Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson is blogging from Italy's Piedmont region, where he is visiting growers and tasting the new vintages that will be released in the United States in 2014.
Davide Rosso is ambitious. Though his ancestors owned vineyards in Serralunga dating back to the 1890s, he and his father first crushed grapes and bottled their Giovanni Rosso wine in 1994, in a small cellar under their house. In 1998, they built an addition to handle the growing production.
Currently at 40 acres, with 11 different vineyards, the 2013 harvest was fermented in a nearby new facility, not yet completed. It sports cement fermentation vats, stainless steel tanks for racking and blending and a temperature-controlled environment. Rosso prefers the cement vats with their thick walls for consistent temperature, lack of electrical charge and the square shape fosters a thinner cap of grape skins, making it easier to manage with punch-downs, pump-overs and délestage.
The focus here is Nebbiolo, specifically from several crus in Serralunga: La Serra, Cerretta and Vigna Rionda. Vigna Rionda was acquired in 2010 when the previous owner, his uncle Tommaso Canale, passed away. Rosso stopped using chemicals on the vines seven years ago.
The Nebbiolo destined for Barolo is crushed and destemmed, then fermented and macerated for four to five weeks before pressing off the skins. The fermentation occurs with indigenous yeast and the malolactic conversion, which takes place anywhere from November to May, is spontaneous. There is no fining or filtering. Even the pomace from the fermenting vats is lifted into the press in trays to avoid pumping and any bitter extraction from the skins.
All the Barolos see 30 to 36 months in large oak casks. We tasted 2010, 2011 and 2012 from cask, with the exception of Vigna Rionda 2010. Rosso was not happy with the quality and sold it in bulk.
A consistent thread of terroir ran through the various crus across the vintages. The La Serra showed elegance, even in the warmer, richer 2011 vintage, along with an expression of black currant and violet notes. The 2010 was firm, with tension and tobacco, iron and mineral elements.
Ceretta showed floral aromas and flavors, fine harmony and silky textures across the vintages. The 2010 offered excellent potential. Vigna Rionda, from both 2011 and 2012, exhibited the greatest complexity of the three crus, with wet earth, iron, cherry and tobacco fused with a structure that showed refinement and intensity.
My next stop was Schiavenza, in the heart of the village of Serralunga, where Walter Anselma, his wife, Enrica, and brother-in-law Luciano Pira farm 22 acres of vines, almost all in Serralunga. Their annual production averages 3,200 cases. The estate was founded in 1956.
Despite a traditional approach in the cellar, the Schiavenza Barolos capture beautiful fruit and are surprisingly approachable at an early age.
Fermentation takes place in cement vats with indigenous yeast. The Dolcetto macerates about 10 days on the skins, the Nebbolo for 25 days.
Anselma moves the wine often to clarify, roughly once a week for a month until it goes into barrel, then twice a year. The Nebbiolo sees a minimum of three years in 2,000- to 4,000-liter Slavonian oak barrels, five for the riserva. He feels the wine benefits from more time in oak than bottle.
The 2010s tasted from cask were awkward, but the core structure of the Barolo classico (a blend of Ceratti and Meriame vineyards), Broglio, Cerretta and Prapò was there. They need more time and refinement and won't be bottled for another six months. Broglio expresses the most fruit of the three, Cerretta is firmer and more structured, while Prapò combines both attributes with a complex profile and savory, spicy flavors.
I have been impressed by the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Schiavenza Barolos tasted in my New York office and I have no doubt these will give a lot of pleasure in due time. This was borne out by a Barolo Riserva 1999 Anselma and I shared at lunch. The fruit came from Cerrati, Meriame, Broglio and Cerretta; Prapò was already being bottled separately as of 1996. Still young and a bit austere, it evoked eucalyptus, menthol, cherry tobacco and mineral flavors and fine length.
Just a few miles away, Rivetto's perch atop a ridge to the east of Serralunga offers a stunning view of the castle. The property straddles the border between Serralunga and Sinio, which lies just outside the Barolo zone.
Enrico Rivetto, 35, the fourth generation to run the estate, freely admitted, "I have more ideas than money." For example, he hopes to label his Nebbiolo from Sinio as Barolo one day, but barring any changes to the boundaries of the Barolo zone, he'll have to be satisfied with his holdings in Serralunga: Briccolina, Manocino, Serra and San Bernardo.
His family has been in the wine business since 1902, occupying its current location since 1932. There are 37 acres of vineyards farmed organically and equally as many acres of hazelnuts.
Rivetto likes to harvest in three passes, first cutting the tips of the Nebbiolo clusters, then picking the clusters furthest from the trunk and finally the rest of the grapes. The crop is crushed and fed into tanks by gravity.
Fermentation is in stainless steel with indigenous yeast, with the exception of the Briccolina. The Barolo consists of Nebbiolo from Manocino, Serra and San Bernardo. It ages for 30 months in large Slavonian oak casks and a further 10 months in bottle. The 2010 was slightly austere, showing tobacco, cherry, plum and briar notes. Its tannins were assertive, but the savory finish found a nice balance.
The Barolo Leon Riserva is a selection from the casks of Barolo that Rivetti feels is capable of extended aging. The lots destined for the Leon Riserva see an additional 10 months respectively in both cask and bottle before release. We tasted the 2008, rich with cherry, tobacco, wet earth and iron flavors that stayed fresh if a bit dry on the finish.
Fermentation for the Barolo Briccolina takes place in conical wood vats called "tini," before aging in wood for three years and a further 16 months in bottle. The 2010 evoked beautiful aromas of flowers, cherry, strawberry and tobacco matched to an elegant, refined and harmonious frame.
Rivetto has barriques for his Barbera and is not averse to using them for Nebbiolo, but there is no recipe here. The Barbera d'Alba Zio Nando, named after his great uncle Ferdinando, who planted the grapes in 1944, sees 45 percent French oak barriques and 55 percent Slavonian oak casks. The 2011, to be released next spring, delivered rich plum fruit on a dense, concentrated structure.
Rivetto also makes a fresh, floral-, lime- and spice-scented Langhe Nascetta, a local variety that is currently undergoing a revival in the region.