Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

There are times when you do it just for the continuity because time marches on, no matter the circumstances. There is no disputing how different 2020 was and frankly the flip to 2021 will not bring about significant change or any semblance of a return to what was, at least not in the first several months. Yet the compelling urge is there, to quantify and qualify this annual Godello list of wines that opened, expanded and blew a mind in 2020. The concept for a year-end summation was launched in 2012 though it was the publishing of 14 in 2014 that made it very official, if only in the mind of one Godello. Matters little whether this qualifies as the seventh or the ninth because in wine one should always eschew semantics for the liquid truth found inside the bottle, elixirs they are of most profound, ethereal and honest propriety.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

This will be a much different list than ever before. While I did manage to squeeze in 25 days of travel in the first 56 of 2020 those were the last of this calendar year. That’s at least 75 short of my normal yearly schedule and so imagine that if an average of 30 wines are tasted each and every day on the road, well then that would tell us that at the very minimum 2,250 wines were missed this year. Not entirely true because at least half that many, if not 75 per cent more were made available to me and my WineAlign colleagues over these past nine month of quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing tastings. Still the make-up of what was tasted has been very different, the most notable being the lack of unrepresented or not found in market wines. Less discovery in 2020 to be sure.

Campo Spritz

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

According to my personal critic’s database on WineAlign I reviewed 4,450 wines in 2020, keeping in mind that many of those reviews were for wines tasted in 2019. Up until this year I was consistently behind or back-logged with hundreds if not more than a thousand tasting notes in the queue, unedited, unresolved, not yet reconciled, unfinished, not-posted. Since the global pandemic abruptly delivered me home in the dead of a late February night from Faenza to Firenze, through Frankfurt and to Pearson I have not been able to resume travel. These last 10 months have allowed for a massive catching up. There are now a thousand less wines to finesse and publish then there were this time last year, very few raw and rustic songs waiting for the editing process. All the choices on this 2020 list have been solidified and already been opined with confidence for the world to scrutinize. In 2020 there is nothing left on the table.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Slipped outta Dodge under the cover of darkness…

This year’s list is indeed different. The get togethers were few and far between. The travel non-existent. That is why you will recognize more producer names and also a more “archetypal” bent to the choices. The year dictates such a direction and as we all know, you have to listen to what the vintage tells you but also to remember and thank the true pioneers for getting all of us here. Perhaps the greatest influence on how this composition came to be was a conscious choice to omit the older vintages tasted in 2020. There were less to be sure but it just feels like keeping them kind of secretive is the way to go. Let’s hope a connection to that part of this exercise will make a return in 2021. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, so please be encouraged and read on. Alas, Godello’s 20 mind-blowing wines of 2020.

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2018, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (17498, $45.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

The triad of producer, appellation and vineyard gets no more arch classic than this with a riesling in Spätlese form at the hands of Selbach-Oster. The pitch and sway in this Wehlener Sonnenuhr vinyeard is 2018 dance card perfect, tight and fluid. Succulent acids are burgeoning and urging the fruit forward, sideways and every which way but loose. This is a wine that gets what needs and gives what is wanted. Will only improve with a few years and then there will come a day when an air or vapour trail falls away. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2020

Tyrrell’s Belford Sémillon 2017, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, South Australia (14322, $46.95, Select Wine Merchants)

Belford Vineyard (formerly Elliot Farm) is Hunter Valley leader Tyrrell’s single-vineyard leased sémillon with so much promise in its corner. A top varietal vintage for one thing and the well-draining sandy soils for another. Sémillon thrives in these conditions and so what comes from this awe-inspiring wine is exactly what you possibly wish for when selecting from Hunter Valley. This wine is swiftly, justly and perpetually lit, a smoky, paraffin waxy, über salty, elemental, aerified, verified mineral wine. So focused and precise. Mon dieu, Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Fresne Ducret La Grande Hermine Champagne Premier Cru 2008, AC Champagne, France ($78.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Hard to believe the age because while this almost certainly achieved an immediately retro toasted and evolved stage in its youth and though 12 years have passed the present day imaginings are dreamed to persist within that very immediate stage. As creamy as it is toasty, the textural body politic in La Grande Hermine is one of great cerebral and figurative impression. You feel, intuit and embrace such honesty and possibility. Drink this vintage dated Champagne all winter long. Its calming presence will preserve you in a state of grace lower than a snowman’s blood pressure. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2020

El Esteco

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (15082, $24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

From Argentina’s northern desert where some of the country’s oldest vines perpetuate existence while thriving fiercely in a hot climate. So yes it is true that some fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really, make their way into this special Salta wine. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Oak is well-managed, not shy mind you but these old vines deserve some added and fortifying structure. Do not miss this. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2020

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $160.00, Escalade Wines & Spirits)

