Dogliani, just south of Monforte in Barolo, is a land where Dolcetto rules the hillsides. There's no sibling rivalry here with Nebbiolo and Barbera. This is where Dolcetto gets all the love. And in Dogliani it's Nicoletta Bocca's 1936-planted Dolcetto vines that offer the most mesmerizing and enchanting reflection of this appellation.
There are very few producers in Barolo that will devote prime hillside parcels to Dolcetto. But, in Dogliani only the best, steep, south-facing vineyards are planted to the variety. Bocca purchased the San Fereolo property in 1992 in the Valdibà subzone and converted to organic and biodymanic viticulture, now certified by Demeter. Bocca's oldest vines of her estate go into the flagship San Fereolo Dogliani bottling. She waits 8 years to release each vintage, with a split between large barrel elévage and then into bottle for extended aging.
There's no denying how important Dolcetto is from Dogliani's northern neighbors. Even there it's more than a simple "daily drinker", with complex blue and black fruits, bitter chocolate, licorice, smoke, and black olive notes. But, San Fereolo's Dogliani from 81-year-old vines is entirely another beast. There's a weight and texture that points to a very different class, with an underlying stream of rocky minerality and agile frame that reminds us we're in another home.
2009 was a warm vintage that gave us plush, forward, and very open-knit wines, full of dark, powerful fruit held in check with underlying structure. Whereas Nebbiolo tends to do best in more moderate growing seasons, Dolcetto is always eagerly awaiting those of serious warmth. It's in these vintages that Dolcetto excels the very most.
For me, the introduction to Bocca's top wine really turned my preconceived notions of Dolcetto upside down. Even with exposure to the best bottlings from Barolo the Dogliani holds a grace and sense of quiet conviction that is undeniably great. This is where world class Dolcetto takes the leading role of terroir and runs with it.
Arriving at Stella di Campalto was a curious moment. As I stepped out of the car and felt the intense blast of heat something didn’t seem quite right. We’re in the middle of a very extended heat wave here in Tuscany, but I had just left the north side of Montalcino where the weather had been substantially cooler. How was it that I was about to enter the home of arguably the most featherweight and famously dubbed “Burgundian” estate in all of Montalcino? But as all things go with Stella di Campalto, this is a winery where since inception conventions have been broken.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the 2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, both in 750ml and 1.5L formats, as well as the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino (100% de-classified Brunello di Montalcino). Today's offer is also the only in the entire country for each wine.
The moment you taste a Stella di Campalto wine you realize these defy any preconceived notions you may have of the rich Sangiovese Grosso varietal in Montalcino. I learned there are many keys to the surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many of these parcels contain high concentrations of sand and white quartz, and strong breezes come from down from the Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A river in very close proximity to the estate also plays a role especially helping temperatures dip quite low at night, preserving the much needed acidity.
We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements from various soils worked together to create the grand image of this tiny estate. Some showed high toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory. But, each had a common thread of weightlessness and a beautiful sense of agility.
The very young Stella had been living in Milan with her family and began to fall in love with traditional wines. Serendipitously, she was gifted by her father-in-law an un-planted property on the southern side of Montalcino. After exploring the rundown former farmhouse, and finding the quiet setting very comfortable, she made the move to plant vines. Her heart was adamant about 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with organic and biodynamic principles - now certified.
The birth of Podere San Giuseppe Stella di Campalto dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate. It was abandoned in 1940 and then acquired by Stella’s family in 1992. Today, 6 parcels of vines comprise these 6.7 hectares, each being fermented on its own prior to blending.
Fermentations are in old open top wood casks, with 45-minute pumpovers 4 times per day, surely an element to the soft tannins. The wines follow traditional methods of long, slow ferments (30+ days) and are aged in botti with a very small addition of old barrique.
I’ve never come across another Brunello which showed so well each time it was poured, no matter the vintage, no matter weather decanted or popped-and-poured. To me, this is always the true sign of a great producer.
The wines are unfortunately made is very small quantities, and allocations are usually counted in bottles, not cases. I’m always working to acquire more even with the challenges due to quantity, but after this visit my determination had a new sense of rejuvenation. Again, today's three bottlings are the only offered in the U.S.
The Gavi region 50 miles east of Piedmont is home to the Cortese grape, known for its Chablis-like minerality and also, regrettably, for its innocuous character from industrial-like production. Now, there's nothing wrong with wines that bring pleasure from their more refreshing and gulpable traits. However, I had yet to have an aha moment with Gavi where my eyes lit up from an experience that transmitted terroir with a dynamic, vivid personality. That changed in a big way when introduced to La Ghibellina. And no surprise, their 5,000-case production Gavi was chock-full of that singular sense of place that's the crux of everything I demand.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 La Ghibellina Mainin Gavi for $23 per bottle.
The couple behind the estate, Alberto and Marina Ghibellina, came from very different backgrounds. Alberto was a water polo player who medaled at the Olympics, and Marina was a student of art history who still restores antique furniture. Their passion for wine and Marina's family's roots in the region landed them at this property, first producing wine from the 2000 vintage. From the start they have been fortunate to work with the celebrated Piedmont enologist, Beppe Caviola.
