Where and what is Boca?
Last spring I was able to spend two weeks in Alto Piemonte, the remarkable Nebbiolo territory close to the Alps. However, even a fortnight in a relatively small region means you can’t visit all the top producers. I came back knowing that I needed more depth in Boca DOC in particular. Boca, Alto Piemonte, is a small denomination on the northern edge of the vineyard area of Colline Novaresi. It is just 13 kilometres north of Ghemme. The denomination takes in the municipality of Boca and parts of four other villages. The soils are volcanic in origin and share the porphyry of Gattinara and Bramaterra. It also shares the requirement for the wine to be a Nebbiolo blend. In Boca’s case, it can be 90 per cent Nebbiolo (here called Spanna) and the blending varieties are Vespolina and Uva Rara. The soil is very stony and poor in nutrients. However, generally, there is more than adequate rainfall at 900–1,100 mm per year. The denomination also benefits from a relatively high altitude of 420–520 m. The most famous producer, indeed the person who revitalised the denomination, is Christoph Künzli of Le Piane, who I did visit last year. In the last few days, I have had the chance to speak to two women producers in Boca, Marina Fogarty of Antonio Vallana and Silvia Bargaglia of Vini Bargaglia.
The two women share a great deal. Not surprisingly, they have a deep love for their small denomination. They are passionate about the special character of the volcanic soils of the caldera of the long-extinct Supervolcano of Sesia and have an absolute conviction of the quality and ageability of their Nebbiolo blends. They also share a realism that it is going to take a long time to build (or rather rebuild) the reputation of Boca as it currently has only around 25 hectares of vineyard in total. Outside of the region, it is going to be difficult to find these bottles, but it really is worth it.
The two wineries also have many similarities in terms of their histories and approaches to winemaking. Today the businesses are a very similar size with five to six hectares in production. But in the past, they were both merchants, Vallana on a large scale. This part of Piemonte used to be the powerhouse of the wine trade, far more than the Langhe. I love the picture of the old Barbaglia truck, with ‘Negozianti’ on the door!
Boca DOC plus other bottling options
Both wineries make quite a range of wines alongside their Boca DOC, making use of many of the possibilities of Colline Novaresi DOC: white (i.e., Erbaluce), Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Uva Rara). Vallana is more focused on Spanna, while Bargaglia has an impressive range of single-variety wines. Both make traditional method sparkling wines, with Bargaglia making a range of white and rosé wines and some very long lees-contact ones too. And both could easily be counted as low-intervention wineries. They might pragmatically use selected yeast when the temperatures at harvest time can be cool. Maceration times for Nebbiolo are relatively short and the wood ageing is carried out in old oak. The aim is to let the blend of Nebbiolo and Vespolina do the talking. As it happened I had two bottles from the excellent 2015 vintage in my cellar.
Two Nebbiolo wines from 2015
Spanna, Colline Novaresi 2015, Antonio Vallana, 13% abv: Very elegant rose and raspberry nose with an iron note, fine tannins, medium weight and very good length for the basic regional denomination of Colline Novaresi. This is one of the features of this area: the entry level Nebbiolo wines have a great ability to age.
Boca DOC, Azienda Bargaglia, 2015, 13.5% abv: 80% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina. Quite restrained and earthy on the nose. As it opens up it shows light floral notes and then red and black fruit with balsamic flavours. This shows an attractive combination of elegant Nebbiolo lifted by Vespolina’s fruit and pepper notes. At seven years of age this has resolved tannins and excellent length. It has the depth fruit for long-term ageing.
You should be on the lookout for Boca DOC if you love medium-bodied Nebbiolo wines with moderate alcohol and present but not overly-demanding tannins but all the aromatic range of this variety. There will be a full section on Boca DOC and more producer profiles in my book, The Wines of Piemonte for the Classic Wine Library.