Archive for New Discoveries

May
19

2 New Italian Wine Discoveries

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We continually search for really interesting wines from around the Mediterranean basin—indigenous, family owned and operated, heirloom/heritage vines and farmed sustainably. We recently ran across TWO very noteworthy family wine projects—one from Campania and one from Mt. Etna in Sicily. They certainly caught our attention! Really good juice. Here is your chance to try them yourself. How often do opportunities like this come around?

 

Terre del Vescovo–We continually search for interesting wines in Italy’s Campania region which is probably most famous for being the home turf of Mt. Vesuvius. We feel this is also the home turf (of potentially Cru quality) of the indigenous, highly revered Aglianico grape variety. The true artisanal, more traditionally produced renditions are indeed getting harder and harder to find! Terre del Vescovo recently popped up on the radar screen and we were quite taken with their wines.   “They own and farm four hectares of vineyards in Montemarano, a top cru of the Taurasi zone where the appellation’s highest-elevation sites yield chiseled, mineral, age-worthy reds. At up to 2100 feet above sea level on soils of clay and limestone, the vines benefit from significant diurnal temperature shifts crucial to developing complex, well-defined flavors and preserving freshness at this southerly latitude. Thanks to this slow maturation, the late-ripening Aglianico is harvested in November, sometimes under a blanket of snow”. On this night, we will sample two of their wines.                                                                       

2017 Coda di Volpe “Kisteis”–Coda di Volpe is an ancient grape variety to the area and is used to make very interesting regional white wines, most notably Lacrima Christi Bianco. This is a very interesting, fresh, stony rendition grown in the estate’s clay limestone soils and age on its fine lees for 2 to 3 months. Certainly caught our eye.

2010 Irpinia Campi Taurasini “Re’na Vota”–“The King” is produced from 100% Aglianico, planted in 1952. This wine deftly shows the vast potential Aglianico innately has. The wine spends four years in large botti and one year in bottle before release. Here is your chance to try it, in all its glory.

 

 

Grottafumata–Interestingly, this estate is really noted and revered for their high quality olive oil. Come to find out, they also produce small amounts of wine too, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna. The area is actually named Mount Ilice—1.4 hectares located on the closest part of Etna to the Mediterranean Sea—at a 45 degree slant, nearly 2800 feet in elevation. The old vines (40 to 100 years in age) struggle in the volcanic soils, strong winds, cooler growing temperatures to eke out some very special juice. We will be tasting two of their wines on this night.

2017 “Lato Sud” Bianco–This is a studly, masculine white wine with lots of bravado and swag. Yup, nothing shy or demure here. 70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto, with very small percentages of Minnella, Grecanico, Terribile, Inzolia and Coda di Volpe (40 to 100 years old). The wine is then wild yeast fermented in clay amphora for three days, completes its malolactic in and then aged in stainless for nine months.

2017 “Lato Sud” Rosso–This is NOT a big, full throttle red, as most tasters might expect. It is quite masculine, VERY savory, vinous, stony with quite a surprising transparency and purity of old vines (40 to 100 year old vines) & terroir. Well worth the effort of getting some that’s for sure!

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Another leg of our late Fall trip to Italy was up to Alto Piemonte, a roughly 2 hour drive north (& slightly east) of Alba.  I had wanted to visit this wine growing area for many years, actually after my first eye opening tastes of THREE different bottlings (each on a separate occasion) of Gattinara, back in the 1980’s.  Though they displayed spellbinding Nebbiolo character through and through, each were not like any Barolo/Barbaresco/Roero I had had previously.

Furthermore, with the rising prices, especially over the past decade, of quality Barolo (& Barbaresco), a sourcing/insight gathering trip to the area would hopefully lead to finding fine & interesting Nebbiolo based red wines from small, artisan wineries AND at much more affordable prices.

In short, it was a truly incredible trek providing far more insight & knowledge (from an incredible core of regional insiders) than I could have wished for.  AND, I walked away shocked at how small the area is in terms of vine acreage & production & how limited the number of producers there actually are (I was told somewhere between 40 & 50)!

We visited 3 to 5 winemakers a day (including walking the vineyards & tasting some wine).  As tired as we might have been, for me, I was exhilarated.  As I had noted on previous posts, this trek reminded me so much of the one I did in the late 80’s/early 90’s to France’s Rhone Valley, BEFORE it became an “IT” wine region & small, true artisan wines were so authentic–movingly so– & still relatively undiscovered in the U.S..

Well, from the Alto Piemonte visits, my cousin Mike, my wife Cheryle & I hand carried some bottles back to the Islands, so we could one day do a tasting with a group just to share our spoils–very carefully selected wines, pictures & stories.  This was that day!

You will note most of these wines, unlike their counterparts in Barolo/Barbaresco are NOT 100% Nebbiolo.  FYI–the legal grape mix maximums/minimums of each area is governed by law & were set based upon years of experience & history.   Some have even noted, while this certainly adds to the differences of their wines, we found it really is their terroir (what the vineyard wants to say) that is their focus in any given year.

So, here was the line up for this tasting.  (I only wish we could have carried back even more as there were so many notable producers that we visited & tasted their wines, but we just had no room in our collective luggage).

 

BALDIN–the lead off batter for this tasting was a Bramaterra from phenom, rising winemaking star Matteo Baldin.  In our planning stages, we had wanted to visit him, but he declined because it was harvest after all.  Completely understandable.  (I later discovered he also serves as winemaker for Poderi ai Valloni of Boca–so he is actually wearing at least 2 different hats professionally.)   Matteo owns but 1.5 hectares in Bramaterra, planted in 2004 in clay-volcanic-porphyry soils.  His own wine was very good & very stylishly crafted– comprised of 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina & 10% Vespolina, seeing 12 days in stainless & 24 months in small barriques.  It thankfully still showcases the Nebbiolo mojo, structure & linear tannins, but is much more civil, seemingly more suave, rounder than other’s wines, as it flows on your palate.

The Bramaterra wines from Baldin (on the lefty) & Antoniotti (on the right).

 

ANTONIOTTI–here is yet another Bramaterra star.  In fact, I should rightfully ADD that Odilio Antoniotti is without a doubt one of the most revered, long time, iconic winemaking masters of the entire Alto Piemonte according to all of his peers we met & spoke with.  (& I would add–deservedly so).   For some unexplainable reason, Antoniotti was NOT on our PRE-trip radar screen.  Thank goodness he came so vehemently recommended AND by so many different insiders.  (In fact, it really was regional superstar winemaking consultant, Cristiano Garella, who was able to get a last minute visit, which I am so thankful to him for). Odilio & his wines really moved me & greatly added to our Alto Piemonte experience, that’s for sure!  Antoniotti owns & farms 5.5 hectares in Bramaterra) on mostly volcanic-porphyry (low organic matter) soils.  (Because he spoke no English, when we were in his vineyard, he made it a point to break apart one of the rocks to show us the more reddish core, showing us there is also some iron present as well).  Odilio is the 6th generation of his family to own & run the estate, which is at least part of the reason why his plantings have a lot of old vines (averaging 50 years in age–something not too many other estates of the entire region can boast about).  His son Matia now has joined the estate.  Theirs is what they say is a more traditional grape mix–70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 7% Vespolina & 3% Uva Rara.  Their Bramaterra is co-fermented (using NO stems) in OLD (1901) underground concrete & then aged in BIG, OLD oak for 3 years before bottling.  Yes, theirs is authentic, very traditional minded Alto Piemontese red wine–provocatively earthy, musky, wonderfully savory & intriguingly rustic in character, mouthfeel & soul.  This certainly proved to be one of the real standout “finds” of our trip.  This wine was so deserved of the very prestigious Tres Bichieri (3 glasses) recognition it recently was honored with by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s highest accolades.

