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FRATELLI PONTE
The Ponte winery is well below the radar of most Italian wine connoisseurs.  

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 this place!

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 2014 Barbera is terrific.
The nose offers some red fruits and a mild, vanilla bean fragrance from aging in wood.  
It sports zesty red fruits and has classic Barbera acidity, making it a delight with tomato-sauced seafood dishes (pasta or cioppino)...You'll possibly detect a mildly earthy quality on the palate.  Pair it with braised lamb, tomato-sauced pastas, grilled meats, rich cheeses, etc.  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 2009 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 forty dollars. It comes from a vineyard site in La Morra according to Massimo Ponte.  We first tasted this in 2013 and the wine was impressive...not austere, but with an early drinkability to it.  The wine, tasted blind, seemed like it could have been from some of the top, famous names in Barolo.  Now it's had a bit of time in bottle and is showing well...still young, but certainly worth decanting and splashing around an hour before dinner...
Bravo!

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 2014 BARBERA D'ASTI Superiore $12.99  
FRATELLI PONTE 2009 BAROLO  $39.99
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 and a
bottle of his Barbera d'Asti.

At dinner at the new Castello di Lara e Massimo...

Ponte Nebbiolo d'Alba was showing well...quite a handsome wine, in fact.


Some fresh pasta was also beautifully prepared...


Lara makes it "snow" Parmigiano over the Tajarin.

Even the Ponte dogs have a nose for wine!

 

 

 




CASCINA MORASSINO
We 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 production.

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 price category.  
 


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:  2012 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO PELAVERGA  Sold Out
2006 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO BARBARESCO "Rabaja"  List $60 SALE $53.99

 

 
 
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 of wines.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

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 23 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 winery.

In addition to their normale  bottling of Barolo, several single vineyard wines are made.



There are a few bottles of 2004s in the shop.  The Parafada is 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 is starting to show its complexities.  Best decanted theses days.  Very fine and still it can go for another 5-10+ years.

The Margheria 2004 is also very fine.  It's maybe a tad tighter by comparison, but if you open it today, give it an hour or two in the decanter.   

 
 
 
 
There's the 2010 Barolo Normale, a terrific entry level wine.  Now it's in that middle ground where it's still youthful and tight, but you see the first notes of development in the wine.
They have about 7 hectares of vines scattered around Serralunga from which they make this wine.
It's a bottling that's overshadowed by the various vineyard-designated wines, but you'll find it's quite a good bottle and well worth its modest price-tag.


 
 
 






We usually 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 was similarly styled and excellent and we're on to the 2013.
The 2013 is currently in stock...it's as delicious as the earlier wines.
 
Here's a nice snapshot of a bottle of Massolino Barbera with some agnolotti del Plin at Felicin in Monforte d'Alba...
 

Damn, that was a great wine & food pairing.
 

When you hear the name "Moscato d'Asti," one thinks of the delightful, casual little Moscato wines from vineyards near Asti.  That's about 40 kilometers away from Serralunga, but the zone for making Moscato d'Asti actually extends, still, to the backyard of the Massolino family.
This is because when they were drawing up the boundaries for the denominazione, they were mindful that the nearby Fontanafredda winery did a big business in selling Moscato.  And since they sourced fruit from vineyards near the winery as well as closer to Asti,  Serralunga was included in the map delineating the Moscato d'Asti appellation.

So we're delighted to have what we call "Moscato di Barolo" essentially...Moscato from a seriously good producer from vineyards neighboring those of Barolo!
The wine is beautifully fragrant and mildly fizzy...classic, textbook Moscato.   Good acidity keeps this from being too sweet.


 

Currently in stock:  
2004 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Parafada"  $89.99
2004 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Margheria"  $89.99
2010 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Normale"  (List $75) SALE $49.99
2013 MASSOLINO BARBERA d'ALBA  Back in stock  $24.99
2015 MASSOLINO MOSCATO d'ASTI  $21.99


 

 

wpe18.jpg (4150 bytes) 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. 

wpe3C.jpg (7348 bytes)Photo: Giorgio Rivetti.


