November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

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

With Marina Marcarino

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

With Barbara Sandrone

Sandrone

Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018 ($29.95)

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

Sandrone Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($44.95)

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

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

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

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

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Le Vigne 2015 ($159.95)

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

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Aleste 2015 ($179.95)

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

Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset

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

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

Punset Neh! Langhe Bianco DOC 2018 ($18.95)

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

Punset Neh! Langhe Rosso DOC 2017 ($18.95)

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

Punset Arneis Langhe DOC 2018 ($26.95)

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

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

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

Punset Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($24.95)

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

Punset Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017 ($31.95)

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

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2014 (302786, $66.95)

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

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2013 (302786, $66.95)

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

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

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Campo Quadro Riserva 2012 ($71.95)

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

Good to go!

godello

Castiglione Falletto from Via Alba

Twitter: @mgodello

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A Sordo affair

Sordo – I Fantastici 8 Crus di Barolo 2013

On Thursday, July 13, 2017 an event dedicated to  the “Fantastic 8 cru of Barolo 2013” was held at the farm of Giorgio Sordo. The program included a guided visit to the historic part of the 1912 cellar, the modern 2016 cellar and a tasting of Sordo’s eight Crus di Barolo, attended by experts, opinion leaders, sommeliers, influencers and journalists from all over the world. Senior Sordo Enologist Ernesto Minasso introduced the Sordo terroir and then Ian D’Agata took over, Scientific Director of Vinitaly and the Wine Project of the Collisioni Festival. The teachings of (Armando) Cordero were invoked, in discussion of respect for what each site can deliver, in working them exactly the same way, so that what you are left with is a true sense of each site, to recall an Ontario “climat” terminology, a Barolo somewhereness if you will, tells Mr. D’Agata. Sitting there, listening to these introductions and pronouncements, self says to self  “let’s see about these things.” A dinner followed, prepared at the hands of Chef Danilo Lorusso of La Crota di Roddi.

The two soil epochs of Barolo are divided by a diagonal line that runs from the northeast down to the southwest, drawn between Roddi and Grinzane through Castiglione Falletto down through Barolo and to Novello. The appellation’s two soil types are Tortonian and Serravallian (or Helvetian), both of which were formed millions of years ago and each are responsible for producing different styles of nebbiolo. La Morra and Barolo to the west are lands less compact and more fertile and the general consensus puts these nebbioli in the realms of the elegant and more (relatively) amenable. In and around Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte and Castiglione Falletto, the Serravallian is marked by dense, compact marl and the Barolo there tends to greater body and alcohol, ideal for a potential to longer aging.

La Morra’s famous cru include Arborina, Brunate, Cerequio, Gattera, Gianchi, Marcenasco and Rocche dell’Annunziata. Barolo’s are Bricco Viole, Brunate, Cannubi, Cannubi Boschis, Sarmassa, Via Nuova, Rue and San Lorenz0. In Castiglione Falletto there are Bricco Rocche, Villero, Monprivato, Fiasc, Mariondino, Pira and Ravera. In Serralunga d’Alba the Cru include Falletto, Francia, Marenca, Vigna Rionda, Marenca-Rivette, La Serra, Margheria, Ornato and Parafada. Monforte d’Alba holds the vineyards of Bussia, Cicala, Colonnello, Dardi, Ginestra, Mosconi, Munie, Romirasco and Santo Stefano.

The official recognition of the DOC Barolo happened in 1966 and the DOCG followed, in 1980. The grape variety is 100 per cent nebbiolo in a production zone covering the entire township of three villages; Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, plus part of the territory of eight other small townships.  Sordo’s excellent eight are what the parlance of Barolo times would refer to as “sorì”, or Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva (MGA), or individual vineyard names. There are more than 100 officially recognized MGAs in Barolo.

Sordo’s eight cru are spread across 53 hectares, 80 per cent cultivated to nebbiolo, plus dolcetto, barbera, arneis, chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc. The total production is 350,000 bottles, with vineyards subsidized by grass and ground cover between the rows. No chemicals though sulphur is used, with stainless steel ferments, élevage in large Slavonian oak casks, further time in bottle of six months, 36 for riserva. The vintage 2013 saw a warm, dry winter, above average in that regard, a cold March, rainy spring, warm summer and dry fall. A 15 day harvest was executed across October. Here are the notes on the eight 2013 cru plus three extras poured with dinner.

