On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

The Ceretto Tour (italy)

15 Oct 2021

(September 2021) ... Probably one of the most eye-opening visits I have ever had - and hopefully this is as intriguing to you as it was to me. Let’s see:

Ceretto Barrel RoomFirst, let's start here ... Ceretto, as we know it today, was started by two cousins Bruno and Marcello in the 1950s; before that time Ricardo Ceretto was a negotiant buying fruit/juice and blending wine. The cousins decided to join Ricardo, but with a new philosophy “invest in the land”, which meant buying vineyards, cultivating your own grapes and making the wine from what you grew (not what someone else did). Then in the 1970s and '80s they created two wineries one in the Barolo region, and the other in Barbaresco. Today, 170 hectares is under their control.

So far nothing there seems at all surprising. An Italian family, with multiple generations in the wine business, making wine and buying land is pretty standard fare as far as stories go in this part of the world ... Now here's the kicker. Ceretto wanted to follow a Burgundian model with a red and white grape as their flagship wines. The red, because the region, is Nebbiolo, the white being the humble Arneis variety.

Ceretto vineyardNow, for a quick aside, one of the jobs I do is wine cellar inventories, and I have seen a number of Ceretto wines in my time, as collectors love these wines for their age ability and collectability. The surprise comes now:

Ceretto makes 1.2 million bottles of wine a year, yet only 200,000 are their red wines (split between 15 labels) and the other million bottles are the Arneis (~700,000) and their Moscato D'Asti (~300,000). The massive Arneis project began in 1985 with 15 people in the vineyard, today with the expansion and popularity of their Arneis wine they have 50-plus people at harvest time.

Goes to show you really can't judge a book by its cover - this seemingly all red wine producer makes 1 million bottles of white ... And obviously the white wine program funds the red wine program. Interesting huh?

The Wines …

The tasting was spread out over three locations: lunch, their Barolo winery and their Barbaresco winery. I have also broken them down into sub-categories.

Ceretto Arneis2020 Arneis (tasted out of Magnum)
Made all in stainless steel this is a refreshingly sippable wine that comes across as low acid - but very quaffable on a hot day. Arneis is naturally a low acid grape and the way Ceretto gets around that is a 20-day harvest cycle: starting with the grapes when they are slightly unripe (to keep it their natural acidity) then blending them with the ripe grapes - thus establishing its fruitiness.  (*** ½)

The Quaffers...

These are no oak or lightly oak wines - any of them could be chilled to elevate their freshness ... and here's where I state my bias of not being a huge Dolcetto fan - which is odd because Dolcetto is really THE original grape of Piedmont, and at one time was prized much more highly than Barolo wines were. With that said I will print here my Dolcetto tasting note, but no score will be given.

2020 Dolcetto D’Alba (Rossana)
Fruit pulled from a 8.65 hectare plot called Rosanna with production of 15,000 to 20,000 bottles annually ... Very sour cherry juice with big skin based tannins, it also has a very dark and dense color with incredibly high acidity. No oak is used here.

2019 Barbera D’Alba (Piana)
After the statement above about Dolcetto you would expect it to be the most planted variety in Piedmont, or even Nebbiolo considering how prized both Barolo and Barbaresco are ... But nope, you'd be wrong, it's Barbera. This is only a 2.75 hectare vineyard, produces 15,000 to 20,000 bottles annually and also sees no oak aging. Red fruit with good acidity - it comes across fresh and lively, could even be described as pretty with a really nice easy drinkability.  (*** ½)

2019 Nebbiolo D’Alba
This little beauty sees a minimum of 6 months in oak and in bottle - but more often than not it's a year for both ... Ceretto makes 20 to 25,000 bottles annually of this wine. It was also served chilled to maintain the freshness of the fruit, showing sour cherry and herbal notes - but as it warms up the red fruit core began to explode, with lots of fresh fruit and spice.  (*** ½+)

Ceretto MoscatoA quick pause to talk about the …
2020 Moscato D'Asti
This 300,000 bottle production is just what Dr. Guilty Pleasure ordered up: floral and pretty with notes of peach, pineapple and pear all with a seemingly dry-esque finish - those mid-palate fruit explosions really do play with sweetness and perception.  (*** ½+)

Barolo and Barbaresco Wines …

While the Barolo and Barbaresco “classic” wines hold some interest it's those single vineyard offerings that really spark the imagination. The difference between these two Nebbiolo-based wines is that Barolo is aged an extra year - the soil structure of Barbaresco makes the grapes “less age-worthy” in oak and Barbaresco has a much less hilly terrain, and there are larger plots of land to make up vineyard holdings ... The rest, as they say, is in the details of the soil.

Barbaresco2018 Barbaresco - Bernadot
A part of this wine is aged one year in oak (small and large sized barresl) and one year in bottle – fruit is taken from a 4.84-hectare vineyard in the Barbaresco region with southern exposure vineyards and mineral rich soils ... Vine age it's about 30 plus years: spicy, tannic structure with earthy and mineral notes (read: salty) undertones.  (*** ½+)

2018 Barbaresco - Asili
The more popular of the Ceretto Barbaresco offerings is definitely more typical of wines from the area with fruit taken off 50 plus year old vines. Red fruit dominates with notes that are soft and pretty with floral, good acidity and gentle tannins - it does have a touch of earthiness with time in glass, but those dried red fruits really grab the tongue on the finish and makes one want to have another sip, and another sip, and another sip.  (****+)

Slipping over to the Bricco Rocche property, which was built in the 1980s as their Barolo winery where they have two plots: a southeastern facing vineyard, which is fresher, and a southwestern facing vineyard, which is warmer. The name: Bricco Rocche means “top of the hill / cliff”.