We've tasted a number of nice bottles of Rivetti's "La Spinetta" wines...and he's making some wines in Tuscany, too.

In early 2016 we went to lunch with some friends and brought a bottle of Rivetti's 1994 blend called "Pin."  This is the nickname of someone named Giuseppe.  "Pepe,"  "Peppino" or simply "Pin."  And that's the name of Rivetti's dear old dad, so to honor the old boy they make a really fine blended red called "PIN."

The 1994, at 22 years of age, was magnificent.  Nebbiolo and Barbera.  
I couldn't quite recall the percentages of the blend, but clearly the Nebbiolo dominated and you might have mistaken that bottle for a Barolo or Barbaresco which was fiddled with, since the Barbera added color.

Since it had been a while since we tasted a recent vintage of "Pin," we bought a bottle of the 2011.
It was a pleasant surprise.  
Though they age it in small French oak, the wood is rather tame.  It's not heavily-oaked and the wine is nicely balanced.
Nebbiolo accounts for 65% of the blend with the rest being Barbera.  

The wine is fairly full-bodied and it's complete.  It's also drinkable in its youth, despite having a moderate level of tannin.
We liked the wine but I was concerned that most customers would not appreciate this sort of Italian red.
We didn't finish the bottle and so I brought it back to the store and we showed it to a few customers.
Everyone said they wanted to buy some!
Shocking.
This is not the sort of wine you drink on its own...its mildly tannic structure really demands it be served with food.
We bought the distributor's remaining inventory and this flew out the door!

Happily there was more of the 2011 available and we've received a few more shipments.  
The fact that it sells (and it's not inexpensive or an everyday-priced wine) and customers routinely have come back to buy a few more bottles is, for me, mind-boggling!

It can be paired with braised meats or stews.  Consider a mushroom risotto, if you like.  Or grilled or roasted meats.  The 2011 will probably cellar nicely, too, so stashing a few bottles away to drink in 2020, or so, is not a bad idea.



Currently in stock:   RIVETTI 2011 "PIN"  $59.99

 

BRUNO GIACOSA
wpe2D.jpg (3253 bytes)One 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.  

wpe2D.jpg (11729 bytes)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. 





wpe3B.jpg (9537 bytes)
 
 
 
 
 
 
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 Giacosa.  

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 buy fruit.  

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 flavor.


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.


Bruna Giacosa.

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 Giacosa.

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).  
Stay tuned...

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 $199.99
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barolo "Rocche"  Sale $189.99
Bruno Giacosa 1998 Barbaresco "Santo Stefano" SALE $269.99
1999 Barolo "normale"  SALE $129.99





 

CERETTO
The 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 160 hectares.   And the new generation is farming biodynamically.  Good for them!

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 had not been huge fans of their wines, but tasting the wine from Ceretto over the past 


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 Blangè 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.

For a number of years, Ceretto had these confusing labels on their wines...the basic Barbaresco was called Asÿ and the Barolo was dubbed Zonchera.  We posted these images you see below pointing out how confusing this has been for consumers.  
The average wine drinker does not know those names are essentially brand names within the Ceretto portfolio and not special "cru" sites.

Then Ceretto had used names of cru sites as sort of a brand name...Bricco Asili for their Barbaresco cru wines and Bricco Rocche for their Barolo cru sites.
 



 
Maybe they read our editorial posted here some years ago taking them to task for this.  But we suppose the change may have been required by the changing laws governing the usage of vineyard sites on the labels.

Here is their current labeling for the cru Barolo wines:
Now, instead of calling all of these wines "Bricco Rocche" with the name of the cru on the label, the wines have the more sensible branding of "Ceretto" with the vineyard designates below the term "Barolo."
 
And for their entry level Barolo and Barbaresco, again the Ceretto name is prominent:
Much better.

We have some bottles of their 2012 Barolo in stock.  
It's a blend of grapes from the Barolo/La Morra area and those from Serralunga.  The resulting wine is a good example of Barolo and the wine displays a nice woodsy element from its aging in oak.  
While many 2012s are in need of cellaring for a few years, Ceretto's is showing well in its youth and can easily provide a memorable Barolo-drinking experience right now.
It should be able to be cellared for another 10-15 years, too.

