A couple of years ago when I was visiting the winery of Matteo Correggia, one of the most prominent producers of the Roero region, and Sara Palma, who oversees the winery’s marketing and external relations, was explaining to me the terrain of the Roero, I asked if there was a map of the cru vineyards of Roero like there is in the Langhe. Sara told me that no, one hadn’t been made yet. And I thought, “well I hope someone makes one soon because I’m curious where all the vineyards are exactly.” So this year, during my visit to Giovanni Almondo, I asked Stefano Almondo where I might find a map of the Roero cru and he said, “There isn’t one. We prefer to keep things a little wild around here — to maintain the mystery!”
“Hmmm,” I thought, “good point!” Not everything has to be explained and mapped out, nor should it be — although I really like it when it is! In the Langhe, especially Barolo, the vineyards have been charted and measured — as perfectly as any Italian might be capable of between coffee breaks and long lunches — and then reevaluated and measured and drawn again. But Roero? No. It prefers to remain a bit of an enigma. And in my opinion, “Good for Roero!”
The myths say that in one night it was the devil who created the dramatic cliffs and valleys of this zone. He was provoked out of the Tanaro River by angry and screaming feudal lords who wanted to protect themselves from dominating tyrants. They had decided that the only solution to freedom was the construction of giant fortresses with towering walls to go around their entire land. But when faced with such a task, feeling overwhelmed, they proceeded to swear and curse. Such horrible words brought Satan right out of the Tanaro River. He made a deal with farmers to complete the task in exchange for their souls. After taking his payment, he dug and gouged through the earth, creating the steep mountains and cliffs found today throughout the Roero region. Even to this day, the stories live on about witches and other demons lurking behind the dramatic contours and in obscure woods of the Roero.
While the myths are fun and certainly add to Roero’s elusive but charming personality, geologists have shown us a more likely explanation. But to me, even the realistic explanation is mysterious. The Tanaro River, which flows from the southwest to the northeast, presently serves to separate the Langhe from the Roero. Originally it flowed straight north to meet the River Po in Carmagnola, a town close to Torino. The soil throughout the area from Torino to Alba is also (geologically) young soil composed largely of sand and sea fossil material.
After an earthquake the land shifted in such a way to make the Tanaro flow in between the towns of Cherasco and Bra, and eventually, because of how fast everything happened, the river cut away the cliffs that we see now, which extend from Pocapaglia northeast to Cisterna d’Asti. I personally don’t understand how the river did this exactly, and how the soil of the Roero was so obviously once under the ocean, when just a few kilometers south, in the Langhe, the land so obviously was not. So, for me, the mystery lives on in the reality.
In the present day the elaborate terrain of the Roero is a mix of forests, farmlands, cliffs, and vineyards. The soils are predominantly sandy but change from vineyard to vineyard with varying levels of clay, limestone, and oceanic fossil material. Farmlands are full of hazelnuts, peaches, pears, strawberries, and cherries. It is a zone more wild and enigmatic — naturally untouched — than the polished and sprawling fantasy land of castle-topped hills of the Langhe.
Some people describe Roero as a late bloomer, compared to Barolo and Barbaresco. After all it was finally granted DOCG status† in 2004. Barolo and Barbaresco have enjoyed DOCG status since the very early eighties. Others claim that Roero Nebbiolo doesn’t have the aging potential that Barolo and Barbaresco do, or just tout Roero Nebbioli as “good values,” costing sometimes half as much as Barolo and Barbaresco. Well I’m not here to argue price nor am I going to assert what the aging potential is exactly. (That is highly subjective!) But I ask, “Why do we have to rank one area as better or worse than the other? The wine world is large and diverse. Roero has its own personality. Can’t we just appreciate it for what it is?
A classic Roero Nebbiolo has a telltale floral bouquet. I almost always find some degree of sweet strawberry and aromatic vanilla qualities. The fruit in Roero Nebbioli tends to be lighter and brighter compared to that in Nebbioli from across the river. Otherwise the structure really varies depending on soil composition, which is typically heavy in sand, but does vary. Roero tannins come in many forms from delicate to rugged, but they always act as support in a well-made Roero Nebbiolo. And there is something rustic but ethereal — often a touch of wilderness — to balance out the mid-palate. These qualities set Roero apart from its neighbors and make it uniquely wonderful for what it is.
The proverb found on the label of every bottle of Monchiero Carbone wine sums up my point.
