Now is the time I get to relive my trip to Italy. Days of wine and food. Laughing on the back of a scooter through Rome. Hiking the hills of Chianti Rufina. Rain in Pienza. It was challenging to write while getting to experience so much. My early days were spent near Alba, first at Boroli, and then at Vietti.
I sell Vietti wine in Montana, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but fortunately with great importers and distributors, super wine comes our way. I’ve written about their wines before on GoodTasteBook, and getting a chance to see the actual winery is always a dream come true. Vietti is owned and operated by Lucca Currado, whose mother’s family named Vietti started the winery four generations ago. The oldest bottle dates back to 1851, and before that barrels of wine were sold directly to area osteria and tratteria, local cafes and taverns, so making wine has been in this family for a long time. When I arrived, Lucca was exploring the eastern markets of China like Marco Polo, and his gracious wife, Elena, played host to me during my few days in Alba. When the heat was not working in the apartment at Castiglione Falletto, Elena’s brother, Umberto, opened a room at Vincafe in Alba for my stay. Italian hospitality is something similar to magic, beyond gracious and amazing. They treat you like a principessa. I am still dreaming about the ceci soup (chick pea soup) with wild rice and hazelnuts. At lunch at Vincafe with the children of Lucca and Elena, cousins, the au pair and the grandmother, I had just eaten a large salad with arugula, mozzarella and bresaola, but the soup was served after I was already full, and quite content. But this soup! Perfect comfort on a cold, rainy day in Alba. I wanted to squirrel it away in my bag, or save it for later upstairs in my room. I wanted a to-go box. But the Italians don’t do to-go boxes. It was hard parting when the waitress came to clear an almost full bowl away from my full stomach. I need that recipe.
Our day of tasting started early, just after my first cappucino, I was whisked away to the mountain town of Castiglione Falletto, where the streets are narrow and blind corners are assisted by mirrors showing on-coming traffic. I can’t imagine the town in the crush of tourist summers. March is definitely the off-season, and lucky for me to be traveling alone to have the advantage of quiet streets and no other tourists.
Elena explained to me that the Langhe region, the hills around Alba have fifty “cru” vineyards. Twenty of these are considered the best, and Vietti has access to fifteen of these. We are talking premium fruit here. During the last few decades when the winery’s growth really expanded, the family had no place to build except down. Building down beneath the existing facility allowed Vietti to build a three-level, gravity-flow operation with three different temperature-controlled areas. The amazing under-ground cellar system actually contains underground passages that connect to the town’s castle. Those tunnels are closed-off now, but you can see the spooky passageways and imagine escape routes and secrets. It is amazing to be on top of this mountain in a really small village in a building that from the outside looks any other building. It could be a home, or an apartment, or several offices. But once you go in, the space enlarges to be an entire winery, with levels for fermentation and aging. It is remarkable that 280,000 bottles of red wine are made in such a space.
Oak barriques play a role early in the wine-making process. Their Borolo spends about the first four months in barrique. They use a new technique with low-toast New French oak. The wine is passed through new oak, then onto second- and third-pass barrique, so the oak element is present, but subdued and rounded. Other wines see time in larger tonneaux and botté which leave less of an oak imprint, and lets the fruit’s full expression be delivered.
Vietti “Roero” Arneis: I’ve written about this wine before, and actually had the same vintage in Alba at Vincafe. Always delicious. I want this white wine with a plate of sushi, or fresh Cinque Terre seafood, or tonno agrodolce. The other fruit crop in Roero? Peaches! This wine exudes ripe stone fruit and a tinge of honey, balanced out with crisp citrus and great minerality. Cheers!
Now onto the reds: 2011 Dolcetto d’Alba. This is what Elena calls “Pizza Wine.” Easy and approachable, this wine is ready for casual fare. Like pizza! Fresh with great fruit tannins, this wine spends time in stainless steel and large oak casks to help ease the tannic and acidic edges. Ripe, red fruit, mostly cherry and raspberry, have ample zip to pair with acidic foods like tomato-based pizza and pasta. A great apperitivo wine choice for an evening out with friends. 13.5% alcohol. Dolcetto is the grape, Alba is the region.
