On 5th March I spent the day at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London, at Walter Speller‘s second Nebbiolo Day, the first being in 2017. Imagine, 92 Nebbiolo producers showing more than 500 Nebbiolo wines from 18 denominations in Northern Italy. That’s a lot of exciting wines, if equally an awesome lot of tannin.
How many of us really know Nebbiolo? For many years, to those it meant something to, it meant Barolo and Barbaresco, situated either side of Alba, east of Turin, in Italy’s Piemonte Region. A few vinous adventurers will have come across, or even sought out, Nebbiolos from other regions, especially from Valtellina, where the variety is known locally as Chiavennasca, or perhaps from Aosta’s Donnaz. There’s a fair bit of Nebbiolo grown in wider Piemonte, of course, which we shall come to soon, but pretty much the only place you will come across a reasonable number of examples of the variety outside of Italy would be Australia, and there one might suggest that top quality only comes from a handful of producers.
There’s no doubt that in recent years, quite recently as a matter of fact, the two famous “B”s of Barolo and Barbaresco have finally become fashionable, and (more ominously) collectable. With that, prices have risen, dramatically in many cases. This has coincided with two things. First, the end of the so-called (and to a degree wine media-hyped) war between the barrique-loving modernists, and the so-called traditionalists, who continued to rely on large old oak. Most people would call it a draw, and it is totally pointless repeating the tired old stories. The producers will only yawn.
Secondly, a great deal has been achieved in mapping the vineyards, and Barolo in particular, is fully mapped (a prodigious task) with official crus. After realising that Nebbiolo makes wines of haunting scents and subtle flavours, the mapping project has drawn Barolo in particular to the attention of lovers of Burgundy. They can see at least some similarities and, importantly perhaps, more ageable relative bargains, from micro-terroirs not dissimilar to those on the Côte d’Or.
The beauty of having such an erudite and well-respected organiser is the quality and depth of exhibitors, from top estates to lesser known producers from lesser known regions. In this article I shall cover the wines of just a few more than a dozen producers out of those ninety-two. This is still a good number of wines and it was certainly necessary to wash away the tannin with a beer at the end of the afternoon.
As with my Raw articles, I’m only intending to give a snapshot, to go with what you may have already read elsewhere. And you will also note that I do not remotely focus on Barolo and Barbaresco exclusively, including here wines from less fashionable regions. That is wholly intentional. One of the joys of Nebbiolo is that you can still find relatively inexpensive wines, certainly wines of good value, elsewhere in Northern Italy.
SANDRO FAY (Valtellina)
My favourite Valtellina producer (no points for guessing) was not at the tasting, but I did taste the wines of two of the best known. Sandro Fay began on a small scale in the early 1970s, growing his vineyard to 15 hectares today. Vines grow on a mix of sand, silt and granite at high altitude (between 350 to 900 metres) in the mountain valley which spreads east and west of Sondrio. The vineyards are on steep terraces rising above the River Adda, and are as hard to work as any in Europe.
Sandro Fay and his sons like to focus on individual cru wines. Of the four wines on show it is perhaps helpful to look at two different styles. At the region’s entry level is Valtellina Rosso DOC, but we will begin with a wine from the smaller, and generally higher quality, “Superiore” sub-region (two enclaves, one being central and one in the east of the wider Valtellina Region), which is DOCG.
Valtellina Superiore “Valgella Costa Bassa” 2016 is pale-ish, fresh, and with terrific varietal character but with the addition of a touch of youthful tannin and 13% abv. It’s described as the estate’s “classic” wine. It comes from the Valgella sub-zone, and specifically the Costa Bassa vineyard. It is fermented in stainless steel and then ages for twelve months in oak casks.
Sforzato di Valtellina “Ronco del Picchio” 2014 is at the other end of the spectrum. Sforzato (aka Sfursat) is a dried-grape Nebbiolo wine. Grapes are dried for around three months on racks, during which time they shrivel and lose a good 40% of their weight. There is no doubt that this method can make very fine wines, almost certainly Italy’s most interesting reds in this style, but at the same time you have to watch the alcohol. This one, for example, weighs in at 15%.
