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Updates from Alto Piemonte

We will continue posting Neal’s dispatches from his producer visits.  Over the next few days he will be in Italy and Switzerland.  Here is the first update from Italy.

Map of Alto Piemonte

“A quick “wrap” of yesterday’s activity in the Alto Piemonte, 10/21/13 …

Monsecco: Greeted by Giorgio and Fabio, as usual. This duo presents a charming and quite professional face for Monsecco. It is immediately comforting to know that our affair here is being tended to with concern and competence.

We tasted a series of wines from the 2012 vintage, made only in tiny quantities due to seriously difficult springtime conditions. A small amount of white wine is now produced (Colline Novaresi Bianco) from Erbaluce (not permitted to place the varietal name on the label). This white is quite concentrated: dry and dense. The Uva Rara (“Massatondo”), Vespolina (“Barbatasso”) and Croatina (“Borgoalto”) are all good soldiers in this vintage: solid, enjoyable wines with uniquely individual characteristics on clear display. The Nebbiolo of 2010 (“Pratogrande”) is most definitely the king of these single variety wines: a wine of breed and consequence, complex and elegant, superb value! The Nebbiolo is sourced from the zones of Sizzano and Ghemme.

Monsecco produced a single vineyard Vespolina in 2009 from the Baraggiolo vineyard as an experiment to see how Vespolina reacted to an extended elevage in 50 hectoliter “fusto”. The result is a more tannic, dry and emphatically spicy wine than its sister.

Tasting at Monsecco
Tasting at Monsecco

The next Sizzano will be from the 2009 vintage (2008 was skipped). The blend is 60% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina, 20% Uva Rara. The appellation extends over less than 20 hectares. Like the Ghemme and Gattinara here, the aging is done two-thirds in large botte (150 hl) and one-third in fusto (50 hl). Varieties are harvested and vinified separately, then assembled for blending PRIOR to malolactic fermentation. This should prove to be an exciting wine for us: strong but fine tannins with excellent mouthfeel and balance.

The Ghemme 2007 is much stronger than the preceding vintage. In fact, this makes vivid the point that vintage characteristics vary markedly from zone to zone in Piedmont. The ’07 vintage in the Alto Piemonte is stronger than the ’06, in contrast to our experience in the Langhe. This wine, though very ripe, is closed and austere, showing great promise. Its composition is: 85% Nebbiolo, 15% Vespo+Uva Rara.

The Gattinara ’07 is equally impressive. From the more volcanic soil of the other side of the Sesia River, it is brooding and masculine, Barolo-like, a fine candidate for aging.


Below is a second dispatch from Alto Piemonte, from Neal’s visit to Antonello Rovellotti on 10/24:

Antonello Rovellotti in his cantina
Antonello Rovellotti in his cantina

“Antonello Rovellotti was in fine form on Monday afternoon (Oct 24). Harvest had just been completed and, though conditions were variable and at times difficult, he seemed rather pleased with his work.

His Erbaluce from the “Il Criccone” site was much sharper and distinguished in the 2012 version than the prior vintages I have tasted. The wine features strong notes of bitter quinine, fierce minerality and compelling tension. We will have to see if the 2013 shows similar definition as the 2012 is effectively sold out.

Of course, the reason we work with Rovellotti is the duo of Ghemmes that he produces and these wines are nothing short of sensational. The releases for next year will be the 2007 Chioso dei Pomi and the 2007 Riserva Costa del Salmino. We will work the ’07 “Pomi” along with more of the ’05 “Salmino” in the spring shipment and then we will take a second hit of the ’07 “Pomi” along with the first release of the ’07 Riserva “Salmino” in the autumn.

NOTE: Antonello did not produce a Riserva in 2006 as he preferred to produce a top-flight Ghemme and felt the vintage did not merit setting aside the best of the harvest for a Riserva. This reinforces the fact that vintage generalization for a region is dangerous and misleading. ’06 was clearly top-flight in the Langhe, superior in my opinion to the ’07; but,it is distinctly the reverse in the Alto Piemonte.

2007 was the first vintage at Rovellotti where both versions of Ghemme were produced by aging in the recently purchased 26 hectoliter ovals produced by a Swiss barrelmaker using oak from the Jura. Antonello is ecstatic with the results and I am in complete agreement — these wines offer excellent value!

– NIR”