As I hope I manage to portray, this was a fabulous trip. It was the encore to a similar excursion to Burgundy last May. The aim was simply to introduce this band of vinous brothers – “Fiscali”, “Very dusty bottles”, ‘”Geronimo”, “Raw” and “Vestier” – to the joys of Piedmont and Piedmont wines. There had been a warm up dinner at Zucca which set the scene rather well. Events began on the Wednesday night “Chez Fiscali” with a nod to last year and a glimpse at May 2016’s potential trip to the Rhone.
|This lasted seconds!|
The wines are all made by Enzo Brezza and his team, they are all traditionally made, no new oak. We just asked to be fed well and to get a good look at the range of the estates wines. I have bought several of the Barolos myself so a chance to look at pretty much the whole spread was really welcome.
Langhe Chardonnay 2013, Brezza – clean flavours, very pure and relatively light, no wood so minerals and lime in the main, nice.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2013, Brezza – This was not far from a rosé (they do make a rosé from 5% of their Barolo Cru holdings), very floral and linear, nice if simple.
Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2011, Brezza – A step up here, very good, nice fruit but not flabby, nice stoney freshness.
|Amanda @ Brezza|
Barolo Sarmassa 2007, Brezza – Following the 2011 with 2007, another quite similar vintage, was a good idea, this 2007 was more degraded and evolved as you would expect, easy to enjoy, as with a lot of the warmer vintages (’03,’07,’09,’11) it is best served cooler.
Barolo 1965, Brezza – This was ordered in a lovely state of excitement. The chaps wanted to try something older, a nice “dusty bottle”. We ordered the 1958 but Enzo himself felt the 1965 was a better bet, good level etc. The cork was a little stubborn but the wine was good and got better over the following 10-15 minutes, tightening up and getting younger. The signature, roses and tar.
|Not bad for a first lunch…|
Following this lunch and only running a few minutes behind for our next tasting we were really pleased to take up Enzo and Amanda’s offer of a tour of the winery and cellars. It had been a great first taster of the region for the team. As we got into the wagon and asked Stefano to get us to Giulia Negri I had a feeling the trip might work out well.
Giulia has just finished her studies and university. She works from her families estate in the Serradenari Cru in Barolo, it is a great place to get a view over the whole region. Giulia is one of a younger generation of winemakers in the region who have traveled and who are fascinated by wines of other regions as well, especially Burgundy. We were treated to a cracking visit, a good tour of the winery, the cellar and then a great tasting sat out under the shade of a large tree. Giulia also seems to have a, very welcome, interest in the English sense of humour…with the team having lunched well this was a welcome discovery.
Giulia has a fascination with Pinot Noir from her love of burgundy and she grows a little here, under the Italian name Pinot Nero, young vines.
Pinot Nero 2011 is a wine to drink now, there is a little menthol and a slightly split personality. The 2012 is a very clear step up, more lively, more precise and the 2013 has a bit more grip and tastes like it should, a translation between Pinot and Barolo. This is a project that is going to be exciting to track and now that Giulia is at the estate full time it will go from strength to strength.
It had been a splendid afternoon – so many thanks to Giulia, the even better news was that she agreed to meet us for dinner on Saturday at Trattoria della Posta, more of which later…
It was time to drop our bags and check in at Hotel Casa Pavesi which is in the north of the Barolo region, in a commune called Grinzane Cavour. During the stay we were very well looked after by the team there. It is a nice location for accessing both Barolo and Barbaresco.
Before departing for dinner we gathered for a bottle of Delamotte 2007 Blanc de Blancs on the terrace, it is just starting to hit it’s stride…
Trattoria La Coccinella
This was a little bit of a drive from the Hotel, 25 mins, but well worth it, once we got into the wines we were in the zone…we got a white from the region, Rolando Langhe Bianco 2013 from Bricco Maiolica, to accompany a white Burgundy that we had taken, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Macherelles 2012 from Francois Carillon.
Both these wines were enjoyable but the Chassagne’s complexity won through, it’s drinking well already though 18 months or so will do it well.
