as it oxidises easily. Winemakers have a range of approaches to building the texture that separates the very good from the merely good examples. Differential fermentation temperatures having divided the juice, skin contact for a small part of the wine and longer lees ageing are among the approaches being taken.
  • Arneis can mature in the bottle for up to a decade, whether that is simply by keeping bottles or by late releases that some producers practice.
  • There are some great sites, often with more clay in the soil, for Nebbiolo and Barbera but it is still a struggle to get that message across. There remains work to be done to challenge the view that Roero = Arneis only.
  • This challenge is not helped by the mess that is the range of options for bottling Nebbiolo in the region. Unbelievably, producers can choose between Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo and Roero DOCG, the latter requiring lower yields and longer ageing and at least a short time in wood (six months). Until more producers bottle as Roero DOCG, there just is not the volume in the market to make an impact.
  • Nonetheless, the region is on the up with increased plantings of Arneis and Nebbiolo for Roero DOCG in particular and younger entrants who have faith in the denomination. It is a source of very good and sometimes excellent Nebbiolo at prices that are well below those of their neighbours in Barolo and Barbaresco.

On a personal note, a landmark has been achieved. I have written a full draft of the Roero chapter. It is currently too long but at least it is a start and it can be revised, but it a first full chapter. I am now moving on to the wines of Monferrato – Barbera, Grignolino, Freisa, Albarossa here we come.

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