Réva the hand as if by magic

Réva’s is a remarkable Monforte d’Alba property nestled within an ideally situated Langhe amphitheatre, “at the limit of Barolo,” abutting the ridge that separates the potentate appellation’s southern border from Dogliani. Vines of dolcetto, barbera and nebbiolo rest, roost and rule the south-facing hill and a nine-hole links style golf course lays out east to west through the valley. Wooded havens hide deer and wild boar, birds of many ilk fill the naked skies, playgrounds long for children’s playful squeals while Restaurant FRE and its first Michelin Star in 2020 await the return of guests. A Piedmontese farm holiday stay such as this is quietude incarnate, unique, secluded and serene. Wines were made here at one time but growth and ambition make requiem for expansion. A new facility takes shape. Moving north again, at the foot of and below the village of La Morra we come to the cellar in Gallinotto where the wines are now in production. From agriturismo to cantina, Réva the hand as if by magic.

Nebbiolo and Dolcetto at Réva

Réva is a fascinating study of collaboration between five erudite men: Miroslav, Gianluca, Gabriele, Francesco and Daniele. Miro Lekes, owner, native of the Czech Republic and who’s first commercial vintage was 2012. Gianluca Colombo, oenologist, joined in 2010 after working 10 years for the Cordero consultancy in and out of 10-20 estates. Daniele Gaia worked at Elvio Cogno for seven years, leaving in 2016 to join the Réva experience. “If you want to be a protagonist in this world you need to find some space,” insists Gaia and so when he met with Miro and saw the vision for a 10+ year plan he knew his space had been found. Gabriele Adriano is winemaker, Tecnico Presso, formerly with Vajra in Vergne, just up the hill from Barolo. Gabriele joined just ahead of the 2017 harvest. “He’s very precise,” notes Daniele, “Gianluca is the creative one.” Francesco Spadaro joined in September 2018, coming from Viberti and at Réva deals with private customers and orders. “He is the commercial guy.”

We’re on the road to Réva

Farming practices are organic and not just for the vineyards, but also including the golf course and the wine relais grounds. “You don’t drink the certification,” quips Daniele, “you drink the wine.” Growth is quick and to the point because “there are five men working on the same wine. That’s the secret.” Total production at Réva is 65,000 bottles, the current maximum goal. Up to and at times above 10,000 each of dolcetto, nebbiolo, barbera, whites and the classico Barolo are the workhorses for 85-90 per cent of production. The cru Baroli from Ravera, Cannubi and Lazzarito make up the remainder.

Daniele Gaia, on the phone, making deals

“For sure Réva is a unique place in the Barolo area” tells Daniele. I spent a glorious January day with hime at the two properties near Monforte d’Alba. You need to begin tasting the ’16s, ’17s and ’18s because the ’19s in barrel will blow the roof off of the Langhe. Our third stop was for lunch in Alba at ventuno.1 under the culinary auspices of Chefs Alfonso Russo and Francesco Ferrara.

Godello, Chef Francesco Ferrara and Daniele Gaia at ventuno.1 , Alba

Know this. Réva’s are modern, 21st century wines with tremendous new Piemonte drinker’s appeal. They are also seductive to informed and discerning sommeliers because of an innate connection to the past. The notions that arise and astonish us are not because they are new, but because they are the sort that have been so long neglected and overlooked. The nebbiolo in particular are rooted in time tested pragmatism, decades, if not centuries old. They will stand the test, of longevity and time. These are the six wines we tasted.

Réva Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($34.04)

Taken from San Sebastiano area, vines 15-20 years old in Monforte d’Alba. “We have a special view of the nebbiolo,” tells Daniele Gaia. “In our point of view it has to show the character of the grape, flowers, drinkability and approachable, not a baby Barolo.” And so Réva attacks with a gentle touch, a short and cold maceration to secure nebbiolo kept in a “light” vein, with evident acidity. Carries the youthful “splendore” of beautiful red fruit. A precociousness unhindered, on hinges, in ultra comfortable balance. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Réva Barolo DOCG 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($66.15)

Another highly seasoned nebbiolo of rather dark red fruit and barrel piques that create spikes and valleys in the wine. Hangs on with enough energy to see the acidity match the fruit stride for stride. There’s a sense of structure to see this ’16 last for a decade strong and long. Drinking window will open shortly so the temptation will be to imbibe often and early, thereby fertilizing the narcotic poppy of drinking pleasure. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted January 2020

Réva Barolo DOCG Ravera 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($98.95)

So bright, so thoughtful and so generous. Ravera is the sneaky structured Réva Barolo, of a winemaker’s work that totes the freight of genius. Ravera is wanting nothing from you but gives you everything. A melting pot of Piedmontese nebbiolo, at ease and persistently resurgent. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted January 2020

Réva Barolo DOCG Cannubi 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($251.95)

Réva’s Cannubi is based or is the extension of an idea, initialized in 2012, to have three different expressions in Barolo. The search is for elegance of La Morra or Barolo and the structure of Serralunga or Monforte. The third is a combination and that is found in Ravera. The Cannubi plot was owned by Fratelli Barale, a Cannubi di Cannubi right next to the cemetery of Barolo. It’s still a rented property and will be owned at the end of a 10 year contract. Pure Barolo, close your eyes and this is recognizable as the dictionary entry. Hue as in deep depths of pure red with a streak of light. Palate of acidity and fine tannins with length. Rich without being too strong. Not closed, does not attack your mouth and yet there is grip to keep it moving forward. Really fine tannins and fruitful pleasure. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted January 2020

2018 Nebbiolo – Barolo DOCG Lazzarito

Réva Barolo Riserva DOCG Lazzarito 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($337.95)

The single-vineyard cru Lazzarito is added in 2016 and it is Daniele Gaia’s first harvest at Réva. Drive the best car and drive it right away. “This is the best wine Réva has never made,“ says Gaia with great irony mixed into humility. Tasted from low temperatures (22-24 degrees) in tank there was fear of Lazzarito’s tannins. Here above Serralunga a long strip on the top of the eastern side of the hill gives a marl-calcaire meets sandy soil and so the best of both structural worlds; freshness (also from high pH) and grip. Yes it’s silly young and impressionable but already handsome, unadorned and fruit so crunchy, yet also sapid, a pinch salty and the impression of acidity is a freshness with thanks to that elevated pH. A sample but already in bottle and will be released in two years. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted January 2020

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Three DOCG pillars of Asti: Secco, Dolce, Moscato d’Asti

For a wine region to succeed it must exercise sustainable principles and do so by meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Investment argues for three main pillars: economic, environmental, and social, a.k.a. people, planet and profits. In scientific terms sustainability refers to an ecosystem’s ability to exist constantly at a cost within a universe that evolves towards thermodynamic equilibrium within a state of maximum entropy. A modern vernacular would speak of the coexistence between humans and their host biosphere. A transfer of these ideological theories into wine-speak says that in Asti the growers, producers and their appointed Tutela dell’Asti DOCG chaperones have collectively agreed to set the appellative wines of Asti Secco DOCG, Asti Dolce DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG as representative of their present and future. Three pillars of Asti.

