Friday, May 16, 2014

2008 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis Barolo

On April 27th, after my study group tasted two white wines (an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi) a Dolcetto d’Alba, two samples of Barbera d’Alba, a Barbaresco our last two wines were a Barolo (a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy) tasted side-by-side with a Nebbiolo from Sonoma, California. While the Barolo was a “grid wine” in preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam the California Nebbiolo was not but was tasted in order to compare Old and New World versions of Nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo and the Barolo DOCG 

The Nebbiolo grape is the most prestigious grape in Piedmont, in Northwestern Italy. In the Novara and Vercelli hills of northern Piedmont Nebbiolo is known as “Spanna” and in the Lombardy region of Valtellina the grape is known as Chiavennasca.

Nebbiolo is the central grape for four DOCGs (Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme) and eight DOCs in Piedmont, of which the most important are the Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG (10 miles northeast of Barolo). In the Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG the wine must consist of 100% Nebbiolo. But in the Gattinara DOCG up to 10% Bonarda may be added and no more than 4% of Vespolina. In the Ghemme DOCG up to 25% of Bonarda and/or Vespolina may be added.

Barolo is produced in eleven “communes” or village territories, all situated on the scenic Langa hills shaped by centuries of vine cultivation and dominated by medieval castles. The other communes included in the Barolo production area are: La Morra, Monforte, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglio Falletto, Novello, Grinzane Cavour, Verduno, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi. However, while Barolo and Barbaresco are 100% Nebbiolo these communes are only permitted to cultivate Nebbiolo for Barolo on a part of their territory.

Barolo must be aged a minimum of 3 years before release, 2 of which must be in barrel. Barbaresco must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (including at least 9 months in cask) prior to release, or for a minimum of 4 years if labeled riserva

The Winery: Cavallotto
Cavallotto Vineyards
The Cavallotto family winery was founded in 1948 and is now in its fifth generation of winemakers. Production is overseen by the great-great-grandchildren of founder Giacomo Cavallotto, Laura, Giuseppe, and Alfio. The winemakers are Alfio and Joseph Jumper. The winery is situated on the top of the Bricco Boschis cru, just outside the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo region. All of their grapes are made from their estate vineyards. The Bricco Boschis estate consists of 23 hectares (56.83 acres), with approximately 50% of the vineyards planted to Nebbiolo. The rest of the vineyard is planted to Dolcetto (5 acres), Barbera (2 acres), Freisa, Grignolino, Chardonnay, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). The vines are trellised using the Guyot method with pruning done at 8-10 buds for Nebbiolo and 5-7 for the other varieties. The vineyards are planted to approximately 5000 plants per hectare.[1] In 1961, the Cavallottos divided the Bricco Boschis estate into three sub-crus: San Giuseppe, Colle Sudovest, and at the highest elevation with sandy soils is Punta Marcello.

While there are many Barolo producers that are making wine in a more modern style, the Cavallotto family maintains a modified traditionalism profile of age-worthy wines using Slovenian oak while incorporating some of the more modern vinification practices without changing the style of the wine.[2]

The Wines

In order to discern the distinctiveness of the Nebbiolo grape grown in its homeland from another terroir, we sampled side-by-side a Barolo and a Nebbbiolo from Sonoma, California - both of which are from the 2008 vintage. Both of these wines were decanted at least 2 hours before they were tasted.

The 2008 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis Barolo is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose strawberries, bramble berry, baked pie, layers of spice, olives, leather, mocha, chocolate powder, coffee, purple and red flowers, tar and blacktop asphalt, and a very distinctive aroma of old world barnyard. It has well-integrated high tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol and a complex medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $60 per bottle.

The 2008 Jacuzzi Nebbiolo, Sonoma Coast, is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of macerated dried red cherries, dried figs, licorice, spice, mushrooms, beef bullion, cloves, dark soil, hint of mint and eucalyptus. It has high tannins that have an aggressive attack on the front of the palate, it has medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol and a moderately medium length finish. This wine sells for about $28 per bottle.

The 2008 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis was the preferred wine between the two as it was much more complex and layered with distinctive old world earthy notes, but of course it costs twice as much as the 2008 Jacuzzi Nebbiolo. The following day I sampled these wines again and the additional time greatly improved the Jacuzzi Nebbiolo as the tannins, while still very high, were not as seemingly aggressive on entry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2007 Vietti Barbaresco

On April 27th, after my study group tasted two white wines (an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi) a Dolcetto d’Alba and two samples of Barbera d’Alba we then tasted a Barbaresco. Of all the wines we had tasted thus far, this Nebbiolo was the first “grid wine” of the day in preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam.

