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 Bersano Visit (Piedmont, Italy)

29 Oct 2021


(September 2021) ... I'm going to give you this first piece of info about Bersano that you may have been able to deduce it yourself - they were established as a winery entity in 1907... How would you know that? For the observant among you, and those on Instagram, it's right in their handle: @Bersano1907

Bersano was a late addition to my schedule, and I'm thrilled to have been able to fit them in, as they were able to shed more light on a topic that had been brought up the previous day at Gagliardo: Nizza. But before we get there let's look at some of the history of Bersano - which is a roller coaster ride of intrigue unto itself.

Older Bersano WinesThe Bersano winery was actually started by a butcher who saw the opportunity to make wine ... And today they are the biggest family winery in terms of land with 10 estates and 230 hectares producing 1.2 million bottles. The first vineyard was purchased in 1912: "Cremosina", a 15-hectare vineyard in the Monferrato area now known as Nizza DOCG (more on that in a bit).

In 1975, a Canadian company called Seagram's decided they wanted to get into the wine business in Italy and bought Bersano and all went well until 1978, because a Bersano family member was in charge until then. But left to their own devices Seagram’s could not navigate these Italian-wine-waters and they finally sold the winery back to an Italian family in 1985.

My notes seem to get a little jumbled after that ... I have mention of a variety of vineyards: Badarina (11 hectares) - 1968; Cascina San Pietro (30+ hectares) - 2004; "La Genarale" - 1980's; "Monteolivo" in which grows their Moscato for d'Asti, 100 hectares of Barbera, 50 hectares of Bracchetto and 11 hectares of Nebbiolo.

Barrel cellar BersanoBersano also has a very unique “barrel cellar”, which is housed on the third floor of their building. The reason for this oddity was because of the Bilbo River, which the building was close to - it flooded constantly and thus would ruin the wines in the cellar so in 1968 they had an architect and builder create for them a third-floor barrel room - and wouldn't you know it, the river has never flooded again. Now that's your very definition of irony (“an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.” - Dictionary.com)

Bersano also produces Barbaresco as well as Barolo - and all are produced in this one facility under a special license that grandfathers them in - but the grapes for these wines must obviously come from their respective DOCG areas.

Also interesting to note is that 80% of the grapes used by Bersano are owned by the company ... And they abandoned small barrels, or barrique, for large casks some 15 years ago, but they still have a number of empty barrels in their “cellar" as a reminder not to go back - or they might also be for sale, whichever comes first. Finally, Bersano makes 5% white wine and 95% red. Time to taste ...

The Wines ...

While some of the history of this winery escaped my notice and never made it into my notes - trust me, there were some complicated happenings that included other families, secretaries and secret wine formulas ... but the wines were also intriguing to me because of some of the indigenous varieties they used, plus the Nizza story, which I'll put in its own section.

2020 Roero Arneis
These are some of those bought grapes, of the 20% not controlled by the company, go into this Arneis which is an easy drinking light white with low acidity; but there is a refreshment factor about these wines as well, this one was no different: fresh and easy with beeswax and citrus pith.  (***)

2020 Grignolino D'Asti - Valdelsalto
This grape “Grignolino” has lots of seeds, which is supposedly where it derives its name from ... The resulting wine is very light in color and is best served chilled. Plenty of sour-ish-ness to the fruit, but that also could be considered "freshness" by others. Sour cherry, cranberry and quite lively with its acid makeup. This is uncomplicated wine that has a place in the world - I'm just not sure where.  (*** ½)

2020 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato - San Pietro Realto
So what can I tell you about the "Ruché" grape? It was a lost variety rediscovered in the 60s by a priest who just happened to be making wine from grapes he had “on hand” ... Realizing they were not like a grape he had used in the past he ended up doing some research and “rediscovered” the variety. Only seven villages are allowed to make this DOCG wine - in total there are 28 producers making 1 million bottles; but 3 producers make 70% of that number. And if you noticed it is a DOCG (since 2010). The wines created are usually of high alcohol - this particular single vineyard “San Pietro Realto” version has floral and black cherry notes with a rich flavour on the palate - and despite the high alcohol, has a lovely freshness with a touch of gritty tannins on the finish. But mainly, the wine is very cherry focused. A truly interesting find.  (*** ½+)

Moscato2020 Moscato D'Asti - Monteolivo (Mountain of Olives)
A pretty typical Moscato dusty bracket which means really tasty clothes bracket dash this guilty pleasure of mine never fails to put a smile on my face, when I sip it: floral, apple, pineapple, peach, apricot ... Sweet and so pretty.  (*** ½)

2018 Costalunga Barbera D'Asti Superiore
I reviewed the 2017 in video format / as well as written ... I found this to be a very value-priced - well-made Barbera, so I was excited to try the 2018 version. First, the pedigree: the grapes come from five different estates and the wine is aged for six-to-eight months in big barrels. Fruit forward, round and subtle of dark fruit with a dash of spice. Very simplely put, as that dark fruit gets enveloped by cloves and anise and the acidity keeps things humming along nicely; then the finish replays black cherry, black raspberry and spice - very simple, but very tasty ... Delicious. (****)


Nizza DOCG ...