We then decided to follow the route we took with almost all ordering of food on the trip and said “please give us a mix of local starters, then two pastas and then we’ll see how we are doing”…this worked well with both the restaurants, we were six people after all, and with us because we could concentrate on the wine! We got well tucked in here and ebbed and flowed between full maturity and youth.
|Two of the great names…|
Barbaresco 1971, Produttori del Barbaresco, kicked us off, the world’s greatest co-op and a great vintage. I loved the fact that this was a medium weighted example of what classic aged Nebbiolo is – soy and frazzles, iron, some richness and a savoury acidity. From here I decided that we needed to get a few of the great names into the mix. Names we weren’t seeing, may be next time! So Barolo 2009 from Bartolo Mascarello and Barolo Tre Tine 2010 from Guiseppe Rinaldi it was. The Bartolo had a juiciness and completeness, the Tre Tini was instantly a more masculine wine, more grip, a lovely purists structure, superb with the pasta. Then before we went back to the 70’s it was time for Barolo Santo Stefano 2008 by Guiseppe Mascarello. I am a big fan of the 2008’s a sort of feminine 2006 in so much as both are so very classical. This had a gorgeous, alluring and focused nose, a little more muted on the plate but splendid, what a trio of young wines.
|A lovely line up for dinner…only day 1|
Then “Dusty” and “Vestier” got hold of the list again and we were back in the decade of most of our births with the Barbaresco Rabaja 1974, Produttori del Barbaresco. Along with 1971 and 1978 the most lauded of that decades vintages (quick note if you ever see the Barbaresco 1970 from Produttori, buy, buy, buy). This 1974 was bricky and gritty with lovely acidity, exactly what is should be. We then had the Barolo Vigna Rocche 1989 from a producer I’d not heard of Sordo Giovanni. My notes by this time are thin on the ground but this did show well if not excitingly. The lists we saw generally had a lack of 1980’s and 1990’s. I am not totally sure why, may be those wines have been sold recently or is it to do with the modernist vs traditionalist saga that went on around the time. Either way we were having a ball and being looked after very well, certainly classed as the “crazy English”. I later discovered our “little” line -up made it onto Facebook rather promptly under the title “we had the English in”.
|Quite some wine…|
Just one last bottle to make the winding road home easier. What I hadn’t realised was that it was only 4.5% alcohol. But when that wine is Tokaji Esszencia 1993 from Chateau Pajzos you don’t care, believe me. Had I heard of it before? Nope, I should have though. When I tell you my note is long and that is at the end of a long day of lots of bottles you get the idea. My note sounds like one of those awfully pretentious monologues but here it is: “Thinly, very thinly cut apples on the nose, then with the palate is like the most sublime but substantial apple puree served cold. Long, Long, Long, I would struggle to say this was from grapes, extra-ordinary as it is extraordinary”. And with that and a good group pic we were off. I’ll be going back for sure.
On the drive back to the hotel there were mutterings of a running party organising themselves for the morning…those of us less that way inclined were thinking “yeah right”…
We woke to have breakfast on the terrace to find two of the team made it out for that run…good work. This daily tactic and the fact that the food is more easily digested than last years Foie Gras and reduction sauces was already making sense…
|View from the breakfast table…|
Stefano was ready at the wagon and the sun was out again, we were supposed to get rained on almost every one of the four days but thankfully nothing materialised.
So we headed to Bruno Giacosa where we were greeted by Francesco who gave us a tour of the facilities and a talk through the winemaking philosophy. We then sat down for a tasting with a group of Swedish journalists. Francesco gave us a overview of the history of Giacosa – Estate and Negociant. The total production is in the region of 300,000 bottles a year.
Spumante 2007 this is 100% Pinot Noir, Bruno Giacosa is no fan of Chardonnay, and has been made since 1983, it sells especially well domestically and in Germany. The nose is of dry nutty savoury fruit, the palate is then very mineral and again nutty. This was from a March 2014 disgorgement.
Roero Arneis 2014 was up next, this comes from 21 or 22 growers and is amazingly responsible for 100,000 of the 300,000 bottles produced here. It is a wine I have had before but not in this vintage. The nose is pears and clean fruits, the palate has a little sweetness and is in balance with the nose, nice wine.
