Category Archives: Italian wine

Chianti classico finds its soul

The thirty miles between Florence and Siena takes you through one of the most famous landscapes in the world of wine.  But while the landscape has enduring appeal – gently undulating hills, now smart renovated farms, vineyards, cypresses, woodlands, more vineyards, medieval towns and castles – the wine is little understood.

Line drawing from Hugh Johnson, Tuscany and its wines

This is because the second half of the last century saw this famous name go down all sorts of blind alleys.  It is an undoubtedly an historic wine but one that has only recently begun to settled down with a clear identity. The debate has focused on:

  • the zone:  the classic area was given its first designation by Cosima III de’ Medici back in 1716 but in the 1930s the name of Chianti was bestowed on a vast area of central Tuscany between Pisa and Arezzo and well south of Siena.  It was not until 1996 that the Classico zone was redefined as the historic area between the two historic Tuscan cities.  But how many consumers know the difference between Chianti Classico and Chianti?
  • mass market or quality wine? The 1970s and 80s saw subsidised expansion of  land under vine at the lowest cost and with no regard for quality and the result.  The result was a lot of IMG_5366mediocre wine.  By contrast the Chianti 2000 project undertook research into clones of Sangiovese and has enabled Chianti Classico to head in the quality direction. It was spurred on of course by the fame and fortune that was being made by those creating the Super Tuscans, wines made from French grape varieties especially on the Tuscan coast.
  • the blend: at least since the later nineteenth century this has been Sangiovese plus secondary additions of other grapes to soften the wine.  Up to 20% of the other local grape varieties (usually Canaiolo, Malvasia nera, Colorino) gives you one result; 20% of Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah a completely different one.  So should Classico be a defined Tuscan style or a international red with a Tuscan twist?
  • oak ageing: should the wines be aged in small French barriques, older or newer, or in traditional, larger Slavonian oak barrels?  Or in other words should the fruit have a suave aroma of vanilla and tobacco or the more neutral if perceptible notes of balsamic, cloves and leather?

These questions were given a pretty clear answer in a blind tasting of Chianti Classico wines from the very good 2006 vintage, mostly sourced from the Wine Society.  The selection may of course simply reflect the preferences of their buyers but it showed that Classico does now have a clear identity:

  • pale to mid ruby red
  • distinctive aromas of sour cherry, fresh and dried fruit plus a moderate veneer of oak ageing
  • an absolute maximum of 10% of non-IMG_5388Tuscan grapes.  More than that and the wines may be good but they won’t be Chianti Classico in style, whatever it says on the label
  • good fruit on the palate (but certainly not fruit led) with moderate to high acidity and tannins. The wine at this quality level is  no longer either thin or tough as it was in the past, but it is no pushover either – it is quite rightly a wine of medium intensity, complex, lively and refreshing.
  • an excellent wine to accompany food including fatty/salty food such as prosciutto or tomato based sauces; good persistence.

Chianti Classico seems to have found its proper and distinctive place in a world awash with big, fruit led, wines – and long may it continue in this style.

The wines

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Monteraponi 2006, £14

90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12 months 70% in 23hl casks of Allier oak and 30% second passage barriques.  Pale ruby, medium intensity aromas, nice pretty palate of cherry leading in the raspberry and strawberry direction, lowish acidity, subtle.  Good plus.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Chianti Classico 2006, made by Cecchi from the Villa Cerna estate, £7.50 Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes, but the proportions not declared.  Mid ruby, not a fruity nose but spices, eg cloves, good fruit on the palate which faded in intensity quite quickly but then persisted at a lower level, good plus.  Worthwhile introduction to the style and held its own with wines up to nearly twice the price

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Villa Calcincaia 2006, £11.25

80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Merlot, 18 months in Slavonian oak.  Initially muted nose which then opened up, quite perfumed, slightly intenser than average of this field, greater acidity, powerful, quite long if not very complex finish.  The relatively substantial amount of Merlot does not dominate the wine.

IMG_5364Brolio 2006, £13 The website unhelpfully says: Sangiovese with small addition of other grapes, but probably with some French grapes in the mix because of a deeper colour with a continuing purple tinge. Very good fruit but not a clear Sangiovese profile (?Merlot), good persistence.  Very good if heading towards an international style.

