Tag Archives: Barbaresco

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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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. 

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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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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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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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Elvio Cogno – a family winery in good health

IMG_4664 This estate was created in 1990 when Elvio Cogno decided to set up in his own name, having previously been part of an important partnership.  It is now run by Walter Fissore and his wife Nadia  (Elvio’s daughter) who showed us around this beautiful farm house (cascina) which serves as winery and home. It has great views of the town of Novello and of the surrounding countryside on all sides.  It is very unusual in that they have an undivided piece of land around the winery of 11 hectares. 

We were treated – and I mean treated – to a very generous tasting of the entire range, including a very rare white made with a local variety. 

Langhe Bianco Anas-Cetta 2009, just bottled but not yet labelled.  The grape variety, Nascetta, is yet another interesting Italian grape variety on the verge of being lost.  Here is it make a semi-aromatic white wine of real personality, stirred on the lees for 6 months, with a good structure, with both fruit and floral notes, quite exotic but would also be good with food.  Can age.  Let’s hope we hear more of Nascetta in the future.

Dolcetto Vigna Mandorlo 2008: Nadia recounts how demanding this grape is in the vineyard and the winery.  Despite always  being overshadowed by the demanding Nebbiolo and even Barbera, it has delicate thin-skinned bunches which get burned on hot sites, go mouldy if it rains and drop their grapes at the slightest provocation. In the winery it needs lots of aeration.  This example shows it at its best: lovely fruity nose, highly drinkable, not a wine of great substance but delicious.  

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Space is at a premium in the fermentation room so the Cogno have installed these unusual but very practical square vessels. 

 

Barbera d’Alba 2007: matured in the pretty neutral large botti, which preserves the wonderful fruit of Barbera while smoothing out some of the rough edges of very young wine.  Great depth of flavour of cherries and cherry stones.  Very good indeed. 

Montegrilli 2007 Langhe DOC: a slightly unusual blend of 50% Barbera and 50% Nebbiolo which are actually harvested and vinified together.  This calls for clever judgement as there can be a couple of weeks between the optimum moments for the two grape varieties, though I suppose it also has the advantage of spreading out the periods when the business of crushing grapes and making wine is at its most demanding. A successful  marriage of the fruitiness of Barbera and the potential elegance of Nebbiolo.

Barbaresco 2006: the Cogno rent some vineyards in nearby Barbaresco (Neive) to produce 3,000 bottles of this very elegant Nebbiolo. 

Barolo Cascina Nuova 2005:   the first of a series of their Barolo, very perfumed, elegant, and with a good grip. Good value too at €26.  It’s interesting to see that, as everywhere else, with good practice in the vineyard Barolo has crept up to 14˚ of alcohol.   The ‘green pruning’ whereby you reduce the number of bunches a vine is carrying means that the remaining bunches ripen fully and give the possibility of elegant and substantial wines, such as this. 

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While we taste, Nadia answer my question, saying that the Piemontese word for the little stone or brick huts you seen in the vineyards is ‘ciabot’ (pron. cha-bot), a sort of glorified garden hut for tools, shelter and perhaps even a little bed for that siesta.   There must be an Italian word for them but it’s the local word which everyone uses. 

Barolo Ravera 2005, 14.5˚: Ravera is the name of the vineyard and this is the first of three cru wines, ie from single vineyards.  This has an amazing nose of mint, balsamic and floral notes, with high acidity and tannin, made to last and to develop, but perfectly drinkable now.  2005 was one of a series of good years here, as long as you were lucky and missed the hail.  Delicious and long. 

IMG_4662-1 Barolo Vigna Elena 2004: This fun label – drawn by daughter Elena when she was three – is evidence that the next generation may major in graphic design rather than wine.  But the wine is exceptional, made separately only in the best years and from a vineyard planted with Nebbiolo Rosé, a type of the classic grape.  It’s a semi-riserva, being released after five years, three of which are in large botti. It has a beautiful nose, elegant, supple and long, pulled along by a proper streak of acidity, the tannins less noticeable. Excellent; got 5* in a Decanter tasting.

and finally:

Barolo Bricco Pernice 2005: another very good Barolo, but one that needs time on account of its more obvious tannins.  Has great potential. 

Thanks to Nadia and Walter (who was just off to the meeting of the consortium, to which Sig. Ratti had just been elected as president – see later post).  These excellent wines are currently looking for a UK importer. 

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Landing in Piemonte

Arriving in a famous wine area for the first time is wonderfully exciting.  As you drive from the airport (in this case Turin), you pass through the neighbouring countryside which is flat as a pancake, if lying between the snow-covered Alps and the ‘ridges’ which give the Langhe its name.  As you approach your destination you begin to see famous wine names on the road signs – Barolo, La Morra and many more, which of course are first and foremost the names of villages.  Despite having now done it many times, it’s amazing to see the names of one’s favourite drink on the map or on road signs!

On the outskirts of the smallish town of Alba, you drive past the factory which produces its most famous product – Ferrero Rocher. So this is hazelnut and chocolate heaven as well as a town perfectly situated between Piemonte’s red wine appellations – Barolo and Barbaresco.  A simple lunch at the Vincaffe is an introduction to the fact that Piemonte is one of Italy’s gastronomic centres – fantastic mixed antipasti of raw beef, veal with a slightly tangy sauce and and a chicken and nut (of course) salad, followed by soup of peasant proportion or gnocchi – time to lie down and surrender.

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Wine by the glass offers immediate interest.  If you ignore the famous names for the moment you can try the local grape varieties – Arneis for white (quite famous), but als0 white La Favorita  and in the reds, Freisa.  The last named, by Pellisero, has very ripe fruit, low acid and tannin and dense, herbaceous, fruit, nearer to prune than plum.  Delicious and could only really come from here.  In the evening we drank one of the staple reds of the region, Barbera.  Its has a good light ruby colour, medium in weight, beautifully balanced in terms of acidity and tannin, far too drinkable.  A bottle disappears in no time.  It’s great value too – this example which hasn’t been a oak barrel, so the lovely fruit is what you get, is €14 in a restaurant.  (Giovanni Sordo, Barbera d’Alba, 2008).  No doubt there will be plenty of time for the mushrooms, pasta and in another season, truffles for which the place is renowned, but that’s a great start. 

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