Posted by: jmbwineblog | August 24, 2010

Forza Piemonte (Parte Uno; Introduction & La Morra)

Well, here we go on our never ending journey through the wonderful world of Piemontese wines. OK, so I have to put a caveat in here and say that we only visited about 20 producers over 4 days, and considering there are over 60 in La Morra (one of 11 villages where you are legally allowed to make Barolo) and then you have various other appelations, this is simply going to be a little tit-bit, a mere snidgen of information, a little something to get your taste buds going as I take you on my whistle-stop tour of Piemonte in May of this year.

Due to tight scheduling, it was a very swift early morning trip to Heathrow in order to get on our thankfully uneventful flight to Malpensa and wait for the many others who were to be making this escapade with us. After a few frantic phonecalls, removal of notepads and cameras from bags, we were off with our large glasses in tow… the first bottle was opened on the bus. No less than one of our generous hosts wines that he imports into Denmark!

2007 Barbera d’Alba DOC; Negro Giuseppe

wood, vanilla, modern and round. Coconut, plum, cherry, vanilla, wood, spice but with a delicacy that you don’t expect. Mocha, cranberry, fairly open, violets. Could do with a little more time for the wood to properly integrate. ***(*++)

Wine on the Bus (and out of Magnum)!

We shiftly moved on down the road in the bus to our first destination in La Morra for lunch. Seeing the scenery is one thing, but the wines make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable and exciting. La Morra as mentioned above is one of 11 villages where Barolo can legally be produced, and is essentially the heartbeat of the appelation, with its steeper sided vineyards, village on top of the hill, it also is one of the highest points in the DOCG. With its rich clay soils, you tend to see some wonderful rich mineral charactar, whilst maintaining the freshness and acid due to the altitude (roughly 600m above sea level at the highest points). From here you can get a stunning view of nearly all of the Barolo’s designated areas.

Our first stop was at the Restaurant Osterio Veglio; a very traditional restaurant with excellent home-made food and some exciting wines from across the region, not to mention some wonderful views across the land.

View from the Restaurant of the vine lands.

The beauty of Piemonte is unquestioned, and the wines are regal in themselves.

We started with a 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Colombe: Renato Ratti; a winery all but a stones throw away from the restaurant, damsons, vanilla, cherry, a touch of wood, perfume, dusty, grainy fine tannins, oak, easy drinking, approachable, inextravagent, plum, earth, simple but good. ****

Next up was a 2008 Barbera d’Alba; Mauro Veglio; a touch more depth, spice, a bit more wood, plum, concentrated, bramble, forest fruits, stones, earth, damsons, floral notes, very nice earhty, dusty, plum, cassis finish, herbs and vegetal undertones, mineral. ****(*+?)

The next wine, was a bit of a revelation simply because it was so young, but so expressive already, pure Nebbiolo, unadulterated and with plenty of time ahead of it. 2009 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC; Gavarini: Elio Grasso; very juice-esque colour, damsons, no oak, cherry, red plum, mushroom, truffle, mineral, bramble, lively acidity and strong tannins, earth, a touch hollow now but it’s very young. Tar, minerals, complex with the flavour really starting to push through; a touch green on the finish but it is already drinkable. Herbs and mint. ***(**+)

Which lead us nicely into a Barolo, again from La Morra and from the much derided 2005 vintage. Fortunately, I think 2005 harps back to a more classic Nebbiolo vintage with its high acid levels, and grainy tannins that take a long time to resolve, but not being overripe the wines tend to be more approachable and give far more pleasure than most 04s and 06s, but will age in most cases for well over 25 years from vintage. 2005 Barolo DOCG, Gattera; Fratello Ferrero di Renato Ferrero: earth, minerals, tar, earth, mushrooms, meaty, rich but delicate. Cherry, plum, curants, minerals, iron, white truffle, earth, stone, wild raspberry, complex, nice delicate herbiness. Superb freshness, soft tiny grainy tannins, lovely bramble, mineral, cherry, strawberry finish. Approachable now but will simply continue to improve. ****(**+)

The final wine over lunch was one that I didn’t expect to blow me away, but it did and I’m glad it did, as I have never until this trip to piemonte had any true respect for this wine, and it is good that I had my eyes opened by some serious wine-making and some lovely expressive wines from this distinctly Piemontese wines.

2009 Saracco;  Moscato d’Asti DOC: lemon, lime, elderflower, flowers, delicate, rose, rosewater, depth and complexity!! Mineral and stony. Lovely! *****+

Next up we moved slightly down into the valley, which is part of the La Morra designated area for winemaking, but not in the village proper to visit one of those wineries that somehow takes you back to by-gone eras, in order to get a feel for the way wines used to be made. The Romantic as oppose to the modern settings for wine in Piemonte…

Cascina del Monastero:

A winery run by a husband and wife who bought an old monastery and the vines attached to eat, making very traditional wines that smell of the past, and make you feel that you are living in the medieval period.

You can see that nobody was interested in the Monk's quarters!!

