Pio Cesare Gavi 2010

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Pio Cesare Gavi 2010

Pio Cesare Gavi 2010

If last week’s Barossa Shiraz was the epitome of the familiar, this wine is at the other end of the spectrum with a new grape and a new region (for this blog).  There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just dive right into this Pio Cesare Gavi 2010.

Italian whites are something of a weak area in terms of my personal wine knowledge.  While I have a handle on a few of them, there are just so many.  At this point they are all vaguely familiar but not so much that I can remember which is which.  Obviously I need to spend a few months touring Italy to understand the geography and the grapes.

Gavi is a town in the southeast of Piedmont, not far from border with Liguria which stands between it and the Mediterranean.  We know Piedmont from past posts on Barbaresco and Dolcetto d’Alba, and I’ve spoken a bit about the hierarchy of red grapes there and sparkling wine.  However, I completely failed to mention any white grapes in Piedmont, which is something of an oversight.  The main white grapes in Piedmont are Arneis and Favorita, found in Roero to the north of Alba, and Cortese which is the grape of Gavi.

Gavi, in addition to being a town, is a DOCG region as of 1998.  Cortese has been cultivated there since at least the 17th century, and is the sole grape for the DOCG, though Dolcetto was historically grown there but not widely replanted after phylloxera struck.  The region is hilly, with aspect and altitude being key factors in site selection.  Soils vary in Gavi, with white limestone and red clay being two distinct types.  The climate is continental and similar to the rest of Piedmont, with hot summers and cold winters, but with a maritime influence from the Mediterranean 70km to the south.

Cortese is a new grape for me, and I hope I can be forgiven for pronouncing it as it is spelled rhyming with tease, instead of how it’s actually pronounced, more like core, tea, and say strung together with the emphasis on tea.  It’s a white grape, and while it’s most commonly associated with Gavi, it’s the primary grape in other DOC areas of Piedmont, and used in blends in DOC wines of Lombardy and the Veneto.  It is capable of retaining acidity at full ripeness and has good disease and pest resistance.  It can also deliver high yields without the typical drop in quality, and the DOCG rules in Gavi permit 70HL/HA.

Cortese is not a grape grown widely outside of Italy.  According to Vinodiversity.com, the only Australian producer is Lost Valley Winery in Victoria.  Mosby Winery in Santa Barbera, Cougar Vineyard and Winery and Mount Palomar in Temecula Valley, and the Graziano Family of Wines in Mendocino (and possibly a few others) have plantings in California.

Pio Cesare is a fifth generation family run producer based in Alba, having been established in 1881 by Cesare Pio.  They are a fairly large scale producer, with 45HAs of vines they own outright, and longstanding relationships with a number of neighbouring growers.  They produce wines from regions across Piedmont, including DOCG Barolo, Barbaresco, Mostaco d’Asti and this Gavi.  In addition to those wines, they produce DOC Barbera and Dolcetto d’Alba, and varietal DOC wines from Grignolino, Freisa, Arneis and Chardonnay.  Their wines are very traditional in style, but their winemaking is fairly modern, with temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel and no shortage of French oak.  This wine in particular was fermented in steel and then remained on lees for four months prior to bottling.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, a pale, lemon green colour with quick thin legs. On the nose it’s clean, with medium intensity and a developing character.  There are notes of quince, lemon curd, a little white pepper, and the suggestion of oak, even those this wine has not had seen the inside of a barrel.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a medium plus length. There are notes of quince, some sandalwood, lemon, and some herbs.  It has a slightly oily texture – not unpleasant, but noticeable.

I score this wine as good, possibly very good, as there is some complexity and it measures well in terms of length, acidity and intensity.   As this is my first Cortese, I can’t vouch for its typicity, but it is very pleasant in the glass, and probably just the thing to pair with shellfish in the summer.  Alas it’s grey and wet here as we pass the midway point in the Antipodean winter, but it managed to brighten my day nonetheless.

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco DOCG 2006

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Cantina del Pino Barbaresco DOCG 2006

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco DOCG 2006

Yesterday was the familiar, but today is somewhat less so.  We’re back in Italy, in Piedmont, but instead heading southwest from Alba, we’re going in the opposite direction where we can find this Cantina del Pino Barbaresco DOCG 2006.

I wrote a little about Piedmont when I covered the Dolcetto d’Alba not so long ago, but only really to say that’s where Alba is located.  It’s a hugely important wine region in the northwest of Italy, best known for three grapes:  Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto.  Nebbiolo is the cornerstone grape of a dozen DOC/DOCGs, and is perhaps most famous when produced on Barolo or Barbaresco.  Barbera is somewhat more rustic, and while widely produced, is very much the second grape of the region.  Dolcetto is third in the rankings, and usually made into a drink now style of wine.  Piedmont is also home to two styles of sparkling wine, Asti and Mostaco d’Asti, as well as some white varieties which represent a small but growing percentage of production.

Barbaresco itself is a DOCG (since 1980), situated to the east of Alba in the Langhe area. A hilly region, the soils are calcareous marl.  The climate is similar to the rest of Piedmont, with hot summers, cold winters and fog, though it is moderated by the river Tanaro.

As the wines of Barbaresco are nearly always viewed as a counterpart to neighbouring Barolo, it’s worth noting how the wines differ.  Both are made from Nebbiolo, but the conditions in Barbaresco ripen the grapes sooner and give lighter wines.  As a result, Barbaresco is a lighter style, and the ageing requirements are a year in oak and two years total, a year less than Barolo.  The lighter body does not take away from the tannins and acidity for which Nebbiolo is known, though Barbaresco matures rapidly and is not meant for the extented ageing commonly associated with Barolo.

