Love in the time of a pandemic: Marchesi di Barolo

Trying to find birth year wines has been a fruitless and frustrating search and I’ve been at it for 20 years. That and the current situation in Italy is one of the major reasons why my December trip to Piemonte was more than successful, it was in fact a sign. On that I’ll get to in a moment because there is something more profound, a sentiment that struck as most significant in the moment and even more so in a retrospective look back. The hospitality and the outright determination to go to extreme lengths for the purpose of making personal connections is what drives the Piedmontese mentality. I made six appointments over three days in advance of that trip and all six producers wrote back saying they would be delighted to receive me though each were compromised by the pulls of events and commitments that would make it difficult to be there when I arrived. After the three-day tour was done, all six had found a way; Barbara Sandrone, Marina Marcarino, Milena, Francesca and Isidoro Vaira, Chiara and Giorgio Boschis, Angelo Gaja, Anna and Valentina Abbona.

Abbona Sandwich; Anna, Godello, Valentina

Related – Pull up a chair with Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco

I first met the Abbona family in July of 2017. It was Anna Abbona’s birthday and in their dining room that night Ernesto opened a 1958 at the ripe old age of 58 (though it would turn 59 later that year). Simply stated, in the words of the Abbona family, “a special evening, special friends, special vintage.” That is their story, of generosity, open arms and always, love. I don’t really know how they do it, always on and very present, but they do, for everyone, all around the world and especially in their home. As I stood in the cellar on December 1st, 2019 they proved me right again when out of nowhere Valentina appeared, straight from Rome, en route to another pressing appointment, to spend some time talking and sharing the Marchesi di Barolo spirit.

Wine transport in the 19th Century

Related – Barolo’s Sister and Brother Boschis

As the incumbent owners of the historic Barolo estate the Abbona family takes their custodianship very seriously. Researching and studying its history and provenance is at the fore of their concern. While running through the ideology of present day elévage we pause to consider such a construct. The “babies” are still fermented in concrete vats but many of the wines now begin their journey in stainless steel. Concrete is used for holding wines going back a few vintages and for those that have already seen their assemblage. Which brings us to the new barrel concept, which is a really quite an old one, dating back to the time of the last Marchesa, Giulia Vittorina Falletti Colbert. The wood of this barrel is modelled like the shape of a river boat or canoe, meant for wine to travel downstream and used exclusively back in the 1800s. The idea of the Botti della Marchesa has been resurrected and is now used for special cuvées.

“Botti della Marchesa,” the Marchesa’s Barrel

Related – November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

One more bit of information to share. The Marchesi di Falletti was considered historically to be the first to cultivate nebbiolo at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1895 Pietro Abbona joined his father’s vineyard not far from Barolo Castle and eventually purchased the historic cellars from the Falletti family. Four and five generations later; Ernesto, Anna, Valentina and Davide.

Related – Gone Vajra in Piemonte

The Abbona family has been running the historic cellars of the Marchesi di Barolo since 1929 which means we have entered the decade that will culminate in their 100th anniversary as proprietors of the most important estate. I’ve been to a party in their home and so I can only imagine what that celebration will be like. Long ahead of that event of the century will be the celebration that takes place when Italy and the world are set free from the disaster that has gripped, stymied and ravaged so many families. You can count on the Abbonas to be there when the day arrives, to open their doors and arms, to have loved in the time of and surely to love after the pandemic.

While in the tiny hamlet of Castiglione Falletto I wandered into Le Mura di San Rocco, the Enoteca run by Dario Destefanis. I noted many old vintages but nothing from 1966. I inquired with Dario and he said if I were to come back a day or two later he would pull some from his cellar and procure them for me. I did return and he sold them at the cost of a current vintage. They were ostensibly a gift, from the Marchesi, through the purchaser who stored them for five decades in perfect provenance and then bequeathed them to Dario. The Abbona family had a hand in this transaction, however unknowingly and for that and to them I will always be thankful. The Marchesa and the Marchesi di Falletti. The connection is not lost on me.

So much joy to make a return visit to Marchesi di Barolo in the village of Barolo. To taste so many wines and to be offered the special vintage of 1990. Grazie to the Abbona family and to Laura. Until next time. So many notes and memories are now ready to be shared. These are the lucky 13 wines tasted that day in December.

Marchesi Di Barolo Bric Amiel 2018, Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy

A blend of arneis, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc created by siblings Valentina and Davide Abbona. Top of the slope and honey because the Bric is a place where the bees liked to hang around. Only the fourth incarnation of this simple, refreshing and crisp white. Honey will be a part of this zesty lemon and lime wine’s near future. That much I think is guaranteed. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Arneis 2018, Roero DOC, Piedmont, Italy

No longer the white to draw the birds away from munching away on the nebbiolo here is arneis richer than many and of a proper mineral equality. There is something peach salty about this direct expression. Impressively seamless in its fruit to acid construct. A well made white of next level proportion. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Bossèt 2017, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy

