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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 recent vintages of Barbera have been 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...
More recent vintages have been quite good and well-priced.
Massimo Ponte has been selling a lot of wine in various parts of the US and
Canada and yet has had difficulty finding an importer in California.
- Currently in stock: ALL SOLD OUT...
Waiting for a new importer to pick up the wines.
Massimo, Dad and Renato...
Dad was the one working in the vineyard when we visited in May of 2010...
He passed away in 2018.
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.
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!
Stroppiana estate, such as it is, comprises approximately 5 hectares of
vineyards. It's truly a family affair, as Mom & Pop (Stefania
and Dario) are assisted by their adult children, Leonardo and Altea.
Home base is in a tiny hamlet called Rivalta, close to Verduno and,
technically, within the borders of La Morra. They rent some
vineyards in Monforte which is ideal given that they focus on
Nebbiolo. They also cultivate a bit of Barbera and Dolcetto while
recently adding some of the white grape, Nascetta, to the portfolio.
If you wonder how so few hectares of vines can support a family, keep in
mind they have 14 hectares of hazelnuts.
Dario's grandpa and dad established a winery in the 1960s. He was
put to work in the vineyards at an early age and learned viticulture and
winemaking thanks to practical experience. Of course he attended the
local school where he learned some of these things out of a book.
We perused our tasting notebooks and see we typically have given their
wines a good write-up. The young wines have been good and showing
potential and we see that "library" vintages have also been good
and classically-styled. A nearly ten year old Barolo showed good development
with hints of the tarry character we associate with mature Barolo and yet
the wine still had a measure of tannin.
- Their importer showed us a really good bottle of their
"Leonardo" Barolo. Leo is their son, as noted above.
It comes from vineyards near the winery in Rivalta as well as some parcels
in neighboring Verduno. The vineyards were planted in 1996, 1999 and
2000 so they are mature and producing good fruit.
Stroppiana likes to green harvest as necessary and they typically drop
about 40% of the crop.
Some might consider the Leonardo Barolo as the "entry level"
wine since it sells for less than the single cru wines. But it's
really a pretty good bottle and we shouldn't judge it based on its price.
- Stoppiana has a nice "recipe" for Barolo, being both a modernista
and a traditionalist. The wine typically is left in contact with
the skins for about two weeks. Some old school vintners go a full
month (or more) of skin contact, while the new school winemakers might go
less than a week.
The Leonardo Barolo goes into small oak cooperage for two years and then
it's blended back into larger oak for just shy of a year.
The 2014 that's in stock is a fine and elegant example of Barolo, a shade
lighter than the 2013.
The tannin level is moderate and not nearly as coarse or aggressive as
wines from some of the old-timers. Yet this can certainly be
cellared for another 10+ years if you like.
If you're planning to drink it in the near term, consider splashing this
around in a decanter for an hour or two. We find some red fruit
notes at the start, followed by some brushy notes. We don't pick up
elements from the oak aging.
The 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo is a real find.
It's a medium-bodied red that's surprisingly good. We had just tasted a
few Barolo wines one day and found them to be of standard quality. Nothing
exciting. A while later we tasted the 2017 Stroppiana and it was
beautiful. Nice red fruit notes and the barest suggestion of a wood spice
element. The wine is dry, mildly acidic and remarkably balanced for such a
Its modest price makes it taste even better.
Currently in stock: STROPPIANA 2014
"Leonardo" BAROLO Sold Out...Waiting for the boat to
STROPPIANA 2017 LANGHE NEBBIOLO Sold Out...Waiting for the boat to
Mom (Stefania) was working in the vineyard when we visited in April of
That's her son Leonardo who's taken the reigns at the winemaker at
The winery dog.
Altea dropped in during our visit.
Botte grande for maturing the Barolo
A few smaller format barriques are also employed for making Barolo.
Leonardo Barolo with Leonardo
They've been making wine for decades, yet fly under
The other enterprise for Stroppiana is cultivating hazelnuts.
A sign posted at Stroppiana:
Everyone brings a little bit of joy...
some when they enter and some when they depart.
- Here's a new winery for us in the Barbaresco town of Treiso. It's
a smallish estate of maybe 19 hectares, but planted only to maybe 9
hectares and it's now owned by the Guermani brothers. They bought
the place in 2011 and they are "outsiders" in that neither
fellow was involved in winemaking and apparently they are not from
The grapes from this estate had been sold to wineries such as Pio Cesare
Francesco Guermani had been a pro golfer until her retired from that while
his brother Luca is a chef in Milan.
