As I was pondering how to cover the 2009 Barolo wines of La Morra that I tasted during my last trip to Piemonte, I got a little stressed. I’ve experienced and written about so much of this village that I suddenly felt like I didn’t have any more wild adventures to share. It’s become a second home to me and there just isn’t much adventure at home because, well, … it is home.
But then I remembered back to when I first fell in love with La Morra, how I had decided that I wanted to know every little nook and cranny of it. I did not want to feel like a tourist, like an acquaintance. I wanted to know it. I wanted to understand everything about it—at least as much as I could!
So over the years, not only have I visited the wineries and tasted the wines—people used to always ask me, “What do you do when you’re there? Just drink wine all day?” Ha ha! No.
I have gotten myself out in the dirt. Rain or shine, spring, fall, or winter,† I have been out in the vineyards. I’ve worked harvest in different vineyards from Barbaresco to Monforte d’Alba. But where I’ve really learned the land has been from the hikes I’ve done.
In 2010, when my Asti harvest internship didn’t work out, I instead committed myself to hiking, and thus learning, as many cru vineyards in the Langhe as I could. My favorite hike is the 12 km loop through i frazioni of La Morra. (In Italian, i frazioni, or “fractions” are like our boroughs or neighborhoods in English.)
So in this article I will take you through the loop with a little detour from La Morra to Vergne, which would add another 6 km or so to the trek. Along the way I will cover the 2009 Baroli (“Baroli” is the plural of “Barolo”) and other current releases from four producers, who are all among some of my favorites: Ciabot Berton, Giuliano Corino, Mauro Veglio, and Marco Marengo.‡
So let’s go! Andiamo!
If you start in the village of La Morra and head north, walking above the Capalot cru towards the Roncaglie cru, following the signs, you make a loop and come back towards Santa Maria, one of the frazioni of La Morra.
Out this way there are a lot of fantastic producers, one of my favorites being Oddero, but of course I am biased since I worked harvest there. As you pass through the village of Santa Maria, you will actually be passing through Bricco Chiesa, majorly owned by Oddero.
Two other major cru, Roggeri and Rocchettevino, both partially owned by Ciabot Berton, are above you to the east. I discovered Ciabot Berton in 2012 and had the occasion to visit this past fall.
Notes from my visit on 10 ottobre, 2013
One of the greatest things about Ciabot Berton (ciabot means “little house” in Piemontese dialect) is that it is run by a brother-sister team. How cool is that?
Marco and Paola Oberto make a large selection of wines, from the white Favorita and even a Nebbiolo rosato, to a Dolcetto, two Barberas and a Langhe Nebbiolo. But the standouts to me, however, are really the Baroli. Fermentation and maceration in cement tanks really lends a freshness and purity to their Barolo wines. This traditional method isn’t practiced so much anymore but I am glad that Marco has preserved it from his father because it makes their wines unique.
Ciabot Berton Barolo 2009. Nebbiolo grapes from Roggeri, Bricco San Biagio, and Rive cru. Clay-calcareous soils. Maceration for 16-20 days in fiberglass-lined cement tanks, followed by 24-30 months of aging in 25 HL Slavonian oak casks. With lots of ripe plums, and floral elements, which I often find in cement-aged (or -macerated) wines, this wine is balanced in comparison to some of the other rugged 2009’s. The fruit is ripe but the wine still needs a bit of time to soften. ★
Rocchettevino 2009. Barolo DOCG. This cru vineyard has a mixture of white clay and calcareous soils. It sits at a southeast exposure above the winery. Maceration goes for 18-20 days in fiberglass-lined cement tanks, followed by 24 months of aging in 50 HL Slavonian oak casks. Very perfumed and smokey with plum jam, cherry jam, and cherry pie fruit. Strong tannins. ★★
Roggeri 2009. Barolo DOCG. This cru vineyard has soils of a clay and calcareous mixture with a southeast exposure, but is situated below the winery. Maceration is for 18-20 days in fiberglass-lined cement tanks, followed by about one year in French oak barrels and about 18 months in Slavonian oak casks. Scents of chocolate and flavors of dried plums dominate this one. In comparison to the previous large-oak-aged wines, this one is richer in the mouth with lush tannins, while the others were more floral in the nose and coarse in the finish. ★★☆
As you pass out of Santa Maria, you may end up with an unexpected tour guide such as this little guy here. The dogs you’ll pass on any trek in Piemonte are not shy about barking and hollering but most of them mean no harm … (They’re just Italian!)
