I am a member of the Dutch association of Vinologists (Verenigde Vinologen Nederland) and for the first time I went on a wine trip organized by them. Although I’ve been to Piemonte myself on a number of occasions, those were all on vacation and visiting wineries as a private person was an ‘extracurricular activity’ rather than the purpose of the trip. So I thought it would be interesting to visit Piemonte as part of a study trip with a group of wine connoisseurs, to get a more structured view of the region. Piemonte is a large region and we did not visit all of it, so it would be more accurate to call this a trip to Langhe, Monferrato, and Roero. Our guide for the trip was Fred Nijhuis, wine writer, and ambassador for the wines of Piemonte in the Netherlands. This is the first article in a short series, in which I describe the first two days in which we visited Nizza and Barbaresco. Next will be Barolo, Dogliani, Roero, and Barbera d’Asti.
The most famous appellations in this region are Barolo and Barbaresco, with noble wines of Nebbiolo. Other important autochthonous grape varieties in this area are Barbera, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Freisa, Ruché, Pelaverga, and Brachetto for red wine, and Moscato, Arneis, and Favorita (Vermentino) for white wine. Other parts of Piemonte have Cortese, Timorasso, and Erbaluce for white, as well as Bonarda Piemontese and Croatina for red. Apart from this international varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Nero are also used in Piemonte.
Since we arrived with some time to spare, we went into downtown Alba and had a nice aperitivo at wine bar 100 vini on the main square of Alba. They have a great selection of wines by the bottle, and being with a group makes it possible to try different 5 bottles in a couple of hours. The wines are only a few euros more in the bar as at the wine shop, and you get a lot of free food to go with the wine. The wines we had were:
- Tosti, Riserva Giulio I 2021, Alta Langa DOCG, 100% pinot nero aged for 71 months on the lees
- Le Margherite Arneis 2019, Langhe Arneis DOC (100% Arneis)
- Castello di Verduno, Basadone 2019, Verduno Pelaverga DOC (100% Pelaverga Piccolo, not the same as regular Pelaverga from Collina Torinese DOC)
- Montalbera, Laccento 2019, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG
- Matteo Correggia, La Val dei Preti 2017, Roero Riserva DOCG (100% Nebbiolo)
We went back to the same place after dinner a few nights later, and had a bottle of Borgogno, Langhe Freisa 2018 DOC (100% Freisa).
The first stop of our program was at the agriturismo Cascina Dani, where we had dinner with wine maker Andrea Faccio from the Villa Giada winery (the agriturismo is run by his wife). Of course we tasted his wines with dinner.
Villa Giada produces mostly wines made from Barbera in the Nizza DOCG and Barbera d’Asti DOCG appellations. Nizza is a new DOCG that was created in 2014 as a subzone of Barbera d’Asti DOCG from around the town of Nizza Monferrato. The wines we tasted were:
- Mané 2014, Piemonte Chardonnay Cortese DOC (blend of Chardonnay and Cortese, part in small oak barrels and part in stainless steel)
- Ajan 2018, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (100% Barbera made in stainless steel)
- Quercia 2017, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG (100% Barbera in stainless steel, aged in large oak barrels)
- Quercia 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG
- Dani 2018, Nizza DOCG (100% Barbera in stainless steel, aged in barriques)
- Nizza 2000, Barbera d’Asti DOC (the same wine but 18 years older; the Nizza appellation did not yet exist back then)
- Moscato d’Asti 2020 DOCG
Barbera can be too alcoholic or too acidic, but the Barbera of Villa Giada all had great balance. The Nizza from 2000 was especially remarkable, as it was very vibrant and not showing its age at all.
The food was also very good. We started with crostini with sancrau and cotechino, followed by with a spinach flan with robioloa (goat cheese), then tajarin al sugo d’arrosto (tajarin are fresh hand-cut egg noodles from Piemonte), roast rabbit with fennel and carrot, and bunet for dessert.