“Born in 1932, the Consortium for the Promotion of Asti has a clear mission: to perform all the necessary actions to protect, promote and enhance the value of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, in Italy and the world.” The sustainable manifesto is clear and one day spent inside the offices of the Consortium will instruct and explain all you need to know about economic, social, environmental, export, security and what Italians refer to as disciplinare policies. Regulations regarding vineyard yields, levels of alcohol, sugar, extract and bars of pressure are so defined as to ensure current production and sales viability but also explicitly what the next generation will need to carry the work forward.

Guido Bezzo and the Asti lab crew

The Consortium’s Laboritorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG is one of the most advanced and technologically impressive anywhere, with the mechanization capable of carrying out a diverse set of analyses. Under the guise of Guido Bezzo, who incidentally also happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter, the lab exerts its expertise far beyond pedestrian testing of alcohol, sugar and varietal purity. It delves deeper than mere organoleptic conclusions. The lab’s research works to investigate the impact analysis results for one 750 mL bottle of Asti wine covering categories that includes a mind-boggling set of parameters: Climate change; Reduction of the ozone layer; Toxicity and carcinogenic effects on humans; Particulate/smog caused by emissions of inorganic substances; Ionizing radiation effects on human inorganic health; Photochemical ozone formation; Acidification; Terrestrial, aquatic and marine eutrophication; Ecotoxicity in freshwater aquatic environments; Soil transformation; Resource depletion in water, minerals and fossils. Heady stuff indeed.

Dinner at Teatro Alfieri, Asti with President of the Consorzio Moscato d’Asti DOCG President Romano Dogliotti

La Caudrina’s Romano Dogliotti is President of the Consorzio dell’Asti DOCG and like so many Langhe winemakers, he is intrinsically tied to tradition but with a decisive openness to new technologies. In line withy many of his compatriots, Dogliotto’s Moscato d’Asti is made by putting yeast and moscato grape must in an autoclave. The must ferments at low temperature in this reinforced fermentation vessel until about half the natural sugar is consumed, then the wine is quickly passed through a micron filter to arrest the fermentation. The result is Moscato d’Asti at five and a half degrees of alcohol by volume and enough residual sweetness to conjure the feeling of eating ripe orchard fruit. In Asti the moscato comes out three ways: Secco, Dolce, Moscato d’Asti.

There are 10,000 hectares of vineyards for these lightly sparkling, off-dry to sweet Asti white wines and the Consorzio is entrusted to promote and protect the wines in the appellation. They are widely imitated and so undertaking legal action and registering trademarks in every country is a necessary side-hustle of the job. In terms of producer requests, all changes and modifications applied for must be approved by the consortium. An integral aspect of the work involves field, vineyard as well as laboratory research.

Teatro Alfieri, Asti

Asti covers parts of 52 communes, three provinces; Asti, Cuneo, Alessandria and three territories; Langhe, Roero and Monferrato. The vineyard landscape of these three famous Piedmontese areas were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2014, Un territorio Patrimonio dell’Umanità. Sedimentary soils that date back 10-15 million years predominate. One is the Pliocenic basin of Asti to the northeast. The to the west around Canelli there are Serravallian (Middle Miocene) soils, stratified layers of blue clay, sand and lime. Many believe this to be the best composition for Moscato d’Asti. To the east in the area of Strevi the ground is Tortonian (late Miocene), younger at five to 10 million years, with more clay and more lime in deeper layers and colour. 

Laboritorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG

The crux of the varietal situation is twofold, at once for vineyards subsisting at the foot of the Alps and also drawing energy being proximate to the sea. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards are directly protected by the mountains. As seemingly everywhere, climate is changing here too. In the last 15 years average temperatures have increased by one degree. In the past 58 years the average increase has been by two. More important are temperature abnormalities. The centrepiece moscato bianco is a very sensitive grape and easily subjected to diseases. A study of 15 experimental vineyards continues to assess the vintages and the shifting climatic effect on the wines.

Agnolotti al tartufo bianco, Ristorante Cascinale Nuovo (Isola d’Asti – http://www.walterferretto.com)

Guyot training is appropriate for poor quality soils and lower yields. Broken down by altitude, 44 per cent of the vineyards are at 250-300m and 30 per cent at 300-450m. In terms of slope, 2,770 of 9,700ha have a gradient higher than 30 per cent, 336 ha with a gradient of more than 50. “Heroic agriculture” is the moniker bestowed. “The Sorì vineyards.” No mechanization is employed and a certain crucial must is picking times, especially in terms of the preservation of moscato bianco’s aromatic compounds.  Yields per hectare are set at 9.5 tonnes for Asti and Moscato d’Asti, the approximate price at 1.1 Euro.

With Andrea Costa, Vini Marenco

The 60,000 tonnes kept at negative four degrees in summer costs dearly in equipment and energy. It is widely believed that juice can stay in tank for up to two years without losing aromatic concentration. Fermentation takes place at 20 degrees in pressure tanks developed by Italian sparkling wine pioneer Dr. Federico Martinotti, director of the Research Institute for the Wine of Asti, who patented the method in 1895. Martinotti is credited with creating the method of developing the bubbles inside of tanks. The juice can stand pressures of more than 10 bars. Yeasts must be stopped abruptly (in a matter of a few hours) to avoid off odours and flavours, i.e rotten egg and cooked cabbage. Centrifuge and filters are used. In the past pasteurization at 50 degrees was the norm but now micro filtration screens out the yeast (at 0.2 microns) and stabilizes the wines. Agronomist/viticuilturalist Daniele Eberle also explains how Fratelli Gancia used the same techniques that the French used here in Piemonte in the late 1800s. The city of Canelli, cultural home of Asti holds the highest concentration of companies that make all the equipment necessary for bottling Spumante wines.

Étretat – Claude Monet, Palazzo Mazzetti

These are the disciplinare for the three appellation wines:

  • Asti Dolce DOCG: 6-7 per cent alcohol by volume, 90-100 g/L residual sugar and Sparkling at maximum 4-5 bars of pressure
  • Moscato d’Asti DOCG: Minimum 4.5 up to 6.5 per cent alcohol by volume, 120-130 g/L residual sugar and Sparkling at maximum 2.5 bars of pressure 
  • Asti Secco DOCG: Minimum 11.0 per cent alcohol by volume, 17 g/L residual sugar and Sparkling at 3-3.5 maximum bars of pressure

Massive thanks to Mariana Nedic, Marina Nedic, Ana Murguia and the staff at IEEM Communications. Looking back at December travels and work assignments in Italy I now find myself focusing in on the new and forward thinking Moscato d’Asti stories in the heart of Piemonte. Tough wines to produce but these traditional producers have to do it. It Is their heritage, imperative and pleasure. At the Consorzio dell’Asti in Isola d’Asti the steps and stages of Asti’s gently sparkling wines gave way to a blind tasting of the following seven. 

