Piedmont: five must-try wines
Author: Matt Smith
One thing that perhaps most surprised me during my last trip of 2019 to the Langhe was the quality coming out of Barbaresco from the 2017 vintage. Widely documented as a very hot year and consequently among the earliest harvest on record, I was expecting to taste lots of dark, perhaps even jammy wines. Not a bit of it. Through experiences with other hot vintages in recent times (think 2003, ’07, ’11, and the spikes of ’15) growers have learnt to handle hot vintages through better canopy management.
David Fletcher, being an Aussie, does things a bit differently. He doesn’t own his own vineyards and doesn’t feel the need to. Through his day job as head winemaker at Ceretto, he is extremely well connected and respected in the region. He rents vineyards and always insists on managing them entirely in an organic and biodynamic way. His winemaking is completely focused on allowing his vineyards to shine. By choosing to hand-plunge his open-top vats just once every other day, he arguably employs the gentlest extraction of any producer we work with – producing particularly delicate, pretty aromatics. His Barbaresco 2017 is a perfect exhibition of his approach and his skill at managing this hot vintage.
Luigi Giordano, lying in the town of Barbaresco itself, is not an overt or showy estate. In fact, they have remained distinctly under the radar, quietly crafting traditional Barbaresco since the 1950s from some of the best and most famous vineyards in the region. And until now, they have never exported to the UK. Winemaking is now in the hands of Luigi’s 27-year-old grandson, the softly spoken, smiley Matteo Rocca.
Montestefano is among the most revered crus of Barbaresco. Its extremely steep, calcium-rich soils and southern exposure produce some of the most structured wines in the region – and Giordano’s 2017 is a triumph. Already very expressive with a wild herb, cola character, with savoury notes of meat and game, this is such a complete wine which perfectly encapsulates this iconic vineyard’s character.
This is the first release of this vineyard for Mauro Veglio and a real standout of our offer this year. What excites me about this wine is that it is very much the blueprint for the evolution of their style, which continues to go from strength to strength. Once firmly in the modernist camp, Veglio has always made excellent full-bodied wines (and they have wonderful vineyards to work with).
But this new wine, made by Ale before he joined up with his uncle, suggests a more delicate, fresher direction. With a much longer, gentler period of maceration and the usual barriques swapped for one large botte, the result is thrilling: there’s a real lightness of touch. Full of red fruit, peach and orange peel, it’s extremely fresh.
The wines of Serralunga d’Alba are particularly spectacular in 2016. It’s a fascinating commune which often produces some of the most structured and long-lived wines. That is certainly the case in 2016, but somehow the wines are also light on their feet. Giovanni Rosso’s wines are not heavy in colour, but have incredible depth and structure.
Normally I prefer the ethereal charms of his steep, cold Serra vineyard and it is certainly very good (if a little austere, as it always is at this youthful stage); I often find Ceretta a touch plush and opulent for classic Serralunga. But in 2016, this vineyard has really shone. It exhibits all the sinewy tension of great Serralunga with blood-orange, iron and tobacco. This year it has masses of extra structure, grip and freshness.
I could have picked any one of Nicola’s wines: this estate really is at the very top of its game now and the Baroli will all no doubt sell out quickly. But the 2019 Langhe Nebbiolo gives an early preview of the 2019 vintage (which Nicola was so excited about when I last visited back in December) and is a pure, delightful expression of young Nebbiolo. Behind the scenes of this seemingly simple wine, Nicola has characteristically put a lot of thought into capturing another side of Nebbiolo.
Completely unoaked, this is not trying to be a baby Barolo. Many of the grapes are sourced from the Alta Langa. Here, the additional altitude and cooler average temperatures allow for later harvesting. The fruit is able to hang for longer, getting riper while preserving their natural acidity and, come harvest time, the grapes arrive at the winery cooler, preserving their wonderful aromatic profile. There is now a lot of investment in the Alta Langa which will no doubt become increasingly important as climate change and extreme weather continues to affect the Barolo region. This is an absolute steal; a fragrant, crunchy joy to drink while you are waiting for Trediberri’s epic Baroli to develop.