My love affair with a great Italian grape

2017/11/16 - Written by Marco Giovanetti
Mi love affair with a great Italian grape
Mi love affair with a great Italian grape

From all the great Italian grapes in the vast pantheon of Italian viticulture, the one that I love the most is Nebbiolo. This everlasting romance started at a very early age. My courtship with Nebbiolo, started on a sunday, when I was eight years old. At that age, I used to live in Venezuela and my nonno besides construction, used to run a fine food importing business. Like many Italians, Sunday was a relaxed day, where we used to watch a game of soccer and eat a multi-course meal. Cold Cuts and fresh pasta were the rule of thumb followed by copious amount of meat and vegetables. There was good wine of course followed by strong espresso and grappa to wake up from the food coma.

It was in this setting that  i feel in love with Barolo. A sunday in september, my nonno cooked trippa alla parmigiana and he offered the family a great Barolo, a Capellano riserva. Sadly, I can't remember the vintage but the wine impression got tattooed on my mind. The wine was very dry and strong but its flavors and aromas nuances were a revelation to me.  For instance, images of my nonna’s garden came to my mind and also her leather bag collection. Also this wine displayed a very pungent animal nose that brought to mind, the pig farm of my mother. Later on, during my wine studies, i discovered that these were the trademark characteristic of Nebbiolo grape and Cappellano was a traditionalist.

Traditionalists see themselves as the makers  of the real Barolo, the result  of a lengthy  vinification followed by long ageing in large, Slovenian  oak casks. On the other hand, Modernists are in favour of  shorter macerations and fruit forward wines, and often employ french  barrique ageing to give the wine a refined structure with less rustic tannins ( a trademark of Nebbiolo as well). Because of their differences, both groups went into a continuous debate that still goes on today. It has been called The Barolo WarsIn the last few weeks I got to rebond with some magnificent Nebbiolo expressions by trying some unforgettable wines For the occasion of raspipav, producer Giacomo Fenocchio was in town presenting some of its wines available in the Quebec market, along Paola Grasso, a co-owner of Ca’ del Baio, a producer in neighboring Barbaresco appellation. The invitation to meet these producers was a courtesy of its importer John Bambara.

Barolo has enjoyed international recognition since the XIX century. It was during this timeframe that the  Fenocchio family started its wine business. SInce 1864 the Fenocchio family has been making wine in the most traditional way possible with long macerations and long aging process. Giacomo only uses natural fermentations with wild yeasts, everything is done very meticulously with the respect for the territorio. The family has 14 hectares planted with vines and they produce 11 wines. They are not organic but follow a viticulture method that their reflects their family heritage farming. I tried two wines from Fenocchio at the John Bambara tasting.  a Cannubi and a Bussia both from the 2013 vintage. Cannubi is a cru situated on a  long hill with a gradual slope lying in the heart of the Barolo area. Those slopes are rich in blue, white and grey marls with a special microclimate that protects from extreme weather conditions. The results are exceptional wines with equilibrium all in finesse.

On the other hand Bussia ( 69.95, case of 6) is a big, noble, long-ageing wine the pride and glory of old Piedmont. The soil in Bussia contains a large proportion of iron, which exercises a dominating influence on the structure and concentration in the wine. Wines from Bussia usually require a few years of cellaring before they reach their full expression  The Cannubi ( $80-$90, case of 6) was such an elegant masterpiece. Bright red fruits, cashmere texture with fine grained tannins. Delicious flavors of dried herbs, roses and cherry. I don't know why, but this wine reminds me of  Madam Butterfly by Puccini. Definitely, the more I think about it, the more I become obsessed about it. However, the Bussia was about more power and concentration than elegance. Hefty dark fruit notes with nuances of tar and gunpowder with licorice and dry porcini mushrooms. A very exciting wine as well bringing to mind the Otello opera by Giuseppe Verdi.

If Barolo is dubbed as the king of Italian wines, then Barbaresco would be its queen. Barbaresco  made with Nebbiolo as well is typically more approachable and easier to enjoy when it’s young. It has a shorter maceration period and less time in the barrel than Barolo meaning it has less aggressive tannins, revealing a lighter, more feminine side of Nebbiolo with more pronounced fruit up front. Ca del Baio located in the town of Treiso produces a variety of wines that reflects the traditional style of the Langa area. The Grasso family ( owners of Ca del Baio) has been making wine in Barbaresco since the 1880’s. Giulio and Luciana Grasso, fourth generation winemakers, are now running the family business with the help of their daughters Paola, Valentina and Federica.

Their Barbaresco Asili 2014 ($55.50, Case of 6) tasted at the John Bambara tasting was very stunning. The Asili cru is located in the village of Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is the predominant grape variety, followed by Barbera and Dolcetto.  Their Asili was a charming almost feminine expression of Nebbiolo. Elegant with a fantastic poise reminding me of red berries, dry rose petals and licorice. The wines of Bambara Selection are available only in the private import market of Quebec. So that's about it. On the following post, a look at some of the avant garde Italian producers present at Raspipav and La Grande Degustation Montreal 2017.

Ciao a tutti!!




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