MORE PIEMONTESE WINES
- FRATELLI PONTE
Ponte winery is well below the radar of most Italian wine
They don't make fancy wines.
They don't make wines with silly price tags.
They're not on the beaten path, either.
The winery was founded in 1950 and in 1965 they moved a few miles to their
present location in a small town called Gorzano. Good luck on finding
I asked at a local gas station and the attendant did not
know the road to Gorzano. A fellow having coffee in a bar sent me in a
totally wrong direction and when I stopped to ask a shop-keeper, they sent
me in the general direction, but not quite "there". I
thought I might be on the wrong road, so I stopped (again) and asked,
finally finding someone who knew precisely how to get to Gorzano (about 2
kilometers from where I'd been asking for help, since no road signs pointed
me to this obscure place!).
There are three fratelli and these fellows are in their 30s and
looking to make good wines at attractive prices.
- They currently have 15 hectares planted in Gorzano (this is close to
Priocca and San Damiano d'Asti in case you know these towns...about 15
minutes' drive north of Alba and 30 minutes south and west of Asti).
They're going to be planting 8 more hectares, having literally moved a hill
to accommodate more vineyards.
Massimo Ponte shows off their vineyards in Gorzano.
There's not much wood in this cellar...
Much of their production is sold in these rather large, uh, bottles.
As you might imagine, the idea of selling wine in 25-ounce glass bottles
with a cork closure is a bit of a novelty for the Ponte brothers.
- Winemaker Renato Ponte pours his delightful Barbera d'Asti.
The locals actually prefer the Ponte's fizzy and young "Barbera
Piemonte" by a 15 to one margin! Of course, price has something
to do with this preference.
- They make a wine known as "Barbera Levi" as the label is one
designed by the late, famous grappa producer Romano Levi of the little town of
Neive. There's actually a book someone put together of Levi's label
art...he sold his grappa (if he liked the look of you) and each bottle had
an original label on it! Talk about work!
The wine carries the appellation of "Barbera d'Asti
Superiore." It's matured for about 6 months in "botte"
(those large casks depicted above) and then given a bit of bottle
aging. The wine is a medium-bodied red which lacks the oak of Barberas
which receive 90-point scores in various journals and which cost $30-$80 a
bottle. It sells for a mere thirteen bucks and it's a great accompaniment
to pizzas, sausages or a big plate of spaghetti & meatballs.
The 2010 Barbera is terrific.
- It sports zesty red fruits and has
classic Barbera acidity, making it a delight with tomato-sauced seafood
dishes (pasta or cioppino)...It's best served lightly cooled to cellar temp.
Periodically, a customer will come in and say "I'm looking for a good
Barolo to serve at dinner tonight which costs less than thirty
dollars." For about the past five years my reply has been
"So am I."
That's because the price of a bottle of a typical Barolo starts around fifty
bucks and goes on up from there.
I am delighted to report, though, that the Ponte brothers bought some fruit
in Barolo in the 2004 vintage and they made a very nice wine. As
they're a value-oriented estate, we're actually able to offer a good example
of Barolo from a top vintage for thirty dollars. The wine shows the
classic earthy notes of Nebbiolo with a hint of a tarry tone. It's a
bit precocious and serving it tonight or over the next five years is
probably about right.
A 2006 Nebbiolo d'Alba is in stock and is also an excellent
value...there's just a hint of that tarry note we love in older Barolo and
Barbaresco wines...dry, moderately tannic...best with braised meats, stews, etc.
or a really soulful tomato-sauced pasta...
- Currently in stock: FRATELLI PONTE 2010 BARBERA D'ASTI Superiore
FRATELLI PONTE 2004 BAROLO $29.99
2006 FRATELLI PONTE NEBBIOLO D'ALBA $16.99
Massimo, Dad and Renato...
Dad was the one working in the vineyard when we visited in May of 2010...
For years, most of the Ponte wines were sold in demijohns.
Damn, that's good!
Massimo holding two really good bottles of wine...an old Dunn Howell Mountain
bottle of his Barbera d'Asti.
first became acquainted with the wines of this little Barbaresco producer
back in the early 1990s. The fruit, as I recall, used to be sold to a
local grower's cooperative before Roberto Bianco started vinifying his own
A friend from Piemonte (who works in Tuscany these days) knows
every square inch of the Barolo and Barbaresco region since he grew up
there. He's an agronomist and does vineyard work.
