Catch Up Wine Reviews: Monforte d’Alba

Since returning from my trip to Piemonte in the fall of 2010 my goal has been to review all of my winery visits – before I return this coming fall. It’s a big task, and looking back, I realize I should have done more writing while I was actually there. But at the time I figured since I was actually there I need not waste any time in front of my computer doing what I could do just as easily at home. I don’t regret concentrating all of my efforts on living la dolce vita but I think that this coming fall, I’m going to have to work on giving you all more real-time updates.

But that’s for later. Before I get there, I’m going to have to do some catch up. If for not much else, it will serve as a great baseline reference for both you and me in the future.

All of the wineries reviewed below, except Seghesio, have a good web presence so if you need to, you can find more information via their websites. All technical notes I write are from information I was given while visiting the winery. In some cases it may differ from what you’ll find online.

di lunedì, 27 settembre, 2010.


Really Pecchenino is in Dogliani (I truly realize this) but the winery and estate is on the border, very close to Monforte and Orlando’s two Barolos come from Monforte d’Alba so I am putting him in my Monforte section. Plus I had no idea before my visit he made any Barolo (a newer project in the history of the winery) but once I tried them, I was blown away. If not for the Dolcetto, you should go and visit for his Barolo (although you’d be silly to pass up some of the best Dolcetto in the world).

Vigna Maestro 2008. Langhe Bianco DOC. Chardonnay 60%, Sauvignon (blanc) 40%. Estate grown fruit. Aged 9 months in third passage neutral oak barrels. Someone really needs to give me a blind tasting of both Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc from California, France, and Italy. I always like them from Italy, and this one is no exception. But maybe I’m just plain biased? I don’t know. The Vigna Maestro is loaded with lots of lovely apricot (albicocca in Italiano). ★

San Luigi 2009. Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC. San Luigi is the borgata between Monforte d’Alba and Dogliani, where the Pecchenino winery and estate are located. It sits at 390-430 meters a.s.l. Maceration is 10 days and aging occurs in stainless steel. This Dolcetto is the most traditional of Orlando’s Dolcetto and representative of this small area. True Dolcetto essesences of fruitcake, spice, and cherries – a fresh one with a dark finish: black licorice, chalky tannins, and a cinammon/nutmeg/clove character. ★

Siri d’Jermu 2007. (Dolcetto di) Dogliani DOCG. This one gets a relatively long maceration on the skins (15 days) and ages 12 months in botti di rovere (25hl) and at least 7 months in the bottle before release. The five acres of 25 year old vines of the Siri d’Jermu vineyard sit at 420 meters a.s.l. Pecchenino’s first vintage of Siri d’Jermu was in 1989. A truly fine Dolcetto – inky purple with smoke, plums, and ripe tomato on the nose. In the mid-palate, concentrated with black plum and a dark finish of well-integrated chalky tannins and black fruit. ★★☆

Bricco Botti 2006. (Dolcetto di) Dogliani DOCG. In a truly magnificent spot for Dolcetto, Orlando has the opportunity to make a handful of different styles. This Dolcetto gets an even longer maceration on the skins (25 days) and ages 24 months in botti. A very dark (scuro in Italiano) wine – like a Petite Sirah. But in the nose and mouth, reminds me a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. Peppery oak essence, loaded with black berries and plums, rounded out with velvety tannins. ★★☆

Quass 2007. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Aged in both botti and barrique for 12 months. The altitude of the vineyard is also about 420 meters. Totally opaque, almost black in color. The Barbera, while concentrated with dark fruit and minerals and retaining its acidity, shows off the characteristics of the 2007 vintage: sweet and elegant floral essences. ★★

Vigna Botti 2007. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. Estate Nebbiolo. Aged in both botti and barrique for 12 months. 400 meters elevation; maceration on the skins for 3 weeks. One of the most concentrated Nebbiolo d’Alba I’ve ever had. I expect it would be, situated solidly between Dogliani and Monforte – two areas known for producing strong and robust wines. ★