Fonterutoli 2006, £16. 90% Sangiovese; 5% Malvasia Nera and Colorino; 5% Merlot.  Purply red, denser colour; rich, clove nose; velvety dense fruit, more obvious tannins, very good if slightly international in style

Villa di Vetrice, Chianti Rufina Riserva 2006, £8.50: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo.  Not Classico of course but from the Rufina area directly East of Florence.  The most traditional wine in this tasting. Quite a dense ruby, rich and demanding, Sangiovese very dominant, more tannic than acidic, very good plus if very traditional

An older wine for comparison’s sake, with thanks to David Thomas of Caviste:  Castello dei Rampolla, Chianti Classico riserva 1998, generally viewed as a decent but not outstanding year in Tuscany. No grape variety breakdown available.  Colour very similar to the 2006s, lively pale to mid ruby red, no signs of ageing; complex nose, cloves, some red fruit, leather, fading fruit on the palate but still quite drying tannins.  Drink up.

Favourites

The clear favourite of the tasting group was the Monteraponi with its subtle ripe fruit.  Then came Brolio.  My choice was the traditional wine from Vetrice in Rufina – but that’s just a matter of which style you prefer.

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Fabulous Falanghina

Lunch today with colleagues at The Contented Vine in Pimlico. What a great name for a slightly rambling wine bar cum restaurant on three or even four levels. Well executed, good value food and a well constructed wine list – Champagne, French classics, currently a whole page on Australia. We drank a very good Benevento Falanghina from southern Italy – good lemony fruit, excellent body, a very good food wine.

Ps this is a trial post direct from my Iphone – slow going but useful. The photo is of the ‘rhubarb crumble and custard’ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show … only conceivable in England! And the glass is of course rhubarb country wine – pale red, powerful rhubarb nose, no doubt very sharp. It’s a strange world out there.

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Piemonte 2-3 Toscana: A weekend in Italy part 2

After the Capezzana tasting, the riches of Decanter’s Italian day at the Landmark Hotel.  This has to be the best one-day introduction to the Italian quality wine scene in the UK and maybe beyond.  It’s big – with 86 listed producers – and pretty representative, 13 out of 20 regions present, with Sardinia a surprising absence.  A third of producers are from Tuscany with 16 from Chianti alone, but then we all know about that English love affair.

Faced with these riches, you have to choose.  Janet and I concentrated on filling in a few gaps from our recent Piemonte trip and of course some Tuscan friends.  Here are  some of the highlights.

Damilano, Barolo

This winery, between the communes of Barolo and La Morra, has a great range of wines and of  single vineyard cru.  It is particularly pleased to La Morrabe expanding its holding in the important Cannubi vineyard from two to ten hectares, leasing the additional land from Marchesi di Barolo, which will give them 60% of the cru.  The investment is eye-watering, with one hectare of Cannubi in the €2m range.  And so is the responsibility of moving from 9,000 to 50,000 bottles of this wine per year.

Of the wines we particularly enjoyed Barolo Cannubi 2005, squeezed between two great vintages, now showing better than most expected, with a very rich, complex nose and dense fruit.  But a good word has also to be put in for the Barbera d’Alba 2007 in a modern oaked style (40% new barriques), but a good depth of fruit and quite luxurious.

Michele Chiarlo, Calamandrana, Monferrato

Michele Chiarlo, while being based in the Monferrato region, has important wines from many key areas of Piemonte – whites from the Roero and Gavi, Moscato, an interesting sparkling wine which we drank when we were in Alba, quality Barbera and of course Barolo and Barbaresco.  The highlights included the premium Barbera, La Court, Barbera d’Asti Superiore ‘Nizza’ 2006.  This wine, which from the 2008 vintage has acquired DOCG status, is treated like the top wine that it is – low yields of only 1 kg of grapes per plant, harvested late in the middle of October, half fermented and aged in larger 650 litre barrels, half aged for 12 months in barriques and then for a year in bottles. It shows brilliant dense fruit, complexity and typical great acidity, a powerful but balanced food wine.  The wine received the Gambero Rosso’s top grade of ‘three glasses’ in this excellent vintage, as well as in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s great value too at €26 – just over half what you would expect to pay for a Nebbiolo based wine of similar quality.  All the wines we tasted here were very good or excellent: Arneis Le Madri 2009 and Gavi di Gavi Rovereto 2009 were very good, Barbaresco 2006, Barolo Tortoniano 2005 and Barolo Cerequio 2005 were excellent.

So, so far on this football day, an early 2-0 lead to Piemonte.

