There were two good reasons to head up to London on the train yesterday lunchtime, despite a long morning drive beforehand, to taste Ultravino‘s Piemontese offerings at 67 Pall Mall. Just as well there were two reasons, as the Tasting, in the club’s basement room, let visitors see very little of this renowned and expensive London Club for wine connoisseurs (I was hoping to nose around but I got the feeling that non-members were being politely chaperoned away from the club areas).
However, thankfully there was a second, better reason. Ultravino is a Piemonte specialist, based not so far from me, in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. Their aim is to promote “under-the-radar boutique producers” from Barolo, Barbaresco and the increasingly interesting (to Nebbiolo drinkers) Roero. The only instances where they fail in this aim are where their producers have now become already very much on the radar of Nebbiolo lovers.
Nebbiolo has been very much on my mind. Beginning the Nebbiolo season, as autumn closes on winter, reminded me how I’ve allowed my stocks to diminish without sufficient replacement (I seem to swing like a pendulum between Piemonte and Tuscany). Some people I know have just come back from an interesting and informative trip to the region, which I’ve been reading about on Wine-pages.
I also drank my first Piemontese wine of the season last week, Fabrizio Battaglino’s Sergentìn Roero 2009, and it looks like I may drink some more Nebbiolo on Friday. So a good reason to make the effort to attend this Tasting, and it was well worth that effort.
Relief maps are becoming quite common, and these well positioned reliefs of Barolo and Barbaresco were perfect to locate producers’ vineyards.
Maybe Roero needs a geographical introduction. It’s only just north of the Langhe (north of Alba and Bra), but I’m amazed how many people ask where it is. Its wines have been quietly gaining a reputation for a decade or more, first via white grape Arneis, and now much more for the Nebbiolo reds. Some wines can be more earthy and lack quite the elegance of fine wine from the two “B”s, yet you can also find lovely perfume here from sometimes lighter wines, perhaps more delicate (which can make some of the tannic young wines seem weedy after Barolo’s finest). This is put down to a much higher proportion of sand in Roero, than in the Langhe to the south. Let them age and that elegance comes through, on nose and palate, in wines from the best producers.
Cascina Val del Prete
The family name here is familiar, Roagna, though I don’t know that Mario Roagna is related to the more famous producer of that name. His parents were sharecroppers who bought a well sited amphitheatre of vines in the 1970s. Mario brought organics and then biodynamics to the picture, and his son Giovanni brings experimentation. This domaine, based at Priocca, is now seen as one of the best in Roero.
Roero Arneis Luèt 2016 comes from water retaining clay soils, more clay than is usual in Roero. It sees one-and-a-half days on skins before fermentation in stainless steel (which is the standard vessel for the Arneis in the region). Arneis rarely makes wines of great complexity, but it is a nice grape and a good alternative to the more widely seen Cortese of Piemonte’s eastern and southern vineyards. This one is quite concentrated with quince, pear and almond.
The red wines here rise from the lightish, young vine, Roero Bricco Medica 2013, concrete fermented, where the concrete softens the tannins (increasingly, producers are seeing the benefits of concrete again), via Roero Vigna di Lino 2013 named after Giovanni’s grandfather (40-y-o vines spending 16 months ageing in barrique), through to Roero Riserva 2013, a selection of the best grapes from the best part of the hill, fermented in steel and then aged 24 months in second year barrique. Quite structured, yet as Roero wines tend to become ready to drink earlier than their more famous neighbours, this should drink into the mid-2020s.
(Don) Giovanni, Val del Prete
This is the project of Angelo Ferrio, a quiet and thoughtful man who produces some truly under the radar cuvées from some of the top sites. The Arneis here, Roero Arneis Merica 2016, is a fresh and drinkable wine, but the reds are more serious.
Roero Valmaggiore Audinaggio 2015 has a lovely nose. It’s pretty tannic right now but for an entry level 2015 it is impressive. Remember, Sandrone makes a Valmaggiore, so as a location it gets the seal of approval from one of the wider region’s more expensive producers.