A dolcetto that combs and brings the best of two worlds, the joy of drinking young and fresh but also a modicum of structure that will make for some added interest in a few years time. That’s noted by the white peppery tone at the back, not wood induced but just the true nature of a grape grown in a specific place. Quite heady for dolcetto with the body of knowable finesse. This dolcetto will win over a whole new category of consumers. They only need to get into the game. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Pieragal 2017, Barbera d’Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy (485904, $40.95)

Planted straight across the road from the winery in a block that was always nebbiolo but financial frugality is not always put first. The game elevated in this barbera is a structural one and also one dictated by weight, but also density. French barriques does the work and the fruit obliges. A swirl of vanilla and dark berries whelm the ease so the indicative ideals say wait and then wait again a while longer. Barbera structured is a specifically splendored thing. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2014, Piedmont, Italy

Only Slavonian cask and no French wood for nebbiolo in Barbaresco form. The vineyards are classically parochial “terre bianche,” white calcareous soils so prevalent around the appellation. The fruit is well developed and rustically edgy, a purple fruit compote with some dried elements. One of those wise nebbiolo that has reached an advanced level of it’s ilk and yet is wise enough to know how to pause there going forward for an equally comfortable period of time. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbaresco DOCG Serragrilli 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Serragrilli is the fresher and more approachable nebbiolo in Barbaresco clothing with easier tannins and yet still the classicism of Barbaresco ability. A note of liquorice and tar, plus the roses (candied and dried) of nebbiolo fame. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo La Tradizione Barolo DOCG 2015, Piedmont, Italy (168179, $43.95)

The most generous nebbiolo from arguably the more generous of vintages is all about fruit, in ability, compatibility and respectability. Fully ripened in two respects with intoxicating phenols stealing the proverbial aromatic show. Perfectly reasoned, seasoned and effectuated nebbiolo. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Del Comune Di Barolo 2014, Piedmont, Italy ($72.00)

A return to some thoughts that make us think of older ways and remind of tradition that can never be forgotten. That’s the savoury quality of this cool vintage Barolo, a nebbiolo that speaks a truth many have left for dead. You can count on the Abbona family to let a vintage and its vineyard fruit talk the talk of a vernacular that can’t help but be uttered. Wild and shearing acids keep the fruit at bay, with laurel and whey, in an herbal-cool mention. The fruit will come back and emerge unscathed in a few year’s time. The fine tannin has spoken of that guarantee. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Coste di Rose 2014, Piedmont, Italy

Surely the most delicate and fragile of the three cru Baroli from the Marchesi and the one to treat with nurture over nature. The fineness of all parts known and unknown are genuine, honest and even a bit naïve but it’s also precocious beyond its years. The vintage asks quite a lot from such a nebbiolo usually reared in delicasse so expect some dried fruit and so many roses. More rose petals than you can count at a Marquesa’s wedding. From an Arenaria sandstone site up from Bussia aged one-third in barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian oak casks. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Cannubi 2014, Piedmont, Italy ($84.95)

A soil structure somewhere between Coste di Rose and Sarmassa, marking the Barolo twain with a breath of fresh air and plenty of grip into structure. The second Cru nebbiolo Barolo is the bed that’s not too hard and not too soft, the one the tired and weary travveller would surely choose to lay down for a rest. Fruit is richer and more dense than Coste di Rose but ethereal as compared to Sarmassa. Of the three this Cannubi carries the most pronounced acidity and one to usher the fruit across two decades, plus the one we are leaving now. Like the others it rests in one-third French barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian oak casks. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Sarmassa 2014, Piedmont, Italy (337048, $84.95)

Stony soils with large calcareous rocks in a sun-trapping amphitheatre is the locale that forms the near-feral and quasi-animale Sarmassa Cru nebbiolo. Very impressive bone structure and far more elegance than Sarmassa likely to probably puts inside its pockets. The acidity is one of great fashion and taste. The complexity of pronouncement is exceptional for 2014 so expect decades of transformation to bely any negative press about this vintage. Sarmassa will prove every naysayer wrong. Patience will speak to this truth. As with both the Coste di Rose and Cannubi this bigger Barolo spends its rest in one-third in French barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian Grandi Botti. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2011, Piedmont, Italy

Persistently impossible in its youthful state of ’11 grace and if nothing else were said that might just be enough. There’s an affinity with what we expect Sarmassa to smell like, with rich, grippy tones and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and desire. Showing the dark wood tones of the time and a high edgy quotient of an acid-tannin spectrum. So warming, baking spiced matched by cool herbal aperitíf and balanced at a higher perch of precipice. Still a tannic beast, yet unrelenting and clearly level-headed enough to intuit more time will be needed to enter a state of Riserva grace. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted December 2019

Unexpected late in the year taste of nearly 30 year-old nebbiolo was one of 19 in ’19 that blew my mind

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piedmont, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Pull up a chair with Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco

Gaja and Godello

On the first of December the morning light hits the tiny hamlet of Barbaresco with such dazzling clarity you have to squint to look out at any distance. Coupled with a cloudless sky, a patient and necessary visual adjustment will take in the Tanaro River and the Roero beyond. The vast Langhe expanse comes into perfect view, subtly emerging in layers of topography and incremental hue. The river runs through, Tanarus as it was known in ancient times, Tane or Tani in Piedmontese language, dividing line snaking through Langhe lands, plural form of langa, “a long, low-lying hill.” The origin is likely Celtic, combining the words bascule and tunga or lunga, “a moveable bridge, balance or seesaw” and “a narrow spit of land jutting out into the water or sea.” These moments, thoughts and considerations prepare one in advance of walking through the portal into the world of Gaja.