 

BONIPERTI–we purposely poured this wine from Fara next, although, Fara is a very different denomination than Bramaterra.  The intent, however, was just something traditional minded (Antoniotti) side by side with something more contemporary minded (Boniperti).  The difference was crystal clear, at least to me.  In addition,

The Boniperti Fara “Barton”

this Fara was also bestowed Tres Bichieri by Gambero Rosso.  Most of the more experienced tasters really gravitated to this wine because of how suave, surprisingly refined & well textured it really is, without compromising character & mojo.  Owner/winemaker extraordinaire Gilberto Boniperti is very charming/endearing, well mannered & well spoken in a very down to earth manner.  He was as much a highlight of this trip as was his wines.  Boniperti owns roughly 4 hectares in Fara (planted in 2003).  (I was shocked to find out that between the 2 villages of this appellation (Fara & Briona) there are today only 5 producers.). Cristiano Garella is the behind the scenes winemaking consultant/advisor.  This microclimate is warmer than Boca or Gattinara which might help explained its rounder mouthfeel.  The Fara wine is typically 70% Nebbiolo with the rest made up of Uva Rara or Vespolina in varying amounts vintage to vintage.  The wine sees 1 year in BIG barrel.  This is certainly a wine to keep  an eye out for.  With all of the recent accolades & acclaim, let’s hope moving forward the prices do not escalate based upon a supply-demand fever.

 

PODERI AI VALLONI–I was really quite taken with this estate (& proprietor Anna Sertorio), which we found out is the oldest in the Boca appellation.  There is much thought given to its current renaissance AND all done with respect for the land & this family’s long heritage with the property.  Very heartfelt.  There is but 3 1/2 hectares planted (still mostly nurturing some of the oldest vines in the appellation)–southeast & southwest facing, at 1600 feet in elevation–located within the the Mount Fenera national (UNESCO–2014) park, a spot which historically was greatly affected when an ancient volcano imploded. The main soils are therefore red & yellow porphyry.  The vineyards are planted on the hillsides contouring around the apex where the winery is located, all done with much care & respect for the surrounding area.  Their Boca is typically produced from 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina & 10% Uva Rara–each fermented separately & later blended together.  We really liked the wines–as they were so savory, virile & earnest.  I would add, however, since there is a true renaissance happening here, especially with the addition of winemaking phenom Matteo Baldin (since 2017), I suggest you keep an eye out as this estate truly blossoms to a whole ‘other level.

The Carlone Boca (on the left) & the Poderi ai Valloni Boca (on the right).

 

 

CARLONE–also calls Boca home.  Currently there is 10 hectares of vineyards planted at roughly 420 feet in elevation (one of the coolest spots in the appellation) with porphyry-sand soils & very rocky under the top soil.  (There is currently plans to prep & plant roughly 2 more hectares on the much steeper, more evidently rocky slope across the road.). We were fortunate to be there at harvest & can say Davide Carlone is one of the last to harvest–(where almost all of his peers had their grapes at the winery already, Carlone was picking the 2019 harvest only the day before the forecasted week long heavy rains–at least 2 weeks later than some).  While Davide is seemingly so self assured & strong willed, Cristiano Garella is wisely a consultant here too.  Watching Cristiano observe the harvesting, the grape crushing, also checking out the fermentations & then giving his advice on all of the facets to Davide was fascinating.  It was an exercise, not only on tweaking the winemaking methodology, but also a masterfully executed delivery of getting the strong minded Davide to listen & understand the hows & the whys.  When Cristiano left, Davide, despite being in the middle of crunch time, insisted we try some of his wines–bottled & barrel samples (each showcasing one of the 8 to 10 different Nebbiolo clones/vine selections, whose ready to harvest grapes which we sampled in the vineyard. Yes, this was an incredible, unforgettable opportunity!).  There were several cuvees which we found exciting & so noteworthy.  His is a more contemporary style–suave, riper, more forward in its youth, without compromising the “dirt” & the fiery, robust, mojo of the core.  This is a style of wine which will gather lots of accolades & win over lots of new, perspective buyers.   (By the way, his Boca is typically –70 to 90% Nebbiolo, 10 to 30% Uva Rada/Vespolina–the mix varying from vintage to vintage.  And, the wine will age in older, LARGE Slavonian oak–(I didn’t see any small barrels while there)–for 24 months.

 

MAZZONI–there were 2 wines we were recommended to try on the first night when we arrived–one from Brigatti & the other from Mazzoni.  (By the way, BOTH were highly & thankfully recommended

The Mazzoni Ghemme

as “must sees” pre-trip by Gilberto Boniperti).  So, on this night, we tried a bottle of each.  They were stellar AND only heightened our excitement for the upcoming visits.  Mazzoni is a small, 3 generation, truly artisan estate–complete with 5 hectares of vines, planted in argilo-clay soils.  Their vineyards are so very remote, located in the hills.  (We certainly would not have found them on our own).  Though the Mazzoni clan are quite traditional minded, their Ghemme is 100% Nebbiolo (10 to 40 year old vines) & sees 24 months in large barrels.  I was really captivated how provocatively masculine, stoically structured & savory it was upon first taste.  Stylistically, it reminded me of a wild stallion because of its untamed, virile mojo & its innate, yet quite unassuming fortitude.  I wish I could have this wine which it is 30 years old.  I bet it would be glorious, in a way that only well aged Nebbiolo can be.

 

 

FRANCHINO MAURO—We were really looking forward to visiting this 3 generation run estate in Gattinara.  Now run by (nephew) Alberto Raviciotti, Franchino Mauro is renown for growing & producing very traditional minded Gattinara & I was therefore quite anxious to better understand their take on what the hills & vines of this iconic appellation could offer.  They have but 3 hectares of vines located at roughly 1350 feet in elevation, mostly south facing.  It was so peaceful walking their vineyards & gazing at the wild, remote surrounding countryside, but nothing earth shattering in appearance.  The topsoils swayed more to clay, BUT, because it had been raining for a few days straight AND in fact drizzling while we walked, there was no puddling anywhere about.  In fact, upon closer look to the cross sections, there were lots of rocks evident for the at least the 6 to 8 feet we could see.  I was also amazed that Alberto noted they used 100% Nebbiolo for their Gattinara (although I might have misunderstood because of the language challenges).  Their winery was an elaborate maze of tunnels & large, old oak formats tucked away in the various niches here & there & all of the concrete also very old.  It all looked so very Old School.  It was therefore no surprise that their Gattinara smelled & tasted quite Old School in style–nothing bright, fresh, juicy or exuberant–nuances we found in many of the contemporary red wines we were tasting on this trek.  The 2015 was more musky, earthy, wonderfully savory, more linear its flow on the palate with intriguingly dampened earth, roasted chestnut/sandalwood & a slightly floral accent.   It was so different than anything else we  tried over the previous 4 days.  (by the way, 35 months, 24 months in large old barrels).

The Franchino Mauro Gattinara (on the left) & the Antonio Gattinara “Le Castelle (on the right)

 

 

ANTONIOLO—We ended the day’s tasting with a 2013 Antonio Gattinara “Le Castelle”.  At the end of our recent trip to Alto Piemonte, there was no doubt that the Antonio Gattinara was the most Cru like in quality.  It has presence, grandeur & is something to truly behold.  Le Castelle is one of the crus Antonio owns & bottles separately when apropos.  It is only 1 hectare in size (of their 18 hectares they own)–she said 100% Nebbiolo–located at 1100 feet in elevation , in soils with less rock & more sand to the composition (in comparison to the others).   That is why the resulting wines tends to be more austere, has more color & power than the others.  The wine is fermented in old concrete (1960’s) & then for 3 years in BIG barrels.  3 generations.  This is some kind of wine that’s for sure!

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Today, we brought together a group of young wine professionals to share some of the wine discoveries we brought home with us from our October trip to Italy.

We pared down the tasting list to 12 wines, just to make it more manageable AND keep everyone’s attention.