It has very big legs and is a little darker in colour than the “Superiore”. It is still pretty tannic after just over four years from harvest, during which it spent a year in a mix of 25 hectolitre and 500 litre oak. Although the wine is undoubtedly big, it is unquestionably classy, and a style everyone ought to try. It comes from a tiny 2.5 hectare vineyard at 750 metres, in the commune of Teglio. The altitude makes this a true mountain wine, imparting a freshness along with its rugged power.
Passione Vino is the UK agent.
NINO NEGRI (Valtellina)
This old estate was founded in 1897, but is now part of the large Gruppo Italiano Vini (which is also the UK importer), and is run by Danilo Drocco. I’ve drunk many Nino Negri wines over the years. Their output covers all of the region’s Crus (Valgella, Mazèr, Inferno, Sassella and Grumello), and I will begin with the one I’ve drunk by far the most times, one I have a bit of affection for as a result.
Valtellina Superiore DOCG Mazèr 2015 is the latest vintage of the first Valtellina wine I ever bought, in Venice around twenty-or-so years ago. 100% Nebbiolo, it is savoury with a bitter touch, very structured at this stage, but with nicely balanced fresh acids which, along with the smooth fruit, suggest it will be at least approachable before too long, if better kept. It is almost certainly my favourite wine from this estate, although, of course, it is not their most famous.
That accolade is reserved for Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG “Sfursat 5 Stelle” 2015. For me, this is a difficult wine. Unquestionably a wine of genuine world class, but equally a wine with alcohol (16% abv), body, power and structure which makes it suitable only for the most robust dishes, perhaps wild mountain game.
The colour is once again dark, although there’s a lovely brick edge. The bouquet is deep within a long tunnel of scents, with fruit, but more complex aromas of mocha, spices, herbs, and even treacle/molasses. The key is, as perhaps with Madiran or traditional Sagrantino, very long ageing indeed.
CANTINA DEI PRODUTTORI DI CAREMA (Carema)
Carema is a DOC region few Nebbiolo lovers will know. It sits in the far northwest of Piemonte, and Carema’s vines border the Valle D’Aosta’s best Nebbiolo at Donnaz. Carema is often lumped together with Ghemme and Gattinara whenever writers think to mention it, although there are many even less well known DOCs in Alto Piemonte. Nebbiolo here is sometimes called Picutener by the older locals. There is only one private estate of note, but the co-operative has a very good reputation for those in the know.
Carema (there’s also a Riserva designation) requires two years of ageing. This is because, contrary to what you might think, these wines are not merely some lighter style of Nebbiolo, but wines that age remarkably well in bottle. The first twelve months must be in wood, which is usually a mix of oak and chestnut, and a further year in bottle makes the wine approachable.
Carema DOC Classico 2015 is a pale wine, an attractive colour between brick and orange. The bouquet has a haunting quality, of fruit and flowers with a little spice. The palate has what I call a fruity acidity, where the acids are fruit acids rather than something tacked on and separate. It finishes with a textured dryness, but you could drink this with food now, certainly. It will age as well. I can’t give you a price for this (Astrum want me to login to see the prices), but I liked it and I’m pretty sure it’s not expensive.
Astrum Wines is the importer.
FRANCESCO BRIGATTI (Colline Novaresi and Ghemme)
The Novaresi Hills DOC and Ghemme DOCG are neighbours in Eastern Piemonte, somewhat south of Lake Maggiore. Pre-phylloxera these wines had a genuine fame, at least in the regional capital, Turin. Now Ghemme has shrunk to a mere 26 hectares. The main differences between the two wines are in ageing and grape varieties. Colline Novaresi is the overarching DOC where ageing requirements are shorter, and where the vartieties Uva Rara (aka Bonarda) and Vespolina are permitted.
Francesco’s grandfather started this small domaine in 1900 and Francesco makes six reds and one white. He was showing three reds, two Novaresi wines and one Ghemme.
Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötziflon” 2015 comes from one of the first hillside sites planted by Francesco’s grandfather. It is in fact 85% Nebbiolo with 10% Vespolina and 5% Uva Rara/Bonarda. It is aged in 21 hectolitre Slavonian oak casks for 20 months. There is a touch of hardness to it, and these wines are notorious for needing a bit of time, but there was something promising about it.
Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötfrei” 2015 is from a different hill, and shows good differentiation of the terroirs. This wine, 100% Nebbiolo in this instance, spent 18 months in medium-sized, French oak tonneaux, and it seemed a gentler wine with a good, vibrant colour, more elegance and a touch of spice.