Related – One on one with Gaia Gaja

Barbaresco and the Langhe

The new garden

Sonia Franco, personal assistant to Angelo Gaja takes me on a trip back in time. We stand on the small terrace extending out from a northwest facing window with a view of the mountains in the background. Shifting land plates over one another in the Langhe created soils of silt and clay left behind by the ancient salty lakes. This affected the Roero and the Langhe in two very different ways. Irrigation would be pointless and potentially devastating due to erosion in the former because of the poor sandy soils. In the Langhe the limestone acts as a natural sponge, storing snow melt and spring rain to transfer to vine roots for the hotter summer months. Climate change has altered plantings and the view is no longer one of the “family’s garden” because densities have increased to encourage roots to dig deeper into the strata. Even more dramatic is the lack of rain between June 1st and September 30th, unless of course it comes by way of hailstorm and thunderstorm.

Morning in Barbaresco

Gaja works with 100 hectares split between Barolo and Barbaresco. It was Angelo’s father Giovanni who was so smitten with and sold on the latter in particular, especially around Treiso and the eponymous village. He acquired the land in the 1960s, including the three crus; Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildìn and Costa Russi. The oldest part of the cellar is from the 17th century and the second from the 18th. A great year sees a total production of somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 bottles.

The Pope of Piemonte

Angelo Gaja has been referred to as “The King of Barbaresco” and for good measure. A man of utmost sincerity and reason, promoter and traveller in tireless work ethic. Producer who has spent the better part of sixty years explaining to anyone who will listen of Barbaresco’s importance while rising to the pinnacle of the local wine producing pantheon. Mr. Gaja’s reputation for storytelling is well-known and his ability to fashion excellence from his homeland is one of the great success stories of the 20th century. No one in Italy has found such intense success at his level nor can there be any question in how he has been raising the bar and floating all surrounding boats. Simply unparalleled in the world of wine. To bestow a moniker that merely encompasses Barbaresco is parochial and short-sighted. Say what you will about titles and honours but truth be told and many of his contemporaries believe it and in fact utter the term aloud. Angelo Gaja is indeed the Pope of Piemonte.

“They are very concerned in Nuits-Saint-Georges to keep an identity of site,” begins Mr. Gaja. He’s in free-form, stream of consciousness mode, just as a one-on-one meeting with him should be imagined. He’s dead serious. “We need to recognize that it belongs to us. I believe that we have in mind a great variety like nebbiolo, but it’s only in the last 15 years that it has been recognized around the world.” While so many look to technology and clean winemaking practices, Gaja looks at climate change as a major factor in quality increases over the last 20 years. “Five of ten vintages in the 60s, 70s and 80s were poor. The two years of 1965 and 1966 were very poor. The climate we have now, the ripening process is much more condensed and so there are less possibilities of problems. Summer heat is raising sugar and alcohol. This is more problematic for Barolo. All of these things are beneficial for late ripening varieties because of more ripeness and maturity but less aggressive tannins.”

The identity of the Langhe

“There is now a perception of Barolo and Barbaresco that was unthinkable 20 years ago. Think about it. Nebbiolo is 7,000 hectares. Cabernet Sauvignon is 350,000. For this reason the scarcity gives it a much better position of identity. In old vineyards you can sense white truffle and hazelnut, connecting it to its area. Also, the protection of the Alps helps to assist in the cultivation of late ripening varieties. If we are able to protect this combination of history and experience we don’t need any tourism. We need an authentic experience.” As for the identity of Barbaresco Gaja insists that “we have to protect medium-bodied wines and keeping a kind of balance.” Still believing that the work done in the cellar is just as important as the identity created in the vineyard, Angelo wonders aloud what will happen for the next 15-20 years as a result of further climate change. When asked directly if he is concerned “of course I am,” is the response. “In the past there was thick fog, like milk. What has happened to the fog?” Also less rain and more tourists. Perhaps what has transpired in the first half of 2020 will see a return of the fog.

“The perception is less risk,” he explains with regards to producers thinking that times are better. “That’s a mistake. We are in a time of climate change. That’s a big word.” If what has happened in the last four months is any harbinger than the overall problems are bigger than ever. It was the vintages of 2002 and 2003 that opened Angelo Gaja’s eyes and forced him to open his mind. “We have to modify our habits,” is not something new for Gaja but something he has been doing for decades, often 15-20 years ahead of everyone else. In the mid to late 2000s he hired ten scientific consultants in the fields of entomology, chemistry, agronomy, meteorology, etc., etc. to conduct a two decade study on soil, climate, parasites and pests. They have found that where once these natural disturbances attacked the vines one month a season it can now be as much as six months at a time. Doubling down are dramatic weather events and now viral assaults on humans. Time to hire an epidemiologist as well.