Though essentially a cabernet sauvignon at minimum 90 per cent, it would normally need saying to never discount the blending attributes of cabernet franc, merlot and in recent years, petit verdot. The nooks and crannies filled by the other grape varieties are some of the senses of wonder that have illuminated and elucidated the magic of Don Melchor. And yet years of such thought is turned on its head in 2017 with a 98 per cent pure cabernet sauvignon Don Melchor and only two bits of cabernet franc. Speaks to winemaker Enrique Tirado’s vision of the varietal and vintage relationship. After all, this is his baby, a passion project that spans 20 vintages, from which he looks to “harvest the beauty of the balance of the Puente Alto terroir.” From Viñedo Don Melchor, D.O. Puente Alto and Valle del Alto Maipo, old vines planted 1979 to 1992, new from 2004-2013. The vintage was above average in terms of warmth, cooler temperatures at harvest preserved acidities and sealed the (near) mono-varietal deal. At 30 years into its tenure Don Melchor hits a new stride and it would be hard to argue against the levels of subtle, demure, balanced and ethereal in this 2017. Perfect fruit? Pretty darn close and a bouquet of fresh picked flower-herb-fruit that merge, meld and grace together. One for this age and to age gracefully, slowly and predictably for 20-25 years. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted October 2020

Taub Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley, California (849434, $235.00, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.)

From proprietor Marc Taub who’s family has been prominently part of the Napa Valley wine fabric since prohibition and who in 2013 acquired Napa Valley producer Heritance, later evolving into Taub Family Vineyards. His winemaker is Tom Hinde, a Sonoma and Napa specialist who cut his teeth for seven years at Flowers, but also at Kendall-Jackson, Hartford, La Crema, Lakoya, Cardinale, Stonestreet and Verite. Add in a mere three acres within the historic 300-acre Beckstoffer Vineyard first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928, called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3 and made by winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. The 2017 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon are a very special lot. That much we know. Add in the pedigree, torch passing and respect for these necessary tenets of wine-producing business and well, hello. Utmost attention to detail, optimum extraction and concentration, sultry, supple and ultimately divine. There is this fine, fine, almost indescribable salty vein that cuts through the fruit and the fat like perfect umami seasoning in the most decadent dish. With meat or seafood, California or Japan, take your pick. Drink this either way. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, WO Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $59.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Even though the ’18 HR PN took my breath away nine months ago, the not yet understood nuance of this wine surely clouded first impressions. However small a sample size this may be is more than enough to prove time’s effect on wine, pinot noir and Hamilton Russell’s spiritual connection with the grape and how it personifies the Hemel En Aarde Valley. Fragrance, perfume, essential oils, Lilac, Lilly of the Valley and the sweetest tobacco smoulder. Captivating now and quite likely will be so into the mid 30s.  Last tasted August 2020

There have been many Hamilton Russell pinot noir poured in my anxiously awaiting glasses over the last five years. It’s hard to believe we are here at 2018 but time is a joy when you are having a noirmance. The fruit is exceptional in this vintage because it just feels like the warm day/cool night fix is in. The diurnal flux has locked in freshness and sweet tension like no recent memory can recall. Makes for a most grippy yet excitable pinot noir of concentration, presence and promise. Benchmark in every respect. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted November 2019

That Marco Cirese Sangiovese stare. His Noelia Ricci and Pandolfo are crucial, fundamental and illustrative of what is possible in Emilia-Romagna. #sangiovesediromagna #viniadarte #viniadarte2020

Noelia Ricci Pandolfa Romagna Sangiovese Predappio DOC Godenza 2018, Emilia Romagna, Italy (The Vine Agency)

Godenza was the name of the podere (house) on site at a one hectare vineyard at 340m, the highest section of Ricci’s land. The introduction of concrete tanks is surely responsible (in part) to the freshness and reduction but also poor, well-draining calcareous soils that complete a relationship with open-knit and fragrant red fruit. Adds up to complexities and beauty, not to mention the hands-off, unadulterated feel of this wine. At the top end of quality and elaborate expression for the appellation. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted twice at Vini Ad Arte, Casa Spadoni, Faenza February 2020

Because he’s Dario F-in Faccin, that’s why g-dammit! #carobbio #sangiovese #chianticlassico #panzano #galestro

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($33.60, Alta Wines)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Stem Wine Group)

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Vineyard at Salicutti

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sorgente 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Organic, biodynamic and unfiltered, from the then first in Montalcino, at the hands of Francesco Leanza, in 1995. Now (and since 2015) in the custodial hands of Felix and Sabine Eichbauer, halfway between Montalcino and Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The last of the cru, single-vineyards planted at Salicutti and not surprisingly the one with most red fruity juiciness that keeps a lineage with the Rosso. If a portal into knowing what it makes to taste the bright side of 2015 could be described then why not make use of this ethereal Sorgente to learn of such things. Voltage, tension and vibration. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Francesco Ripaccioli

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casaccia 2016, Tuscany, Italy (Le Sommelier Inc.)