Roero Mompissano Riserva 2013 is a bigger and even more complex wine which sees 30 months in large oak. The soils on this site are what are known locally as “white soils”, containing marble. The nose has genuine depth developing and the potential is obvious. To show that potential, Angelo had his Riserva 2010 open. Of course, it still needs much more time, but you are sipping a potentially profound wine from this great vintage.
Angelo Ferrio and his Cà Rossa wines from Roero
There were two Arneis here. Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie 2016 is made from vines between 35 to 60 years of age. It’s refreshing with a pear-like finish, dry and textured. Roero Arneis Le Rive del Bricco 2016 is an old vine selection from the same vineyard which is more concentrated, almost a touch tannic, and clearly with the potential to improve in bottle.
Although known locally perhaps as a white wine producer, the reds here are made in an intentionally elegant style. The Roero Bric Valdiana 2015 exemplifies that approach, coming from 75% sandy soils (the rest being limestone and chalk). Aged in large oak, only 4,000 bottles are produced.
This is a producer saddled with the modernist tag in the past, although the new French barriques tend to be used far more for his top wines. It is also true that Treiso, where Pelissero is based, has a reputation for elegant wines, compared to those of Neive, and Barbaresco itself. On the whole, the late harvest in 2013 produced quite classical wines in Barbaresco, and there is a certain tannic structure to them, no doubt accentuated by the oak in this case. But it is clear that underneath the tannins, that renowned elegance resides, alongside genuine personality waiting to emerge.
Barbaresco Nubiola 2013 blends fruit from six vineyards which then see stainless steel for fermentation before 18-20 months in large oak. The fruit is smooth under the tannins and it has a nice weight. Barbaresco Tulin 2013 is a single vineyard near Treiso made in a traditional style but with a lovely sweetness on the nose. Effectively, you get more tannin, albeit fine tannin, and more depth here. The fruit underneath is lovely and fresh.
Barbaresco Vanotu 2013 was their most expensive wine on show, from a vineyard closer to Barbaresco itself where there is more sand. It showed softer tannins, and also illustrated the Pelissero reputation for elegance. Barbaresco Vanotu 2010 served from a 3-litre bottle was gorgeous, even now, though you would not want to waste it by opening now.
The Pasquero family are rightly famous for their part of Serraboella, and the estate is named after that singular plot within it, Sorì Paitin. The wines have a reputation for ageing well, but I have also heard them described by some Piemonte fans as pretty oaky. I’m not sure that this is not sometimes their tannic structure, which aids their longevity, showing through.
Barbaresco Serraboella 2013 does not appear oaky. In fact it is a well priced entry level with a nose already developing nicely, and a certain smoothness underneath the tannin. Barbaresco Sorì Paitin 2013 has that extra degree of concentration you’d expect from this parcel within the cru. I think the drinking window of 2020 – 2030+ is quite conservative in this case. Someone elsewhere was talking about “pomegranate” in tasting notes. This is a wine where I’d definitely use pomegranate, along with rich cherry.
The apogee of the list is Barbaresco Sorì Paitin Vecchie Vigne Riserva 2011, which is from the very oldest vines in the parcel, from where the family’s first vines were planted in 1796 (obviously replanted since!). This is a very impressive wine for me, and the tannins seem somehow softer, perhaps due to the plush underlying fruit. 2011 was seen as an excellent vintage on release, but one which might drink well early on, I think.
To press the point we were treated to an off-list Sorì Paitin Riserva 2004 from magnum. It is still tannic, but coming into its own. My fears that 2004 is drinking before 2001 are making me rethink my planned Barbaresco for lunch on Friday…
Palladino is not a name I know, but I’m pleased to have become acquainted with their wines. They use the old Cappellano winery in Serralunga where they make quite traditional wines, fermenting in concrete and ageing in “botti”. What I liked about the wines here was their ease of drinking, quite forward but not lacking anything as a result. But as the Tasting brochure says, rather atypical, with their well integrated tannins, for Serralunga Barolo.
