Obscure Italian Varieties I: Grignolino, the Polarizer

4 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

It is high time that I turned my wine blogging pen (errr, keyboard) to a project that has been bouncing around the dusty caverns of my mind for some time now. For several years, I have been enamoured by the viticultural diversity that is Italy. This country contains more unique native grape varieties than any other, and this sort of cornucopia deeply appeals to the part of me that relishes new experiences. My mind never stops collecting: a new plant in my (limited) deck garden, a new bird or mushroom found in the woods, a new wine grape that I’ve perhaps (likely!) read about but never experienced in person. My brain is just wired to quest. And why Italy? Well, Italy is part of my heritage, I love the food (who doesn’t?), and honestly, I can appreciate that so many of these wines are truly the products of a distinct culture. Although international grape varieties are entrenched in the Italian viticultural landscape and won’t be going anywhere, the natives are currently ascendent.

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Grignolino

So my plan is to provide a series of blogs that introduce our intrepid readers to an Italian wine grape that they many not have heard of or tasted. Each will describe the grape in detail and then provide a tasting note for a single bottle that is hopefully emblematic of the grape in question. This project feels like a poor man’s homage to one of my wine writing heroes, Ian D’Agata, who spent more than a decade tasting nearly all of Italy’s native wine grapes. The resulting book shall be my primary companion as I share my own musings. Some (including probably Ian himself) would take umbrage with my use of the word “obscure” to describe these grapes. I am going to use the word because my view is that none of these grapes that I will cover are obviously well-known in wine markets outside of Italy, nor are they commonly available in this wine market, although fortunately Calgary wine shops feature a unique bounty that likely does not exist elsewhere in this country. Of course these grapes are not obscure in the Italian wine regions from which they hail, and perhaps some of them will become better known outside these confines. So there you have it. Let’s begin with one grape, Grignolino, that I find particularly compelling. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 16

16 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

After a bit of a hiccup on Friday (the 13th, so you’d think I would have seen it coming), things quickly got back on track with the Bricks Advent Calendar, and today continues that trend.  Over this past weekend, I was speaking with a friend and extolling the virtues of a wine Advent calendar.  The obvious benefit is that I get a couple glasses of wine every evening to help me get into the holiday spirit.  The other benefit is that the wine world is so varied and this year’s calendar is taking full advantage, allowing for a vast exploration of styles, grapes and regions over a quick 24 days.  And so it is that on Day 16, we get to taste yet another classic varietal from a storied wine-making area.

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Tonight’s wine is a Nebbiolo from Langhe in Piedmont, Italy.  While Barbera and Dolcetto are also grown in Piedmont, the true star of the region is Nebbiolo.  The wines made from this grape can vary in style depending on where it is grown, even within Piedmont, but it is the grape from which both Barbaresco and Barolo, true all-stars of Italian wine, are produced.  Interestingly, the wines produced in Piedmont are very often single varietals, as compared to much of the rest of Italy where the wines are often blends (much in the same way that Burgundy differs from the rest of France for this same reason).  Langhe is a region within Piedmont that itself includes Barolo and Barbaresco.  The more general Langhe designation is given to wines that do not adhere to the strict  geographical or production requirements of Barolo, Barbaresco or other D.O.C.G. requirements.

La Spinetta, the producer of today’s libation, is one that is well known to me.  I was first introduced to the winery when I tried its Bricco Quaglia Moscato d’Asti.  Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of bubbles (aged Champagne excepted of course), and so this was a revelation to me.  Inexpensive and low in alcohol, the Bricco Quaglia quickly became my go-to bottle whenever bubbles were needed, and it has become a bottle of choice for my extended family for pre-dinner drinks.  As it turns out, there is very good reason for this, as La Spinetta began its life as a Moscato d’Asti producer.  While it may not have the lengthy multi-generational history that some of the producers highlighted in the past couple of weeks have had, it has been in operation for over 40 years.  The winery was founded in 1977 by Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti in Castagnole delle Lanze in the Italian province of Asti, and it remains a family-owned and -run winery to this day.  In 1978, it produced its first Moscato d’Asti (the aforementioned Bricco Quaglia), which was the first ever single-vineyard Moscato d’Asti in Italy.  It was not until 1985 that the first red wine was produced.  Since that time, after purchasing several other vineyards in Piedmont and Tuscany, La Spinetta now produces wines from a range of varietals, making approximately 650,000 bottles of wine per year: 30% Moscato d’Asti, 24% Sangiovese, 22% Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba, 10% Nebbiolo, 8% Barbaresco, 4% Barolo (note: Barbaresco and Barolo are also made from the Nebbiolo grape) and 2% Chardonnay.