Ghemme DOCG “Oltre Il Bosco” 2013 is 100% Nebbiolo which saw 24 months in used oak. The bouquet is more what you’d expect from a traditional Nebbiolo, with red fruits and violets on the nose, and a good structure with a bit of spice on the palate. More savoury. It has 13% abv, and is a wine to age like a Barbaresco. It feels a bit more old fashioned, but none the worse for that.
No one is currently importing Brigatti.
PODERE AI VALLONI (Colline Novaresi and Boca)
Boca is another old Piemontese DOC, which lies on the northern border of the Colline Novaresi DOC, but today there are less than ten hectares within the appellation. Valloni has vineyards sited on the edge of the Monte Fenera Natural Park, and produces around 10,000 bottles per year from both DOCs. I would say that personally I found the wine from Boca to be more interesting than the Novaresi wines (as was the case with Brigatti to a degree).
Boca DOC “Vigna Cristiana” 2011 is a nicely aged version. The grape composition here is just 70% Nebbiolo with 20% Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara. It is aged for a significant three years in large old wood plus a further year in bottle before release. Garnet colour, it is floral and spicy, even smoky on the nose. The palate shows red fruit under a rich and savoury tannic structure.
Boca DOC “Vigna Christiana” 2010 with an extra year of age (and, I’m guessing, perhaps the better vintage) had lovely peppery spice coming through (apparently from the Vespolina). I thought this was a nicely rounded, complete, wine. The vines are grown at 450 metres, perhaps explaining the freshness, and the fact that it has a beautifully balanced alcohol level of just 12.5%. Quite delicious, I thought.
VALLANA (Boca and Gattinara)
Vallana is famous in the UK for its Spanna, which at one time was available in quite old vintages, amazing value wines back in the 1980s/1990s. The estate goes back much further, to the mid-18th century. The vineyards here are not unlike Barolo’s, with steep hills and a cooler climate, but the strata and soils are largely volcanic, this zone being within the large Valsesia super-volcano, which (I didn’t know this) is a UNESCO-protected geopark.
I began by tasting an exciting sparkling wine, a VSQ Rosato. This is made from Spanna must which when disgorged had a natural 9g/litre of residual sugar, so no extra dosage was added. It had seen 13 months on lees and the disgorging was only about three weeks before I tasted it, yet it was just very good. Very fruity, but it tasted fairly dry, the acids balancing the sugar. It hasn’t yet been commercially released, and I’m not sure whether Vallana’s UK importer, Fields, Morris and Verdin, will list it, but it is well worth trying if you see it. Great fun for summer, and how can you not try a sparkling Nebbiolo, even if it is a pink one?
Of the still red wines, I did enjoy the Colline Novaresi DOC Spanna 2015, but I did feel it really must have a bit more bottle age. This was reinforced when tasting Gattinara DOCG 2009, which felt a step up. It’s a bright wine which was fermented in cement tanks before seeing two years in large old oak. 100% Nebbiolo, it has a certain austerity, and even perhaps some Patrician qualities normally associated with Barolo. The bouquet is more savoury than fruity, and it’s sort of old fashioned, but once again, that is not a criticism. I like the fact that we can still find wines which have not been over-modernised. It does also need a bit more age but it’s getting there.
This is a major “new” producer in terms of quality in the whole of Alto Piemonte. Roberto Conterno (of Giacomo Conterno) has purchased this already promising estate (one which was instrumental in obtaining the original DOC for Gattinara in 1967), with vines on those steep Gattinara hillsides, only accessible with the right type of vehicle. and a pair of stout boots.
The volcanic soils here (see under Vallana, above) are rich in iron, manganese, zinc and copper, with clay and an absence of chalk. This means acidic soils, well suited to Nebbiolo. The estate is not small, currently having 28 ha planted. Three wines were shown.
Gattinara DOCG 2015 is a blend of Roberto’s Molsino and Vigna Valferana sites, which importer Corney & Barrow describes, aptly, as like a Burgundian blend of village wine with premier cru. Red fruits hit the high notes here, deliciously so, plus there’s a savoury note and a touch of salinity. There is a little tannin as well, but the exuberant fruit does a good job of masking it. This wine is significantly cheaper than the next two (£225/6 IB as opposed to £395/6 for the other two), so represents special value, and earlier drinking.
Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Valferana” 2014 is a step up, though the previous wine is a true winner on innate drinkability. The plump fruit is defined by a tannic frame, yet there’s once more a savoury note which develops strongly as you taste. This could easily be broached now with food, but it would be a shame to do so.
We end with another step up the quality ladder, Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Molsino” 2014 with vines sited in a natural, south-facing, amphitheatre. This is distinctively cherry-fruited, maybe slightly more tannic, certainly savoury again (peppery?). For me, this will keep longer than the “Valferana”, certainly maturing in perhaps a decade, maybe longer.
This is one of those occasions when you try something new and are genuinely wowed. It happened, I remember, when I first tasted the wines of Guido Rivella at a Ultravino tasting last summer, and it happened here. Corney & Barrow are both lucky and astute in being able to represent these wines in the UK.
CASCINA VAL DEL PRETE (Roero)
This producer is represented by the abovementioned Ultravino, whose list I can strongly recommend. Roero is much closer to Nebbiolo’s heartland than the previously covered regions, and instead of being in Alto Piemonte, is instead usually described as being in Southern Piemonte. Walter Speller calls Roero “the novice’s introduction to Nebbiolo par excellence”. It is also possibly the best place for price-to-quality ratio for the variety.
There are a surprising number of very good producers here, though they are usually with small importers in the UK. Roero has around 200 ha of Nebbiolo, and a lot of the white variety, Arneis (often very good). Soils in general are far more sandy than the more famous regions to the south and southeast. This means the wines are often a bit less long-lived, recognised in ageing requirements of (for the normale) two years, of which only a minimum of six months needs to be in wood. Riservas require an extra year. Since 2017, like Barolo, all of the Roero vineyards have been mapped and legally delimited.
Val del Prete is now under the guidance of father and son Mario and Giovanni Roagna (yes, cousins of Luca, I think). They claim to make “hippy wines”. I’m not sure what they mean? They are organic, and are fairly critical of the DOCG, but they do work within it.
Roero DOCG “Bricco Medica” 2016 is a hilltop site on limestone and red clay (unusual for Roero, having mentioned the sand above). Fermentation is in concrete tank and then ageing is in concrete for ten months before transfer to very old oak for the remainder of the élèvage. There is tannin here, but nothing harsh or hard. You can tell from this wine that Roero is a little bit different…and this is quite delicious.
Roero DOCG “Vigna del Lino” 2015 is a cuvée named after Mario’s grandfather who planted the vineyard only in 1977. Fermentation is in stainless steel this time, with ageing for 16 months in old barrique, then six months in bottle before release. The colour is brighter, and both bouquet and palate show more savouriness. The clear difference with the “Medica” is not just down the the winemaking, but also because this vineyard has that Roero sand, and a southwest exposure (afternoon and evening sun). It’s a wine which has a nice complexity building.
Roero DOCG Riserva 2015 is a selection of the best grapes from the very top of the hill, those vines which get the most sun. That means riper fruit that can take more oak, so after fermentation in stainless steel, it sees 24 months in a mix of 2nd and 3rd passage barriques (no new oak). You get pronounced legs, and a big bouquet with fruit intensity. The palate has the fruit too, fruit to match the tannic structure. It has an austerity in youth that the two previous wines don’t have, but it is built for a longer haul.
The “Lino” represents very good value…the 2013 was only £85/6 IB, and I don’t suppose the price for the 2015 has risen enough to make me change that assessment. Quite a long time ago a Danish importer of Piemontese wines introduced me to Roero and its producers, and I bought a few. I kind of wish I’d continued rather than taking my eye off the ball, looking elsewhere. But the value I found then seems to still be there if you are looking for earlier drinking Nebbiolo of increasingly good quality. Roero is not just for novices.
This well known Barbaresco producer is based in the village of Neive, at the top of the southeastern arm of the DOCG. They farm a number of prime sites around the village and in most lists of the DOCG’s top producers you will find the name Sottimano.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 represents an interesting DOC. Because the Langhe Hills are associated with Barolo in the minds of many consumers, it gets a relatively easy ride in terms of name association, which can be misleading. It is often the case that DOCGs like Roero are much better value. But with a top producer you get a wine made from young vines, only around 15 years of age, but from a very top site. In this case it is the Basarin vineyard, a high altitude cru on the border between Neive and Treiso, and also on the southern border of the appellation. It has a lightness, and a touch of licorice. Quite classy, it sees around 16 months in oak.