Marchesi di Frescobaldi

In the Tuscany room, I noticed that Frescobaldi had bought a fine range of wines including top Brunello and Chianti.  But there was also the chance to taste two Super Tuscans, which draw on the cultural and religious symbolism of the Mediterranean, Lucente and Luce.  From these bottles beams the sun rays in embossed golden splendour – can the wines live up to this?  Lucente 2007 – the affordable option – has very good medium weight fruit, good counterbalancing acidity, a decent second level Super Tuscan.  Luce 2006, a 50/50 Sangiovese/Merlot divide, spends two years in barriques and emerges with deep, dense, colour and aroma (prunes and cherries, balsam), great fruit (the Merlot of course to the fore) and lively acidity (Sangiovese makes its mark). Perhaps a wine for tasting rather than drinking, but an excellent achievement nonetheless.

Montenidoli

Having tasted this company’s top Vernaccia di San Gimignano at Vinitaly, I was keen to catch up with at least the other whites in the range from this producer.  Maria Elisabetta Fagiuoli introduced the wines herself and fully justified the company’s slogan Sono Montenidoli – ‘I am Montenidoli’, or rather less likely, ‘They (the wines) are Montenidoli’.   This part of Tuscany is the product a great prehistoric salt-water sea, a land of fossil filled limestone which can produce whites of real character.

The Vernaccia tradizionale 2007 is the product of long maceration on the skins and has very good complexity on the nose though it is rather flatter on the palate. I love this style but if you prefer something cleaner, more fruit led, then there is Vernaccia Fiore 2007, with freshness and even delicacy, some fruit, pleasurable drinking.  Il Templare 2007 is a real marmite wine (Gambero Rosso agrees: these wines don’t leave you indifferent …): 70% Vernaccia, 20% Trebbiano gentile, 10% Malvasia bianca, a distinctly cheesy opening, then herbaceous notes, nice texture, good lemon and melon fruit. We also enjoyed Canaiuolo 2007, the unusual rosé made from Canaiolo,  a Tuscan grape usually relegated to being a blender with Sangiovese. Here it produces a nicely balanced, quite floral wine for summer drinking.

Caiarossa

Dutch investment, French know-how and biodynamic agriculture is the package at this very contemporary venture, near Riparbella close IMG_0159 to the Tuscan coast.  Dominique Génot remembered us from our visit on a tempestuously  rainy day in May 2007 and judging by the wines, since then things have gone from strength to strength.  A fine sweet wine and a dry white have been added to the entry level if excellent Pergolaia (90% Sangiovese) and the top wine, Caiarossa.  The grape mix for the latter sets new standards for a multi-grape wine in Tuscany – you could be in the southern Rhône: around 20% each of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, plus 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Alicante, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre.  Or to put it another way, that’s 40% Bordeaux, 30% Rhône and 30% Tuscany.   The show offered three vintages:

Caiarossa 2004: is now beautifully knit together, with a fabulous nose of ripe fruit and savoury wood, rich in texture, complex, satisfying.

Caiarossa 2005: squeezed between two great vintages, this shows more herbaceous notes but still very creditable.

Caiarossa 2006: do not drink this wine yet!  Not that there is anything wrong with it but it is going to be outstanding with its great depths of fruit, zippy acidity, so much potential  – currently very young.

Oro di Caiarossa 2006 and 2007: late harvested Petit Manseng, slow strong pressing of whole bunches, two days of cool maceration, then barrel fermented for  eight months.  A delicious sweet white with apple and nut flavours.  The 2006 shows some oxidation (there are risks in that long slow fermentation), the 2007 is exactly what the maker intended: a sweet wine with freshness, notes of acacia honey, good fruit, very good.

We left the tasting early – me for football reasons, Janet heroically filled in the time shopping.  The cup final, which looked like it could be a mismatch between  the top and bottom teams of the Premier League, exceeded expectation with a match full of incident and interest: competitive, lots of goal mouth incident, bad tackles, two missed penalties.  Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners but somebody ought to explain to them that the ball is supposed to go between the posts, you don’t get any points for hitting post or bar.  To complete the perfect Italian weekend in England, the winning cup final manager was of course an Italian.