Blind Tasting

Duchessa Lia Asti Secco DOCG Santo Stefano Belbo, Piedmont, Italy

Lime and a soapy entry but on the drier side, likely Asti Secco. Feels like 15 g/L of sugar with gentle and supportive acidity. Somewhere between peach and pear, clean and perhaps too much so. Certainly a fine mousse and persistence. A new style from which the aromatics are diminished and yet the gain in versatility in this case indicates one done well. Does well to avoid the potential of bitters marking the finish. Alcohol is at 11.0 per cent and sugars could be as high as 17 g/L though this seems lower in the 10-12 range. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Acquesi Asti Dolce DOCG, Piedmont, Italy ($13.95)

Asti Dolce for sure, crazy sweet and reminiscent of a lime creamsicle. Aromatic but not overtly so, all controlled by the sugars and so very cloying. Exceptionally foamy, creamed and whipped in mousse. Perfectly suited to flavour a zabaglione to work alongside hazelnuts baked into a soft, crumbly cake. Alcohol at 7.0 per cent and sugars at 90-100 g/L. Drink 2019.  Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Gancia Asti Secco DOCG Cuvée Asti 24 Messi Método Classico 2012, Piedmont, Italy

A wine that owes to the experience of Carlo Gancia in Canelli. Wildly aromatic, a Langhe experiential moment straight away conceived and delivered. A Piedmontese traditional method bubble that is clearly more complex than kin simplicities. Bottle fermented and made from grapes harvested in 2012. Recently disgorged so at least six years on the lees technically Asti Dolce but really no affinity because the secondary and even tertiary aromas are in. Baking scents and oxidative meets caramelized notes are part of the mix, as is this ginger-orange créme brûlée with a healthy compliment of torched sugar flavours. A complex mess of aromatics, next level texture and most of all, multi-developed levels and layers of sweetness. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Bèra Moscato d’ Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy ($29.30)

Now into Moscato d’Asti with the most classic presentation, aromatically effusive, effective, generous and free. The sweetness in such a moscato is so very stone fruit based and subjected to a perfectly ripe squeeze of more than one citrus. Lemon, lime and orange without forgetting the smells of their blossoms. Quite correct and more so, leaving an impression that is not soon left for dust. From fruit grown in Meviglie at the limit of Neive. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Michele Chiarlo Moscato d’Asti DOCG Nivole 2018, Piedmont, Italy (650440, $9.75, 375ml)

Waxy, aerosol citrus and perhaps a year older with prevalent if weighty acids that settle this Moscato d’Asti into a secondary period. Both aromatics and freshness are diminished though so seem the sugars so the balance is still well-afforded. Ultimately a perfect example of the ripe peach scents so expected from Moscato d’Asti. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Mongioia Moscato d’Asti DOCG Crivella 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Quite toasty and though no wood was used it shows a remarkably semi-oxidative and lightly caramelized character that brings colour, cooked apple and creamy nectarine mousse. It has certainly come to a more interesting and charming place with just a moment’s liquorice and this white fig flavour. Worth some fun and giggles with persistent acids. Fruit from steep vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo in the province of Cuneo at the border of Asti. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at the Asti DOCG consortium, December 2019

Mongioia Moscato d’Asti DOCG Crivella 2003, Piedmont, Italy

Quite the advanced Moscato d’Asti here at the edge of tumbling down from the Sorì. Oxidative and fully caramelized notes, with preserved lemon, torched orange and candied ginger. The sugars are accentuated as a result of the diminishing acidity. Still a joyous showing for a 16 year-old moscato. Fruit from steep vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo in the province of Cuneo at the border of Asti. Drink 2019.  Tasted December 2019

Tasting next door to Monet

After the Masterclass and blind tasting we transferred to Asti and convened in Palazzo Mazzetti for a walk-around with the producers in the company of a small but exquisite exhibit, “Monet e gli Impressionisti.” These winemakers are finding new success by making use of advanced technologies, higher altitudes, specific soils and identifiable crus. These are the Moscato d’Asti I tasted and the world may know they are to be reckoned with.

Azienda Agricola Cerino Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

A curious and interesting moscato this one, fresh enough and so very basil herbal, then white flowers and lime. A touch refined in white sweetness, also tart, long and elastic. Unique and quite fine. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Azienda Agricola Gallo Cascina Cabonaldo Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

Located in Montabone, halfway between Canelli (to the west) and Acqui Terme (to the southeast). The vineyards at 320m help strengthen the haughty aromatics, even while this moscato acts pale and sallow though clearly fresh, clean and seemingly simple. Nothing wrong with that in fact this is one of the easiest feats of drinking amenability. Direct, correct and highly effective. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Lorenzo Gozzelino and Silviana Ignat

Azienda Agricola Gozzelino Sergio Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Righteous, energetic, ripe and frantic moscato is exemplary as such because it enlivens the heart and enlightens the mind. Big, bouncy, bountiful and welling with blossom aromatics leading to rich, striking, full flavour. Lemon and apricot develop a marmalade of unction, glycerin and natural texture. This fruit from Gozzelino’s vineyards is top notch. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Gozzelino Moscato Passito DOC Piemonte 2012, Piedmont, Italy

Following the manual picking of withered Moscato grapes in November they are pressed and put in refrigerated vats under controlled fermentation. In dessert wine terms for moscato in Piedmont this is the truth, spirited and flashy. Pineapple with an adage of savour in pencil lead and sage of a texture in silken layers. Brazil Nuts are all over the finish as a nougat or an ulterior marzipan. Textbook stuff. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted December 2019

Azienda Agricola Scagliola Giacomo E Figlio Moscato d’Asti DOCG Sifasol 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Located in Canelli here’s a sweetly viscous moscato very lime-driven from calcareous terroir. High quality acidity off the sorì (top portion) from south-facing vines 70 years of age. High level scents of orange blossom, apricot and sage, so typical of Canelli. Really balanced moscato in every respect. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Azienda Agricola Terrabianca Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

Azienda Agricola Terrabianca di Alpiste Federico e Andrea is located in Mango at 520-550m, one of the highest points in the Langhe and not far from Castagnole. This for moscato is surely something other, something curious, sweetly magical. Hard not to love a glass. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Azienda Agricola Terrabianca Moscato d’Asti Vignot DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

