Ca’ Gialla – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-24T17:21:21+00:00April 24th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

Marco Porello is the third generation of his family to produce wines in Roero, and he works the land with the help of his sweet mother, Nonna Porello (pictured). The family owns 15 hectares of vineyard land in total and these vines sit in Canale and Vezza d’Alba, two of Roero’s twenty-three villages. The Canale vines sit on the Monbirone Cru which is composed of marine clay based soil, and the Vezza d’Alba vines sit on the Tanone Cru on sandy, limestone rich soil.

Climb up to the castle that sits above Marco’s home village of Canale and you’ll leave with a better understanding of how Roero fits into Piedmont as a whole – In simple terms to the South of the river you have the more famous (and more expensive) Langhe and where you stand (to the North of the river) you have the more humble (but often overachieving) Roero. Most people think Arneis when they think Roero, and while we love some Arneis this is shortsighted. Roero Nebbiolo and Barbera can be sensational and almost always come at a humble price.  Michael Austin of The Chicago Tribune sums the situation up perfectly, basically saying that the wines of Roero are like the really good Rolling Stones tribute band at your neighborhood bar, that they are so dialed and so close to the original, that you’ll gladly fork over $20 to see them (and see them often) instead of $200 to see Mick and Keith themselves at the arena.

Marco Porello is one of the most “known” names in Roero, and he produces two lines – His namesake Marco Porello line which is sourced from the estate’s oldest vines and sees a bit more wood, and a more value-oriented line called Ca’ Gialla, named after the yellow house on site inhabited by his mother and also made from 100% estate fruit, albeit with no new wood and slightly younger vines on average. Of these two lines Ca Gialla fits our portfolio the most strategically as it gives us affordable Piedmont options that show real personality and detail. The only thing holding these back from becoming “can’t miss” in our book was the packaging, and we’ve spent some time reworking these labels as you see below.

All wines are farmed naturally without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and all yeast is indigenous. Marco is working towards organic certification.

About that castle…The castle hovering above town is now a restaurant and hotel (the prior Contessa blew all of her money on booze and gambling a few years back and was forced to sell), and we enjoyed the view over some semolina crusted veal, tasting Marco’s 2018’s with big smiles.

Ca’ Gialla 2018 Nebbiolo Roero, surprising soft and round at this early stage, very good
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Barbera Roero
, dark, dark fruit, balanced, fresh, delicious
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Arneis Roero
, slightly yellow (ripe vintage), but full and fresh

Schiavenza – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-23T04:26:24+00:00April 23rd, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The local Piemontese dialect for sharecropper is “schiavenza,” and this much-buzzed about estate takes its name from the sharecroppers who formerly worked the property’s vineyards during the time that it functioned as a hospital and school as part of the Opera Pia Barolo (you can think of the Opera Pia Barolo as a similar entity to the Hospices du Beaune). Brothers Vittorio and Ugo Alessandria revitalized this property in the mid 1950’s when it was in need of such work, and things are thriving under the current second generation, with farming and winemaking led by son-in-laws Luciano Pira and Walter Anselma.

A name like Schiavenza should give one a clue as to the style here; this is a “traditional to the bone” property with a foundation of organic farming and Slovenian botti, nothing more and nothing less. Vineyard holdings have expanded over time, and the estate is made up of ten hectares split between Serralunga and Monforte.  These include the heralded crus Prapò, Bricco Cerretta, and Broglio. 

We sat down with Walter Anselma, plowed through some Pomerol samples (there’s no better way to evaluate important samples, than with a very good winemaker in a very different region), and then dug into the good stuff – Schiavenza’s current bottled releases. Thus far we’d had quite the eventful string of visits in Barolo, but when we tasted Walter’s 2016 Barolo Serralunga from botti we were floored. To achieve this kind of finesse with equal levels of concentration is at the same time astounding and unreal. We bring you good news – Traditional winemaking in Barolo is all well. 