Barbaresco DOC Pajorè 2015 is the first of the crus. It is closer to Treiso than Neive and the vines here are quite old, up to seventy years. The wine undergoes a 25-day maceration on skins and, after fermentation, is aged in French oak (15% new), coopered by François Frères, for 24 months (12 months of that on fine lees). It’s tannic and firm now, even slightly dusty, but the fruit is quite silky and the wine is impressive.
Barbaresco DOCG Cottà 2012 is made no differently to Pajorè, and the vines are of a similar age, but the nose here is more muted/backward and the tannins are firmer. It seems very rich in extract, dense and chewy, despite being three years older, suggesting good ageing potential.
Barbaresco DOCG Fausoni 2012 is also made the same way. The tiny vineyard is right outside Neive and indeed is so small that it doesn’t appear on some of the more cursory maps of Barbaresco. The vines are a little younger (45-50 years old) and the bouquet is a lovely classic blend of florality and concentrated fruit. It is firm of structure, yet also elegant.
Barbaresco DOCG Pajorè 2012. This is the same site as the first Barbaresco above, but with an extra three years in bottle. It is a little pale, beautifully so, and the floral element of the bouquet has developed nicely. At 14.5% abv it does show heft in the tannic structure, but it is a classic top notch Barbaresco.
Barbaresco has a shorter ageing requirement than Barolo before release, but it is very much down to producer as to how long to age the wines after that. In the case of Sottimano I think probably longer rather than shorter. Classic wines to rival Barolo if you follow that advice.
Lea & Sandeman import for the UK.
GD VAJRA (Barolo)
This is one of the best known producers of Barolo, but making wines which always represent such good value. I, like many others, have drunk many bottles of their Barolo “Albe” over the years, and it is also true that Giuseppe Vaira (below, and he seems to prefer that spelling) is one of the friendliest and warmest men in the Barolo DOCG. The company was established by Aldo Vajra in 1972 and named after his father, Giuseppe Dominico. It has grown to a large 60 hectares, but only ten hectares are within the Barolo DOCG.
Barolo DOCG “Albe” 2015 is the current vintage of that wine I cut my teeth on all those years ago, via UK importer Liberty Wines. The wine, from three sites within the Barolo commune, with its bright label (for Barolo, where the labels are generally pretty conservative), sees a temperature controlled fermentation (with a 20-day maceration) before malo in a mix of 25-to-50 hectolitre Slavonian oak. This was a sample as the 2015 is, of course, not yet released (it remains in oak for 42 months before bottling). It has a richness, and the approachability of every vintage of this wine, and it remains one of Barolo’s great values.
Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2015 comes from a 4.8 ha vineyard located in the commune of Barolo, between 380-450 metres altitude where the vines average 60 years old. Fermentation is standard, if prolonged, in stainless steel for around 40 days, after which the wine is aged in Slavonian oak for four years. The fruit is darker than Albe, with cherry too, and a hint of mint leaf in the high notes. The altitude of the vines, and the consequently longer ripening, help establish greater complexity. The tannins are quite silky, but this does need to be kept.
Barolo Luigi Baudana “Baudana” 2015 is the first of two Luigi Baudana single vineyard wines here. Luigi and Fiorina Baudana created a highly reputed but tiny (2.4 ha) Serralunga d’Alba estate over thirty years ago, but they brought in the Vajra family to run it in 2009. The wines retain an artisanal quality and are distinctive.
The Baudana cru (and Cerretta which follows) is around a kilometre north of Serralunga. It’s a lovely wine showing some early development, softer than Vajra’s Viole above. The soils here are largely marls, which give the wine these distinctive qualities. Production is tiny, but I was very taken with this.
Barolo Luigi Baudana “Cerretta” 2015 is actually remarkably different, despite the two vineyards being neighbours. It has a lovely floral bouquet, yet the palate has a bit more structure, even a touch of austerity, which will serve it well as it ages. There’s a lot of latent depth, you sense. It probably needs more than a decade, whereas the Baudana might be worth trying a little sooner.
Liberty Wines imports the GD Vajra wines into the UK.