Terrabianca’s Vignot cru moscato is from Canelli off a south exposure for vines of 65 years-old. One of the richest Moscato d’Asti wines you will ever indulge in the fine, smooth and feathery way of lemon curd, but also paraffin waxy and spiked by a limoncello spirit. Zested, striking, maximizing varietal and stylistic enjoyment. Clearly a cut above and so very singular. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Ristorante Cascinale Nuovo (Isola d’Asti – http://www.walterferretto.com)

Azienda Agricola Terrabianca Moscato d’Asti Vignot DOCG 2012, Piedmont, Italy

A rare opportunity to taste the possibilities in aged Moscato d’Asti, here from Terrabianca’s south-facing Vignot cru in Canelli off of vines of 65 years of age. Vines that soak up maximum sun, not just to promote an oriented sweet richesse but also the ability to age. Now having developed honey and the early stages of petrol and persistent tonal depth. Spurts of lemon are the near-term projection with a real smoulder on the vaporous horizon. Really smart stuff in a world of similitude occupied by the likes of riesling and sémillon. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Cantina Alice Bel Colle Moscato d’Asti DOCG Paiè 2018, Piedmont, Italy

From the hills of Alto Monferrato in and about turn of face with 100 per cent of the moscato grapes subjected to a passito methodology of drying for a few months before turning into sparkling wine. Finishes at 5.5 per cent alcohol and 150 g/L of residual sugar. “It is a new way of showing Moscato d’Asti,” tells the spokesperson on behalf of the choir for 100 members. There can be no argument there. Royally sweet and unequivocally in hyperbole of all the aromatic and fruit concentrated aspects of the Md’A style. Truly haughty and heightened in caricature respect. Is it too much? Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Cantina Tre Secoli Moscato D’asti DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Located in Canelli Tre Secoli’s moscato is so correct. Combines the full frontal aromatic attack with an easing into back end creaminess and big orange citrus flavour. Perfectly ripe and intentional mild sparkling wine with moments occupied by lemon, lime curd and apricot marmalade. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Coppo 1892 Moscato d’Asti DOCG Moncalvina “Canelli” 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($23.20 – Estimate)

“Moscato loves altitude as compared to barbera,” tells Luigi Coppo, “and now is the time to think about Moscato d’Asti.” Luigi says it’s a serious wine because it’s difficult to make. No sugars are added or carbonization performed and it’s a vintage wine. These are the three tenets that matter most. From Canelli vineyards between 200-280m and the classicism of construct and effect is pure magic in proper and precise, sleight of hand ability. That’s what it needs to be, no more, no less. Naturally sweet, a pinch of salt and all the orchard fruit; apple, pear, lemon and orange. All together in balance and gift with tannin on a real dry finish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Fontanafredda Asti DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Intense and sharp, mildly herbal and heavy into the citrus to contrast and compliment the heavy sweetness. Some finishing bitters add a feeling of complexity. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Tartufo Bianco, Ristorante Cascinale Nuovo (Isola d’Asti – http://www.walterferretto.com)

Fontanafredda Moscato d’Asti DOCG Le Fronde 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Here lies Moscato d’Asti at the furthest edge of sweetness and creamy consistency. After the pleasant aromas of peaches and crème frâiche come the stirring moments of a dull anxiety. That feeling of imbalance marks the finish. Drink 2019.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

The 25th anniversary bottling that combs all the moscato vineyards on the estate though truth be told they all produce quite different wines. “Gianni’s dream was to produce the best moscato ever,” tells sister Paola. The clarity and clean, clean living is evident and with thanks to upstart acidity to balance the sugars. A soil-driven expression of moscato for a fresh and crunchy result. Peaches meet white balsamic for some genuine complexity. Eight to ten bottlings are made each year from wine that sits suspended at one degree in juice format inside steel tanks. At this time of year there is no danger of fermentation. A wine of 5.0 per cent alcohol. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Moscato d’Asti DOCG Casa di Bianca 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

A single-vineyard moscato from 35 year-old vines and the plot Gianni’s grandfather just knew grew the best vines and so Gianni first decided to separate it from the pack in 2012. And so this particular moscato sees eight or nine months on the lees and finds a next level of complexity for the stylistic and the tradition. Gives a yeasty note on top of green apple, melon, orange blossom and fine herbs. The acidity is greater and so energy is exercised in perpetual motion. The alcohol result is just slightly higher at 5.5 per cent. A wine completely unique in this world that may just deliver some petrol and paraffin with a few years time. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Marenco Moscato d’Asti DOCG Strev 2018, Piedmont, Italy

From Strevi in the province of Alessandria equidistant from both Alba and Asti to form a correct isosceles. Strev is the moscato work of Andrea Costa, winemaker Patrizia Marenco and team. Several vineyards in the area are suited to aromatic varieties because of soil composition (white clay, marl and limestone) off of cooler hillsides at 300-320m. Most important is the diurnal shift between day and night temperature. This is the epitome of aromatic preservation on the lemon-lime-orange freshness scale with good acids and next level goodness. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Andrea Costa and Laura Kaminsky, Vini Marenco

Marenco Moscato d’Asti DOCG Scarpona 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Andrea Costa has a boyish grin and wink in his eye when he delivers this three year-old moscato into my glass and for good reason. This is the revolution in moscato d’asti, the one made so bloody intriguing surely due to innovation projects both in the vineyards and cellar. There’s an affinity here with Collio friulano and sauvignon, namely because of the elasticity and surely the transferrable aromas, in a marine-mountain sandwich effect or what we expect from typical Moscato d’Asti. Moves through passion fruit and mineral-flinty-elemental strikes, so much so the sugars are forgotten. Smouldering, so curious and of more depth than many. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Matteo Soria Moscato d’Asti DOCG Soria 2019, Piedmont, Italy ($16.00 – Estimate)

Bottled last week, barely moved in, likely not yet settled into its new digs. Made up of 75 per cent 2019 (as per appellation rule) plus a mix of the three previous vintages. Crisp, cleaner and waxier than the ’16 with sharper acidity and leaner flavours. Heavily aromatic and even a bit herbal but just so linear, searing and lightning quick in reflex motion. That said the ripeness is just a tad short of ideal and so Matteo seems to have gone straight to freshness and intensity. It was the correct choice with a little help from the last three vintage friends. All about finding more aromas. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Michele Chiarlo Moscato d’Asti DOCG Nivole 2019, Piedmont, Italy (650440, $9.75, 375ml)

Waxy, aerosol citrus and perhaps a year older with prevalent if weighty acids that settle this Moscato d’Asti into a secondary period. Both aromatics and freshness are diminished though so seem the sugars so the balance is still well-afforded. Ultimately a perfect example of the ripe peach scents so expected from Moscato d’Asti. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Tenuta Langasco Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