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A weekend in Italy: Capezzana

As the saying goes, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain will have to come to Mohammed.  The past weekend not only offered not only the ending of the English domestic football season with the show piece of the FA Cup final, but also a Tuscan wine tasting in Hungerford, Berkshire and Decanter’s Great Italian Fine Wine Encounter in Marylebone in central London.   Apparently the Chelsea team were staying at the Landmark Hotel for the final, venue of the tasting, but we saw no sign of them expect for a large police presence. 

The evening tasting at the wine merchant Caviste’s new Hungerford branch was a great opportunity to learn about Tuscany’s smallest fine wine area, Carmignano. What it lacks in size (only 14 producers), it makes up for in history, location and interest.   10 miles NW from Florence, the area is marked by the presence of the Tuscan nobility and especially their hunting villas and lodges. While the Medici are critical to the history of wine in the area, recent research has found documentary evidence of wine making in 804, a remarkably early date.  The Etruscan presence in the area makes it highly like that wine making was going on centuries before the Christian period. 

What really marks Carmignano out in wine terms is the custom of growing at least some Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Tuscany’s Sangiovese.  This has become commonplace in Tuscany since the success of the so-called Super Tuscans in the 1970s and 1980s, often to the detriment of the lighter, more characteristic, local grape.  However, in this area the Cabernet was introduced by the Medici in the 1700s from Bordeaux – aristocrats were talking to each other and wanting to be like each other back then, just as the Super Tuscan classic, Sassicaia was the result of an aristocrat wanting to ‘grow his own’ Bordeaux after the second world war. 

I approached these wines with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  They have a great history but I rarely like the Sangiovese ‘plus French grape variety’ wines.  You have to agree that Sangiovese is normally not a big, bold wine, but if you want big and bold there is no shortage of them either from Italy or from other countries.  The recent increase of allowed ‘other grapes’ in Chianti Classico is a case in point – there comes a critical tipping point, certainly above 15%, at which the more imposing French varieties drown out the particular charm of fresh, acidic, sour cherry Sangiovese. 

But I have to say that Carmignano has got this more or less right.  The quality appellation  (DOCG) calls for at least 50% Sangiovese, 10-20% of Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo IMG_0158nero (another local grape) plus other minor varieties.  Leading this tasting, Beatrice Contini Bonacossi explained that her family wines at the largest of the Carmignano estates, Capezzana, have stuck to the rule of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon (the twentieth century ones from Ch. Lafite no less) and 10% Canaiolo, or an 80/20 split between the two main varieties in the top wine. 

We start by tasting a good rosé, Vin Ruspo 2009 with a sweet, juicy nose, rounded with good fruit in the mouth, quite weighty and very food friendly.  Particularly good is the wine made for everyday drinking, Barco Reale 2007, named by Beatrice’s father after the noble hunting enclosure.  Here the Cabernet contributes to a wine of mid ruby colour, darker than if it were just Sangiovese, but still clearly Tuscan in style.  A good nose of violets, plum and cherry is followed by dense plummy fruit, a little bitterness and typical, if by Tuscan standards, mild acidity.  Beatrice says this her everyday bottle and you really could not complain about that! 

The premium wine is Villa di Capezzana, in this case, 2006.  The wine, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, is aged in tonneaux for 12-15 months, a compromise between the larger traditional barrel and the smaller French barriques.  Only 30% are new each year, so the new oak aromas are not pronounced. It is a more powerful wine, which comes at you out of the glass, with aromas of darker red fruits and some toast and perhaps even a chocolate note.  It has superb acidity and dense fruit, but the wine, even at this young age, is balanced and drinkable.  It has a long, long life ahead of it; from this great vintage it would be outstanding in 10 years time and long after that.  

The penultimate wine is a proper modern Super Tuscan, ‘pebbles of the stream’ or Ghiaie della Furba, 2006, now 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah, aged in small French barriques.  It has great fruit, from blackcurrant to plum, and an intriguing bitter, tannic finish, very Italian, the land battling back against the non-Tuscan grapes. 

After a light supper, we taste another great treasure of the estate, its Vin Santo, 2003. It is made in the traditional manner by drying of the grapes on racks for months before making wine and then long slow fermentation and maturation in very small barrels (caratelli) of a range of woods for five years.    The anticipation/anxiety must be something when you finally open those barrels with their much diminished content – is it going to be the nectar of the gods or is it going to be five years leading to nothing?  This example was definitely the former, on the drier side, one of the subtlest I have ever tasted with very grown up chestnut, raison and even herby dimensions.  Very refined, it coats the mouth and lasts and lasts and lasts. 

