Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Faces of Piemonte

For me, many of the best wines are intertwined with the people that make them. Perhaps that’s my primary reason why I love the wines of Piemonte so much (there are many reasons, of course). This is a land where third, fourth and fifth generation farmers and vintners are growing grapes and making wines that reflect their viticultural area as well as themselves. These aren’t wines made by committee that are market-driven; rather these are individual offerings that speak to producing what the land offers.

There are numerous personalities in Piemonte who have impressed me with the straightforward approach they lend to their work. Take a look at the photo above of Sergio Barale – here’s someone you can trust to deliver honest wines. His Barolos (Barale Fratelli) from the Castellero vineyard – and now from the famous Cannubi vineyard - are steeped in tradition. Aged in large wood, the wines have excellent varietal purity, refined tannins and healthy acidity; they will age gracefully. Barale puts just as much effort into his Barbera and Dolcetto as well; elegant and tasty, these are ideal wines to accompany local cusisine. Even his Chardonnay, a grape not widely planted in Piemonte is refreshing and attractive, as he avoids wood aging, preferring to let the fresh fruit shine through. Sergio is also quite humble; if he gets a good score in a magazine, well that’s fine, I guess, but I’ve never heard him talk about that subject. For Sergio, it’s all about making authentic, subdued wines.

How about Matteo Ascheri – is this the face of someone who enjoys what he’s doing? Matteo is the proprietor of Cantine Giovanni Ascheri in Bra, located just outside the Barolo zone. He produces a wide range of wines, from a complex Arneis to intensely fruity and wonderful bottlings of Dolcetto to two gorgeous Barolos from his Sorano vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba. While these Barolos do share many traits of a typical Barolo from this commune – beautiful structure for long-term aging - these are a bit more perfumed than the typical Serralunga Barolos. Keep an eye out for these wines; his bottlings from the 2004 vintage were remarkably elegant with lovely red cherry and cedar aromas backed by silky tannins. If you’re ever in Bra, make sure you visit the cellars and plan on enjoying lunch at the osteria Matteo owns (Osteria Murivecchi, right next to the winery), which offers extremely well prepared pastas and meats. Keep room for the outstanding selection of cheeses, especially the local toma.

Many vintners have graciously spent plenty of time with me during my visits, answering my seemingly endless questions over a glass of wine in their cellar or at a local trattoria. Alessandro Locatelli of Rocche Costamagna has been one of the kindest, showing me around not only his vineyards, but those of his neighbors in La Morra as well. Along with detailed cellar tours and tastings at his winery, Alessandro has been instrumental in helping me understand the local terroir, so I can see why his Barolo tastes quite different from one produced in a different commune. He was awarded the prestigious Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso for his 2004 Rocche dell’Annunziata Barolo. Certainly in my eyes, this award was both for the wine and for the vision he has had for many years now of crafting the most elegant, authentic Barolos (as well as some tantalizingly delicious Dolcettos) he possibly can.

Finally, Pietro Ratti has been invaluable to me regarding the history of Barolo. His father Renato was one of the most respected vintners of this area, especially for his work in mapping out the indivdual crus and sub-zones of Barolo back in the late 1970s. Pietro today carries on the message of the importance of these sites, telling me the work in Barolo today, “has moved from the cellar into the vineyards.” Energetic, positive and graceful, Pietro always seems to have a smile on his face. Perhaps that’s because he recognizes how fortunate he is to carry on the tradition of his father.

There are so many more people in Piemonte I am indebted to – and I didn’t even mention the vintners in Barbaresco or Asti! I guess I’ll have to write about them in a future post.

One final note- I am off to Puglia for several days, so no new posts for the next week or so, but I’ll report on these wines next time.

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