The next day started with a visit to the Enetoca Regionale del Barbaresco, where we had an explanation about Barbaresco in the very nice tasting room located in the characteristic tower in the village of Barbaresco (you can hardly see the tower in the photo because of the fog).
Barbaresco was among the first wine production areas in Italy to first become a DOC (in 1893) and later a DOCG (in 1980) and consists of three counties: Barbaresco itself, Neive, Treiso, plus the San Rocco part of the county of Alba. Compared to Barolo the climate is a bit warmer and the soils are generally lighter with more sand and less clay. Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo. Barbaresco is small compared to Barolo, with only 4 to 5 million bottles produced per year.
A recent development is the introduction of 66 Menzioni geografiche aggiuntive (MGA), which can be printed on the label of a wine is made only from grapes of that specific geographic area. These are sometimes called “cru”, but there is no official ranking between the different MGA.
We tasted 8 different Barbareschi from 4 vintages (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015), different soil types (more clay or more sand), different altitudes, different expositions, different micro climates (closer or further away from the river) and different vinification methods (small or large barrels, new or used barrels, long or short skin maceration). Because of all those factors, it would require a lot of study to fully know and understand all different Barbareschi from the 66 different MGAs and an even larger number of producers. Generally speaking a Barbaresco from a sandy soil will be lighter than a Barbaresco from clay, but if the Barbaresco from sand is from a warmer vintage than the Barbaresco from clay or from a lower altitude or warmer exposition, it can actually have more tannins.
We tasted the following wines, each from a different MGA (village in parentheses):
- Masseria Montersino 2018 (Alba)
- Musso Pora 2018 (Barbaresco)
- Pertinace Marcarini 2017 (Treiso)
- Giacosa Carlo Montefico 2017 (Barbaresco)
- Grasso Fratelli Vallegrande 2016 (Treiso)
- Cascina Vano Canova 2016 (Treiso)
- Cecilia Monte Serracapelli 2015 (Neive)
- Tenuta Barac Rocche Massalupo 2015 (Alba)
Due to the climate change, almost all vintages are now considered to be good vintages. Since 2000, only 2002 and 2014 were considered to be lesser vintages, where in Barbaresco (unlike Barolo) even the rainy 2014 wasn’t so bad. Having said that, 2016 is clearly the best vintage of the last years. We were told on several occasions that 2016 was such a great vintage, that even the worst producers could produce a really nice wine. This was also clear from the tasting: the 2016s had the best balance between fruit, freshness, and tannins. Most Barbaresco and Barolo wines are at their peak between 8 and 12 years after the harvest, so these were all still fairly young and it is not always easy to predict how a while will turn out after the appropriate amount of bottle aging. But my favorite of this series was the Grasso Fratelli Vallegrande 2016, with nice complexity, freshness, and velvety tannins.
We had lunch at Antica Torre, next to the tower. With lunch we had Langhe Nebbiolo 2019 from the Produttori di Barbaresco, which we were going to visit right after lunch. This Langhe Nebbiolo is actually produced in the production area of Barbaresco, but it is declassified by the Produttori, for example because it is made from younger vines. For lunch we had carne cruda (which is simply ground beef, dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, a very traditional Piemontese dish), and tajarin al ragù di carne (a ragù “in bianco”, without tomato).
Our next stop was the Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the best and most famous wine cooperatives in the world. The main reason for this is that unlike most other cooperatives that focus on quantity, the Produttori focus on quality. They do this by paying the associates more for good quality, and because associates are obliged to bring all of their harvest to the Produttori (rather than keeping the best grapes for themselves). The cooperative was founded in 1958 and now has 50 wine growers that are the associates, owning 110 hectares (1/7th of the total production area of Barbaresco) and producing some 500,000 bottles per year. They have played a big role in putting Barbaresco on the world map of wine, as well as to generate a much better income for the wine growers. The associates are too small to own their own wine making equipment, and before the cooperative existed, they had to sell their grapes on the market for a low price. In good vintages, 9 MGAs are aged longer in barrels to become riserva and are bottled separately as crus. It is not a general rule of the Barbaresco DOCG that MGAs are riserva, but this is a rule by the Produttori.
