by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pertinace - A Tour and a Tasting

Cesare Barbero, Managing Director and Enologist, greeted me in the tasting room to show me a selection of wines and share some of the history of the co-op with me before we took a tour of the large production area. Cantina Pertinace was founded in 1973 by his father, Mario Barbero. It is a cooperative winery that includes 17 growers from just seven families. They are a tight knit group who have worked together for years. Their goal is to make high quality yet affordable wines from the region. The winery is located in Treiso in the Langhe and produces about 650,000 bottles per year.

The name Pertinace is the name of a Roman emperor who was born in the area in 126 AD. He became ruler at 73 years old after many successful years as a general in the military. He was chosen for his honesty and strength with the hope that he could stop the corruption that existed throughout the Roman empire's government. Unfortunately, he was killed after 87 days in office. The name was chosen because it signifies a person who follows his dreams and ideals with strength and passion.

We went back to the tasting room and Barbero poured a few of the wines for me while we waited for our ride to tour the vineyard areas.
Pertinace Langhe Arneis 2017 - This wine is made from a local white grape and stays on its lees from September until January which adds some weight and creaminess to the texture, it was aromatic, crisp and fresh with floral notes and flavors of pear.
Pertinace Dolcetto 2017 - Cesare Barbero confirmed that this wine is one of his favorite anytime drinkers. He finds it harder to sell in the U.S as it is a lesser known varietal that many people assume is sweet due to the grape's name. He likes to serve it slightly chilled and added it makes a good by the glass wine for restaurants. The wine is dry and easy drinking with fruity aromas and flavors of black cherry.
Pertinace Barbera d'Alba 2016 - Round and fruity with plum and a bit of almond, a very fresh and pleasant wine.

Our ride arrived and we headed up into the vineyard. Going up was a bit of a thrill ride, I thought our vehicle was going to flip over backwards at one point but it was well worth it for the gorgeous views all around. It was a brisk morning in early October in the Marcarini Vineyard, the day started off very cool. Barbero explained that the leaves had just started to change color a couple of days before, shortly after they harvested. There is a statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, up at the top who watches over the vineyard. We toured through several areas, the views were all spectacular. Barbero shared that the group had a total of 90 hectares under vine, primarily Nebbiolo. 

After the tour, we headed back down to the winery to finish the tasting with a line up of Barbaresco wines. Though each wine was made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in the same general area from the same vintage with the same production method, each was unique due to the terroir variations in the different vineyards.
Pertinace Barbaresco 2015 - Chocolate cherry aromas and flavors with a a hint of licorice in the finish. This Classico wine was sourced from multiple vineyard areas and blended to create the most approachable and also affordable wine in the lineup.
Pertinace Barbaresco Marcarini 2015 - Soft yet still nicely structured, this wine was more elegant and expressive with floral notes of rose and dried cherry with a lingering spicy finish, it was my favorite of the three.
Pertinace Barbaresco Nervo 2015 - More powerful and robust, this wine had the biggest structure with a long life ahead of it. The nose was a bit less expressive than the previous, it was more austere, it had ripe dark berry flavors and had a similar persistent spicy finish.

The also have a line of Grappa, all very different in style, the Grappa di Dolcetto was my favorite in this grouping, it was warm, elegant and aromatic.

A big thank you to Cesare Barbero for giving me the tour and making sure that I had another fantastic visit in Piemonte.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Tasting at Bruno Rocca

I arrived at Bruno Rocca in the afternoon for a tasting. Elena Oberto met me outside where they were in the process of bringing in some Barbera grapes. She led me up to the tasting room and showed me the line up of wines that she had set up for me. After I asked some questions about the different sub-zones, she took me back out onto the terrace and laid out a map of Piemonte to help me get a better understanding of the lay of the land. That was just the beginning of what turned out to be an exceptional terroir tutorial.

Piemonte is located at the foot of the Alps bordering both France and Switzerland. Within the greater area, there are 59 different production regions making wines from about a dozen grapes in many different styles. The red Nebbiolo wines from Barolo and Barbaresco are the king and the queen of the area. Langhe is a sub-zone lying south of the capital city of Alba on the right side of the Tanaro River. Inside this larger area, lie the production zones for these two premium wines. Barbaresco is much smaller than Barolo and has a smaller production as well. We went back inside and started the tasting. 

I was surprised to see their white of choice as the region has a few native white varieties. Elena explained that Bruno had obtained a small plot of Chardonnay as part of a package deal when he purchased a Barbera vineyard in Nieve. Originally, he considered selling the grapes to another producer but then he decided there would be benefits in having a white wine in his line, particularly to use with paired dinners. He has been producing it since the 1990's and it is now an integral part of the line. Originally, he treated it more like a red wine using 100% oak but now only 20% of the wine spends time in French Oak barrels. 
Bruno Rocca Cadet Chardonnay Langhe 2016Fresh, fruity, and crisp with classic apple and citrus aromas and flavors and a lingering mineral finish.