The Grape

I have provided a profile of the Nebbiolo grape in other posts, such as when I reviewed the 2005 Cascina Val del Prete Nebbiolo d’Alba, so I won’t go into great detail here. 

It produces clear light colored red wines that tend to be ruby at the core with typical garnet and burnt orange colors at the rim. Visually such colors can be an indication of an older red wine (such as an aged Bordeaux) but this is indicative of a Nebbiolo even in its youth. These colors are also similar to that of a Pinot Noir but on the palate it is far too tannic to be mistaken for a Burgundy. So the other two wines it may be mistaken for is a Sangiovese from Tuscany or an older Aglianico from Campania, which isn’t a “grid wine” for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam.

If you are blind tasting a Barbaresco and you have accurately described the visual, aromatic and structural components of the wine your closest lateral alternatives are a Barolo (also made from Nebbiolo) and a Sangiovese from Tuscany.

Barbaresco DOCG

Barbaresco is produced in the Piedmont region in an area of the Langhe to the northeast and east of the city of Alba and in the communes of Barbaresco, Treiso (formerly part of Barbaresco) and Neive plus that area of the frazione San Rocco Senodelvio which was once part of the commune of Barbaresco and now belongs to the commune of Alba.[1] In 1966 it was granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status and in 1980 it was granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. Barbaresco is considerably smaller than Barolo (only 1,680 acres) so it only around 35% the production of Barolo. Consequently the wines are not as widely available on the market.

Although Barolo and Barbaresco are both made from the Nebbiolo grape and are produced in areas less than 10 miles from each other there are some differences due to difference in the soils and a slight difference in the climate. The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and is fundamentally a calcareous marl.[2]  In addition, the Barbaresco zone is located south of the river Tanaro so it receives some maritime influence which allows Nebbiolo to ripen a little earlier than it does in the Barolo zone. Because of this, the vines don’t produce as much tannin and they are harvested and fermented earlier with a shorter maceration time. So, while Barbaresco has similar aroma and flavor profiles to Barolo the tannins are not as aggressive and under DOCG rules it is allowed to age for a year less than Barolo.

However, this does not mean that Barolo and Barbaresco are easily distinguishable when tasted blind. There are some Barolo wines that tend to be similar in body, fruitiness, and perfume to Barbaresco wines particularly those produced near the villages of La Morra and Barolo.

The Wine

The 2007 Vietti Barbaresco is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas macerated black cherries, ripe strawberries, roots, herbs, anise, spice, minute notes of tar and smoke with fresh roses. It is dry with well refined and well integrated medium+ to high tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, and a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced with exceptional complexity.

[1] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford University Press; 3rd edition, 2006), 62.
[2] Ibid, 62.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Barbera d’Alba: 2009 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Armujani and 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Alba

On April 27th, after my study group tasted two white wines (an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi) and a Dolcetto d’Alba we then sampled two bottles of Barbera d’Alba from two different vintages (2009 and 2010) and two different producers - Podere Ruggeri Corsini Winery and Vietti Winery. Barbera is not a “grid wine” for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam for which we are studying, but it is an important wine to know.

Barbera d’Alba

Barbera is Italy’s third most planted red grape after Sangiovese and Montepulciano.[1] It is a vigorous varietal that adapts well to different climates and soils. Although it can be found growing all over Italy, it has been most prominent in the southeastern part of Italy’s Piedmont region where it is believed to have originated in the Monferrato hills around Asti.  There it grows primarily in three provinces at the heart of which are the cities of Alba, Asti and Alessandria.

There are three primary Barbera DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regions: Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato. Although the three zones are contiguous and in some cases overlapping, there are some subtle differences between the Barbera wines produced in these zones.

The Barbera d’Alba production zone includes the rolling hills around the town of Alba and it overlaps the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. In fact, most of the vintners of Barbera from this zone also produce Barolo or Barbaresco wines. For a wine to be legally labeled as Barbera d’Alba, it must be made from at least 85% Barbera grapes and up to 15% Nebbiolo may be added, but Dolcetto is not allowed.[2]

The added designation of superiore may be added to labels if the wine is aged for 12 months prior to commercial release, of which at least 4 months must be spend in oak barrels.

