On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

My Gagliardo Visit in Piedmont (Italy)

22 Oct 2021

(September 2021) ... There's a special place in my heart for Gianni Gagliardo - the winery, not the man. As it turns out, back in 2008, it was the very first winery I visited on my very first trip to Italy. I've been back to Italy many times, but never to this winery, until now.

The door is opened by a familiar face, Stefano Gagliardo, who guided our group 13 years ago ... Along with his two brothers: Alberto (the grower), Paolo (hospitality) -Stefano is the winemaker; today they run the winery. Stefano in the Cellar

The winery was started back in 1961 when Stefano's grandfather Paolo decided to give up on his Dolcetto vineyard and put all his grapes in the basket of Nebbiolo - back then that was really a big deal; Dolcetto was the king grape of the region - but Poalo had a gut feeling, or as he put it “followed his heart” into the world of Barolo. He gave up his mixed farming practice for one hectare and a horse - creating Paolo Colla Winery. He was joined by his son Gianni in 1974, who then decided to expand the wineries holdings into the Roero region.

Vineyard - GagliardoToday, the winery produces 180,000 bottles under 14 labels (including 8 Barolos - 6 cru / one village / one classical) - and as for the name change, in 1986 Gianni changed the name to better reflect who was in charge and to create a lasting legacy for himself and his family. The name is also pretty funny as Gagliardo is also a slang for “cool”, so yes, the name of the winery, in English, can be translated to “Johnny Cool” – it also can be translated to Johnny Vigorous, Johnny Valorous, Johnny Strength or Johnny Robust … but Johnny cool sounds so much better!

And now, the new generation of three brothers have once again expanded the Gagliardo winery holdings by investing in vineyards in the new appellation of Nizza DOCG (Italy's Gagliardo Barrel Cellar newest DOCG appellation). Nizza is considered the best place to grow the region's most planted red grape (Barbera) - for those interested Moscato is the MOST planted grape. I end up learning more about Nizza at a Bersano visit and tasting the next day - but I taste my first Nizza wine here at Gagliardo, who now has 26 hectares in the Langhe and 10 hectares for their newest Nizza property: Tenuta Garetto, which is planted with 50 to 90 year old Barbera vines - and they make a spectacular wine with them (as I will soon find out).

The Wines ...

Resto in La MorraAs luck would have it, Stefano made a lunch reservation at a nearby restaurant – we were running late and had to cut the tasting short to make our lunch appointment – but we returned to the winery to taste a few more bottles afterward (without Stefano).

2018 Langhe Nebbiolo - Da Batie (To Baptize)Da Batie - San Ponzio
This 20,000 bottle offering comes from the Roero area - a vineyard composed of 70% sand - in a valley that is open and clear; it's considered a warmer sight that ripens early. The wine is made all in stainless steel: smells fresh with notes of blood orange, dried strawberries and saline ... The palate does come across fresh and lively with an easy drinkability giving off notes of strawberry and sour cherry across the palate.  (*** ½)

2017 Nebbiolo D’Alba Superiore - San Porizio
The vineyard is 2 km away from the single vineyard that makes "da Batie" also located in the Roero. More clay and calcareous soil types, which make it possible to extend harvest times which in turn delivers more complexity in to the fruit. It spends 18 months in a single 35 hectoliter cask and produces only 4,000 bottles per year. Aromas of strawberry, floral, herbal and balsamic lead to a sweetish palate loaded with cherry and strawberry fruit, earthy and oaky with spicy notes backing; plus, a nice long linger finish of clove and spice.  (****)

La Morra - Barolo2017 Barolo
A 30,000 bottle production where all crus contribute to the blend; it's a majority of La Morra, admits Stefano, and it is a wine released “ready to drink, but will age as well.” Lovely red and black fruit notes with strawberry, cherry, floral and menthol aromas ... Palate is all about freshness; but also with dark and red fruit, subtle pepper and other spices - shows more elegance than power and it's incredibly drinkable the moment the cork is popped. The finish has a lovely linger with balsamic and herbs.  (****+)

2016 Barolo - La Morra
This is their “village” Barolo that encompasses two parcels in the final blend. This very aromatic offering shows notes of cherry, blackberry and floral ... On the palate it's soft and gentle with a medium length finish. Key notes here are cherry blossoms, blackberry, spiced plum, and gentle tannins - such a pretty and elegant wine that, like so many of these wines, is so very drinkable right now.  (****+)