The first trio of wines were from Dolceacqua in the western reaches of Liguria, Italy.  Hidden in the inner, mountainous territory away from the sea, Dolceacqua still seems stuck in time.  The town itself is quite small & like the surrounding villages of the area not so westernized yet.

The hillsides are steep, rocky, terraced & vertically remote.  The roads to the various nooks & crannies are narrow, wickedly winding & quite rugged.  If you want anything up in the vineyards, you have to take there by road.

It is therefore no wonder that the majority of what was once vineyards, today lay fallow.  The hills are filled with these ghost vineyards & they serve as a reminder how much passion driven, back breaking work it must take to farm, constantly repair & harvest them.

In addition, we were totally shocked to find out these vignerons lost at least 40% of their crop in 2019 to wild animals–such as deer, boars & badgers.

WINE #1   2015 TENUTA ANFOSSO Rossese di Dolceacqua

Upon my very first taste of their wines, I instantly knew I had to go for a visit.  What I didn’t realize then, however, was how small this winery is in production AND how breathtakingly steep their vineyards truly are.  (A real clue was from on our previous visit to Punta Crena & Paolo Ruffino showing us with his hand & arm how much steeper Dolceacqua vineyards really were in comparison to how steep, their own steep mountainous vineyards are).  I became even more fascinated.  The estate is today run by Alessandro Anfosso (the 6th generation of his family).  Anfosso owns & farms 5.5 hectares of vineyards—2.5 hectares Luvaira (planted in 1905), 2 hectares Poggio Pini (planted 1888) & 1 hectare Fulavin (planted in 1977 & 1998)–all mainly flysch soils.  This particular bottling is a blend of all 3.  50% de stemmed & fermented in stainless.  We love the undeniable savoriness which the Anfosso wines innately.  Rather than berries, dark cherries & fruit nuances, the Anfosso red wines have earthy, musky nuances with a roasted chestnut, fresh compost, slight wild sage core, which we find so compelling & provocative.  In this day & age of a growing availability of more “correct”, bordering “safe” wines, these thankfully instead represent a unique, indigenous grape variety (mostly old vine), grown in a very unique niche of the wine world (remote, steep, bordering unforgiving) with thankfully its own “voice”, ALL at more reasonable prices than offered by many of Italy’s trophy red wines.   

 

WINE #2  2018 PERRINO TESTALONGA Bianco

Our original intent in showing the Perrino Testalonga wines was to showcase VERY authentic, old school made wines from the Dolceacqua DOC. ( I would consider the Tenuta Anfosso wines authentic too, BUT Perrino Testalonga uses old barrels in their fermenting & raising of their wines (meaning NO stainless steel); foot stomping; NO temperature control & VERY limited use of SO2).  While that may be admirable in theory & print, the resulting wines are very wild, untamed, rustic & NOT scientifically perfect.  That is okay by me, as long as the wines are good!  Unfortunately their RED Dolceacqua wine we brought back was sadly corked.  We still, however, showcased their 2018 Bianco–100% Vermentino–from the lower terraces just above the winery.  It was wild yeast fermented in 6 to 7 year old 225 liter barrels, NO temperature control, fermented until there is no sugar left.  A small amount of SO2 November to June only to stabilize the wine.  The wine is aged in bottle for 1 & a half years.  In 2018, there were only 200 bottles produced.  (Please keep in mind they only own but 2 hectares).  As one can readily see by the color, the wine is on the orange side, BUT without the tannins & therefore bitterness in the finish.  Yes, it does have oxidative nuances & therefore not for everyone.  I liked the wine.  AND, it was a reminder of how small, artisan wines were made in the old days, pre-stainless steel.

 

WINE #3  2018 Giovanni Montisci “Modestu”   

Leave it to my cousin Mike to bring some kind of thought provoking wine to the tasting to share & create more conversations.  Well, this is just not any wine.  The visit to Giovanni Montisci was the highlight to our trek to Sardegna a couple of years ago.  While they are most world renown their Cannonau de Sardegna red wines, their Modestu (dry Moscato) is their most startling & explosive.  It is so exotically aromatic–a combustible mix of the very outgoing exotic lime blossom/ star fruit/ tropical fruit/ slightly honeyed nuances of the Moscato grape variety with the stone/mineral core from the 60 year old vines, planted in the sandy-granite-clay in the vertically remote (2100 feet elevation) of their 2 hectare (only .7–Moscato).  In addition this wine has a very thick, bordering oily unctuality which is both quite unique & very compelling.  This wine is dry with lots of swag & a somewhat piquant finish.  How does Mike get these wines that is the final question?  Thank you sir for always sharing.

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I was really quite taken by this Spanish white wine because of how different it is from those done in stainless steel with NO malolactic fermentation, resulting in pure, fresh, riveting white wines so commonly seen in the marketplace, especially in the Albariño/Rías Baixas category.  Furthermore, it is also thankfully vey different from other renditions which seek more ripeness levels/longer hang time, BUT are often  quite alcoholic with a bitterness to the finish. Yes, this rendition is thankfully & respectfully very different from the “pack”, on either side.  We love its innate minerality, sublime texture/viscosity, salinity & “quiet” vinosity.  I liked it more & more after each taste, to the point where I thought it was a true standout!  Yes, a whole ‘nother level on what Spanish Albariño (or any other white wine) could be.

Atalier is a project between winemaking phenom Raúl Pérez & his long time friend/collaborator Rodri Méndez of the Forjas del Salnés estate in the Val do Salnés subzone (which is generally regarded as the ancestral Spanish home to Albariño).  Rodri, for this project, garnered grapes from 3 different parcels, each in predominately sandy soils & each less than 1 kilometer from the sea.  These ancient, ungrafted, pre-phylloxera (150 to 160 years old) vines are heirloom treasures & provide the true character & soul of this wine.

A consideration when trying to better understand this wine is how it came to be.  Many Albariño (& white wine grape varieties in general) producers, harvest early (to retain acidity & what they say/think is “minerality” & result in lower alcohol levels in the finished wine).   Unlike their counterparts of the appellation, these grapes are left on the vines for up to 2 to 3 weeks longer, depending on the weather, giving them much more hang time & physiological development without any raisining or over ripeness.  This allows the grapes to have less malic acidity to deal with, gives the juice more complexity, weight & viscosity, while still finishing at roughly around 13% alcohol naturally.

Secondly, in many other cases, a wine’s freshness & refreshingness can be maintained/maximized by long, cool fermentations, especially in stainless steel tanks.  Think about how many fresh, exuberant, vivacious white wines are on the store shelves today.  (Absolutely nothing wrong with that by the way.)

Raúl Pérez, in comparison, ferments & ages this wine in large, neutral oak foudres, which in my opinion, frames the wine & gives it more texture, roundness & mouthfeel amongst other sought after attributes….WITHOUT the wine being oaky to the smell or taste.

While many others do similar approaches, somehow, there is a special magic to this wine, one I find so compelling.  It really is an example of what can be–physiological maturity, minerality, vinosity, balance, texture, character all at roughly 13 degrees alcohol.  It is one of those wines that makes me think of what it possible & hopefully others will be inspired too & use it as a springboard moving forward.

Furthermore, I was also really amazed after tasting it, & seeing the price tag, which I find even more utterly remarkable!  Bravo!!!!!

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Nov
28

Alto Piemonte–final notes

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Finally visiting Alto Piemonte, walking vineyards, tasting grapes, tasting wines–both young & old, eating & most importantly talking story with vignioli was so invigorating.  Yes, I can now cross this off my bucket list.  At the same time, however, this trip gave me such different insight into the world of wines & I am so thankful to all who made it possible & so memorable.

Initially, I was quite candidly shocked at how small of an area the cluster of Alto Piemonte really is.  Pre-trip, all of the vignioli I was communicating with, kept saying, the next winery is only 10 to 14 minutes away or let me call them for you & while I was so appreciative, I did not really connect the dots.  I soon really realized this appellation is really small in size AND, as I was told there are only 40 to 50 or so producers in total!  Crazy!

