Every year I make my pilgrimage to Berkeley, California in June and cruise around my favorite neighborhoods, exploring. My parents lived in this town in the east bay before I was born and they always referred to it as their old “stomping grounds.” Having spent my first two years of college at UC Berkeley, I guess that makes it mine too.
My favorite spots to hit are many. They include the 4th Street design shops and the corner of San Pablo Avenue where Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants and Acme Bread Company sit. A couple blocks away is The Spanish Table with tons of food, books, wine, and cookware, imported directly from Spain and Portugal. There’s of course Telegraph Avenue where the smell of curry, pizza, patchouli incense, and dirty hippies comingle. Piedmont Avenue is full of trendy restaurants and shops and College Avenue on the Oakland side, i.e. Rockridge is one discovery after another. (If you go to this neighborhood, do not miss A Cote wine bar!) I never forget about Berkeley Bowl (the original one on Oregon Street), and of course, the Gourmet Ghetto, home of Chez Panisse, at the top of Shattuck Ave.
Last weekend I started my day in the Gourmet Ghetto and stopped in the Cheese Board and Vintage Berkeley, among other places. I left with my heart content, having scored a bottle of Marco Porello Nebbiolo d’Alba and a hunk of Petit Billy goat cheese. I went in to the Cheese Board hoping to find some fresh Tomma, the kind I live off of in Piemonte. But the two they had were too farmy, no longer fresh, and not worth the price. Since samples are encouraged, the lady helping me did her duty to lead me beyond the Tomme, and even a mediocre-tasting Robiola, to a mild French goat cheese called Petit Billy, which despite being French, reminded me most of the Piemontese Tomma I’m used to. So I went for it.
As far as the wine, the Marco Porello Nebbiolo d’Alba 2009 was surprisingly a bit too amicable to my palate. Porello is in Roero, across the Tanaro River from Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo usually has monstrous tannins but the ones from Roero tend to be prettier, sweeter, more feminine, and fragile (usually) than those from their close-by neighbors in the Langhe. Mainly this is because the soil in Roero is younger and also has a great deal of sand and fossil material, contributing to Nebbiolo’s overall floral and feminine expression. In addition, the Rosé Nebbiolo clone is more widely planted in Roero, whereas in Barolo and Barbaresco, mainly the Lampia clone is used. (Maurizio Ponchione, another quality Roero producer, told me this about the clones.)
The Porello Nebbiolo d’Alba 2009, as I said, is quite friendly. It expresses rose, balsamic, and fragolini (wild Piemontese strawberries) essences. It provides virtually no resistance, no tannins, and goes down smoothly. The fruit is pretty and the texture, like a rose petal. So in a way, I’m disappointed in it as a Nebbiolo but I can’t not like this wine. There is nothing not to like. And honestly it was a perfect pairing with my Petit Billy and big dollop of Strawberry Balsamic Preserves Jam from my friend’s jam company, Serendipity Saucy Spreads. You can find out more about her latest and greatest inventions at the Serendipity Diary.
A Porello Nebbiolo is truly the tip of the iceberg of the subject of Roero wines. This is a fabulous region and while historically it has played second fiddle to Barolo and Barbaresco, it is now creating its own identity. It is a region to explore now. My three favorite producers are Marco Porello, Malvirà, and Matteo Correggia. You can’t go wrong with these and they’re certainly making a lot more than a boring pesky ol’Arneis. See below for notes on most of their current wines (based on my visits in the fall of 2010).
di martedì, 5 ottobre
His Favorita 2009 (Langhe Favorita DOC) and Arneis 2009 (Roero Arneis DOCG) are both made only in stainless steel. The Favorita is not particularly aromatic but is markedly lemony. It is quite full and rich in the mouth. The Arneis is also lemony but has a nutty character and strikes me as more balanced.
Porello makes two Barberas. The Mommiano 2009 (Barbera d’Alba DOC) is incredibly purple in the glass. The vineyard is 20 years old and the wine ages 8 months in Slavonian oak and rests in the bottle for 3-4 months before release. The Mommiano delivers tons of figs and cedar; it’s rich in fruit but is balanced by spice and acidity. Porello said ’09 was a great Barbera vintage in Roero, although ’07 was better. His Filatura 2008 (Barbera d’Alba DOC) is more fragrant with black figs as well but also blackberries. The vineyard is older: 35 years, which gives this Barbera more complexity. It’s richer and will command more time to reach its peak.
The two Nebbiolo offered by Marco Porello include the Nebbiolo d’Alba (Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC) and his Vigna Torretta (Roero DOCG). On this visit I tried the Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008, which is made from 3 vineyards: 2 in Vezza d’Alba and 1 in Canale and ages 1 year in Slavonian oak. It smells of sweet strawberries and green figs. The ’08 has pronounced dry tannins and would benefit from a little more time. ★
The Vigna Torretta 2008 is aged 14 months in tonneaux (Slavonian oak barrels, but not the biggest size). The vineyard site is the same as the Filatura. This wine is the best one with a harmonious integration of tannins and sweet, dark fruit. It is dry and spicy and needs a little time in the bottle. ★☆
di venerdì, 22 ottobre.
This is my favorite Roero producer. The wines are extremely high quality and quite impressive.