- I saw him in the Spring of 2006 on an Italian
excursion. We compared notes on various wines and I mentioned I'd
visited the Bianco estate the previous summer. "Oh, Robert Bianco
has some outstanding vineyards. Some of the best in Barbaresco, in
fact!" he told me.
Tasting the wines back in the early days, it was apparent to me that Bianco
didn't quite have a handle on managing the tannins in his Barbaresco
wines. We really enjoyed wine from some so-called "lesser"
vintages, finding the wines to be tannic, but balanced. Our impression
of the supposedly "better" vintages was that Bianco's wines were
hugely tannic. In fact, we remember finding one vintage which really
was an assault on the palate!
With time, one can learn how to craft a Nebbiolo-based wine so that it may
actually be drinkable sometime during one's lifetime. This seems to be
the case with the Cascina Morassino wines. Happily.
New in stock is a good example of Nebbiolo, a wine from vineyards within the
Barbaresco zone. This is designated as "Nebbiolo
Langhe." The 2005 vintage is currently available, having passed
muster from the three tough cookies here. The wine has some of
the dusty tannins of Barolo or Barbaresco, but it's not
off-the-charts-astringent. In fact, with food, this is very
drinkable. Give it an hour or two in a decanter to open up and it
blossoms into a wine far more deep than one expects of Nebbiolo in this
The 2003 Barbaresco "normale" is excellent and it is a fine bottle
now and it'll be even more complex with bottle aging. Roberto told us
he thinks the much-maligned 2002 vintage is "better balanced than the
2003," but the 2003 is the more intense and complex wine.
Remember, 2003 was a hot summer in Europe, so it was a challenge for many
winemakers. Obviously, this fellow was up to the challenge, because
his 2003 is very fine and "fine" is not a word many vintners
associate with hot vintages.
Their 2006 Dolcetto d'Alba is a lovely, balanced example with an emphasis on
the berry-like fruit. It is not a tannic, harsh wine, so we usually
serve it lightly cooled to cellar temp. It pairs with a wide variety
of foods, from simple pastas to roasted chicken, sausages, etc.
- Currently in stock: 2005 Nebbiolo Langhe Sold Out
2003 BARBARESCO (list $45) SALE $39.99
CASTELLO DI VERDUNO
- There's a curious little Piemontese grape variety that's particular to
the Barolo region village of Verduno. It's called Pelaverga and
we've long been a fan of this curious grape variety.
There are two clones of Pelaverga....one originates in
Saluzzo, a bit off-the-radar for wine. Then we have Pelaverga Piccolo
from Verduno, an obscure wine found mainly in this little town. There
are said to be small plantings in La Morra and Roddi.
The Castello di Verduno is one of the major sources of this minor
wine. Some will tell you the wine of Pelaverga is an
aphrodisiac. It does have a certain amount of charm. You'll get
a sense of the character of this wine if you think about a good cru
Beaujolais enhanced with a touch of spice and pepper.
Old Bottles in the Cellar of Castello di Verduno
Some friends made a batch of this one vintage...very nice and spicy,
reminding me of a fruity/spicy wine I'd had from Friuli...Schioppettino.
We brown-bagged my friend's wine from Piemonte and the bottle I'd brought
from Friuli and they tasted nearly the same!
- Visit Verduno and you MUST order a bottle of Pelaverga. It's
typically served cooled to cellar temperature. Pair it with a plate
of tajarin (Piemontese tagliatelle) and you'll be delighted.
It also pairs handsomely with seafood, so grilled salmon with a grind of
pepper is a perfect partner to a cool bottle of Pelaverga.
The wine from Castello di Verduno (they have agriturismo rooms for
rent if you reserve ahead of time and a small ristorante if you'd
like to enjoy a bottle of Pelaverga right at the source) is a gem.
It's fresh, fruity, berryish and mildly spicy. Their special name
for their Pelaverga is "Basadone" which is sort of
Piemontese-speak for "kiss a woman." Maybe there's some
truth to the aphrodisiac assertion!
