Roero may be Piedmont's best-kept secret. For years, famous houses in Barolo purchased grapes from growers in this scenic and dramatic region.
The Tanaro river divides the Roero from its well-known neighbors, Barbaresco and Barolo, however, standing at the lookout at the top of the village of Guarene, it looks like a mere stone's throw to the village of Barbaresco's imposing tower and not much further to the crest where La Morra sits.
The Roero is more open and less planted to vineyards than the Langhe, with broad valleys and plenty of dense woods (good for truffles). This gives it a wilder feel than the more densely planted Langhe. Its soil is sandier, especially in the western part; as you move east toward Alba, the proportion of clay increases.
Climatically, the Roero is a little warmer and drier than the Langhe. It is also the home of Arneis, although Nebbiolo, Barbera, Favorita and other grapes are also grown in the region. The sandier soils give more softness and open structures to the Nebbiolo wines from the Roero, allowing them to be enjoyed earlier in their development than their cousins from Barolo and Barbaresco. They can also age seven to 15 years, especially from a very good year.
My appointment there was with Malvirà, a property founded in the 1950s by Giuseppe Damonte and managed today by his sons, Massimo, the vineyard manager, and Roberto, the winemaker. The name Malvirà translates as "badly turned" in the Piedmontese dialect, referring to the original winery, which faced north, instead of south, as was the tradition at the time.
Malvirà specializes in Arneis and Nebbiolo, with four each, although it does produce other wines from its 104 acres of vines. The vineyards are spread around four zones of the Roero: Canale, where the new winery is located, Monteu Roero, Castellinaldo and Montà.
Malvirà's Roero Arneis Classico 2009 offered a fresh nose of peaches and melon, allied to a rich texture, ending with a touch of grapefruit peel. It's a blend of Arneis from the Renesio, Trinità and Saglietto vineyards, fermented and aged in stainless steel. The single-vineyard Roero Arneis Renesio 2009 revealed a spicy flavor profile accented by pine on an airy, elegant frame. It also sees nothing but stainless-steel tanks.
The soils at the western limit of the Roero are sandy, like this outcropping near Santo Stefano Roero.
The Roero Arneis Trinità 2009 undergoes aging in 10 percent older French barrels for six months. It was rounder, showing grapefruit, pastry and spice notes and greater density than the Classico bottling. The powerhouse of the Arneis range comes from the Saglietto vineyard. Fermented and aged in 50 percent stainless steel and 50 percent oak, the Saglietto delivered plenty of peach and melon fruit backed by good acidity and a long, minerally finish.
"The crus are better after a year in bottle; they need time," explained Roberto Damonte. "The classic Arneis is less interesting in the second year."
If you have never tried Arneis, this is a good starting point, both for the fresh, stainless Classico version and the weightier crus.
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — December 1, 2010 5:57pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — December 2, 2010 4:39pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — December 3, 2010 6:12pm ET
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