Category Archives: Italian wine

Bruno Rocca – above all the land

Having finished the posts from Vinitaly, we return to our week in the Langhe, home of the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo.  The message at Bruno Rocca’s family winery in Barbaresco is clear.  However much they are completing an impressive new winery under   IMG_4849 the current house, the heart of the matter is the land.  It is only now after three decades that the new winery has become a priority, until then it was buying the best possible sites.  Daughter and marketing manager Luisa explains: her father of course has to sit in the office at times but always with a sense of impatience, he would always rather be in the vineyard.  Or, as the brochure says, ‘The wine which grows here is the mirror and soul of its land’  – to translate the Italian version very literally. 

Thirty years ago the previous generation were selling wines in demijohns and now the new winery nears completion.  Such is the speed of change when you get the basics right.   And Bruno Rocca has been happy to learn from from others including a period in Burgundy.  Not only is the Cote d’Or not that far away (give or take IMG_4841the odd range of Alps) but the similarities are very obvious: many, small family wineries; a smallish wine zone with seemingly infinite if miniscule variations of terroir; passion for the local and the particular; red wines of subtlety and elegance.  The recent conference in Alba which focused on Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo was on to something.  If they had added Sangiovese, some of us would have been in wine heaven! 

Bruno Rocca has a full range of wines – no less than IMG_4835 IMG_4831 four Barbaresco, a red blend, two Barbera, a Dolcetto and – perhaps with a nod to Burgundy again – a Chardonnay.  We chose to go the red route.  It is always interesting to taste the Dolcetto because it tells you about wine making standards.  All the attention in the Langhe is on the wines made from Nebbiolo and after that Barbera.  The Dolcetto, made for drinking young, is a lovely purply red, with quite a dark cherry nose, quite complex, very drinkable indeed. It carries its vineyard name, Trifolé, truffle in the local dialect. 

The second red, Langhe DOC Rabajolo,  is a blend and contains – shock, horror – Cabernet Sauvignon!  50% of the Bordelaise foreigner, plus 25% each of Nebbiolo

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and Barbera.  Bruno Rocca himself appears just in time to explain that he thinks the Cabernet ripens well here and loses its greenness.  Certainly, after the deep ruby red colour, the aroma is of ripe fruit, not typically mint and blackcurrant.  The wine has spent 16 months in barriques in their first and second years of use.  The Barbera makes a big contribution to this wine, which does have that characteristic Italian edge of bitterness.

The final wine has to be Barbaresco of course, in this case the cru Rabajà 2007 – this seems right given we IMG_4832have been driving up and down the Rabajà road to reach the various wineries. The 2007 had just been released and like all Nebbiolo is pale ruby red with a characteristic orange tinge, even in relative youth.   It has spend 18 months in barriques and a further 12 at least in the bottle.   The maturation in the future will be in the fine, traditional  brick built cellar with its wonderful barrel roof.  After IMG_4853some clove and spice notes, the fine red fruit is prominent, very rounded and already well integrated, but also some hazel nut and butteriness.  Very refined, complex, a fitting climax to the visit. 

But we must return to the land.  Others can give a technical explanation of why it is so suited to fine red wine production.  We can enjoy meeting the people, tasting the wines and being surrounded by a very beautiful landscape. 

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Many thanks to Bruno and Luisa Rocca.  The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines.

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Vinitaly 4: high altitude Sangiovese

Sangiovese, the most important red grape of Tuscany, is famously variable.  It produces both thin sour wine (though today there is really no excuse for this) and some of Italy’s most magnificent, structured and age-worthy reds.  The May 2010 edition of Decanter magazine gives the Brunello riserva of 2004 from Biondi-Santi an amazing 20/20 score – apparently the perfect wine, even if it is a breathtaking £200 a bottle.

A huge range of Sangiovese styles was available of course at the recent Vinitaly.  My tastings of the wines from the Maremma (eg the very traditional and wonderful Podere 414 or the warm climate Parmaletto wines of Montecucco) will be added to the Tuscan Maremma pages of this site.  Here I want to concentrate on a favourite Chianti zone, cool Rufina, and one classic wine from southerly Montalcino. 

The Rufina zone is easy to reach as it is basically just east of Florence on the steep hills which rise from the Sieve river.  It is the coolest of the Chianti zones and can produce the most wonderfully austere wines with long ageing potential.  Fortunately this style is not to everyone’s taste so the wines are good value too.  

