Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Filippo Gallino - last stop in Piemonte

Wednesday evening saw my last full estate visit - the rest of the time in Italy was more or less holiday (although a trip to Acqui Terme necessitated a visit to the Enoteca Regionale to familiarise myself better with the local Barbera di Monferrato wines amongst others). We got a bit lost in Canale - should you ever visit, look for signs to Valle Pozzo and you'll be OK.

When you arrive at Filippo Gallino, there is the feeling of the Deep South - a distressed row of houses with balconies overlooking a yard where the children amuse themselves by throwing up bottle tops and seeing where they land. It seems all the money is spent on the cantina and all the family must live here, several generations together.

Laura had driven off to look for us but returned just as we were trying out our Italian on her sister. Little English is spoken here except by Laura's husband Guglielmo who doesn't work for the family (except to help out with hapless English people like us). We went into the winery and looked around then into the tasting room.

The Roero Arneis is fresh and refreshing but it was the reds I had come for. The Barbera d'Alba had been a favourite in the 2009 vintage so I was keen to try the 2010: again, a good freshness in this wine which does not see any barrels. I preferred it to "Elaine" which is partially oaked and, I thought, a little baked. The fully oaked Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2009, however, was excellent: it had the rich Barbera fruit with its natural acidity well-checked by the barrels. Good now but with potential to develop. I had enjoyed the 2007 before (and had finished off my box of this just a few days before leaving for Italy) but the 2009 is better defined in comparison.

The Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 Licin, a cuvee created in 2007 in honour of Filippo's 70th birthday, was good (he got a better deal than cousin Elaine this year!) but I was looking forward to the Roero wines having limited experience of them before. The Roero 2009 is a big step up with good freshness and tannins which promise to melt away fairly soon to give up to the stylish fruit. However, new wine for 2008, the Roero Superiore 2008 Sorano is truly excellent, a new level of concentration and sophistication in my experience of this estate's wines. I only hope I will be able to afford to buy some when it is marketed!

We finished off with Birbet, a partially fermented, sparkling, not too sweet red wine made from Brachetto which has good acidity to cut through all the heavy reds tasted before. I commented that I had enjoyed a few glasses on Christmas Day before I was driving and that it had gone rather well with the turkey and trimmings. I said this had surprised me as I would ordinarily associate a wine like this with summer or the cheese board; they were not surprised!

Mario Giribaldi - another new estate for me

I had been bombarded with emails so eventually investigated and found there is an interesting selection of wines made here. But what about the quality? Having a confused SatNav meant I was late arriving but Katie Pattinson was relaxed as we talked about our attitudes to wine and the wine trade. The wines were al interesting but some stood out more than others for me.

Of the whites, I enjoyed the full and fairly complex Gavi with its minerality and white fruit characters (apples and pears). The simple Barbera 2010 Caj offers fruity, juicy, easy fruit and good acidity; a decent, straightforward Barbera. The Nebbiolo 2009 Accerto has good mouthfeel with fairly low acidity and soft tannins - tastes right, feels good.

I rather liked the Dame e Fuet 2007, a blend of 50% Nebbiolo and 50% Pinot Noir which has a great, plush nose which lets some Pinot Noir character through. Good mouthfeel.

The final two wines of the tasting were a Barbaresco 2007 Gaia Principe, a single vineyard wine from Neive with rounded, dancing tannins and lovely fruit. This was the star of the tasting for me, slightly better than the Barolo 2006 with its powerful nose, open and rounded. Forward for 2006 but still tannic.

Altogether, an enjoyable tasting with charming hosts and some wines here that we may see more of - watch this space!

Up the hill to Manzone

Not a great start, as I subsequently discovered: I had got the wrong day! Mauro was busy for the first half hour but we had a guided tour of the cellars from his sister who has recently joined the Giovanni Manzone family estate. It is a fascinating place with an underground spring keeping the area naturally humid.