I was also quite taken back how small their facilities really are.  True garage-ists.

Looking out of our window/lanai at La Capuccina in Cureggio, I was reminded daily how close to the Alps & Mount Rosa, the second highest mountain in Europe, we were.  This means to me, a much cooler growing condition than that of Barolo/Barbaresco further southwest.

Secondly, all of the vineyards we visited were located in various nooks & crannies scattered throughout the region’s rolling, undulating hills.  Yes, it was so different than the breathtaking concas/ampitheaters of Barolo/Barbaresco vineyards which overtook an entire hillside.  These nooks & crannies had their own little micro climate, aspect, soils mixing, drainage, sun exposure, & so on.

On a different front, I wonder how this appellation will address their wild animal issues.  (Most I spoke to lost at least 40% of their crop in 2019 due to the wild animals not only eating their grapes, but also in the worse scenarios stripping the vine of leaves & even bark.  Fencing is not really too practical on those on steep, rocky hillsides).

Furthermore, where in Barolo/Barbaresco calcareous (& marl) soils greatly influenced the outcome of the wines, Alto Piemonte is instead based upon more volcanic/porphyric soils, a stark contrast visually as well as in the wines themselves.

In addition, where Barolo & Barbaresco are produced from 100% Nebbiolo, the various Alto Piemontese denominations each have different, though lawfully defined grapes mixes they have to adhere to–mainly based upon Nebbiolo with the blending of Vespolina, Croatina & Uva Rara where, when & what % depending on what is approved.

On the winemaking front, where there are but only 40 to 50 producers in total, the many we visited so much smaller than what we experience in Barolo/Barbaresco.  Iconic, venerable estates such as Antoniolo (& our incredible aha discovery of Antoniotti) still forge ahead & show the true potential of what Alto Piemonte Nebbiolo can be.  We are also seeing sleeping giants such as Poderi ai Valloni & Vallana getting their mojo back & starting to get the ball rolling again.  We also loved being introduced to relatively unsung, true stars such as Francesco Brigatti & Gilles Mazzoni who still produce ever so solid wines, which are relatively & surprisingly under the radar screen.  In addition, as a special side note, I am so anxious to see what Alberto Raviciotti (Franchino Mauro) does moving forward, since he has now fully taken over the estate.  Finally & thankfully, there is a rising, prominent New Age generation coming on to the scene–Boniperti, Colombera & Garella, Le Pianelle & Carlone, just to name a few.  I would have to add to that, many thankfully under the tutelage of superstar New Age winemaking consultant, Cristiano Garella, & more & more of them are already receiving considerable acclaim & notoriety for their wines.

It reminded of a trip I took to the northern Rhone Valley of France, back in the late 80’s/& early 90’s, seeing true, iconic vignerons such as August Clape, Noel Verset & Marius Gentaz along with the rising, new generation of winemakers–such as Rene Rostaing & Thierry Allemand–who offered different perspectives on what regional wines could be.

I also admired the sense of community I felt there.  Yes, winemakers doing their own thing, but still very willing to support their neighbors.

This is a pivotal time for the region.  Because there is a strong core of terrific vineyards & true vignioli who masterfully create wines like no other, one gets a strong sense this region will really boom in popularity in the near future.  This notion is further supported by the acquisition of Nervi in Gattinara by the legendary, most revered Barolo house of Giacomo Conterno.  Yes, things will start to ramp up AND so will the demand & therefore the prices.  This will then lead to more outside investors coming in & a continual build out tornado & the planting of vineyards everywhere one looks, just as we see has happened in both the Barolo & Barbaresco wine appellations.

Financially, it makes more sense now than ever.

The vineyard land is relatively cheap right now.  Housing is also cheap.  3 or 4 Alto Piemonte wines received Tres Bicchieri awards from the prestigious Gambero Rosso publication, their highest honor.  So the point is, the spotlight is slowing shining in their direction.  Furthermore, where in the old days, there were only 2 or 3 ripe vintages out of every 10, today, it is essentially 8 out of 10, at least.  Yes, outside investing would today  appear to be lucrative.

Now, let’s see what happens.

 

P.S.   One last minute note to answer questions some have already asked me.

As discussed, there are 7 distinct DOC’s in Alto Piemonte—Lessona, Bramaterra, Gattinara, Boca, Fara, Ghemme & Sizzano.  The Sesia River runs through & divides the 7 into two groupings of DOC’s.  There are, based upon this division, TWO larger, more general DOC’s, which wineries can declassify to.

On the western flank of the river is Coste delle Sesia (which therefore includes Lessona, Bramaterra & Gattinara)) And on the eastern flank of the river is Colline Novaresi (Boca, Ghemme, Sizzano & Fara).   The producers from each, use the appropriate DOC when they feel the wine it not up to snuff of let’s say Ghemme or Gattinara or Boca or from younger vines.  Otherwise, there are only 81 acres of plantings permitted to use this DOC.

The other confusing aspect is the grape mix for each.  It is true for both DOC’s, the approved grapes are Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Barbera, Bonarda, Uva Rara (Bonarda Novarese—which is different from Bonarda or Bonarda Piemontese).

Also confusing is that Colline Novaresi ROSSO & ROSATO must be minimum 50% Nebbiolo (Spanna) with the others added to the blend.  Whereas Colline Novaresi Barbera (or any of the other grapes) must be a minimum of 85% of the designated grape variety.  The Colline Novaresi BIANCO, on the other hand, must be 100& Erbaluce (Greco Novarese).

For Coste della Sesia, it is different.  To clarify, here is a quote from winesearcher.com–

The most common form of Coste della Sesia wine is the standard rosso wine. This is made from a base of Nebbiolo, Bonarda, Vespolina, Croatina and Barbera. These varieties can be used individually, provided they make up the 50-percent minimum proportion required under the DOC laws. The rosato wines are based on the same blend.  White Coste della Sesia Bianco is less common than the red form, but equally interesting. It is made almost entirely from Erbaluce, one of a handful of white grape varieties native to Piedmont. Erbaluce is perhaps best known for its role in the sweet wines of Erbaluce di Caluso.   The communes covered by the Coste della Sesia DOC are divided between the Vercelli and Biella provinces. Many of the communes here – Gattinara and Lessona are just two examples – have their own DOCS or DOCGs“.

Thank you to winesearcher.com for clarifying.

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Nov
24

Alto Piemonte–Day 4 Gattinara

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One could easily say Gattinara is the most well known wine appellation of the Alto Piemonte.  150 years or so ago, there were apparently roughly 1600 acres planted to vine in Gattinara.  Today, I am told there is but only 230 or so acres still planted.  Undoubtedly the most revered estate of Gattinara (& some would say in all of Alto Piemonte, as well) is Antoniolo.  The estate was founded in 1948 & Gattinara was granted DOCG status in 1990.

This venerable estate is run by 3rd generation brother/sister–Alberto Antoniolo/Lorella Zoppis.  Alberto seems to be very quiet & reserved.  Lorella is quite outgoing, charismatic in a no nonsense kind of way, knowledgeable & VERY articulate.  She is a force & clearly has a vision & the tenacity to fulfill the promise.  Yup, this is some kind of wunderkind estate, much deserved of their highly revered status & their wines really impress & totally back up their reputation fully.

It was a crazy time, being harvest & winemaking & all.  We were so thankful for her time AND even her showing us their vineyards, despite the winemaking craziness & the onslaught of rain.

Today they own 18 hectares, 14 of which are working vineyards–focused on 5 parcels–(the soils are still very volcanic in origin, but mixed with many combinations of matter which vary from location to location)–

Osso San Grato–5 hectares, south facing, replanted in the 1974–very rocky, reddish soils with 1 foot topsoil–resulting in a more austere rendition with serious mojo & structure.  Typically in aged for 36 months in large 2500 liter barrels & 1 year in bottle.