The Rufina consortium’s stand at Vinitaly gave a wonderful opportunity to taste a number of wines side-by-side and to compare each growers normale with the riserva.  Mind you, there is nothing ‘normal’ about these normali. 

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Here are the two offerings from the large firm of Galliga e Vetrice.  A trick of the light makes the normale on the right look rather darker than in reality, while the ageing of the riserva can clearly be seen in the brown tinge on the right.  The latter is available at a great price from Berry Bros.  

It would be tedious to rehearse all the wines here.  The pair shown above illustrate the two main styles, with the normale (2008) having wonderful freshness, a real zing and some classy minerality. By contrast the riserva of 2007 is very young and still showing tobacco and leather notes from oak ageing and is very tannic, very distinctive and will no doubt be wonderful in 5-10 years time. 

We also tasted wines from the very cool sites of Marchesi Gondi (their 2005 riserva has lots of potential but is still a sleeping giant), while Castello di Trebbio riserva 2006 has more fruit and is already drinking well – but then it was a better year.  We also enjoyed Dreolino’s two offerings. 

By complete contrast, at the Castello di Argiano stand we managed to catch up with a modern cult classic.   Argiano is one of the big names of the world famous Montalcino area which is a relatively high plateau with a distinctive geology and a local form of Sangiovese known as Brunello, the ‘little dark one’.  From these special berries – and three to five or more years in large, neutral, oak barrels – emerge wines of great complexity, structure and longevity.  Our short tasting started with the Brunello di Montalcino of 2005. Such is the richness of the experience at Vinitaly that you can occasionally skip all the ‘lesser’ wines and start with Brunello.  2005 was a mixed year but this now has nicely browning edges to its medium ruby colour, an attractive nose of red fruit and violets, and good balance. 

But the bottle we really wanted to taste is simply called Suolo – soil.  When we visited Argiano four years ago, I tried to buy a bottle of this not knowing how much it cost (€70), but it was sold out.  It is not Brunello in its typical style at all but a wine made from the same 100% Sangiovese grapes from 50 year old vines.  The principal difference is that the wine is aged for 18 months in new and one year old barriques, not the traditional larger botti.    This treatment means that it is a rather more modern style, with more obvious vanilla and leather aromas from the new oak, luxurious rather than austere. But the real triumph in this 2007 vintage is the beautiful, ripe fruit which shines through.  There is plenty of room in my (sadly hypothetical) grand cellar for brilliant new wines of this quality alongside traditional Brunello which will go on developing for years or decades. 

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Vinitaly 3: a towering Vernaccia

A second wine which suffers at the hands of its reputation is the Tuscan indigenous white, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  If I had a pound for every average IMG_5039bottle sold to tourists in this spectacular town under its medieval towers, I would be … well, you can finish the sentence.  But is is potentially a quality wine, as we had  confirmed at a mini-seminar at Vinitaly.  Our friendly sommelier double-act talked us through the four  examples. 

Pietrafitta ‘Borgheto’ 2009 is Pietrafitta’s quality Vernaccia, lively and pleasant, good clean fruit, not very complex but with a good nutty and apple taste.  One  IMG_5035 suggestion was that  it had a bit of turkish delight about it, but that may have been a flight of fancy!  By contrast, Guicciardini Strozzi riserva 2007 has a more intense nose, vegetal with some herbiness, then aged fruit, along with some wood derived coffee and vanilla aromas.  It retains a lime green streak to its colour (on the left).  Altogether a fatter, more structured wine with emerging minerality.  One of the unusual features of top Vernaccia – like the Gavi commented on above – is an ability to age, perhaps for up to 10 years. 

Wine number 3 was the Vernaccia from Falchini Abvinea Doni 2008.  This wine is fermented and then aged for eight months in French oak barrels which produces a wine of a deeper straw colour and lots of extract.  On the nose the is a subtle use of wood, less immediate freshness but good fruit (peach, ripe plums), altogether a good structured white.  IMG_5041 Finally, we were introduced to Montenidoli Carato 2005, a substantial wine with 13.5˚ alcohol and oak aged for a year.  This is a wine of real personality which was awarded the top ranking of tre bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso 2010.  It is has that wow factor when you first taste it – great initial attack, then so much going on in the mouth but well held together.  The fruit is in the ripe apricots and peaches department, accompanied by aromatic herbs, with great mineral and even salty notes.  A very, very long way from the bottles which tourists take home after that day out under the medieval towers. 

