“The talented Cristiano Garella has emerged as the voice of the younger generation and is, along with Roberto Conterno, Alto Piemonte’s greatest ambassador. […] These producers, among many others, are the face of Alto Piemonte today.” —Antonio Galloni of Vinous
Before Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco earned their stronghold in Northwestern Italy, there was a time when Alto Piemonte, just two hours northeast, was the more widely planted and sought-after region for Nebbiolo. We have a handful of Alto Piemonte wines in our collection, but the first and foremost name to know among the current revivalists is Cristiano Garella.
Today, I'm happy to offer Colombera & Garella’s 2016 Bramaterra Cascina Cottignano and Lessona Pizzaguerra for $50 per bottle.
Alto Piemonte was pummeled by one crisis after another, starting with the spread of phylloxera in the 1800s and, more recently, by the industrial revolution during World War II when farmers abandoned their vineyards in the countryside for factory jobs in cities. In the last decade, Cristiano has strived to revive Alto Piemonte as a wine region, highlighting its distinctive varieties and terroir. Nebbiolo is still the noble grape here, but it’s blended with small amounts of native varieties like Vespolina and Croatina that add another dimension to the wines.
Cristiano is an adviser to roughly 20 wineries across the region, but Colombera & Garella is his own project (hence the namesake)—the first half refers to father-son duo Giacomo and Carlo Colombera, Cristiano’s long-time friends who have grown grapes in Bramaterra since the early 1990s.
Together, they farm nine hectares using organic and low-intervention practices in the vineyard and cellar (native yeast, fermentation in concrete tanks, minimal sulfur, and 24-month élevage in neutral barrels, etc.). These are currently the only wines in our Alto Piemonte collection from the appellations of Bramaterra and Lessona.
Compared to Barolo and Barbaresco, Alto Piemonte has a cooler, rainier climate. In Bramaterra and Lessona, the soils are significantly more acidic and respectively comprised of reddish-brown sand from an ancient volcano and yellow sand from the sea. Some sources conclude that these factors result in a more mineral-driven expression of Nebbiolo, with finer tannins and nerving acidity—all of which makes them more approachable and readily drinkable than their slower aging counterparts.
When we tasted the 2016 Bramatera Cascina Cottionano in September, I was pulled in by the high tones of red licorice and cherry pulsing through the wine that seemed to add another octave. Italian wine critic Antonio Galloni of Vinous wrote an overview of Alto Piemonte earlier this year that included a glowing review of Colombera & Garella’s latest releases, which I think best expresses how special these wines are:
“The 2016 Bramaterra Cascina Cottignano is bold, ample and super-expressive, although it is going to need at least a few years in bottle to be at its best. Even today, though, the wine's depth and overall resonance are both apparent. Dark red cherry, plum, spice, rose petal and earthy notes all flesh out in this potent, exotically rich Bramaterra. The 2016 is flat-out gorgeous, that's pretty much all there is to it.”
“The 2016 Lessona Pizzaguerra is super-refined and silky. A wine of grace above all else, the 2016 speaks with real distinction and tons of pure class. Sweet red cherry fruit, blood orange, mint, spice and star anise all run through this pliant, racy Lessona from Colombera & Gallera. Best of all, the 2016 will drink well with minimal cellaring.”
These wines are still distinctly the Nebbiolo we know and love but reveal another facet of the variety and, as a result, another layer of admiration, especially given their more-affordable price tag. The comeback of Nebbiolo's former homeland couldn't be more appealing!
Until last week, my only reference to Abruzzo in Central Italy was the highly regarded Valentini, as well as Emidio Pepe. Then I was introduced to Amorotti, a new project that could be compared to both wineries, which is especially impressive given its recent debut to the market and doing so at a fraction of the price.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Amorotti wines.
Gaetano Carboni farms his family’s 50 hectares made of woodland, pastures, and farmland where they grow olives, cereals, legumes, and other native crops. When he took over in 2000, he completely revamped the estate, converting to certified organic and starting an artist residency out of their farmhouse.
Abruzzo is due east of Rome, faring toward the country’s opposite coast. The region is sandwiched between two climates: To the left is the Gran Sasso, the highest point of the Apennine Mountains running through the seam of Italy, and to the right is the Adriatic Sea that’s milder and more Mediterranean. Imagine combining Tuscany and Sicily, and you might get something like Abruzzo.
Amid their polyculture farming, a mere five hectares of the Carboni farm is planted to vines. Valentini, who is directly across the road from Amorotti’s cellar and winery, offered guidance on what clonal material to grow. For many years, Gaetano sold most of the fruit, only keeping enough to produce wine for his family and friends—2016 was the first vintage that these wines became commercially available!
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are the best-known wines from this region, and Gaetano produces all three. His wines are so individual and distinct to the characteristics of their variety and style—the common thread being that each is seamless, focused, and full of energy.
Trebbiano Abruzzese is the only white variety to have DOC classification in Abruzzo. Amorotti’s 2017 Trebbiano d'Abruzzo is especially noteworthy for its texture, concentration that intensified over the course of two days. It starts out razor fresh and mineral-driven, then a second wave of fruit and richness carries the wine to a long finish.
Amorotti’s two other wines are made from Montepulciano, the most planted grape variety in Abruzzo. The 2016 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is aromatic and deep with purple florals and a bright acidity that makes the wine really approachable. The 2017 Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo follows in a similar vein, though the Cerasuolo style of winemaking (think more Italian Rosato) highlights the brighter tones of Montepulciano’s characteristic dark and lustrous fruit, revealing candied black cherry and orange citrus.
Valentini and Emidio Pepe still hold their regard, but Amorotti offers a glimpse into the same greatness they glean from. These are undoubtedly among the best-valued wines in our entire collection and represent our greatest Italian find of 2020.