In terms of structure Barbera is the “middle child” between Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. It is an early-maturing but late ripening varietal with dark ruby colored juice, it tends to have high acidity with lower levels of tannin than Nebbiolo and often times either the same or more tannin than Dolcetto.

Podere Ruggeri Corsini Winery

Loredana Addari and Nicola Argamante

The Ruggeri Corsini estate was founded in 1995 by Loredana Addari and Nicola Argamante, both of whom have a degree in Agriculture and specialized in Viticulture and Oenology. The estate gets the name “Ruggeri” from Nicola’s mother’s surname who helped finance the founding of the winery and “Corsini” is from the small hamlet of Monforte d’Alba. In 1996 they produced 6,000 bottles and in the following year they began exporting to the USA and around the world. Their first wines were Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba and Barolo but now they also produce Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Albarossa (a cross between Chatus [Nebbiolo di Dronero] and Barbera), a Langhe rosé and a Langhe white wine (a blend of 50% Arneis, 20% Chardonnay and 30% and Sauvignon Blanc) and their production has increased to 65,000 to 75,000 bottles per year.[3]

2009 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Armujani Barbera d’Alba

This is an opaque dark purple at the core to pink at the rim with minor variation, medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of stewed and raisin-like dried plums, dried figs, soy sauce, damp soil, desiccated roses, hints of spice. On the palate it is dry with gritty medium+ tannins, medium+ alcohol, full bodied, with a moderate length finish. This wine is somewhat rustic with old-world charm and complexity.

2010 Vietti Barbera D’Alba

I provided background information for Vietti winery when I reviewed the 2012 Vietti Roero Arneis, so I won’t do so again here.

This is an opaque dark purple at the core to pink at the rim with minor variation, medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of stewed plums and black cherries, cooked strawberries, hint of smoke and meat, soy sauce, black pepper and spice, sage, a touch of anise and hints of vanilla. On the palate it is dry but fruity with acidic tomato-like flavors and vanilla, it has moderate tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ body and alcohol with a fruit driven a medium+ length finish. A very tasty wine that definitely has the delicious factor going on. Lovers of ripe new world wines, especially Zinfandel and Malbec will enjoy this wine.

[1] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford University Press; 3rd edition, 2006), 62.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

2012 Sottimano Bric Del Santo Dolcetto d’Alba

On April 27th after tasting two white wines, an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi, in the study group we then sampled our first red wine – a Dolcetto d’Alba. This is not a “grid wine” for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam but it is an important wine to know.

The Grape

Dolcetto is a dark-skinned grape from the Monferrato hills of northwestern Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one” and there are several prevailing theories as to the origin of the name – the wine may have at one time been produced as a sweet wine, it may be named after some local hills where the grapes were cultivated, it has softer tannins than its neighboring Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes so it may be perceived as sweeter or the adjective may be a reference to its lucrative properties as this wine required less ageing prior to release, hence it was a source for quicker cash flow. The grape is also known as Nera Dolce and Ormeasco.

Dolcetto d’ Alba DOC

Dolcetto d'Alba is one of seven Dolcetto-focused DOC wines produced in Italy's north-western Piedmont region. It was granted its DOC status in 1974, the production zone encompasses the Langhe hills east of Tarano around Alba, including 25 communes in the province of Cuneo, as well as the commune of Coazzolo in the province of Asti. Some of the vineyards also overlap those of Barolo and Barbaresco. The vines are planted on slopes with sandy, calcareous and tufa-rich soils where the Dolcetto grape thrives.

The Winery

The Sottimano winery was founded in 1974 by Maggiore Sottimano in the Cottá region in hilly land for winegrowing in the south-western Piedmont called Langhe, in the heart of Neive, which is well known for its Nebbiolo grapes. Rino Sottimano then expanded the estate by purchasing other prestigious vineyards: Currá, Fausoni, Pajoré and Basarin. The Sottimano family cultivates 18 hectares (44.5 acres) of vineyard which are divided into five “crus” of Barbaresco (Currá, Cotta, Fausoni, Basarin and Pajoré), one Dolcetto “Bric del Salto”, one Barbera “Pairolero” and one dry Brachetto called “Maté”. The average annual production is about 5,000 cases or 60,000 bottles of wine.[1]