Also worth noting is the family’s restaurant, which sits above the winery and sports one of the best views in Barolo for those fortunate enough to score a patio seat. We went through some recently bottled wines while eating the two food specialties that Piedmont executes best –  Carne crudo (hand chopped raw veal seasoned with salt, pepper, and just pressed olive oil) and tajarin (paper thin narrow egg noodles dressed in ragu). Walter informed us that one can use up to 40 egg yolks in one kilo (2.2 lbs) of flour when making tajarin. How can you leave this place thinking anything else than what a glorious time in history it is to be alive as a human!

Schiavenza 16 Dolcetto d’Alba, outstanding, difficult to find a better one
Schiavenza 15 Nebbiolo d’Alba, typical if a bit on the light side
Schiavenza 13 Barolo Serralunga, softer style, good flavors
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Broglio,” fuller, more perfumed, lifted
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Ceretta,” bolder, deeper, more tannin, excellent
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Prapo,” more of everything, memorable

Zeni – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-16T16:49:25+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The Zeni family has spent the last 140 years dedicating themselves to producing individual wines in and around Verona. In total 125 acres are farmed here, 75% of which are planted to red varietals. They operate two wineries, with the primary winery being based in Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. We carry most of Zeni’s classic line (Bardolino, Chinatto, and Valpolicella), their Ripasso “Margone,” and their flagship Amarone Vigne Alte. Most of Zeni’s production (and all of the particular items we carry) represents traditional Veronese wine at its finest – Pergola trained vines, no barrique, minimal intervention, and lowes in appellation (ie almost zero) residual sugar levels on Ripasso and Amarone.

Fausto Zeni is the newest generation to run things here, and the winery appears to be thriving. Their Ripasso “Margone” and Amarone “Vigne Alte” are exactly what we look for in terms of style, and you’ll all have the opportunity to go big on both as we’ve queued up two large loads for you.

As for Chiaretto? That typical Veronese style rosé you keep hearing about these days? We are lucky enough to still have some 2017 from Zeni and it is in such a perfect place right now in terms of fruit/balance/complexity…If you are reading this and have access to a bottle do yourself a favor and pop one!

Zeni 2018 Chiaretto, Fresh, full dry, very pleasant
Zeni 2018 Bardolino, Decent color, easy drinking
Zeni 2017 Barolino Classico Superiore, More of everything, stylish
Zeni 2016 Corvina GT, Dark, fresh, some spices, quite full-bodied
Zeni 2016 Costalago, Dark, ripe commercial style, have to say pretty delicious
Zeni 2016 Ripasso, Typical, big, soft, drier than most you’ll find
Zeni 2013 Amarone “Vigne Alte,” Very good, more elegant style, RS has been reduced to less than 10 grams with recent vintages
Zeni 2013 Cruino, Concentrated, soft, very nice. Made with Corvina in a Amarone/Ripasso style

La Carlina – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-16T15:25:57+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The brother and sister duo of Camilla and Francesco Scavino founded La Carlina in 2014 at the foot of the Medieval castle that towers over the village of Grinzane Cavour. The name “La Carlina” is a reference to the farm of their grandmother where the family would celebrate and party, which is also the place where Camilla and Francesco began experimenting with winemaking as teenagers. You could probably call La Carlina Piedmont’s “newest” producer – They’ve been producing their own wine for about five years now and are releasing their first Barolo this year. Overall holdings are actually pretty significant, consisting of 8 hectares of Barolo alone! Vineyards are scattered between the hills of the Langhe and Monferrato (although most vines conveniently sit at the base of the winery), and farming is strictly organic. 

Until several years ago the family would sell all fruit to the local cooperative, but things changed when Camilla and Francesco’s father needed a larger space to house his growing specialty pasta empire – His company, Pastificio Langhe, is one of Italy’s best producers of naturally colored and uniquely shaped noodles. The old University winemaking school sat next to their main Barolo vineyard, and they found that it was abandoned and consequently for sale…This meant room for everyone to grow – Turn the classrooms into a pasta factory and fill the basement with casks of Barolo! You just can’t make this kind of stuff up sometimes…

There aren’t many “hipster” winemakers in Barolo, a tradition-soaked region where one hectare of land is valued at 3 million Euros, but Francesco is one of the few. For us this means an openness to experimentation that we take for granted in places like Saumur or Kremstal, but rarely see in Piedmont. As for Camilla, she is as smart as they come but at the same time constantly bubbling over with charm and laughter.  