The real beauty of this producer is that the wines are very clasically styled, and for the quality of the wines that you get, the prices are very reasonable. We sampled only four of their wines, but none of them let the side down… well worth a visit to this cosy, friendly winery.

2008 Dolcetto d’Alba Superiore DOC; Rodino: cassis, chocolate, coffee, earth, plum, sour cherry, soft and easy,  vanilla and spice. Balanced, dense, coconut. Needs another few years. Herbs, minerals, earth, dark plum, menthol, rosemary, cassis on the finish. ***(*[*+?])

2006 Barbera d’Alba DOC: More lifted cherry, plum, wild raspberry, herbs, spice, earth, minerals, cassis, wood spice, tobacco, nice concentration and density, earthy, spicy chilli, mushroom, bramble, sous bois. Slightly vegetal but not unpleasantly so. Changes constantly, complex. Very good. ****(*++)

2005 Nebbiolo D’Alba DOC: minerals, stones, sweet, crystalline expressive cherry, plum, earth, truffle, wood, but fresh, strong but gentle tannins, wood spice and pepper, a vegetal streak of herbs and thyme. Tar, still needs a lot of time for the classically styled tannins to resolve, but this has great potential. Tobacco, cedar, earth, expresso, dark plum. ***(**++)

2004 Barolo DOCG; Bricco Riund: ripe, round and appealing, crystalline fruit, cherry,  plum, strawberry, herbs,  mushroom, minerals, stones, earth, tar, soft and elegant, mineral but with depth and concentration. HErbs, peas, earth, dust, grippy tannins. The best of the four wines by a long shot, but it needs a lot of time but showing excellent promise. No hints of overripeness, and nice herby charactar to the wine as well. ***(***) This wine really is a steal at only 23 EUROS a bottle at the cellar door. Although not a wine that you are unlikely to find outside of Piemonte, let alone Italy.

So next we were back on the bus, and climbing right to the top of La Morra to visit a man who makes wines at the very top of the hill. We were in for a treat as the weather was fine, the views were better, but they were no match for the wine.

Andrea Oberto

Relatively speaking, Andrea is a new kid on the block, you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at the man himself. He started by working for other winemakers, before inheriting a small patch of vines (about 4 hectares) from his father and started to make his own wines as oppose to selling the grapes to the Co-Op. This is certainly a good thing as all his wines are very very special and deserve serious consideration. Although he charges what most would consider to be a lot for his wines, when compared to other wines of a similar quality, he averages out at about half the price of his contemporaries! He now has 16 hectares, and produces between 80 to 100,000 bottles of all his cuvees per vintage. The majority of his vines lie on clay soil. He is a touch apprehensive about his 2010s as hail hit the vineyards of La Morra very badly just two days before we arrived, meaning that there will be no green harvesting… if the weather isn’t good, those grapes won’t ripen!! All his rosebushes (see picture below) were utterly decimated by the hail.

Discussing the wines and production techniques.

Decimated Roses and Vines after the Hail.

2008 Barbera d’Alba DOC, San Giuseppe: this comes from 13 year old vines, 40% of which are aged in French Oak (half barrique, half tonneau) and a further 60% of which ages in stainless steel. spice, herbs, plum, cassis, earth, minerals, nice freshness, pepper, tar, tobacco, soft tannins, nicely balanced, bold, round, thyme, mint, damson, violets. Needs a bit more time to calm and settle into something really nice. ***(*+)

2006 Barbera d’Alba DOC, Giada: this wine is made from 68 year old vines and spends 18 months in new oak (effectively, you could consider this a Superiore), oak, wood, spice, vanilla, tar, cassis, dark plum, coffee, mocha, chocolate, expresso, deep, concentrated, balanced, chilli, soft tannins, mouthfilling, wild raspberry, stones, and minerals, damsons. Highly concentrated. Hard to fathom now but it has the stuffing, complexity and concentration to last about 10+ years. Superbly poised. ***(**+). 2012-2020+

2005 Fabio, Langhe Rosso DOC: 60% Nebbiolo and 40% Barbera, this spends 16-18 months in new oak. Cheese, bramble, tar, cassis, plum, iron, minerals, earth, forest floor, truffles, strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, fresh and lifted, wet soil, clay, violets, flowers, roses, tannin overpowers the finish of tar, blackberries, tobacco, truffle and earth, poised, coffee, chocolate and expresso. ***(**+) 2014-2025+

2005 Barolo DOCG, Vigneto Rocche; this is a vineyard that is 30 hectares and is shared between 18 producers. Andrea has one eighth of a hectare and produces roughly 4,500 bottles every vintage. The wine is mainly aged in big barrels in a traditional style, 6 months in new botte, and 18 months in old. It rained just before harvest giving the grapes more acid and a touch more tannin. lifted, bright red fruits, strawberry, raspberry, red plum, cherry, cranberry, herbs, tobacco leaf, tar, fresh, grainy tannins, good acidity, sous bois, wet soil, white truffle, roses, rosewater, lifted and expressive, tar, earth, wet soil, tobacco, truffle, enlightening, rose petal, licquorice, violets, coffee bean, expresso, fabulous, crystalline, effervescent and beguiling finish, long, mineral, stones, clay, bright, earth. ****(**++) 2018-2040+

2006 Barolo DOCG, Vigneto Rocche: a much hotter, rounder, riper vintage, considered to be one of the classics, like 2004. Vinification and ageing is the same as the 2005. tarry, round, cassis, subdued, coffee, expresso, deep, powerful, mushroom, wild raspberry, dense and concentrated, plum, cassis, mocha, big tannins, tough and muscular; needs a lot more time. Tar, roadkill, alcohol, wood, spice. **(***+++) 2022-2040

Next up we drove back down towards the valley to visit another up and coming name in La Morra, and a winemaker who had provided one of our wines at lunch.