San Giuseppe 2006. Barolo DOCG. Monforte d’Alba. San Giuseppe is a neighboring borgata to the Le Coste vineyard. The vines are in Le Coste (I believe) at 390 meters elevation. Maceration lasts nearly 3 weeks and then the wine spends 24 months in botti di rovere. Fresh fruit with lots of dark chocolate and smoke. Rich, velvety chocolate replaces the more common tar and pine Nebbiolo character. ★★★

Le Coste 2006. Barolo DOCG. Monforte d’Alba. Pecchenino’s section of Le Coste used for this Barolo sits at about 320 meters a.s.l. Maceration on the skins for this fine Barolo lasts 30 days. Aging is also 24 months in botti di rovere. Again a rich chocolate character with chalky tannins. Extremely dark and dense. Full of unexpected and pleasant nuances of depth and flavor. ★★★

di martedì, 5 ottobre, 2010.

Gianfranco Alessandria

I visited this modern style winery on a Wednesday evening with my German Barolo Boys, along with Sarah and another friend of Marco’s. I wouldn’t have ever thought to go otherwise but after the visit I am certainly glad I had tagged along. The very friendly and energetic Bruna, Gianfranco’s wife, hosted our visit. I also got to meet Gianfranco and their oldest daughter Vittoria. This night was also one in which we had to pause the tasting to catch a glorious sunset over the Alps in the distance. (The wines below were presented in sets of two.)

Langhe Nebbiolo 2008. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. The Nebbiolo for the Langhe Nebbiolo was planted new in 2000 on their estate. The wine ages 18 months in 20% new French oak barrique. Magenta in color; semi-transparent. Dusty raspberry and roses. Spicy, lots of tannin, and some bitterness.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2007. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. The production notes are the same as above for this vintage. Sweeter than ’08, with kirsch, cocoa, and rose aromas. Rich and equilibrated with the spice. ★★★

Vittoria 2007. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Named after his mother and oldest daughter, Gianfranco ages the Barbera for 18 months in 45% new French oak barrique. The vineyard, with a southeast exposure, is a 75 year old vineyard in Monforte. Dark purple color. Bouquet of blackberries, cologne, and a touch of cinnamon. Rich but doesn’t taste “hot” as some modern Barberas do. Sweet flavors of chocolate and coffee. ★☆

Vittoria 2006. Barbera d’Alba DOC. The production notes are the same as above for this vintage. In the nose more earthy and cinnamon spicy. A little more acidity, less rich, and more hormonious. ★★

Barolo 2006. Barolo DOCG. The Nebbiolo vines range from 10-35 years old for the classic Barolo. Aging is for 24 months in 30% new French oak barrique. All the vines are in Monforte with a southeast exposure. Magenta-brick in color. On the nose graphite, concrete, roses, raspberry, and rosemary. Rich fruit, ending spicy. ★☆

Barolo 2005. Barolo DOCG. The production notes are the same as above for this vintage. Magenta-brick in color, but more clear than the ’06. On the nose: oak, coffee, and raspberry syrup. Flavors of light roast coffee (red fruit, earth, lots of acid). ★

San Giovanni 2005. Barolo DOCG. The vineyard, planted in 1969, has also a southeast exposure and is in Monforte. The wine ages 24 months in 45% new French oak barrique. Brick in color. This one I found to be closed still with some sweet oak and raspberry fruit, and extremely high tannins.

L’Insieme 2007. Langhe Rosso DOC. ~Nebbiolo 40%, ~Barbera 30%, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot noir in deifferent percentages depending on the vintage. I am a traditionalist when it comes to grapes produced in given regions and food pairings. I believe in preserving culture and diversity in the wine growing regions of the world so I’m not usually so excited about having Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot from Piemonte. Nevertheless I appreciate the ingenuity and creativity of the producers who make this wine and so I am always up for a try. I admit my favorite so far is the Mauro Veglio 2007 L’Insieme. But I can say that here because actually Mauro and Giovanni are cousins and he buys his Cabernet grapes from Mauro. Giovanni Alessandria is the only Monforte d’Alba producer of L’Insieme so that makes his unique. I didn’t write any tasting notes but I do remember liking his version of L’Insieme.

di giovedì, 7 ottobre, 2010

Seghesio (Aldo & Riccardo)

I joined up with my Barolo Boys in the afternoon for a visit to Seghesio and Elio Grasso. I’ll say more about Elio Grasso below but as far as Seghesio, the guys had introduced me to the lovely
La Villa the preceeding Sunday night  and I was downright curious about this producer. Also, given the popularity of the Seghesio winery in Healdsburg, California (Sonoma County), I, because I like to go against the grain, had never been so interested in the Italian Seghesio. On the way there, I even discovered there are two Seghesios in Monforte: Renzo Seghesio and i fratelli, Aldo & Riccardo Seghesio. In any case, we set out for Aldo & Riccardo Seghesio.