Carlina’s two examples of Favorita are can’t miss items – One is fermented in amphora with extended skin contact and the other is clean and uber-crisp, only seeing steel tank. As for Barbera Superiore you don’t see much of the category in the market overall, and Carlina’s example is top rate with opulent fruit and minimal wood. We can’t wait to pick up their Barolo – It fits an interesting slot in the Grape Expectations portfolio as Grinzane Cavour Barolo is famously elegant and arrives a bit lower in price than similarly pedigreed wine from Serralunga or La Morra, et all. If we work out the right numbers with Camilla this could end up our “Crous St. Martin” equivalent in Piemonte and with eight hectares they actually have some volume to play with!

La Carlina 18 Favorita – Bright, crisp, fresh, outstanding
La Carlina 17 Favorita Riserva – Slight color from skin contact, almost peachy, very broad, unique
La Carlina 16 Nebbiolo Langhe – Medium bodied Nebbiolo, plenty of red fruit, classic
La Carlina 17 Nebbiolo Langhe – Slightly younger than the 2016, promising
La Carlina 17 Barbera d’Asti – Terrific freshness here, purple fruits, hard to put this glass down
La Carlina 16 Barbera d’Asti Superiore – Textbook low-yield Barbera, wood well-integrated, superb
La Carlina 15 Barolo – Elegant style, strawberries, roses, mineral… packed with flavor and complexity and showing well even at this young an age.

Sordo – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-08T16:05:22+00:00April 6th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

The venerable house of Giovanni Sordo lies in the heart of Castiglione Falletto and has been producing traditional Barolo for just over 100 years.  It’s a family-run winery now in the capable hands of Giorgio, Giovanni’s son, the third generation of the family.  Everything here is sustainably farmed, and current holdings come out to 53 hectares in total, making Sordo one of Piedmont’s most recognizable producers.

Producing separate “Cru” bottlings is surprisingly something new at Sordo – Until about five years ago most everything went into their regular DOCG Barolo. The family holds an insane collection of elite-level cru vineyard sites covering the townships of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, Barolo, Novello, La Morra, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour and Vezza d’Alba and they are the only existing Piedmontese winery that can boast offerings from eight different specific Crus.   We enjoy showing wines from Sordo side by side, as Sordo’s “naked” approach to winemaking means marked differences in the characteristics of each site (you’ll never see a barrique inside these walls). Take a look at the video below and you’ll see what we are talking about.

Here at Grape we love selling some older wine and as you’d guess we asked Giorgio about older vintages, both large and regular format. To our surprise there are plenty of options on that front! If you are an active wholesale customer of ours you can expect a craaazy back vintage pre-arrival offering this week…including the below bottlings, all of which are singing right now.

Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2006 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Parussi
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Ravera
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 1999 Gabutti

Sorelle de Nicola Feyles – Spring 2019

By |2019-04-05T15:01:18+00:00April 4th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|

You won’t find Sorelle de Nicola Feyles on a map, and certainly not through Google. Booking an appointment to see Feyles takes some local connections, in this case through a Gavi-based colleague of ours. The process goes like this – You reach out to proprietor Antonio de Nicola with a letter, you don’t hear back for a month, and the day of the visit you scratch your head, bummed, until the proprietor of a local hotel calls your mobile advising on a “meeting address,” in this case a parking lot at the end of the village, suggesting that Antonio is waiting outside in a car to lead you to his home and winery. Over the years we’ve heard the anecdotes about the legendary Feyles, we find Antonio in an old VW, and the tension builds… 