The opener here is Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba 2013 which is a blend of vineyard sites which spends two years in Slovenian oak. Although they put a drinking window on it of up to 2028, I think this will be enjoyable well before that.
Barolo Ornato 2013 and Barolo Parafada 2013 were both enjoyable and, for £190/6 in bond, far more reasonably priced than the bigger names. The former is off clay and chalk with no sand in the soil. It shows salinity and an earthiness, but complexity too. The latter, of which there are at 3,500 bottles, 500 more than the Ornato, is very elegant. It sees a year in French barrique, then a year in older tonneau. That said, there’s power there too.
Livia Fontana is much better known in the USA (and, apparently, I learnt, in Scandinavia) than in the UK. They are based in Castiglione Falletto, with some pretty famous sites. Donato Lanati consults, so there is obvious ambition.
Off-list we began with Langhe Arneis 2016 from vineyards in Roero. It was the fruitiest of the Arneis I tasted and I really liked it. Nice precise definition as well.
Three reds began with the only non-Nebbiolo red of the day, Barbera D’Alba Superiore 2014. This was dark-coloured, with deep cherry fruit and a lick of brambly bitterness on the finish. From a site near the family home, it sees two years in oak and then up to 18 months in bottle before release, and I would suggest it is one of the “superiore” style of Barbera that will benefit from ageing. Four or five years for it to mature, I’d guess.
Barolo Villero 2013 is one of several famous crus of Castiglioni and as such it gets three years in older oak and further bottle age. It’s a pale wine with a bouquet that’s quite developed, yet elegant. Lighter on the palate than some, but in a good way. Barolo Bussia Riserva 2011 has an even deeper nose and combines elegance and power…perhaps more elegance than I expected from the broad shoulders of Bussia. We were also treated to a taste of the Bussia Riserva 2010, another very elegant and admirable rendition of this vintage.
Carlo Revello & Figli
Carlo appears quite fierce in some ways but he is a very thoughtful winemaker, now based in Santa Maria in the La Morra zone, working with his son, Erik, after the family holdings were split with his brother in 2016. He has vines in Rocche dell’ Annunziata, Giachini and Conca.
The vines for Langhe Nebbiolo 2016 were planted in 1960, on chalk and clay, and the grapes are fermented in horizontal rotary fermenters, before ageing in barrique. But this is a lighter style of Nebbiolo, which will age for sure but will also be approachable soon. I think the old vines show here. A promising start.
Barolo 2013 continued that promise. I’d read a note that someone who had recently drunk the 2012 (in Verduno) and 2013 of this wine, both within a week of each other, had felt the 2013 surpassed the previous vintage with ease. Not having a 2012 to compare it to, I really liked this 2013 with its high toned nose, and mouth coating tannins. The same rotating fermentation vessels are used but the Barolo grapes get four days skin contact.
There was a Riserva on show from the same vintage, Barolo RG 2013. “RG” stands for the components of the blend, originating from Rocche dell’ Annunziata and Giachini. It’s an incredibly impressive wine, but very tannic. A Rocche dell’ Annunziata Riserva 2005 was poured from a 3 litre format. It was a good vintage to choose, the nose very voluptuous.
The wines here showed tannin and structure, but also personality and they made me want to try more of them in a dining environment.
E Pira & Figli
This producer is probably better known by the name of the lady behind the operation, Chiara Boschis. Chiara farms around 8.5 hectares in the wider region, but with some spectacular sites including a near-perfect slope forming part of Cannubi. She has been joined recently by her brother, Giorgio, formerly of Borgogno. I suppose this is the least “under the radar” of Ultravino’s producers, and of course Chiara’s wines are available in other places, but always in tiny quantity. So it is good to find another source.