All wine fermentation takes place in temperature controlled (25-30˚C) horizontal fermentors (this a more modern style practice) with relatively short macerations (7 days +/-). As far as I could understand all vineyards are owned and on the estate (maybe not the Cabernet and Merlot (?)) and have medium-textured calcareous and clay soil. However the La Villa cru vineyard is reported to have medium textured calcareous soil only. Harvest is done by hand throughout September and October.

Vigneta della Chiesa 2007. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. The vineyard has a northwest exposure. This Dolcetto never sees wood; it’s made only in stainless steel. Jammy and fruity on the nose with lots of spice, tannin, and acidity. (I also wrote in my notes velluto, which means velvet in Italian.)

Vigneta della Chiesa 2007. Barbera d’Alba DOC. From a northwest exposed vineyard, it is aged 18 months in French oak barrels. Not my favorite – earthy and acidic.

Bouquet 2005. Langhe Rosso DOC. From northeast exposed vineyards, this wine spends 12 months in French oak barrels. Merlot 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Nebbiolo 25%. We all know what I’m going to say here. Smokey, dusty, peppery, red berries. Basta.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2008. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. Another solo in acciaio Nebbi (it rests in stainless steel for 9 months before bottling). Northeast exposed vineyard, on the other side of the hill of La Villa cru. Sweet strawberry, vanilla, candy, perfume. Lots of texture and velvety tannins. ★★

La Villa 2006. Barolo DOCG. (This bottle had just been opened for us.) The aging of the La Villa takes place in both French oak barrels and 50HL botti di rovere (large oak casks). Graphite and minerals, cherries, and white smoke aromas dance out of the glass. Full in the mid-palate with no lack of ripe fruit – perhaps cherry jam. The finish: licorice and spices harmoniously integrate with strong tannins and a bright acidity. Great structure is present for a further evolution (although drinking now is nothing less that enjoyable.) ★★ ☆

di giovedì, 7 ottobre, 2010

Elio Grasso

Elio Grasso is now on my list of favorite Barolo producers. I am so stoked to have met this family and thank my German Barolo Boys for taking me here. We arrived at the beautiful estate and Marina Grasso, Elio’s wife, greeted us for our visit. Based on her reception of us, I sensed the guys had visited many times before. She offered to tour us through the winery and we were able to see their beautifully renoved caves. It is very “Napa-esque” in grandeur and size but still simple and natural, the way the best Italian design is. It is not glitzy and showy like it would be if it were in California –but I don’t need glitz to be impressed.

Marina began our tasting in their bright and comfortable tasting room with their Chardonnay, which we all loved initially – but realized quickly how opulent and perhaps overly rich it was, at least for our tastes. While it was a nice change of pace for the day, we quickly changed our minds about it. The heavy, oaky, buttery Chardonnay is a big trend in northern Italy right now. There certainly are the lighter, more acid and mineral-driven ones (as I mention in this entry with the blends from Pecchenino above and Ruggeri Corsini below) but producers are really experimenting with aging their Chardonnays in new French oak these days (while California producers are trending away from it now). I like the style sometimes, and I’d usually chose an Italian one over a Californian one, (I presume it’s my bias) but it’s still not my favorite style.

Educato 2009. Langhe Chardonnay DOC. Chardonnay 100%. Primary and malolactic fermentation completed in French oak barrels (barrique) and further aged 7-8 months in new French oak. Marina said it is partly aged in stainless but their website says it’s aged all in new French oak. While a very rich Chardonnay, this one is balanced for the style and could be really nice with the right food pairing. I’d definitely revisit it next time.