Barbaresco from this estate is one of those wines that those who
"know" Piemontese wines will know, while the average bear is more
aware of Barbaresco from producers whose wineries are actually situated in the
area of Barbaresco. ((If your winery has a 'history' of producing Barolo
or Barbaresco outside those zones, you may continue to produce those wines on
"foreign" turf. Otherwise, you have to have an actual winery or
rent space in a winery located within that zone.))
The Castello di Verduno has slightly more than one hectare of vineyards within
the famed "Rabajà" cru of Barbaresco. The soil is a mix of
sand, clay and limestone in such a proportion as to produce an elegant wine with
great finesse and complexity. We've had a few vintages of this Barbaresco
and it's one we regard as being of "grand cru" status.
The 2006 is currently in stock and it's magnificent and youthful. If you
are a patient soul, do consider putting a few bottles in the wine rack or cooler
for enjoyment down the road...it will handsomely repay dividends!
Currently in stock: 2009 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO
2006 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO BARBARESCO "Rabaja" List $60 SALE
- MASSOLINO (Vigna Rionda)
- Just to keep us on our toes, this estate goes by either the
family name, Massolino or the name of a vineyard site, Vigna Rionda.
In addition, you'll see the Vigna Rionda name, in one form or another,
on bottlings from other competing vintners.
In fact, the Massolino family has been cultivating vines in the Serralunga
Valley since the late 1890s. At one time they rented vineyards to
other winemakers...years ago both Michele Chiarlo and Cappellano made wine
from Massolino vines.
Today, however, they cultivate and make their own, offering a terrific range
The Serralunga valley tends to produce well-structured Barolo wines and
most of the Massolino vineyards are in this little area.
In the distance is the town of Monforte d'Alba...
The cellar has cooperage of various dimensions.
- They currently have about 18 hectares and produce a nice range of
wines. Dolcetto is deliciously fruity as is a basic, entry-level
bottling of Barbera d'Alba. They dabble in Chardonnay...and actually
make a good wine (much to my surprise).
But Serralunga is a land of Nebbiolo and Barolo is the pride of the
In addition to their normale bottling of Barolo, several
single vineyard wines are made.
We currently have their 2001 "Parafada" Barolo. This comes
from vines planted, I believe, in the 1960s. It's fermented at an
elevated temperature with a fairly brief skin contact. After
fermentation it's racked into small barrels and seems to be a more modern
interpretation of Barolo compared to their other
bottlings. The 2001 is lovely now and it's capable of
cellaring another decade or two. You'll find it to be more
complex with cellaring than it is today as a young wine.
The 2004s are recent arrivals. The Parafada seemed slightly more
accessible but still young and with good potential. It is aged in a
combination of different types of cooperage, including French oak, but the
wine doesn't, to me, show evidence of oak. It's a good bottle of
wine and one which should start to blossom over the next 5-12 years.
Perhaps a tad backwards at this stage is the Margheria bottling.
This Barolo displays nice cherry fruit notes and it's got a bit more
"grip" on the palate...tannic, but balanced for cellaring.
It's a really fine expression of Barolo from the Serralunga
view Massolino as a house of Nebbiolo.
But we included a bottle of their 2011 Barbera d'Alba (the entry level
bottling) in a blind-tasting of Piemontese Barberas. The wine was
stellar, especially if you like the non-oaked style of this wine. The
2012 just arrived, by the way. It's been fashionable to age Barbera in lots of new French oak...this
bottling doesn't have wood. It's pure, delicious, berryish
Barbera. Not a wine for cellaring, this is best served cool with all
sorts of pastas, seafood or red meats.
Currently in stock: 2001 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Parafada"
2004 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Parafada" $89.99
2004 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Margheria" $89.99
2004 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Normale" (List $75) SALE
2012 MASSOLINO BARBERA d'ALBA Back in
RIVETTI (LA SPINETTA)
Located a tad north of Barbaresco towards Asti is the
"modest" facility of the Rivetti family. When we first became
acquainted with Giorgio Rivetti, he was regarded as an up-and-coming producer of fizzy
Moscato d'Asti wines. Ask anyone in the Langhe who's making top Moscato wines and
they'd always have Rivetti on their short list of producers.