 




They claim to produce 20% of all the Arneis made in the Langhe region, an impressive number if it's true.  Dubbed "Blangè", some vintages might be better labeled "Bland."   The name Blangè, 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.
Their version of Arneis is a bit reminiscent of industrial Portuguese Vinho Verde.  It's slightly fizzy and the carbon dioxide in the wine is intentional.
We have usually found the wine to have a bit of residual sugar, too, which we don't care for.  But they certainly have a market for an off-dry Arneis with some effervescence as they sell a lot of it.



Currently in stock: 
2012 CERETTO BAROLO "classico"  $49.99
Other wines by special order...


 



GIANNI VOERZIO

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 backwards.  
 
Currently in stock:  2001 BAROLO "La Serra"  (List $135)  SALE $74.99




 

 


ROBERTO VOERZIO
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 status" levels.

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.
If you visit the cellar, you'll have an idea of their dedication to quality.  It all starts, as we so often hear, in the vineyard.  
 

As you can see in the photo above, the vines are planted closely together.  Instead of perhaps a few thousand vines per hectare, Voerzio's philosophy is to have greater density in the vineyard and obtaining a small yield-per-vine than most vintners.

With so many plants per hectare, then, you need more manual labor in the vineyard to look after these vines.  That adds to the cost of the wine, certainly.  

The Voerzio protocol includes a green-harvest in July, taking away perhaps half the crop.  In August, typically, they'll go back and cut off part of each remaining cluster in hopes of concentrating the character of the surviving bunches.  This, they say, amounts to about a half-kilo of grapes per Nebbiolo vine, with yields for Barbera and Dolcetto being as high as one kilo and one-and-a-half-kilos per plant.

Since founding the winery in 1986 (when Roberto and his brother Giovanni split the family estate, each going his separate way), Voerzio has acquired vineyard parcels in some of the top crus of Barolo.  Today he owns vines in Rocche dell'Annunziata, Fossati, Sarmassa, La Serra, Brunate and Cerequio. 

No chemical fertilizers...no weed-killers...
 
 
The wines are fermented using indigenous yeast...low levels of sulphur...no filtration...they sing a good song.  It's one we'd like to hear more frequently and, come to think of it, we do hear this tune from many wine producers.
 
 

All of the Voerzio wines see wood except for their Dolcetto.
 
 
 

Robert Voerzio opening a bottle of Roberto Voerzio
 
 
 



 

We periodically purchase a bottle of this or that from their local distributor and are delighted to report the 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe was exceptional!


The wine comes from two vineyard parcels, one is San Francesco and the other is Fontanazza, both from Voerzio's backyard in La Morra.    The wine spent about a year in wood (30% new barriques and puncheons).  
The 2010 vintage is particularly good...problem-free, so a wine such as this is better than it normally is.

We liked the mildly earthy, dark berry notes of the Nebbiolo fruit.  It's an elegant Nebbiolo, at that, with the wood being in the background to add just the right spice tone to the wine.  You'll find it dry and but mildly tannic, not as austere as an equally young Barolo or Barbaresco.

And, as we've noted earlier...Voerzio wines tend to be priced stratospherically.  But this bottle is actually within the realm of reason, so it's been fairly popular with those Weimax customers who've tried it.

John says he's broken from his normal philosophy of buying just a single bottle of each wine (so he can drink a more diverse range), "...but I'm going to have to make an exception here and pick up 3 of these."
And he did.

That vintage is sold out and we bought a bottle of the following year and it was not nearly as exceptional.  

We'll soon be tasting a current vintage...stay tuned...
 
 

 

Currently in stock:  ROBERTO VOERZIO 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe  Sold Out
 



SAN MATTEO

We 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 this."

We did.

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 good!

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 well-priced.

And the second 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:  2013 SAN MATTEO GAVI  $15.99

 

 


They don't have any signage out on the road to indicate where they are located...
...Just a mailbox in front of the house!