Better wines?

“If we have made better wines from better grapes I cannot say but what we have learned can be very useful for the future. The final goal can be recuperation and resilience for the grapes. A natural defence.” Ultimately the goal is what Gaja refers to as Gramló, a fantasy name in a special language that brings together notions and in contribution from French, German, Italian and dialectical Piedmontese. It’s operatic and means “clarity” but with no real words as its source. Gramló is what we all want to achieve but we have to take risks, be ahead of the curve and never stop looking, listening and learning. Trust Angelo Gaja to lead the way and that his children Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni will take the torch and do the same.

We all have wine tasting experiences that result in a-ha moments, revelations and epiphanies. At the outset of that first week of December I had such a moment because of a conversation. A long chat with Mr. Angelo Gaja. Mr. Gaja’s foresight to look and plan 15-20 years ahead means that both problems and successes are faced even before they have come. If you want to talk about climate change, do so with Angelo Gaja. If you would like to taste autorevole nebbiolo, go straight to Sorī San Lorenzo and Sorì Tildìn. On that December 1st day in Barbaresco I tasted the following five wines with Sonia Franco and Mr. Gaja.

Gaja Alteni Di Brassica 2017, Langhe DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($199.00)

Snow melt from a proper winter meant promise but there’s no avoiding climate change. Thus warm winds from North Africa saw to the vines anticipating early bloom. But in the flash of an eye the weather crashed and sent the plants reeling. While the challenge was propagated, miraculously the hail was avoided, though not the frost. Then a 36-39 degree summer and 80 days without rain. Major stress. A tiny production that marries Serralunga d’Alba with Barbaresco. The flinty sauvignon blanc relevance here may look Bordelais but is in fact Langhe because of the specificity of the saltiness that lines the fruit. Alteni means “stone walls” and Brassica a fragrant yellow flower. Not salted but running through the veins of the wine. A resilient and philosophically mineral wine structured with concentrated fruit and grape tannin. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Costa Russi 2017, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Far ahead of harvest the reasons for 2017’s success were varied. Winter snow and its natural irrigation ignited early promise and climate change-influenced high density plantings sent roots down deeper. Warm North African winds, early bloom and a fast crash of the weather put the plants on edge. No hail though yes there was frost. Heat like no other summer and no rain for three and a half months. All added up to low yields and unprecedented stress. Costa Russi is a deeper and furthered wine which means a longer and more mature experience. Drawn from the “sharecropper’s side of the hill” in a lower to mid-slope position but with a different aspect and position (than the sorì) facing the sun. Oh how you feel the marl and the calcaire, surely exaggerated by the heat of the summer. Rich, luxe and intentionally fuller than many because you can’t go against a vintage grain. This Costa Russi follows the natural order of things. The Gaja Barbaresco that remember’s “the family’s garden.” Drink 2025-2040. Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì San Lorenzo 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Was a perfect vintage and the one from which climate change is viewed with great thanks. That means wines are both pleasant younger and also structured to age. Sorì San Lorenzo like Tildin is the sunny spot facing south, the patron saint and protector of Alba’s Cathedral. Incidentally the church owned this vineyard and Gaja purchased the plot in the 1960s. The vineyard drops directly from the village and its vines average 55 years of age. You feel the wood at this young stage but of course you do. Sorì San Lorenzo carries a connection to the land that is deep into hubris and humus. No disrespect to Tildin but the connection here is formidable, the bond unbreakable. There is no exaggeration in saying that ’16 Sorì San Lorenzo offers up a moment of nebbiolo epiphany, that is takes control of the senses and instills a feeling of comfort, but at the same time an unexplained awe. That is due in fact to the place and no further explanation is required. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sperss 2015, Barolo DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($435.05)

The vintage of 2015 offered weather slightly warmer than 2016 and yet less blocks of structure. Not to mention moving further south by 25 kilometeres into Barolo where it really is just that much warmer. Twelve hectares purchased in 1988 are located in Serralunga d’Alba and Sperss refers to the name of the land. In Piedmontese the word is “nostalgia” and the connection is for Angelo’s father Giovanni and his childhood memories. Marenca-Rivette sub-region of Serralunga and the fruit comes out so red in nature, beautifully chalky and very influenced by the one year in smaller barrels, accentuated further by six months in grandi botti. That is why it is released a year later than the Barbaresci. The texture is silkier in a way while not as transparent but comparisons are fruitless in the end. This nebbiolo stands alone and worthy of its own regal position. Warm and complex, more than intriguing and so age worthy. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Gaja and Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: 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

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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!

godello

Stained Glass and Inox Tanks

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Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues 2015, Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France ($36.00)

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

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

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

You say you want a Barbera d’Asti revolution

Vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo

rev·o·lu·tion /ˌrevəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/ noun

  1. a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it
  2. an instance of revolving.

To make a revolution you have to bring about change. You need to evolve and revolve. You can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again. To take part in a revolution you have to keep an open mind and seek out the subtleties. You have to get down to what is really real. Revolution is not always fast or dramatic, in fact it’s sometimes barely audible, visible or easily noted in smell or taste. It is perceptible if you can find a way to feel it, especially when it comes down to wine.

