Nebbiolo at the Foot of the Mountain
Cascina Bruciata literally means “burnt farm” and is so named for an arson that took place in the 1800s. In the comune of Barbaresco in Piemonte, the top vineyard sites or crus have always been considered to be Santo Stefano, Rabaja, and Rio Sordo. The Balbo family has long owned a good portion of the Rio Sordo cru and sold grapes to prominent local winemakers. In recent years, the family has employed the services of Federico Curtaz as vineyard manager. He is renowned locally for developing the vineyard sites of Angelo Gaja. In addition, the Balbo family has obtained as their own winemaker Guido Martinetti, who has made eight wines that were awarded Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) by Gambero Rosso, all by the age of thirty. In addition to their two cru Barbarescos, the Balbo estate produces small amounts of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo Langhe. Writes wine guide Gambero Rosso, “A promising debut in the Guide for this small Barbaresco winery with ideally situated vineyards… The Balbo family, helped by Guido Martinetti and Federico Curtaz, produces excellent wines.”
Azienda Agricola Filippo Gallino is located in Piemonte in the town of Canale. Filippo, Maria, and their son Gianni and daughter Laura share the work in the vineyards and cellar of this small but prestigious winery and produce some of the finest Barbera in the Roero appellation. The Gallino family has been growing grapes and making wine in the district for many generations, and son Gianni is now vineyard manager and winemaker for the estate, which cultivates 20 hectares of vineyards planted with the white Arneis, and the reds Barbera and Nebbiolo. Nearly every year since 1997, one of the family’s wines has received the prestigious Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award from wine guide Gambero Rosso. Describing Filippo Gallino, Gambero Rosso writes, “Behind every great wine lies the skilled efforts of a tight-knit family team.” Lorenzo Scarpone, owner of Villa Italia in San Francisco and importer of Filippo Gallino wines, says that Gallino is a farmer in the most profound sense of the word. Humble and hospitable, he loves his land, which makes his living but also nourishes his soul.
Located in Liguria close to the border with Piemonte, the Frecciarossa estate in the Oletrepo Pavese region was originally developed by Mario Odero, who purchased the property at the end of World War I after returning from England. Son Giorgio obtained an agronomy degree from the University of Milano and further developed the business, selling wines in London and New York. Today, Giorgio Odero’s daughter Margherita and husband Carillo Radici run the business with the help of Pietro Calvi. Their 86 acres of vineyards are farmed organically and include Croatina, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Uva Rara, and Merlot. Gambero Rosso awarded Tre Bicchierri to their Pinot Nero Giorgio Odero in 2005, 2007, and 2008. “The impeccable range of wines features an outstanding Pinot Nero….”
Italian Wines of the Month
Filippo Gallino – 2011 Arneis
According to Burton Anderson in The Wine Atlas of Italy, Arneis began to develop its own identity in the 1980. Before then, it was planted among Nebbiolo vines because its sweetness attracted predators away from prized Nebbiolo. Arneis was also blended with Nebbiolo to soften what could be an austere red. The wine lacks intense aromas, but has lively fruit flavors with overtones of almond. Winemaker Gianni Gallino makes Arneis in stainless tanks and ages it there without removing it to barrels so that delicate flavors are preserved. Serve chilled but not overly so. Colder temperatures can obscure subtle flavors.
Filippo Gallino – 2011 Lange Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo is, of course, the grape that noble Barolo is made from, but here in Roero, Nebbiolo vineyards are lower in altitude and the climate slightly warmer than in the Langhe where Barolo territory is located. Even though Roero Nebbiolo is drinkable without the aging that Barolo requires, it might be a good idea to decant the wine to release its flavors, which typically suggest raspberries and floral notes. Winemaker Gianni Gallino made this wine in stainless steel tanks and aged it there without racking it into oak barrels, which mitigate tannins when they are abundantly present in red wine. In this case, the wine has a pleasantly smooth texture without needing to be aged in oak. Serve at cool room temperature.
Filippo Gallino – 2006 Barbera Superiore
Barbera is the sweetheart of Piemonte in the same way that Zinfandel is in California. Both wines can be made as simple, every day wines, or they can be made more carefully as reserve wines, which this one is, carrying the Superiore designation. Barbera, like Zinfandel, in any of its guises is a delightfully fruity wine with smooth tannins and complements a wide range of foods from roasted meats to grilled vegetables. The Gallino 2006 Barbera was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. The 2005 Barbera received the highest Tre Bicchierri award from wine guide Gambero Rosso. Serve at cool room temperature.