The “Bric del Salto” Dolcetto is blend of grapes from three vineyards of Dolcetto in Neive: Cotta, Basarin and Curra. The average age of the vines in these three sites is 35 years old which is extremely old for Dolcetto. Winemaker Andrea Sottimano is an avid sustainable/organic grower and only uses indigenous yeasts. The malolactic fermentation is completed in stainless steel, where the wine remains for approximately 8 months. No filtering or fining is done prior to bottling.[2]

The Wine

The 2012 Sottimano Bric Del Santo Dolcetto d’ Alba is a clear, ruby red at the core to pink at the rim with moderate concentration, medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of very ripe pomegranates, red plums, cranberry, ripe cherries, a hint of black pepper and spice. It is dry with medium tannins, medium acidity with simple red fruit and spice driving a moderate length finish. The wine retails for about $15 to $17 per bottle.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2012 Broglia Gavi La Meirana

There is a great amount of studying you can do on your own to learn about wine – reading books, memorizing flash cards, studying maps etc. But if I taste wines on my own I need someone or something else to compare notes. Sometimes I will write my notes for a wine and then look on the Internet for reviews and other people’s perception of the wine. While this can be helpful to a certain degree, there is no give-and-take, no discussion, no exchange of perceptions in which you say to each other, “I am picking up some aromas of green melon...” to which the other person might reply, “Yes, I can get that but I think it is more like kiwi fruit…” This is where the advantage of learning within the context of a study group becomes a great advantage, even if it only consists of just two people.

In my previous review of our April 27th group meeting, in which we are currently studying northern Italy, I discussed our first white wine, a 2012 Vietti Roero Arneis. The second wine we tasted in our study group meeting was a Gavi di Gavi from the La Meirana vineyard owned by the Bruno Broglia Family winery. This is not a “grid wine” for the Certified or Advanced Sommelier exams but it is an important grape to know from this region.

Reading Italian Wine Labels

One of the major challenges to understanding Italian wine is reading the labels. In the USA red wines are generally labeled according to the grape variety (Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon…) or they are given a proprietary blend name or labeled simply “Red Table Wine.”

In France wines are labeled according to their region which requires the consumer to know what grapes are grown in their vineyards, except for Alsace which labels their wines according to the grape varietal.

In Italy a wine may be labeled according to a brand name (such as “Sassicaia”), a region (such as “Chianti”), its grape varietal or a combination of the two. So, when reading the label that says “2012 Broglia Gavi La Meirana” you would need to know that “Broglia” is the producer, “Gavi” is a town in Piedmont where they grow the Cortese grape and “La Meirana” is the vineyard. Since Cortese di Gavi (Cortese from Gavi) is not as internationally well-known Italian grape as Pinot Grigio, reading this label can be a bit challenging for the average consumer.

The Cortese di Gavi DOCG

Cortese di Gavi is located in north-western Italy in the southern part of Piedmont, it was awarded DOC status in 1974 and it became a DOCG in 1998. The DOCG regulations restrict the production of Cortese di Gavi to the area formed by the following towns: Bosio, Capriata d'Orba, Carrosio, Francavilla Bisio, Gavi, Novi Ligure, Parodi Ligure, Pasturana, San Cristoforo, Serravalle Scrivia, and Tassarolo. The wine is made exclusively from the Cortese grape, an indigenous white grape variety which has a heritage dating back to the 1600s.  

Cortese Grapes
The word “Cortese” is found for the first time in a letter by the manager of the Montaldeo castle to margrave Doria in 1659. For a long time the vineyards were primarily planted with red varieties such as Nibiö (local name for Dolcetto) or Barbera while white varieties were in the minority. The first large-scale vineyard blocks of Cortese went into production as of 1856, on the properties of the margrave Cambiaso, La Centuriona and La Toledana in Gavi.

In 1869 Demaria and Leardi, two scientists on the ampelographical commission, which was established by the province of Allessandria, defined Cortese as “an indigenous, robust and fertile grape variety, that has been known and cultivated in the region for a long time”.

A foaming spumante version is also made and some wines will undergo barrel maturation. Its vineyards are primarily found in the hills of 13 communes in the province of Alessandria, the most prominent are Gavi, Novi Ligure, Serravalle Scrivia and Arquata Scrivia. Wines that labeled “Gavi di Gavi” may do so only if their fruit comes from vineyards in the township of Gavi.

