The prized nebbiolo grape reaches its full potential in the powerful, complex, intense wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. There are occasions, however, when the humble drinker might prefer a style of nebbiolo that is more approachable (not to mention affordable). At Paul Marcus Wines, we offer several examples of nebbiolo that is lighter on its feet, versatile at the table, and more accessible in its youth.
For starters, check out the bright, supple, aromatic 2020 Paitin Langhe Nebbiolo ‘Starda.’ Located in the western Langhe village of Neive, just outside Barbaresco, Paitin has been producing their Langhe nebbiolo for 130 years. The grapes for this cuvee come from 40-year-old vines planted in sandy, lower-elevation soils. After a relatively long fermentation in stainless steel, the wine rests in old Slavonian barrels for up to a year. With vibrant red fruits and ample acidity, this high-toned nebbiolo will perfectly accompany, say, penne with pancetta and mushrooms in a vermouth cream sauce.
Next we head north to the Alto Piemonte and the 2018 Proprieta Sperino Coste della Sesia ‘Uvaggio.’ Based in Lessona, the Proprieta Sperino project began about 25 years ago, and their ‘Uvaggio’ cuvee is made from 80 percent nebbiolo rounded out by 15 percent vespolina and 5 percent croatina. This wine is a bit softer and more textured than the Paitin; it’s floral and spicy, with dense fruit and a distinct mineral edge. Try this one with pan-roasted pork tenderloin smothered in fresh herbs.
Finally, we return to the Langhe for the outstanding 2019 Cascina delle Rose Langhe Nebbiolo. The fruit for this lively, structured, and balanced bottling is all declassified Barbaresco from the famed Tre Stelle vineyard, and there is no wood used at any point in the production process; fermentation and aging all take place in stainless steel. The resulting wine is pure, elegant, and energetic, with a gorgeous nose and an almost Burgundian mouth feel. Make yourself a pot of orecchiette with sausage, brown butter, and sage, and you’ll be high-stepping into town!
Of course, Paul Marcus Wines also boasts an impressive array of world-class Barolo and Barbaresco if you’re looking for a special-occasion nebbiolo. To learn more about our wide-ranging nebbiolo selection, stop in and say hello. We’d all love to chat with you about one of our favorite grapes in the world.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00Marc Greilsamerhttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgMarc Greilsamer2023-01-31 19:05:082023-02-05 13:07:26Why We Love: The Lighter Side of Nebbiolo
A customer recently threw me for a loop. His brother, he said, insisted there was no reason to prefer “organic” wine because there was no Scientific Evidence that any effect on your health would ensue from doing so. This represents a basic and common misunderstanding. As was said in an Outer Limits episode many years ago: “Your ignorance makes me ill and angry.” Grrr.
Ferdinando Principiano overlooks his domain
I recently asked Ferdinando Principiano, a noted Piemonte producer, why he switched to organic practices 20 years ago. He had already shown us a native flower that had re-appeared on his property, and nowhere else, after 10 years of careful stewardship. He talked about the stream that he used to catch fish in as a boy that no longer supported fish and how determined he was to change that. And he also said there were days, when he finished spraying pesticides, that he would come home and throw up, not to mention the headaches and his trouble breathing.
Not long ago, I spent the day at a friend’s house in Sonoma Valley. The property is bordered by an olive grove and a vineyard. It’s ridiculously nice. Bucolic. But he took me aside and said that sometimes, at 4 in the morning, he sees people in hazmat suits spray the vineyard. Not bucolic. (I wondered how much of the decision to spray at that time was concern over leaf burn and how much was “optics.”) Of course, in California, the owner of the vineyard hires laborers to do the dirty work, so he or she will never experience what Ferdinando personally experienced, and therefore, may never have a similar “aha moment.”
I don’t think it’s likely that the probably minute amounts of pesticide and herbicide and fungicide residue that transfer from “conventionally made” wine to the consumer would have an effect on a person’s health. At least not compared to the shrink-wrapped, processed meat we’re cooking on our Teflon skillets. (Add your own examples ad nauseam…) But that’s not the whole story.