Ogni uss a l’ha so tanbuss
In Piemontese dialetto this literally means, “Every door has its own knocker.” But the implied meaning is that on the other side of every family’s cellar door you will find a unique story with interesting personalities and surprising secrets. The same could be said of a region and its wines. And indeed, the saying encompasses my feelings about Roero wines. If you take the chance to knock on its door and it lets you in, you might be exposed to all of its intricacies and idiosyncracies. Only then will you understand it and have the ability to appreciate it for what it is.
The producers I visited this year are listed in chronological order below. They all impressed me and remain at the top of my list of favorite producers. But I’m sure there are other excellent ones upon whose doors I have not yet knocked!
notes from my visit, 2 ottobre, 2012
Nebbiolo d’Alba 2010. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. (Bastia, Tanone, Camestrì vineyards) Aged in botti grande (25 HL Slavonian oak barrels) for 12 months. Delicate and perfumed on the nose — redolent of classic Roero. On the palate, the rugged tannin structure suggests that this wine needs some time to soften.
Torretta 2010. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. (Torretta vineyard) Aged 15 months in French oak barrels (in Piemonte these are referred to as barrique and typically have a volume of about 225L) and 500L barrels. Evocative and fragrant bouquet of sweet roses. Impressively ripe red raspberries in the middle with full chalky tannins to finish. ★
notes from my visit, 8 ottobre, 2012
Roero 2010. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo (Lampia clone) 100%. These 30 year old vines sit at about 310m in elevation and grow in mostly sandy soil (mixed with silt, clay, and limestone). Skin contact lasts about 8-10 days and after malolactic fermentation in stainless steel, the wine ages for 15 months in large oak barrels. Verdant and fruity with scents of plum and cherry candy. Youthful and pleasant flavors are framed by delicate and silty tannins. ★★
Bric Valdiana 2009. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo (Lampia) 100%. This 20 year old vineyard sits at 280m and is composed of equal parts sand and silt, with a remaining one quarter clay and limestone. Maceration is about 2 weeks and aging occurs for 12 months in barrique plus 8 additional months in large barrels. Tender aromas of almonds, cherry, and moss make way for big austere tannins. This is a thinking wine, an exemplary Roero that needs time, especially this vintage, which is recognized for its strong tannins. Aging potential is well over 10 years. ★★
Roera Riserva 2008. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo (Lampia) 100%. The Riserva is almost exactly the same as Bric Valdiana but with one major difference. It is aged one year longer in barrique. After a 2 week maceration, the Riserva therefore spends 24 months in barrique. It is only made in years with the greatest potential. The Riserva shows a more masculine array of scents compared to the other two: black plums, cocoa powder, and forest floor with spices, cedar, and dried cherry flavors. It can be enjoyed perhaps a bit before the Bric Valdiana because of its extra aging time in the winery. But even upon release, while its youth is evident, the wine is classy and refined, and easier to drink than the 2009. But also could be due to the vintage. 2008s tend to be more classically balanced whereas 2009s are just strong all the way around. ★★★
notes from my visit, 10 ottobre, 2012
Monchiero Carbone makes three Nebbioli but all of them were sold out when I visited. However, I was able to try the 2009 Printi, which hasn’t yet been released to the market.
Printi Roera Riserva 2009. The vines for the Printi grow on the east-facing slopes of Frailin hill in the commune of Canale. The fermentation process is long and slow and then the wine is transferred to barrique for malolactic fermentation and 24 months of further aging. It rests in the winery for at least another year before release. Here the nose says Roero with enticing scents of wild strawberries, vanilla bean, and sweet fruitcake. But again, like any serious Roero DOCG Nebbiolo, the structure tells a story of potential. The Printi‘s dark, rooted, and earthy tannins intrigue me and I look forward to trying this one again in the future. ★★
notes from my visit, 10 ottobre, 2012
Correggia certainly remains in my mind a benchmark for Roero Nebbiolo. Balancing expression with refinement, their wines always hold a certain bit of that magical “Je ne sais quoi” that keeps me coming back for more. Also this year on two separate occasions I was able to enjoy the 2009 Val dei Preti, which could certainly age even longer but is gorgeous now. It is perfectly balanced with dark fruits, chalky tannins, sultry earth, and exotic spices. The 2010 is more feminine but also a year younger. I know it will too be great but the 2009 is a most recent standout for me.