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Vinitaly 2: mainly bubbles

As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made beeline for the home of the Cortese grape at the wine fair.   As I wrote in the previous post, Vinitaly allows you taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy – and that includes some little known sparkling wines.  Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from Gavi and Franciacorta areas.

Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass produced white wine, popular in the past with IMG_5024 Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about.  La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi.  The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.

All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape.  The entry level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention seeking.  Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come  from the commune of Gavi but is not itself a big jump up in quality.  But this wine is much more persistent in its flavour.  By contrast the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation.  First of all it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly it has the benefits of a decade of ageing.  It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak.  In the mouth it is a quite a  big, structured wine, with great persistence.  The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35.  You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.

La Scolca have also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi.  The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with IMG_5019 good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes.  It  has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste.  The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit.  Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle.     The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.

Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit.   Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.

Finally we tasted the rosé.   True to their own, this is basically white Cortese grapes but with a 5% component of the skins only of Pinot Noir for colour.  IMG_5025 IMG_5026

This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot.  D’Antan rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.

Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area.  I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta.  Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price.  But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather.  There is a market out there for a Champagne style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge.  In the meantime it is one to search out.

This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine.  Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista!  With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone.  A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity.  10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months.  This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish.  A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.

We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines.  These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007).  By contrast the Satèn (2007) style is  made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure.  It has a delicate nose, and lovely subtle fruit.  The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end.  The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit.  Two party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium dry version.  The former – Rosé 2007 – is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours.  Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish.  By contrast Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity.  In the mouth the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly.  Would be excellent with patisserie.  This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.

And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because IMG_5018it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol.   Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.

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Vinitaly 1: the Italian wine city

Visiting Vinitaly, the annual five-day Italian wine fair in Verona, is in many ways a microcosm of the Italian wine scene – massive in scale, seemingly infinite in possibilities, by turns exhilarating and exasperating.  The sheer scale of it is quite intimidating – 13 huge pavilions and 4200 producers.  If the producers bring five wines each, that’s a small matter of more than 20,000 wines available to be tasted. 

In some ways the biggest challenge is finding accommodation. Inevitably the producers and regular buyers book their hotel room at the end of one fair for the next year.  Our solution has been to stay in a nearly town and use the train.  The fair complex is within walking distance of Verona’s railway station and there is a shuttle bus system if you like a slightly jovial ride with the crowd.  This year we stayed on the southern shore of Lake Garda which worked pretty well.

IMG_5009 Peschiera del Garda is a beautiful holiday town, with historic buildings and of course the majestic lake.  It’s just 15 minutes by train to Verona. Our hotel was a good 40 minute walk mostly along the lake side to the station – good when you are feeling fresh, a bit of a pain if you IMG_5005need an early start or its late, though you can always take a €10 taxi.  The splendid villas and holiday homes enliven the walk.  There is a direct bus too but it’s slow.  The bus route has the advantage of allowing you to study the typical ‘long trunk’ vine training system as you pass through the vineyards of the Lugana region! 

Once in the fair, the next challenges are to decide what to attempt and then to find your goal, whether that’s a region (quite easy but with some interesting quirks) or IMG_5046 individual producer (varies from the easy to almost impossible).  The rectilinear nature of the fair complex should make it easy but in reality is profoundly disorientating.  The only orientation point is the line of services (food, toilets, etc) which runs right across the whole site – but then there is no way of sensing whether you are facing north or south.  There are elaborate systems of numbering within the halls but they rarely seem to relate to reality.  Of course the Italians either just know where things are or ask repeatedly until they find someone who knows where X is!

However, the positives of Vinitaly hugely outweigh the negatives.  It allows you fantastic opportunities to taste:

  • wines from all 20 regions of this fascinatingly varied country with wines from the Alps right down to the near desert parts of Sicily
  • the range of wines from the regional consortia – see for example, the post on the Chianti Rufina region which follows
  • endless examples of the wines of individual growers
  • a range of vintages of a world-class wine in a formal vertical tasting – at a suitable price of course

And there is a balance to be struck between exploration and consolidation, and between tasting wines and meeting the people who produce them.  You could spend a vast amount time simply going around and catching up with previous contacts or indeed making new friends.  To the newcomer its a perfect environment to practice the Italian habit of socialising, the connecting and reconnecting within the city of wine.  

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Fiorenzo Nada – small is beautiful

This smallish family firm produces six wines, all red, with a total production from six hectares of 40,000 bottles a year.  As Danilo explained, there are just three of them in the firm, so the up side is that you get to do a bit of everything.  He had worked previously as a sommelier in the Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Claridges.  The down side of the family firm is that at some times of year, no one can have a day off. 