Cascina Bruciata – 2008 Barbaresco
This 2008 Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, harvested from vines that were planted more than 30 years ago. Like all the estate’s vineyards, these Nebbiolo vines are planted in the prestigious Rio Sordo cru. Aged for 24 months in new and one year-old French oak barrels, the wine shows fragrant floral aromas with a medly of plum, black cherry, and raspberry scents that follow on the palate. Before serving, decant the wine to release its aromas and flavors and serve with porcini mushroom dishes, roasted meats, and sheep’s milk cheese.
Frecciarossa – 2011 Sillery
This unusual wine is 100% Pinot Noir, made by separating the skins from the juice before fermentation so that the juice does not take on the red color of the Pinot Noir grape. In fact, all white wine is made in the same way as opposed to reds, which are fermented with their skins, obtaining color and tannin from those skins. The family has made this wine for decades, and continues to do so even though red Pinot Noir is highly valued. The wine shows delicious citrusy, balsamic flavors and aromas and is balanced and structured on the palate. Serve slightly chilled.
Cascina Bruciata – 2008 Cannubi-Muscatel Barolo
The nose on this Barolo has an aristocratic character and This 2008 Cannubi Muscatsel Barolo was made from grapes that were harvested from one of the most prestigious crus in the Cannubi zone. The nose on this Barolo has an aristocratic character with floral notes that are well balance with red fruit flavors of cherries and blackberry. In the mouth it starts with a fresh and lively tannic structure, showing great concentration and a smooth balance. It finishes with a long and extremely elegant aftertaste. This Barolo has a fantastic ageing potential. Decant the wine before serving at cool room temperature.
Frecciarossa – 2007 Pinot Nero
After 12 months of aging in French barrels and casks, the nose has complex and spicy aromas with touches of blackcurrant, vanilla, and berries. On the palate, the wine is rich and fruity, warm and well balanced. More like the Pinot Noir of Burgundy, the Frecciarossa 2007 is a structured wine without the overly jammy qualities of some California Pinot. The wine won Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award. Serve at cool room temperature.
Italian Region of the Month
Almost half of Piemonte, which means “foot of the mountain,” lies in the great arc of the Alps and the Apennines, from which the Po River flows east through its broad valley to the Adriatic. Bordering Switzerland and France, Piemonte and the smaller Valle d’Aosta region to the north were part of the French-speaking principality of Savoy between the 11th and 18th Centuries and played a key role in the Risorgimento, the movement that united Italy under a Savoy king in 1859. Famous ski resorts and the wild Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso draw visitors to the majestic mountains in the north, while in the south, vine covered hills around Barolo and vast fields of grain and rice in the Po valley continue a rich agricultural tradition. Torino, the region’s capital, is a crowded industrial city and home to the Fiat car company, but it also offers splendid Baroque civic buildings, palazzi, and museums, one of which is world renowned for its Egyptian collection gathered during the Napoleonic Wars.
The ancient Liguri tribes who dominated the region probably first cultivated the wild vines of the Apennines, but they learned wine making from the Greeks about 600 BC. The Celtic Taurini, who gave their name to Torino, also grew vines in the region. Although the Romans planted vines, they didn’t favor the wines. Finally in the 19th Century, the wines of Piemonte gained distinction when the Savoy and others began to use French methods.
Piemonte has 60 DOC and DOCG zones, more than any other region. Most vineyards are located in two major areas, in the Laghe and Monferrato hills, which are connected to the Apennines in the southeast and in the foothills of the Alps to the north between Lake Maggiore and Valle d’Aosta. In the Langhe hills above the town of Alba are the vineyards of Barolo, one of Italy’s most prestigious wines, “the king of wines and the wine of kings,” although some think that Barbaresco is its equal. The noble Nebbiolo vine produces both wines as well as Gattinara. Barbera and Dolcetto are popular full-flavored reds, while Freisa, Grignolino, and Brachetto are popular pale, fruity varieties often made as bubbly wines.
Whites are equally prominent, the first being Asti Spumante from Moscato d’Asti, the nation’s second DOCG in volume after Chianti and the world’s second sparkling wine after Champagne. Among still whites, Gavi from the Cortese grape has emerged as one of Italy’s most coveted wines, and Arneis is attracting increasing attention.