Sometimes, there’s a grape, well, it’s the grape for the time and place. It fits right in there. That grape is barbera and the place is Asti, if more specifically in the Monferrato hills. Those hills are the source of the “Barbera Revolution” where farming and winemaking are changing the way we think about the wines of Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato. The revolution is happening now, in the late stages of the second decade of the 21st century because an epiphany is taking place. A new age of understanding, of altitude, solar radiation, heliophany and how to capture the essential tenets of phenolic ripeness and acidity. Knowledge and understanding are zeroing in on growing areas, plant phytochemisry and the sensorial characteristics of Barbera d’Asti.

Acidity is the key to barbera, just as it is with grapes of a similar ilk, grapes like sangiovese and malbec. If you would like to capture the essence of these grape varieties you have to preserve and elevate their natural acidities and you have to do so with a supporting cast of freshness, ripeness and structure. This is the crux of the new revolution in Asti. Never before have we seen farming practices and a scaling back of oak aging getting together to make sure that the grape, that barbera is given the spotlight to be the centre of attention.

Masterclass “Barbera Revolution” guided by Kerin O’Keefe and President Filippo Mobrici, Consorzio Tutela Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato.

Related – Barbera d’Asti Del Monferrato E Nizza Monferrato

Barbera d’Asti 2.0 is a scientific study that began in 2017, iniated by the Conzorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato in partnership with the Università di Torino – Disafa and supported by the Regione Piemonte. The goal of the project is to create a sensory map of the Barbera d’Asti DOCG appellation. To define the 5300 hectares of the appellation across 67 municipalities in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. To connect the characteristics of Barbera d’Asti with the varied geological and climatic conditions of the growing areas. The research involves measuring, quantifying and qualifying precipitation, thermal excursion, soil structures, pH, phenolics, sugar and acidity. Micro-harvests and micro-vinifications have been conducted, 111 samples of DOCG wines have been collected, tested and evaluated by enologists and researchers from the University. In the end a sensory map has been created.

Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

In July of 2017 I spent a week in the hills where Barbera d’Asti grows. I returned in December of 2018 and spent another eye-opening and mind-blowing stretch of time in the varietal home. My attitude has officially evolved, changed and revolved, now resting in affirmation of consideration, to emerge with revolution firmly entrenched, personal and up close to me, of sound body and mind. It was in Canelli at Gancia Castle, at Enoteca Regionale Acqui “Terme e Vino” and Ristorante Nuovo Paradiso in Acqui Terme, at Castello di Costigliole d’Asti and the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Costigiole d’Asti, at Relais San Maurizio in Santo Stefano Belbo and finally, at Foro Boario di Nizza Monferrato, for the Masterclass “Barbera Revolution” guided by Kerin O’Keefe and organized by Consorzio Tutela Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato.

The following are 33 examples of barbera d’asti tasted at these events in Piemonte back in December 2018.

Araldica Castelvero Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Rive 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Acqui Terme is the source for a darker, slightly brooding and richly, almost chocolate endowed barbera. Acidity is clearly still in charge and there are more grains, chains and presently grisly tannins keeping fruit in check. Will age well but time is needed before the begin. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2018  araldicavini  @araldicavini  Araldica Castelvero

Family Winery Berta Paolo 1842 Barbera d’Asti DOCG Belmon 2017, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The vintage will not always deliver what you expect so never get too complacent with barbera and always pay attention. Paolo Berta turns the plan on its head and brings freshness in the face of jammy potential in a lovely act of balance. Fruit picked on acidity while perfectly positioned at sugar plus phenolic ripeness means this got it all right. It’s a connection between forethought and development that hits the proverbial barbera nail on the head. Never-ending acidity is the fairy tale and the reason for the story. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted December 2018  vinifamigliaberta  @wineBerta  @viniberta

Family Winery Berta Paolo 1842 Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 175 Vendmmie 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

In classic Berta Paolo form there is a protective and reductive element plus untapped potential in a barbera from Nizza Monferrato that wraps itself up in layers upon layers of red fruit, white soil and blanketing richness. The terroir is truly all over this wine, in and out of every oozing red fruit pore. It’s complex in so many ways and in time will only improve its interest. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted December 2018

Bersano Barbera d’Asti DOCG Cremosina 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

“Cremisona is our history. We believe in this kind of barbera, not just about quality, because that is not enough these days. It must be recognized as barbera.” White pepper, red cherry and so young. Really peppery, tart, tight, taut and so very, very Nizza Monferrato. Place, pace, place. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted December 2018 bersano1907  profilewinegroup  @BERSANO1907  @ProfileWineGrp  @Bersanowine  Profile Wine Group

Tenuta Bricco San Gregorio Di Laiolo Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Rossomora, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Vinchio’s soil can only mean high toned, high alcohol, Amarone like grip and power. The fruit is up to the task and though we accept this as Vinchio, RossoMora and Barbera d’Asti it pulls no punches nor shies away from advanced solicitation. Screams at you and at the same time asks you to call for time. Huge wine and needing a little humility in the name of balance. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2018  tenutabriccosangiorgio  Tenuta Bricco San Giorgio