Roero 2010. Roero DOCG . Nebbiolo 100%. Red roses and freshly picked cherries balanced by vivid scents of cinnamon spice and smoke. A spry little wine: full of red fruit on the midpalate and finishing with silky but active tannins. ★★
La Val dei Preti 2010. Roero DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. Stronger and smokier bouquet compared to the Roero Nebbiolo along with the perfume of dried cherries instead of fresh ones. On the palate, however, supple, ripe, red cherries dominate, closing with essence of rose and cocoa-powdery tannins. ★★☆
Ròche d’Ampsèj 2007. Roero DOCG. A super well-integrated wine showing a special harmony and balance of aromas and flavors. Ripe black fruits and smoke with hints of tar on the nose. Earthy yet clean, showing both elegance and strength. An impressive execution of Roero Nebbiolo from a particularly expressive vintage. ★★★
Az. Agr. Angelo Negro‡
notes from my visit, 15 ottobre, 2012
The documented history of the Negro family as landowners and wine makers in Roero dates back to 1670 when Giovanni Dominico Negro, son of Audino Negro, was the owner of the Perdaudin estate. (Perdaudin is currently the name of one of their best Arneis.) Today the current owner, Giovanni Negro, manages nearly 60 hectares of vines in Roero. The estate is also very much in the hands of his children, Angelo, Gabriele, Emanuela, and Giuseppe — all four of whom play important and individual roles in the success of the winery. We had an outstanding visit, complete with the grand tour of Roero and a fantastic lunch. I plan to cover some of their other wines in a future article.
After going through some fine sparkling wines, Arneis, and Barbera, our exploration of Nebbiolo started with a blind tasting of three wines (below). All we knew was that there were three wines of the same variety from the same year. My tasting notes here are the ones I wrote without knowing what the wines were. (The technical notes, of course, came after.)
Prachiosso 2009. Roero DOCG. Ruby red color. The scent of wild strawberries (fragoline) fills the glass. A pleasing minerality holds up the lush red fruit in the mid palate and delicate tannins pull through to the end. The fragrance of vanilla bean enhances the wine throughout. ★★
The 32 year old Prachiosso vineyard is located in Fraz. Sant’Anna, near the Negro winery and faces southwest. The soil is mainly sandy with some limestone and fossil material. Maceration is traditional and lasts about 18 days. The wine is aged 22 months: half in large barrels and half in used barrique.
San Bernardo 2009. Roero DOCG. Ruby red color; darkest of the three. Fragrances of violets, strawberries, and mossy damp forest with an interesting spiced rum characteristic. Great structure, chalky tannins, but balanced by unctuous, ripe red fruit. ★★☆
The San Bernardo vineyard, located the farthest away from the winery near a village called Magliano Alfieri, faces completely south. The composition of the soil of San Bernardo, largely of clay (80%) and limestone (20%), is an uncommon mix for Roero vineyards. Usually there is some portion of sand. The result is a Nebbiolo with substantial tannins and structure. The family planted San Bernardo with Nebbiolo vines in 1996. Traditional maceration takes place over 18 days before the wine rests for 17 months in 50% new and 50% used barrique.
Sudisfà 2009. Roero DOCG. Ruby red in color. A complex bouquet in the glass: tar, violets, cherry candy, and mossy woods. A great balance of strength and elegance occurs in this wine with soft sweet red fruits but strong and chalky tannins. A great expression of the 2009 vintage! ★★★
Sudisfà, the winery’s most important Nebbiolo, comes from the best and oldest vines in three of the family’s cru vineyards: Prachiosso, San Bernardo, and Braida. The dramatically steep Braida cru, visible from the winery’s front terrace, is the foundation of Sudisfà. Overall the vines for Sudisfà are about 35 years old and the soils upon which they grow are mainly clay and limestone. Traditional maceration takes place for 18 days with a submerged cap and the wine ages for 24 months in one third new barrique. The wine is named Sudisfà (meaning “satisfaction” in Piemontese dialetto) for Giovanni’s feeling of satisfaction the first time he tried this wine and knew his desire to make a fine and distinctive Roero Nebbiolo had been realized.
After Angelo revealed the three wines, we were fortunate to continue tasting older vintages of Sudisfà. This wine is a representative example of the potential of Roero Nebbiolo and the family takes care to make it well in every vintage. We all know each person has her or his own flavor profile preferences and therefore my stars are only indicative of my vintage preferences, not a judgement of quality.
