2015 Viberti Giovanni Dolcetto D’Alba Superiore

It’s been a while since I’ve had a Dolcetto. I won’t be waiting long again. Especially if I can find ones that are this good. Unfortunately, this is not in the state just yet. But I think the distributor will be bringing this in fairly soon.

Dolcetto is a traditional grape of the Piemonte region of northwestern Italy. At one point it was the most widely planted red grape of the region. Dolcetto has been mentioned in records dating back to the mid 1500’s and many believe it originated in or near Dogliani but this has not been proven. The name means ‘little sweet one’. This is not because the wine is sweet but because the grapes tend to be very sweet around harvest time.

Although Dolcetto is no longer the most widely planted red grape of the region it is still highly prized by producers. Dolcetto ripens earlier and in higher, cooler spots than either Nebbiolo or Barbera. The wines made by Dolcetto mature sooner allowing for an earlier release of the wines giving producers some cash flow while the Nebbiolo and Barbera based wines mature.

Dolcetto is mostly planted in the Langhe and Monferatto hills and around Acqui Terme, Ovada and Tortona. In Piemonte there are 7 appellations devoted to the grape. The wines produced from Dolcetto are typically soft with a tannic grip and low acidity. The aromas are of dark red and black fruits, violets, licorice and prune. The wines have a very pleasant, slightly bitter finish from the tannins. They are often a deeply colored ruby, almost purple. Dolcetto is the wine that starts the meal being consumed with the antipasti.

The Viberti Giovanni cellars. Courtesy Viberti Giovanni

The Dolcetto D’Alba DOC is the largest of the 7 appellations devoted to the grape. Due to the shear size and production it is also the most well-known. It also has the most variable wines produced in a number of styles. The wines range from simple and fruity to fuller-bodied, structured and complex. Because the DOC overlaps the famous Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG’s, many producers of these wines also produce very good Dolcettos. The Superiore designation demands longer ageing and a slightly higher minimum alcohol.

Tajarin with truffles at Buon Padre, courtesy of Viberti Giovanni

I have a soft spot for the wines of Viberti Giovanni. I visited the winery 6 years ago (with the same distributor). It was a fantastic experience. Claudio, the young winemaker, took us through the vineyards and winery and gave us a great education on the geography and wine making techniques of the region. They also have a restaurant, Buon Padre, that is outstanding. We were treated to a private lunch by Claudio’s mother. Soft eggs with truffles, tajarin with truffles, anglotti del plin, beef braised in Barolo and about 4 other courses. Needless to say there were some good wines to wash down all of this traditional Piemontese cuisine. It still stands out as a top-ten dining experience. I highly recommend a meal if you are in the Barolo area.

I tasted this yesterday. It is absolutely delicious. It’s exactly what a classic Dolcetto D’Alba should be. All of the grapes are sourced within the commune of Barolo from several different vineyards. Fermentation and ageing is in stainless steel with additional time in bottle before release. The wine is deeply colored, opaque. The nose is bursting with red berry fruits, black cherry, licorice, violet and rose petal. It’s medium bodied with firm tannins and that signature pleasant bitter finish. This could be kept for a year or two but you won’t want to do that. Buy this by the case if you can find it. About $19.

Stunning 2005 Barolo from La Spinetta

 

2005 La Spinetta Barolo Vigneto Campe

Back in 1999 we opened our first restaurant, L’Amante, in the picturesque fishing town of Gloucester, MA. Gloucester was, and still is, a fishing village. Back then the town wasn’t as gentrified as it is now. The downtown waterfront wasn’t developed (although it is starting to be it still has a long way to go) and main street was a mix of casual places and rowdy bars. We opened in East Gloucester away from the hustle of downtown. It was more of a neighborhood with some higher-end homes on the water and the Rocky Neck Arts Colony and theater down the street.

We were definitely something new to the town. L’Amante was the high-end place but we still kept a casual feel to our small, 41 seater with windows overlooking the East Gloucester square. We were successful from the first night and reservations were hard to come by. What does this have to do with the above wine?

Every time I open a bottle of La Spinetta I think of our first restaurant in Gloucester. We were doing upscale, creative Italian and everyone loved it. To go with the food we knew we wanted a great wine list with lots of big names like Gaja, Ornellaia, Paitin, Biondi-Santi, Conterno and others. Problem was that we didn’t have a lot of money when we opened. That, and we were new and most of those wines were, and still are, highly allocated. A sales rep actually told us: 1. You’ll never get any of those wines because you’re in Gloucester and 2. Forget about any ‘great’ wines from Italy and focus on the cheaper stuff as that is all that will sell in Gloucester. Yes, that did happen. We never called him back.

Another salesman came in with an alternative to Gaja. It was La Spinetta. He told us that the winery started producing Barbaresco in 1995 and that they were special and were going to be the next big thing so we better hop on the wagon early. So, we tasted the wine and were blown away. That was the 1997 Barbaresco Gallina. We loved everything about it including the label. We bought as much as we could afford and put it on the list. For $50! The wines now sell for over $150 retail! I wish I had a couple of bottles left but they’ve all been drunk.