Barrel Sample. Now this is something exceptional. This is what Casaccia is obviously capable of producing, The sweetest Canalicchio fruit of all, to date and with a rising low and slow angling of acidity (as opposed to straight verticality) that carries the fruit to great heights. This will be a triumph and in fact it is already tasting like a piece de Canalicchio resistance while it sings a long maestro song. A soloist that needs no accompaniment although food, company and peace would not hurt at all. Obviously this is more than just the northern side of Montalcino and more than Canalicchio. This is Casaccia. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted February 2020

Lorenzo Magnelli, Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2013, Tuscany, Italy

The ’13 will be released on January 1st, 2023 and as the name Diecianni suggests it is a Riserva that 10 years minimum are needed before readiness begins to take shape. The selection is from the smallest grape clusters in estate vineyards and mainly the oldest vines, originally planted in 1987. The vintage of the great polyphonic-phenolic, elastic and stretched ripeness, by photosynthesis without heat, of muscles with energy and ones that will develop, remain and use their power to keep the fruit alive. That said it’s a wine of wood and the highest level of salinity, sapidity and a tang that is exhibited by no other Brunello di Montalcino. A concentration that is simply outstanding and in some minds, will even be eclipsed (or not) by 2016. The finesse and architecture of this wine are as good as it gets. Drink 2026-2042.  Tasted February 2020

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($59.95)

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($103.95, Le Maitre de Chai)

Basarin in the newest Cru for Sottimano, established in 2014 though the vines are already between 45-50 years old. Released just at the start of 2020 and already displaying a prominence in aromatics that speak to this exceptional nook just below Neive. From a vintage blessed for its place in history matched by a requiem for a dream. Crunchy for nebbiolo surely caused by the policy of classically long Piedmontese maceration, drawing fruit with gentle impunity and long-grained tannins in thrushes and intermingling chains. Pure dark fruit (almost raspberry) and a generous application of wood varnish. Architecture, length and character, all together. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted January 2020

With Francesca Vaira

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco Delle Viole 2016, Piedmont, Italy ($113.95, Groupe Soleil)

The thing of Bricco delle Viole that is beauty emits with gala fruit force into the canals of the layers. Bricco dell Viole the singular Barolo cru, from which fruit, texture and extension are consistently planned out, mapped and organized. So wound, so found and following a path that runs along a line along a circle. Slow unwind and unfolding coming, culminating in developed notes, to be far away, somewhere between then and then. Too soon to tell. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted January 2020

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2017, South Australia, Australia (12016, $150.00, Mark Anthony Group)

Another old friend, St. Henri, once a wine for a special occasion, now one for all times. No, not a baby Grange but to me this is to Penfolds as Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus is to Maison Bouchard Père & Fils. Not that there is any resemblance to pinot noir save for the fact that in terms of shiraz, St. Henri is the elegant or if you will, the Burgundian one. Penfolds like to refer to Henri as “an intriguing counterpoint to Grange,” and that seems right in the sense that power and optimum concentration are never the point. It is a multi-regional blend, from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley and Port Lincoln. There is no new wood exercised; it spends 12 months in 50-plus year old vats. Distinct style, unique pedigree and alternative execution. Adds up to intrigue, enigma and mystery, which is just what an iconic and signature counterpoint should do. Acidity and structure are tops, bar none. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2018, Douro Valley, Portugal (12076, $160.00, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

The third consecutively declared Vintage Port by Taylor is one of 18’s most powerfully restrained. Taylor describes their 2018 from a “year (that) seems to have given it an additional layer of density and weight.” Apropos it needs saying because texture this viscous is clearly vintage driven. After record aridity in 2017 it was a wet March that was welcomed with open arms and water tables but the rain kept up and so mildew became the challenge. Worse was damage from hailstorms in the Pinhão area, including Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta do Junco. But the heat came and on August 3rd at Quinta de Vargellas they recorded a temperature of just over 44°C. Ripening happened in a shorter and more concentrated window, a good thing in the world of VP, as witnessed by the no holes, all in, singular in vision and style Taylor 2018. Not the gangster power surge of some others mind you and the violets give little aromatic space to fruit nor perfume that tries to steal the spotlight. These are remarkable tannins and it could be periods of ages and epochs before this begins to move into complexities secondary and tertiary. If I were as young as I think you are I’d invest in this Taylor for the next 30-plus years of evolution. Drink 2027-2044.  Tasted November 2020

Good to go!

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Roero DOCG Previews and Retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2016, 2007 and Riserva 2006

Across the Tanaro River to Roero

Nebbiolo, arbiter of Piedmontese taste, far from existing in a vacuum or holed up in a one horse town. Nebbiolo’s web casts complex, wide, untethered, unconfined and spread out across a connected set of earthly Albeisa vineyard constellations. The varietal lands umbrellaed and managed in trust to a multi-tasking Consorzio belong to a greater set of regions occupied by Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Dogliani and Roero. To follow Piemonte’s nebbiolo simply map out the wine route “di Langa e Roero,” to trace out hundreds of cru sites in dozens of communes within a territory that includes hot spots defined as Barolo DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC and Roero DOCG. For the latter orient one’s self at the village of Canale and radiate outwards to take in the world that encapsulates nebbiolo grown in zones to produce a unique set of wines. The nebbiolo from vineyards in Roero are special and they are beholden to their makers.

Related – Barolo DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2016, Riserva 2014, 2006 and Riserva 2004

Albeisa President Marina Marcarino introduces Roero Consorzio President Francesco Monchiero

La Bottiglia Albeisa

All the nebbiolo rest in one bottle shape, the “Albeisa bottle” and rest assured all glass etched “Albeisa” contains nebbiolo grown only in these Langhe and Roero lands. It was Renato Ratti who first suggested the project seek this defining characteristic, way back in 1973. Shape, location, provenance, tradition and excellence. Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Albeisa. Recognizable for all these aforementioned reasons and a parochial prejudice in the collective attention to detail.