From our vantage point on the terrace, we were not able to see the Barbera growing areas but Elena did show me examples of the different types of soil that their Barbera is grown on in Alba and Asti. Both of these wines were fermented in stainless steel and spent 12 months aging in French Oak barriques.
Bruno Rocca Barbera d'Asti 2016 - Fresh and fruity with bright red cherry fruit and a crisp, food friendly acidity with a mineral-laced finish. This wine came from the village of Vaglio Serra where the vines grow in soils composed of limestone, sand, and red clay.
Bruno Rocca Barbera d'Alba 2016 - Spicier and slightly rounder with a similar freshness but with a red plum character and a white pepper finish. This wine was sourced from the village of Nieve from older vines growing on limestone and blue marl.

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco 2015 - This Classico wine was elegant with floral aromas and a surprisingly approachable fruit-filled finish. The grapes came from three vineyards in Neive - Cru San Cristoforo, Marcorino, and Fausoni which have clay soils with sandy veins running through them. The wine was vinified in stainless steel and aged 18 months in French Oak barriques before bottling.
Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Currà 2015 - Softer and also very approachable, yet still very refined with light floral notes of rose with bright red cherry fruit and a fresh, lingering mineral finish. This wine hails from the Cru Currà vineyard in the village of Neive where the soils are calcareous with Sant'Agata marl and sandstone chips. It was fermented in stainless steel and spent 12 months in French Oak barriques and 12 months in large French Oak barrels.
Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Currà Reserve 2013 - This wine exhibited more intense rose floral notes and had a spicy, black fruit character with a bit of licorice in the persistent finish. It came from the same vineyard as the previous wine but from a specific block which has shown itself to create wines with greater depth. It was both fermented and then matured for 24-36 months in oak barrels. Elena referred to the "sweetness in the bouquet".

Beautiful and elegant, each was a delight to taste and all are recommended.

Since  I returned to Houston, I have enjoyed one more of their wines. The Bruno Rocca Trifolè Dolcetto d'Alba 2017 which is on the wine list at Coppa Osteria. The grapes for this wine are sourced from the village of Barbaresco. Fruit forward with black cherry aromas and flavors, Dolcetto is considered to be an anytime wine, it was absolutely delicious with our pizza and pastas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Tour and Tasting at Oddero Poderi e Cantine

One of my favorite stops on my Piemonte journey was at Oddero Poderi e Cantine which is located in the Santa Maria area of La Morra. Seventh generation family member, Isabella Boffa Oddero, led the tour and tasting for me. Isabella’s grandfather, Giacomo Oddero, is the fifth generation to make wine here and her aunt, Mariacristina, currently oversees the production. After five generations of the family men building the business, this is the first time that women are in charge.

The family’s Piemonte wine grape growing roots go back to at least the end of the 18th century though 1878 was the first year that they bottled wine under their own name. A church with its own vineyard called Bricco Chiesa was their closest neighbor. The family tended the vines for years before eventually buying the vineyard a few rows at a time and eventually adding it their estate in the 1800s. The family now has about 86 acres located throughout the region and they only use their own fruit for production, they do not buy from other growers.

Giacomo was instrumental in helping the area gain first DOC and then DOCG status. He has been devoted to maintaining the region's traditions from wine to truffles to hazelnut production. Isabella shared her concerns about losing some of the biodiversity around their estate as more of the area is developed. Some sites have experienced landslides from deforestation. Isabella shared that more of the region's truffles are coming from Roero now because of this as well. 

The farmhouse and surrounding vineyard have always belonged to or been tended by the Oddero family. The Bricco Chiesa vineyard is the historical production center of the winery and is now certified organic. As we walked back through the vineyard, the vines were heavy with grapes which were expected to be harvested within the week. Isabella explained that their vineyards went partially organic starting in 2008 and they plan to convert even more. She shared that organic vine growing is becoming more common in Barolo as the families that live there note more environmental changes. She stated, "I believe in organic, I believe its our future, but consumers who want organic products need to understand that it is a different way of doing things and it is more expensive. When problems occur, it can result in tremendous losses. It takes incredible commitment to be certified, it is quite complicated but it is important for our employees, the environment, and our own health." She shared that they have an interest in biodynamics but are not ready to pursue that certification yet though they have added some of the principles to their vineyard care like beehives from which they make organic honey.