Cascina Castlet Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Passum 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Costigiole d’Asti is the source for a barbera that stands like a stick in the thick consistency of the varietal stew, with lightning bolts of acidity followed by grippy shudders of structured thunder. Such a big wine of larger than life personality with white peppery piques and properly spiced, mild dark chocolate bitterness. Will age without trepidation or any true concern. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2018  cascinacastlet  @cascinacastlet  Cascina Castlèt

Coppo Barbera d’Asti DOCG L’Avvocata 2014, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Luigi Coppo’s L’Avvocata is his fresh, come and drink me first red, clearly meant for the here and now. Dedicated to the original owner of this recently purchased vineyard, described as a tough woman, known to all as “the lawyer.” It’s quite floral and shows beautiful acidity. Effusive and rising, this is barbera as part of the shift to recognize quality at the entry level. Successful in that regard in spite of or perhaps as a result of the warmth and concentration.  Drink 2018-2019. Tasted December 2018 coppo1892  maitredechai_ca  @COPPO1892  @maitredechai  @COPPO1892  Le Maître de Chai

Luigi Coppo and Pomorosso

Coppo Barbera d’Asti Nizza DOCG Pomorosso 2014, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $74.95, WineAlign)

If ever a vintage were going to give the Coppo Pomorosso a most sincere gift of its terroir than 2016 would be the one. In fact Luigi Coppo says uncle Roberto compares it to 1990 and he confirms the connection, if only by way of lab tests and results. The real reason is out there, in three vineyards located in Agliano Terme. “The balance was in place, even before we picked the grapes,” tells Coppo. This Pomorosso speaks young but is of course so very structured and only produced in exceptional vintages. The soil is marine sediment rich in minerals and the name is for the red apple tree on top of the hill. It’s an icon red by nature and design, with 2016 top finesse and the key to barbera’s ability of longevity. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted December 2018

Coppo Barbera d’Asti DOCG Camp du Rouss 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Luigi Coppo’s barbera is a calcareous Castelnuovo Calcea striker with clay richness and spice brought on by some time in barrel. It’s deeply rendered into a well that pools with cherry liqueur and melted liquorice. Needs some time for the parts to mingle, match and melt into one another. A highly polished wine with plenty of possibility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted December 2018

Franco Roero Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Sichei 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Just a huge barbera out of Montegrosso d’Asti, with acidity and grip, through the roof and got a hold on you. Volatility is certainly at the top edge of the straddled ridge but neither extraction nor concentration dip into and up over the top. It’s a matter of making what place and vintage demand, with swagger, confidence and direct messaging. Truly white limestone screaming which incidentally keeps the concentration in check. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted December 2018  franco_roero_winery  cottonwoodwineagency  @FrancoRoeroVini   @Cottonwood@franco.roero  Cottonwood Agency Wines & Spirits

Az. Agr. Garrone Evasio & Figlio Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

A different sort of deeper clay, moisture retentive for red cherry generosity and because there is a sidle into strawberry but of the drying, concentrated one. It’s a Montemagno matter, picked later and macerated to a greater degree though really fine acidity keeps it very much alive. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2018  #garroneevasioefiglio  @vinigarrone

Davide Ghiga

Azienda Agricola Ghiga Enrico Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Young Davide Ghiga’s barbera is the azienda’s normale but it’s certainly a child of selezione. Bright, fresh and tenably intense. Solid would be a good descriptor for the honesty and varietal morality exhibited by this stand up barbera. The fruit is dark in a black cherry way but it’s clearly a matter of Costigliole d’Asti terroir more than winemaking. The high tones confirm this assessment and the way in which the wine is 100 per cent a matter of fruit. So much fruit. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted December 2018  ghigaaziendaagricola   Davide Ghiga  Azienda Agricola Ghiga Fratelli

Azienda Agricola Ghiga Enrico Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The Ghiga brothers’ Superiore from Costigliole d’Asti takes the sweetness of dark and hematic fruit, gives it time in new grandi botti then sees it emerge with loads of chocolate and hyper intensity. Young is an understatement and time the declaration for development ahead of a deeper understanding. The vineyard is 22 years-old at this stage and the upside for terroir and winemaking reeks of potential. You just feel the earliest of beginnings involving a special relationship between viticulture and viniculture so we’re “gonna see what them racket boys can do.” This ’16 and coming vintages will likely turn out to be classics someday. So “put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” Ghiga, a.k.a. The Boss of barbera, based in Castiglione Tinella-Cuneo. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2018

Gianni Doglia Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Genio 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Genio is Piemontese for Gianni’s grandfather “Eugenio” and these ’16 startling aromatics are like genies escaping from the bottle. Some extra altitude up to 350m in Castagnole Lanze brings an expression of solar radiated, polyphenolic aromatics that set this bold and structured barbera apart. There is a presence and a personality of energy despite the weight and the bold attack. It’s really juicy, fresh, high in acidity and just plain exciting. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2018  gianni_doglia_wines  Gianni Doglia Azienda vitivinicola Gianni Doglia  Paola Doglia

