(yes, yes, this is a couple of days late, mea culpa… more like a “Venerdì del Vino” as I write this, or a “Sauce-Blogging Saturday” as I finally post it…)
The idea of a Wine Blogging Wednesday on Piemontese wines (see original theme posting) was at once compelling and daunting: compelling, because I dearly love Piemonte; daunting, because there are so many wonderful Piemontese producers, varieties, and regions, choosing just one, or even a handful of wines to even vaguely represent the region’s diversity is a great challenge. In the end, I settled on three off-the-beaten-path wines from small producers in three different areas.
I suppose it’s a bit predictable to include Nebbiolo in a post about Piemonte. Nebbiolo, like Pinot Noir from Burgundy, is famously finicky to grow and vinify, but at its best makes stunning, ageworthy wine that expresses its terroir, and the people who make it, like few other grapes. May I atone a bit for my predictability by choosing a lesser-known producer whose wines I very much enjoy. Giovanna Rizzolio and her family have a small agriturismo with three hectares of vineyard in the excellent cru of Rio Sordo, and in the several years I have been visiting their cantina, I’ve always found their highly traditional Nebbiolo to be an elegant, authentic expression of the grape, their vineyard, the character of each vintage, and the character of Giovanna’s family itself. The 2001 was a particularly good example. Medium ruby in color, with just a hint of orange at the rim, it gave off a developing aroma of sour cherry, redcurrants, and violet candy, with hints of dried leaves, truffle, and orange peel. What I particularly like about the wine is its beautiful focus in the mouth: though it’s powerful, it’s only a little more than medium-bodied, with a healthy dose of slightly hard tannins on entry, medium-high acidity, and a long, beautifully complex finish. It’s got a core of ripe fruit, but I’m struck more by the floral and tarry notes, and by a certain austerity — and that is the point of Nebbiolo, expressed nicely in this classic vintage. It’s just starting to come around, and with this concentration and structure it will be better in 3-5 years, and last 5-10 more past that.
This Barbaresco reminded me that every wine has a context: where it came from, by whom it was made, and where, how and with whom we enjoy it. Giovanna and her husband Italo are friends and are wonderful people, and every bottle of theirs I enjoy reminds me of them. Moreover, I enjoyed this wine with Rachel, my girlfriend, another ardent lover of Nebbiolo, over a homemade risotto ai funghi, with which it paired beautifully. I can (and did!) talk about how much I loved the wine, but really, it’s the context that makes a good wine truly special. Let’s not forget that as we drool all over our point scores, shall we?
On Able Grape:
Wine #2: 2005 Freisa “Monfiorenza”, La Casaccia
Having already tasted a Nebbiolo, the predictable next varieties would be Barbera and Dolcetto, both worthy grapes native to, and widely planted in, Piemonte. I thought it would be fun, however, to go further afield. Much of the vinous attention in Piemonte is focused on the Langhe, but nearby, in the lower, broader hills of the Monferrato, there are good things happening with the native Monferrino grapes Barbera, Grignolino, Ruché, and Freisa. I’ve already done a recent post on Grignolino, so I thought I might dive in with a nice Freisa I found in the cellar. The gracious Giovanni and Elena Rava have a beautiful underground cantina in the tiny hilltop town of Cella Monte (see photo; my friend Maurizio Gily is at left, with Giovanni Rava), where they are making very good (and, I might add, reasonably-priced) wines. Much of the Freisa made is in a dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) style, which I’ve often enjoyed as an accompaniment to rich food, but this particular example is still (fermo). Medium-deep ruby with a hint of purple, the Monfiorenza gave off aromas of cherry pie and black pepper, with an almost clay-like earthy note. On the palate, the wine was juicy, medium-bodied, and moderately complex, with medium, slightly hard tannins, and a medium-length, bitter almond finish. What I liked was the balance: though there’s a nice dollop of juicy fruit, it wasn’t overripe, and was offset by fairly high acid and the fruit’s own spicy character. This is drinking perfectly now, and is a great food wine; I can imagine it pairing perfectly with a good pizza. In fact, it’s making me hungry just writing about it.
On Able Grape:
Region: Colli Tortonesi
I’ll say it, and I won’t mince words. Timorasso is my favorite white grape from Piemonte. Arneis and Cortese (or see Gavi) are worthy white grapes, and can make very enjoyable wines, but historically the quality of Piemontese reds has been so much higher than whites that there is a local saying: “il vino è rosso” (“wine is red”). Arguably, Timorasso challenges that. It had nearly disappeared from the vineyards of Piemonte, when a handful of growers in the Colli Tortonesi, notably Walter Massa, began experimenting with it, with some fascinating results. It often doesn’t taste like much when young, but after several years of bottle age can develop a stunning minerality (I remember running around like an idiot at Vinitaly a few years ago to share a taste of an older Timorasso from Claudio Mariotto, because I found it so intriguing). So when I saw a bottle of Walter Massa’s 2006 Derthona at Biondivino this morning, I couldn’t help myself, and bought it. And I’m glad I did; the wine was just what I expected: on the nose, I got medium, developing aromas of petrol, lemon peel, and hints of red apple and white flowers. Nor did the wine disappoint on the palate. It’s got nice, mouth-coating extract, yet it isn’t at all heavy; it’s medium-bodied, with fairly high acidity to more than balance the wine’s weight. And finally, it has a long, minerally, satisfying finish. It’s not a blockbuster wine, and it isn’t ridiculously complex, but it’s delicious, and has character and interest. I often prefer it to Massa’s higher-end Timorasso, Costa del Vento, but that may simply be because the latter wine takes longer to bring out the yummy dieselly minerality that I so dig.
On Able Grape:
Finally, many thanks to David McDuff for hosting this month’s WBW on his excellent blog.