Move on to the 1990s and then things changed. Oh, Rivetti still makes some of
Piemonte's best fizzy Moscato wines (Biancospino, Bricco Quaglia, Bric Lapasot, San Rumu
and Muscatel Vej). If you see them while traveling around Italy, don't hesitate to
order these after dinner as they are really "fun" wines.
But I suppose "fun" was enough for Giorgio. All his pals were
getting a great deal of attention and adulation for their more profound wines: red
wines of Barbera and Nebbiolo. So he's vying with his buddies and,
frankly, having the better of it! Now he's suddenly (well, it only seems like
suddenly) become a "superstar" in the realm of red wines.
Photo: Giorgio Rivetti.
I need to become reacquainted with the current line-up.
In tasting the 2004 Barbaresco wines in 2007, I was a bit disappointed, finding
vegetal and herbal notes. In comparing my notes with various journalists,
I can say our perspectives must be quite different! In tasting Rivetti's
2005s, I found a similar herbal element.
Several months later, I tasted the wines again and this time they were very good
and I did not find the herbal notes I'd encountered earlier. Perhaps this
is simply a normal cycle in the maturation or development of Rivetti's wines?
Currently in stock: RIVETTI 1998 Barbaresco "Vigneto Gallina" $99.99
- BRUNO GIACOSA
of the first wines of Italy which really struck me as being something truly extraordinary
was a 1967 Barolo from Signor Giacosa. I recall tasting it at some big trade event
and being stunned to find something of such amazing depth and complexity. Most
everything else that evening was as though it was in "black and white," while
Giacosa's was in full, living color!
Over the years I've stopped in the winery a number of times. The main office is more
of a shipping facility, while the real winery is a block away.
Bruno Giacosa is a very quiet fellow. I don't know if
he ever cracks a smile. He is sometimes described as preferring to allow his wines
to speak for him (and themselves). I suspect he is somewhat curious to see how
people react when they taste his wines, though at the same time, I'd bet to a certain
degree he doesn't really care.
- Photos: (Above) the Master.
(Right) 1982 Vintage Giacosas...a Barolo and Barbaresco, both
"normale" bottlings. Tasted in January of 2001, the Barbaresco was
actually the more vibrant wine.
He has vineyards which he owns and long-standing agreements with growers from
whom he's been buying fruit for many years. There are two
"labels," though most people can't tell the
difference. One label features their "estate grown"
wines and is offered as "Azienda Agricola FALLETTO"– di Bruno
The other label comes from purchased fruit and is labeled
"Casa Vinicola BRUNO GIACOSA." Qualitatively you'll find
some grand and compelling wines, whether they grow the grapes themselves or
The winemaking here in traditional. I'd be shocked were I to find
small French oak
barrels here. Giacosa, though, does use French oak, but you'd be
hard-pressed to identify one of his wines as having wood since the cooperage
is used to develop and mature the wines, rather than to add aromatics or
Arneis from Giacosa is almost always good. I used to think it
was usually the very best example of this white wine but now other estates
give the old boy a run for the money. There are some who claim Bruno
Giacosa was the first to vinify Arneis, while others assert it was Alfredo
Currado of Vietti who made the first. Both are good! We have the
2007 from Giacosa presently and it's a delightful aperitif wine.
There's a touch of fruit and a slight minerality to the wine which works so
well with seafood starters at the dinner table.
Dolcetto and Barbera are also produced here. We tasted a
dynamite 2006 Barbera made from purchased fruit. What a wine!
It's a traditionally-styled Barbera, so if you're more a fan of the
heavily-wooded Barberas from Vietti or Coppo, this won't float your
boat. If you appreciate a wine displaying the classic black fruit of
Barbera, you will find this to be exceptional.
The 2007 Nebbiolo is a lovely, youthful wine...not that it's made to
age. But this is a nice rendition that's quite drinkable now.
You won't mistake this for a mature bottle of Giacosa Barolo and you
shouldn't--it's meant to drink with less complicated foods. Best
now-2013, or so...
Barolo and Barbaresco can reach great heights in this cellar. Prices
for the more scarce bottles are dizzying, too.
Giacosa had health issues and missed vinifying the 2006 vintage.
There had been some problems in the cellar and the long-time staff members
departed for one reason or another.