San Francesco–3.5 hectares replanted in the 1974–more sand & rock, west facing–resulting in a more feminine, floral, pretty, ethereal rendition.  This wine is typically aged for 3 years in wood–16 months in OLD 350 liter & 500 liter barrels & then further aged in large 2500 liter barrels for 20 months.

Castelle–1 hectare–more of a west facing hilltop with deeper soils, less rocks & more sand to the mix, which was replanted in the 1985.  Typically the resulting wines have more color, more power, more forward & immediately pleasing & higher alcohol levels).  Typically 24 months in barrique & 1 year in 2500 liter barrel.

Each of these 3 parcels are bottled as single vineyards when warranted as well as used for their Gattinara normale bottling (36 months in large 2500 liter barrels).   These wines definitely have something to say AND profoundly so.

The fruit from their Borelle & Valferana vineyards is used more for their Nebbiolo “Juvenia” & the Bricco Lorella rose bottlings. 

 

Our next stop was to Franchino Mauro, also of Gattinara.  Franchino was one of Alto Piemonte’s true winemaking vignioli/icons, & passionately worked his vineyards *& made his wines, mostly by himself.  The estate is now run by nephew, Alberto Raviciotti.  They own roughly 3 hectares of vines (the core planted in 1967, the same year Gattinara was first granted DOC status) in Gattinara, roughly at 1350 feet elevation, southwest facing, on the banks of the Sesia River.  The soils are rocky granite intermixed with clay, iron, potassium & other minerals.  His Gattinara & his Nebbiolo “Coste della Sesia” are Nebbiolo made in the a traditional style in an old, stone cellar near the center of town.  A true garagiste.  The Gattinara spends 18 days on the skins, fermented without skins in concrete & spend 3 years in large, old botti (barrels) & at least 1 year in bottle before release.  While there is a new generation of winemaking helping to resurrect the wines of Alto Piemonte with a very different thought on what Nebbiolo can be, this is, in comparison, a more classical, wildly rustic, burly, robust, hearty, somewhat leaner style of Gattinara.  The 2015, in fact, was a throwback for me of how I remember Piemontese Nebbiolo to be–lighter in pigmentation with a dusty, dead leaves/humus, roasted chestnut, slight cocoa character with good acidity & drying tannins, which is proudly Gattinara.  

Nov
23

Alto Piemonte Day 3 Ghemme

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Ghemme is another of the denominations of the Alto Piemonte.  It too is quite small in size with roughly only 210 acres planted to vine, all scattered throughout the undulating hills throughout the region.  While porphyric/granite soils are a large influence in Ghemme, there are also vineyards which seem to have a little more clay to the mix, especially on the plateaus.

We were very fortunate to be recommended to visit & walk vineyards at 2 very respected estates from this appellation.

The first was at Mazzoni.  I should say, this estate came highly recommended to us, pre-trip, by Gilberto Boniperti & we are so thankful he opened this door.  We really loved this estate, the people & the wines.  Gilles & Agnese Mazzoni are now the 3rd generation of the family to run this small, 5 hectare estate.  Their youngest vines are only 10 years in age & his oldest more in the 35 to 40 year range.  One can readily see there is more clay to the soils than others in the appellation.  These are grassroots people & one can sense that immediately.  Though their winery is very small & actually located in at least 2 spots down an alley, I got strong sense of how organized & aware they are in both the vineyard & the winery.  One can tell when someone totally works a project completely from top to bottom & these are those kind of people.  I could also sense a real tenderness when they spoke about the first wine we tasted–Vino Bianco “Iris”–as it was named after their daughter.  It is 100% Erbaluce, from a just an acre or so, which is fermented in stainless steel using native yeast, after just 1 night on the skins, no malolactic done & then aged on the fine lees for 6 months.  The resulting wine had a stony minerality (reminiscent of a wine grown in quartz soils  I once tasted); was pure, rounded & a piquant, almond bitterness to the finish at 13% alcohol.  The 2018 Vespolina il Ricetto “Colline Novaresi” we tasted next was full of spice, somewhat peppery, with a lightness in the middle & very savory, minerally & very enjoyable.  The Vino Rosso “Elia” poured next was quite a surprise.  100% Barbera, 10 days on the skins then fermented & aged for 20 months in 3 year tonneaux barrels.  This was a rambunctious, masculine, hearty red wine that had obvious mojo & virility..  The 2017 “Colline Novaresi” is 100% Nebbiolo, which is fermented 1/2 in stainless & 1/2 in barrels with 18 months further aging in barrel.  Still quite masculine & savory AND so pure & honest qualities which made it compelling.  The 2015 Ghemme is 100% Nebbiolo & sees 24 months in barrels & 6 months in bottle before release.  This red has a lot more depth & mojo to its core & even more resoundingly earthy, roasty, savory & compelling.  We actually had this wine 3 times on this short trip & was quite taken each time.  Really solid wines & great people.  Yes, I would readily buy some for VINO.

The next stop was to Francesco Brigatti, another Ghemme producer, again highly recommended by Gilberto Boniperti & again that did NOT disappoint.  As a warm up, we savored a bottle of his 2016 Colline Novaresi “Mötfrei” at a small, husband & wife eatery one night at dinner.  We were entranced & the wine completely confirmed Boniperti’s high praise.  As far I could gather, Francesco is the 3rd generation & currently own 9 hectares of vineyards (6 hectares to Nebbiolo & 3 hectares mixed of Barbera, Vespolina, Uva Rara & Erbaluce) PLUS 1 hectare which they rent.  Their vineyards stretch over 3 hills–mostly moraine soils.  The Mötziflon is south-west facing with a predominance of a clay component; the Mötfrei has a southern exposure with a red sandy-loamed soil & the Campazzi is more westerly exposed and lies on a looser soil as it contains a higher percentage of sand.  Mötziflon & Mötfrei is the home turf for Nebbiolo.  When we arrived, Francesco was knee deep in unloading arriving grapes & having them crushed & destemmed.  He kindly stopped to take time for us.  Walking the vineyards & even tasting some of the grapes still on the vine clearly showed & confirmed how different the results were.   It also gave me time to better under the man behind the name.  He is a kind man, very thoughtful & respectful.  I later understood that even more, when I went to his parents’ home (adjacent to the winery) to help him carry some cheese, salumi, bread & water he graciously offered us while tasting his wines.  He was kind, gentle & so caring with his elderly parents & his mother beamed with such gratitude towards her son.  I was truly touched by the mutual respect & care they shared.  True family values.  Plus, we were so thankful for the morsels of food, as it had truly been a very long day of driving here & there, walking vineyards & tasting so many grapes & later wines.  Yes, we tasted a whole slew of his wines.  2018 Colline Novaresi “Montbello”–is his one white wine bottling–100% Erbaluce (35 year old vines), grown in more sandy soils.  After 1 night on the skins, the wine is wild yeast fermented for 2 weeks in stainless steel, pressed & then aged on fine lees for 3 months.  No ML.  Bottled in April.  I am not yet so hip on the Erbaluce grape variety, but, I do appreciate the white fruit, mineral thing with good frame & acidity….& therefore how vivacious, fresh & alive it is.  The 2018 Colline Novaresi “Selvalunga”–is uniquely 100% Uva Rara, done in stainless steel for 6 months & NO stems.  It has really pretty, enticing aromatics with prominent strawberry, cranberry, cherry fruit–very light, ethereal, minerally & upbeat.  In comparison, the 2018 Colline Novaresi “Maria”–is 100% Vespolina & therefore has more apparent acidity, tannins, alcohol & spice–clove, cinnamon & light pepper.  In comparison, the 2018 Colline Novaresi “Campazzi”–is 100% Barbera, aged for 6 months in old 500 liter tonneaux barrels to help round out & frame the Barbera’s wild side.  More browning in color to the edge, the core is more fruity, juicy, delicious & much more charming in personality.  We then tried the 2016 Colline Novaresi “Mötziflon”–85% Nebbiolo (20 to 35 year old vines grown in more clay soils), 10% Vespolina & 5% Uva Rara which is aged for 20 months in old, 3600 liter Slavonian oak.  It certainly had more pedigree & way more bravado–quite masculine, acidic, tannic with lots of tar & savory notes.  In comparison the 2016 Colline Novaresi “Mötfrei” is 100% Nebbiolo (30 year old vines planted in more sandy soils) & was therefore more gentle, though still very masculine, virile & structured.  The 2013 Ghemme is 100% Nebbiolo grown in more clay soils, fermented & aged on the skins for 3 months in concrete & then after ML, aged for 24 months in 2000 liter barrels.  This wine certainly had much more grandeur & class, although still quite macho & vehemently structured. 