They maintain a small "bed & breakfast" sort of facility,
too, so visitors can rent a place to stay when cruising around the wine
roads of the Langhe.
The farm dates back to 1927, but it was only fairly recently that they
decided to start making wine under their own label. We've now had a
couple of Barbaresco vintages in the shop and these have been quite
good...elegant and balanced.
They enlisted the services of enologist Gianfranco Cordero. This
fellow has a lab near Barbaresco and does analysis for numerous wineries
as well as offering winemaking and consulting services. His list of
clients is voluminous and has many good producers including our friends at
GD Vajra, Castello di Neive, Francesco Rinaldi, Scarpa, Conterno Fantino,
Mauro Veglio and maybe another 60 wineries. His wineries make both
traditionally styled wines and a few are a bit interested in using some
Francesco tells us Cordero had a protégé helping them regularly in their
early days until he got his sea legs under him. Guermani explained
that he had the idea of making traditionally-styled wines and is now more
comfortable with the protocols in both the vineyards and cellar.
He's converted the vineyards to organic farming and are now certified as
Currently they sell about 20% of their harvest, using the remaining 80%
for their own wine.
The 2017 Barbaresco "Giacone" is presently in stock. This
"cru" is just south of Treiso and several wineries have holding
there, but it's a bit under-the-radar presently. It's
fermented in stainless steel tanks and has about a 30 day period of skin
contact with daily pump-overs...quite "old school." The
wine is racked into Slavonian oak after the primary fermentation and
undergoes its secondary, malolactic fermentation in wood.
It's thought this "fixes" the color or allows the wine to retain
good color. It remains in these big vats for about a year and a
The tannin is nicely
integrated with the fruit, so it's a bit deceptive in that you might find
it nice to drink presently, but it will continue to develop in the
bottle. You can easily cellar this for another 5 to 10 years and the
bouquet will evolve and grow into a more classically styled wine.
Maybe it will last even longer, well stored.
There's a lovely 2018 vintage Barbera. They make two Barbera
wines...this is the "normale" and it's a
delight. The vineyards are ten to twenty years of age. It's
fermented in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeast. Six
months of maturation in Slavonian oak takes the edges off the wine, so
this is medium ruby in color and has dark berry fruit notes. You may
not be able to sense the oak in this wine as the wood influence is quite
This seems to be an estate worth watching and the price of their
wines makes them a delightful addition to the dinner table.
Currently in stock: CASCINA ALBERTA 2017 BARBARESCO
CASCINA ALBERTA 2018 BARBERA d'ALBA $17.99
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) Sold Out
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!
The wine is about the weight of a good Pinot Noir. It is fruity,
along the lines of many a Dolcetto, but it's gentler and there's an
underlying spice note with a touch of a pepper fragrance.
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 Riserva 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! But now
with some years of bottle aging, this is a glorious wine.
- Just for kicks, winemaker Mario Andrion decided to try his hand at
sparkling wine, but instead of using a traditional grape variety such as
Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, he made what we believe to be the first sparkling
wine of Pelaverga.
The wine is called S-ciopet which is a reference to the sound the little
wildflower on the label makes when you "pop" it.
Silene inflata is the name of the plant and you'll more likely find
it in Friuli, though some call it stridolo.
It's sometimes used in salads or, more likely, in a risotto.
Andrion leaves the wine for nearly two years on the spent yeast before
disgorging it. It's quite dry and quite rare.
You'll see a very faint pink tone to the wine as it's sort of a Blanc de
Noir in terms of color.
It's worthy trying, certainly.
Currently in stock: 2020 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO
PELAVERGA $29.99 (750ml)
2006 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO BARBARESCO "Rabaja" Riserva
CASTELLO DI VERDUNO "S-Ciopet" Spumante Metodo Classico Sold
2015 CASTELLO DI VERDUNO BAROLO $49.99
The lovely Marcella Bianco, whose winery makes lots of "rosso."
They have a nice stock room for the recent bottlings.
Franco Bianco and his lovely daughter Marcella.
- 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. Over the years the style of the wines has changed.
They had brought in French oak to mature their various Barolo bottlings, but
finally realized they preferred the "old school" wines which are
matured in botte grande, large wood vats.