Upon driving through the “gates” of Feyles things get spooky – Not in a bad way, but in a manner that suggests you’ve entered a different dimension in time. Hitchcockian. The story has it that this compound served as a slaughterhouse in days gone by. You wouldn’t guess so now, as there are probably sixty concrete vats scattered outside, of various shapes and sizes, all well-weathered, under a tin roof with thousands of rust holes that pepper the place with pin-sized, almost star-like beams of sunlight. Things are plenty messy but not what we’d call “dirty.” Walk inside a small building to the left and you are greeted with a humble but modern bottling line, shiny and clean to Thomas Keller standards, and somewhat inexplicably you run into four massive, fairly new, Slavonian oak casks.

Antonio himself has enviable energy for a man in his mid-eighties. They say intention brings longeivity, and Antiono has single handedly taken care of all the estate’s winemaking for the last 56 years. With Antonio and what he is doing at Feyles, we are looking at an estate in its prime. There does seem to be some succession plan in place here – Antonio tells us he has a son living in Paris. Is it our duty to put Feyles on the “map” so to speak?

Vinification is totally non-interventionist with a minimum use of sulphur. The wines mostly finish fermentation with some residual sugar, which is “eaten up” during aging which takes place in Nicolas’ outdoor graveyard of small, very weathered, pre-war concrete tanks. All wines are aged before bottling for 5 years with the exception of Dolcetto and Barbera. It goes without saying that we found no evidence of “climate control” anywhere, and shockingly, no evidence of volatile acidity either. All wines are bottled unfiltered and taken to a protected environment for further aging. 

The young wines are not so different from the old ones, nor are they much more colored, all oxidation almost certainly comes during alcoholic fermentation, which goes on for years in some cases – One of his two vats of 2014 Barbaresco must have still had what our palates estimate ten grams of residual sugar in it, and when questioned Antonio shrugged implying that fermentation would commence again this summer after he racks it to tank, and that like everything else through the years here this Barbaresco would finish dry. After tank aging the wines are then kept some five years in bottle. We received no clear answer to our question as to why. For Frank and I the over-the-top aging in bottle does not add all that much, but it is of course joyous to come across this ability to pick up and offer you ten year old Barolo and Barbaresco as “current release” material.

Antonio produces two Baroli, both Cru bottlings from six acre plots – Perno in Monforte and Sottocastello in Novello, with an indication of the specific plot within each Cru. The same holds true for Barbaresco – Five acres of holdings, from plots in Montesommo and Borgese, both in Neive. His outstanding Langhe Nebbiolo is actually a second wine made from declassified fruit in the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. Vinification and aging of Barbera and Dolcetto comes more quickly, as you’ll see with the below release dates, and these wines come from the same part of Perno as the Barolo.

Collectively Frank and I have visited many wineries over the years, and have never witnessed such natural winemaking, not even at the most hipster of locales, and the most shocking bit is that there were zero flaws in anything we tasted. The overall shock factor of this visit takes me back to the first time I tasted wines made by Frank Cornelissen, and while to this day tasting Cornelissen remains one of the more interesting vinous experiences one can enjoy, diving into Feyles you trade “interesting” for silky, almost ethereal palate pleasure. Simply put, I’m at a loss for words. Everything about Feyles goes against all logic.

Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’17 Barbera d’Alba Superiore, dark, fine classy
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’17 Dolcetto d’Alba Superiore, typical in an elegant style, balanced
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’09 Langhe Nebbiolo, nearly mature, very fine
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’08 Barbaresco Riserva Montesommo, typical red./brown/orange color, complex nose, dry “Barbaresco” tannins, ready to drink for many years to come
Sorelle de Nicola Feyles ’08 Barolo Perno, darker, softer, but still quite powerful, a little easier than the Barbaresco, ready as above
We tasted ‘10 Barolo and Barbaresco from concrete vat, they showed similar to the ’08’s but with a bit more power.