2010 Barbera d’Asti “Tre Vigne” Asti wines have a reputation of being more masculine and powerful compared to the feminine and elegant Alba wines. This wine definitely had presence. Dark dried fruit components captivate with beautifully structured tannins. This wine was refined and elegant but with more texture than a wine from Alba. More velvet than silk. Enough grip from tannins to go great with food, but the acidity and tannins mellow out just right with the fruit from start to finish. This would be a great wine over several courses, from appetizers to chocolate dessert. 14% alcohol.From clay and rocky soils with great chalky minerality, the “Scarrone” 2010 Barbera d’Alba, exudes dusty, bitter chocolate with great red fruit: loads of raspberry, strawberry and cherry chiming together in the glass. More ripe, red fruit than dried fruit, compared to the Barbera d’Asti, this barbera is slightly more dry and lighter in the mouth, with more mineral character. The texture: more silk than velvet. These wines could be aged for several years to a decade. Enough tannins and the acidity, especially, hold the barbera together for great aging potential. Wonderful to try these wines from the same vintage year, different region, side-by-side. You really get the taste of vineyards and geography, the terroir, if you will. Barbera is the grape varietal, Asti and Alba are two different appellations in the Piedmont region.
Perbacco in Italian translates to something like “serendipity” or “positive wow!” or “surprise!” In this case, Vietti named their Perbacco Nebbiolo to reflect the great value and flavor of this wine. This is one of the Vietti wines that I am most familiar with. I love to recommend it to customers that love Pinot Noir. A similar palate structure loaded with ample, candied red fruit, but with undertones of dried roses and barely-there vanilla call to mind some great Oregon Pinot Noir. This wine has great balance and terrific texture. Blended from Barolo vineyard sites, this wine sees less aging time, but the grapes are of superb Barolo quality. Barrique fermentation and aging for four months, large cask and some stainless steel before bottling give this wine about two years in the cellar before release. This is what I would call entry-level Barolo, a great way to train the taste buds. It is delicious, versatile, easy to pair with food. I’m thinking roasted meats, hearty pasta dishes, sharp cheeses, grilled fowl.
Just released in January, after three years of aging, the 2008 “Castiglione” Barolo is a blend of Vietti’s Barolo vineyard sites. Barolo is the appellation, near Alba, and the village Castiglione Falletto, the home of Vietti is located almost smack in the middle of the Barolo zone. The grape is nebbiolo that must be planted at south or southwest exposure, and the wine must be aged according to rules of the DOCG: two years in wood, one year in bottle. All this makes a Barolo, a Barolo. Otherwise it is just labeled as nebbiolo. This is my kind of wine. Verging at the edges on that lovely brink red/orange hue of aged wines, this release abounds in non-fruit characteristics. Leather, herbs, especially mint, and hefty minerality merge with dried cranberry and dried red pie cherry. This is a big wine at 14.5% alcohol, but balanced nicely so the heavy spirits are barely discernable. (Use a big glass, decant!) Big fruit tannins brace on the front of the mouth and high acidity gives this wine lots of aging ability. This wine foretells the future in its own way: just released and young, this wine could be aged for 15-20 years and still hold itself together. I love the ample tannins that express themselves in obvious fashion, mouth-drying and stark, calling for food. The in-your-face, or in-your-mouth rather, punchy acidity that will settle down with a little more maturity. It seems like in Italy, where the slow food movement started, that this idea of piano, piano (“little by little”) holds true for their wines, too. The expression of “the best things come to those who wait,” may be associated with a popular ketchup brand, but should be applied to wine and life. But we are a culture of instant gratification. We don’t want to age, or age our wines. While this wine is perfectly drinkable now, in a few years, this wine will be exceptional. I would, though, however encourage impatient wine drinkers to at least decant this early vintage a few hours before imbibing. And it’s okay to wait. Trust me.
This is a wine I would buy a case of and drink a bottle every year on an anniversary, and record the evolution of its maturity. Try this with wild game, braised pork shoulder with a berry glaze, or rich, fatty beef cuts (short ribs, for example!). Perfect for a day in the Piedmont rain.