We asked Ferdinando why he doesn’t draw attention to his costly and labor-intensive farming on his wine labels. He said he didn’t want to say organic is good and conventional practices were bad because that would insult his parents. Because his parents had not practiced organic farming; because they couldn’t afford to. As we heard from many in the Langhe region in Italy, Ferdinando said his grandfather’s generation was really poor. Until very recently, grape growers had to sell their grapes to the highest bidder–and the bidding was rigged against them.
When you go fully organic, your yield per acre falls dramatically. (This is a serious and not romantic aspect of organics.) If you can’t get more money per ton of fruit, you’re simply slashing your income while increasing your labor. Being able to farm organically requires buyers who are willing to pay more for it. Ferdinando knows how lucky he is to live in a period where he can farm this way: “I have this good fortune, and I must do something to merit it.”
There are so many farmers like Ferdinando–in Italy, in America, everywhere–that want to farm without the chemicals that require hazmat suits, that want their kids to be able to safely eat the fruit and sniff the flowers in their backyard vineyards, and we live in a time where they can.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00David Gibsonhttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgDavid Gibson2022-09-29 16:56:092022-09-29 16:56:09Reflections: Wine Without the Hazmat Suit
This beautiful 300-hectare estate in Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southernmost of the Chianti Classico zones, has long been one of the great wine producers in all of Tuscany. The estate (with 54 hectares devoted to vineyards) is owned and led by the formidable Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa, with whom I had the good fortune to have lunch with several years back. She is as elegant and charming as you might expect and has a great sense of humor. She got a big kick out of the old joke we told her: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Begin with a large fortune.”
Castell’in Villa produces traditionally made Chianti Classico from 100 percent sangiovese, fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts and then aged for two-to-three years in large barrels before bottling. They produce classic, extremely age-worthy wines, yet they are wines that never come across as being severe in their youth.
The 2018 is an absolute gem, beautifully balanced with deep cherry fruit, sandalwood, licorice, and the typical earthy, forest-floor notes of the Berardenga zone.
Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa
This vintage has produced a great bottle to drink now with just about anything–meats, poultry, pasta, eggplant parmigiana, I could go on. It’s a lovely and generous wine, a bit more forward than the 2016 and a little less fleshy and ripe than the 2017. But the ’18 is so balanced and harmonious, with good structure, that it will no doubt age gracefully for many years, as do nearly all Chianti Classico wines from Castell’in Villa. Don’t miss it.
Let’s face it: Words like “charm” and “finesse” are not often used to describe aglianico wines. The thick-skinned aglianico grape, which thrives in the warmer climes of Southern Italy, produces wines known for their concentrated dark fruit, robust tannins, and earthy richness. These bottles usually need several years (decades?) to open up, and even then, they can still be knotty, powerful beasts that favor intensity over balance.
However, if you dig a little deeper, you can find aglianico wines that temper that inherent muscle with complex, appealing elements of tobacco, spice, and underbrush. Factor in the grape’s naturally high acidity and the mineral notes imparted from the region’s volcanic soil, and it’s easy to see how–at its best–aglianico can reach heights that few other grapes can achieve.
The slopes of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano in Basilicata
The two most significant appellations for aglianico are Taurasi, which is about an hour or so east of Naples in the hills of Campania, and Aglianico del Vulture, with its vineyards on the slopes of Monte Vulture in mountainous Basilicata. Generally speaking, Taurasi wines tend to be a bit more vigorous and Vulture wines a tad more restrained–sort of like the Barolo vs. Barbaresco distinction for Piemontese nebbiolo–although there are always exceptions.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we’re fortunate to have a few prime examples of aglianico that find an attractive balance between power and elegance. Let’s start with the 2015 San Martino Aglianico del Vulture Superiore ‘Kamai’–about as graceful and light on its feet as aglianico gets. Made from 60-to-70-year-old vines from a single plot at an altitude of nearly 2,000 feet, this wine undergoes a two-month maceration and ages in wood for about a year before resting in bottle for at least three years. Boasting gorgeous vibrant fruit and loads of acidity, the San Martino feels almost Burgundian in style. (Unfortunately, we only have a few bottles left of this dazzling gem.)