ARNALDO RIVERA (Castiglione Falletto)
Arnaldo Rivera was a primary school teacher who both went on to be Mayor of Castiglione Falletto, and, in 1958, founded the Terre di Barolo co-operative. The Arnaldo Rivera Winery today has contracts to buy grapes from local Castiglione growers and others around the region. The wines have nice, sparse and modern labels, and the wines themselves seem to have an equally modern approachability.
Barolo “Undicicomuni” 2015 is the only wine here with a significant (50k bottles) production. It is, self-evidently, a blend from eleven different Barolo communes. After fermentation this sees only 24 months in assorted French oak, none new, and some of the wine sees six months in concrete. The fruit may not be as plush as, for example, the Bussia below, but the tannins are smooth. It may be the least expensive of the six wines shown, but (and I normally won’t quote scores) Suckling gave the 2015 92 points, which is at least indicative of its quality.
Barolo “Ravera” 2015 is the first of the crus. This saw longer in oak, 32 months. Only 5,600 bottles were produced. It has more ample tannins and is notably bright-fruited with nice acids.
Barolo “Monvigliero” 2015 comes from a Verduno cru which is, I think, the second most northern vineyard in the Barolo DOCG. Winemaking is similar to Ravera, and production is around 5,000 bottles. I found it less tannic, less structured, but nice and savoury.
Barolo “Boiolo” 2015 is the most approachable of all the crus here. Once more, there’s nothing unique about the vinification and ageing, but the vineyard, on the border with Roche dell’ Annunziata, replanted in 2002, is at 420 metres above sea level. This gives it a long growing season and a certain ripeness. Only 2,400 bottles produced.
Barolo “Castello” 2015 is a Rivera monopole, which I believe to be in that tiny northeastern commune of Grinzane Cavour. It’s a lower site, 250 metres altitude, and we are back to 5,000 bottles. This has medium tannins, a little structure, but fantastic fruit, all leading to noticeable length. Delicious.
Barolo “Bussia” 2015 comes from one of the region’s best known, and also largest, vineyards which, with all its sub-plots, stretches more than three kilometres north and south, to the east of Barolo. This wine comes from two different sites within Bussia, with south west exposures at around 410 metres above sea level. Yields are low, at 25 hl/ha, and the wine, after a two week fermentation in stainless steel, sees malolactic and ageing for 32 months in French oak tonneaux. Production accounts for 4,500 bottles. It’s a delicious, concentrated wine which despite being aged in larger oak, just needs time for the oaky tannins to integrate.
My own favourite? Probably Castello, but I’m sure that a true expert might choose something else. Arnaldo Rivera is imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.
ELVIO COGNO (Novello)
This producer, based in the commune of Novello in the southwest of the region, farms around 15 hectares of vineyard. I get the impression that the vineyards are important, and a lot of store is placed in how they manage them, and work the land. The winery is easy to find as it sits right on the top of the Ravera hill.
Barolo “Ravera” 2014 is a rare entry for this vintage. The cru is Novello’s best known, a five hectare site where Cogno has vines at around 380 metres. The soils are chalky here, and Cogno’s vines are directly south facing. This wine is fermented in stainless steel with a 30-day post-fermentation maceration. Then it is aged for 24 months in 25-30 hl Slavonian oak. The fruit seems nicely rounded, plummy and brambly, with that hint of mint again coming in the higher register. There are tannins, of course, but the vintage perhaps lessens the austerity. The ’14s do often seem approachable.
Barolo Ravera “Bricco Pernice” 2014 is an individual two hectare plot within Ravera. Winemaking is the same, but this wine tends to be given longer bottle age before release. This makes it effectively a Riserva, The site is more oriented southwest than south, so the vines get the evening sun. It’s also worth noting that vine density in this plot is 5,000 vines per hectare (usually 4,000 for the rest of the estate). There’s much more concentration and this is certainly the more serious wine. Which you choose will depend on how long you are happy to keep the wines and how much you are prepared to pay. But this is a very good producer.
UK agent – Flint Wines.
PARUSO (Monforte d’Alba)
Tiziana and Marco Paruso run the estate founded by Marco’s father, Armando, in 1971 in the commune of Monforte. There’s a sense of tradition and pride here, but I also thought to include them because, despite the current popularity of Barolo, they do not currently appear to have a UK representative/importer. Six wines were on show.
