Piedmont Panorama: Part Two

It’s such a joy to visit winemakers in Barolo and Barbaresco. No matter how packed your schedule or how long your day, each visit deserves and rewards however much time it takes. So each day of the Nebbiolo Prima this year, after tasting 65 to 80 young, rough wines in the morning I happily bolted my lunch and went off for an afternoon of tasting more Nebbiolos.

Last post I told you about my sessions with the Angelo Negro family and Tiziana Settimo. This post I want to fill you in on my visits to Renato Ratti, Boroli, and Roccheviberti.

Renato Ratti

The eponymous founder of this estate was a pioneer of the modern age in Barolo, and his son Pietro is carrying on with the same style and panache. We sat in the light-filled tasting room of his impressive new winery and tasted an equally impressive battery of wines – Dolcetto 2011 and Barbera (both Alba 2011 and Asti 2010), Nebbiolo 2010, Barolo Marcenasco 2009 and 2008, Barolo Conca 2008 – and then a vertical of Pietro’s prized cru, Rocche: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, and 1999.

The ’08 was big and tannic but balanced by terrific acid and fruit, the best wine of that vintage I’d tasted that day (that includes some 70+ in the morning session). The ’07 seemed slightly rustic and forceful, more forward and attention grabbing.

“2008 is a precise vintage,” Pietro says; “you can taste the differences of place from place. 2007 is exuberant; 2008 is more narrow but deeper – more interesting, with more acidity, more focus. 2006 is more classic, more fruity – same family as ’08, but more classic.” In fact, I found the 2006 very similar to the ’08, deep and composed, a wine to wait for. Both remind me of the 1974s, which evolved into some of the finest Barolos of the second half of the century.

Ratti’s 2005 you don’t have to wait for: It’s already together – a lovely middle weight, totally drinkable now. The 2004 went to the other end of the spectrum, a great vintage, along with 2001 one of the greatest, but nowhere near ready to drink. The 2001 showed itself more developed, the nose darkening to tobacco and coffee, even burnt earth, the palate deep, smooth, and complex – almost but not quite ready. The 2000 stood among the better examples of this too-hot vintage, but it will never be my favorite. “A great Barolo vintage,” Pietro says, “combines power and elegance.” His 1999 Rocche did just that – big Nebbiolo fruit and leather and porcini on the nose and in the mouth, with an endless finish. A lovely wine, with years of development still before it.

Boroli

This is a newer house, run by a team of brothers with a lot of modern technology but also great love for traditional Barolo character, both of which showed nicely in the wines. Villero is their best cru: it’s one of the choice sites in the Barolo zone, and Boroli does it justice. The 2004 sported big Nebbiolo fruit – juicy black cherry – along with tobacco and leather. I thought it elegant and balanced and still very young. The ‘05 Villero showed itself very accessible, as is characteristic of that vintage – quite drinkable already, although evidently still young and growing. This is what people have in mind when they talk about a good restaurant Barolo. 2006 also proved true to its vintage: a structured, big, austere wine, with great minerality – a wine for long, long cellaring to enjoy at its maximum. Villero 2007 was an almost complete contrast, fresh and amazingly accessible for so young a Barolo. It too will no doubt mature and deepen, but it’s so enjoyable now that it may be hard to wait for it.

Roccheviberti

This is the smallest producer I visited – about 20,000 bottles a year, and that includes some Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo, as well as Barolo. Production that small makes Claudio Viberti only a little more than a garagiste, but in quality he is approaching the top tier. He works roughly 13 acres, 5 of which are Nebbiolo, in the tiny village of Rocche within the commune of Castiglione Falletto. I went to visit him because, in the past two or three years, I had been giving his wines top marks at Nebbiolo Prima’s morning blind-tasting sessions, and I thought it was time I found out something about him.

I am very, very glad I did. His 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba Vigna Melera and his 2009 Barbera d’Alba Superiore were both textbook wines, so delicious and so characteristic that the first taste told me that I was in the hands of an excellent winemaker. His 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo confirmed that: It was all beautiful black cherry fruit that tasted fresh! fresh! fresh!

The vertical of Barolo Rocche di Castiglione that followed was the icing on the cake. 2008 showed classic Nebbiolo color, the true garnet bleeding to an orange edge, and the classic “feminine” Castiglione body, sapid, juicy, and well structured. The 2007 smelled of raspberries and roses and tasted of sweet black cherries, tar, and tea. The 2006 had a nose of dried roses, earth, and tea, and on the palate big acid and firm tannins supporting a huge body of fruit – a wine that seems to me will get better and better for decades. His 2005 showed the same dried roses in the aroma and great minerality on the palate, with excellent acidity and fine fruit. 2004 again smelled of dried roses, and on the palate was evolving beautifully, with plenty of still fresh fruit beginning to develop complexity and depth – a gentle, elegant, and deep wine.