Very accomplished moscato from Langasco out of Madonna di Como in the hills surrounding the city of Alba. As aromatic as should be, could be, would be or might ever be desired. You can’t miss the blossoms, peach and citrus, then juiced for maximum effect. The parts are all arranged one, two, three together. Very special. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Viticoltori Associati Vinchio E Vaglio Serra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

A perfectly reasoned and seasoned Moscato d’Asti, blossoms blooming and varietally profiled through their aromatic presence. Very lemon and honeyed as if by Passito but the concentration goers it natural and alone. Clean, caressing and just lovely. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

With the Martini Boys

Viticoltori Associati Vinchio E Vaglio Serra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Persistently stable, crunchy and crisp moscato from the great cooperative, high in acids and big, brilliant flavours. Grand squeeze of lime juice and has lost nary an aromatic or textural step due to an extra year in bottle, in fact the freshness is on pare if not trying to edge past and exceed the newer 2019. Really fine 2018. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Barolo’s Sister and Brother Boschis

Giorgio and Chiara Boschis

Many have visited E. Pira & Figli’s cellars, tasted and broken bread with sister Chiara and brother Giorgio Boschis. I am certainly not the first nor the 500th but looking back at my visit with the Barolo sorella e fratello team on December 1st now seems to carry more weight than even I could have imagined. When we consider what has happened in Piemonte, up and down Italy and increasingly around the world over these past four months makes the timing all the more special.

Godello and Chiara Boschis

I did in fact have the great fortune to taste and spend more time with Giorgio in January over dinner in Alba during the days of Nebbiolo Prima 2020. There is so much to know, admire and appreciate about these two special Piedmontesi, the level of respect afforded the work they’ve put in and a level of humanity to give meaning to the spiritual endearment “Brother Giorgio and Sister Chiara.” They are part of the integral and collective soul of Piemonte, Barolo, the vineyards they steward and the wines they fashion from lands larger than life.

Godello and Giorgio Boschis in Alba, January 2020

Going back to the 1700s the Pirras were from Sardegna and the name morphed into Pirra. Then in more recent times Pira. In 1980 the legendary Gigi Pira, owner of E. Pira passed away. With no heirs to carry on a request for assistance was made to the Boschis-Borgogno family. Chiara Boschis’ father Franco purchased the cantina and vineyards and made the wines for a spell. She finished studies in Turin, cut her teeth working at Rivetti and took over Pira. This was by now long after the winery was established and present in the village of Barolo, in what Chiara refers to as the “Golden Ages” that begun in the 1850s. After Phylloxera ravaged the vineyards and did away with prosperity the youth left and the old remained, including Franco, one of the very few. Fast forward to the new golden times and Chiara Boschis becomes one of the “Barolo Boys,” a rat pack moniker bestowed on young nebbiolo toting winemakers, including Elio Altare, Giorgio Rivetti, Roberto Voerzio, Elio Grasso, Lorenzo Accomasso, Alessandro and Bruno Ceretto, Beppe and Marta Rinalidi, Beppe Caviola and Marc de Grazia. The lone woman? Chiara Boschis.

Chiara the pioneer was the scrappiest of the scrappy winemakers, carrying the Pira torch through the growth period of the late 80s and into the 90s, in a time when the collective plan involved “improving quality and the attention of the international markets.” She worked to reduce production, clean the cellars, install new wood and equipment and most important, the vinification of single crus. She started with Cannubi and Terlo, then in 2010 registered a “fantasy name” to make a cru assemblage. The new equipment refined the wines and practicing cellar hygiene led to the elimination of the dirty smells.

Giorgio Boschis

Robert Parker came to Alba in the 90s and announced the wines as too rustic. A light shone in the minds of the youngest winemakers who knew what had to be done. There were only 30 wineries in the area after the second world war, now there are more than 600. Boschis has always avoided the temptations. “We didn’t want to become the California winemaker. The pride of our roots took us to a much higher level and now it’s fancy to be traditional, even if so few are truly family anymore. The fact is we really just wanted to have clean wines.”

Chiara Boschis

Chiara has always farmed organic and was finally certified in 2010, the year Giorgio joined hands. Together they purchased more vineyard space in the areas of Monforte and Serralunga. Cannubi and Mosconi are the two crus and they also produce their assemblage Via Nuova from several significant plots like Terlo and Liste in the commune of Barolo; Gabutti and Baudana in Serralunga d’Alba; Ravera from Monforte and Mosconi in Monforte d’Alba. Total farmed is 11 hectares producing 35-40 thousand bottles. Generally speaking the barrel program is one-third each new, one year and two years old wood of half and half barriques and botti. The exception is Mosconi which sees more barriques because, “it’s so much fruit.”

These are the five wines tasted with Chiara in the cantina plus one more with Giorgio in Alba.

E. Pira & Figli Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($30.95)

In the words of Chiara Boschis. “For me the dolcetto is part of my background, my history, the memories of the family.” Now listen closely to this dolcetto because a challenge will bring the best out of a winemaker and her wines. “This is the dolcetto that i like, fresh, fruity, drinking well.” The fruit comes from three plots in Monforte; Le Coste, Mosconi and Ravera. Not for aging, lacking structure but certainly not lacking in elegance and pleasure. Finishes with a white peppery kick. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($43.95)

More potential than dolcetto and here the triangular travelling from flowers, through spice and into avid acidity makes this real, honest, true and long. One year in barrel (old only) and fruit drawn out of vineyards in Mosconi, Ravera (Monforte) and the lower, south facing part of Gabutti (Serralunga). Refreshing and so perfectly aligned, plus essentially designed to handle olive oil in every incantation, especially meats cooked and fried in the fats of the area. Only 4,000-5,000 bottles produced. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($50.95)

Now into nebbiolo that is highly floral from one dedicated vineyard in Le Coste, of “bello” respect. High-level nebbiolo factor, traditional and extreme clarity. If most of the Barolo were drawn, executed and nurtured to prepare themselves to be this elegant than all would command full and utter attention. So pretty and wise, so joyous to be with. Clearly the vineyard is to thank. Might as well be Barolo? Nah, that misses the point. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Via Nuova 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Via Nuova is the assemblage, the house wine, Vigna della Casa and a wine of all encompassing perfume. A mix of finesse and structure. Also textured with a charming glycerin and experiential moments in thyme. There is much pride and dreaming hope for 2016, with great aging potential. The tannins creep up, take hold and remain, secured and bonded. That’s nebbiolo grip and persistence incarnate. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Why is Mosconi so special. “Why is anyone more beautiful than the other?” Nature. A connection to Domenico Clerico and when Chiara had a chance to join this plot she jumped. The flowers come at you in waves. The fruit is everywhere and all is stored inside, kept safe, comforted and comfortable. South facing below the village and again it just must be the place that brings this level of joy, elegance and structure. There are 25-30 years of life ahead for this 2016. So glad Chiara became a part of la squadra Mosconi. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2015, Piedmont, Italy