I began with Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 which was exactly what I hoped, not attempting to be anything more than juicy, smooth and fruity. Barolo 2014 is a generic blend of DOCG vines in Monforte and Castiglione Falletto. Aged in barrel, it has at least 18 months lees contact. This is a genuinely drinkable wine, full of sour cherry, very approachable. It’s softer than many.
Next, three Barolo crus. Mosconi 2015 was also quite genuinely approachable. The plantings are high density (6,000 vines per hectare) on marl and tufa. The bouquet tends towards quite intense herbs and the tannins are a little chalky in texture, but again, quite soft. It’s a wine you might call “ample”. Mariondino 2015 is a vineyard sited on marls and sandstone. This shows more spice, a touch of licorice, and then cherry fruit coming through. I think this cru sees some small, new, French oak, which is noticeable at this stage. Bussia 2015 is from sandstone, marls and silt. It has structure, noticeably so, but undoubted elegance too. Also matured in small French oak, there’s an interesting juxtaposition here between a certain earthy quality and a touch of finesse.
Finally, there’s a Riserva wine, Barolo “Bussia Riserva Oro” 2010. The vintage is one I’m happy to taste as I bought a few 2010 Barolos, including from the next producer below. The wine is a careful selection of the best grapes in the estate’s Bussia plots. The colour here is a lovely pale brick and bronze. It has possibly the bouquet of the day, haunting and sweet-fruited. It is unexpectedly delicate and long on the palate with savoury tannins to finish. 14% abv. After ageing 18 months on lees in small French oak, it is bottle aged for five years before release. The fruit seems a complex mix of blackberry, cherry and plum, with savoury notes including mint and a hint of coffee. Have I missed the floral bit? Yes, I like this.
I am 99% sure that Paruso will be available in the UK soon.
GIACOMO FENOCCHIO (Monforte d’Alba)
The Fenocchio brothers own 14 hectares of vines and make around 90,000 bottles each year from all the main Piemontese varieties. They are particularly export-focused, and around 90% of their production goes overseas.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 is worth a mention first. The grapes come from a two-hectare Monforte plot from young vines around 15 years old. They see just ten days fermenting in stainless steel, then a year’s maturation split between steel and Slavonian oak casks. The result is fragrant and fairly light with nice plum and cherry fruit. A good example.
Onto the Barolos and there were three crus to taste. Barolo “Bussia” 2015 sees a long forty day maceration and then three years in large Slavonian oak. I like the colour, quite pale garnet, and the bouquet is classic Barolo with licorice spice (it always seems more licorice than tar to me) and violets (more than roses). This is lovely, but it does need ageing, after which it will be a translucent wine where the scents will transport you even more than the palate.
Barolo “Villero” 2015 comes from the famous Castiglione site, a southwest facing slope close to the village. For me, this wine offers more structure, more tannin, and perhaps a different kind of more powerful complexity? It’s a good choice for game dishes, after the required decade or more in the cellar.
Barolo “Cannubi” 2015 comes from the site just north of the village of Barolo itself. Soils are complex – tortonian marls, tufa and sand, the latter helping it to be a dry vineyard. Production of this cru is a slightly miserly 3,000 bottles most vintages, and at this stage (both for the wine and for my palate) it was quite hard to judge. It felt as if it were just bedding down for some considerable ageing. But there’s nice spice here and, beneath the tannins, genuine prospects of great elegance. I can only judge this by what I know, but I’d suggest it’s really promising.
Armit Wines imports Giacomo Fenocchio.
So, by this stage my palate was beginning to suffer from tannin fatigue. I adore Nebbiolo as a variety, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit the region quite a few times (more visits than to Tuscany). The fatigue is probably why you don’t get anything here from La Morra. I’d have liked to bring you Marcarini and Ratti for old time’s sake, and Michele Chiarlo from Calamandrana (because outside that village, on the road to Nizza, is where we’ve most often stayed in the region). But by 3pm I was done.
I’m pleased with how many wines I did manage to taste (most but not all were mentioned here). There were very few poor wines and I didn’t taste any howlers. I hope this article adds to the general amount of information available for what I hope was a very successful day for the producers. As Nebbiolo gains both recognition and popularity, we are lucky to have such a well organised and fairly comprehensive event established in London. My final words go back to the beginning. The satellite regions do have something genuinely interesting to offer, at a good price. Much as we love the two Bs, Nebbiolo’s not all about Barolo and Barbaresco.