When Giacosa was able to regain his health, he tasted the Barolo and
Barbaresco wines and was quite dismayed to find they did not measure up.
Though most winemakers in the Langhe speak highly of the vintage, Giacosa
made headlines when he decided that he wouldn't be bottling and selling 2006
"heavy hitter" wines.
A new winemaker had come on board, Giorgio Lavagna. He spent 20 years,
give or take, working at the Batasiolo facility near La Morra.
Signor Lavagna pours a flute of Giacosa's famed Brut Spumante.
Some observers have wondered how the wines
will be, given the change in cellar managers. Batasiolo, for example,
produces credible wines, but few tasters would put them in the same league as
The 2005s we tasted in 2009 were quite good. And the
prices at which they are offered here in the US market lend credence to the
notion of Barolo being "the king of wines and the wine of
kings." One must have deep pockets to successfully "ransom"
a bottle from the importer.
They have a cellar full of bottle-fermented spumante.
So...the story continues. It seems winemaker Dante
Scaglione has returned to Giacosa after a three year absence. He left
under undisclosed circumstances and returned after they all kissed and made up (May 2011).
Currently in stock:
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Roero Arneis Sold Out
Bruno Giacosa 2006 Barbera d'Alba $37.99
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Nebbiolo $39.99
Bruno Giacosa 2001 Barolo "Falletto" Sale
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barolo "Rocche" Sale
Bruno Giacosa 1998 Barbaresco "Santo Stefano"
1999 Barolo "normale" SALE $129.99
Ceretto brothers are major wine "barons" in the Langhe region. They make
the full range of wines, producing everything from bubbly to Arneis, Chardonnay and
Riesling in whites to traditional reds such as Dolcetto, Barbaresco and Barolo, as well as
Cabernet and Pinot Nero and Syrah.
With several facilities in the region, the main headquarters is an encampment atop
a hill just south of Alba. Though they're world famous, there is but a small sign
with the family name out on the main road. Blink and you'll miss the long driveway.
Over the years, the Ceretto brothers have purchased many hectares of vineyards.
They started by merely purchasing fruit. Driven to improve quality, they
bought the vineyards to have more control. This has proved to be a wise investment.
The azienda now comprises some 80 hectares.
This firm was amongst the first to realize some sort of refinement was needed to
change the traditional winemaking. They sought to make less harsh, bitter and
exceptionally tannic wines. Give them credit for being willing to take
a look at how the wines had been made, typically, and for pushing to
re-think the classic vinification and maturation of Langhe wines.
They had been amongst the first to ask exceptionally
high prices for their "art."
We have not been huge fans of their wines, but in tasting a number of them
recently, we've had to alter our opinion on some counts.
The Ceretto family downplays the size of their enterprise, explaining that
it's not really one big winery, but several smaller operations. It's
not surprising, as well, that consumers are easily confused.
There is a fairly large production facility, called Monsordo-Bernardina, in
Alba where they make most of their wines. This is where they make
their famous Blange Arneis (the Santa Margherita of Arneis wines and we
intend that as a bit of a snarky characterization of this popular Piemontese
white), as well as their basic Barbaresco and Barolo wines.
The basic Barbaresco and Barolo each have a name one might assume is that of
a single vineyard or "cru."
The Barbaresco is labeled as "Barbaresco Asij" with "Asij"
being the Piemontese spelling for the famous cru of Asili. In fact,
though, the wine does not come from the Asili vineyard, though they may take
lesser lots from their single vineyard wines and add them to this.
Their entry level Barolo is dubbed "Zonchera" which amused other
producers who know "Zonchetta" as a vineyard site in La
In any event, these wines are labeled as coming from the Azienda
Vitivinicole of Ceretto meaning the wines can be made of purchased wine
and/or purchased fruit.
Somewhat more confusing are the wines coming from two "estate
bottled" facilities which bear the designation of "Azienda
Agricola Ceretto" (meaning only grapes from their own vines can be used
for these wines).
What is confusing to some is the use of famous vineyard sites as the name or
brand for these Ceretto wines.
From Barbaresco they use the label "Bricco Asili" as the brand
name for two different single vineyard wines. Hence, there's a
Barbaresco from the actual cru of Bricco Asili which carries the name Bricco
Asili Bricco Asili. And there's another single vineyard wine called
Bricco Asili but from the Bernardot cru. Is that clear?