Mosconi is simply Mosconi, exquisite, powerful, elegant and grippy. Mosconi in the hands of Chiara Boschis in possession of so much 2015 fruit (though when is it void in such a regard) and so more barriques to less botti ratio increases the textural component. Mosconi comes at you in waves, oscillations there of and with swaths of Rothko tactility. Paints Barolo red in incremental minutia through all the advancing warmth that can be coalesced in one bottle of nebbiolo. Generosity incarnate and the one to drink whilst you wait for 10s, 11s, 12s and especially 16s. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Giorgio and Chiara Boschis

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November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

In quieter, happier and still innocent times there were days when you could freely take a Saturday morning drive down the A33 from Asti, skirt past Alba and into the sleepy environs of Castiglione Falletto. On that last sunny one of November I did just that to pay a visit with Barbara Sandrone. Later that day I moved north to Barbaresco to do the same with Marina Marcarino at Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. I am thinking of them both and their families at this most challenging time of the past 75 years. Their estates are so very different and yet both Barbara and Marina are two of Piemonte’s strongest women, fearless in their pursuit of excellence, integrity and their respective family’s dreams to tell exacting stories of very specific places.

With Marina Marcarino

Sandrone in found south down the slope and slightly to the west of the tiny hamlet of Castiglione Falletto, also the name of the commune in the Province of Cuneo. The town of Barolo is further afield south down SP3 Via Alba. Barbara’s family wines are made by her father Luciano, pioneer, founder and visionary, along with her uncle Luca. Luciano founded the winery in 1978 after working at Borgogno and being the cellar master in charge at Marchesi di Barolo. One of the winery’s most progressive concepts is actually a retro one. They concern Barolo that are neither selections nor Riserva but rather of intuition, “to free nebbiolo’s innate resistance to time.” Sibi et Paucis, “a few who are the favoured,” in that a small percentage of the three seminal nebbolo bottlings are held and stored in the winery’s cellar. “The harmony of wine expressed through passion and patience” is Sandrone’s credo and it is the Valmaggiore, plus Le Vigne and Aleste Barolo that are released six, 10 and 10 years forward (respectively) to supply restaurants with a desire to sell old vintages, but don’t necessarily have the space to store them. Here are the five wines I tasted that morning at Sandrone. Thank you Barbara and I hope you and your family are well.

With Barbara Sandrone

Sandrone

Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018 ($29.95)

The keys to the dolcetto city are granted when fruit, freshness and high level acidity coordinate as they do in bringing 10 different plot expressions together from Monforte and Barolo. High level excitability in control and though it has a short life expectancy (three to four years) there is charm and there is balance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($44.95)

From the area very close to Grasso at the top of the hill at 450m. Dark black cherry and weight from a hot vintage and so the wind and the aerification up at this great Langhe height has kept the wine fresh and breezy. Works well to accede and succeed going forward. Crisp for barbera d’alba. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Valmaggiore 2017 ($59.95)

Comes from sandy soils in Roero, the youngest and more openly friendly of the three brothers, along with Le Vigne and Aleste. One year in tonneaux and one year in bottle. Chalky and largely chunky but always the acidity and the charm. Solid as it can possibly get for the appellation, a mid-term traveller with everything under control. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Saturday morning @sandroneluciano on a perfectly November Piedmontese day. Grazie Barbara. Yours, your father’s and your family’s wines take care to do what’s good and beautiful and right.

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Le Vigne 2015 ($159.95)

A formidable construct forms the outline and strengthens the bones of Sandrone’s Le Vigne. This nebbiolo strikes the heart with what just seems like the crux-filling soul of these nebbioli standing at its own attention with intention and promise. The inner sanctum of succulence and intentionally high-strung parts moves the dial in the direction of forever with time-stopping ability. There seems no way forward now while at the same time the earth revolves because you just know it does. But you can’t feel it. What you can feel is yourself breathing and Le Vigne is teaching you through the moment. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Aleste 2015 ($179.95)

Aleste goes deeper and more introspectively into the clay and limestone with this uncanny ability and intuitiveness to mimic its compact terroir. You can imagine the nebbiolo here softening in cold, wet months and hardening when dry and warm. The tannic structure is not that of Le Vigne and in a way (if I can be allowed to say) there is more Luciano Sandrone’s youth years in Aleste and more morbido times of wisdom in Le Vigne. There can be no reason to consume cases of Aleste any earlier than the age of 10, or even 15. It’s packed so tight and without holes in its armour for to ensure longevity with the greatest Baroli and that includes the most historical, traditional and famous. What a moment this wine gives and will bring to those who make one their own. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2019

Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset

After a brief stop for lunch in Castiglione Falletto I made my way back up the Autostrada, took the SP3 Barbaresco off-ramp, crossed over the Tanaro, turned towards Castagnole Lanze and headed for Neive. In the hills above the village is Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. The literal meaning is “beautiful hill” or “peak,” a name derived from dialectical Piedmontese legend which tells of this nickname given by the Count of Neive. Punset is run by fifth generation winemaker Marina Marcarino, organic instrumentalist, agricultural trailblazer and arguably the Langhe’s greatest disco dancer. Marcarino made a decision to farm organically in the 80s when commercialism, conventionalism and conservatism were the rampant norm. She was the witch of Barbaresco, feared and surely admired though many did not yet understand the breadth of her powers.

Today’s world of natural wine has got nothing on Marina Marcarino. She was into the match long before today’s winemakers were even out of huggies. Marina explains what her wishes are going forward. “What I would like for the future? Being able to communicate my experience as an example of personal achievement to the new generations, spurring them to get into the game.” Never before have philosophies like this meant so much. Most recently Marcarino has devoted an incredible amount of time and effort as President of the L’Associazione Produttori Vini Albesi. Dear Marina, I trust you are staying positive through these troubling months and I have an important request. When we all come through this, please save the next dance for me. These are the nine wines tasted with Marina on that day in late November.

