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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
- ***** Careglio Roero DOCG 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Roero Riserva DOCG 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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