I’ve written briefly about Nebbiolo in the context of Jasper Hill, but here again are the basics:  early budding, late ripening, susceptible to poor fruit set with thin but tough skins, it produces lightly coloured wines of high acidity and high tannin levels.  In Piedmont, in addition to Barbaresco and Barolo, it produces several other DOC/G wines, as well as many other less regulated local wines as varietals and blends.  Outside of Piedmont, it is also grown in Valtellina where it is known as Chiavennasca, but otherwise it is little grown in the rest of Italy.  In the New World it has many fans but it is a challenging grape to grow.  There are plantings in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, Argentina, and in cooler areas of Australia, but only a few stand out examples.

Cantina del Pino is one of the oldest producers in Barbaresco.  The vineyards were established nearly a hundred years ago by the former director of the Royal Enological School in Alba, Domizio Cavazza, who first called wine produced in that area from Nebbiolo grapes Barbaresco.  The company is named after a pine tree he planted to mark the birth of his first son, and while his family did not take up the business after he died, the Vacca family who took over after him have maintained it ever since, now on their fourth generation.  They produce three Barbarescos, a Langhe Nebbiolo, a Barbera d’Alba, and a Dolcetto d’Alba, as well as a Langhe Freisa.

While they don’t make any claims as to organic certification, they use no chemical fertilizers, and the average age of their vines is 40 years old.  They use 20-30 day macerations and fermentation in stainless steel, both under controlled temperatures.  They age their wines for two years in oak and at least another year in bottle.  They neither fine nor filter their wines.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus garnet colour, and very slow, thick legs.  On the nose it is clean with medium intensity and a developing character.  There are notes of sour cherry, sweet spice, and potpourri.  The palate is dry, with medium plus mouth coating tannins, medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium flavour intensity, medium plus alcohol.  There is a bit of tar, some perfume, and lovely pomegranate notes. It has a medium plus length.

I rate this a very good wine – I really enjoyed it.  It had a complex mix of flavours and good intensity on the palate.  In addition, it has a really nice colour, as in pretty shade, though not especially deep.

Sordo Giovanni Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2007

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Sordo Giovanni Dolcetto d'Alba DOC 2007

Sordo Giovanni Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2007

As with many aspects of this blog, I’m sure I like the maps much more than anyone else who has ever visited.  I like seeing where a particular wine is from, I like going to the Where I’m Drinking page to see the big picture, but I especially like the small map on the right hand side of the homepage that just shows the last ten or so.  It serves as an indicator if I have been recently ignoring part of the world, and looking at it now it’s been three weeks since I wrote about a European wine.  To get back on track, here’s the Sordo Giovanni Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2007.

The last few weeks have been pretty slack, I must admit.  I wrote about some favourites, and the vast majority of wines were from regions I’ve physically visited, and in most cases I’d been to the actual cellar doors of the producers.  Today though it’s all new territory for me, with an unfamiliar grape, region and producer.

The grape is of course Dolcetto, a red variety most commonly associated with the northwest of Italy.  It ripens early, and while it can be prone to dropping bunches and is vulnerable to some fungal diseases, it’s not difficult in the vineyard.  It can tolerate both cold and altitude, which are both common where it is grown in Piedmont.  In the winery though it’s another story.  It tends to be low in acidity (a possible reason for the name “little sweet one”), but somewhat high in tannins.  Various techniques are employed to prevent overextraction, such as short fermentations, and as a varietal wine it typically only has light to medium tannins.  While it’s most commonly found in Italy, there are also plantings in the USA and Australia.

In Italy, it can be found as a varietal wine in a DOCG and seven DOCs, all of which conveniently have the word Dolcetto in their name.  It also features as a required majority grape in a number of other regional wines.  However, within northwest Italy it is often overshadowed by Nebbiolo and Barbera.  As those can command high prices, Dolcetto is often relegated to less favourable sites.  Also, as Nebbiolo and Barbera can have extensive ageing requirements, Dolcetto is generally made in a drink now style and sent to market without extensive maturation in barrel or bottle which helps ease cash flow problems associated with producing a wine that cannot be sold until years later.

Dolcetto d’Alba is the name of the DOC from which this wine originates, in Piedmont, and it extends to the east and south from the town of Alba, known not only for wine but also white truffles.  The region is known for hot summers, cold winters, with fog in between.  The terrain of Piedmont is varied, with the Alps to the north, the hills of Langhe to the south (where Alba itself is located), and river plains in between.  The soils are clay marls, with Dolcetto performing best on the white variety while not doing living up to its potential in heavier soils.

Sordo Giovanni is a traditional producer, based near Garbelletto, to the southwest of Alba.  Established in the early 20th century, they are currently on the third generation of the family, with Giorgio Sordo and his wife Emanuela at the helm.  They make a wide range of regional wines, including Barbaresco, Barbera d’Alba, several Barolos, Moscato,  Prosecco, a traditional method sparkler, an Arneis, and several types of grappa.

This wine is from vineyards in the Serralunga and Castiglione Falletto areas, grown on south-facing hillsides, on bluish-grey calcareous marl with mineral salts.  Grapes are picked at full ripeness, undergo a week-long fermentation, are stored in stainless steel tanks and then given six months in bottle before they are released.

In the glass, this wine is medium ruby red, with a few thin quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean with a developing character and medium plus intensity.  There are notes of deep black cherry, forest floor, red licorice candy and a little bit of tar.  The palate is dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium flavour intensity, and medium minus tannins, which are green if they’re there at all.  I picked up notes of sour cherry, liquorice, pencil shavings, and black pepper with further sour cherry on the finish.

This is a very good wine, fresh and flavourful.  I was almost surprised that it’s five years old, as it’s keeping so well.  It has more complexity than I would have expected, given what I’ve read of Dolcetto.  It does live up to the easy drinking reputation, but offers a bit more depth and variety of flavour that puts it a step up from just being good.