Sordo Barolo Monvigliero 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (459677, $47.95, WineAlign)

Monvigliero might very well be considered the “Grand Cru” of Verduno village, facing south/south east at 280-320 metres above sea level. The soils are loose, fine and dry marls and in 2013 the harvest happened on the 12th of October. The first vintage was 2005, from a cru set on the west side of the diagonal line drawn between Roddi and Grinzane through Castiglione Falletto down south west through Barolo and to Novello. Here the make up is more (relatively) fertile Tortonian epoch soils, facilitator of earlier developing Baroli. The comparison might be to Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe, to nebbiolo needing four to six years before entering the drinking window. Every producer that owns parcels in Monvigliero ends up with a top three Barolo portfolio cru from within. Here the Sordo ’13 is so very perfumed, of violet and rose petal, certainly an aromatic potpourri, light in hue and transparent, with texture, sour acidity as of cherry, not yet into the tar. The pearls of magnesium rich marly liquid rubies run amok in the mouth. Returning after tasting the last three (Rocche, Villero and Monprivato) musketeers this now shows how lithe, lovely and accessible (relatively speaking of course) this Monvigliero really is. There are 12,900 bottles made. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted July 2017  sordowine  collisioni  @sordo_wine  @Collisioni  @SordoVini  @CollisioniFestival

Sordo Barolo Ravera 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Ravera is on the eastern slope of the township of Novello, also left bank of the diagonal soil epoch dividing line and like Monvigliero, facing south/southeast. Cuts more attitude and altitude, between 420-450 masl. Loose but richer, whitish marl and grey soils typify the cru. The Ravera harvest was on the 19th October, leading to 20,500 bottles and its first vintage was also 2005. It shows more austerity than Monvigliero, owing to being characterized by Serravallian soils found on the right bank, so this is the cru with an identity complex. This is compact, grippy, intense, sour wrapped up in a mystery folded into an enigma. A reticent, brooding hidden gemstone and texture of compression Sordo, but hard to get. Will unravel and work into its flesh no sooner than six plus years on. From a Ravera sweet spot but it’s not sweet now, nor are some other renditions. A return (30 minutes later) brings the unmistakeable nose of fennel. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Perno 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Perno belongs to Monforte d’Alba and this particular single-vineyard portion (6.6 hectares of 190.96 total hectares in the large cru) is owned entirely by Sordo, though others farm the rest. Vines age from 15-35 years-old, on red soils with stones and it was the 18th of October for this harvest. The first vintage was 2000. Only Bussia and San Pietro are bigger in all of Barolo so there will be some variegation coming from the Cru. Located on the right bank, immediately to the east of the diagonal line, into Serravallian soils, of calcareous limestone and compacted sands. It’s bloody tannic, but aromatically speaking it does in fact speak its mind, of a fine porous vessel holding a sparked and stark, bitter and macerating cherry liqueur. The palate follows sharp and piercing, compressed, intense, of powerful structure and endless length. Brooding and massive but harnessed power that could run a small nation-state. That power never relents though a silk road certainly runs through that country. There were 48,000 bottles produced. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Gabutti 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Gabutti (Serralunga d’Alba) sits at 250-300 masl, in compacted clay with 1989 being the first vintage. It ranges to the far east set into the quintessential seravalian soil and try hard to argue against the idea that it is the cru almost impossible to figure young. Sordo submits to its potential as unlimited and outrageous. There are spice aromas and acidity up front but otherwise it slams the door, locked tight. I disagree with Id’A in that the nose is not floral and accessible but do agree that it is civilized, on the first wave of palate, with soaking cherries and the idea of tar. Then the clutch sticks, it breaks down and shuts down. Wait 10 years from harvest with proof provided that 30 minutes does nothing to allow a Gabutti relent. It does indeed show some further precison when you get back to the back palate. Ultimately there can be little to say but that the jury is so fully out on Gabutti. There were 26,000 bottles made. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Parussi 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Parussi comes from Castiglione Falletto at an elevation of 270-290 masl, with 15-40 year-old vines on loose surface soil and limestone with whitish, grey marls. The harvest was the 15th of October and the first vintage goes back to 2005. Sordo farms 1.8 of a small (13.4) hectares but the whole cru is not suited to nebbiolo, so only 83 per cent is planted to the grape. We are to understand that the idea goes beyond Parussi in that only certain portions are truly nebbiolo-Barolo cru territory. Parussi is from the crossroads of two soil epochs, between Barolo and Monforte and Serralunga to the south and east. The questions is asked whether or not it achieves a balance, of two banks on either side of a diagonal epoch line, like St. Julien, part Margaux and part Paulliac. It does but certainly resides on the brightest side, with the most fruit. The tart cherries are possessive of this striking personality so that they achieve a suspended animated moment in which they equilibrate to sweetness tempered by sour acidity moments and great fineness of demanding tannin. There are 13,000 bottles. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted July 2017

