Greetings from Piemonte!


It's already been a week packed with tastings and winery visits and the tasting notes are piling up.

So far we've spent time in Northern Piedmont and visiting with some familiar friends. On Saturday shortly after my arrival I made my way, with the help of Jamie Wolff of Chambers St. Wines (one of the best places to source back vintage Barolo and Barbaresco by the way) to the little known zone of Lessona for a visit with the venerable Sella winery.

One of the oldest family owned wineries in Italy, with a history traced to 1671, Sella has just recently re-emerged as a significant producer for the US market. With their production of about 7000 cases divided among seven different wines it's no surprise that the wines are not as commonplace as perhaps they deserve to be. The wines we tasted were as good as ever and really offer a different take on Piedmontese reds. Even though the wines are mostly Nebbiolo, the addition of Croatina and Vespolina in conjunction with the unique soils of the region, gives them a distinctive voice that needs to be experienced. These wines are also very fairly priced so I urge you to give them a try if you enjoy traditionally styled wines with a wonderful balance of fruit and earth tones. You can find some more photos of the Sella property here.

Bramaterra Sella 2004
The Sella winery has been family-owned since the early 1700s. Bramaterra (the name of both the wine and the vineyard) is a red blend: mostly old-vine Nebbiolo, with Vespolina and Croatina as well. Exotic, dark-berried, spicy fruit, with notes of rose petals, quinine and aniseed. - Astor Wines & Spirits

Sella Lessona 2003
The Lessona appellation boasts just one producer: Sella. This northern Piedmontese red wine is based on Nebbiolo and Vespolina. The nose evolves by the minute, filled with violets, warm spices, strawberry compote, mint, and sanguine minerals. Approachable today but can be held for years. - Astor Wines & Spirits

On Sunday, after visiting with some old friends, we kicked off the 2009 Alba Wine Exhibition with a tasting in downtown Alba. This was just a chance for us to meet and greet friends old and new before beginning on Monday morning.

Our first flights included the 2006 Roero and 2005 Roero Riserva. Much like Lessona, Roero is another great Piemontese region producing wonderful Nebbiolo, though in the case of Roero they are more famous for their bright crisp white, Arneis.

The relatively sandy soils of the hills of Roero can yield wines that are softer than those from Barbaresco or Barolo yet offer up captivatingly pure and delicate aromatics. These are more gentle expressions of Nebbiolo, but Nebbiolo none the less, so I expected bright cleansing acidity and firm, if small scaled, tannins. What I got where decidely tannic, woody, tough wines that lacked elegance and balance that the best wines of Piedmont offer. My advice is to stick with the whites until the winemakers of Roero return to their roots. Competing with Barolo and Barbaresco is not a winning strategy for them.

Following up the Roero tasting was our first session of Barbaresco tasting, from the 2006 vintage. We began by sampling the wines from the villages of Barbaresco and Treiso. These wines served as an introduction to the 2006 vintage. I was surprised by the toughness of these wines. Many were rich and packed with dense, tough tannins but seemed to lack enough flesh to offer balance, at least at this early stage. I preferred tasting the 2005s last year.

You pretty much can't go wrong with the wines from Produttori del Barbaresco and the 2005 base bottling remains a great wine at a terrific price.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2005
A lovely Barbaresco with solid acidity and a cool, composed character featuring crisp cherry, soil and dried floral aromatics. The wine is medium bodied and fairly elegant with small but precise tannins and a taut backend that leads to a long, sneaky finish. Needs a year or two in bottle to really express itself but still delicious even at this early stage. 90pts

Another wine tasted this week was the 2004 Castelo Di Neive Santo Stefano. A great bottle of Barbaresco and a great value for this very highly esteemed cru.

Castello di Neive Barbaresco Santo Stefano 2004
Smoky on the nose with deep earthen spice and limestone notes. The fruit is still tight on the nose but in the mouth this unfurls seamlessly with fine elegance and low key fruit that is tight and unyielding but builds on the backend with a wonderfully richly fruited finish. This deserves a few more years in bottle or several hours in a decanter but is super stuff! 92pts

On Tuesday morning we continued to explore Barbaresco, now through the wines of Neive, and began to take a look at the wines of Barolo. The wines from Neive were a relief after the previous day's tasting. We saw fine wines with fresh fruit balancing rich ripe tannins, wines that still needed some time in the bottle but that showed incipient elegance as well as power. I will have to get my notes in order before making any specific recommendations but I feel it's safe to say Neive was the standout region for 2006 Barbaresco.

Our first flights of Barolo included wines from both Barolo and Novello, the Southwestern corner of the region where the blue tinted Tortonian marl of the West side of the Barolo region is the dominant geological feature contributing to the terroir of these wines. In general this southwestern quadrant of Barolo produces silken, elegant wines with admirable focus on a medium bodied frame. I'll be reporting in full on the Barolo wines of 2005 in my next email and keep on eye on the Snooth forums for daily updates from Italy.

Signing off from Alba Italy in the heart of the Langhe. A presto!

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