Barbera d’Alba Falletto 2012 has a production of about 7000 bottles and ferments for about 15 days at 26/27 degrees. There is a lovely dark cherry vivacity to this wine, not light but not weighty, I really liked this.
Now it was time to shift up a notch to the noble grape, Raw found this simply to exciting and managed somehow to break his tasting glass into a million pieces, a feat I am unlikely ever to witness again.
Nebbiolo d’Alba 2013 – had a lovely animal edge, then strawberry fruit, roses and some spice. I can imagine if aged this would take on a bit of truffle and gentle tobacco. I had a case of the 2008 (long since drunk) that did exactly that. They have made this since the 1970’s and make around 14,000 bottles.
It was before the next wine that our Swedish journalist friends introduced us to the “a fox behind the ear” phrase, which I am sure you’ll agree loses quite a lot in translation. It is suppose to suggest that some one has a lot of energetic drive…
A really great start to the day and many thanks to Francesco for his time and knowledge. From Barbaresco we galloped of to Castiglione Falletto to meet up with Luca Roagna.
|Luca breaks down the soil.|
It was a real privilege to get a visit here as Luca, who I have known a while, really doesn’t “do” visits as there is so much to be done at the estate. Roagna is a name most famous for wonderful holdings in Barbaresco, and some of the very best they are too. But Luca also has a very fine holding in Pira in Barolo as well. The wines for each can’t be made at one place as each of Barolo and Barbaresco must both be vinified in their respective regions. The one exception is a historical one, Giacosa where we had just been.
To say that Luca has energy is a crazy understatement, he is a ball of energy. He is also deeply routed in the history and family nature of this great estate. At the same time he is a wine lover with a fascination for all the great wines. You will see all the great names around the cellars. Encouragingly most of the bottles appear to be empty!
|Looking down over Pira.|
There is very long ageing of the wines at Roagna before they are released. They are not people to be rushed. We started our visit in the vineyards and this was no token “there you are a few vines to see”, Luca had us going round the whole site, feeling and smelling soils and feeling the humidity of the vineyard floor (with the back of your hand not the front!). We saw the incredible vegetation that is allowed to grow up amongst the vines, everything is done here to be at one with the cycles of nature. The site is a steep one as we all realised when we we tried to clamber back up to the winery.
And what a winery it is! Amazing facilities, there is a sense of the Bond Villain about it but not in a showy way, everything has a place and reason for being there. Luca was picking up a few bottles as he went which was encouraging in the extreme. We then found ourselves popping out in Luca’s own kitchen.
The tasting that followed was a joy. Zalto Nebbiolo glasses and every last detail covered. The wines were all from the last release, it sounds like the next release will be November.
|What a tasting!|
Ever thoughtful Luca wanted us to finish with a white wine so we would leave with a clean palate, I was totally happy to be left with the finish of the Crichet Paje on my senses.
I was excited about lunch as it was going to be at a place I had been recommended by several friends in the trade, Vinoteca Centro Storico in Serralunga d’Alba. Alessio is quite a character and the wine list is terrific as well as there being awesome hams to feast on. We had an outside table and put ourselves in Allesio’s hands for a mix of starters and then some Pasta. We were not to be disappointed! With a big tasting at 3pm we went relatively easy on the wines and tried three producers we had not yet sampled on the trip.
So then it was time for my favourite estate any where in the world – Cantina Giacomo Conterno and having only been a month earlier made me no less excited. Roberto and his assistant Stephanie greeted us and gave the team the tour of the newly expanded winery as well as the brand new, wasn’t there the month before, bottling line. I can’t stress the level of “attention to detail” here but somehow it is done without there being any less character or emotion.
Then it was time to taste – and a very generous tasting too. The two 2013 Barberas – “Francia” and “Cerretta” started us off with the textbook differences coming through, minerality and salinity with cool black fruit for the Francia and the more lush and red/black sweeter fruit of the Cerretta. When one of the team asked about the ageing of these wines Roberto asked if we would like to taste the “Francia” Barbera 2005 or the 2001. I think we settled on 2005 only for Roberto to bring both. “Why choose when you can have both” he kindly commented. This was fascinating. I have some 2008’s at home and they are gorgeous but I think this is the oldest I have had Francia Barbera. The 2005 had some soy, it was quite decadent, a little chocolate, slightly sweaty, sweet and degrading good. The 2001 was in the next stage of development, a more faded colour, ferrous, saline, forest floor and some raisins and soy, nice and good to drink but without the freshness of the 2005.