Vitello Tonnato at Sordo

Sordo Barolo Rocche Di Castiglione 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Also from Castiglione Falletto is Rocche Di Castiglione, a formidable nebbiolo from 30-60 years of vine age, including a 1960’s planting. The elevation creeps up to 300-350 masl, on white and blue marl with dry and compacted sandstone. Harvest was on the 17th of October and production goes back to 1987 in this, Sordo’s first original cru. One of the greatest vineyards in all of Barolo, the new name is now Rocche di Castiglione Falletto, a place of crooked cragges or peaks, the altitude delivering more power and structure, but also grace and refinement. This is nebbiolo of a cooler climate personality, wound so tight, with sour cherry, rose petal and so much fruitier on the nose, certainly more than Villero. There is this smooth, satiny consistency through the modernity of flavours on the oldest fruit. A great dichotomy achieved. Drink 2023-2040.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Villero 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Villero is an accumulation of purchased grapes from a farmer who follows a strict regimen. The cru is composed of calcareous, grey marls and compact grey sand and in this first 2013 vintage the later harvest was the 20th of October. Almost dukes it out with Rocche, this second of three musketeers with Castiglione and Monprivato. A balanced locale submits to make for optimum equilibrium for nebbiolo cru, looking at it this early as big, brawny, stiff and strong in its austerity. Giving so little away and yet it’s all imagination, driven by time. The cru is 22 hectares large with Sordo owning 0.4 and change, very small but it’s a true nebbiolo vineyard. Villero is nothing if not erected as a wall of acidity and tannin, so intensely taut, wound and as of yet, unforgiving. There are 3,600 bottles. Drink 2024-2039.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Monprivato 2013, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Monprivato is the third of the Castiglione Falletto cru, at variegated elevations from 240-320 masl. Sordo’s are 40 year-old vines and in this inaugural 2013 it was picked earlier (than Villero) on the 17th of October. Another true representative of Serravallian epoch austerity, with formidable tannin and a get down on my knees and beg to ask for more time before delivering accessibility. One of the true great Barolo vineyards, 98 per cent planted to nebbiolo. The 7.12 hectare large site gifts somewhere between the structure of Villero and the richness of Rocche. You get spice and sour cherry right away but also some other fruit in spice format, mulled in a way, of orange rind, apricot and pomegranate. It’s as if a piece of La Tâche suddenly became available to be farmed by someone else. Such fineness and nobility of tannins, richness and fine bitters, in the end the most tonic of all. This may be the whole package, a compromise in a way but an impressive and charming nebbiolo like no other. There are 3,200 bottles. Drink 2023-2040.  Tasted July 2017

More Sordo

Sordo Roero Arneis Garblet Sué 2016, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Garblet Sué is on the Bricco Fiasco, a Castiglione Falletto vineyard owing in name to the Garbelletto Superiore farm that lies below. Sordo’s roero is rich in metallurgy, orchard fruit purity sporting equal parts pear and citrus, almost but not quite savoury. The balance of fruit, soil and salty mineral melts into arneis tannin. Overall it’s simply suave and polished stuff. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Barolo Rocche Di Castiglione 2011, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

It’s difficult to say and even harder to admit that ’11 Rocche is any further advanced than the ’13 tasted 90 minutes prior. The fruit is a bit riper and if development can be quantified it’s a matter of millimetres by cru standards. And so the sour cherry is sweetened, rendered with more baking spice caress and attention to length, elastically so and with precise action. Five years further on and it will fall effortlessly into its next perfect phase, in a place called beautiful. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted July 2017

Sordo Riserva Barolo Gabutti Edizione Limitata 2006, DOCG Piemonte, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Sometimes it’s just a case of instant recognition, of the transparent Barolo-nebbiolo purity, crowned by acidity read from a very particular cru vernacular, spoken without any interference. At this 11-year itch, which incidentally seems only a year or two shy of the optimum window, Gabutti runs just a touch hot. A minor distraction in bitter phenol is balanced by ripe Sordo fruit that when combined acts like a salve melting on a tongue coated with tannin. Can formidable and elegant co-exist? In Gabutti, yes they can, easily, readily and in truth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2017

Good to go!

Godello

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