He decided he needed to accompany me for the next few kilometers. We passed around Bricco San Biago and ascended into Annunziata, the other frazione of La Morra.
As you do this, you end up on a road going through the Annunziata cru. I learned later that as you walk up in this direction, you pass the vineyard that Giuliano Corino uses for his very special Barbera called Ciabot dù Re (“little house of the king”). The first time I had this wine (it was selected by my German Barolo Boys), we were at Osteria del Vignaiolo, a wonderful restaurant you’ll have already passed along the way, in the village of Santa Maria. Do not miss the chance to go there!
Anyway, when you get to the top of the road, you’ll be headed straight for the Gattera cru before the signs tell you to make a U-turn and go into the Annunziata village towards Corino. (PS – Another outstanding restaurant is called Osteria Veglio and it is right in the village of Annunziata.)
Notes from my visit 4 novembre, 2013
Giuliano is the current winemaker. His and Renato Corino‘s father, Giovanni, originally started the winery. Renato and Giuliano made wine together under the Corino label until 2005 when Renato decided to go in his own direction and Giuliano and Renato divided the Corino estate. Giuliano kept the original winery. Renato moved about 1 km up the road and started his new winery, Azienda Agricola Renato Corino, which he runs with the help of his son, Stefano and partner, Lilliana. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I have a strong connection to the Renato Corino winery. But I’ll cover his 2009’s (and 2010’s … and 2003’s) in my next article.
This year was the first time I was able to visit his brother! As is the case with siblings, Renato and Giuliano are quite different. I guess you could say Giuliano is the quiet one, but that is easy to be compared to Renato, who is so extroverted and unreserved. Giuliano is just as friendly and genuine as Renato, but in his own way. I guess it is those traits that make me really like everyone in the Corino family.
Dolcetto d’Alba 2012. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. I really enjoyed the Corino Dolcetto and Barbera. They can be done a little too simply sometimes, as these wine makers need to focus on their Nebbiolo. But every so often they turn out great. And these certainly did. Very sweet cherries on the nose. Fresh and ripe, red fruit but not heavy or bitter. ★☆
Barbera d’Alba 2012. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Very spicy and crisp with lots of bright red and black fruit. ★☆
Ciabot dù Re 2011. Barbera d’Alba DOC. When I think of this wine, I think of two Italian words, bosco and sottobosco. In Italian, bosco means “wood” or “woods” (the plural is actually boschi but most people just say bosco). Sottobosco, literally means “under the woods” but it refers to the wild berries that grow there. This wine always has a particular forest bouquet to it with lots of spices and wild berries—mostly black berries and pine. It’s a unique wine, one that I feel expresses the land it comes from. I was happy to learn where the vineyard is. ★★☆
Nebbiolo 2011. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. Giuliano’s Nebbiolo always comes from young vines in La Morra. (Renato’s comes from Roero.) It is made in stainless steel and sees no oak. On the nose, figs, strawberries, and smoke lead to a mouth full of chalky tannins and sweet maraschino cherries. ★★
Barolo 2009. Barolo DOCG. If I had to characterize the 2009 vintage with two words, I would say plums and tannins. The 2009 Baroli so far, for the most part, are a bit disjointed with a strong dark fruit element and strong tannins. Rarely did I find them to be harmonious. I more often found balance in the basic or classic Baroli, Barolo wines made from a few different vineyards, rather than just one. This wine, while still strong in the plums and tannins, is more balanced, probably because of Giuliano’s style. His wines tend to have a lot of concentrated fruit without being cloying or overoaked. So in this one, red cherries accent the dark plum aspect and lots of smoke and spice offset the tannins. ★★
Vigna Giachini 2009. & Vigna Arborina 2009. Barolo DOCG. One of my challenges with bold years, like 2009, is that the wines from the vineyards that everyone thinks of as being feminine, just seem jumbled to me. Time and time again, I tend to feel better about the feminine vineyards’ wines in the softer vintages and the more masculine vineyards’ wines in the strong years. Maybe the wines need time? Maybe I need time? We’ll see. I see the Giachini and Arborina as both being more feminine so when I tasted the 2009’s, I actually had a hard time telling them apart and figuring out what I was tasting. They seemed closed still. But all in all I found Giachini to be more nutty and earthy with ashy tannins and the Arborina expressed a bit of citrus, strawberries, and perfume. I couldn’t assign any stars, not because I disliked them but because I think I’ll be able to approach them better in a few years. I feel confident in saying that because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed previous vintages of these wines. Hopefully they’ll come my way again in the coming years.