Dei Grassi 2009. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Elio Grasso produced this wine for the first time in 1980; this wine is aged 100% in stainless steel (a process to which I really wish California Dolcetto producers would pay attention). On the nose: spicy fruitcake and toasted nociole (hazelnuts). More grippy and fresh than the Gavarini. ★

Gavarini 2009. Langhe Nebbiolo. Actually I realized I already loved Elio Grasso when I made the Gavarini connection. I discovered the 2007 Gavarini last spring and was quickly dazzled. I also recently uncorked the 2008 for some friends who were over for dinner and it opened up wonderfully over a couple hours and even into the next day. As for the 2009, I found it fresh in the nose but with some touch of meaty earth. Very spicy, high in acid, but full of potential to evolve gorgeously. I suspect it will be more ready in a year, even two. I don’t know if this will be my favorite vintage but regardless of that, I will say Gavarini is a remarkable Nebbiolo d’Alba and should never be passed up. ★★

Vigna Martina 2008. Barbera d’Alba DOC. A youthful and bright Barbera with concentrated cherry fruit, reminding me of a Sierra Foothills Barbera. Extremely fresh with lots of allspice, cinnamon, and ripe raspberry. ★★★

Gavarini Chiniera 2006. Barolo DOCG. Dark ruby red in color. Feminine, sweet red berries, and roses. Roasted characters with rum-soaked raisins. Plush and elegant on the finish. ★★

Ginestra ‘Vigna Casa Maté’ 2006. Barolo DOCG. Dark ruby-magenta red in color. Rich, darker fruit than the above with maple aromas. Blackberry, smoke, and herbs. Very masculine Barolo with lots of structure. ★★★

When I inquired about the differences between the 2006 and 2005 vintages, Marina graciously offered to open one of each of the 2005 vintages of the above Barolo – a truly welcomed treat. Grazie mille a Marina!

Gavarini Chiniera 2005. Barolo DOCG. Dark ruby red in color. A complex bouquet of coffee, pomegranate, cranberry, a mix of autumnal spices and wet herbs (the ’06 is sweeter in regards to fruit). Lots of grippy tannins. ★★☆

Ginestra ‘Vigna Casa Maté’ 2005. Barolo DOCG. Dark ruby-magenta red in color. More white flowers and lemon meringue and a magical dusting of cocoa powder. High acidity and tons of structure. I’d feel totally secure putting this away for another 10 years. ★★

The guys and I unanimously agreed that we preferred the ‘06 Ginestra ‘Vigna Casa Maté’ and the ’05 Gavarini Chiniera, not that we had any complaints about the others.

Runcot Riserva 2004. Barolo DOCG. While the other two Barolo are aged for about 24 months in large Slavonian oak barrels, this one sees about 30+ months in new French oak barrique and a further two years in bottle in the cellar before release. Again, as with the Chardonnay, I’m not the biggest fan of wines aged in new French oak, especially Nebbiolo. But I don’t have to love everything! All their other wines rank high enough in my opinion to secure them at the top of my “Favorite Barolo Producers” list.

di sabato, 23 ottobre, 2010.

Poderi Ruggeri Corsini

Nicola Argamante and Loredona Addari, husband and wife team, own Poderi Ruggeri Corsini. They started the estate in 1995 when they both, having already been formally trained in enology, left their city jobs for a life in Monforte d’Alba. I just met Nicola last year via Renato Vacca at Vinitaly 2010 because he and Renato (along with Domenico Capello of La Montagnetta) were sharing a booth there. But I didn’t really get to know him until he came to California for the Golden Glass San Francisco event in June 2010 where we worked together pouring wine. He poured his and I poured Domenico’s.

As of the fall 2010, I had only tried Nicola’s Barberas and Barolos, and since Renato always speaked so highly of him, I decided I had to pay him a visit and see what else he had going on. During my visit there I also met his wife, Loredona, who is an active and spirited woman. I was impressed to learn that Loredona does virtually all the work in the vineyard – not a real common thing for women in Piemonte. Another unique quality about Poderi Ruggeri Corsini is that they gladly welcome visitors and actually encourage it. They were just putting the finishing renovations on their new tasting room the weekend I arrived. I highly recommend paying them a visit.