Roero is an area in Cuneo Province of Regione Piemonte and on the left bank of the Tanaro River, between the plain of Carmagnola and the low hills of Astigiano. Roero’s geographical parameters and topographical stretching northwards from Alba towards Torino are protected within an invisibly drawn membrane or fence enveloping a set of municipalities/villages/communes that mark its outskirts, from the southwest moving clockwise; Pocapaglia, Sommariva Perno, Baldissero d’Alba, Montaldo Roero, Monteu Roero, Santo Stefano Roero, Montà d’Alba, Canale, Priocca, Govone, Castellinaldo, Magliano Alfieri, Castagnito, Guarene, Vezza d’Alba, Piobesi d’Alba, Corneliano d’Alba, Monticello d’Alba and Santa Vittorio d’Alba. These 19 administrative entities then beget 175 recognized cru for raising Roero nebbiolo.

Related – Barbaresco DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2015, 2007 and 2005

Dressed to prune ~ Lessons in Alba with the maestro, Dottore Edoardo Monticelli ~ @albeisawines #nebbioloprima2020 #guyot #nebbiolo #barbera

What’s going on, under the ground?

From a geological point of view it is quite a young land, despite resting on a very ancient crystalline base. Up until 130 million years ago it was part of the bottom of an inland sea, called the Golfo Padano. Its terrain was formed by the sedimentation of debris of various lithological origins transported by marine currents that eroded the surrounding mountains, layering them through various stages of drying up and immersion. Roero remained a shallow gulf until the Pliocene, as shown by the sandy sediments and marine clays. The emergence and formation of the Roero hills took place two to three million years ago. This drift also brought various types of soil to the surface: the deeper layers shifted uphill, whereas those more recent remained at the bottom of the valley.

After the final surfacing the soil was covered once again by sediments of alluvial and wind origin. In that period Langhe and Roero formed a single plateau with the Tanaro and the Stura in the direction Bra – Carmagnola. The great friability of this marine-origin soil led to a progressive erosion. This shift occurred between 220.000 and 150.000 years ago along the path of the Tanaro in the direction Alba – Asti, separating Langhe and Roero. The erosion of the river had a significant effect on the sandy soil of Roero, creating the Rocche, craggy mountain peaks that mark the watershed between the old and new Tanaro valley. They cut the territory from south-west to north-east, from Pocapaglia to Montà, dividing the continental gravel and fluvial clay soils from those of marine origin, providing ideal vine-growing conditions.

The formation of Roero’s geological composition sheds light on why it evolved into an important territory for nebbiolo and in particular arneis but the Consorzio’s current President Francesco Monchiero reminds us that it is quite difficult in terms of menzioni geografica, at least with respect to labelling, much more so than the geographical mentions for Barolo and Barbaresco. This complicated and complex issue is attributed to the area’s many hills and tributaries, varied soils and geological compositions. The nebbiolo from Roero is so closely related to its sabbia, sandy soils that transfer and translate in the perfume, “as violet and a certain elegance.”

At the Roero Producers’ Consortium on March 4th, 2014 a decree was published in the Official Gazette “with the objective to perform the functions of protection, advancement, promotion, consumer information and general care of the interests related to the “Roero” DOCG.” In Alba on January 21st, 2020 Monchiero makes mention of 1797, the year to which the first inventories and notebooks of the Roero are found in the historic cellars of Roero di Vezza and Guareno, speaking of “Brente di Arneis, Vigna Costa in Castagnito and “Vermout made with Arneis”. Then into the 1800s traces of Arneis are found in the writings of Gallesio, who lists it among the most typical varieties of Roero and later the Rovasenda confirm its liaison with the city of Corneliano d’Alba. Finally, the 1879 bulletins indicate that 40 per cent of the Monteu Roero vineyards are dedicated to Arneis. Today there are more than 300 consortium members made up of producers and growers, and more than 1,000 hectares of Roero Denominazione (Designation) vineyards, with a total of about 6 million bottles produced, of which more than 60% are exported. Arneis and nebbiolo are the two base grapes of the DOCG: native grapes, typical of this territory, cultivated for centuries and interpreted with great care by the Roero producers.

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila

The language of Roero

The dynamic and symbiotic relationship between a Roero winegrower to vine, winemaker to wine and nebbiolo as the conduit is actually a transference of information from one set of species to another. That is because the world, as per the words of authors we read and producers we cherish, is made of language. The links and associations are centuries old and through time it is the sampling of flavours, the charting of ripples and the passing of generational torches that ensures a ceaseless linking of knowledge. Case in point the house of Azienda Agricola Malabaila Di Canale.

The @malabaila.wines from Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila. Pas Dosé Metodo Classico seven years on lees, Roero Arneis, Favorita, Roero Nebbiolo, Barbera d”Alba and Birbét. 658 years in. Their time begins now.