Additionally we tasted two separate casks of ’14 Barbaresco Riserva Montesommo, the fist being quite dark, concentrated, just outstanding, and the other similarly rich but with noticeable sugar still remaining.
Assorted ’13’s from vat were similar, but less developed as expected.

These wines are for experienced palates, or for those who are curious…
You can expect these to arrive in early Summer.

Produttori del Gavi – Spring 2019

By |2019-03-28T14:31:03+00:00March 28th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Podcast, Travel Report|

Did you say Gavi? Everything old is new again? I’m half deep into a love affair with this most noble white grape of Piemonte. Gavi’s planted vineyard area is 1,200 hectares in total (Napa is 18,000 hectares by comparison), and the village of Gavi itself serves as the region’s center. The DOC as a whole is made up of 13 different villages, and I attempt to break the region (and this opportunity) down real quick for you in our latest podcast episode. Quality-wise there are three levels:

Cortese di Gavi DOC – The most basic level, this can be produced anywhere and is the go-to local quaff in Gavi (along with a focaccia sandwich it is even part of breakfast for many locals, especially those over 70 years old!).

Gavi DOCG – A step up in quality, this an be produced only in a few of the region’s best towns, and is most of what you see here in the USA.

Gavi di Gavi DOCG – The top level – This can be produced only in the actual village of Gavi and is the highest quality level

You could call Gavi the “queen” of Piedmont’s white wines – Gavi must be made from the local varietal Cortese, and Cortese translates to “gracious” in Italian. Cortese has thin skins, naturally high acid, and it needs a warm climate to grow in. Nowhere does it grow better than in Southeastern Piedmont just North of the Ligurian coast. At its best Cortese is bone dry/with lemon/peach flavors, but at the same time classy. Add in some seafood and you are instantly transported to a very happy place.

Soil composition and exposure in Gavi is varied even by Piedmontese standards, and in this way the Cortese grape can express an enviable “menu” of flavors depending on said provenance. Our good friend and oracle Roberto Fossati lives in the village of Gavi itself and over the years he has seen just about everything here. Jump in Roberto’s car to visit vineyard sites and you’ll experience all this diversity firsthand, from stark white soils made of tuff and limestone to tomato colored soils based on ferrous clay.

Enter Produttori del Gavi. The origins of this cooperative trace back to 1951 when 83 families banded together to share their strengths in cooperative form.  The group is essentially made up of these same growers to this day, with just twelve more being admitted to the group since inception. The vineyards of member/growers are spread all over the Gavi DOC territory in 11 municipalities covering 200 hectares of land from Tassarolo to Bosio.  Such coverage allows the production of various “Cru” bottlings, many of which are amongst the most exciting produced in this historic appellation.

Produttori used to sell off 99% of their finished wine in bulk and from those gas handle type dispensers you see all over Europe, but oh my how things are changing inside the walls of this cooperative. Winemaker Andrea Pancotti leads the charge here now, and this is an exciting development for wine drinkers. Andrea understands the potential of the material at his fingertips (hand-farmed, low-yielding, old vine Cortese from thousands of interesting micro-plots), and the press has just started to recognize Produttori’s work, with Gambero Rosso bestowing his latest Gavi de Gavi release with the coveted “Tri Bicchieri” honors. Andrea is making single “cru” Gavi, he is making organically farmed Gavi, things couldn’t be any different there nowadays versus years past. Until recently, the only thing missing was an attractive label, which we took care of with a local designer last Spring, and we already know you all love Produttori’s new package. And the pricing? This is where it gets crazy – We negotiated DEEP with Produttori last week, and because they want everyone in the USA to be aware of their “brand,” they offered us a multi-container commitment deal that we could not refuse.

Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi “Il Forte,” floral, fresh, juicy, very good
Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi di Gavi” Bio,” more mineral, lighter style, very good
Produttori del Gavi ’18 Gavi di Gavi, full, ripe, rich, Cortese for hedonists

Our vision is to build Produttori’s “Il Forte” into the most recognized Gavi label in the US market, as it is by far more interesting than anything else out there that restaurants can buy under $10 wholesale. Game on.