Gianni Doglia Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG Viti Vecchie 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Doglia’s old vines are an average of 50 years for barbera from Nizza Monferrato that travels the emotional gamut from freshness through structure and into softness. Gianni’s reminds me of 90s St. Émilion and 2000s Napa merlot but with barbera’s lightning acidity. If it is possible for a red to offer a big hug while scratching your back then this would be the one. The soils may be different than Castagnole Lanze but the treatment in the cellar is virtually the same, with small barrels and 30 per cent new. Twenty-five kilometres separate the Nizza from the Genio and here you get more texture and dark, rich chocolate. Also mint, a salty vein and very ripe cherries. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2018

Gozzelino Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Ciabot d’la Mandorla 2015, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

This traditional barbera is a well-pressed one from Costigliole d’Asti and spent 24 months in large (30hL) format grandi botti. Very rich, lots of chocolate, some shots of tonic and high acidity intensity. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018   Azienda Agricola Gozzelino Sergio

Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Bricco Paradiso 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

A really rich, fully fruit realized, intensely tangy, plum meets currants and pomegranate barbera with density, structure and purpose. The numbers are big and the personality boisterous but there is more than enough fruit to keep the booze and the bones from dominating. Pretty good vitality and energy within the big framework. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted December 2018  tenutailfalchetto  @ilfalchettovini  @tenutailfalchetto

With Andrea Ivaldi

Azienda Agricola Ivaldi Dario Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG “1613” 2015, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $31.78, WineAlign)

From Andrea Ivaldi comes the next and generous vintage of Nizza barbera, with an initial waft of intensity on the nose that speaks with volatility, then blows off with just a minute or two of swirl. The calcaire speaks next with lightning quickness while the black cherry spiked by anise fruit hurries to keep pace. There is great peppery presence and a keen sense of place in this Nizza, rich and fluid, ripe and full of classic barbera acidity. Understated chic and real class come forth, take a bow of humility, turn around and go back to work. Tasted again the next day and the day after that it only revealed further complexities. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted May and December 2018  andrea.ivaldi  devonmasciangelo  @ivaldidario  @vinidelmonferrato  Devon Masciangelo

You say you wanna @barberadasti revolution? Well you know, a Masterclass with 19 examples led by @kerinokeefe is a fine place to begin ~ #barberarevolution

La Caudrina Barbera d’Asti DOCG La Solista 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From Nizza Monferrato Caudrina’s is blessed of the kind of sweet fruit barbera is so capable of delivering. It’s a white lightning example though off of sandy soils but it’s so transparent, lightly tonal in high spoken voice and just bloody beautiful. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2018  #lacaudrina  @LaCaudrina

Manfredi Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The confidence oozes from this barbera and it goes to show that the delayed release is truly a matter of planning ahead rather than some sort of reactive response. Three vineyards make up the concerted assemblage and while the levels of Brett and volatility are up there with the funkier barbera they are well beneath the threshold. In that sense this is a wine of stylistic choice more than flawed or not flawed. It’s up to you to decide if the leathery cherry earthiness is up your alley but regardless the juicy nature and exquisite acidity ride up and down everyone’s preferred slope. A very expressive wine this is and if you are a fan of post-funk beats than you will find this very special. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted December 2018  manfredicantine  Manfredi Cantine

Marchesi Alfieri Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Alfiera 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

San Martino Alfieri is a calcareous limestone and clay terroir, not unusual for the territory but here there is a combination of juicy, generous fruit in a darker realm though still moderate in grip and power. This certainly takes barbera to another level and though it initiates the idea of strength it’s really quite balanced and potentially, holding cards to become magically ethereal. Just a touch overripe but really beautiful for the short to mid term. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018  marchesialfieri  univinsetspiritueux    @UNIVINS  Marchesi Alfieri – Cantine e Locanda Univins et Spiritueux / Univins & Spirits

Marenco Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Ciresa 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The moscato d’asti specialist out of Strevi makes a plum meets sharply tangy cherry (Ciresa) barbera with high acidity and a liquid chalky texture. It’s different, harder to pinpoint and to get. It needs time, now, in the glass, and for a few years to understand its nuance and speciality. Must be Strevi. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted December 2018  marencovini  @MARENCOVINI  Marenco

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti DOCG Le Orme 2016, Piedmont, Italy (265413, $15.95, WineAlign)

The three terroir gathering is by now a barbera institution, from fruit gathered out of Castelnuovo Calcea, Montaldo Scarampi and Agliano Terme. As expected it is 2016 that becomes tbe perfect playground for an archetypal barbera made by Michelle and Stefano Chiarlo. The acids are spot on in this ubiquitous bd’a, with fruit at the sparked cherry forefront as well as any in the category. Try to find better value at the price. Really, go ahead and try. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted December 2018 michelechiarlo  univinscanada  @michelechiarlo  @UNIVINS  Michele Chiarlo  @UnivinsCanada

Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Le Rocchette 2016, Piedmont, Italy (434258, $32.95, WineAlign)

