There are mornings when the conditions are ripe: A mind at ease, a calm and benign wind, an empty highway, a good companion. On the fifth day in Piemonte straddling the passover from November to December these were the conditions and so the first pour at Scarpa Winery was captured in full attention. Not lost in any particular thought there was a perceptible air of quiet, a quivering in the air and very, very quietly the barbera fell into the glass with the slightest burble as if the liquid whispered “shoykill, shoykill.” With very little to distract this breakfast pour had more to do with time than space. The movement was sublime, it was beauty, of time passing, for grapes in a way no longer alive drawn from vines still very much so. This ephemeral configuration of a year’s cycle for making wine encapsulated in movement and the moment. In wine this is how we must see things and live our lives, perched between what is beautiful and what has passed.
Living wine in the moment at Scarpa Winery. The idea that in life we are tracking what is gone or in the past is not lost when you consider how no other Nizza Monferrato producer both waits to release wines and also holds back library vintages for future release. No other estate will make you feel this longing, this sense of contemplation and aesthetics, of thinking about the past. A walk past the cages of older wines is the precursor but their stacks of 1982, 1987, 1990, 1995 at al are there because they will be sold to consumers who will drink them. Every other winery walk through shows old vintages as museum pieces. Not Scarpa. They live wine in the moment, irregardless of age, no matter the reason.
My chaperone was none other than Valerio Bertolino of the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato and our hosts were Andrea Roccione, Gregorio Ferro and Riikka Sukula. The building that houses the cantina is 119 years of age with 1966 being the first year of current operative production, though there is a bottle of 1949 Barolo on site. Harvest lasts six to seven weeks, from Moscato d’Asti in late August through to Nebbiolo in mid-October. The total production is 100,000 bottles. In 2018 six further hectares were acquired which should increase production by 30,000 bottles. Most everything is macerated and fermented in steel with aging times anywhere from six months to a year. The exceptions are barbera and nebbiolo in La Bogliona, Barolo and Barbaresco. As for museum pieces, Il Filtro Sacci Olandese still hangs, a typical instrument for filtering moscato in the 1900s. The Dutch (sack) filter that looks like a set of inverted bagpipes ceased to be part of production in 1959.
Tasting, assessing and writing about Scarpa wines is exactly the kind of assignment that I believe sits at the antipodes of human understanding. I recently tasted with Andrea over three occasions: At the winery during this December visit, over lunch in Alba and at Grandi Langhe in January 2020. These are the notes on the 11 wines.
Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG Casascarpa 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $22.00)
Taken from vineyards all from the Monferratto estate of 26 planted (on 50 hectares), mostly located in Asti Alessandria. The ideal amalgamation and from an ideal vintage, everything ripening in synch and all coming together in balance. The freshness comes at the three year mark and that can’t be argued. The acidity melting into high level fruit is ideal in a secular wine for the ages. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG I Bricchi 2014, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $50.00)
From the brownish clay of the single vineyard and the barbera that positions itself between the estate Casa Scarpa and the Bogliona single cru bottling. Challenging vintage with near ideal fruit and above the norm acidity. Dark fruit actually set against a sky of Asti lightning and barbera thunder. Aching for food with the highest impression of passion and feeling. Singular barbera of Asti designation and off of a very steep slope. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa La Selva Di Moirano 2013, Monferrato Freisa Secco DOC, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $32.00)
Not the youngest but the best freisa currently on the market. A varietal of demanding tannin that settles after five years but won’t likely improve much further after that point. A dry and still version using a conceptual style fast fading from production. Scarpa is one of the keepers, even now from just 1.5 hectares planted. Sharp red berries and a clementine meets blood orange halfway citrus acidity. Another crazy useful gastronomic wine with a finish of zesty tonic. Drink 2020-2023. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa La Selva Di Moirano 2003, Monferrato Freisa Secco DOC, Piedmont, Italy
Freisa in dry form is not necessarily the norm and the vineyard was slightly larger than it is now (1.5 hectares) as a portion was over-grafted to barbera. This turns back the clock of freshness preservation and overturns the table so to speak and the culpability for speaking its mind to say “I can age.” This from a crazy hot vintage and if you need proof that wines from this territory can maintain acidity and freshness all you need to do is taste this 16 year-old freisa. Some dried fruit but so very notable for high tones, a salty streak and great persistence. Drink 2020-2023. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG La Bogliona 2011, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $80.00)
A powerful vintage widely considered as a great one and also from I Scarpese as such, from lighter, rich in magnesium sandy soils. How this translates is in a particular saltiness that compares to few others and there are many salty wines of this earth. Two years in large French cask and another two in bottle before being allowed out into the world, with ’13 being the current release. Not a Riserva so it is made in every vintage. A cru. An important and essential cru. Fruit of many ilk including dark berry, plum and cacchi. Fresh as the day it was conceived albeit with many developing complexities and more than a magnesium shake of intrigue. Grains of sand, tannin and time, all dropping slowly through the glass. Approximately 14,000 bottles are produced. Drink 2020-2032. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $80.00)
At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Rouchet 2016, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $56.00)
Rouchet is made from ruché grapes but cultivated outside of the production zone and so the kitschy French spelling tells the wink-wink, nudge-nudge tale. Classic varietal expression, bright and rich, very floral aromatic and the steely version here is effusive, effective and expressive. Such a promising vintage for age ability. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Rouchet 2007, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piedmont, Italy
This elderly one reveals an old school ruché with more secondary notes then either barbera or freisa show at such a stage in their age. There is tar and earthiness, wet forest and real herbology; rosemary and lavender plus a graphite note. Like old cabernet sauvignon! The wood obviously does the talking but both acidity and tannin remain sharp, pointed and full of prescient tang. This one is sadly not for sale. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted December 2019
Scarpa Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Bric Du Nota 2017, Piedmont, Italy
From two parts of a 2.5 hectare vineyard just outside of Monteu Roero, the highest wine-producing village in the Roero. A soil presence of fine-grained sand for an exacting expression of Roero nebbiolo. Launches with the typically traditional Scarpa design and the exceptionality is 36 months in large Slavonian cask for a later and mellower release than many. Quite formed and refined while constantly regenerating its energy in the glass. Fine tannic refrain and purpose. As goes Scarpa, in every incantation, in every wine. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted January 2020
Scarpa Barbaresco DOCG Tettineive 2016, Piedmont, Italy
Tettineive is “the rooftop of Neive,” a Piedmontese dialectical reference to a small collection of hills. Grapes come direct from the town. Here is the cool, silky smooth nebbiolo in Barbaresco clothing, transparent on the road to ethereal. There is indeed a crunchy feeling in this fruit circulating inside a tension filled housing. Very solid construct and highly recommended for a 10-15 year run. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted January 2020
Scarpa Barolo DOCG Tettimorra 2015, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $52.00)
Fantasy name, not a vineyard, indicating La Morra and the top of that place. The grapes are purchased though as of ’18 there will be nebbiolo coming off of owned vineyards. Rich and heady nebbiolo with an earthly construct and high acidity. Tannins are very grippy, very firm and very in control. Three years in two types of wood, large Slavonian and smaller French cask, then one year in bottle. Such a baby. Approximately 4,500 bottles are produced. Drink 2022-2029. Tasted December 2019
Good to go!