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There are three entry level wines (Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo of course) and three top wines, two Barbaresco cru and one blend, called Seifile, 80%  old vine Barbera and 20% Nebbiolo. 

The Dolcetto 2008 is all that you expect of a young wine, aged for a short period in stainless steel vats, and then released to charm the drinker with its fresh red fruit  and lovely cherry nose. 

By contrast, the two Barbaresco come from named vineyards and are aged in different ways.  Barbaresco Manzola 2006 comes from a sandier area and is the more traditional of the two, being aged for two years in large oak botti.  It has a very perfumed, refined nose of mint and red fruit. It’s still a young wine with some rough edges but has many years ahead of it.  IMG_0050

For this visit I had made the classic mistake of not having recharged the camera batteries which died suddenly on me.  So these pictures were taken on an Iphone – which seems particularly good at capturing the colours of red wine.  Here we have youngish Barbaresco, with its pale ruby red and hint of orange at the edges. 

The second cru is Barbaresco Rombone 2006, the vineyard which surrounds the winery and which is more limestone and clay than sand.  Along with ageing for one year in large botti and a further year in barriques, this produces a more austere wine, though IMG_0051still highly accessible with good fruit.  It has a more powerful nose than its compatriot and perhaps a yet longer life – if you can avoid drinking it, of course.  It is one of the features of Barbaresco, in comparison to Barolo, that the wines are drinkable earlier. 

It is always a particular pleasure to visit the smaller, family wineries and many thanks to Danilo.  The wines are attractive priced at the winery and available in the UK from the Real Wine Company, Stoke Poges. 

 

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Albino Rocca – where the quality shows

 IMG_4810 IMG_4809 There is a very assured feel about the entire operation at Albino Rocca in the village of Barbaresco itself.  The vineyards have been build up to an impressive 23 hectares and the usual excellent job has been done in  hiding the winery under the house.   There is also the obligatory beautiful view of the hills of Barbaresco and the town of Neive.

IMG_4813Within the winery the equipment is very up-to-date and the longer term wines rest in beautiful large botti.  Our guide was Monica Rocca who expertly showed us round and introduced a good sample of their twelve wines.  

As we had tasted so few whites from south of the Tanaro river (ie in Barolo or Barbaresco), we started here with white.  La Rocca Bianco, 2008, is made of Cortese grapes, the mainstay of the Gavi zone, further east IMG_4815in Piemonte.  In colour it is an attractive mid straw yellow on it way toward gold and has a very good nose of vanilla and some quite tropical fruit.  It is fermented and aged in French barriques, rather like white Burgundy, whose style it follows rather successfully.  On the palate it is not quite knit together but it will be very good.  It’s a rarity in that there is so much demand for the reds of Barbaresco, it takes determination to grow Cortese.  They also have Chardonnay and Moscato. 

The first of the important reds we taste is Gepin (dialect for Giuseppe), Barbera d’Alba 2007, IMG_4819made from 50 year old vines. It is aged for 14 months, half in botti grandi and half in barriques in their second and third year of use.  The aim of preserving the fruit is well executed but this is much more sophisticated than most Barbera you taste – it has clearly been handled very, very  well.  (Compare at a similar quality level the much denser style of Bruno Giacosa.)

In this area, in the end, there is always Nebbiolo.  The first of two, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008 is made from the younger  vines, though there is a range from 10 and 60 years.  IMG_4820Maceration is limited to four days to produce easily approachable wines to be drunk young, with the smell of fruit to the fore.  A rather less traditional label for this wine completes the picture. 

The climax of the visit is the chance to taste one of the three Barbaresco cru which Albino Rocca produces, IMG_4828 IMG_4827 Vigneto Brich Ronchi 2007.  (The others are smaller parcels, including one which is a riserva from this vineyard.)  This was a very good year in Piemonte and it shows in this wine, which is aged for two years in wood, 80% in botti grandi and the rest in barrique. The 2007 already has a well developed and integrated nose, red fruit above all,  lovely perfume typical of Nebbiolo, already very drinkable with soft tannins for the style and medium acidity.   Sold with a suitably golden label which emphasises the gentle rolling hills and the vines of Barbaresco. 

With thanks to Monica Rocca.  The wines used to be imported in the UK by Justerini & Brooks but there is currently no UK stockist.  

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