The Winery - Bruno Broglia

The Broglia winery was founded by Bruno Broglia with the first release in 1974 and today the winery is lead by Paolo and Gian Piero Broglia. Most wineries in Piedmont are focused on the production of red wines, especially Barolo and Barbaresco, but Broglia winery is almost completely dedicated to the production of white wine under the Gavi di Gavi DOCG classification.  The Broglia vineyards consists of 63 hectares (155 acres) from which they produce four styles of Gavi, 3 still styles and 1 Spumante sparkling style.

The Wine

This “Bruno Broglia” Gavi di Gavi is the winery’s “flagship” wine made from the best Cortese grapes harvested from some of the oldest vines located in the Broglia vineyards. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks, ahead of undergoing a six month period of maturation on the lees of that fermentation to add richness and complexity to the finished wine.

The 2012 Broglia Gavi La Meirana is a clear white wine, lemon in color with a tint of green and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of lemon floral soap, green vegetal notes, herbs, hints of wet river rocks. On the palate it has more tropical notes with additional flavors of dried guava, banana peel, but it finishes with lemon. It is dry but potentially it has a little residual sugar to counter-balance the medium+ acidity. It has a medium body, moderate alcohol (12.9 abv.) and a moderate+ length finish. This is an excellent wine and is an excellent alternative to the ocean of Chardonnay in the world. But if tasted blind I find it difficult to find anything in it that makes it radically distinct from other white wines that lets you know, “I am a Cortese from northern Italy.” But, perhaps I need more experience with this grape. This wine retails for about $20 to $25 per bottle.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

2012 Vietti Roero Arneis

Of all the countries we studied in the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center, I found Italy to be the most perplexing and I felt like we didn’t spend enough time on it, especially since it is the second largest wine producer following France. So, as soon as we graduated and passed the Certified Sommelier exams my first thought was, “I need to revisit Italy.” Then when it was decided by my fellow sommeliers that we would begin with Italy in our study group I was more than willing to go along.

Our chosen text books for this current course of study are Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy and The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy: A Regional and Village Guide to the Best Wines and Their Producers (The World’s Finest Wines)  

In our first meeting in which we tasted wines from Piedmont, most of us had not received our texts books yet or had just received them in the mail so we didn’t have time to read them. So, our first gathering was fairly informal and we just brought wines from the region to share and taste. Some of them were “grid wines” and others were not.

Our first wine was an Arneis which is not on the grid for the Advanced Sommelier tasting exam. The only Italian white wines on the grid are Pinot Grigio from Friuli and Trentino- Alto Adige.

The Grape

Arneis, which means “little rascal” in Piemontese, is commonly found in the hills of the northwest of Alba, where it is part of the Roero DOCG white wines and Langhe DOC wines. It is produced just across the Tanaro River from Barolo, and is sometimes referred to as Bianchetto or Barolo Bianco (white Barolo). I have also come across this grape on a few occasions in my wine travels in California.

It was once on the verge of extinction just prior to the 1960’s until a few producers decided to save this difficult grape; it is low-yielding and susceptible to powdery mildew, and in warm seasons struggles to retain sufficient levels of acidity.[1]

The Winery

The Vietti winery began as a family farm in the 1800’s which was then converted to a winery by Mario Vietti in 1919. In 1952 Alfredo Currado (Luciana Vietti’s husband) continued the family business produce high quality wines from their estate vineyards as well as purchased grapes. The Vietti winery grew to one of the top-level producers in Piemonte and was one of the first wineries to export its products to the USA market. Alfredo was one of the first to select and vinify grapes from single vineyards (such as Brunate, Rocche and Villero). In 1967 Alfredo invested a lot of time to better understand, revive and preserve this nearly exinct variety, earning him the reputation as the “father of Arneis.” Today they own 35 hectares (86 acres) of vineyards from which they produce all the major Italian varietals.

The Wine

The 2012 Vietti Roero Arneis is a clear white wine, lemon in color with a tint of green and medium- viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate- intense aromas of lemon pith, lemon grass, green melon, green apple, canned pineapple juice, fresh kiwi, subtle notes of passion fruit, hints of almonds and salty sea breeze minerality. It is dry with very high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol (13.5), it is well-balanced and had a moderate length finish. I have experienced about a half dozen Arneis or so and this one is better than any other I have tasted.