2016 Barolo - CastelletoMoaconi and more
A cold, east facing site that seems to dry out first from rains and morning dew as well as the first place to see heat during the day ... It also has the advantage of having some of the oldest soils. Plenty of competing herbal notes: mint, clove, and anise which the fruit seems to hide behind. The palate is gentle and fresh, but also shows that herbal character and subtle spices on the medium length finish.  (*** ½+)

2017 Barolo - Mosconi
A mere 1100 bottles output from this southern exposed, warmer area ... This is a fruit forward number and while the nose leans on the dark side of the fruit spectrum along with mint and balsamic aromas; the palate shows off that dark fruit with a lovely freshness to it, and while there is a pleasant herbal character, it is suppressed by that dark fruit explosion.  (****+)

2017 Barolo - Lazzarito, Vigne Preve
This little spot is said to have its own “energy”, which finds its way into the wine. It's a sunny, sandstone plateau with 60 cm soils ... Another one of these small bottlings (2300 annually). At first sniff and sip you can get on earthy aggressiveness that this wine tends to show: darker fruit, more in your face tannins, along with darker undertones that leans smoky, peppery and herbal-esque all follows the Darth Vader edict "come to the dark side" - and even has that James Earl Jones huskiness about it - especially on the palate. Not for the faint-of-heart and yet there is also an elegance amongst all this power, which is, after all, a nice balancing act.  (****)

2016 Barolo - Monvigliero
Fresh and fruit driven with cherry, strawberry, hints of mocha and even a subtle earthy character.  (*** ½+) Red Mask


Roero Barbera ...

2018 Madama - Barbera D’Alba Superiore
Aged 6 months in big casks of oak ... Rich fruit flavour, but balanced by an acid punch: plenty of sour cherry and cranberry on the finish.  (*** ½+)

2016 La Matta - Barbera D’Alba Superiore
Aged one year in big casks of oak ... This Barbera pulls no punches: mocha, strawberry and smoke with a dark fruit core, namely blackberry and cassis, plus a pretty ballsy coffee-like finish.  (****)


Tenuta Garetto ...

2018 Nizza Fava (100% Barbera) Nizza
Lovely freshness with its floral overtones and dark fruit undertones. Very drinkable with that dark fruit under belly, lush – “they” say the ultimate expression of Barbera comes from Nizza and you can feel it here: the finish rolls out cherry and blackberry kept fresh with good acid backbone.  (****+)

2018 Barbera D'Asti Superiore
Intense fruit: both dark and red with good acidity and a touch of grit ... Drank like a Pinot Noir with something to prove - call it oomph.  (****)

2020 Giassa
Made from 100% Grignolino, a red grape from Monferrato ... It sees short skin contact, has lots of acidity plus tons of cranberry and sour cherry fruit. Looks like a dark rosé, drinks like a very light bodied red.  (*** ½)


The Ceretto Tour (italy)

15 Oct 2021

(September 2021) ... Probably one of the most eye-opening visits I have ever had - and hopefully this is as intriguing to you as it was to me. Let’s see:

Ceretto Barrel RoomFirst, let's start here ... Ceretto, as we know it today, was started by two cousins Bruno and Marcello in the 1950s; before that time Ricardo Ceretto was a negotiant buying fruit/juice and blending wine. The cousins decided to join Ricardo, but with a new philosophy “invest in the land”, which meant buying vineyards, cultivating your own grapes and making the wine from what you grew (not what someone else did). Then in the 1970s and '80s they created two wineries one in the Barolo region, and the other in Barbaresco. Today, 170 hectares is under their control.

So far nothing there seems at all surprising. An Italian family, with multiple generations in the wine business, making wine and buying land is pretty standard fare as far as stories go in this part of the world ... Now here's the kicker. Ceretto wanted to follow a Burgundian model with a red and white grape as their flagship wines. The red, because the region, is Nebbiolo, the white being the humble Arneis variety.

Ceretto vineyardNow, for a quick aside, one of the jobs I do is wine cellar inventories, and I have seen a number of Ceretto wines in my time, as collectors love these wines for their age ability and collectability. The surprise comes now:

Ceretto makes 1.2 million bottles of wine a year, yet only 200,000 are their red wines (split between 15 labels) and the other million bottles are the Arneis (~700,000) and their Moscato D'Asti (~300,000). The massive Arneis project began in 1985 with 15 people in the vineyard, today with the expansion and popularity of their Arneis wine they have 50-plus people at harvest time.

Goes to show you really can't judge a book by its cover - this seemingly all red wine producer makes 1 million bottles of white ... And obviously the white wine program funds the red wine program. Interesting huh?

The Wines …

The tasting was spread out over three locations: lunch, their Barolo winery and their Barbaresco winery. I have also broken them down into sub-categories.