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Anyone familiar with La Spinetta’s line of red wines will immediately recognize the image of the rhinoceros on the label (the winery’s bottlings of Barolo use a lion on the label instead).  La Spinetta’s website has a page dedicated to the label rhino and I was excited to learn the significance.  Remarkably, there isn’t one, which kind of makes the use of the rhino on so many of La Spinetta’s wines that much more amazing.  The lead winemaker (and son of founder Giuseppe Rivetti) Giorgio Rivetti has always been fond of this rhino woodcut by German artist Albrecht Dürer and decided that it would be used on the labels.  I love that the story behind the image is actually a non-story and, as with so much when it comes to wine, “because I like it” is the only reason needed.  [Note: After I wrote this, I looked back at last year’s calendar and realized that much of this was already covered with great eloquence by Ray Lamontagne when he wrote about this wine’s sibling, the 2013 Ca’ Di Pian Barbera d’Asti.]

That’s all well and good, but we’re here tonight to talk about the 2014 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo.  The grapes for this bottle are harvested from vineyards in Starderi and Neive, which are located south of Asti and just slightly to the northeast of Alba, from vines approximately 19 to 22 years of age.  After being harvested in early to mid-October,  the wine is aged for 12 months in used French barrels that have been medium toasted.  From there, the wine is aged for two months in stainless steel vats before being bottled.

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Cork rating: 3 out of 10.  It gets points for correctly identifying the region and varietal…that’s it.

The wine is a light transparent red in the glass and at just five years of age is already starting to show some brick colouring at the edges, a clear characteristic of the varietal.  The nose is classic Piedmontese Nebbiolo: newly paved roadway, dark cherry, liquorice, leather upholstery, fresh dirt, ammonia, dried roses, oregano and rosemary come together to present a bold precursor to the palate.  Wow, that first sip.  Nebbiolo as a grape produces wines that contain massive amounts of both acid and tannin, and this wine hits you with both.  Yet the wine assimilates these with ease and places the focus more on flavours of strawberry, black currant, fig, prune and Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and a soft, elegant floral/perfume note that leads into a lengthy finish.  A modern, friendly and delicious take on old-school Nebbiolo.

89 points





Calgary Wine Life: Technical Tasting with Barolo’s Claudio Viberti

26 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

It all began when Cavalier Antonio Viberti purchased a restaurant, the Locanda del Buon Padre. In 1923, Antonio decided to start making wine in the basement, as many do in this region. The original intent was to keep things simple and just sell the wine to patrons in the restaurant. Well, Antonio’s son Giovanni had other ideas. Things began to expand. Eventually cement tanks for fermentation were installed, and in 1955 wines were sold in nearby markets for the first time. By the 1970s the operation had become a full scale winery, even if the family never forgot their roots as restauranteurs. Giovanni’s son Claudio Viberti, who was our host at this past week’s tasting event at Willow Park Wines & Spirits, took over management of winery and restaurant operations in 2008. He hasn’t looked back since. The man is a dynamo.

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Claudio tells a few of us early birds the story behind the rosé served before the beginning of the formal proceedings. First off, and much to our surprise, this rosé is 100% Nebbiolo. Secondly, the wine is made first as a white wine from Nebbiolo juice obtained via an extremely gentle press. Claudio also makes a small amount of red wine from the same batch, using this to fix the colour of the end product. No combined maceration on the skins was involved, à la pink Champagne. I start scribbling notes. This is dry as a bone but does yield a subtle candied character, with the robust illusion of a sweet finish after a rather dense midpalate. Fairy-like whispers of strawberry, raspberry leaf, and nectarine flit about a more solid core of Parmesan cheese and those pink wintergreen mints, a rather burly rosé with a shimmering coppery finish. This is a rare wine but seems unlikely to remain so. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 11

11 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

As we approach the halfway point of this Advent campaign, I gingerly unwrap today’s offering and the bemusement arrives as if on cue: Another 2013! 2013 is the new 2018. Or something. And its a Barbera d’Asti with a lovely label. Hmmm. I begin recalling what I know about this grape. Barbera is a high acid low tannin variety, although it is also very darkly pigmented, containing roughly twice the color compounds of Nebbiolo. Although the grape does best in Piedmont, and in the Asti DOCG specifically, it is the third most widely planted black grape in Italy. Barbera is lauded as being easy to grow and rather tolerant of mistakes in the vineyard or cellar; it yields decent wines even at high yields in rich soil. Although historically such wines were quite austere and characterized by piercing acidity, they have evolved into an approachable, soft, rich style that is often permeated by the telltale chocolate and vanilla aromas of new oak. As is the case with most indulgences, moderation is everything. Some argue that the trend towards oak aging has gone too far. Regardless, Barbera could be a grape on the cusp of international superstardom. It does well outside of its native land and its pacific temperament lends itself to a whole range of styles, from crushable easy-going reds full of juicy red and black cherries to wines more regal and age-worthy.