Now, the wine. 2005 La Spinetta Barolo Vigneto Campe

The Rivetti family purchased the Campe vineyard in 2000. At the time it was not known for exceptional grapes. In fact, the owner was selling them in bulk at very high yields. The vines were not very healthy but the south-facing vineyard had great terroir and potential. Yields were cut, vines were nursed back to health by using only natural fertilizers and manual labor in the vineyard. The vineyard in now full of healthy, 50 year-old vines.

La Spinetta is a proponent of oak. More specifically, new French oak. After a manual harvest and fermentation in stainless steel the wine is transferred into new French barriques for 24 months. The wine is then transferred back to stainless steel for 9 months and sees another  12 months in bottle before release. Fortunately the fruit can handle the oak as it does not mask the Nebbiolo grape or the terroir of the vineyard.

This is still a big wine 12 years later. The color is a bit more ruby than garnet but still pale and starting show just a bit of age at the rim. It jumps from the glass with dark red and black fruits, rose, violet, vanilla, caramel, underbrush, tobacco and mushroom. There is also the faintest hint of menthol and spicy licorice. The palate is full and plush with big, chewy tannins. Plenty of acidity keeps it form being too cloying. This has tons of concentration and depth of fruit. The oak is so well-integrated that it really contributes to the overall harmony and balance of the wine. It has great length as the finish goes on and on. This is outstanding and I wish I had more. I traded some patio furniture for this. It was a really nice set but I think I made out in the deal. $199.

Oh, remember that salesman who said we would never get those allocated wines in Gloucester. We did. I still have a wine list floating around somewhere with the 1998 Ornellaia on it. It was the most expensive wine on the list at $55!

 

New Year’s Resolutions for the Wine Lover

Sparkling wines in New Zealand

It’s a new year which is always exciting. It’s a clean slate. An opportunity to try new things, get better at something, be a better you. So, why shouldn’t wine be a part of that? After all, you’re a wine lover. Right?

So, here are some suggestions for improving the wine lover in you for the upcoming year. These don’t take a lot of effort so no excuses and no quitting half way through.

Forget about ‘Dry January’.

Don’t deprive yourself. I know, I know. The health benefits of taking a month off. All the weight you are going to lose because you aren’t drinking anymore. Blah, blah, blah! Instead, why not just cut down your wine consumption by half. It will save you some money, you’ll lose a few pounds and maybe you’ll be able to stick to your newly purchased gym membership. But by drinking a little you will still be supporting your local wine merchant and/or restaurant when they need you the most. And just think of how good that glass of wine will taste on Friday after work when you have been abstaining all week.

Napa Valley

Visit a winery. Or, better yet, plan a vacation to wine country.

There is a winery in every state which means that you can find one, or more, within a couple hours drive. Wineries are fun places. The people are  always really nice, you get to learn something and you get to taste a bunch of wines. Some of which you may have never tasted before. And wine country vacations are the best, IMHO! One, they are located in beautiful places. Think of Napa, Chianti, Burgundy, Argentina. I could go on but you get the point. Two, the restaurants in wine country are usually really good. At the least you’ll be able to find one or two outstanding restaurants some of which may be at a winery. Three, hot air ballooning. Yes! I know this is on a lot of people’s bucket list and most wine regions have someone giving hot air balloon rides. Why not combine them?! If you need any help in planning your getaway, I’m here to help.

Step out of your comfort zone.

Always drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc when you go out to eat? Try something different. Even if it’s Chardonnay. Drinking the same wine over and over again must get really old. I know. I do it and have to stop myself sometimes. Branch out and try something you’ve never tried before. How about a Gruner Veltliner or an Arneis instead of that SB? Instead of reaching for a Malbec (the new Merlot, sorry Miles!) try a red from the Languedoc or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. There’s too much wine out there to be drinking the same thing all the time.

Open that bottle you’ve been saving for the last 15 years.

You know that bottle of Champagne you got as an anniversary gift 12 years ago? You know, the one sitting on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Open it!! It’s probably past its’ due date but what the hell. It’s not going to get any better. Unless it’s Krug or maybe Dom. Hey, most wines are meant to be drunk within the first two years of release. So what are you waiting for. Go to your cellar and look at what you’ve got, pick something and open it. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion. I’ve had phenomenal wines with pizza. Remember the Scavino Barolo I talked about in my last post? That’s a $95 bottle of wine that we drank with a burger. There’s even a night called ‘Open That Bottle Night’.

Getting ready for a Languedoc-Roussillon tasting.

Take a wine class or attend a tasting hosted by a professional.

Yes, I’m being a bit selfish here as I teach classes and host tastings. But, if I had a buck for each time someone told me they wanted to take a class I wouldn’t have to teach classes anymore. Ironic, huh? So just take the class. Most formal classes are not inexpensive but they are well worth it. You’ll be able to wax poetically about malolactic fermentation and rotofermenters at the water cooler or your bosses holiday party. (If you don’t know what those two terms are contact me to sign up for a class). But seriously, you’ll learn a lot. Even at the informal tastings I host everyone learns something. The easiest way to do this is to have a wine professional like me come to your house and host a tasting. They are a ton of fun. Going to your local wine shop’s Saturday tastings don’t count. I’m talking about a sit-down tasting hosted by a wine geek.