Ceretto Arneis2020 Arneis (tasted out of Magnum)
Made all in stainless steel this is a refreshingly sippable wine that comes across as low acid - but very quaffable on a hot day. Arneis is naturally a low acid grape and the way Ceretto gets around that is a 20-day harvest cycle: starting with the grapes when they are slightly unripe (to keep it their natural acidity) then blending them with the ripe grapes - thus establishing its fruitiness.  (*** ½)

The Quaffers...

These are no oak or lightly oak wines - any of them could be chilled to elevate their freshness ... and here's where I state my bias of not being a huge Dolcetto fan - which is odd because Dolcetto is really THE original grape of Piedmont, and at one time was prized much more highly than Barolo wines were. With that said I will print here my Dolcetto tasting note, but no score will be given.

2020 Dolcetto D’Alba (Rossana)
Fruit pulled from a 8.65 hectare plot called Rosanna with production of 15,000 to 20,000 bottles annually ... Very sour cherry juice with big skin based tannins, it also has a very dark and dense color with incredibly high acidity. No oak is used here.

2019 Barbera D’Alba (Piana)
After the statement above about Dolcetto you would expect it to be the most planted variety in Piedmont, or even Nebbiolo considering how prized both Barolo and Barbaresco are ... But nope, you'd be wrong, it's Barbera. This is only a 2.75 hectare vineyard, produces 15,000 to 20,000 bottles annually and also sees no oak aging. Red fruit with good acidity - it comes across fresh and lively, could even be described as pretty with a really nice easy drinkability.  (*** ½)

2019 Nebbiolo D’Alba
This little beauty sees a minimum of 6 months in oak and in bottle - but more often than not it's a year for both ... Ceretto makes 20 to 25,000 bottles annually of this wine. It was also served chilled to maintain the freshness of the fruit, showing sour cherry and herbal notes - but as it warms up the red fruit core began to explode, with lots of fresh fruit and spice.  (*** ½+)

Ceretto MoscatoA quick pause to talk about the …
2020 Moscato D'Asti
This 300,000 bottle production is just what Dr. Guilty Pleasure ordered up: floral and pretty with notes of peach, pineapple and pear all with a seemingly dry-esque finish - those mid-palate fruit explosions really do play with sweetness and perception.  (*** ½+)

Barolo and Barbaresco Wines …

While the Barolo and Barbaresco “classic” wines hold some interest it's those single vineyard offerings that really spark the imagination. The difference between these two Nebbiolo-based wines is that Barolo is aged an extra year - the soil structure of Barbaresco makes the grapes “less age-worthy” in oak and Barbaresco has a much less hilly terrain, and there are larger plots of land to make up vineyard holdings ... The rest, as they say, is in the details of the soil.

Barbaresco2018 Barbaresco - Bernadot
A part of this wine is aged one year in oak (small and large sized barresl) and one year in bottle – fruit is taken from a 4.84-hectare vineyard in the Barbaresco region with southern exposure vineyards and mineral rich soils ... Vine age it's about 30 plus years: spicy, tannic structure with earthy and mineral notes (read: salty) undertones.  (*** ½+)

2018 Barbaresco - Asili
The more popular of the Ceretto Barbaresco offerings is definitely more typical of wines from the area with fruit taken off 50 plus year old vines. Red fruit dominates with notes that are soft and pretty with floral, good acidity and gentle tannins - it does have a touch of earthiness with time in glass, but those dried red fruits really grab the tongue on the finish and makes one want to have another sip, and another sip, and another sip.  (****+)

Slipping over to the Bricco Rocche property, which was built in the 1980s as their Barolo winery where they have two plots: a southeastern facing vineyard, which is fresher, and a southwestern facing vineyard, which is warmer. The name: Bricco Rocche means “top of the hill / cliff”.

Ceretto Barolo2017 Barolo - Brunate
Starts off earthy with good fruit, then follows up with some tannins a slight smoky nuance before adding in mocha, balsamic-strawberries and a floral hint. Quite pretty.  (****)

2017 Barolo - Bussia
Very red fruit dominant with notes of strawberry and raspberry backed by licorice, balsamic and spices ... Tannins are chalky, but not aggressive, with a ripe cherry linger.  (****)

2017 Barolo - Prapo
Prapo shows why it is king of the Ceretto Nebbiolo collection. Fresh and fruity, though still slightly chalky with good acidity backing it all up ... Here the acidity is on point, there's a simplicity to this wine that really makes it sing in the mouth - then it leans into a sweet tart finish with notes of floral and balsamic appearing the longer it sits open. Lovely wine.  (****+)


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