Punset Neh! Langhe Bianco DOC 2018 ($18.95)

Ne’? is the “Piedmontese” way of ending a sentence, like ‘eh in Canada. A 50-50 arneis and favortita mix, salt missive over fruit and extremely fresh. The aperitíf white that connects dialectal territory with those in the diaspora that want a taste. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Neh! Langhe Rosso DOC 2017 ($18.95)

Mainly dolcetto (70 per cent) with barbera and nebbiolo. Not much of the latter but necessary to widen the expression of the Langhe. Here it’s an explanation point, not a question, as in a confirmation of the exclamatory Piedmontese expression. Bright red amalgamated fruit with proper acidity and the ability to work alongside anyone and all. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Arneis Langhe DOC 2018 ($26.95)

The gastronomic DOC Langhe with 100 per cent arneis and right from the top you can tell the difference. Not just the increase in limestone mineral push but also texture and even structure. Liquid salty wave, creamy without abandoning roots and reason. Lingers longer than most arneis and you’re very pleased to have it hang about. Besides it’s more a winter white than a summer one. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Dolcetto d’Alba Langhe DOC 2017 ($21.95)

The luxuriously natural dolcetto, richly phenolic and rustic, lactic and reasonably so. A pure varietal expression, true to place and to form. Great fruit and essential first course red. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($24.95)

From two vineyards, one planted in 1996 and one in 2003. Rich and spicy with some of the varieties’ greatest clarity. Very few comes across with this sort of red fruit. Maintains the fragrance and the “frankness” of the variety. No French oak, no confiture. “It’s the easiest wine for us because we do nothing,“ shrugs Marina Marcarino, expect for picking at the right times and pressing gently. That and cement. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017 ($31.95)

From the tiniest production made from the youngest vines from times when there is more vegetation and verticality for health. This practice started about 20 years ago, which harks to a very specific pruning system and because Guyot is tough on the vines. They are nurtured like the children they are and the results are in the natural order of things and in the personality of this genuine Langhe. It’s volatile you should know. It’s also biodynamic, dynamic and beautiful. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2014 (302786, $66.95)

Very traditional nebbiolo coming from the southeast part of Marina Marcarino’s vineyards, very steep, the rock bed 8m deep. Classic nebbiolo with classic tannins, 40 days on skin, softly removed. Slavonian 2500L and no less than two years refining time, 14 months of that in the wood. Emits a not to be missed scent of menthol and faint herbs mixed with fennocchio, It’s the vineyard talking and though we would want to there’s nothing more to specifically name, so just chalk it up to memories created, of another time and in this same place. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2013 (302786, $66.95)

If 2014 in general was not considered a great vintage it might as well have been so here, of mild temperatures and not so wet. Fresh and excitedly savoury with a mint-vegetative note but it matters little because this ’13 is different and was built with bigger structure, not the power of some and many, though surely these never are. The aroma is very similar and so we deduce that this is what Punset Barbaresco smells exactly like. Something growing in the vineyard, or maybe something deep and well within the ground, or even in the air. It’s just what it smells like. An aroma divine. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

An afternoon tasting through the Neive wines of Italy’s first organic wine producer. Marina Marcarino began her impassioned and unwavering journey in 1982 ~ Shout out to @nicholaspearcewines for getting these gems to Ontario.

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Campo Quadro Riserva 2012 ($71.95)

A cru Barbaresco, meaning squared, and the place is just like a painting. Carries a double entendre and as Marina Marcarino explains, there “probably is a third meaning that we don’t know.” Take in the math of 12,000 square metres and 12,000 bottles of wine produced, making use of 70 per cent of the potential. Different aromatics than the very traditional, non-Riserva Barbaresco, deeper and richer, more sweet red fruit and less savour. A bigger vintage, with a similar fermentation and aged in French barriques and botti. Some spice for sure, with 36 wood aging a major part of the profile, followed by 36 further months in bottle. Great structure, wild ride, all in total control. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Castiglione Falletto from Via Alba

Twitter: @mgodello

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Gone Vajra in Piemonte

Stained Glass Window by Padre Costantino Ruggeri and Vajra’s Inox Tanks

Head west from the village of Barolo, climb the SP3 up to 400 metres above sea level and you will arrive in Vergne, the highest village of the regal Piedmontese appellation. This is where the most forward thinking, visionary and traditionally romantic estate of G. D. Vajra is found. Vajra is the house that Aldo and Milena Vaira built, are in the continued process of building (literally) and produce wines along with their children, Francesca, Giuseppe and Isidoro. On a recent December 2019 trip to Piemonte I drove down the A33 from Asti through Alba, skirted Barolo up the SP3 to spend a few hours with Isidoro and Francesca Vaira on a soggy Sunday morning. Vajra’s wines have been trending big time, gaining ground, rising in prominence and spreading fast. I knew it was time to find out why things have gone Vajra.

Family, roots and vineyards. Having talked and tasted with Francesca and Isidoro @vajra_barolo there can be no doubt many words and feelings will follow. Their’s is a story of resilience and constant renewal.

If you engage in obsessive study or even share a casual interest in religious iconography and emblematic ordnance then the term Vajra will no doubt be recognizable. Vajra, a symbolic ritual tool or object used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism to represent the unyielding power of spirit. Vajra, the symbol of the Vajrayāna school of Buddhism, a type of club with a ribbed spherical head, the “diamond thunderbolt.” The family may not adhere to the far eastern credo or for that matter even mention any possibility of connection, but a listen to their story and a study of their life’s work can be looked at in the emblematic light of ideals relating to indestructibility and irresistible force. An explanation is forthcoming and in due course.

Dude’s getting married next week. No wonder Isidoro Vaira is a happy man.

It’s only one week before his wedding and Isidoro generously takes the time to meet. He begins with a winter’s tale, extolling the virtues of snow cover, which incidentally arrived to the slopes in December and early January, then subsequently disappeared for the remainder of the mild 2020 winter. The Piedmontese saying goes like this. Sotto la neve, il pane, orunder the snow, the bread.” Snow is better than water because it holds more oxygen and encourages the plants to draw more nutrients from the soil. This is an example of generational knowledge because as Isidoro reminds us, when you spend time with your father and the elders “you learn the importance of nature.”

sotto la neve, il pane

under the snow, the bread

Aldo Vaira began this six decades old journey in 1970 with a 0.3 hectare plot at Bricco Viole. The first vintage was 1972, of no ripeness and fruit sold away. He thought “with this money I don’t pay for my work,” and so began to bottle for himself. By 1986 Aldo was farming seven hectares but on the 29th of May the storm of the century killed everything, save for 300 bottles worth of fruit. He was in his mid-30s, with one child already born and two more to come over the next four years. It was what we call the point of calling it quits or forging ahead with no turning back. Milena stepped up, in fortitude, conviction and an ultimatum issued to her husband. Aldo responded, made a life decision and ploughed ahead.

The Vairas began anew, hailstorms occurring five to seven times each decade be damned and dug their heels into the Vergne terra firma.  With experience as a teacher and having built a winery Aldo became affectionately known as Dutur, a dialectical Piedmontese term of endearment which could allude to the word doctor but also as a part of the Italian word for producer, or produttore. Francesca tells me that 1986 is the vintage form which “you could have (or begin) your dream, by being resilient, persistent and move forward.” She shrugs. “It had to be a priority.” And so from 1986 on the Viaras completely changed direction and course.