Vecchie Vigne 2007. Barolo DOCG. Giuliano’s Vecchie Vigne comes from old vines in Giachini. Outstanding wine. A lovely expression of the feminine Giachini in a delicate vintage. Cranberry, rose blossoms, vanilla, citrus, and herbs jump and play as the wine finishes with elegant, velveteen tannins. ★★☆
Vecchie Vigne 2008. Barolo DOCG. In a more serious, classic year like 2008, the wine is just as gorgeous but different. Smoke, tar, and spice lead to a mouth full of dark red cherries and dusty tannins. Harmonious. ★★☆
Next in Annunziata is Mauro Veglio, who also makes a Barolo from Arborina. He is situated in between Renato Corino and Elio Altare, above the Arborina cru, just up from the village. I’ve written a lot about Veglio here on enotecaMarcella. He was the first producer I discovered in Annunziata, another instance for which I can thank my German Barolo Boys. 🙂 I think I’ve visited Daniela and Mauro Veglio every year since 2005; I’ve certainly written lots about the Veglio wines. (Do a simple search here on my blog and you’ll find lots more information.) Daniela and Mauro are by now good friends of mine. Any chance you get, you should try their wines.
Notes from my visit 25 ottobre, 2013
Dolcetto d’Alba 2012. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Pomegranate juice color. Cranberry, pomegranate, mint, cooking fruit. Light and bright and not too tannic. ★
Barbera d’Alba 2012. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Cloves, nutmeg, and dark fruit. Lovely on the palate. ★
Cascina Nuova 2011. Barbera d’Alba DOC. This special Barbera comes from a few rows in the middle of the Arborina cru. Prunes, plum jam, grape jam, and smoke. Nutty with hints of pine. A delicious modern Barbera. ★★
L’insieme 2011. Nebbiolo 40%, Barbera 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%. Aged 18 months in new French oak barrels. On the nose, this wine smells like a mix of Cab and Nebbiolo: violets and roses, cedar, pepper, and cherry. It has wonderful mouthfeel; it is full and fruity with equilibrated tannins. Overall a great example of what a blend should be. ★
Angelo 2011. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. Also from the lower parts of Arborina. A pretty wine with violets, dried roses, and then surprisingly, I smell white cake with powdered sugar. Sometimes the fruit and structure are not in great balance in a Langhe Nebbiolo but in this one, they are! Yum! ★★☆
All of the Barolo age for 24 months in French oak barrels, anywhere from 30-50% new.
Arborina 2009. Barolo DOCG. At first I get what I expect from Arborina, a bright, perfumed bouquet with tart fruits like pomegranate and cranberry. Then on the palate I taste black fruit and while the structure is good, the finish is a bit rustic. It’s still too young or it’s just me. As I said before, I have a hard time with Arborina in the bolder years. ★
Gattera 2009. Barolo DOCG. Gattera is always a fun Barolo. It always has such peculiar aromas and flavors. Given its southwest exposure and lack of wind, the vineyard tends to stay dry and hot. This year was no exception. Dried apricots, red licorice, raisin, plum-cake, and smokey notes with hints of muscat come out of the glass. The flavors are dried and toasted, like those of dried fruit and roasted nuts, the tannins are rugged, and the finish is complex. ★★
Castelletto 2009. Barolo DOCG. This one actually comes from Monforte d’Alba, from the property owned by Daniela Veglio’s family. Alluring and fragrant roses, cherries, and blueberries flow out of the glass. On the palate, herbs and forest notes frame the dark fruits and the finish is lush and lovely. A superb wine. ★★★
After passing through the village of Annunziata, you descend through Rocche dell’Annunziata. (At the bottom of Rocche, my little doggy-tour-guide disappeared. 😦 That was probably the end of his claimed territory.) You’ll circumvent Torriglione, and go up through Boiolo, Brunate, Cerequio, and La Serra—with Fossati and Casa Nere close by. Parcels in these vineyards are owned by Enzo Boglietti, the first winery I ever visited in Barolo, so they hold a special place in my heart.