We went through most of the wines: Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barolo. Frankly, not a bad wine among them. Some highlights though: the Dolcetto 2010 La Serra is more complex and structured than most with good acidity and more tannin so can age well (10 years?). Good "purple" fruit, long and fragrant. The Barbera 2010 offers juicy fruit and a simple structure to back up the slightly sour cherry fruit: a good all-rounder. I still prefer the more complex Barbera Superiore 2009 La Serra which sees 16 months in tonneaux. It is a fuller, rounder wine with lovely juiciness and good complexity. The Nebbiolo 2010 Il Crutin is quite evolved but a fairly simple, easy Nebbiolo for everyday enjoyment.

Onto the Barolos. First the Castelletto 2006 which I have not tasted before. This wine sees 35-40 days maceration which helps soften the tannins. The fruit is quite evolved but the wine is more tannic than the 2007 (inevitably: it is a 2006). The vines are fairly young so expect great things with more age.

From 2007, two wines I know: Gramolere 2007 is forward but still tannic, made in a flambuoyant style but with good restraint. Long finish. The 2008 has a lovely fragrant nose, classic structure but is more pointed, less rounded. Quite tannic but only bottled a month ago.

Bricat 2007 has more fruit on the nose and quite smooth tannins. This wine is plush and rich - why wait? The 2008 has great potential, lovely fruit, excellent structure.

We finished with the Riserva wines: the Gramolere Riserva 2004, aged 40 months in oak has a deliciously evolved nose, balanced and fragrant. Extremely smooth and stylish - it almost calls out for some rusticity! A superb, highly refined wine - my wine of the tasting. The 2005 has a slightly fuller nose and is also exceptionally well balanced but slightly chewier than the 2004. Excellent.

First taste of Barolo this trip - Crissante Alessandria

Alberto Alessandria was in a talkative mood when I arrived just after 9.30 on Wednesday morning (25th July). He showed me round the winery before going into the tasting room which has magnificent views over the valley below La Morra (he is based in the small hamlet of Santa Maria, a couple of miles outside La Morra).

We skipped the Dolcetto and went straight onto one of my favourite wines in 2007, the Barbera d'Asti "Ruge" 2006. Alberto explained that it had been too acidic before so they had held it back until they felt it is ready. It has quite an evolved nose now with a warming palate, rounded and together. The tannins are soft and dancing around the slightly baked fruit. The acidity is balanced and the wine has decent length - can be enjoyed now. The 2008 won't be released until October and is different inasmuch as the oak used to age it gives the wine a different flavour profile to the wine at first. I didn't taste it with Alberto but took a bottle away with me so experienced it more fully and by the end of the bottle, the oak character was completely integrated, making this very similar to earlier vintages. This suggests the wine needs a year or two (at least) for the fruit to shine through but will be every bit as good in the long run.

There are three Barolo wines, each from a different vineyard with different characteristics. I have never experienced the Capolot but took a bottle of the 2007 away with me so will find out more soon enough. The Galina 2008 has a meaty nose which is less oaky than the 2007. The tannins are very smooth and the fruit is good. Alberto told me this is a hot vineyard, good for tannin ripeness (good for sugar ripeness too - the wine is a well balanced 15%!) and, certainly, the tannins are lovely and sweet, making the wine very drinkable now. There is good grip and lovely fruit, very open for 2008, and a long finish.

I asked Alberto if he had thought of blending the various wines as an experiment but he was adamant he was going to keep them separate as each offered something different. The Roggeri 2007 is less tannic than the 2006 but still, in keeping with wines from this vineyard, is one of the more tannic Barolos I have encountered. Less alcoholic than the Galina at a mere 14.5%, it has a more ethereal nose but is, for now, a harder wine. Good potential here but, as expected, it needs time - 10 years at least for the tannins to round out allowing the fruit to realise its full potential. Check back in 2025!

Fabrizio's fabulous wines

Over to Roero on Monday evening, the other side of the Tanaro river so no longer in the Langhe. This is a region which has been overlooked by consumers hunting down the more famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco but here there are Nebbiolo wines not to be ignored. At a lunch in London back in February, I tasted through thirty or so wines from this area and was pleased to note that the one that stood out was one of Fabrizio's which I was due to re-taste - properly - with Fabrizio Battaglino at his family's house.