Sudisfà 2008. Roero DOCG. Tons of fragoline framed by a remarkable minerality and a scent I usually describe as green banana peel. (It’s something I smell in young wines that is by no means bad, just indicative of youth and potential for evolution.) Sweet berries in the mouth with considerable tannins and structure. ★★★
Sudisfà 2007. Roero DOCG. A little more rustic than the 2008 with notes of forest and leather on top of red berries. A well-structured wine with chalky tannins in the finish. ★
Sudisfà 2006. Roero DOCG. Quite earthy and lengthy on the palate. Leather and black pepper frame a palate rich in dark red fruits. The finish is spicy. ★
Sudisfà 2004. Roero DOCG. Floral and bright with ethereal scents of smoke, forest, and wild berries. Velvety and sweet tannins elevate the dense cherry fruit in the center. ★★★
Sudisfà 2003. Roero DOCG. Cellar floor, sweet tobacco, and sun-dried tomatoes but on the palate the 2003 is impressively lively, fruity, and full of minerals. ★☆
I also want to mention two other outstanding Roero Nebbioli that I came across in October: Cascina Ca’ Rossa Mompissano Riserva Roero Riserva DOCG ★★ and Cascina Chicco Valmaggiore Riserva Roero Riserva DOC ★☆. Next time I’ll make a visit to the wineries!
For more of what I’ve written on Roero, check out Stars of Roero.
I would like to acknowledge everyone who contributed to my understanding of Roero. I had a great time exploring. Thank you to Marco Porello for your friendly hospitalty, to Stefano at Giovanni Almondo for making me realize that Roero is better off staying a little wild. Many thanks to Lucrezia Scarsi at Monchiero Carbone for all of your explanations, and to Giuseppe Negro for showing me the “Grand Canyon” of Roero and the largest chestnut tree there ever was. Also I very much enjoyed my visit to the winery and vineyards, and am grateful to the entire Negro family for their rich hospitality. Thanks so much to Ornella Correggia for taking the time to meet with me on the last (and possibly the busiest) day of harvest at Matteo Corregia. And of course, many thanks go to my friend, Giuliano, for being my “Roero travel agent,” and for explaining to me to the difference between rocche (Italian for “cliffs” or “fortresses”) and ròche (dialetto for the same thing). Now I know!
† The definitions and requirements for the different label classifications of Nebbiolo wines made in the Roero region:
Roero DOCG: Grape requirements: at least 95% Nebbiolo; up to 5% of any other non-aromatic red grape grown in Piemonte allowed. Aging requirements: must age for a minimum of 20 months (6 months must be in wood of some sort) and can be released from the winery no sooner than July 1, two years after the harvest. Minimum alcohol: 12.5%.
Roero Riserva DOCG: Grape requirements: at least 95% Nebbiolo; up to 5% of any other non-aromatic red grape grown in Piemonte allowed. Aging requirements: must age for a minimum of 32 months (6 months must be in wood of some sort) and can be released from the winery no sooner than July 1, three years after the harvest. Minimum alcohol: 12.5%.
Roero DOC: Grape requirements: at least 95-98% Nebbiolo with the remainder composed of Arneis. No specific aging requirements. Minimum alcohol: 11.5%.
Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC: Grape requirements: most likely needs to be 100% Nebbiolo but I couldn’t find that specifically. Aging requirements: at least one year for the dry versions. Can be grown in the hills of the Langhe and Roero in a wide area surrounding the town of Alba, but not fully extending everywhere where Roero DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, and Barolo DOCG extend. Minimum alcohol: 12%.
Langhe Nebbiolo: Grape requirements: 100% Nebbiolo. No specific aging requirements. Can be grown in the hills of the Langhe and Roero in an expansive area surrounding the town of Alba, throughout Roero, Barbaresco, and Barolo. Minimum alcohol: 11.5%.
‡ Here is a list of these wineries’ California importers:
Marco Porello — Oliver McCrum
Giovanni Almondo — Wine Warehouse
Monchiero Carbone — Winebow
Matteo Correggia — Gondes Wines
Az. Agr. Negro — No California importer at this time.
I don’t have the information for importers in other states (or countries) but if you’re on the east coast, you’re probably in the easiest location for finding them. If you’re in the central US, well good luck!