Thirty-three years have beget great success. Francesca explains the impetuses for how her family goes about their lives. “What we have learned from our parents is not just life and to make wine but a social motivation to have the life of the people. Imagine a life without these things; music, art, books and wine. It’s not possible.” The goal is to make connections. “We need to make wine to make people happy. Our prices are very democratic.” There are always new considerations, like the “diversification of risk” and it has become the ingrained philosophy, in terms of wines and varieties but also the idea of a two-month long picking time. Always diversity, all the time. One step inside the winery and the light shines in. The stained glass windows that adorn the fermentation room are a reflection of everything that is embodied by the Vajra oeuvre.

They hang in their stark and prolate ways as a severe yet arrant contrast to the line of steel tanks below. When Aldo and Milena went to visit the artist at Canepanova Convent in Pavia he answered the door dressed as a Franciscan Monk with a blue hat. A crazy man in a crazy beautiful studio. Padre Costantino Ruggeri was in fact a real monk, ordained a priest in 1951 by Cardinal Schuster in the Cathedral of Milan. That meeting yielded no conclusion for a commission, or so thought the Vairas, that is until the Father showed up with the first installation, in 1989. He was given no instruction or direction. The rest as they say is history and the works are nothing short of magnificent. They succeed, in Ruggeri’s words, “in that moment of light and mystery the stained glass window captures (the infinite) and introduces it naturally into the temple, as a total dimension that is divine as well as human.” The metal that holds the glass is effected a piombo, aplomb, vertical, exact. No two pieces are the same.

What congruence links a Ruggeri stained glass to other masterpieces of art? Gazing upon the padre’s windows elicits a feeling of consonance and beauty is easy to find. They are arranged exactly as they should be, that much is clear. Their power is felt because of their interaction with their cold and utilitarian surroundings. They hold our gaze and work together with us, inexplicably and without reservation. Their universal appeal transfers energy, pivots, solicits our personal and singular nature so that we share in their consonant form.

On June 24th 2007, his last sculptural work representing “Franciacorta’s Facets” was presented in Adro, his birthplace. On the following day, June 25th 2007, Costantino died at the hospital of Merate, near the convent of Sabbianello, where he had spent the last weeks of his life. The spirit of his work carries on at Vajra where 160 different fermentations are carried out because explains Francesca “harvest is the only time of year when you can really learn. If you have to ask for permission then you are not a true artist.” Just like Father Costantino who created without asking.

“Always think of the cherry. The grapes will follow,” reminds Isidoro. Organics. Methodologies. Patience. Picking decisions are made day by day, by brother Giuseppe and by Aldo. For them 2018 was a great nebbiolo vintage, of cold nights and warm days with humidity. The high risk of rainstorms at harvest made for some sleepless nights and the weather was tough on the skins of the grapes. So 100 pickers were employed, to ensure quality but Vajra’s altitude and attitude makes them one of the last to pick so the harvesters were available. They finished on October 22nd and in 2019 on the 23rd. 

On that day in December Francesca poured seven of her family’s wines, including riesling, dolcetto, freisa, barbera and nebbiolo. These are my notes.

G.D. Vajra Riesling Pétracine 2018, Langhe DOC ($55.95)

The law changed to be able to plant in 1985 and a new opportunity arose in 2018 for a vineyard with sandy soil beneath the clay. Going back the first planting came from a Geisenheim clonal selection and planted at the top of the hill above the cru Fossati. The second vineyard is from Marcel Deiss clonal selection material, just outside the Barolo production area. Here a combination of the two, and the first wine that got together was 2011. There’s weight, energy and balance to this riesling and it is so very real. Remarkable verve and youthful freshness and the impression of great aridity. It is in fact quite dry. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati 2018, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC ($31.95)

From two old cru Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, close by to one another at the top of their shared hill. De-stemmed and crushed separately, of vines 40 years in age. If there is dolcetto that carries the structure to age you best believe this is the one. Tannic in its youth, a house with the potential to grow roses in one year and then violets in another. Modern and grounded, better with fresh eggs and delicate proteins, certainly the romantic tartufo Piemondtese. Already teasing something floral but still in a shell and cast under a spell. Wait two years or more. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017 ($31.95)

Like the dolcetto, barbera is drawn off of two vineyards with tow soil types, from Bricco delle Viole and in Serralunga d’Alba, Bricco Bertone. An east-west expression, at once rich and luxurious and then inward, implosive and almost intolerant. Could only be barbera with its sweet fruit and dark berry compote but it’s a variety that needs time, it needs the bottle and then, the glass. Somehow bright through all the dark fruit, like the singular stained glass that allows light to shine in.  Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Kyè 2015, Freisa Langhe DOC ($60.95)

Like the French “C’est qui?” this dialectical freisa is actually two syllables, key-eh, and you cannot define this wine with anything or any other freisa. Darker, woolly and a bit of wild, feral and animale beauty. Like somewhere between red Sancerre and Faugères but bigger, more power and also more control. Herbaceous, iron-clad and hematic. Mimics blood-red preparations of proteins; duck breasts, rack of lamb, venison. Also Rhône-ish and laying somewhere between barbera and nebbiolo. Make your head spin with comparisons when none are correct. There is evidence of climatic cut and biodynamic preparations. Earthy, rich and poignant. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 ($34.95)

The Baroli are made from vines minimum 10 years old and the younger vines are used for this Langhe, which includes fruit from Bricco Bertone just outside the territory. Creeps up with its structure, nothing powerful or demanding but nebbiolo architecture nonetheless. Cherries, pencil lead and mountain herbs. Keeps the vineyard faith and accumulates even as it opens which tells us it is also youthfully closed. The potential is two years and thence forth. Tasted from two bottles opened a day apart, the first ready and willing, the second yes at first and then making a request for time. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Coste Di Rose 2015 ($101.95)

A very sandy decomposed peculiar site and soil type rich in Arenaria (sandstone) with the presence of sandstone rocks of quite decent size. The first vintage is this 2015 and from vines 30 years old going up the hill from Bussia. Delivers very pretty fruit of sneaky structure and intent. The rose floral gift of a vineyard, part apposite and part complimentary to Bricco delle Viole. It’s a ventilated place translating to a great freshness in the wine. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2015 ($113.95)

An about face in style and character with more dimensions accessed and so many aromatics acquiesced. Vines are 40-80 years old and the handling involves a diversification of treatments; longer maceration and fermentation, up to 45-60 days. A tight, compact and fine-grained construct with so much taken from the beneficial skins and the assistance of a submerged cap (a merso) during that fermentation (in stainless steel), followed by at least 24 months in large casks, some 25hL and some 50 hL. Some tonneaux but just as an addendum. Such a tactile nebbiolo, fruit of presence and intricacy out of a Cru that is felt as much as it is nosed or tasted. It’s not just a matter of nebbiolo and Barolo but a thing of great importance, mainly tradition and family. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

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