We started off with the white wine, a Roero Arneis 2011. Fabrizio does not want to have anything to do with non-native grapes which is the right choice for him although it may give him something of an uphill struggle when it comes to marketing such wines. Thirty years or so ago, there were few Arneis wines produced; rather, it was used to soften the Nebbiolo, much in the same way as Viognier is used in Cote Rotie. Now there are a good number of these wines around. To my palate, it has much in common with Marsanne (rather than Viognier, but Marsanne is still blended with Syrah at some Northern Rhone wineries) and, whilst it would never be mistaken for Hermitage, there are similarities. The 2011 seems a little sweeter than the 2010 but it still has good minerality and acidity. Good.

The Barbera d'Alba 2010 is more serious than most. You wouldn't know it had seen any oak, the fruit is so intense but, whereas the 2009 seemed to need a few years in the bottle, I could drink this now. This was true - more or less - with the three Nebbiolo wines. Fabrizio makes serious, ageworthy wines but the straight Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010 is a pretty-fruited wine with manageable tannins.

More serious is the Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010 Colla, the wine I tasted first back in February. This has quite amazing fruit, richer and fuller than any Nebbiolo I recall having tasted. Lots going on here and the fruit subdues the tannins well. The balance is excellent. As a footnote, we drank a bottle of this a few days later and found, as the bottle drained, the wine opened more and more splendidly. Next time I will open the bottle a couple of hours in advance. By way of contrast, Fabrizio had a bottle which had been opened for a couple of days but I found the fruit had faded a little whilst the tannins remained in place.

The last wine in the line-up is the Roero 2010 Sergentin which, whilst not as showy as the Colla at this stage, is perhaps, ultimately, a more sophisticated wine. It oozes elegance, even more so than the other wines, and hints of the multiple layers that will undoubtedly develop over time. I am going to enjoy watching this wine!

As ever, a fabulous set of wines which UK consumers will, in the main, overlook no doubt which is their great loss. Serious wine drinkers should be checking these out and supporting intelligent winemakers like Fabrizio whose total production of 25-30,000 bottles is never going to make him rich but, on the contrary, is so small as to ensure that every bottle has received the attention it needs to make it a truly great experience.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Back to Barbaresco

My second visit of the trip returns me to Treiso, just a few hundred yards away from Nada Giuseppe in the Val Grande, a beautiful oval-shaped valley carpeted in vines. The estate is that of the brothers Luigi and Alfredo Grasso, Grasso Fratelli. Neither of the brothers speaks any English so, with my limited Italian I am relieved their niece, Elisa, is on hand to show me round.

I have already tasted some of the wines back in England. What is immediately attractive is the fact that they can offer a selection of single-vineyard Barbaresco wines going back to 1999 so there is the possibility of trying something that is at least semi-mature, a rarity in this accountant-driven world.

Starting out with the non-Barbaresco wines was interesting although, I confess, non of them wowed me as much as the semi-mature Barbarescos I was treated to. There was a barrique-fermented Chardonnay and a Spumante Brut which was not too dry. A trio of Dolcetto wines included a very young 2011 with a very young, almost vegetal, nose, a wine which needs time to flesh out. The 2009 was more rounded but has some sourness. A 2003 was offered with its noticeably fuller nose and fleshier body. Still a Dolcetto though.

A couple of Barberas followed: a 2008 and an oaked one from 2009, both decent enough but eclipsed (for me) by the 2008 Nebbiola which was quite open with some chewy tannins. However, the big leap was yet to come.

Four ranges of Barbaresco are available: a Normale was tasted from 2005 back in England and found to be correct but not the most exciting wine in the range, inevitably. The three single-vineyard wines, however, include some rather special wines. The 2007 San Stunet shows some oak through the easy-drinking style. Good tannins. The Bricco Spessa range comes from the Giacosa vineyard. The oak used in the 2004 is almost indiscernible now but, then, only 25% barrique is used with 75% in botti. The wine has good mouthfeel and nice tannins. The 2001 is soft and drinking well but food will soften the tannins further. There is a long finish here.