At the end of the day, we paid a visit to Antichi Vignetti di Cantalupo, also in Ghemme.  While historically the roots can be traced back to the late 1500’s, the vines & winery really started in 1969, the same year Ghemme was granted DOC.  This is certainly one of the larger wineries we visited on this trip in physical size, owning 35 hectares of vineyards & producing roughly 15,000 cases spread out through 12 different wines/bottlings.  The majority of their plantings is Nebbiolo (90%), grown in moraine-clay soils (the core planted in 1977).  Sadly it was way too rainy to visit vineyards, but we were so fortunate to taste many different wines.  The Nebbiolo is aged only in barrels–a combination of 3000 liters, 6000 liters (Slavonian, 40 years in age) & some in 228 liter barrique.  The standout of their current releases was the 2011 Cantalupo Ghemme “‘Collis Breclemae”, a single, steep, very rocky vineyard–100% Nebbiolo raised in those large Slavonian oak barrels for 36 months.  Imagine being 8 years old & their current release!  The wine was surprisingly harmonious, especially in comparison to most of what we had been previously tasting.  We loved its savoriness, texture & harmony.  Being more pure & “clean” in style, this will win over lots of new wine friends.

Nov
20

Alto Piemonte–Day 2 Fara & Boca

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Our next stop was at Boniperti in the town of Barengo.  As we planned our trip, Gilberto Boniperti, was one of the first to confirm a visit.  He was also very helpful in introducing us to Cristiano Garella, who also consults for this winery AND also helped open the door to a few other producers–Mazzoni & Francesco Brigatti (more on each later) to name 2.  Gilberto owns but 4 hectares of vines–2 1/2 hectares of Nebbiolo (6 different “clones”), 1 hectare of Vespolina & 1/2 a hectare of Barbera.  His centerpiece wine is Fara, a village along the “tongue” shaped hills of Fara, Sizzano & Ghemme with similar soils & growing conditions.  Fara, he says has but 5 producers today, is warmer than Boca or Gattinara.  His soils have a strong iron component which creates the “blood” character of his wine.  During a dinner we had one night with Cristiano & Gilberto, I found him to be a warm, thoughtful, sensitive man who was so straightforward in a very kind, gracious manner.  He had wisdom & a depth of knowledge way beyond his years & approached it all in a very humble, almost unassuming style.  When walking his vineyard, one could see he tended his vines with care.  I was thrilled to hear, his Fara just received a Tres Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso–a HUGE achievement.  Imagine being highlighted in the Nebbiolo world ahead of many, many of the biggest, most prestigious names of Barolo & Barbaresco producers by the TOP Italian wine & food magazine.  HUGE….& I would wholeheartedly say deservedly so.  During our stay in the area, we had previously tasted his 2016 Barblin “Colline Novaresi”–100% Barbera, fermented in stainless steel with NO stems.  We loved its polish, transparency, refinement, balance & seamless texture.  Yes, I would definitely buy some for VINO.  In addition, with him, he graciously let us taste his 2017 Barblin, 2017 “Favolalunga” 100% Vespolina)–spicy, easy, softer, more gentle red; his NV Rosadisera Rose (100% Nebbiolo)–very pale pink in hue, NO ML–pure, stony (charcoal), tangy with a pungent bitter almond to the finish; his 2017 “Carlin”–(100% Nebbiolo Colline Novaresi)–with its characteristic rose petal, stony, savory nuances done with a much gentler, masterful touch. His Fara is undeniably standout & deftly shows why he is one of the chosen, New Age winemaking stars of northern Piemonte.  Gilberto certainly has a great touch & feel for his vineyards, grapes & his wines & is one to keep an eye out for.   PLUS, he is a really nice guy!

Our next visit was at Carlone, located in the Boca municipality.  Davide Carlone has quite a commanding personality & presence.  He is a strong leader & has the fire & perseverance to get his vision done.  He is a warrior.  This was very evident on our visit, as he orchestrated the last of his harvest (solely done by family & friends) at the last day, before the forecasted, looming

 

 

 

 

thunderstorms to hit the next morning.  While all of that going on, the grapes were being unloaded at the winery down the hill & fermentations already happening with grapes picked earlier.  Yes, it was very busy time.  We were so thankful that he stopped & made time for us both in the vineyard & insisting that we try his wines.  (This is yet another Cristiano Garella consulting project & Cristiano did make another appearance for us there–walking the vineyard, tasting grapes & spot  inspecting the grape selection process & the winemaking tasks).  Davide currently has roughly 10 hectares of vineyards, (& is also planning to plant the 2.5 hecatres above his current vineyard–on a much steeper & rockier terrain).  His main sites are at higher, cooler elevation–1350 feet–a combination of porphyric sand & porphyry rock (more tannins).  He prefers those east AND southeast facing.  As far as I could tell, Carlone has at least 7 different Nebbiolo vine selections, each having very different & unique character, as we munched on the grapes still on the vine ready to be picked.  (clone #71–1970’s from Langhe–had really good fruit & acid balance; #423–higher acidity, more refinement & more aromatics; #66–Lampia from the 70’s–higher yields, bigger bunches, less intensity in the skins; #185–Chiavennasca, Valtellina–juicy, higher acidity & lovely aromatics; #308–medium small grapes, savory & aromatic & #142–Altare/La Spinetta 1990’s–sweeter, more viscous, earthy aromatics).    Of all of the wineries we visited, he certainly was the last to harvest, which at least partially explains why his resulting wines are more forward, generous & textural.  We were also quite taken with all of his Slavonian oak barrels of different sizes.    His wines were quite stunning, classy, quite polished, seamless & well worth seeking out. Yes siree, his style of Boca is one that will attract much attention, win many accolades & therefore create droves of followers from the sommelier community without being overdone or blatant.  I should also add, that several of the “barrel samples” Davide let us taste from 2017 & 2018 featured the #423 “clone of Nebbiolo with some Vespolina added & will be aged for at least 24 months in 2540 liter barrels.  I don’t think that was by coincidence.