In 2019 they signed a lease agreement for some vineyards in Barbaresco, so
soon we should be seeing a couple of Barbaresco bottlings from Massolino.
We've tasted numerous times with Franco Massolino and have seen he's well
aware of the wines being made by other vintners in the Langhe (and beyond).
In 2019 we visited towards the end of a remarkable week in Piemonte,
visiting many of the top estates in the Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo
areas. A few days later we saw Massolino again at an event and thanked
him for showing his wines. We observed that, fortunately, we stopped
by at his winery on our final days in the Langhe.
He was initially a bit perplexed, but we explained that his wines were
really showing beautifully and had we visited at the beginning of our little
tour, everything else might have seemed just not as good.
He appreciated the compliment, but clearly he doesn't get a swelled head
hearing such praise.
That's nice when "normal" people make great wines.
Looking to the west from the Massolino perch at their cellars in
That mountain peak well in the distance in this photo is the famous
Piemontese peak that sometimes can be seen from Milan's cathedral!
We had long heard about "Monviso" and probably over the first 25
years of visiting Piemonte, we had never seen it.
And then, one clear day, there were those amazing mountains!
Some claim Monviso is the mountain seen in the Paramount logo.
Franco explains the various geographical regions in the vicinity, focusing
on his home-base of Serralunga.
The snapshot above was taken in 2019.
The one below was 2011 or 2012.
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.
The vinification cellar has recently been renovated.
This cellar has a humidifier to help reduce evaporation while the wines are
maturing in wood.
Massolino makes a Chardonnay which sees time in the small barrels and their
"Gisep" Barbera also is matured in barrique.
They like to keep the cellar at something like a 75% humidity level.
The sales rep for the terracotta tank company has been very effective at
getting every winery in Italy (it seems) to buy at least one or two
Here in 2019 we see Massolino having one devoted to a Barolo and the other to
- They currently have about 36 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).
Riesling is another project for the Massolino family. They have a
vineyard in nearby Monforte for this grape. We tasted a 2017 in the
Spring of 2019 and the wine was classically floral and had some petrol
notes. They made the wine using stainless steel and
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.
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
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
The 2016 Parafada and Margheria are here...a few bottles, anyway.
These are for people who have some patience and a place to store the wines
for 5 to 10 years, at least. They will both go much longer and
probably into the 2040s with good storage.
- There's the 2016 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 and now they include a tiny percentage from a parcel
in nearby Castiglione Falletto. The youngest vines are maybe 10
years old while the older parcels are 50-something years of age.
They do about a two week skin-contact protocol during the fermentation
period and then the wine goes into large vats for 30+ months.
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. This should not be viewed as secondary in quality to
their single-vineyard bottlings as it comes from many really good
The 2016 has a nice touch of cherry fruit and there's a suggestion of
spice here, too. The tannins are reasonably firm, so this wine ought
to blossom handsomely into the 2030s. If you open a bottle
presently, we'd suggest decanting it and giving it some time to
air...maybe an hour or two.
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.
It's been consistently good and we've described this as a Barbera in the
style of friendly Dolcetto wines.
The 2018 is in stock presently. Medium ruby in color, the nose
offers lots of juicy berry notes. Red fruits.
On the palate the wine is dry, medium-bodied and made with the idea it
should be consumed within a couple of years of the vintage and not stashed
in a rack to drink a decade from now.
We suggest serving the wine at cool cellar temperature. Typically 30
to 60 minutes in the 'fridge accomplishes this.
It pairs with all sorts of foods, too.
- Here's a nice snapshot of a bottle of Massolino Barbera with some
agnolotti del Plin at the Felicin restaurant 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
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:
2016 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Parafada" SALE $99.99
2016 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Margheria" SALE $99.99
2016 MASSOLINO BAROLO "Normale" SALE
2018 MASSOLINO BARBERA d'ALBA $25.99
MASSOLINO MOSCATO d'ASTI $21.99
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.
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
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!
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
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
2019 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 have a
dynamite 2018 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.
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.
We currently have their 2011 Extra Brut in the shop.
It's made of Pinot Nero grown in Oltrepò Pavese, not too far from Barbaresco.
The wine spends about 3 or 4 years on the spent yeast and as it's relatively
unknown, it gets a nice bit of time "on the cork" which enhances its
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).
Giorgio Lavagna, we believe, presently works for the large
Fontanafredda winery near Serralunga.
