As explained in the preceding entry, after Grandi Langhe I had three days in Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, the BBR of the title above. In this post I am going to try very hard to list some key issues only – and not get into depth …
Sandy soils make Roero an excellent place to grow the white grape, Arneis, and Nebbiolo for high-toned, aromatic and medium structured Roero Rosso.
Drought in summer can be a real problem – sandy soils have great drainage but don’t hold water in the same way that Barolo’s marly soils do. Erosion can be a big issue. Nowadays, violent downpours are increasingly common and lead to unhelpful run off and worse. Producers can combat this by digging channels, in smaller vineyards by hand (for example, Nino Costa).
Flavescence dorée is also increasingly a scourge here. It is sad to learn that the best a producer can do once the disease is identified is to buy a tool that will efficiently remove the whole plant.
Arneis winemaking: Arneis is only a moderately aromatic variety with delicate fennel and green apple aromas. Working protectively (excluding oxygen), blocking MLF to preserve acidity, low fermentation temperatures are indicated; keeping it on the lees with weekly stirring can build texture. Maturation in oak is rare. Arneis can age successfully. Angelo Negro has a release called … and aged for … seven years.
Although Roero and Arneis are virtually synonymous to the outside world, Roero DOCG also has a red category for Nebbiolo wines and of course, like everywhere else in this part of Piemonte, also grows Barbera. The big, big issue is how to spread the word about Nebbiolo from the Roero. There were excellent examples at all the estates I visited and Cascina Ca’Rossa specialises in red, appropriately enough for a property called ‘red house farmstead’. Larger or successful properties have managed to buy land in Barolo and Barbaresco to augment their offer. No doubt this could also make the bridge to the Nebbiolo of the Roero (e.g. Malvirà and Angelo Negro).
It was a genuine honour to hear the story of the ‘Barolo Boys’ from the one and only Barolo girl, Chiara Boschis. Chiara carefully spelled out what the modernists sought to achieve way beyond rotofermentors and barriques. Here innovation is constant with Chiara showing us a video of a drone that she is testing. It can cope with uneven ground in sharply undulating vineyard. If successful, when used for spraying, it will be safer for humans and cause less compaction than tractors. Tasting from the 2019 tanks of Chiara’s three main wines, the multi-vineyard Via Nuova and the single vineyard Cannubi and Mosconi, was very instructive. Via Nuova shows complexity of fruit, while the elegance and fine tannins of Cannubi contrast strongly with the massive structure of Mosconi.
The most obvious change to the appearance of Barolo in the last five years is the arrival of netting against hail. As in other regions with a continental climate, hail has become a major issue, damaging this year’s crop and sometimes next year’s too. The nets are not pretty but can be effective. On the other hand, what is the chance of the hail hitting exactly these protected spots?
Other visits in Barolo included the huge investment Gussali Beretta have made in the beautifully reconstructed Fortemasso and the tale of two Manzones, apparently unrelated. Paolo Manzone is a wonderfully genial host while explaining his approach to make a super-fragrant Dolcetto (cold maceration of the berries, cool fermentation temperature for a red grape, 21 C, press after just a couple of days of fermentation to keep delicate aromas and reduce extraction of tannin). He loves a blend too: ‘Luvi’ is around 70% Nebbiolo, with Barbera and Docetto, and graced with a different commissioned artist’s label each year. The estate makes excellent Barolo and Barbaresco too.
Giovanni Manzone was a literal and symbolic climax to these visits. The winery is on the ridge between Barolo’s two main valleys and thus has incredible views of Serralunga d’Alba on one side and Castiglione Falleto and, in the distance, La Morra on the other, see below. With vineyards on both sides of the ridge and slightly different soil types, they can produce the floral and ethereal Barolo Gramolere (sandstone and sand) and the more powerful, deeper coloured and more tannic Barolo Castelleto (more clay, similar to Serralunga across the valley). There will be much more to say about a very special Barolo Bricat vertical to follow in another post, once I have got around to organising the tasting.
Importantly, before we did our visits we can confirm that our old favourite restaurant, La luna nel pozzo (just off the main square in the village of Neive) goes from strength to strength. If anything the food has moved up a notch but the welcome is still delightfully old fashioned and courteous. We relaxed so much that were a bit late for our next appointment.
On this occasion I had less time in Barbaresco but I will make up for that by visiting around Espressione Barbaresco, a collective tasting happening in the spring. I need to return to Piero Busso to walk the vineyards with Pierguido. The winery was set up with great advice from the legendary Bartolo Mascarello who specified large oak casks only and above all the highest standards of hygiene. This, plus the Nebbiolo variety, makes a great foundation for outstanding Barbaresco. Older vintages are available in the UK from Lay & Wheeler and more recent ones from Justerini & Brooks.
A second visit was to Cascina delle Rose, the winery with some of the grandest views in the appellation across the Tre Stelle and Rio Sordo vineyards, which apparently includes Angelo Gaja’s house in the midst of the amphitheatre of vines. We had drunk their Barbaresco Tre Stelle 2016 the previous evening, recommended by a friend, and confirmed our tasting that it had indeed been in some new oak (a new 38 hL cask) and is a beautiful, layered, savoury wine. We also tasted the more structured and tannic Barbaresco Rio Sordo, 2016, 14%, which needs some resting time in bottle. On a lighter note, the next generation winemaker, Davide, is having great fun restoring the old concrete fermentation tanks – and jolly smart they look too! The entire winery is immaculate and the wines, imported by Berry Bros, very fine.
These three days were a great taster, literally and metaphorically, for the outstanding wines of the Langhe.