So there you have it. That’s your homework for the year. If you have a particular wine resolution that you are committing to this year I’d love to hear about it.

Happy New Year!

A couple of great Barolo’s for my birthday.

Two stunning Barolos

Last week was my birthday and I always treat myself to some good wine on my birthday. This year I decided to make it a multi-day event and opened a couple of stunners from the cellar: 2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra and 2008 Paulo Scavino Barolo Carobric. I’m glad I pulled them as they were both delicious, not too old and not too young, just right.

Barolo is made in the Langhe region in Piemonte from the Nebbiolo grape exclusively. It is considered the king of Italian wines due to its’ age-worthiness, complexity and long-standing reputation. Nebbiolo only does well in a few places on the planet, all in Italy, but it reaches its’ zenith in the Langhe hills near Alba. The wines are tannic when young but reward time in the cellar if you can resist them.

Domenico Clerico and Enrico Scavino are contemporaries. They are considered two of the iconic producers of the region who followed similar paths in the vineyard and cellar over the last 4 decades or so. There was a time when both men were considered ‘modernistas’ of Barolo in that they used small French oak and made wines which were more fruit driven and laden with vanilla and toast from the oak. These wines were sometimes criticized for abandoning the traditions of the appellation and making wines that did not fit with the history.

Some of this is true. These modern wines were a bit overblown. The oak masked the characteristics of the Nebbiolo grape and the terroir of the region. But they also introduced other practices that have since been adopted by almost every producer. Some of these like the use of stainless steel, rotofermenters, shorter maceration times and better practices in the vineyard are taken for granted now. And the wines are better for them.

2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo ‘Ciabot Mentin Ginestra’

Clerico’s estate is in the heart of the Barolo appellation in the town of Monforte d’Alba. He crafts outstanding wines which express the exceptional terroir from his vineyard holdings in some of the top vineyards: Ginestra, Bussia, Pajana and Mosconi.

He was a key proponent of the modern Barolo movement making wines with more power and more rounded fruit. There was a time when new French barriques were employed for all of his Barolo. Now, the percentage of new oak is down. He is a believer that the grape is more important than the production method and is an advocate for the land in the winemaking process. This may explain his focus on single vineyard wines.

This wine comes from his 5.5 hectare plot in the Ginestra vineyard from vines planted between 1965 and 1970. Rotofermenters are used and the wine sees 24 months in French barriques, 80% of which is new.

2004 was an exceptional vintage in Barolo and this is an exceptional wine. It is ready now but can still be aged for another decade or so. That’s good because I still have a couple of bottles left. This is a great example of an aged Barolo. The fruit is still there with aromas of red cherry and red fruits but they are overshadowed by dried rose petal, underbrush, mushroom truffle, turned earth, iron and a touch of cocoa and cigar wrapper. The tannins have really mellowed but still have some grip. The acidity keeps everything lively. This took a few minutes in the glass to really come around but when it did it was special. The finish lasted for minutes. The only downside was the amount of sediment. I would say that at least a half a glass was undrinkable due to it. See above.

2008 Paolo Scavino Barolo ‘Carobric’

Scavino has always been one of my favorite producers. The wines are always good no matter the vintage. The wine making is exceptional. The attention to detail unmatched. Enrico Scavino’s winemaking philosophy has change over time but one thing has remained constant: his dedication  to hygiene in the cellars and the health of the grapes. This is something he inherited from his father Paolo and his grandfather. The estate has been in the family since 1921. In the 1950’s brothers Paolo and Alfonzo split the holdings and Enrico and his cousin Luigi took possession of prized holdings on the famed Fiasco hill. (Luigi is the owner of Azelia, another great producer)

Enrico employs the same winemaking for all of his Barolo. Exceptional care is taken in the vineyard to ensure the healthiest of grapes at low yields. The grapes are sorted and each plot is vinified separately, using only indigenous yeasts, in stainless steel tanks. The wines are aged in a combination of old French oak and large Slovenian oak before a time in stainless and then bottle before release. After the first year of ageing the wines are evaluated. Under performing lots are sold off in bulk and not included in the final blends.

2008 was a very good vintage that was cooler than average. A late warm spell saved the wines. They are still young and could do with a bit more time in the cellar but I thought this was drinking really well with some time in the glass. I would decant for about an hour or so.

This is a blend of three of Scavino’s best vineayrds: Rocche di Castiglioni, Cannubi and Fiasco. It offers a great interpretation of Barolo that is still evolving. The tannins are more present than the Clerico but well-integrated. There is more fruit on the nose with dark, black cherry, and stewed plums. Violets, rose and lilac fill the glass along with chalky earth, tar and cocoa. For a fairly young Barolo it was round and pleasant to drink. Actually it was delicious and kept getting better and better with time.

It was a good birthday for wine!