Another Boca winery we were able to visit (though on a different day) was Poderi ai Valloni.  I list it here for geographic convenience for the reader, since they too are located in Boca.  There are but 5 towns in the municipality of Boca & only 12 producers.  Poderi ai Valloni sits at the highest elevation (1650 feet)  with but 3.5 hectares of vineyards, mostly hillside. southeast to southwest facing.  These are also the oldest plantings in Boca–the majority planted in the 1960’s.  This area was once part of an ancient volcano which imploded & therefore has volcanic porphyric soils, some yellow-ish & some reddish & is actually inside a national park–Mount Fenera (2014 UNESCO–geopark).  Although I had previously heard of this estate, I would quite candidly say it was not on anyone’s TOP, “must see” visits whether in print or with the people I spoke with…..EXCEPT Marina Olwen Fogarty of Vallana wines, also based in Boca.  She insisted that I should visit Poderi ai Valloni & in hindsight I am so thankful she insisted.  It was with such an extreme pleasure to drive to the secluded hilltop estate to meet with Anna Sertorio, the current matriarch that runs their family estate.  I am in total awe of her & I have even much more respect for her after this visit.  She is so gracious, articulate, charming & kind with quiet patience to my many questions.  She is totally the heart & soul of the estate, visionarily & culturally AND all with a very reverent respect for the land & her family’s legacy.  It was all so resoundingly heartfelt for me & I was so thankful to be in her presence, hear her words first hand & feel her passion & sincerity at the same time.  OMG!  What an aaamazing experience.  The estate is breathtaking in its panoramic location & view.  The vineyards have a sense of solemn serenity & in a “time stand still” setting, undulating around the curve of the hilltop it sits on…..like a perfect sculpture.  I could feel a very warm aura from the site as we walked up, down & around.  It was certified organic in 2011.  The winery itself also had quite a feel that was not scientific or laboratory like.  It was stylishly kept & yet seemed so practical.  Old concrete vats, large barrels–2000 liters, 2500 liters & 3000 liters with a stash of 3 year old, used Gaja barrique & some 300 liter & 500 liter tonneaux.  The wines were really quite charming, classy & well made.  It came as a big surprise when we found out that her winemaker is Matteo Baldin, who joined the team in 2017.  (My cousin had earlier noted his name was on the entrance gate, as we drove up).  This was the same winemaker I had tried to track down & secure an appointment with, during my pre-trip planning!  I have been told by several he is a relatively undiscovered New Age winemaking phenom I should keep an eye out on.  I really think this estate has all of the pieces in place, especially with Anna Sertorio at the helm, to be one of the real “IT” wineries of northern Piemonte.  This was such a serendipitous, truly & unexpectedly memorable visit I will treasure forever.

Our next stop was to Vallana, also well renown for their Boca wines. In the late 1950’s, I have been told this venerable, iconic Nebbiolo driven Alto Piemontese estate used to stand alongside such highly revered Barolo standouts as Giacomo Conterno & Bartolo Mascarello for producing prodigious, glorious Nebbiolo based red wines.  Antonio Vallana’s great grandchildren–Marina Olwen Fogarty & her brother Francis Bernardo Fogarty have now taken over the estate–the vineyards & the winery–& are looking to resurrect this sleeping giant.  During the pre-trip planning, this was actually the first winery I contacted because of a sampling of a bottle of 2007 Vallana Gattinara I had purchased while on a trip to the mainland U.S..  I loved its masculinity & inherent savoriness & complexities, done in a very civil, intriguing, stylish manner.  It wasn’t grand cru-esque by any means, but it was very interesting, masculine without being hard & quite stirring.  A prompt, enthusiastic & welcoming reply came back from Marina Olwen Fogarty.  Despite this would be harvest time & all of its hectic work hours, she not only welcomed us to visit their vineyards & estate, she also helped open doors to other producers, most notably Poderi ai Valloni of Boca & Antoniolo & Franchino Mauro, both of Gattinara.  Marina was a super dynamic, charismatic force of passion & Master of Wine quality knowledge.  She was so articulate & patiently & thoroughly presented all of the details in a way that we all got it……..a rare combination.  Curiously she spoke with a heavy British accent, despite being born & raised in the area.  (Her father was British, her mother was a Vallana–which explained it all).  This estate was founded in 1937 & currently has 3 hectares in Boca (several small, high elevation parcels of super rocky soils with very little topsoil, planted in 1970’s), & 1 hectare in Gattinara (replanted in the 1960’s/1970’s).  (She also took us to see a small museum display which showed how a super volcano imploded resulting in a myriad of soils–granite, kinzigite, gabro foliate, peridotite & milonite–one of the few spots on earth with so many different soils.  In addition over the years there were also quite amount of seabed influence as well).  All quite interesting & telltale.  As we walked one of their Boca crus, one could readily see how thin the topsoil was & how incredibly rocky the site was.  Because it had rained hard the night before & during the morning, the sand mix was also quite evident & prevalent, because of how well & quickly it drained.  I was sad to hear that they lost 50% of their crop this year due to foraging by the wild animals, a malady that was true in all of the Alto Piemontese regions (& also Liguria), which has sharply risen over the past 4 to 5 years.  Because of this atrocity & the fact that these animals are protected by the government, many are looking at fencing (& electrical fencing for those that can afford it) to help curtail the problem.  Marina pointed to one of her other prized, high elevation rocky parcels across the way, noting they lost nearly everything in that parcel this year.  OMG.  The wild deer, also will not only eat the grapes but may strip the vine of leaves, bark & all.  BIG challenge!  We then first tasted their 2007 Boca (70% Nebbiolo & 30% Vespolina)–18 months in large barrel, 1 year in concrete & 4 years in bottle before release.  It still was quite the untamed beast full of spice, stems, savory notes–roasted chestnuts, forest floor–& still quite tannic.  We then tried THREE of their Gattinara–2015, 2008 & 2002.  Each were quite masculine, rustic, leanly built, though hearty & savory to the core with lots of structure & forest floor nuances.  Through all of the challenges this sister-brother dynamic duo have their sights on moving this iconic estate to new stages.  Already 90% of their production is exported, which is a huge accomplishment.   The legacy continues at this estate & it seems like a new birth is underway.

Nov
17

Alto Piemonte–the introduction

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I had dreamt of visiting Alto Piemonte since my first glass of Gattinara back in the late 1970’s.  It was an old crusty bottle, which had only a partial label with no apparent vintage date to be seen.  The cork was also old school looking & was as weathered as the bottle.  The wine poured was very brick-ish/orange hued & one could easily see through it & read a written page.  The perfume was glorious, majestic & VERY haunting, which is why I remember it still today so vividly.  Yes, it was an aha moment.

It has taken almost 40 years, but I finally was able to go & visit the area. 

Alto Piemonte is today a relatively “under the radar screen” wine growing area, roughly 100 miles from the Alba, the epi-town of Barolo, Barbaresco & the more famous Piemontese wines.

One of the benefits of being 100 miles northeast of Barolo country, means a closer proximity to the Alps & specifically Mount Rosa, the second highest mountain in Europe. This of course can at least partially explain the myriad of volcanic type soils, BUT, one should also consider the overall much cooler microclimates. (If you believe the regional old adage–closer to the mountains, generally, the cooler the temperatures).

Historically, Alto Piemonte was more famous than Barolo for their red wines back in the old days.  At its peak there were roughly 40,000 hectares planted.  Today, there is maybe only 1,000 hectares of vines & the wines have since fallen into the shadow of both Barolo & Barbaresco.

One of the reasons for the sharp decline of planted acreage was the catastrophic phylloxera devastation in the mid to late 1800’s, which wiped out the vineyards.  Many chose not to continue because of the extremely high costs & intense effort it would take to replant the steep hillsides.  Adding to the decline was the departure of many who chose to instead work in the growing industrial industry, especially in the nearby city of Milan, where the work was less back breaking/strenuous & paid much more.

I was so interested & ready to delve into this very different & unique Nebbiolo world.  (I would have loved to also have explored Valtellina, but will save that for a different trip).  The grape mixings are different, as are the soils & microclimates–all generating a VERY different perspective on what Nebbiolo can be AND at much lower pricing than most Barolo or Barbaresco.

There are 7 main denominations of Alto Piemonte–Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Sizzano, Fara, Ghemme & Gattinara.  Each have undulating, rolling hills, the highest being around 1650 feet in elevation.  The base of the soils is volcanic with a plentitude of varying porphyric soils. 

The crown jewel native grape variety is Nebbiolo to which there is also lesser amounts of Vespolina, Croatina & Uva Rara planted.  Historically, it was the Nebbiolo of Alto Piemonte which shined, even over the southern neighbors of Barolo & Barbaresco.

Each denomination has by law a different % mix of the permitted grape varieties.