Lucrezia Carrega Malabaila is at the helm of Canale’s most historic estate brought into modern eminence by her father before he passed away in 2010. Though Langhe Rosato, Pas Dosè Método Classico Vino Spumante, Mosta d’Uva Parzialmente Fermentato, Dessert Brachetto, Langhe Favorita, Roero Arneis, Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba Cru and Nebbiolo d’Alba are all purposefully and successfully produced, it is the nebbiolo from estate crus that tell a most profound Malabaila story. Then there is the Malabaila connection to Austrian Esterhazy royalty but that is for another story and another time. This old vines Castelletto brings Canale into prominent nebbiolo focus to ride along with the greats of Barbaresco.

Malabaila Di Canale 1362 Roero Riserva DOCG Castelletto 2015

From Canale vines 50 years old and the most historical vineyard for Malabaila, as documents show. Riserva here means two years in two, three and four year-old barrels. Yet another silky Roero and example of nebbiolo that could not have been born anywhere else. The “little castle” is a charming nebbiolo, fine of all its constructive parts with an ease of sensuality that just shows how confident, casual and natural life as it is just happens to be. Castelletto knows what it is. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted January 2020

The chef, the plates and the art ~ @ventuno.1 in Alba

The Roero experience is one that requires so much further investigation so here’s to hoping and planning with great intention to make a return for that very purpose. In the meantime here are 38 reviews in total covering the January of 2020 Nebbiolo Prima tastings for Roero DOCG Previews and Retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2016, 2007 and Riserva 2006.

Tags

Roero DOCG 2017 and Riserva DOCG 2016

Roero DOCG Retrospective 2006 and 2007

Michael’s Nebbiolo Prima 2020

Roero DOCG 2017

The alcohol is felt and noted with syrupy fruit and a glycerin that comes straight off the aromatic top. Here a big Vezza d’Alba nebbiolo with some Bretty volatility and true blue natural feel. Structured with grippy tannins and all of the above combine to impress even while you wonder if some will find it a bit over the top. It may be found to be heavy but there is no doubting the acumen and the potential. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Bric Castelvej Roero DOCG 2017

Slight volatility, thin and also some oxidative notes. Like cool climate pinot noir in Canale without much substance or structure. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Demure, elegance, cherry and simplicity from Baldissero d’Alba. Light and feathery, quiet and pretty. A fine, slight chalky grain to the tannic structure. Really fine drinkability. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Val Del Prete Roero DOCG 2017

The twain is accessed in a Priocca Roero nebbiolo neither light nor heavy, neither bright nor mired in darkness. A medium-bodied, somewhere between easy and very ripe so balance is the answer. Soft, pliable and yet notable tannin supports very fine acidity and blood orange fruit. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Cornarea Roero DOCG 2017

From go the feeling is bones, Canale karst intuition and structure. It is in here that nebbiolo takes on another level and layer of possibility. That said the fruit is caught between the posit poles of ripe and rustic. Very close to an exceptional wine. Just needs a bit earlier preserved acidity and passion. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

La Libera

Deltetto 1953 Roero DOCG 2017

Quite near the top of the bright factor though some warmth and weight keep this on the right side of density and extraction. Tannins are bigger and grippier than expected so really, ostensibly steal the show. Let this settle though when it does the S. Stefano Roero fruit will be tighter and drying into further floral crispness. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Enrico Serafino Roero DOCG 2017

The brightest nebbiolo from Canale Roero gives straight-shooting cherry aroma and flavour. Floral in a dried rose potpourri way with fine acidity and a liquid chalkiness though more from an almost neutral beeswax feel, rather than true blue tannin. Interesting wine that seems to come from limestone, even if it does not. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Light, bright, effusive and effulgent. Smells a bit like coffee and tobacco which is in great contrast to the transparency of hue and texture. Quite floral, intense and structured. This is serious nebbiolo from Montà and surely a harbinger for the commune in terms of its soils, abilities and wealthy forward thinking possibilities. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Malabaila Di Canale Roero DOCG 2017

Bright and effusive Canale nebbiolo with cherry transparency and notable tannins. Hovering in between beats in terms of fruit pectin substance though the keel is balanced and proper. All the parts are there and in line if just a step shy of giving away a step up dance party impression. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted January 2020

A vineyard monople and 100 per cent Canale nebbiolo with sand and minerals in the soil at the top of the hill. Makes for smooth and sweet tannins. Everything about this nebbiolo is just that. Silk threaded through cashmere and there is no mistaking the origin. This is not Barolo or Barbaresco. It’s purely Roero and at the haute heights of chic and beauty. And it has a minor volatile flaw in funk that adds character and complexity. After all we wouldn’t want it to be perfect. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted January 2020

Mario Costa Roero DOCG 2017

Ripe and very developed fruit, a touch of figgy raisin character. Feel the sandy Canale soil and the development then takes over completely. Drink 2020.  Barrel Sample tasted January 2020

Marsaglia Roero DOCG 2017

Darker hued and ripe beyond so many, this is the nebbiolo from Roero to entice, induce and seduce with its inviting and substantial fleshiness. Also tannic with a late arriving bitter-sour edging that suggests a heavier pressing and bigger ambition. Chewy and filling with plenty of weight, almost to the precipice of warmth and distraction. From Castellinaldo. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Some great initial interest on this Roero nebbiolo nose, distinctly violet floral mixed with a waft of fresh tobacco. You note the wood here, lightly vanilla, mildly spiced and a touch of sandalwood coming in late. Right proper structure and Canale possibilities intact. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted January 2020