 

GIACOMO FENOCCHIO

The Fenocchio family has been farming in the Monforte d'Alba area since the days of Abraham Lincoln, but it's only recently we've put them on our radar screen as a vintner worth following.

The property consists of somewhere between 13 and 14 hectares.  The biggest parcel is of Barolo in the Bussia area where the winery is located.  But they also have some vineyards in  Castellero, Cannubi and Villero.
The Fenocchio brothers don't do much manipulation in the vineyards to reduce yields to tiny levels.  They'll tell you they are looking for wines of "balance" and so they don't want large crop levels which will reduce intensity, nor do they want tiny yields, lest they make wines of extreme tannin.
Typically, though, the vineyards for their Barolo wines produce from about two to three tons per acre, so it's not ridiculously small, nor would anyone contend the vines are over-cropped.

The winery features very traditionally-made wines.  I recall some vintages, many years ago, as being a bit rustic.  But they've become a solid producer and the wines are reliably well-made and of good quality.

They typically employ a lengthy period of skin contact, typically something along the lines of 30 to 40 days.  However, we tasted a tank sample of 2012 Bussia which was left for 90 days on the skins!  And yes, it was tannic!!!

The cellars of the Fenocchio Brothers is clean and well-appointed.


They claim to have an aversion to small oak barrels, but you can certainly see a small one in the foreground (and to the right) of this snapshot.
For the most part, though, the wines spent a couple of years in large Slavonian oak casks and tanks, after being aged for 6 months in those stainless steel tanks.


Claudio Fenocchio


I believe the first vintage to be bottled and sold was that of 1947.

 

We have a 2010 Barolo from the Villero cru in Castiglione Falletto.  This is a marvelous wine, especially if you have some patience.  The wine is a bit tight presently, but it does show some red fruits, cherry notes, a touch of spice and a hint of forest floor earthiness.
The tannin level is such that this wine will probably take until 2020 before if starts to really show itself and then it ought to go another decade or two.

 

Currently in stock:  2010 FENOCCHIO BAROLO "Villero"   Sale $64.99

 

 

 

 

 


ADRIANO (Marco e Vittorio)

We've known this winery for a number of years and visited the cellar in 2008 if memory serves...

They make some good wines from vineyards they own about a 15 minute drive south from Barbaresco or southeast from the "big city" of Alba.

San Rocco Seno D'Elvio, a town few people know, is where the Adrianos are located.
It's such an out-of-the-way place even they bring a sack of grissini with them (to Alba or Barbaresco) and leave a trail of crumbs so they can find their way back home later.
 
Grandpa Giussepe Adriano started the farm in the early 1900s and his son Aldo continued in the old man's foot-steps.  Today his 'kids' run the place, cultivating grapes, hazelnuts and maybe foraging for truffles in the season.  

Like so many small, artisan vintners, finding a few independent American importers has proven tricky. 
 
Adriano has been asking us for some help in tracking down a good, reliable importer so they might have a small presence in California.  I gave them a few tips and finally one decided to pull the trigger and buy some wine.

Happily for us, the importer has old-fashioned, honest margins and the Adriano wines can be had some a most attractive price.

We tasted their 2013 Dolcetto d'Alba and this, if you like crisp, dry red wine, is a delight.  It comes from mature vines and undergoes a fairly standard fermentation.  They moderate the amount of skin contact, though, to avoid making an overly bitter, astringent red.  We, frankly, prefer Dolcetto that's immediately drinkable, as we enjoy the fresh fruity notes and berry fragrances and flavors without making a coarse or bitter wine.
Still, I'm sure this 2013 may be too austere for some palates.  If you're a fan of Zinfandels from Lodi or Paso Robles (wines which lack acidity), this will be like fingernails on a chalkboard.  
On the other hand, if you like snappy Sangiovese from Tuscany or uncomplicated Barbera, this is worth a try.
Pair it (lightly chilled) with chicken, roasted turkey, pork chops or a pork roast, tomato-sauced pastas, pizza, sausages, etc.  It's a great little picnic red, too.

And...the price is most attractive.
 

Currently in stock:  2013 ADRIANO DOLCETTO D'ALBA Sold Out

 


Vittorio Adriano

 

 




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