Ceretto Barolo2017 Barolo - Brunate
Starts off earthy with good fruit, then follows up with some tannins a slight smoky nuance before adding in mocha, balsamic-strawberries and a floral hint. Quite pretty.  (****)

2017 Barolo - Bussia
Very red fruit dominant with notes of strawberry and raspberry backed by licorice, balsamic and spices ... Tannins are chalky, but not aggressive, with a ripe cherry linger.  (****)

2017 Barolo - Prapo
Prapo shows why it is king of the Ceretto Nebbiolo collection. Fresh and fruity, though still slightly chalky with good acidity backing it all up ... Here the acidity is on point, there's a simplicity to this wine that really makes it sing in the mouth - then it leans into a sweet tart finish with notes of floral and balsamic appearing the longer it sits open. Lovely wine.  (****+)


Gaia Visit in Barbaresco at Gaja (Italy)

08 Oct 2021

Gaia and Briss(September 2021) ... We met with Gaia Gaja at their cellar door in the middle of the street... Not the great green gate with the name “GAJA” on the outside (though we did go behind the iron curtain later). From here it’s a short walk with her (and Briss - her dog she rescued during a 2400 m mountain hike) to one of their vineyards. Our walk took us to the Sori San Lorenzo Vineyard where we discussed all kinds of viticulture practices, nursery programs to find the best and most disease resistant clones - plus a new nursery project in the works, plus the difference between monoculture and polyculture in the vineyard: “Viticulture is trying to cultivate life,” she said, “that's why you can't just have one thing in your vineyard, because life evolves and grows and needs other stuff around it to feed off of and stimulate more growth.”

The Gaja winery we see today did not originally set out to be a winery, it started as a tavern and saw the opportunity to make wine as something else to serve their patrons. The first commercial wine to come out was in 1859 ... The tavern would close in 1902 - as the winery took off as a full-time business. The original tavern still exists behind that great green Gaja gate, and the original door is still there and Gaia says one day she might just re-establish it as a tavern (maybe), though she might just be kidding (or maybe not).

Gaja owns 14 vineyards in Barbaresco and for Barbaresco to be produced and called as such it can contain no north facing vineyard slopes - as they are considered too cold and will not ripen the grapes properly (ie: to their fullest potential).  Surprisingly, the first ever vineyard planted by the Gaja family in the region was in 1983 and was not Nebbiolo - it was Sauvignon Blanc. Today, they grow an assortment of both indigenous and international varieties:  Chardonnay, Barbara, Cabernet Sauvignon and yes Sauvignon Blanc. At Sori San Lorenzo the oldest vines are between 65 and 70 years old in a vineyard 2.6 hectares in size.

Interesting to note, the Cabernet Sauvignon they use was planted in 1978 and is made into their wine called Damargi, meaning “too bad”.

The Wines ...

Gaja White Wines2020 Idda
A joint venture with a Sicilian producer, Alberto Gracy, using the white grape Carricante and first produced in 2019. "Idda" is a Sicilian dialect meaning she - which refers to Mount Etna as in “Idda is angry today” ... But this wine is not angry - in fact it is quite refreshing with citrus pulp and pith, but also with a charred lemon saltiness and smells of pistachio shells (salted, of course).  (****)

2019 Gaia and Rey
Vines planted in 1979 (Treviso) and in 1988 (Serralunga) go into this Chardonnay: notes are of salty, lemony all with good acidity ... The wine has nice structure with lemon drop notes - it's opulent, clean and yet refreshing ... But Italy is still not a place I think of for great Chardonnay (someone prove me wrong, please).  (*** ½+)

2018 Barbaresco2018 Barbaresco
Barbaresco may be the most misunderstood wine of the Piedmont region, especially when compared to the more popular and more known Barolo. It is still made with the Nebbiolo grape, grown at a maximum of 8 tons per hectare, it spends less time in wood and is therefore released 1 year before Barolo. As for the 2018 vintage in the area, it was one of challenges: "crazy vintage" was the phrase used to describe it - rain in the beginning, then hail damage … so many problems that the 2018 single vineyard offerings were "lost" and went into this straight Barbaresco; but the single vineyard loss makes for a more upscale base-model Barbaresco: lovely and fruit forward with both red and black fruit taking a turn on the palate - vibrant acidity with notes of both earthy and floral adding complexity offset by gentle tannins - light, fruit forward, incredibly aromatic and well balanced. It's a beauty for a “crazy vintage”.  (****+)

2017 Conteisa - Barolo
Grapes come from the Cerequio vineyard from a season definitely better than 2018. Lovely, fresh dark fruit, spiced oak and smoke with plenty of dark spices to keep the palate interested; and that dark fruit just won't quit - plus there's plenty of herbal notes, which includes anise and clove on the medium length finish.  (****)



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