The Sori Valgrande wines see around 45% barrique with the balance in botti. I liked the fresh 2009 which seemed quite superior with good fruit and length. Inevitably there are tannins to combat here: one to cellar. The 2001 still has some oak on the nose but it is well integrated with the sweet Nebbiolo fruit; very drinkable now. The 2000 is evolved, especially on the palate with secondary fruit starting to show. The 1999 follows the same path.

To cleanse my palate, a lovely Moscato d'Asti which was sweet, balanced with lovely fresh acidity. Just right.

Overall, an interesting estate and a real pleasure to taste the older vintages which are quite traditional in style with fruit taking centre stage. I will be working my way through the wines I took away with me with close interest!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Nada Giuseppe visit but no Enrico this year

With Enrico Nada on holiday in Sardinia, his parents and sister Barbara were perfect hosts during this year's visit to Nada Giuseppe. Whilst I have been trying to learn a little more Italian, I still have to rely on the better language skills of my hosts which is shameful; I must do better next time (although Enrico will probably be there and his English is extremely good so I am fighting a losing battle - but one I will continue to fight!). Still, even without Enrico the conversation flowed as well as the wine.

The wines, as expected, were extremely good, perhaps better than last year, especially the top wines. We started with Armonia 2011, the estate's only white wine. The nose is quite youthful and hints of the blend that it is (I assume it is the same as the 2010 which included Arneis, Favorita and Sauvignon) and a touch of oak. There is some interesting fruit here which comes through well on the palate which has good definition: rounded but good acidity to back this up and some attractive spiciness. It has a quite long, spicy finish with better acidity and more flowery notes than the previous vintage, I thought. As a footnote, Barbara gave me a bottle to take away which had the chance to open up as the bottle progressed (which shows the value of taking a bottle away!) and became more glorious as the bottle emptied. Funny, that!

Straight onto the Barbaresco 2009 next with a wonderfully rounded nose, full and rich with sweet but spicy fruit. A medium-full body accompanies this young but approachable wine which seems already more forward than either the 2007 or 2008. It has a superbly rounded mouthfeel and lovely, open Nebbiolo fruit. This is a very good wine with an enticingly perfumed finish with the spice lingering to the end. The tannins are soft and the acidity seems lower than in other vintages (or better integrated, perhaps); in any case, this wine has great balance and is going to be an excellent Barbareseco for drinking over the next 10-15 years.

Note: I re-tasted this wine a few days later. This confirmed my feeling that this is one of the very best wines I tasted during this trip. The balance between fruit and the structural elements is quite exceptional.

The Barbaresco 2008 followed. Possibly better in the long run, it still has a slight hardness that I noticed last year (which reminds me of some of the 2005 Rhone wines which took longer to open up than the 2004s or 2006s, for example). It is very similar otherwise and very much as remembered from last year. A more classic vintage? Barbara agreed. I felt it needs another 5-10 years but will last until 2025. I re-tasted the 2009 again after this which confirmed my preference for the younger wine for current drinking.

The Barbaresco Riserva 2007 does not bear the name of the Casot vineyard on the label - Enrico later informed me this was a bureaucratic oversight but the wine is still from Casot. It is slightly deeper in colour than the Normale and is less oaky than the 2006 was so the sweet Nebbiolo fruit comes through well. It has soft tannins and a medium-full body with fairly low acidity - it is very similar to the 2009 but with the added richness and complexity of a wine two years older that has been treated with even more respect. A couple of days later, I compared it with the 2006 which proved immensely popular. There is a greater difference between these two vintages than between the different vintages of Normale but I would struggle to say which I prefer. Both are irresistible!

We ended the tasting with the Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2009 which, being Barbera, is deeper in colour than any of the Nebbiolo wines. It is rounded if a little sharp but I don't need to remind myself that (a) I am tasting it after the wonderfully rounded Barbaresco wines and (b) this is Barbera which has naturally high acidity, making it a great wine for pizza or pasta. A bite of the cheese Signora Nada provided showed the necessity of appreciating many Italian wines with food as it brought out some of the wine's more subtle aspects.

A few days later I received an email from Enrico asking what I thought about the wines, including the Dolcetto - we had been too busy talking to remember to taste this. Aaargh!