Currently in stock:
Bruno Giacosa 2019 Roero Arneis SALE $32.99
Bruno Giacosa 2018 Barbera d'Alba $37.99
Bruno Giacosa 2011 Brut Spumante SALE $39.99
Bruno Giacosa 1998 Barbaresco "Santo Stefano"
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
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
And for their entry level Barolo and Barbaresco, again the Ceretto name is
We had 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
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
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" Sold Out
CERETTO has, for the time being, no distribution in
California. They stopped dealing with the previous importer in 2019 it
There is no importer presently.
- There is no
denying the good quality of Roberto Voerzio's wines. They're certainly
well-made and have some character.
The wines have a good reputation, but you need to decide for yourself if these
are worth the premium pricing.
We hosted a dinner and put a 2004 Barolo on the table alongside another
well-regarded Barolo and there was a huge difference in pricing, but we seemed
to prefer the sensibly-priced wine.
Of course, there are always some brands which cost more and there are always
customers who will pay more in order to (hopefully) ensure they are buying the
With wine, of course, there are many opportunities to spend a lot of money and
weeding out the pretenders from the really good vintners is a challenge.
Still, in a few instances, the laws of supply and demand can help escalate
pricing. And then there are some wineries where they simply ask a high
- If you visit the Voerzio cellar, you'll have an idea of their dedication to
quality. It all starts, as we so often hear, in the
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,
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,
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
periodically purchase a bottle of this or that from their local distributor
and are delighted to report the 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe was exceptional!
But that was then and this is now. After trying a number of vintages,
we've been sad to not find the same complexity and price/value relationship.
But the 2018 hits the head on the nail!
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
The 2018 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 quite as austere as an equally young Barolo or Barbaresco.
In fact, this wine could easily be mistaken for a pretty good Barolo!
It is not a secondary wine by any stretch of the imagination, except it's
not a ridiculously priced as Voerzio's famed Baroli.
The entry-level bottling goes for around $180 and the various cru bottlings
have price tags of $400+ a bottle on them.
And, as we've noted earlier...Voerzio wines tend to be priced
stratospherically. But this bottle is actually within the realm of
reason, especially considering the quality of the wine from 2018.
- Currently in stock: ROBERTO VOERZIO 2018 Nebbiolo Langhe
$49.99 (last bottles)
They don't have any signage out on the road to indicate where they are
...Just a mailbox in front of the house!
- 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
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
I believe the first vintage to be bottled and sold was that of 1947.
We have a 2015 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 2023 before if
starts to really show itself and then it ought to go another decade or two.
The Bussia Riserva comes from vineyards close to the winery...and it's a
well-structured, young Barolo. Extended skin contact in the traditional
manner, this could be opened now, but it will really shine if you have some
The 2018 Nebbiolo, though, is delicious right now and it wouldn't surprise us to see it
It's showing beautifully classic fragrances...red fruits and a mildly floral
There's a touch of tannin, too.
It's a remarkably good bottle and well-priced.
The 2016 Barolo is an beautifully impressive Barolo...Twenty year old,
east-facing vineyards in Monforte d'Alba.
Fenocchio does a traditional vinification on the Nebbiolo (Lampia and Michet)
and the maceration time is roughly 40 days.
In an era when so many winemakers are working to make wines which are
immediately accessible by shortening the skin contact time, Claudio leaves his
for routinely longer than a month. After spending about 6 months in
stainless steel tanks where the wine drops a bit of sediment, it's racked into
large Slavonian oak vats and spends about 2 and a half years in wood.
The 2016 is a beautiful wine and should cellar most handsomely with 5-20 years
If you choose to open one when this is a baby, please allow it some time in a
decanter to air.
There's firm tannin to this wine, so pair it with something like braised or
grilled red meats, an intensely earthy mushroom risotto or some well-aged
Currently in stock: 2015 FENOCCHIO BAROLO
"Villero" Sale $74.99
2010 FENOCCHIO BAROLO "Bussia" RISERVA SALE $114.99
2018 FENOCCHIO Nebbiolo Langhe $24.99
2016 FENOCCHIO BAROLO $49.99
We were amused to see this dart board at the Fenocchio tasting room...
Claudio Fenocchio must be quite proficient at this as his Barolo wines routinely
hit the bull's eye!
Claudio and Nicoletta
(Marco e Vittorio)
known this winery for a number of years and visited the cellar in 2008 if
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
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
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
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
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