We headed back toward the winery where they have a small museum on the property. Isabella was quick to demonstrate some of the equipment used in the earlier days of production like an old hand pump from the 1800s and we picked up heavy chestnut carriers which workers used to carry 50 liters of wine. Inside the winery, they keep an ancient press which is also no longer used. It is positioned next to some groovy looking cement vats, painted by family members, that are in use. The concrete vats are for both vinification of the wine and they are also used as a temporary holding container for wine that is being transferred from the oak casks before bottling. They engage in some experimental winemaking because being open to new ideas is important to them but tradition is crucial, they prefer to age their wines in large oak casks because as Isabella stated it was important to the family to "respect the identity of the territory."

The original cellar was built at the same time as the farmhouse. The only change that has been made to it is the addition of new flooring that is easier to clean. It is full of different sized oak barrels, most quite large. The different containers are used for different wines though there is no formula, it can change every year. They do put Barbera in their new oak to season it, typically for 2 years, before using it for Nebbiolo wines.  They make Barolo from five different single vineyards, all historical sites for vine growing with the best sun exposure. Isabella shared, "We feel so lucky to get to work with some of the best soils in Barolo." Her grandfather began purchasing the sites after WWII, when many families left the region for jobs in the city. "We feel so fortunate for his vision. With our recent addition, I finally know how he felt to obtain the lands and to know this is now mine." Last year, the family purchased a small plot of old vines in the Monvigliero Vineyard. They have not produced wine from it yet. They are in the process of converting it to organic and replacing some Barbera vines with Nebbiolo.

It was wonderful to see a family business that is full of love and respect for the members and their community and to know the passion for the region and the wines will continue through the upcoming generations.

The tasting: 
Oddero Langhe Bianco 2017Fresh and citrusy with a mineral finish. This wine is made from 100% Riesling for the first time, it is a small production and is very difficult to find in the U.S. It is also the first year that the family has used a screw cap closure.

Oddero Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza 2015 - Fresh, fragrant and spicy with rich, red fruit aromas and flavors and a juicy finish. This vintage came from a warmer and drier year than is typical but underground water from a rainy, snowy winter kept the vines healthy and balanced. Isabella shared her concerns about the new labeling requirement coming in two years when producers must choose between having Barbera d'Asti on the label or Nizza, they will not be able to do both. She is concerned about consumer's lack of recognition for what the Nizza designation means, beautiful location with great soils producing excellent quality grapes. She would like to be able to continue with both on the label.

Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo 2016 - A bright, pure expression of Nebbiolo with red cherry, floral violet, dried herbs, and a hint of tobacco with noticeable yet not obtrusive tannins. Isabella feels this wine gives a nice look at what the vintage will offer when the Barolo wines are released. This wine is actually sourced from the same Barolo vineyard area but comes from much younger vines, it is a true "Baby Barolo."

Oderro Barbaresco Gallina 2015 - Firmly structured yet still refined with a silky texture, very elegant and approachable with classic aromas and flavors of red cherry fruit, violet notes and a long, spicy finish. The Gallina Vineyard is located in Neive on sandy soils which receive full sun in the hotter hours of the day.

Oderro Barolo 2014 - Less red fruit nuance, more forest floor and truffles with a long licorice-laced finish, a firm structure balanced with fresh acidity. This classic Barolo is a blend of four vineyard areas this year. In addition to the usual Bricco Chiesa, Capalot, and Fiasco vineyards, grapes were also sourced from the Villero vineyard as they chose not to produce a single vineyard wine from that area this year. While many critics have said this wasn't a good vintage for the region due a rainy summer and hail storms, quality is present in this wine. Isabella stated, "I love this vintage a lot, I think its very classic, they did a great job in the vineyards bringing in only the best fruit, I think it is well-balanced and elegant."

Oddero Barolo Brunate 2009 - Forest floor and red rose aromas dominate the nose with softer than expected tannins and a rounder feel flavored with red berries and dried herbs in a soft, lingering finish. The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Brunate vineyard, an organically grown historic vineyard in La Morra with 11,000,000 year old Tortonian soil composed of clay, sand and limestone, the production is small with only 1,800 bottles produced. 

Oddero Barolo Bussia Vigna Mondoca Riserva 5 Anni 2012 - Bigger and more powerful with grippier tannins, flavored with dried herbs and spice, this wine had a long, juicy, mineral-laced finish. The Mondoca vineyard in Bussia is located in Monforte d’Alba. The vineyard has 50 year old vines that naturally produce less fruit due to the stress created by the ancient calcareous limestone soil, only 3,000 bottles produced.

