The histories of Rosenthal Wine Merchant and the village of Carema have been intertwined since January of 1980, when Neal purchased a small lot of wine from Luigi Ferrando—the very first wine he ever imported. Over the ensuing decades, Ferrando’s Carema has gone from a wine virtually unknown outside of its immediate vicinity to one of the most iconic wines in our portfolio, revered by enthusiasts across the United States and well beyond, and allocated down to the bottle. Our shared history has come full circle in recent years, with Neal having had the incredible opportunity to purchase three minuscule parcels within Carema itself: Piole, Runc, and Sasso, totaling six-tenths of a hectare. And, in one of the most moving moments in RWM’s history, Neal was made an honorary citizen of the village of Carema in March of 2019. In the company of many members of our winegrowing family, it was a celebration of the human element that underpins all meaningful wines—a reminder that, for those of us involved in the world of real wine, our livelihoods are all inextricably linked.
Northern Piedmont is in the midst of a renaissance, with winegrowers reclaiming vineyards that had been abandoned through the political and economic woes of the 20th century, and consumers increasingly realizing the value and character of Nebbiolo planted in these cooler climes. This vibrant spirit has taken hold in Carema as well, which totaled 36 hectares when the DOC was created but fell to 14 hectares at its nadir a few decades back. Today, there are 16 hectares under cultivation, with further vineyard expansion—an arduous process on these steep and virtually soil-less slopes—taking place, and even a few newcomers beginning to bottle their own wines. Still, at the heart of it all remains the Ferrando family, the standard-bearer for this singular place since Luigi began bottling his own wines in the early 1960s. Today, his sons Roberto and Andrea work tirelessly for this DOC with which their family name is nearly synonymous, and they have recently cleared out and replanted a 0.1-hectare parcel called Laurey in the old historical heart of the zone.
Visitors to Ferrando’s cellar in Carema are confronted with an unassuming room whose stark simplicity stands in contrast to the dramatic visual splendor of the vineyards themselves. There is no expensive thermoregulatory equipment, no spotless new wood; it is, quite simply, a room full of old oak casks, bare-walled and raw-floored. But three years in this humble cellar transforms the juice of that amphitheater’s fruit into the most ethereal of all Nebbiolo—one which Neal named in Reflections of a Wine Merchant as his desert-island wine. Certainly, in its emphasis on grace over force, on tension over richness, on equilibrium above ostentation, it embodies those characteristics that tend to guide RWM’s choices in this vast world of wine.
2017 presented yet another hot growing season in northern Piedmont, with the attendant issues of advanced budbreak, hydric stress, and accelerated maturation. However, given that vintages such as this are becoming the new norm, growers tend to take proactive steps to foster balance through vineyard management: later pruning, less de-leafing, and greater bunch retention. Certainly, Roberto and Andrea struck a wonderful equilibrium with their 2017s, which show the warmth of the vintage in their relatively dark fruit character and heft, but retain classic Carema acidity—diurnal shifts were large during the growing season—and are not hampered by an excess of structure.
2017 Carema “Etichetta Bianca”
Ferrando’s white-label Carema is among the most elegant expressions of Nebbiolo in existence, and the 2017—while comparatively rich—still comes off as nimble. Never an overwhelmingly powerful wine, “Etichetta Bianca” derives its sense of structure more from its acid-fruit tension than its tannins, which are particularly well coated in 2017 by the wine’s dark, licorice-tinged fruit. Fermented in stainless steel without temperature control and using only indigenous yeasts, it spent three full years in a blend of large Stockinger botti and smaller well-used French barriques.
2017 Carema “Etichetta Nera”
The Ferrandos only produce their legendary black-label Carema when the vintage allows for it, and it never comprises more than a fifth of their total production. To be labeled as “Etichetta Nera,” the wine must first be selected in the vineyard as worthy; then, it must pass muster post-malolactic-fermentation; and finally, a third verification is performed at the end of the three-year barrel aging. Raised entirely in a mix of used 250- and 500-liter French-oak casks, the 2017 “Etichetta Nera” interestingly shows a similar weight to its brother above (it is frequently more voluminous in its youth), yet with a slightly firmer structure and a sense of sappy saturation to the fruit.