Chiara is famous for many things, but perhaps more than anything, for the meticulous attention to detail that this Economics graduate has brought to this estate, and probably more than anywhere, in the vineyards. Since taking over in 1990 she has invested in new sites, and Barolo Mosconi 2013 might be the first vintage from this site which I believe was purchased that year. Velvet would be my main descriptor here, albeit the proverbial velvet glove hiding an iron fist.
If you were impressed by Mosconi, Barolo Cannubi 2013 is something else. A 1.5 hectare parcel on sandy soil, a little altitude and a near perfect southwestern exposure make this one of the best sites in Barolo (the whole region, not just the village). Even at this stage it is elegant and majestic, and even though you’d not be thinking of popping a cork before 2025 at the very earliest, preferably longer. It would be the wine I’d wish to walk away with, although preferably one from a vintage more nearly ready to enjoy.
You can see Chiara’s Cannubi plots shaded in pencil if you look carefully at the map (right above the vineyard name on the pale brown patch)
This is another producer completely unknown to me, but there is a sad story to be told. Tiziano Grasso began bottling his own wine, albeit in tiny quantity (around 3,000 bottles per year) in 2012. He sadly died this summer, leaving his wife and son to continue his work. There were two wines on show, and Barolo 2013 was slightly corked. Not irredeemably corked, so it still tasted quite decent and was an interesting wine.
Barolo 2014 most certainly wasn’t corked, and perhaps explained why the 2013 had indeed seemed so fascinating. This is good! Fresh on the attack, there is fruit and well managed tannins, the latter softened by ageing (this time) partly in cement (some wine was also aged in old wood). It is quite old fashioned in some ways, a wine where you get roses on the nose if not tar. Spicy too, a wine for truffle season if ever there was one. All that from a vintage only just bottled (release of the 2014 is planned for spring 2018, but there were only around 3,000 bottles made).
The grapes are from old vines (50 years plus) planted at the top of the Briccolina hill, which is a south and southeast facing amphitheatre reaching around 320 metres above sea level, at Serralunga. Tiziano’s sad loss is a real blow, because I get the impression that critics were just beginning to notice his wines. Hopefully his family will be able to continue his work.
What conclusions could be drawn from the tasting?
- 2013 seems to have produced some very good wines, perhaps quite high in tannins, but many here were both attractive to “taste” and showed real potential. Some tannins were very dry, but most were well managed.
- Talking to the producers, they were naturally quite enthusiastic about 2015, but could not contain themselves over 2016. Those I spoke to here seem to give it “best ever” status, with a massive smile on their faces.
- 2017 is a vintage they were more guarded about. Reactions were along the lines of “well, in our case we were lucky and missed most of the frost”, and if you listen to some you’d think that all the hail fell on Treiso. Maybe it did?
- This was an extremely enjoyable tasting. Not all the producers were under the radar. I already knew the wines of Pelissero and Paitin quite well, and Chiara Boschis not quite as well as I’d dearly love to. But the rest were relatively under the radar, and certainly every one had something worth buying.
- Palladino’s wines were interesting for me, and also La Briccolina, I think because the wines may have been a little atypical, but also had something different about them. I was also impressed, from the producers I didn’t know, with Carlo Revello, particularly liking that 2013.
- Roero may not yet be on the lips of all Nebbiolo lovers, but it should be soon. The wines generally have a different profile to Barolo and Barbaresco, but then so do the equally discoverable Nebbiolos of Gattinara and Valtellina, and Roero arguably has more producer “names to watch”. As the two “B”s rise in price, this will be somewhere to look for good drinking, perhaps more so than the “Langhe Nebbiolo” of all but the top producers from the more famous zones.
Ultravino should be very pleased with this tasting.
Downstairs at 67 Pall Mall, a good central location for a tasting, though I wouldn’t have wanted this rather small room to be any busier than it was by 3pm. The picture was taken before 2pm as we got under way, near perfect conditions for tasting!