Germano Ettore

From: lunedì, 20 settembre.

“BUONGIORNO! MI CHIAMO MARCELLA.  IO HO UN APPUNTAMENTO ALLE DUE!”  I yelled over the small gang of dogs in the driveway who were barking their heads off like I was some sort of mafia person with a machine gun.  The first person I had found at this small azienda, a man just inside the winery entrance, looked at me for a couple of seconds.  While I don’t think he had even heard what I said, and I wasn’t sure he would have even understood my thick American accent, he seemed familiar with this situation and assuredly walked out of the winery into the drive.  He yelled (something in Italian) to a second story window.  The window opened and a man looked out, looked at him, looked at me, and the winery man walked away.  Again, louder this time I yelled, “BUONGIORNO! MI CHIAMO MARCELLA. IO HO UN APPUNTAMENTO ALLE DUE!  …er… I CALLED SATURDAY!?!?”

He studied me for a moment, probably thinking, “Oh darn, I didn’t think that American girl would actually show up!”

And he said, “Oh, right.  Wait there.”

So I did; me and the dogs, in the driveway.  I waited for what seemed like 30 minutes with those dogs going the entire time – was probably ten but felt like forever.

Now in California this is not the way a winery goes about attracting business.  But I’ve been to enough wineries in Piemonte to know that appointments that start out like this often end up turning out the best in the end.  The most difficult and uninviting places usually have the most genuine people and the best wine.  You just have to prove your tenacity, interest, and respect to get in the door.  They’re not looking to attract business.  They’re only open to people who are interested in who they are and what they stand for.  Once you prove you are one of those people, you’re in.

I knew of Germano Ettore wines from somewhere – most likely when I worked as a wine buyer for a restaurant, but I don’t honestly remember.  Nevertheless, I had it in my mind that Germano Ettore was a producer of remarkable Piemontese whites, something that’s not very common.  So I was curious.

The current wine maker, Sergio Germano, took over production from his father, Ettore Germano, in the 1990’s.  He was the one to give me the tour and lead me through the tasting of his wines, which is always an honor as I know the wine maker could be doing a million other things in his day.

Alta Langa Brut Metodo Classico.  Pinot noir 80%, Chardonnay 20%.  Unlike most oenophiles, I just don’t enjoy Champagne so I never expect much from myself in the sparkling wine category.  But I was pleasantly surprised here because I detected more Riesling characters than any Chard/Pinot characters.  In other words, it was quite fresh and citrusy, not toasty or yeasty or nutty or slightly tannic, or whatever it is that Champagne people seem to be searching for.  So I liked it.  The Pinot noir is fermented in 700L tonneau (up-right barrels) and the Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel.  During my winery tour I got to see their fermentations in action for the 2010 harvest.  Very bubbly tanks!  The separate cuvees are blended in the May following the harvest and are left for 30 months of ageing on the lees.

Sergio’s white grapes are not grown near his estate in Serralunga, and are not even from the Barolo region.  (This is good.)  They are from an area called Ciglie which is about 30-45 minutes south of Serralunga by car.  The vineyards there are on extremely steep slopes bordering the Tanaro River.  Sergio told me it is an area which resembles the Mosel, and so therefore is a great place for Riesling.

Chardonnay 2009. Langhe Bianco DOC.  Chardonnay 100%.  Light pineapple aromas; tart and refreshing.  Fermented in stainless steel, racked many times, and bottled in the summer following harvest.  ★

Binel 2008. Langhe Bianco DOC.  Chardonnay 50%, Riesling 50%.  You definitely smell canonical Riesling here with lots of lemon-lime but no petrol, which was great to me because I don’t like the petrol thing. Very smooth and balanced.  Fermentation of the Chardonnay occurs in barrique, while for the Riesling, it is in stainless steel.  ★

Hérzu 2009. Langhe Bianco DOC.  Riesling Renano 100%.  A very pleasant wine!  A Riesling with lots of minerality making me think of smooth river stones with cold water flowing over them.  He uses 100% stainless steel for the production of Hérzu.  ★

Pradone 2009.  Dolcetto d’Alba DOC.  Dolcetto 100%.  (The former vintages of this are called Pra di Pò but the new Pradone vineyard is an older vineyard from which he sources Dolcetto starting with the 2009.)  Marked aromas of rich fruitcake. Very dry and nutty with lots of fresh raspberry.  ★

Vigna della Madre 2007.  Barbera d’Alba DOC.  Very sweet smelling – very modern style in the nose.  The mid-palate has an appropriate amount of acidity, making this one a complex Barbera, given the juxtaposition of rich aroma and fresh flavors.  My ultimate word was “approachable.”  Very impressive.  ★

Langhe Nebbiolo 2008.  Langhe Nebbiolo DOC.  Fresh raspberries and spice cake bouquet, floral and light mouth feel with a delicate fruity finish.  This Nebbi is made each year from vines that are ten years old or younger.  It is produced in stainless steel starting with fermentation to a short stint of ageing.  After several rackings, it is bottled in the summer of the year following harvest.  ★

Serralunga Barolo 2005.  Barolo DOCG.  Mint, raspberry, and fruitcake – a delicate bouquet which evolves in the palate to a full wine with a harmony of fruit and acidity.  Musty (in a good way), nutty, and lots of acidity.  The grapes used to make this wine are selected from young vines of Prapò and Cerretta (planted between 1995 and 1999).  It is aged in used barrels, a mix of barrique, 500L, and 700L for 24 months.

Prapò Barolo 2005.  Barolo DOCG.  – Heaven –  It’s my favorite kind of Barolo – “old” style with lots of feminine characteristics.  Lots of berries in the nose and extremely elegant.  The flavors elegantly float around – flowers, nuts, red fruit.  A dry, yet refreshing finish is what I recall of this one.  Refreshing is not always easy to achieve for a Barolo.  I appreciate it when I find it!  Prapò was planted to Nebbiolo in 1967.  This wine is aged in 2,000L (20 HL) barrels for 24 months.  ★★★

Cerretta Barolo 2005.  Barolo DOCG.  Where Prapò was ultimately feminine, Cerretta is more masculine.  And I certainly have time for this style as well.  On the nose I got a lot of herbs and pine oil, still, however retaining pronounced red berries.  A full and round Barolo with herbs, more pine, and licorice, finishing dark with a lot of strength.  I’m very impressed that Sergio pulls off both styles so superbly.  This vineyard was planted in 1978 and this wine is aged in new and used barrique (225L) and 500L barrels for 24 months.  ★★★

The Prapò and Cerretta vineyards are next to each other in Serralunga surrounding the Germano Ettore winery.  Prapò is a smaller part of the same hill upon which you find CerrettaPra di Pò is in the same vicinity.  Lazzarito is up the hill, closer to the village of Serralunga, at a higher elevation, and while close to Prapò, does not share its border.

Lazzarito Riserva Barolo 2004.  Barolo DOCG.  Lots of earth and fresh leather; an elegant Barolo.  (Not my favorite style – probably because of the amount of oak.)  This vineyard was planted in 1931.  The Lazzarito Riserva is aged in 20 HL barrels for 30 months.

All in all: fabulous!  I am looking forward to seeing Sergio at the Gambero Rosso tasting coming up this February in San Francisco, and of course cracking open one of the two bottles of 2005 Prapò I recently purchased locally.  (I’ll save the other.)

Now if I could just get my hands on some of that Hérzu, dang it!

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