Though Gianni Bertolino’s is a high octane, high alcohol and high tonal Incisa Scapaccino barbera the balance here is virtually spot on, with acidity and tannin sending shots of structure like steel straws through sand, clay, limestone and concrete. So young, lightning quick and needing a pause for several years to gain flesh, texture and fruit pulp succulence. This will act just like a dried persimmon/plum/cherry fruit leather in five plus years time. Poured from magnum so do the age waiting game math. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2018  tenuta_olimbauda hobbsandcompany  @tenutaolimbauda  @hobbsandco  @tenutaolimbauda.it  hobbsandcompany

Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Le Rocchette 2011, Piedmont, Italy (434258, $32.95, WineAlign)

Tasting this with Gianni Bertolino he notes how ’11 is really a bridge year, between the classic ’10 and the massive ’12. At seven years on the evolution is on and the revolution begun. It has brought barbera to a new place, still possessive of high phenolics and higher acidity though with the sweetly rendered resolution of ripe red fruit. Though it seems less characteristic of the big and the brooding barbera there is firm grip in its stance. Now beginning to shed its second skin so ready and willing to reveal its honest and forthcoming nature. The probability meeting possibility is now found, not vice versa and so welcome to the best of its times. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted December 2018

Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG 2015, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Gianni Bertolino’s Nizza ’15 is barbera at a precise axis where fruit and acidity work, meet, mix and play. They may at first get into an old time Monferrato tussle and a big time Piemontese hassle but get on the same page before too long. In fact with thanks to a generous and amenable 2015 vintage they find a quick and easy way to kiss, make-up and shake hands. On the edge of sour the message gets through, from fruit so sweet and acidity so fine. Ripeness tangles with tangy and soil drive pushes the structure too. Perfectly representative of territory, man and place. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2018

Pico Maccario Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Epico 2016, Piedmont, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Plum pudding, chocolate caramel and baking spice are the barrique-influenced order in the very ripe Mombaruzzo 2016 Epico. It’s very generous, tenebrous and deep into its clay soil origins. High acids keep up the energy. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2018  picomaccario  @PicoMaccario  @PicoMaccario

Ricossa Antica Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From calcareous Nizza Monferrato – Agliano Terme soils, vinified in stainless steel only. The naked grape, cherries upon cherries and more cherries. Simplicity with no approach to any sort of crossroads where any great decisions or soul selling are required. Juicy and forward. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2018  ricossawine  selectwinemoments  @ricossawine   @SelectWinePros Ricossa Wine  Select Wines

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG Casa Scarpa 2015, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From Nizza Monferrato vineyards where Poderi Bricchi is elevated to heights between 410 and 480 meters. The youngest fruit is pulled from lower elevations (250m) for Casa Scarpa, the freshest of the estate’s barbera that sees a minimum one year in stainless steel only, followed by another in bottle before release. It’s a magnesium salty barbera, bright, tart, striking and blessed with great acidity. In your face striking, real and immediately promising. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted December 2018  scarpawine  @Scarpawines  Scarpa Wine

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOCG La Bogliona 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From the eestate with one foot in the Monferrato Astigiano and the other in the Monferrato Alessandrino, the fruit for La Bogliona is drawn from one of two estate cru, which along with Poderi Bricchi are the reason Scarpa exists. This 2010 has certainly advanced and is a formidable if severe combination of secondary fruit character and exceptional acidity. The maceration time was 14-16 days, followed by 30-36 months in 15 hL grandi botti of various French ages and origins. Silky pure with a note like shoe polish on leather, variegated of high quality red fruit. So alive but also so lived. Impressive and instinctive you can only imagine the things it’s been and seen. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted December 2018

Cantina Terre Artisane Barbera d’Asti DOCG Anno Domini 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From Mombercelli this small production barbera is of the old school’s high acid-driven way, with tonality shooting through the roof and to the stars. It’s ripe and light, effulgent and finishing on a note of bitters. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2018  cantinaterreastesane  Cantina Terre Astesane Mombercelli

Tojo Barbera d’Asti DOCG Delianna 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

DeliAnna exhibits more concentration, phenolics and glycerin than so many barbera, probably because the yields are one grappolo per vine, in other words, after the greening one bunch is left to mature and produce highest quality fruit. The noted sense of accomplishment is palpable, felt through the purple flower-scented and sweet red berry fruit. The chiming in of fine acidity elevates and oak is but a dream undreamt. If there is any it’s hidden with 100 per cent deception. Here folks is 21st century barbera d’asti. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2018  tojo_vino  Tojo Azienda Agricola Bocchino Vittorio

Viticoltori Associati Vinchio e Vaglio Serra Barbera d’Asti DOCG Vigne Vecchie 50 2016, Piedmont, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From white calcaire and sandy soils these Nizza Monferrato – Agliano Terme old vines bring depth and some acid-tannin structure not noted in the more straightforward, juicy and high acid examples. The vine age seems to tame the acids and fruit is concentrated, expressed and up front. Really long and perfectly wise, even developed for the first few years of drinking. One of the worlds wonderful cooperatives with an eye to pinpointing grape and place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018  vinchiovaglioserra  @vinchiovaglio  @VinchioVaglioSerra

Good to go!

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Vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo

 

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