Mauro Veglio

Again a small husband and wife team with a number of different crus, and a number of single vineyard plots, which increased with Mrs Veglio inheriting a number of her own families plots. All are produced under the Mauro Veglio label. The crus come from La Morra and Monforte d’Alba.

Overlooking Arborina from Mauro Veglio's window!

Birger Vejrum (left, langhe-vine.dk), Mr. Veglio (centre), Mrs Veglio (right)

2008 Dolcetto d’Alba DOC: damsons, plums, perfume, coffee, easy, fresh, clean, wood, wood spice, cedar, herbs, bright fruit. Easy drinking. *****-

2008 Barbera d’Alba DOC: deep concentrated, red plum, damsons, minerals, a touch stronger and more structured than the Dolcetto, but again a very easy, approachable wine. ****+

2006 Barbera d’Alba DOC, Cascina Nuova: deep, red and black plum, coffee, chocolate, wood spice, tobacco, nice concentration, balance, soft round tannin, currants, violets, anise, herbs, mineral charactar is similar to the straight Barbera. Earth, soil, rock, still needs a year or two to open a bit more. 2011-2016+ ****(*+?)

2006 Barolo DOCG: wild raspberry and strawberry, cherry, tar, earth, wet soil, clay, minerals, wet rock, soft tannin, slightly herby, sous bois, vanilla, anise, spice, tobacco, light and fresh but with the balance to age. Elegant! ***(**+)

2005 Barolo  DOCG, Vigneto Arborina: lifted, cranberry and strawberry, tar, earth, truffle, soil, stones, minerals, concentrated. Wild raspberry, strawberry, cherry, plum, zippy, elegant, herbs, raw meat, roses, rosewater, eucalyptus, menthol, white truffle, flowers. Grainy tannins, lacks real poise but is still very nice. ***(**+)

2005 Barolo DOCG, Castelletto: more depth, earthy, mineral charactar, herbs, menthol, sandy, rock, concentrated, poised, plum, dark cherry, coffee, tobacco, cedar, roses, rock, pebble stones, very deep, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, tar, tarmac, leather, cooked meat. ***(***+)

One thing you can say about these wines, is that they are fresh, crisp, minerally, and have the ability to age. Not as exciting perhaps as the wines of Andrea Oberto, but they are lovely lovely wines with serious quality and an elegance to them. Again they are also decent value.

And so it was back to the Hotel for a quick rest, and then to Dinner in the Hotel Restaurant, where the food was decent, and the wines provided by those outside the Hotel were very very nice. Unfortunately, after some high hopes, the wines that the Hotel themselves produce from their own vines left much to be desired.

Vines by our room at the Hotel

More views from the Hotel!

2007 Dolcetto d’Alba, Pian della Masche; Crissante Allesandria: dark plum, herbs, dense but delicate. Cassis, plum, raspberry, cherry, wood, vanilla, wet stones, pebble stones, minerals, soft, elegant, and opening up nicely in the glass. ****(*)

2006 Rugé; Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Crissante Allesandria: from 80  year old vines. pepper, spice, cassis, black plum, scorched earth, mineral, blueberries, vanilla, coconut, wood, chilli, concentrated, deep, tobacco, spice, cedar, coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa, round, soft, mint, cranberry jam, prune (only slightly). Powerful, modern, young but very good. Flint, charcoal, burnt matches. *****+

2005 Nebbiolo d’Alba; Cantine de il Convento: produced by the Hotel from their vines. prune, figs, tar, fairly extracted, earth, perfume, cranberry, meat, stewed strawberry, tarmac, sandstone, dusty, minerals, clay, wet soil, forest floor, decaying. Soft tannins. Simple and boring, OK with the meat. ***-

1998 Barolo Riserva; Cantine de il Convento: tar, more vibrant nose, grass, minerals, cranberry, wild strawberry, meaty, truffle, leather, fur, tar, wild stewed raspberry, sous bois, forest floor, soft integrated tannin, racy but mature acidity, prune, wet soil, wet clay, iron, easy and vibrant but not great… better than the previous wine. Short finish. ****

NV Moscato d’Asti; Ariano & Ariano: lemon, lime, elderflower, citrus, simple, sweet, grape, white licquorice, fruit salad sweets, decent. ***(*)

Then it was to bed… we would be drinking in excess of 60 wines the following day, but as you will find out, it was certainly worth the effort.

Until next time…

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