From that mini Barbera master class it was Barolo time.
Barolo “Francia” 2011 is to be bottled in June and the “would have been Monfortino” barrel has now been blended into the wine. This is staggeringly lovely, the purity of a Volnay with the underlying structure you expect, simply lovely. Barolo “Cerretta” 2011 is also to be bottled in June. Has a similar clarity of flavour, more fruit more opulence, this is extrovert and where the Barolo classicist may “prefer” Francia (and I do by a tiny margin) this is just so juicy and good. Barolo Monfortino 2008 has been bottled, last June, but it is being released this year. I find this wine almost indescribable. There is a refined sweetness but also leather and some sweet tobacco but at the same time and, almost in contradiction, there is something so refined and feminine, just marvelous. The last wine – Barolo Monfortino 2010 – has only two problems. Firstly, the expectation is insane because as anyone who has tasted it will tell you this is the soul of what Barolo should be. As a result the expectation of experience will always be insanely, possibly unfairly, high. Secondly, when on earth do you drink it? My temptation is to say every 5 years from 12 years of age. It has everything and my words certainly can not do it justice – I am pathetically biased but I challenge anyone to disagree.
And well over two hours after arriving we headed to the “van” a group of very happy wine lovers! Bravo Roberto!
Having a had a little rest it was aperitivo time back at Hotel Casa Pavesi for this we had a magnum of Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2011 from Prum. Such a cool format of the great estate, it got the taste buds fired up for dinner.
Dinner was at Massimo Camina in La Morra. We may have been spoiled by the standard and atmosphere of the restaurants so far but this was a slight miss-fire. Nothing major but the food was a little more pretentious after all the brilliant simplicity we had been enjoying. The wine service was also a little clumsy, too much sediment and just a slight lack of attention to detail. The food was fiddlier but also very good. Wine wise we did some more exploring.
|A few more producers…|
The opening salvo was Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres 2005 from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey which is fully mature now.
|A nice light dish!|
For the Barolos we opened with Barolo Le Brunate 2005 from Francesco Rinaldi, a producer I like and whose wines I buy. This was not a good bottle, muddied and lacking clarity, a real shame as this is not true showing. We moved on to Barolo Ca’Mia 2005 from Brovia which was, for me, the wine of the night and in most of the team’s top three. It had a good focus and balance, a nice sweetness. Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2004 from Sandrone had it’s trademark richness and showed well from this cracking vintage. It was well received. Barolo Carobric 1997 from Scavino was a little too much, by which I mean a modern style from a warm vintage can result in a little bit too much texture at the expense of clean fruit. Barolo Riserva 1988 Vigna liste, Borgogno was good, fine purity and red fruit as well as a sweet leather and tea development I liked this.
It had been a fun meal with Geronimo getting to wear a bib! We decide that rather than buy more from the list we would make tracks back to the Hotel for a look at a couple of bottles from Italy’s other best known region – Tuscany!
|The Tuscan impostors…|
Brunello di Montalcino “Greppo” 2004 from Biondi-Santi and Guado al Tasso 2007, Antinori were the two bottles in question. We settled into the comfortable and relaxing drawing room and got chatting, all sorts of topics as ever. The wines were both good, very good. The Biondi Santi had a lovely acidic balance that you only really get in Italy, complex and moreish. As you would expect the Guado was more richly textured, more opulent and more international but not in a bad way. With one of our party planning to make a departure in the mid afternoon the following day there was already pressure being applied to try and get him to give us his company for another 18 hours. A couple of Limoncellos rounded of a lovely evening. It was a good idea to get rest as, if last year was anything to go on, the Saturday of this trip tends to be rather a full on day!