The 20 hectares of vines sit on a bedrock of limestone tucked in between the Po River Valley and the Ligurian Apennines mountain range. The three elements playing a vital role in showcasing a griping element of salinity that's rare for Cortese. At its best Gavi shows a racy mineral side, but the scrupulous approach by Alberto and Marina delivers something much more spirited. Cortese's white flower and citrus here finish with terrific crushed rock and oyster shell notes. This exuberant disposition is no doubt an amplified version of what's the norm in Gavi.
While DOCG status was awarded in 1998, the region has not seen a deep-rooted connection to the more terroir-driven focus that we've seen elsewhere nearby. Price points may be less that what's common in Piedmont and Liguria, but it's so exciting to see La Ghibellina understand there's a bold interpretation of place to communicate when approached with conviction.
Finding satin-textured, über-young Nebbiolo that calls to mind Foillard's Morgon Cuvée Corcelette more so than a customarily tannic Barbaresco is something I never considered possible. Stay with me here. Hunting down this silk-fruited trait simply was not on my Nebbiolo radar, as usually it's only conveyed by the ultra-modern Piedmont examples, which, stylistically, are not for me. But, when an iconic Burgundy producer tipped me off to this Barbaresco name I made sure to taste immediately.
Today, I'm happy to offer Paolo Veglio's Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco Roccalini. Including the supremely approachable 2015, 2014, and the rare 2013 Riserva.
Barbarescos from Roccalini flip preconceived notions of the region and its capabilities upside down. There's an up-front, plush immediacy of the fruit profile that's just so easy to drink, yet with complexity and a mid-palate grip that's true to Nebbiolo and this heralded zone of Piedmont. As far as the delicious-factor is concerned, this is a total knockout - Among Piedmont discoveries I've made since opening in 2015, this is atop my list.
Paolo Veglio's story meanders through the cellars of Bruno Giacosa where Paolo's father, an architect, took him as a young boy. Years later in 1991, Paolo returned to Giacosa and asked if he might be interested in purchasing grapes that he was now tending on his home property. A skeptical Giacosa asked, "And, which vineyard is this?" Paolo told him it was Roccalini. And Giacosa replied, "I'll see you in the morning."
The surprisingly fresh, approachable and remarkably seamless Barbaresco from Roccalini is undoubtedly derived from Paolo's natural approach. Living above the cellar and vines, Paolo knew early on that organic farming was not only necessary for producing the best possible wine, but also for a healthy family life on this estate.
Paolo's insistence on taking the road less traveled in Piedmont leads him to question conventional thinking. He says, "Every time I see something that's too easy, something's not right, something we don't know yet." And, his philosophy at every stage is to take the longer path, one that requires more time, effort, and patience. And, I promise you, what you will find in this bottle will be a revelation unlike any you've had from Piedmont.
Roccalini is a special vineyard, just as Bruno Giacosa knew. It was 10 years of trials before Paolo finally chose to bottle his own family label. Any trepidation about drinking current release Barbaresco can be tossed aside right now. This wine is ready to go and will open your eyes to a very unique spirit in Barbaresco. As holiday season is in full gear, I highly recommend you pair Roccalini with your favorite winter recipes and prepare to be floored.
The drive from Mt. Etna to Vittoria was a great reminder as to just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicliy is. Temperatures rise and the climate turns dry and arid. It's hard to believe this place I'm headed is beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines. There's no better introduction to the wines of Vittoria then through the 1980-founded dream project brewed up three young friends.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 COS Frappato for $26 per bottle, along with the COS Nero d'Avola and Cerasuolo.
Originally, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) chose as young men to produce 1,470 bottles of wine in October 1980. Cilia's father had a winery, and 3 hectares of nearby bush-trained vines were sourced. It was simply intended as a fun project. After showing the wine to a renowned sommelier in Palermo the trio received a much surprised enthusiastic response, and were told they needed to follow down this path.
The magic of Vittoria, one that took some time to make itself evident to the naked eye, is the soil and wind. There's a constant breeze coming from the Hyblaean mountains sweeping through these vines resting on red clay/sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate these inland temperatures preserving acidity, the red sand cools immediately after the sun sets, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine - giving high acidity and nervy minerality. Organic and biodynamic viticulture here are implemented on all parcels.
Putting all this together it's clear why the red wines coming from COS resemble traditional Burgundy and Northern Rhone in their brightness, energy, and spice. Frappato and Nero d'Avola are the two main red varieties. An over-generalization can be made to the former resembling Pinot Noir, with the latter resembling Syrah. Blended together the most recognized of the wines of Vittoria is produced, called Cerasuolo.
COS has put these two obscure varieties on the worldwide map. Over the years the small region of Vittoria has garnered more attention, and rightfully so. The three friends are the ultimate ambassadors and are constantly pushing the envelope in maximizing the potential for their wines, never resting on their laurels.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle the new vintage. The Cerasuolo is fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to what is used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This is certainly one of the most important choices made to ensure the wines are accentuated by crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink, and just as importantly pair well at the dinner table with a wide range.