Oddero Barolo Vignarionda Riserva 10 Anni 2008Even at ten years old, this wine was very austere and tannic, it is less fruity with intense aromas of truffles, forest floor and a bit of tar with a lengthy licorice-filled finish. It comes from one of the most historical vineyards in the hills of Langhe. The big structure, pronounced aromas and complex flavors suggest that this wine can be aged for a very long time. The winery chose to hold it for 10 years before releasing it because of this intensity. A huge treat to try, with only 2,000 bottles produced.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Iron Sommelier 2018

Iron Somm Julie Dalton

Iron Sommelier 2018 was held last night at The Houstonian Hotel, Club, and Spa. Iron Sommelier is Houston's most important competition for local beverage gurus with some of the city's best sommeliers competing for the title. There was great excitement in the room when Julie Dalton of Mastro's was named this year's Iron Sommelier. 

Dalton is the first female to ever win the title. Her theme of "Drink Gneiss Schist" was a clever play on words with all of the wines she chose coming from grapes sourced from metamorphic soil types. "The wines that have made me take pause or cry or have a come to Jesus moment have all been wines from metamorphic soils," she shared. She explained that gneiss and schist are both metamorphoses of shale and slate created from pressure and heat. "I just find the wines to be so expressive, there is electricity on the palate." She said that she was not anticipating to win as a newcomer to the city, " I was honored to even be invited to be a participant and I chose something really geeky, I wasn't expecting that at all."

Each contestant selects three wines within a theme of their choice that may focus on a wine region, grape or style. Each sommelier presents the wines they are pouring while chatting with guests out on the floor. Underwriters are also invited to VIP Tasting Rooms where each sommelier does a presentation on one of their selected wines in a small group setting and additional awards are bestowed. Professional judges award the title of Iron Sommelier at the end of the event while guests vote for the People’s Choice Award.

This year's recipients of the Underwriter Tasting Room, Best presentations went to Adele Corrigan from 13 Celsius and Justin Vann of Theodore Rex and Public Services Wine & Whisky Bar. Vann was also named 1st Runner Up by the judges. Matt Crawford of State of Grace and La Lucha earned both the People's Choice award and was named 2nd Runner Up.

The event benefits the Periwinkle Foundation which develops and provides programs to add positive change in the lives of children, young adults and families that are facing challenges from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses while being cared for at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tasting at l'armangia

On my recent trip to Piemonte, everything I thought I knew about how long you can hold Moscato d’Asti was challenged at a tasting at l’armangia. The translator for our Grappa group in Asti gave us the option of touring the city or going to her brother's family winery and doing a tasting there. The group voted unanimously for more wine. 

We arrived in the municipality of Canelli for our tasting. We had previously learned that the family has a winemaking history that began in 1850 though they had been grape growers for at least a hundred years before. They now have approximately 25 acres of vineyards in Canelli, Moasca, and San Marzano Oliveto located between Langhe and Monferrato.

Winemaker and owner, Ignazio Giovine, greeted us. He shared that he farms with respect for the environment. He encourages biodiversity in the vineyards with indigenous plants. He explained that he prefers to use low levels of sulfites and minimal intervention in his production. He has wine featured in the upcoming Slow Wine 2019 Guide as well. 

What we weren't expecting was a vertical tasting of Moscato d’Asti wines from several vintages ranging from 2017-1995 but first, we started with a dry red. 

Vignali Nizza DOCG Riserva 2015 - This Barbera wine is sourced from old vineyards in Nizza and aged in new oak barrels for 12 months followed by additional aging for 10 months in large oak casks. Full bodied with great depth and freshness with fruity aromas and flavors of red berries and plum with notes of tobacco and coffee and a hint of almond in the lingering finish.

Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2017 - Classic aromas and flavors of citrus blossom, lemon zest, peach, sage, and honey, fresh and effervescent.Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2015 - Still fresh and sparkling with aromas and flavors of citrus blossom, pear, kumquat, sage, and honey.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2008 - Alive and well, but lighter, with hints of lemongrass and ginger with a tropical fruit flavor, and a fresh, sweet citrus finish.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2007 - Cork issue. Slightly flat with light notes of peach and lemongrass. 
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 1997 - Baked peach aromas and flavors but the bubbles and floral aromas had disappeared over its 21 years. This was the last bottle left of this vintage.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 1995 - Caramelized pineapple aromas and flavors but also lacking any spritz or floral notes, very similar to the '97. This vintage was a cool year and the first that he had bottled under the L'Armangia label.

Mesicaseu Vendemmia Tardiva 2016 - This wine is a blend of 75% Moscato Bianco Canelli and 25% Chardonnay. Very floral with perfumed aromas and sweet tropical fruit flavors.

This was a very interesting tasting for me. In wine classes, I had always been told to drink Moscato d'Asti wines when they are young and I had never deviated from that advice. I assumed the wines would either fall apart or have off-flavors if aged. This was not true in this retrospective line up. Before we started the tasting, Giovine confirmed the wines do change after two and a half to three years and may not display typical Moscato aromas and flavors, but, as time goes on, the wines will evolve again into the more pleasant profiles that we enjoyed here.
All the wines are highly recommended.