I’m back in Piedmont, the region of northwestern Italy where vintners are best known for working the Nebbiolo grape in the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco appellations, for a week of winery visits. After I began with a light lunch of lingua with salsa verde and tajarin at More e Macina in the town of La Morra, I was off to my first appointment.
Castello di Verduno, in the village of Verduno, one of Barolo’s 11 communes, has a history that dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. Its current viticultural history stems from the marriage of Gabriella Burlotto of Verduno and Franco Bianco of Barbaresco. As a result of this union, the winemaking and aging is done in Barbaresco, with the castle providing a vaulted cellar for storing the wines in bottle.
Franco Bianco has passed the torch to Mario Andrion, who began working at Castello di Verduno in 2000. Andrion learned to work the vineyards with Franco and continues the traditional vinification style of the estate, performing long macerations and aging in large, old oak barrels.
Castello di Verduno farms 21 acres, of which 1.2 are leased, for an average annual production of 5,000 cases of wine.
One of the specialties of the house is the Pelaverga Piccolo, a grape indigenous to the area that is only grown in Verduno (plus an additional 2.5 acres in the adjoining communes of La Morra and Roddi). At Castello di Verduno, Pelaverga is made into sparkling rosé (S-ciopèt, made in the classic method), white (Vino Bianco Bellis Perennis 2010 is the current release) and red (Verduno D.O.C. Basadone 2010) wines.
When I tasted, the flavors were subtle, with the reds showing light strawberry and cherry flavors and the white, floral notes, apple and hints of grapefruit. They were fresh, and all have a distinctive mineral element on the finish. The still red also showed a peppery quality and firm structure.
Dolcetto and Barbera are two better-known grapes of the region, and Castello di Verduno makes wine from these as well. There is a bright, juicy, cherry-flavored Dolcetto d’Alba Campot 2010 made in stainless steel tanks, a Barbera d’Alba 2010 from young vines, also made in stainless steel and a Barbera d’Alba Bricco del Cucolo 2009. The latter is from a cru (a specially designated single vineyard) in Barbaresco, at the top of a hill. The wine is made from 60-year-old vines and aged in large oak barrels for a year. It featured deep, intense black cherry and bitter chocolate flavors, yet for all its concentration and grip, remained elegant and fresh.
The Nebbiolo Langhe 2010 offered a light and lively expression of the Nebbiolo grape, with rose, strawberry and cherry notes accented by licorice and spice. It comes from vines in both Barbaresco (90 percent) and Verduno, a combination of younger vines from the crus, plus parcels entitled only to the Nebbiolo Langhe D.O.C.
Moving up to the Barbaresco 2007, there was more structure and grip, with dense tannins matched by sweet cherry fruit and spices. It was elegant and rich, almost creamy in texture, and long. The maceration takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20 to 25 days, before aging in large barrels, and then the wine is bottled without fining or filtration. The grapes (all Nebbiolo) are sourced from Faset, Rabajà and Rabajà Basse, vineyards in Barbaresco.
On to the crus, wines from a single vineyard, Andrion and I compared Faset and Rabajà from Barbaresco and Massara from Barolo in both the 2006 and 2007 vintages.
The Faset 2006 showed complex aromas of cherry, floral hints, leather and spice on a full, rich, dense profile. Though still tight, it has very fine potential. The 2007 exhibited a hint of resin and eucalyptus before turning to a cherry flavor on the palate. There was also a touch of heat on the finish.
Rabajà is fermented in tino, an open-top wooden vat, with the cap submerged. After the malolactic conversion, the wine is transferred to large barrels for its maturation. The 2006 delivered beautiful aromas and flavors of licorice, black cherry and woodsy spices allied to a full-bodied, muscular frame. Its younger sibling from 2007 was a lighter style, with a touch of vegetal aroma, then spicy, firm and tight, with higher alcohol.
Both the Faset and Rabajà have 35-year old vines; in Massara the vines are 28 to 30 years old. Massara is also fermented in tino, with cappello sommerso (submerged cap). It’s not a well-known cru because it has only two owners, according to Andrion. Facing southeast, its soils are deeper at the base due to erosion. This gives it better water retention capacity, an advantage in dry years like 2003 and 2011. The soils are calcareous white clay, part of the St.-Agata marls common to the La Morra commune.
The Massara 2006 was tighter than the Barbarescos, with complex notes of balsamic, licorice, leather and tobacco, accented by sweet cherry on a tightly grained frame. The ’07 was more approachable, with a hint of flowers, fine ripeness and an elegant profile.
These wines age well. Of the older vintages we tasted, my preferences were the Vigna Monvigliero 1989, with its terrific nose of spice, tobacco, sweet fruit and menthol. It just gained in the glass over time, with a fresh, almost racy, feel and long aftertaste.
The Vigna Massara 1985 showed a touch of damp cellar on the nose, giving way to a sweet dried cherry, floral and spice bouquet. The sweet fruit on the palate was augmented by spice, leather and licorice, with lingering accents of mint and mineral. It’s ready, but showed no signs of fading over the course of 4 hours.
The Barbaresco Rabajà 1998 offered perfume of flowers, licorice and leather, and spicy, woodsy notes complementing the sweet fruit. A more delicate wine, it’s ready to enjoy.
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