Rabino F.Lli Di Rabino Andrea Roero DOCG 2017

A nearly searing S. Vittoria d’Alba nebbiolo with a dried fruit quality and quite demanding tannins. Notably woody and the seeds of tannic thrush take over to render the fruit almost sterile and unavailable. Hard to see it returning, like overtly demanding Gattinara. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Osteria dei Sognatori

Roero Riserva DOCG 2016

Bric Castelvej Roero Riserva DOCG Selezione Panera Alta 2016

A higher toned and also ripe 2016 Canale Riserva for nebbiolo that makes one think of North American pinot noir. The strawberry is nearly candied (west coast) and there’s an evergreen note (eastern cool climate) so the juxtaposition is a candid one. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Spiked juiced is this aromatic Montà nebbiolo, he of sharp acids and grippy tannin. Not the morbido and supple Roero Riserva that many are and so many others aspire to be but when you encounter such structure you just know the soils are responsible. You also figure the winemaker made the wine that had to be made. This will be very long lived. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Ca Rossa Roero Riserva DOCG Mompissano 2016

Cool and just hinting at a mentholated note in a very transparent Canale nebbiolo. The barrel is clearly a factor and melted nicely in for good integration and balance. Makes for a sweet fruit profile and perfectly great ubiquitous Roero Riserva. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Chicco Roero Riserva DOCG Valmaggiore 2016

Here Vezza d’Alba Roero Riserva does nebbiolo less like the side of the river where it resides and more like Barbaresco. That may sound like a good idea but the resemblance is not one in a mirror but instead a look that tries a bit too hard. Well made but out of context and place. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Quiet if cool and savoury to the edge of verdancy. Nebbiolo from Roero can go this route, delicate when chilled and refreshing even while in Castellinaldo Riserva form. Warming the glass releases the volatile notes in a what is ostensibly a cool-climate condition. This drinks like frappato meeting cabernet franc and that’s a delicious combination with the added specificity of a cru named Serra Zoanni. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Lanzarotti Roero Riserva DOCG Carlinot 2016

So much vanilla emits from this wooden ship of a Canale nebbiolo for Roero Riserva. Cool palate feels go herbal and then the vanilla continues to creep. One-dimensional nebbiolo. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Deltetto 1953 Roero Riserva DOCG Braja 2016

High level example of chic style and prominent wood clothing. Smooth and in the vanilla, not to mention so much spice. Tannic structure ruins through every pore. Big nebbiolo from S. Stefano Roero and Braja cru. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Filippo Gallino Roero Riserva DOCG Sorano 2016

Lovely excess of volatility and ripeness matched by verdancy for Roero Riserva of dedication to tradition. The intensity of the Canale-Sorano fruit-acid compendium is a bit strained and forced. Has worked very hard and the time is now to drink up. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Lorenzo Negro Roero Riserva DOCG S. Francesco 2016

A bright red and white lighting nebbiolo from Monteu Roero here speaks to younger vines and sandier soils. Bright red fruit is less Riserva and more Annata with sharp and tang-riddled acidity. Prominent food wine with some wood spice and warmth at the finish. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Earthy and wild fruit aromatic Canale nebbiolo with a real case of the reds and the blues. The guess of Vigna Renesio would be blue clay soil in this particular case as per the way it wells with curiosity. Lots of barrel influence but the bones are supported by a chalkiness that is just starting to liquify, though several years will allow for a slow recline. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted January 2020

Proper emittance, high-toned and regaling, going in many directions, mostly to culminate at a vortex where complexity lives. Rich and vigorous Pinti cru nebbiolo in Canale, complicit with all parts, fruit very much alive and texture rampant in waves and variegation. Top example of Riserva and not yet at the peak. Drink 2021-2028. Tasted January 2020

Simple, light, airy and delicate Sudisfà Roero of lovely disposition, namely finesse. Such integration and seamlessness is to be lauded, not to mention how drinkable and pleasurable it truly is. Not the most structured (though it is blessed with enough) but that matters little when all other parts do so much to please. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted January 2020

Pace Roero Riserva DOCG 2016

On the light and delicate Canale side, even for Roero Riserva with a full compliment of barrel incline while the wine already shows signs of decline. It’s quiet and lovely but no stuffing remains. Just some spice and soaked woody notes. Drink 2020.  Barrel Sample tasted January 2020

Pelassa Roero Riserva DOCG Antaniolo 2016

Tones set to high and wood bringing things back down in a topsy-turvy example that wafts so much creamy vanilla. Just too much wood and very little integration, not to mention a hot finish. From Montà. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Ponchione Maurizio Roero DOCG 2017

Oxidative and nearly prune in aromas. Spice and blood orange, quite astringent. Expressive from hard pressing and replete with green tannins. From Govone. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted January 2020

Porello Marco Roero Riserva DOCG San Michele 2016

Elegantly soft Canale nebbiolo in Riserva clothing from the San Michele cru for Roero with little effort needed to find prime and simple joy while needing little to no structure in the mix. At least from this point going forward. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Trees of Cherasco, Piemonte