The running brigade was at it’s biggest on the Saturday with three of them making it. A good breakfast was had and with a nice, later, start the team seemed primed.
There are many ways in which the Saturday encapsulated the wondrousness of the region and wine in general. The wines are sublime, the people open, generous and engaging and the food just so splendid.
Cavallotto is where we were headed, Tenuta Vitivinicola Bricco Boschis in Castiglione to be more specific. I had never been before and it was purely via an introduction that we got the visit. So I wasn’t expecting a full three hours with Guiseppe Cavallotto including a tour of winery, vineyard and a tasting. The approach here is very traditional and the wines are all made from the vineyards around the Tenuta. Ageing is in large older botti. The sense you get is of a very contented estate that does what they want to do without fussiness or any arrogance. The cellars were immaculate, the vineyards looked so well tended (but not over tended). The tasting room is relaxed. We were all impressed.
|View from the Tenuta…|
Langhe Chardonnay 2013 was rounded but pure, a slightly resinous note, from vines planted between 1973 and 1975. The wine sells almost exclusively on the domestic market. The palate has a little dryness but this is a nice if simple wine.
|A stunning 1999…|
Dolcetto d’Alba 2013 was next and I was glad, otherwise we would not have had a Dolcetto at all. This had cherry fruit, a drier texture than Barbera and a herbal note, a good fresh, unpretentious wine. The Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2011 was lovely, with cool black fruits, richer texture than the Dolcetto but no more than medium body. Lush and balanced. And so to Nebbiolo with the Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 which was for me the most serious Langhe Nebbiolo of the trip, a mini Barolo, classy. Interestingly there will be no Barolo made in 2014 so a fair bit of Langhe Nebbiolo – one to watch out for. Barolo Bricco Boschis 2010 was delightful, both serious but appreciable too, this is the main Barolo from the estate – there are two Riservas made on occasion. There was real poise to the wine. Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis 2008 Vigna San Giuseppe was a rare treat, very fine, saline, seriousness and power, good grip, a young but balanced wine. I would love to track how this evolves. We thought the tasting was done but no, one more wine – Barolo Bricco Boschis 1999 – this was a real highlight and this classical, slightly reticent, vintage strikes me as just the sort to suit this estate. It was stunningly good, a little soy, a little leather but sweet fruit.
We were a little behind for Lunch now but were having so much fun that there was no rush. Stefano put in a call to hold our table and a couple of the team decide it was purchase time. Several large bottles made their way into the wagon. A really memorable visit, such generosity!!
At the table we bedded-in for the afternoon with a decision to go for the tasting menu, minus the brains. We are Dreams 2013 from Jermann was the choice for white and it set the scene nicely with good fruit and a lowish acidity, food was now needed, frogs legs specifically. We had very kindly been given two bottles of 2008 by Cavallotto – Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe and Barolo Riserva Vignolo and it was lovely to drink the two side by side. The San Giuseppe is a little bolder but both drank well. From here as the dishes flowed several wines were ordered, some decanted and saved for a little later and other decanted and poured for immediate enjoyment. Barolo Cerequio 2000 from Voerzio was the next to hit the glass. This was lovely, creamy, rich, opulent and full but not heavy. As with La Tache 2007 at lunch last year there has always been the temptation to indulge in a few great bottles at this last Lunch and so it proved here. Barolo Monfortino 2000 alongside Sassicaia 1998. It certainly meant that the one of our number who sadly had to depart to Milan airport was leaving on a high. The Monfortino was sublime, so complete, so long, young yes but in no way a waste at all. That weightless density some how making the wine both persistent and complex but at the same time elegant. The Sassicaia was a lovely foil, darker fruit, bell-pepper and herbs, again not heavy but rich, just lovely. It’s great when two different wines of such repute don’t fight each other for victory, just look to show off to each other.
Pergole Torte 1999 from Montevertine was the next choice and a savvy one. It went well with the goat we were tucking into, the acidity and earthiness cutting through the satisfying fattiness of the goat. Pergole Torte somehow manages to be both dry and sweet, degraded but fruited, it needs to be given time to show well. I dashed to the wagon to get the next bottle – Rayne Vigneau 2001 – and I think it was this stage that Stefano realised he may well not be getting an afternoon break. The 2001 was lovely, young enough for lift but aged enough for figs and decadence to peek through. It’s an estate a few savvy people follow. I recently asked one very prominent Bordelais producer for their sweet wine to buy outside of Yqeum and Rayne-Vigneau was their answer.