Capezzana have fairly recently introduced a top quality Trebbiano – not a combination of words you can often use in Tuscany!  The old war horse, the peasant’s favourite for its productivity, rarely produces anything more than a basic white accompaniment to food.  I am looking forward to tasting it, hopefully at the estate. 

This was a great introduction to Carmignano, to Capezzana, and a fine start to the Italian weekend.

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Giacosa Fratelli – perfume and austerity

Giacosa Fratelli is rather different from most of the wineries we visited in our recent week in IMG_0064 Piemonte.  The winery is much bigger than most of the places we visited, a large, functional building coincidentally right next door to Bruno Giacosa, who, after Gaja, is probably the biggest name in Barbaresco.  The business is based in Neive, one of the three main communes of Barbaresco, though the firm has its best vineyards in the Barolo area. 

This tasting came about because of the success of Giacosa Fratelli’s Barolo Bussia 2005 which won a prestigious 5-star rating in a Decanter tasting late last year.  When I enquired about the wine from Coe Vintners I discovered that they have a number of other Nebbiolo based wines from the same company and a number of vintages, the perfect opportunity for a comparative tasting.  At a subsequent London event with Coe Vintners the wines tasted a little rough and not quite ready to drink but by then I had already bought the wines and all was set. 

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A fine wine supper with a group from Andover Wine Friends was a perfect  opportunity to re-evaluate the wines.  First impressions are important.  Nebbiolo, made for ageing, initially comes over as perfumed, only moderately fruity and tannic.  Janet commented that she could smell the floral and woody notes upstairs as I was decanting the bottles two IMG_5262hours before the tasting.  That pale ruby red with an orange edge even in young wines is also a bit different.  Then there is the surprise when you taste the wines. We are so used to fruit led wines that the austerity of Nebbiolo is an initial hurdle to get over, followed of course by the mouth drying finish of lively tannins.  It was always said that the growers used to drink the (fruity) Dolcetto and the (zippy) Barbera while they waited – for up to ten years – for the Nebbiolo to come around. 

And it is quite a wait.  Traditional Barolo and Barbaresco is made by long maceration of the wine skins in the must, 20-30 days or even more in some cases, followed by some years in large, relatively inert oak barrels.  The wine has to then have a year in bottles before it is released an absolute of minimum of two years (Barbaresco) or three years (Barolo) after the harvest.  So a five year old is still a young wine, perhaps a decade off its initial peak with several decades ahead of it in the best cases.  

IMG_5247 Our five wines were a good sample of styles and ages.  The first two were generic Barbaresco and Barolo, in other words wines made from grapes from anywhere with the two adjacent wine regions of those names which flank the town of Alba.  Both were from the quite tricky but ultimately decent 2005 vintage.  And both these wines were true to to type, the Barbaresco being rather more approachable and ready to drink after five years, the Barolo more structured, denser and still quite demanding.  Both have notes of Turkish delight (rose water) and red fruit on the nose.

Barolo Bussia 2005 is quite a step up and this was the wine that got the 5 star rating.  This is a single vineyard wine from the magnificent Bussia vineyard with its long, undulating, south facing slope.  The biggest difference in the finished wine is riper, fuller fruit.  The wine continues to be high in acidity and tannin but despite being bigger is more approachable because it is better balanced.

Also true to type was the difference between the two Barolo single vineyard wines. The Bussia vineyard (or at least this part of it) is in the IMG_5254 Barolo commune, while the Vigna Mandorlo is from the adjacent commune of Castiglione Falletto. They may be only a few kilometres apart and both are still in the quality wine area of Barolo but the geology has changed.  The wines of Castiglione Falletto are characteristically more structured, more demanding, longer lived. 

Barolo Vigna Mandorlo 2004 is from the excellent 2004 vintage now just starting to get into its stride.  The perfumed nose is wonderfully pronounced but the wine is much tougher, all set IMG_5275 for the long haul to vinous perfection.   The vineyard name itself, Mandorlo, is the historic name of the best, top, part of the Rivera vineyard, on the steep slope just below the picturesque town of Castiglione Falleto.  There is a perfect picture of it on the introductory page for the whole Italian section of the latest edition of the world wine atlas (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson).  Life’s not fair is it – it’s both beautiful to look at and a great wine!