Anthos 2009. Vino Rosso. Brachetto 100%. Quite rosy and sweet like strawberry candy – like Ruchè. A very light wine full of aroma. Roses, lime zest, cranberries. ★★
Barbera d’Alba 2008. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Barbera 100%. Clear ruby red in the glass. Cherries, cranberries, lime, a touch of metal, herbs, and milk chocolate. A full Barbera with tons of juicy cherries and a nice, dry, lifted finish. ★★
Roero Nebbiolo 2008. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. Clear brick red. Candied strawberries and smoke essences mingle together and in the mid-palate solid fruit and a structure of tannins – perfectly balanced. ★★
Marun 2007. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Barbera 100%. I have to say I pretty much hated this wine when I had it at the restaurant Il Centro a few weeks prior. I don’t know which vintage I had but it was sweet, syrupy, and tasted over extracted. It tasted like a Lodi Barbera made by a winemaker who only has experience making central valley Syrah and Zinfandel. But! I liked this one (maybe because I was a captive audience; I don’t know). Very dark purple. Plums, blackberries, prunes, hazelnuts. Flavors of juniper, blackberry pie, and toasted pecans. The finish is spicy and has enough acid to lift it all up at the end. The name Marun is a shortened version of Le Marne Grigie, see below. ★
La Val dei Preti 2007. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. Nebbiolo 100%. Ripe strawberries and flowers with hints of oregano and vanilla. Full fruit in the middle and all spice in the finish. La Val dei Preti means “valley of the priests.” ★★☆
Roche d’Ampsej 2006. Roero DOCG Riserva. Nebbiolo 100%. A bouquet of pine forest and cedar smoke with a drizzle of opulent blackberry syrup. Lots of dried black plums, Mission figs, and dark chocolate. This wine has an immense structure like a Barolo. The name Roche d’Ampsej comes from an evolution of Piemontese dialect terms. Rocche are steep cliffs and the Roche of Roero refers to the “national park” area of Roero where you can see sandy cliffs formed eons ago from when the river cut through the landscape (hence the Roero soil). Pecetto is a place in Roero. So le rocche di in Pecetto became le rocche d’an Psei, which became le roche d’Ampsej and therefore the name of their most prized and delicious Nebbiolo. ★★★
Le Marne Grigie 2006. Langhe Rosso. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and maybe Mourvedre. While this is not a favorite style of mine, this particular interpretation is great! A rich but incredibly balanced wine, reminiscent of a New World blend. I like it. Le marne grigie is “grey marl,” the unique soil found in this vineyard. ★★
Anthos passito. Vino Passito Rosé. Brachetto 100%. I’d only ever had Brachetto d’Aqui before, as far as sweet Brachetto but I will tell you that Roero has something great going on with their dessert Brachetto. (See below for Malvirà’s.) The intense aromatic and floral character of Brachetto and a pronounced acidity help to create lift and balance in an otherwise syrupy style of wine. This lively one is full of bright strawberry fruit. ★★★
If you want to know more about Matteo Correggia, there is a ton of info on their website. www.matteocorreggia.com
di martedì, 9 novembre.
Malvirà means “badly turned” in Piemontese dialect because the original winery was positioned north facing, instead of south, the typical positioning. They own 42 hectares distributed among the following Roero villages: Canale, Monteu Roero, Castellinaldo, and Montà. Malvirà produces almost 30,000 cases per year and they focus equally on red and white wines.
In general my impression of Malvirà wines are that they are well-made, usually fairly intense and often express interesting earthy qualities – a lot of herbs, smoke, minerality, or just a raw intensity. The aged Nebbiolos are impressive and the dessert wines are good. My favorite white was the blend, although it’s nothing less than enjoyable and educational to taste their range of Arneis styles.
Favorita 2009. Langhe Favorita DOC. A smooth white with pronounced tropical fruit characteristics but also fresh and full of minerality.
Trinità Arneis 2009. Roero Arneis DOCG. Estate vineyard. Lime and mineral in the nose with a full texture. Pineapple, nuts, and a hint of licorice.
Saglietto 2008. Roero Arneis DOCG. This vineyard is east of Trinità. Lots of apple, it’s peppery with honey and a good acidity.
Treuve 2005. Langhe Bianco DOC. Sweet apple with a good perfume and while full-bodied and smooth, has a great acidity in the end. Impressively fresh given it’s 5 years old. ★★
San Michele 2006. Barbera d’Alba DOC. A lot of perfume and cassis with a touch of astringent fruit. Great aging potential. ★★
San Guglielmo 2003. Langhe Rosso DOC. 70% Barbera, 25% Nebbiolo, 5% Bonarda Piemontese. A lot of mineral and cassis, fully integrated with herbs and cedar. Full, chalky tannins. ★★
Trinità Roero Riserva 2000. Roero DOCG. Estate vineyard. Nebbiolo 100%. Even though there is a touch of wet cellar floor, showing some age characteristics, everything (dark black fruit, herbs, and flowers) is well-integrated in this one. Elegant. ★★
Mombeltrano Roero Riserva 2003. Roero Riserva DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. A little wet saddle with sweet berries, earth, and raw pumpkin flesh. Good structure and tannins but mellows out while in the glass. ★★
Mombeltrano Roero Riserva 2005. Roero Riserva DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. Smokey and sweet with a mix of candied and salty flavors. Strong fruit and intense tannins. ★☆
Birbet. Brachetto 100%. Not a late harvest, but just not fermented to dryness. Sweet flowers, strawberries, watermelon, citrus, and honey. Very nice!
Renesium. Arneis 90%, other aromatic grapes 10%. Stone fruits and honey with a good amount of lift and freshness.
Malvira’ also has an informative website. www.malvira.com