All fruit is estate grown and hand harvested. The simpler wines take a shorter maceration (less than a week), while the two Barolo and Barbera Superiore require longer.

Langhe Bianco 2009. Langhe Bianco DOC. Arneis 50%, Chardonnay & Sauvignon blanc 45%, Nascetta 5%. Aged in stainless only for 8 months. This Piemontese white is very clear in color and extremely crisp and refreshing. Grapefruit, vanilla, and a touch of a nutty character come out. The finish is dry.

Dolcetto d’Alba 2009. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Aged in stainless steel for 12 months. Aromas of dark roast coffee, rum, cranberry, cinnamon, and a waft of roasted nuts. Tons of bright and tart berries, a touch of citrus, and well-balanced tannins. One of my favorite styles of Dolcetto. ★★★

Barbera d’Alba 2009. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Aged in stainless for 12 months. Very purple in color. I actually get to enjoy this one often at home because it’s easy for me to get at K&L Wines. I love it. Dark fruit – fresh and dried plums and black cherries. Smoke essences. A really dark and concentrated Barbera full of ripe fruit but fresh at the same time and not cloying at all. ★★★

Armujan 2007. Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC. Maceration occurs over 1-2 weeks. Aged in barrique (10% new) and large barrel in equal amounts for 18 months. ‘Armujan’ is dialect for albicocca, which means apricot. Smokey, peppery, and still giving tons of dark fruit like the other. While this one retains a fresh acidity, it does have a gamey character. I prefer the unoaked one personally.

Langhe Rosso 2006. Langhe Rosso DOC. Pinot nero 100%. I usually am a fan of Italian Pinot nero (more reliably than French and Californian) – but usually only from the northeast (Alto Adige) or northwest (Valle d’Aosta) vicinities. From these mountainous areas, I find Pinot noir/nero retains some tannins while taking on an herby, piney character. This one does a little of that but doesn’t hold back its Monforte structure. Ruby red and quite clear. A bouquet of pine, raspberry, crandberry, cocoa, and smoke evolve thoughout. Maintains a great structure and expressiveness. I look forward to further renditions. A standout Piemontese Pinot nero for me. ★

Albarossa 2007. I’m pretty sure Nicola told me Albarossa is a genetic cross of Barbera and Nebbiolo. Others say it’s a graft of one on the other. I’m going to get the straight story from Nicola this year; he’s an enologist and grows his own so I’ll believe him. A bouquet of pine and cocoa, roasted spices, strawberry, and a touch of vanilla bringing up the end. A full and spicy wine packed with fresh berries and a bright finish. More Barbera-like than Nebbiolo-like. (I’m undecided about how I feel about this grape but this wine is actually pretty good.) ★

Langhe Nebbiolo 2008. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. Clear ruby red in color. Herbs and cinnamon with a rose essence, lots of depth, and smoke aromas evolving. Pleasant bright pomegranate fruit in the middle leading to a pretty and feminine finish. ★★☆

San Pietro 2006. Barolo DOCG. San Pietro sits pretty high at about 420-450 meters. It is southeast exposed and the soil is a mix of clay, sand, and loam. The vineyard is fairly young. Maceration and fermentation continues for almost 3 weeks and the San Pietro is aged for 26 months in large Slavonian oak barrels and another year in bottle before release. Dried dark fruits and spices, good aroma and lift equally align with darker characteristics of toasted walnuts and black tea. Perfectly balanced and pleasant. ★★★

Corsini 2006. Barolo DOCG. Corsini is also at about 420-450 meters but has a southwest exposure and the soil is a mix of clay and loam. This vineyard retains more heat than San Pietro because if its exposure and clay content. The vineyard is about 30-50 years old. Fermentation lasts about 2 weeks and Corsini is aged in a combination of 1 and 2 year old French barrels, and large Slavonian oak barrels. Sweet red cherries and a mineral overtone – both of which are driven by lots of tannins. Less floral and aromatic than San Pietro. ★

… pretty soon I’ll cover the international Nebbiolo tasting I did in Barbaresco and I’ll tell you how Nicola’s Corsini 2006 Barolo stacked up against 13 other Nebbiolos from various places …

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