Our final wine is a 1996 vintage of the same wine, coming up to the mid-point of its second decade.  In the last ten plus years, the wine has knit together into a seamless velvety texture and IMG_5261a richer, deeper unity in terms of flavours. You could try to describe this (balsam and liquorish from the wood ageing, fruit more in the blackberry, mulberry range), but the point is that they are no longer individual components.  The tannins and acidity are still with us but now provide structure for this remarkable wine.  This really makes the point – if it’s a well made wine to start with and from a good year, these bottles do develop into something far more than the sum of their parts.  The perfume develops, the austerity remains butIMG_5271 now as a component of something which is much more than a glass of wine – a glass with a history, a range of sensations for nose and palate, a place of course, a stimulus to the brain as much as to the senses. 

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Multi-faceted Vajra

Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence.  And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ.  Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had  a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972.  All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, wellIMG_4882 to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.

Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings.  But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines.   For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986.  They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.

The use of barriques is interesting here.  Usually expensive new  wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up IMG_4901-1 with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo.  This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques.  Very clever.

Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva.  The former comes from the younger IMG_4887-1vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months.  It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an  adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo.  However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo!  This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long.  An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.

After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon.  With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo.  Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005.  IMG_4905-1 These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti.  The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5˚ of alcohol and lots of extract.  This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.

The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana.  Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard IMG_4911again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels.  It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose.   By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.

Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return.  First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa.  Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine.  Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years.  Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and IMG_4915 IMG_4916 perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes).  Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5˚ of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol.  This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.

This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week.  As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.

Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra.  The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.

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Ca’ del Baio – rapporto qualità prezzo buonissimo!

This winery is appropriately enough near ‘three stars’ (Trestelle), itself a sort of mid point between IMG_4860 the three Barbaresco communes – Treiso, Neive and, of course, Barbaresco itself.  But the three stars could also refer to the three daughters of the family or indeed to the excellent quality of the wine in relation to price. 

The winery covers all the bases – four Barbaresco, one other Nebbiolo wine, a Dolcetto, two Barbera and then, somewhat surprisingly, three white wines.  Paola, who showed us around, gives the simple explanation that this is because of her father’s love of white wine, in an area basically given over to reds.   We are in the last gasp of the Moscato d’Asti zone so one of them is of course Moscato.  The other two are different takes on Chardonnay. 

The family story runs like a thread through the IMG_4865 IMG_4864

wines.  ‘Moscato Trefie’ is a reference to the three daughters.  Paola and Valentina work here and Federika makes patisserie – for which of course the delicious, slightly sparkling wine, sweetish but with a herby tinge, is a perfect accompaniment.  The two Chardonnays are unoaked (Luna d’agosto 2009, with a bit of native Cortese in it) and oaked, Sermine 2009, extremely good value at €5 and €8.50 respectively. 

For the Barbaresco a range of oak is used.   The simpler Langhe Nebbiolo is matured in the traditional large oak barrels, Barbaresco IMG_4876Marcarini and Asili see a divide between large barrel and barrique treatment, while Barbaresco Pora is raised in tonneaux – a sort of half-way house in terms of size.  Is there a profound wine making reason for this?  No, it’s because there isn’t much of it. 

In many ways, Ca’ del Baio is a near perfect winery to follow for the wine lover.  It’s got that real family feel, they seem relaxed about their success; there are no airs and graces, just a great range of wines at good prices.  The Langhe Nebbiolo 2008, Bric del Baio, spends 12 months in large barrels, has a lovely perfumed nose and good fruit. Elegant every day drinking at €8 – if you live in Italy of course.  Equally good and good value are the prize winning Barbaresco:

  • Valgrande 2006, which gets the traditional treatment of two years in the large botti.  Still very young and slightly rustic but full of fruit.
  • Asili 2006: from a hillside which gets the sun all day, 10% matured in barriques for a little added richness, great nose of fragrant red fruit, a little bit of spice, typical high tannins and acidity which will carry it into a glorious maturity (here’s hoping for the rest of us).  Tre bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso 2010.  All this for €20 at the winery. 
  • Pora 2005: quite restrained on the nose, does not have the opulence of the 2006s but still good. 

Thank you to Paola and Valentina for a great visit. Sadly the wine is not available in the UK.  Thanks also for the recommendation for the fabulous La IMG_4878Ciau del tornamento, super sophisticated restaurant in  Treiso with food and a view da morire!    And I learn from the web site, a 30, 000 bottle cellar … fortunately we only had time for one excellent course and left refreshed and with wallets intact. 

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