Renato Buganza Radici E Filari Roero Riserva DOCG 2016

Fromm Guarene, a simplified nebbiolo with no shortage of red and ropey fruit at peak sugar ripeness unmatched by phenolics just a touch short. Makes for high acid, tart and taut tannins with a green edge. Drink 2020-2021.  Barrel Sample tasted January 2020

Taliano Michele Roero Riserva DOCG Roche Dra Bossora 2016

Lots going on from the top with a multifarious aromatic Montà drift. Tons of red fruit, a spike of volatility and a touch of Brettanomyces. Plenty of palate flavour and texture, finishing with a creamy if cool pool created by the time in wood. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Valdinera Roero Riserva DOCG San Carlo 2016

From Corneliano d’Alba and one of the ripest examples at the height of sweet strawberry. Almost all and only about fruit with very little barrel influence though the tannins are a bit astringent. Close but just a bit tightly pressed and wound. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Roero DOCG 2007 and Riserva DOCG 2006

Filippo Gallino Roero DOCG 2007

Near tertiary 13 year-old Roero nebbiolo from Canale with a lovely disposition and acidity that will not and perhaps never relent. Showing beautifully and with sweet fruit still intact. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Cascina Chicco Roero Riserva DOCG Valmaggiore 2006

Perhaps the richest of the retrospective Roero nebbioli is this from Cascina Chicco in Vezza d’Alba, all wood, chocolate, high acids and crunchy spice. A very oaky wine with plenty of drive that will not relent as a result of its strong-willed ambition. Wow, apropos for the Valmaggiore moniker. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Lorenzo Negro Roero Riserva DOCG S. Francesco 2006

Was a deeper, richer and riper nebbiolo from Monteu Roero-Roero for sure so now it has really rendered and deepened to wet earth. Still full of acidity and the trend is starting to appear with the obviousness of the grape-place-age relationship. Serious if pressing S. Francesco stuff here from Negro Lorenzo. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted January 2020

Monchiero Carbone Roero Riserva DOCG Printi 2006

Quite advanced and deservedly so for Roero nebbiolo with yet another look at the aging capabilities from the lesser appreciated Canale lands. Acids are quite striking here and the tannins surprisingly alive. Everything is. That’s nothing short of remarkable and surely far from lactic, Good site this Printi. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted January 2020

Taliano Michele Roero Riserva DOCG Roche Dra Bossora 2006

Taliano’s Montà nebbiolo is really showing its age and missing the classic Roero acidity. Actually comes through late along with the really drying tannins. Fruit vacated house a while back. Drink 2020.  Tasted January 2020

Good to go!

godello

Across the Tanaro River to Roero

Twitter: @mgodello

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Pretty in pink, isn’t she, Brachetto d’Acqui

Regine Rousseau (@shallwewine) walking into Piemonte like…

Brachetto d’Acqui, a passion for aromatics

The only current Brachetto listing in Ontario’s LCBO is Viticoltori Acquesi Brachetto d’Acqui. A classic and ideal example to be sure but one listing? One choice? One wine from 1200 hectares of brachetto farmed for the sole purpose to make people happy, to encourage enjoyment of life, to fulfill wishes and dreams of seeking and redeeming simple pleasures? What an utter travesty. Time to fix this now.

Pink 75? Cocktails with Brachetto d’Acqui

Brachetto d’Acqui’s ancestry lies in Roman times with Vinum Aquense, as it was known dating back to the time of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. “Aromatics have always been connected to nobility,” explains Consorzio Tutela Brachetto d’Acqui President Paolo Ricagno. It was thought to have astonishing aphrodisiac powers. Legend has it that first Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony sent many wineskins of the Vinum Acquense to Egypt and to the court of the famously beautiful Cleopatra in advance of their arrival. The queen is said to have employed the sweet brachetto to rekindle the passion of her legendary lovers. Imbibing with impunity, something in a 21st century renaissance today’s producers and  consorzio would love to see. The first official definition was in 1922 when it was considered a “luxury wine” and history notes that is has been produced since 1850. Fast forward 100 years later Arturo Bersano decided to present it “in a particular way.” With more bubbles and smelling like roses.

Consorzio Tutela Brachetto d’Acqui

I have had the privilege to listen to Paolo Ricagno speak twice, first in Acqui Terme in 2018 and most recently in December 2019. Ricagno (not the actor and director of the same name) has been at the helm since inception in 1992 and is joined by two vice presidents: Alberto Lazzarino, director of Banfi and Bruno Fortunato, president of the Tre Secoli cooperative in Mombaruzzo and Ricaldone. DOCG status was granted in 1996. The more than 1000 hectares from 850 growers in Alessandria and Asti is farmed for the express purpose of raising the only red aromatic DOCG in Italy. It can be still, sparkling or made in a dessert-Passito style, but in the simplest description (bubbles and roses) it is in the sweet iterations that most often appear.  

Cindy Rynning (www.grape-experiences.com) and her Pink 75

How did we get here from there?