Nizza MapAs someone who has rediscovered the joys of Barbera over the past year, I was quite intrigued to learn about Nizza, Italy's newest DOCG. Nizza is an old area, but one that took a long time for people to realize what was so special about it: Barbera grows incredibly well there - and the wines are above average quality. Everyone knows Nizza Barbera was special, but it finally got the recognition it was due (and deserved) in 2014 by being made a DOCG. The basic rules of Nizza are as follows:

- 100% Barbera
- Vineyard needs to be a minimum of 250 m above sea level
- Grown and harvested at no more than seven times per hectare bracket by comparison Barolo is eight tons per hectare
- Vineyards must be south facing to be considered quote Nizza close quote
- Only 17 villages can grow the grapes
- Minimum barrel ages 12 months (18 for Riserva)

2018 Nizza - Cremosina
This Nizza Barbera comes from the oldest vines of Barbera owned by Bersano (55 plus years) was aged the prerequisite 12 months in big oak casks and achieved 14.5% alcohol. Not only is the color of the wine dark, but it has a dark soul as well: mocha, spice, blackberry, cassis with good acidity and a lovely smokiness ... On the palate it's smooth, silky and dare I say sexy with a beauty mocha, black cherry finish. This was my second Nizza and I was already falling in love with these wines.  (****+)

2016 Riserva Nizza - Generala
Bersano purchased the Generala Vineyard in 1994 and started producing wine from it 2 years later ... The wine spent 18 months in large oak casks and hits 15% in the alcohol department. Cloves, smoke and herbal notes waft up out of the glass and up the nose, while the palate shows signs of mocha, black cherry, coffee bean and floral ... The finish has a spicy element to it, but also a nice creme de cassis note.  (****)


My Gagliardo Visit in Piedmont (Italy)

22 Oct 2021

(September 2021) ... There's a special place in my heart for Gianni Gagliardo - the winery, not the man. As it turns out, back in 2008, it was the very first winery I visited on my very first trip to Italy. I've been back to Italy many times, but never to this winery, until now.

The door is opened by a familiar face, Stefano Gagliardo, who guided our group 13 years ago ... Along with his two brothers: Alberto (the grower), Paolo (hospitality) -Stefano is the winemaker; today they run the winery. Stefano in the Cellar

The winery was started back in 1961 when Stefano's grandfather Paolo decided to give up on his Dolcetto vineyard and put all his grapes in the basket of Nebbiolo - back then that was really a big deal; Dolcetto was the king grape of the region - but Poalo had a gut feeling, or as he put it “followed his heart” into the world of Barolo. He gave up his mixed farming practice for one hectare and a horse - creating Paolo Colla Winery. He was joined by his son Gianni in 1974, who then decided to expand the wineries holdings into the Roero region.

Vineyard - GagliardoToday, the winery produces 180,000 bottles under 14 labels (including 8 Barolos - 6 cru / one village / one classical) - and as for the name change, in 1986 Gianni changed the name to better reflect who was in charge and to create a lasting legacy for himself and his family. The name is also pretty funny as Gagliardo is also a slang for “cool”, so yes, the name of the winery, in English, can be translated to “Johnny Cool” – it also can be translated to Johnny Vigorous, Johnny Valorous, Johnny Strength or Johnny Robust … but Johnny cool sounds so much better!

And now, the new generation of three brothers have once again expanded the Gagliardo winery holdings by investing in vineyards in the new appellation of Nizza DOCG (Italy's Gagliardo Barrel Cellar newest DOCG appellation). Nizza is considered the best place to grow the region's most planted red grape (Barbera) - for those interested Moscato is the MOST planted grape. I end up learning more about Nizza at a Bersano visit and tasting the next day - but I taste my first Nizza wine here at Gagliardo, who now has 26 hectares in the Langhe and 10 hectares for their newest Nizza property: Tenuta Garetto, which is planted with 50 to 90 year old Barbera vines - and they make a spectacular wine with them (as I will soon find out).

The Wines ...

Resto in La MorraAs luck would have it, Stefano made a lunch reservation at a nearby restaurant – we were running late and had to cut the tasting short to make our lunch appointment – but we returned to the winery to taste a few more bottles afterward (without Stefano).