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Not afraid of oak is La Spinetta, founded by Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti in 1977. La Spinetta produced the first single vineyard Moscato in Italy, and the present wine, Ca’ Di Pian, was their inaugural red. La Spinetta eventually added holdings in both Barbarsco and Barolo, even spreading beyond Piedmont into Tuscany. Their philosophy is summarized as ” 90% of the work we do at La Spinetta is in the vineyards, with just 10% in the cellar”. 75% of their vineyards are farmed in accordance with biodynamic principles, and chemicals are used at a bare minimum in those that are not. Indigenous varieties are coveted, with La Spinetta seeking to let native grapes reflect local conditions as opposed to using international varieties to score points. Besides, Barbera is more than capable of providing colour. Vine ages range from 35 to 65 years old. Green harvesting is used to keep yields low. Cooperage is 80% new medium toast French oak barrels (225 liter barriques) and the cellar is constantly controlled for temperature and humidity. This is all well and good. My burning question is, why the rhino? Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct: RMW&F Festival Edition!

11 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Find the booth, for wines like this!

It’s October, and here in Calgary we’ve already been bombarded with two feet of snow in the last week and are craving the spring that’s a winter away, which can only mean one thing:  it’s coming up to Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival time.  The massive tasting event, now in its 21st year in the city, is kicking off tomorrow in Calgary (Oct. 12-13) and is heading north to Edmonton the following weekend (Oct. 19-20).  In addition to a massive number of wineries, breweries and restaurants, in attendance for the first time this year will be our blog’s favourite national wine club Cellar Direct, the Old World-focused provider of finely crafted low-intervention traditional-styled wine that ships its offerings across Canada and has been known best on this page for never yet providing a bad bottle over multiple years of tasting experiences.  If you happen to be attending the Festival (which you should, if you can), stop by the Four Corners booth (#309 in YYC, #903 in YEG) to say hi to the founders and brainchildren behind the Cellar Direct venture and sign up for their mailing list, which will give you access to wines like the ones below, which I recently received as a sort of Festival lead-up.  It will likely be the only place you can find these bottles in the country. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Luciano Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore

24 01 2013
Some of my favourite labels of all time.  Classic.

Some of my favourite labels of all time. Classic.

If there’s anything better than a good bottle of wine, it’s a good bottle of wine that you got on sale.  While this particular bottle usually retails for around $50, I was lucky enough to grab it on special for a shade under $30, which made me ultra-excited to open it and greatly reduced my chances of being disappointed with what was inside.  Not that there was much of a chance of that, given who made it.

Luciano Sandrone is a Barolo legend.  If you were going to make an All-Star team of producers from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, Sandrone would definitely be in the starting lineup. Ever since his first vintage in 1978, he has wowed the wine world with a slate of bottlings that are crafted in a more open, approachable manner than those made by the staunch traditionalists in the area but yet that remain elegant, complex and capable of aging and improving for a long time.  Most famous for his Barolos (Barolo is a subregion of Piedmont whose wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape), Sandrone also makes a Barbera (which is fantastic), a Dolcetto, a red blend and this Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Here’s a good rule of thumb for reading Italian wine labels:  if you see a label stating “_______ di _______” or “_______ d’_______”, odds are that the first word in the sequence will be the name of the grape and the last word will be the area where it’s from.  “Nebbiolo d’Alba” means “Nebbiolo from Alba”, which is the name of a Nebbiolo-growing region in Piedmont immediately adjacent to the great Barolo and the equally great Barbaresco appellations.  Since the soil and climate conditions in Nebbiolo d’Alba are similar to those in Barolo/Barbaresco, and since the same varietal is used to make the wine, Nebbiolo d’Alba can be a source of wines that give you a good sense of what Barolos and Barbarescos are all about but at a fraction of the price. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Paolo Conterno Barbera d’Alba

9 11 2011

Not to reinforce any improper stereotypes, but I totally dig the Mafia lighting in this photo.

Well, another week, another lone post on Pop & Pour — there’s no doubt that my brief foray back into academics has taken its toll on my blogging productivity.  Thankfully, my WSET Advanced exam is this Sunday, after which my writing schedule will get back to normal (provided I haven’t given up on wine entirely by then, something I might just do if I have to read my textbook one more time).  After two weekends of boot-camp-esque Advanced training and 30+ hours of class time logged, we’ve tasted and evaluated close to 80 wines and covered off every major world wine region except Spain and Portugal (which are coming up this Saturday), as a result of which everyone’s brain is in varying degrees of pain.  My head is so WSET-laden that I have random wine words like Trincadeira (Portuguese grape variety) and bocksbeutel (odd-shaped wine bottle used in Franken, Germany) floating around the edges of my consciousness at night as I’m trying to go to sleep, and I can’t pour a straightforward glass of vino with dinner without mulling over whether it has a medium or medium-plus body or a ruby-with-some-garnet or garnet-with-some-ruby appearance.  Tonight I poured one of my favourite kinds of inexpensive wine, Barbera d’Alba from northwest Italy, and even though I was fairly familiar with the grape and the region, I still felt compelled to dive into my text to find out what my new vinous Bible had to say about them.

Read the rest of this entry »








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