After coming up among these special La Morra cru, you end up looping around, back through the La Morra village. You’ll pass the former winery (but current tasting room) of Marco Marengo. He, like Boglietti, has relocated his winery just back down the street and out of the main village, where there is more space to build an updated winery. In any case, Marengo makes two cru Baroli, one from Brunate, and one from Bricco delle Viole, which is technically in the Barolo village. But I’ll cover it here anyway because to me it is more connected with La Morra.
Just south of Fossati, is the cru called Bricco delle Viole. Just south of those two vineyards is the village of Vergne, which is technically a frazione of the Barolo village. But! If you go right out the door of the agriturismo “where I always stay,” in Vergne called Le Viole, and back up the road towards La Morra, one hundred paces, you will see a trail sign pointing you straight up the hill through Bricco delle Viole. If you go up, you’ll end up passing through vineyards and forest, … and more vineyards and forest … until you reach the ridge of La Morra.
You can continue on, past the new Marengo winery and then the Boglieti winery and back into the village of La Morra.
Notes from 9 ottobre, 2013
I just met Marco Marengo at Vinitaly in 2012 but immediately knew we’d be friends. It could have had something to do with the comment he made once about me knowing more about Nebbiolo than they all knew. Or maybe it’s all the times I’ve randomly run into him at More e Macine in La Morra. Whatever it is, Marco and his wife, Jenny, are the epitome of friendly Piemontese. Anyone would want to be their friends. It helps that he makes amazing wine. He is also the one who sent me to Pira, where I also found the opportunity to learn about the truffle-hunt.
Wait. Wasn’t I supposed to be complaining about the magic of La Morra being gone? Anyway! …
Dolcetto d’Alba 2012. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Aged only in stainless steel. Sweet almonds in the nose. Candied fruit; dry and refreshing. ★★
The Pugnane Barbera d’Alba was sold out when I visited. Very sad (for me) but not for Marco!
Valmaggiore 2011. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. These Nebbiolo grapes come from Valmaggiore in Roero. Marco ages the grapes for 13 months in French oak barrels, 20% of which are new. Typical Roero bouquet: roses, strawberry, orange marmalade. A delicate Nebbiolo with citrus, vanilla, and red berry fruit. ★★
Barolo 2009. Barolo DOCG. Coming from five vineyards throughout La Morra, including Boiolo, Arborina, and Roncaglie. Aged 24 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Earthy but pleasant bouquet. Violets and blackberries. Fairly simple.
Bricco delle Viole 2009. Barolo DOCG. Aged 24 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Moss, cologne, perfume. On the palate, dried plums, and dark berries, finishing with soft tannins. ★★
Brunate 2009. Barolo DOCG. Aged 24 months in 50% new French oak barrels. A bouquet of candied cherries, ripe black cherries, and wood smoke. Drier tannins than the previous two wines with hints of tar. A masculine and stunning wine. With such a substantial structure, it will age gracefully but is also completely drinkable now. ★★★
Even though a lot of the “magic of La Morra” for me was worn off, certainly not all of it has. Some still remains always in my heart, especially when I’m out in the woods by myself taking in the scents, or in between rows of vines listening to the sounds of grapes ripening or buds forming.
Tasting the wines year after year is of course a major part of understanding. But so is getting out there to see and touch the dirt, step in the mud, feel the wet leaves, taste the ripe grapes, smell the wild herbs, and hear the silence. In those moments, all by myself, I come to more intimately understand La Morra. I only hope her vines enjoy me strolling among them even half as much as I enjoy doing it.
† I swore 19 years ago that I’d never come back in the summer … and so far I haven’t.
‡ The original name of the Corino winery involves Giuliano’s father’s name, Giovanni. And the Marengo winery is originally named for Marco’s father, Mario.