60 miles east of Portland is the start of the Columbia Gorge AVA. There’s a burgeoning wine scene taking shape there, and in my opinion, it's the next Oregon wine region to watch—largely in thanks to Hiyu Wine Farm. However, the Gorge is just as much home to apples and pears as it is to grapes, so I felt compelled to write about Hiyu's cider, which left an unexpected yet lasting impression.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Hiyu Floréal Cider III.
In 2010, Nate Ready (former Master Sommelier) and China Tresemer (artist and chef) combined their curiosities for winemaking, farming, and culinary art and formed the 30-acre property that is Hiyu. In tune with the mystic of Biodynamics, spending time here almost feels like stepping into the pages of a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
During my recent visit to the Gorge, I was lucky to befriend the two women apprenticing at Hiyu for the harvest season. Every morning and afternoon, rain or shine, they would gather hay and barley they sprouted from the barn, then trek up the hillside to feed the cows, chickens, and pigs that roam the vineyard. The sensory smells of wandering through the barn, vineyard, and winery with them really stuck with me.
Because of Nate’s curious, playful philosophy and consideration for the Gorge's terroir, it only makes sense that he would be experimenting with cider. This is the third vintage of Floréal Cider, a collaboration project with a nearby Biodynamic orchard in Mt. Hood, and in this case, the third time is definitely a charm.
Floréal III has nuanced apple aromas, from freshly sliced to baked crumble, and notes of white floral appeared when paired with a sorrel soup (the herbs sourced from Hiyu’s garden). The palate was fresh and bright, with glimmering notes of yellow citrus and stone fruit, and there was the slightest hint of fresh hay on the long finish. As I sat on Hiyu’s outdoor patio, the sun shining but the breeze crisp, I realized that the cider captured my surroundings or, if anything, some of the spirit of Hiyu.
There’s no wonder Floréal is so complex, as it’s made from at least 20 apple varieties. And it turns out that when the apples are pressed, the basket press is lined with straw, which might explain my tasting note about the finish. The juice is fermented and aged in neutral barrels, and they use fermenting juice from the following vintage to begin secondary fermentation in bottle—not much different than wine.
I’m finding more and more winemakers experimenting with apples, and after discovering Floréal III, I have a better idea of why. When done well, the result can be rather profound.
Eloi Dürrbach believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. He's proved this slice in Les Alpilles; The Little Alps can produce some of France's very most celebrated wines.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1985 Domaine de Trévallon 1.5L and bottles of 2017 Rouge and 2018 Blanc.
Domaine de Trévallon set out from inception in 1973 to tell the story of place despite vigorous opposition. 47 years later, Eloi Dürrbach's vision of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from his family's estate has won the hearts of collectors across the globe. Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, and the Loire have taken the lion’s share of my most significant experiences drinking French reds over the years. Still, the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage are unsurpassed. These are Grand Cru level wines in all but name, with pricing that’s a welcome reminder of its humble origins.
Eloi Dürrbach planted these two varieties in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of Alpilles mountains. Before phylloxera ravaged vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century, Cabernet Sauvignon had been widely planted here. The appellation system set rules in the 1930s to establish which varieties could be labeled under particular zones, and Cabernet Sauvignon was given the boot. Dürbach understood his unique terroir offered the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend potential for greatness, so he chose to label his wines as France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
Driving north into the hills of Provence from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon, I began to wonder how Cabernet Sauvignon could strive here. As I climbed the Alpilles with the Mediterranean shrinking in my rear-view, the road began to narrow, and the incline slowly steepened. Coming down onto the northern side, temperatures quickly dropped, and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south was quickly replaced by the picturesque roadway (below) leading to Trévallon.
The Trévallon estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, of which nearly all are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The whole cluster-fermented reds age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving this wine its tremendous clarity and brightness. While Bordeaux's gravel is home to the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, and the granite northern Rhone to the greatest Syrah, Dürbach knows here on limestone the sum of the parts achieves something far greater than each possesses on their own.
These are magnificent wines that call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. And a seductive quality that reminds me each time of the treasure trove of older Burgundy that lined Eloi's personal cellar.
To give context to the aging curve of these wines, a bottle of 1988 opened was incredibly fresh and continued to develop in the glass. It single-handedly made a case for the elegance and cellar potential that Provence is capable of.
The rare blanc (7 bottles available) is 50% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Grenache Blanc, 8% Clairette. Each grape variety is aged separately in barrel before assemblage and bottling.
"Fratelli Alessandria's 2014 Barolos have turned out beautifully...Pricing remains very fair given the quality of what is in the bottle." –Antonio Galloni of Vinous
Fratelli Alessandria is a name that I've been keeping rather close to the vest. There have been so many crucial discoveries we've made in Piedmont over the years, but Alessandria's stable of wines stand out to me as the greatest value. Also covering Barbera, Dolcetto, and Pelaverga, this Verduno estate resting under the radar has now found dedicated followers.
Today, I'm happy to offer the best Barolo for drinking tonight, the 2014 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo.
While the Alessandria wines are never short on intensity, there's a delicate sensibility here that one cannot miss. Veins of minerality come across super-fine, with a crackling tone of acidity that lingers on the finish. Relative to most of Barolo, coloring is lighter here, both because of the higher altitude Verduno location and the winemaking style favoring transparency over power.
I try to tread lightly on the "Burgundian qualifiers," but a bottle of the 2014 Alessandria Barolo recently opened even surprised me how apt this descriptor was. And, there's a little bonus to this humble bottling, as 2014 also marks a vintage where the San Lorenzo Barolo fruit all went into the entry-level Barolo!