A Cultural Shift in Italian Wine
The Ladies of the Langhe Have Arrived
Gearing up for a whirlwind tour of the who's who of Nebbiolo producers in Piedmont, I realized I would be meeting quite a few women. Nine of my 18 visits would be with or include women.
This struck me. In one generation, many of Piedmont's cellars have transitioned from conservative, male-dominated dominions. Whereas women who worked with the family used to stick to business, many today also work in winemaking and viticulture
Piedmont still holds onto its roots (quite literally), having received this June UNESCO World Heritage status for its vineyards. However, these hills have transformed radically in the last 50 years from high-production, négociant growing to single vineyard, precision growing.
The tragic 1986 methanol scandal was a big catalyst. Angelo Gaja estimates that before, 80% of the region’s grapes were sold. (Today, it’s the inverse.) Afterward, more producers began bottling their own wine. Then, Gambero Rosso began awarding their coveted “tre bicchiere”, or “three glasses”, to new producers. This was particularly important for those who needed to sell wine today that wouldn’t be drinkable for a decade. The aspiration for drinkability brought on roto-fermenters and the advent of “modern” Barolo.
Whether evolution or revolution, the dust won’t settle soon here. To understand where the region is today, shop for these stunning wines from some of today’s Ladies of the Langhe:
From 100% limestone in Serralunga d’Alba, Silvia holds this wine back a few extra years so that it can unwind. It’s definitely generous in tannin, but a forgiving succulence of ripe boysenberries and mulberries provides equilibrium today.
From the Terlo hill in Barolo, this wine’s nose has a dramatic punch of firm tannins along with a generous dose of spice rack. For those who find Nebbiolo too bitingly lean, this is a welcome respite.
It turned out I met Angelo instead of Gaia as she was in Asia on business. He was thrilled to hear my slight preference for Barbaresco over Barolo. This one shows why: it’s lacey in texture, tangy in acidity and more reserved in tannins. It smells enticingly of brown sugar, crunchy red fruits and steeped tea.
This house always makes a wine composed of all the vineyards of Barolo, not just one commune or vineyard. This one is savory with barbecue spice, tar and raspberries and is already suavely integrated.
This historic Castiglione Falletto vineyard shows up in archives as far back as 1666. It tastes of damp tea leaves and red cherries, and its gentle structure is almost more Pinot Noir than Barolo.
The Cannubi Boschis vineyard is an exception in the Barolo commune as it produces bigger wines. This is characteristically dense in flavor with lots of new oak spice and generously ripe fruit.
The Scavinos purchased these vines in 1990, and Elisa says 2008 and 2010 are the most astonishing vintages she has seen. This beauty offers damp earth, balsamic, fruitcake and fallen leaves. There’s loads of strucutre, and this should last another 20+ years.
From the highest part of the Barolo commune, 45-60 year old vines produce this fragrant wine that smells of roses and new leather and has a feathery palate texture.