From Barolo, they're making a number of single vineyard wines. These
appear under the brand name of Bricco Rocche. There are two
"Rocche" sites, one in La Morra and the other in Castiglione
Falletto. In this instance, they're in Castiglione Falletto (and a
neighbor claimed the vineyard isn't precisely "Rocche" but a
site called Serra).
So there's a Bricco Rocche bottling of Bricco Rocche (is
there an echo in here?), along with Bricco Rocche bottlings of Brunate,
Prapo and, soon, Cannubi. One might argue that in Burgundy, the
Domaine de la Romanee Conti produces not only Romanee-Conti, but a number
of other grand cru, single vineyard wines. I'm certain the Ceretto
family appreciates having their name in the same sentence as
The point is, as with so many facets of wine appreciation, there's often
plenty of confusion and Ceretto has made its contribution to the cause.
They claim to produce 20% of all the Arneis made in the Langhe region, an
impressive number if it's true. Dubbed "Blange", some
vintages might be better labeled "Bland." The name
Blange, however, may come from the French word for "baker" or
"bakery," boulange or boulangerie. ((Please keep in mind
that the Piemontese dialect sounds very French!!))
Anyway, the Ceretto family liked the name and so they've retained it for
their popular, simple white wine.
Currently in stock:
2001 BARBARESCO "Bricco Asili" Bernardot Sold Out
Other wines by special order...
- I suppose
Gianni is not quite as prestigious as his brother Roberto, since his wines are
actually somewhat sensibly priced!
I've often found this winery to have some good wines. The current
line-up is very nice.
The local importer found a few cases of the exceptional 2001 in the warehouse
and we're able to offer this wine for a remarkable price. I tasted this
wine in the Spring of 2009 and it's still young and a bit
- Currently in stock: 2001 BAROLO "La Serra" (List
$135) SALE $74.99
- There is no
denying the quality of Roberto Voerzio's wines. It is too bad the
minuscule supply and demand have caused prices to escalate to "cult
- I can't imagine people paying the stratospheric prices (hundreds of dollars
for magnums)...though we popped for a bottle of his 2004 Brunate this past
year. We put it on the dinner table alongside a bottle of E. Pira Barolo
from the Cannubi cru and, frankly, could not find justification for the
remarkable price of Voerzio's wine. Sure, this guy's wine is good,
but my guests might have preferred if I taped a $50 bill under their chair and
surprised them with that.
Let me know if you'd like to splurge and we'll see what's currently available.
- Currently in stock: Special order...please inquire.
were passing through Piemonte and stopped at a friend's restaurant for
lunch on our way east.
She put a bottle of white wine on the table and said "Here, taste
We ordered a nice lunch, beginning with some Piemontese appetizers such
as Vitello Tonnato and Carne Cruda. Then we ordered some
pastas: Tajarin and Agnolotti del Plin.
Flavia returned to the table as we were mid-way through the pastas
and she picked up the bottle of Gavi: EMPTY!
Well, we had to drink the entire bottle: It was that
A few days later we sought out the producer: Massimo Diotti runs
this young winery. The place was founded in 1999 and he's making a
really nice Gavi.
The grape for Gavi is the Cortese, known to the locals as Courteis
(sounds French). No oak, so the wine retains the fresh notes of
apple and pear. There's a mild minerality to the wine, as
well. It's at home with seafood, as you'd expect and, as we found,
it stood up nicely to the Vitello Tonnato and Carne Cruda.
Piemontese Antipasti with a Stellar bottle of San Matteo Gavi!
Massimo Diotti, who's making very fine Gavi!
We left a message for a Bay Area importer who has a handful of
Italian wines in their portfolio and whom we knew was looking for a few
more. We suggested they look up Signor Diotti and his wine to see for
themselves. And, they too, found the wine to be not only very good, but
And the first shipment recently arrived in the Bay Area...and we
re-tasted it to see. Quite good.
You might give this a try instead of falling back on the same old, same old Pinot
Grigio. The flavors are a bit different here, but likely to be appealing.
Currently in stock: 2011 SAN MATTEO GAVI
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