By this time, five-ish, the restaurant was emptying and we decided to move to the terrace for a coffee and one last bottle – Pin 2001 from Spinetta which was good, better that I expected. It is a blend of two thirds Nebbiolo and one third Barbera, it is not trying to be serious but has a nice sweetness allied to a bit of grip and degraded fruit. By this time we were in the midst of a weird co-incidence. Just as we had at this lunch the previous year we bumped into a couple sat at a near buy table to whom a few of our team had tenuous links. It was a sort of two degrees of separation rather than the normal six. I won’t repeat what is was that Geronimo said that got the conversation going.
With 6pm now well behind us and an apertivo on the itinerary at Casa Della Saracca before dinner we finally bid our good byes and made tracks. Casa della Saracca in Monforte is something of a local institution. Part bar, part restaurant, part hotel it’s a wonderful rabbit warren of a place.
We had a livening bottle of the biscuity Brut Tradition Grand Cru from Egly-Ouriet, although a couple for the team feared the acidity and went to G&T instead, C&B Sloe Gin even got a whirl. There are always a few different people milling around Saracca and Raw be-friended a male reporter from Sweden who was in the region.
Fiscali tried to stitch me up as a tour guide for some Norweigans and I think we were all starting to think the flight back the following morning was going to be a quiet one!
Trattoria della Posta was to be our dinner spot, a lovely authentic restaurant that does the basics so very well. I had loved it when once before, some years earlier. Geronimo was feeling the effect of his early morning run and impromptu DJ’ing session in Saracca and decided he would have the past and then ask for “Home Stefano”. He made it up for a run on the final morning which was no mean feat.
The rest of us were delighted to have been joined by Guilia for dinner so we got ordering – food and wine. A Gaia & Rey 2013 from Gaja was a good start, it is a wine I have often enjoyed, it is more a savoury scenario than a wine of fruit but it works. Dusty then decided we needed Sperss 1996, Gaja from bottle and to have a look at a comparison of bottle and magnum by ordering Barolo Monfortino 2000 from magnum. It was a great decision. The Sperss came out more and more in the glass, a serious wine with years ahead. The Monfortino was as you’d expect a little younger and more dense, than the bottle at Lunch, it was wonderful to have it in a glass for that bit longer and to drink it in more volume. The food was a delight and we all have a great time telling the earlier “trailer plane” story (ask me and I’ll explain). Some grappa appeared from the next door table, it had rather lovely packaging. Fortunately we only sampled a very little bit. Whether the next bit was sensible or not is another matter but, what the hell, our trip was nearly over so back to Saracca for one last bottle and what better to choose than a bottle from one of the producers we had seen – Barolo Le Coste 2007 from Roagna. I loved it, 2007 may not be a classic vintage but when handled with care it can be lovely, this was…Stefano made sure we all got back in one piece…quite a day!
The following morning there were a few groans of over-indulgence but actually everyone was in good fettle. We breakfasted and then made tracks having said good bye, some with more vigour than others, to our hosts and that was the trip all but done…
|A few big bottles…|
So, what did we learn?
Piedmont is so beautiful.
Food – Traditional starters and pasta and then go from there.
The producers give you real time and a full insight.
In both wine and restaurants go traditional rather than modern.
Make sure you get into the vineyards.
Restaurants are open to you bringing bottles.
Running gear is a good idea (if you like that sort of thing).
A few thanks you’s:
The producers we saw were all wonderful!
Specifically Roberto and Stephanie for the introduction to Stefano.
For restaurants, ordering advice, bookings and general help: Rebecca Nightingale, Eric Sabourin, Valentina Zavagli, Sam Harris, Megan Rogers.
But above all else to the team for having me along. I love Piedmont more every time I go and I learnt a massive amount on the trip…I can’t wait to go back…right then…Rhone 2016 is it?!?!