These wines demonstrated an impressive consistency of quality and style from vintage to vintage. Claudio said that he ferments his Barolos for 18 to 25 days, depending on the harvest, and that he uses only French oak in large, traditional botti. His grandfather had started the winery for bulk sales, and he began making wine in 2003 – and he doesn’t make a Riserva because he doesn’t have the space. Honestly, I hope he never has: I wouldn’t want him to change a thing.

The Barolo and Barbaresco zones are real winemaker country. You’re never greeted ceremoniously by guys in designer suits. Instead, men and women in purple-stained jeans and equally stained hands welcome you with boundless enthusiasm for their wines and plenty of information about their last half dozen vintages – or more, if you display any curiosity. Is it any wonder that I visit as often as I can?

6 Responses to “Piedmont Panorama: Part Two”

  1. Mark Henderson Says:

    HI Tom,

    I’m a Kiwi (NZ) wine enthusiast and I’ve been following your writing for a good while now: I must say that I really enjoy your insights on Italian wines which have given me a lot of food for thought (and potential purchases). With family in Italy my wife, daughter and I have just managed a long dreamed of short visit to Piemonte on the way to see them. I followed a couple of your recommendations and organised appointments with both Cascina delle Rose and Roccheviberti. Lovely families at both wineries; clearly both very passionate about their land, their vines and their wines and both producing some very smart wines. Roccheviberti was my last visit during my stay and I was terribly impressed by the wines across the board from the bright, juicy Dolcetto, the lush and rich Barbera and the refined Nebbiolo and Barolo. I had the chance to taste the 2004, 2008 and 2009 (in tank pre bottling) Barolos and they were lovely wines full of complexity and interest – just saddened that they are not imported into New Zealand. Claudio was very welcoming and with his brother in law Maurizio translating I had a great visit. Thanks again for the marvellous suggestions and the pleasure that your writing gives me.

    Kind regards…Mark Henderson

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Mark, and congratulations on what sounds like a wonderful trip. You certainly ended on a high note with Cascina delle Rose and Roccheviberti: as you said, lovely people and lovely wines in both places.

  2. Joe Calandrino Says:

    Hi Tom:

    I should have posted this note last month when it would have been on topic, but I have some concerns about my 3/4 case of Rocche dei Manzoni 2001 Vinga d’la Roul riserva.

    In April, I felt compelled by the gods of Barolo to commit wine infanticide; so, I pulled the cork on one of my bottles. I was horrified to find the cork dried out and crumbling, breaking 2/3 down its length.

    Happily, the business end of the cork was still moist, the closure intact, and most importantly the wine, fine.

    I just opened another bottle, mostly because of the obvious nagging concerns. Again the wine was fine, but much better. I doubt the difference in the wine’s performance was due to an extra 3 months of bottle age, so, I conclude that there was some loss of integrity of the first bottle’s closure after all.

    There was quite a difference. There was nothing bad about the first: it was clean, with a fine color, clearly delineated nose and great fruit, complexity and finish. The second bottle was really quite stunning. The aromas filled the room even before decanting. The nose demonstrated a generosity of great barolo: tar, truffles, black fruits, mahogany, cedar. The color was alive with that distinctly garnet-at the-rim deep red at the core that we pretend to see in burgundy but really only see in truly great barolo. The flavor profile was as alive as the color and nose, and the finish was never-ending.

    So, this is my rather verbose way of complaining about bottle variation, bad corks and the like in Barolos whose stature should preclude such vagaries.

    Clearly, the second bottle had 20 years of life in it; the first, something considerably less than that. We’re not talking several cases of wine here, but what would you advise about a drinking window for what I thought was a wine of ageless virtue?

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    Joe

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Joe: First of all, sympathy for your cork problems and envy for your second bottle. Unfortunately, the cork situation has made keeping wines something of a crap shoot. Bad corks can show up anywhere. Serious winemakers don’t skimp about that: they don’t want years of effort destroyed by less than two dollars worth of cork. But the best cork is a limited production item, and even the best corks can pick up funghi or simply not absorb liquid or air uniformly or evenly, and the result can be what you had in your first bottle. Believe me, I’ve had my share of them. What I hate to have to tell you is that there is no way to prevent this or to predict it. As far as storage is concerned, all you can do is put your faith in the wine and hope the cork does its part.

      Re a drinking window for 2001: the wines are, as you know, already beautiful. It is a very great, classically structured vintage, and I would think that properly stored those wines are going to be good for 20 years — probably getting better and better for the next 10 of them. If the corks hold. Best of luck to you and all of us!

  3. Tom Maresca Says:

    Ed:

    That’s a very generous assessment of what, most of the time, is my pleasure ethic. It can cumulatively be hard work, it’s true, but most of the time — as you know — the pleasure far outweighs the pain.

  4. Ed McCarthy Says:

    Tom, we share a love for the Langhe country, born of many years of enjoying the wine, the people, and the food. I do admire your work ethic. No writer that I know of (including myself) puts so much time in tasting Piedmontese wines.

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