The Piedmont tertiary basin is filled with fossils from what once was an ancient sea. The sea covered and pulled back twice, shallow, like a tide pool, warm, tropical and full of large sea animals. All of this you can imagine has left a wealth of minerals in the soils, including and especially calcium carbonate. The sandier soils in Acqui are apposite to the marl and limestone of Nizza Monferrato and the vineyards are strewn with marine fossils. There are dramatic climate effects by diurnal temperature swings, cold snowy winters and hot summers. All of this in the name of preserving aromatics. 

Martina Doglio Cotto (www.grapestories.it)

Dense bunches, firm fleshed. That is brachetto. Aromatics are hidden in the skins, high in terpenes and sugars. Main aroma is geraniol, as in red roses. The chemical-aromatic continuum of brachetto runs through the three-pronged table occupied by terpene-geraniol-rose and the preservation of aromatics is established by cold fermentations. The push-pull, ying-yang posit tug is between varietal and fermentative aromas, from the liberty of free-run juice, careful avoidance of oxidation and the tried and true (Dr. Federico) Martinotti Charmat method employed in controlled pressure tanks. If you want to make a DOCG Rosé, you have to keep the maceration very short, to keep the anthocyanin factor down and obtain a wine similar in pale colour to the wines of Provençe. This to make a wine with less aromatic compounds and terpenes. When you ferment moscato dry, which is high in linalool, it can tend to leave a problem with bitterness, whereas brachetto is poor in that thiol and higher in geraniol so bitterness is not a problem. In fact when present can actually be pleasant.

Pretty in Pink, Isn’t she?

Pretty in Pink, Isn’t she?

At Enoteca Regionale Acqui “Terme e Vino” the Masterclass Brachetto Experience was led by Biologist and Sommelier Martina Doglio Cotto of Grape Stories. First a capriccioso, fantasioso or better yet, an estroso Consorzio presentation on place, grape and of course aromatics, followed by a Brachetto d’Acqui tasting with food pairings and inspired cocktail bar. If there is a more whimsical, capricious and fanciful wine than Brachetto d’Acqui it has not yet been found. These are eight examples tasted in Acqui Terme and Asti back in that first week of December.

Azienda Agricola Gallo Cascina Cabonaldo Brachetto D’acqui DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy

More of a firm grip in this brachetto though perfectly fruity and well above average aromatic display. Certainly more zest, pique and pops than other gentler examples. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Banfi Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Rosa Regale 2018, Piedmont, Italy

As fruity and fruit forward as it gets and that’s saying a lot for Brachetto d’Acqui. A bowl of ripe strawberries and the juice squeezed out of a bouquet of roses. Simple, sweet and definitive for the appellation. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Bersano Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Castelgaro, Piedmont, Italy

Dusty roses and sweetly herbal. Demure and earth-musty while tannic and notably dry on the palate. Simple and understated. Food brachetto this one. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Cantina Alice Bel Colle Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Le Casette Di Alice, Piedmont, Italy

Literally “Alice’s Houses,” and the most whimsical, musical and poetic of them all. A brachetto from “a story with the voice of a choir of 100 members” who collectively produce 600 tonnes of the fickle grape for the light ruby red, 5.5% by volume sparkling wine. A floral one of course smelling regally of roses and fruity by raspberry and strawberry. Fresh and self-professed as “harmoniously sweet, slightly tannic.” Truth that. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Marenco Brachetto D’acqui DOCG Pineto 2019, Piedmont, Italy

Pineto is the Strevi cru in the area around Acqui and oh how it brings and slings all the red fruit in waves, from cherry, strawberry and raspberry, even a peppery kick and blood juicy plum. Just a hint of tisane by tannin from a few day maceration at eight degrees with plenty of pumpovers. Then suspended for settling, cleaning and a finish at five point five degrees alcohol within the tenets of appellative law. Quite pure and exactly the sort of refreshing wine with all parts in balance, just like in the fairy tale. A glass or two won’t have you strung between self preservation and transgressive social rule breaking. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Marenco Brachetto Passito DOCG Passri’ Pineto 2012, Piedmont, Italy

Passito di Brachetto is a one of the world’s most distinctive dessert wines, in Marenco’s Strevi world made from 100 per cent Brachetto grapes. The grapes are dried post harvest, gently pressed and selected skins are left to ferment with the must at controlled temperatures for up to eight months. The Passito is then aged in barrel for at least one year. The process brings a cherry concentrate and the oak an uncanny note of white chocolate with thanks to very old barriques. Linger over a sip and feel the seep of darker chocolate, liquorice, toffee, amaro and then a return to those cherries. Peppery in the Marenco brachetto way. Ultimo Passito. Meraviglioso. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted December 2019

Tre Secoli Brut Rosé Brachetto D’acqui DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

Rusty hue in a lovely little rustic and authentic rosato seemingly curious in that it almost acts dry because of such a dried fruit, flower and herb accumulation. Each part is complimentary to the next for a ripe and charming example of Brachetto d’Acqui potpourri. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Classic pairing with Brachetto d’Acqui

Tre Secoli Brachetto D’acqui DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Impressively aromatic, classic rose petal and strawberries in and out of every inhalation. Proper presence, a good match to salty cured meats, especially a local kiss of filetta bacciata. Sweetness is really mitigated by high tonality, elevated acidity and overall balance. More pleasure in this case and isn’t that the point. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Regine Rousseau walking out of Piemonte like…

Twitter: @mgodello

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