So, off we went, in search of adventure & new wine “finds”.

We left Alba originally wanting to take a slight detour to Carema, an hour & a half or so out of the way hoping to visit Ferrando, but could not get an appointment there.  It was harvest for goodness sake, so totally understandable.  (We had a bottle of their wine later & I was sorry to have missed this opportunity).  Maybe next time.

Though I was somewhat disappointed, nixing Carema off of our travel list meant we could drive directly to Alto Piemonte & thereby saving ourselves at least 3 hours.

Cheryle decided, after much digging around, to make our base in the town of Cureggio at an agriturismo named La Cappucina.  Located in a small field, it seemed more like a farm in locale, with all of the animals & the remote setting.  It was so peaceful, tranquil & it was truly a GREAT place to stay & enjoy the countryside serenity.  Interestingly, it also had, as we soon found out, the finest restaurant of the whole area by chef/owner Gianluca Zanetta & his lovely gracious wife Raffaella (who was the front of the house person).  Such incredible gracious service & attention to detail.  In addition, as we soon found out, Gianluca is also one of the foremost wine experts of the region & its wines.  He kindly gave us hours of insight & advice AND his wine selection was all of the notable wines of the area.  It really turned out to be the perfect place to stay.

I should thank my cousin Mike for his gracious, good fun company, his doing all of the driving & researching & selecting dining experiences.  And, to my wife Cheryle for her incredible searching out & plotting all of the travel courses, hotel reservations & directions.  I am so thankful also because they both have passion for seeing these kinds of vineyards, visiting & talking story with such incredible wine people & braving the vast amount of miles we drive every day in our search.

In Alto Piemonte, I also need to thank–Gianluca & Raffaella Zanetta of La Cappucina; superstar winemaking consultant Cristiano Garella & Marina Olwen Fogarty & Gilberto Boniperti for responding so quickly to our pleas & helping us open the doors to so many fantastic wine artists.  And, to all of the wineries who wholeheartedly welcomed us & took the time, at harvest, to tell us their story & share all of their insights & wisdoms.

It was a truly a most memorable trip.

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Nov
15

Alto Piemonte–Day 1 Bramaterra

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Alto Piemonte can be subdivided into 7 main denominations–a cluster of Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Sizzano & Fara–roughly 2 hours drive northeast of Langhe. Pre-trip, I had little idea of how compact Alto Piemonte really is.  Thankfully each destination is only about 15 to 30 minutes or less from each other.

In its hey day way back when, I read Alto Piemonte had roughly 40,000 hectares of vineyards at its height.  Today, there may be 1,000 or so hectares.  I was also told there are only about 40, maybe 50 at the most producers today within the region.  Pre-trip, I had no idea.  Still, researching & finding which vineyards & which wineries to try & visit was the challenge, as there is not a whole lot of objective information & insight out there.

One of the serendipitous breakthroughs to our pre-trip planning, however, was “hooking” up with Cristiano Garella, who happens to be the top winemaking consultant of the whole region (at least 21 projects).  I believe it was partly because of star winemaker/Tres Bicchieri awardee Gilberto Boniperti of Fara & partly because of Oliver McCrum, a prominent Berkeley based Italian wine importer.  How it really came to be, I am not sure, BUT, Cristiano paid so much attention to us & opened up so many doors & opportunities for us & we are forever thankful.

Looking back, I wonder if our trip would have been nearly as insightful & fulfilling without Cristiano & Gianluca?

As our planned visit to a producer in Lessona fell through at the last moment, we started our first day in Bramaterra.

Bramaterra is the largest denomination of the cluster with at least 7 municipalities/towns within.  The aspects, microclimates & soils therefore can differ greatly.  Our first stop was Colombera & Garella, located in Masserone, & a joint project between Giacomo Colombera & Cristiano Garella.   This estate has 2 hectares in Masserano, 1 hectare in Lessona & 5 hectares in Roasio.  What immediately caught our attention was the dark, reddish, iron rich soils of their Masserano vineyard–1 hectare of 70 year old vines & the other 1 hectare was more like 25 year old vines, at our first stop.  This is quite different from many of the other Bramaterra vineyards & their porphyry-sand mixed soils we saw & walked.  The Colombera & Garella 2016 Bramaterra (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) therefore has more dark, base notes with a “blood” like nuance to its core & aroma.  Their wines were very impressive–more civil, balanced, well textured & sultry.  I would also say, this estate will only be getting better & better moving forward with the inclusion of Cristiano Garella’s expertise.  Their special soil is a GREAT start.   

Cristiano made a quick stop, still in Bramaterra, to show us how different the soils can be in the DOC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was to Le Pianelle, yet another Cristiano Garella project.  There are actually 5 partners–Dieter Heuskel, Peter Dipoli, working partners–Fabio, Andrea & Cristiano.  They vineyards are mostly in Bramaterra, one in the town of Brusnengo–porphyry-sand soils, replanted in 2007 & one in Roasio–50 year old vines in the vertically remote hills (closer to the mountains & therefore much cooler) at 1600 feet in elevation & red porphyry & gravel soils, some sand & virtually no clay.  Their 2016 Bramaterra red (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) was so intriguingly savory–more base notes of earth, roasted chestnuts, worn saddle leather, with a light touch of smoke & musk.  It was very masculine, virile yet still so well balanced & surprisingly polished.  This is certainly another estate on the rise & worth keeping an eye out for.  It was a terrific, memorable opportunity to be there at harvest, so we could try grapes still on the vine, different grape juice as they were fermenting & some from other vintages.

 

Our next stop, thanks again in kind, to Cristiano, was at Antoniotti, also in Bramaterra.  It was not originally on our pre-trip radar screen, but with HUGE endorsements from Cristiano Garella & Gianluca Zanetta at La Cappucina, we were so thankful Cristiano made a visit possible, eventhough it was harvest.  This truly iconic estate was founded in 1861 & is currently run by Odilio (father), & his son Mattia who has recently joined his father full time..  They own but 5.5 hectares of vines, including Martinazzi Cru” a breathtaking, steep, rocky (volcanic porphyry–low organic matter) Bramaterra hillside plus 1 hectare of another steep hillside of 70 year old vines across the way.  (His latest vineyard addition is 1 hectare planted above on the steepest, rockiest site.  The vines are only 2 years old & I am really anxious to taste what this parcel will produce).  Odilio, now 77 years young in age, is undeniably from the old school of the region–its grass roots thoughts, philosophies & traditional minded ways, both in the vineyard & the winery.  I was totally taken by this wise, very thoughtful wine “yoda” & his young, energetic, uplifting son Mattia.  (It thankfully seems, we always seem to run across such a wine maestro/vigneron like this in every Old World wine region we visit).  Although he prudently uses stainless steel in his winemaking, he seems to prefer old concrete (1901) totally underground & older, large oak (1250 liters, & 1700 liters) for his aging.  (His Bramaterra, for instance, is typically 70% Nebbiolo, 7% Vespolina, 20% Croatina & 3% Uva Rara, aged for 30 months in such vessels!).  Odilio Antoniotti produces glorious Bramaterra–something truly special, personal & soulful.  Stylistically, this wine reminds me of those from but a small handful of Barolo-meisters back in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  This is definitely a wine to search out!  I left Odilio with a most touching memory.  While I asked Mattia all of these questions about the vineyards, the vines, the winemaking, while we were in the vineyard, Odilio was off to the side, trying to break open one of the rocks in his vineyard.  He finally succeeded after 20 minutes or so of working it.  He then proudly showed us the core of the rock, which showed some kind of red quartz & smatterings of limestone, which was unlike anything else I saw in Alto Piemonte.  He beamed as a father would when showing his newborn baby.  I will always remember this special moment, as it will remind me how it was this soil, HIS soil, which this 77 year old true wine master treasured & proudly showed us.  Incredible!

Yes, what an incredible day this really was.

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