2018 Langhe Nebbiolo - Da Batie (To Baptize)Da Batie - San Ponzio
This 20,000 bottle offering comes from the Roero area - a vineyard composed of 70% sand - in a valley that is open and clear; it's considered a warmer sight that ripens early. The wine is made all in stainless steel: smells fresh with notes of blood orange, dried strawberries and saline ... The palate does come across fresh and lively with an easy drinkability giving off notes of strawberry and sour cherry across the palate.  (*** ½)

2017 Nebbiolo D’Alba Superiore - San Porizio
The vineyard is 2 km away from the single vineyard that makes "da Batie" also located in the Roero. More clay and calcareous soil types, which make it possible to extend harvest times which in turn delivers more complexity in to the fruit. It spends 18 months in a single 35 hectoliter cask and produces only 4,000 bottles per year. Aromas of strawberry, floral, herbal and balsamic lead to a sweetish palate loaded with cherry and strawberry fruit, earthy and oaky with spicy notes backing; plus, a nice long linger finish of clove and spice.  (****)

La Morra - Barolo2017 Barolo
A 30,000 bottle production where all crus contribute to the blend; it's a majority of La Morra, admits Stefano, and it is a wine released “ready to drink, but will age as well.” Lovely red and black fruit notes with strawberry, cherry, floral and menthol aromas ... Palate is all about freshness; but also with dark and red fruit, subtle pepper and other spices - shows more elegance than power and it's incredibly drinkable the moment the cork is popped. The finish has a lovely linger with balsamic and herbs.  (****+)

2016 Barolo - La Morra
This is their “village” Barolo that encompasses two parcels in the final blend. This very aromatic offering shows notes of cherry, blackberry and floral ... On the palate it's soft and gentle with a medium length finish. Key notes here are cherry blossoms, blackberry, spiced plum, and gentle tannins - such a pretty and elegant wine that, like so many of these wines, is so very drinkable right now.  (****+)

2016 Barolo - CastelletoMoaconi and more
A cold, east facing site that seems to dry out first from rains and morning dew as well as the first place to see heat during the day ... It also has the advantage of having some of the oldest soils. Plenty of competing herbal notes: mint, clove, and anise which the fruit seems to hide behind. The palate is gentle and fresh, but also shows that herbal character and subtle spices on the medium length finish.  (*** ½+)

2017 Barolo - Mosconi
A mere 1100 bottles output from this southern exposed, warmer area ... This is a fruit forward number and while the nose leans on the dark side of the fruit spectrum along with mint and balsamic aromas; the palate shows off that dark fruit with a lovely freshness to it, and while there is a pleasant herbal character, it is suppressed by that dark fruit explosion.  (****+)

2017 Barolo - Lazzarito, Vigne Preve
This little spot is said to have its own “energy”, which finds its way into the wine. It's a sunny, sandstone plateau with 60 cm soils ... Another one of these small bottlings (2300 annually). At first sniff and sip you can get on earthy aggressiveness that this wine tends to show: darker fruit, more in your face tannins, along with darker undertones that leans smoky, peppery and herbal-esque all follows the Darth Vader edict "come to the dark side" - and even has that James Earl Jones huskiness about it - especially on the palate. Not for the faint-of-heart and yet there is also an elegance amongst all this power, which is, after all, a nice balancing act.  (****)

2016 Barolo - Monvigliero
Fresh and fruit driven with cherry, strawberry, hints of mocha and even a subtle earthy character.  (*** ½+) Red Mask


Roero Barbera ...

2018 Madama - Barbera D’Alba Superiore
Aged 6 months in big casks of oak ... Rich fruit flavour, but balanced by an acid punch: plenty of sour cherry and cranberry on the finish.  (*** ½+)

2016 La Matta - Barbera D’Alba Superiore
Aged one year in big casks of oak ... This Barbera pulls no punches: mocha, strawberry and smoke with a dark fruit core, namely blackberry and cassis, plus a pretty ballsy coffee-like finish.  (****)


Tenuta Garetto ...

2018 Nizza Fava (100% Barbera) Nizza
Lovely freshness with its floral overtones and dark fruit undertones. Very drinkable with that dark fruit under belly, lush – “they” say the ultimate expression of Barbera comes from Nizza and you can feel it here: the finish rolls out cherry and blackberry kept fresh with good acid backbone.  (****+)

2018 Barbera D'Asti Superiore
Intense fruit: both dark and red with good acidity and a touch of grit ... Drank like a Pinot Noir with something to prove - call it oomph.  (****)

2020 Giassa
Made from 100% Grignolino, a red grape from Monferrato ... It sees short skin contact, has lots of acidity plus tons of cranberry and sour cherry fruit. Looks like a dark rosé, drinks like a very light bodied red.  (*** ½)


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