Sun 30 May 2010
During my excursion in Piedmont back in March, lo these many weeks ago, I naturally tasted primarily red wines, 400 or so. Barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto are the grapes that have made the region famous, though nebbiolo, particularly in the form of Barolo and Barbaresco, has made it immortal. Piedmont cultivates white grapes too, however, and I tried a number of white wines that deserve to be better known, which is to say, marketed in America. The most interesting of these are made from arneis (“are-nay-eez” but usually slurred to “are-nayz”) and nascetta (“nas-chetta”) grapes.
Nascetta does not rate a mention in the 3rd edition on Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine or in Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes, a situation that does not deter Valter Fissone from being the grape’s champion and, he claims, the first (in 1994) to bottle it as a legitimate variety, though as a Vino da Tavola, meaning that the wine did not fit into the official D.O.C. registry of Italian wines. Now nascetta has a D.O.C. as Langhe Bianco.
Fissone married Nadia Cogno and is now the winemaker for the Elvio Cogno estate that occupies a stunning situation in an 18th century manor house atop the hill called Bricco Ravera, near the village of Novella in the Langhe area. Snow still lay over the vineyards on the shady hillsides the morning my group visited the estate, and it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the spectacular view. We did, of course, because we wanted to taste Elvio Cogno’s Barolo wines.
Before the reds, though, Fissone introduced us to his nascettas. First we tried a tank-sample of the six-month-old 2009. Fissone has given the wine a brand-name now: Anas-Cëttá. A strong sulfur component blew off in a few moments to reveal a full-bodied and fairly spicy wine that burst with elements of roasted lemons and pears, camellia and limestone and a touch of heat from 14 percent alcohol. By the time the wine is released, it should have found lovely balance and integration.
Then Fissone, in a generous and sacrificial mood, opened the last bottle of his Nascetta 2001, the last bottle left of some 4,500 to 5,000 cases. This was a reminder of what I always tell you, My Readers, about giving wine a chance and about storing wine well so it might develop into something unanticipated. The color was radiant medium gold; notes of dried thyme, honeysuckle, limestone, sage and petrol wreathed an irresistible bouquet that was almost savory. Rich and supple, quite dry and lively, the wine opened into layers of ginger and quince, candied grapefruit and a hint of crème brûlée and a contrasting touch of grassy bitterness on the finish. Wow, who knew such a wine even existed? This was a real privilege. The wines of Elvio Cogno are imported to the US by Vias Imports in New York. The Anas-cetta is about $25.
We also tried the the Matiré Nascetta Langhe Bianco 2008 at Rivetto, whose Barolos I wrote about in a previous post. This ’08 is the first vintage in which Rivetto produced a nascetta wine, but they’re off to a good start. The color is an attractive mild gold; aromas of roasted lemon and pear are twined with almond and acacia and a touch of greengage plum. Sleek acidity and high notes of leafy fig and lemon balm make the wine feel almost transparent in the mouth, while a finish of shimmering limestone minerality projects a sense of absolute freshness and clarity. Another revelation. The wines of Rivetto come to these shores through several importers. This Matiré Nascetta 2008 runs about $19 to $22.
Better known than nascetta is the arneis grape. Grown mainly in the Langhe and Roero zones of Piedmont, south of the town of Alba, arneis, which does not take well to the burden of oak, is capable of making floral wines of attractive delicacy that is some cases approach real elegance. Roero is the best area for the grape, and those versions may receive a designation of Roereo Arneis D.O.C. Falchetto makes a charming and refreshing Arneis Langhe 2009, nicely balanced among grapefruit and lime peel, jasmine and honeysuckle and spirited acidity. More complex was the Arneis 2009 from the noted Barolo producer Brovia; this offered ripe peaches and pears, with green apple, tangerine and honeysuckle, all layered with limestone and enlivened with tingling acidity. An example that could age five or six years is the Perdaudin Roero Arneis 2009 from the venerable Angelo Negro estate, which goes back to 1670. The wine is very spicy and minerally (in the limestone shale range) and quite forward in its assay of lemon characteristics — bright lemon, savory roasted lemon, redolent lemon balm — with lime peel and grapefruit infused with smoke and acacia blossom, all ensconced is a super-seductive texture that melds crispness with pillowy lushness. Just terrific. The wines of Angelo Negro are not imported to the U.S., but the products of Brovia (Neal Rosenthal) and Falchetto (Direct Wine Imports in Houston) are.
All of those wines were tasted in Piedmont, but within the past two weeks I tasted two more widely available versions of the arneis grape.
It diminishes the qualities of the Ceretto Blangè 2009, Langhe Arneis, not a whit to say that it is delightful from beginning to end. It’s one of the cleanest, freshest and most refreshing wines I have tried in ages, even embodying a touch of spritz to add to its invigorating charm. Think of lemon, lemon, lemon and then almond and almond blossom, and think then of a little smoke, a touch of lilac and lavender and a minute strain of dried thyme. The wine deepens slightly with notes of baked pear and apple, developing moderate richness to balance the spareness and elegance of its crystalline, thirst-quenching, palest gold character. The alcohol content is a modest 12.5 percent. Irresistible for summertime sipping or with light snacks and appetizers. Very Good+. About $26.
Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena Cal. A sample for review.
We see a slightly different nature in the Vietti Roero Arneis 2009. Of course it’s clean as a whistle and fresh as a daisy (and stop me before I hit all the cliché buttons), but it also develops a line of subtleties that center on orange rind and lime peel with a tinge of candied grapefruit before broadening into a multiplicity of lemon effects that in turn bottom out in spiced tea, lemongrass and limestone. The acidity is keen and blade-like; the texture is supple and lithe, sort of winsomely sinuous, and it all goes down very easily indeed. Yes, it’s as enticing and charming as it sounds. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. A great picnic wine or for a first course at a dinner party, say with parsnip-ginger soup, which I made recently. Very Good+. About $23.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal. Tasted at a trade event and the following week at a restaurant, where LL and I each had a glass with grilled octopus.