After the Langhe Nebbiolo we had with lunch, we tasted the following wines:
- Barbaresco 2018
- Barbaresco 2017
- Rio Sordo Riserva 2017
- Muncagota Riserva 2017
- Muncagota Riserva 2016
The 2017 riservas did not have an official label yet, because they will be bottled and released in February 2022. These were barrel samples that were bottled just for us to be able to taste them. In 2018 the cru were not bottled separately, and so those grapes (of higher quality) were used for the regular Barbaresco. This means that even though 2018 was not an exceptionally good year, the regular Barbaresco may even be better than in better vintages. I thought the 2018 was very nice with velvety tannins, whereas the 2017 had harsher tannins. The Rio Sordo MGA is located close to the river and is therefore known to be the most elegant of the crus made by the produttori. The Muncagota is further from the river and at a higher altitude. Even though it is only 200 meters away from Rio Sordo, the 2017 Muncagota clearly has a fuller body and is more like a Barolo. The 2016 is from a better vintages with a larger difference between day and night temperatures (important for aromatic expression), but right now the 2016 Muncagota appeared closed and difficult to enjoy.
Our next visit was to Albino Rocca, a family-owned smaller winery with vineyards in the MGAs of Cottà (Neive), Ronchi (Barbaresco), Montersino (San Rocco) that produces Barbaresco in a traditional style. Cottà and Ronchi are located next to each other, but with a different exposure: south-west for Cottà and south-east for Ronchi, with older vines. Montersino has the highest altitude in Barbaresco and used to be planted with Dolcetto and Moscato, but due to climate change this may actually become the best terroir for Nebbiolo.
The traditional style means that the wines are aged in large wooden barrels.
We tasted six wines:
- Cottà 2018
- Ronchi 2018
- Montersino 2016
- Angelo 2017
- Ronchi Riserva 2016
- Ronchi 2012
The Montersino was the first Barbaresco ever in which I detected a hint of chocolate in the nose. The Riserva is only produced in the best vintages (2004, 06, 11, 16 and 19). Even though some of the bottles had been open for a couple of days, most of them had hefty tannins and they will need a lot of bottle aging (and a pairing with red meat) to be enjoyed to their full potential.
The final winery of Barbaresco we visited was Marchesi di Grésy, with a more modern approach to wine making as is clear from the barriques in the photo. Marchesi di Grésy owns the whole of the Martinenga MGA in the county of Barbaresco, which is considered to be one of the best vineyards in the Barbaresco DOCG because of the southern exposure and blue marl soil. Within the Martinenga they distinguish Gaiun and Camp Gros as specific subzones.
The wines we tasted were:
- Langhe Sauvignon 2019
- Langhe Chardonnay Grésy 2018
- Monte Aribaldo Dolcetto 2019
- Langhe Nebbiolo 2020
- Barbaresco Martinenga 2018
- Barbaresco Martinenga Gaiun 2017
- Barbaresco Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva 2016
We had dinner at Osteria Tastè, which was probably the best food of the trip. After some nice crostini the antipasti were veal tongue with sweet and sour vegetables, as well as vitello tonnato. Then a baked onion, filled with a mixture of bechamel, sausage, and amaretti. A very original and delicious dish that I will definitely try to replicate soon and share with you on this blog. Followed by oxtail ravioli with sugo d’arrosto, kid goat with carrots, bonet, pear ice cream, and poached pear.
The wines we enjoyed with this were:
- Erpacrife Metodo Classico 2015
- Prinsi Barbaresco Gallina 2015
- Quazzolo Langhe Nebbiolo 2019
- Marchesi di Grèsy Monte Colombo Barbera d’Asti 2013
- Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2020
Coming up in the next article: Barolo!