Also from the Basilicata side, we have the2019 Fucci Aglianico del Vulture ‘Titolo.’Elena Fucci produces just this one cuvee from her vineyard more than 2,000 feet up in the Titolo lava channel, with most of the vines planted in the 1950s. After a manual harvest, the juice undergoes malolactic fermentation in 100 percent new French oak barrels. Herbaceous and savory, with notes of black tea and exotic spice, this wine will certainly benefit from a few more years of cellaring, but it’s already highly enjoyable (after a bit of decanting) with, say, a hearty bowl of pasta with pancetta, shallots, and sage leaves.
Finally, we have a couple of superb bottlings from Taurasi’s Michele Perillo, coming from some of the highest-elevation vines in the area. The 2010 Perillo Taurasioffers tannic brawn and deep, dark fruit with a freshness and vivacity that you get from the high-altitude vines. Better still is the2009 Perillo Taurasi Riserva, which is made from Perillo’s best lots of fruit. This wine is softer, rounder, smoother, and more voluptuous than its counterpart, yet still delivers incredible energy and liveliness. These two jewels sell for about half the price of a Barolo of similar quality, and they will sing beautifully with all manner of roasted or braised red meats.
Though nebbiolo and sangiovese rule the roost of Italian red wine, these fine offerings prove that, in the hands of talented winemakers, aglianico can certainly hang with the big boys.
The staff at Paul Marcus Wines has a wide range of tastes and tendencies–some more traditional, some more eclectic. But if there’s a common PMW thread that binds it all together, it’s probably the concept of balance. In short, we look for wines in which all of the components–might they be fruit and earth, herbs and spice, tannins, acidity, and minerality–work together in harmony, where none of the individual elements dominate the tasting experience.
That brings me to the 2018 Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo, a gem of a bottle that will surprise and delight wine drinkers of all stripes. This wine simply oozes charm and charisma–it’s wonderfully bright and accessible, yet with a depth and complexity that belies its relatively modest ($33) price tag. There’s an abundance of fresh red fruit, but it’s augmented by a subtly dazzling array of earthy, herbaceous, floral, and spicy notes.
The legendary Oddero has been bottling for nearly 150 years
The grapes for this knockout come from the San Biagio vineyards in Barolo’s prized La Morra village–a spot known to accentuate nebbiolo’s more aromatic, delicate qualities. It’s aged in very large oak barrels for up to 18 months, allowing the wine to retain its purity and sparkle while adding a bit of polish to the alluring tannins.
The end result is graceful and refined, but not at all shy. What I mean to say is: Go get yourself some Casoncelli Bergamaschi (meat-stuffed pasta with butter and sage) from neighborhood favorite Belotti Ristorante and crack a bottle of this magnetic Oddero nebbiolo. You can thank me later.
“Where are your pinot grigios?” It’s a common question we get at the shop, and understandably so. After all, pinot grigio has become the world’s most popular white-wine varietal, and there are certainly many to admire–in the crisp, clean, straightforward style of Elena Walch and in the traditional, skin-fermented “ramato” style preferred by Elisabetta Foradoriand others.
While we are quite happy to carry these two excellent examples of pinot grigio, we always feel a pang of hopefulness that the customer might discover the wonderful, wide world of Italian white wines beyond pinot grigio. From the Alps in the north to Sicily at the tip of the boot, Italy produces some of the world’s most exciting and distinctive white wines.
Here are a handful of affordable, versatile, and delicious Italian whites worth discovering:
This is one of the best-selling wines in the shop, because just about everyone who tastes it comes back for more. From organic, high-elevation, cool-climate vineyards in Le Marche on the Adriatic coast, these are focused, vibrant wines, with nice minerality and refreshing, lively acidity.
What a great value this wine is! Thanks to its clean, citrusy fruit, a saline mineral note, and a pretty, lifted finish, I will put this Campania falanghina up against any similarly priced ($16) pinot grigio on the market.
These organic grapes are grown on land reclaimed from the Mafia near the area of Corleone. (The estate name is derived from the 2000 film I Cento Passi, or One Hundred Steps.) The Giato Bianco is 60 percent grillo and 40 percent catarratto, and it offers generous fruit with enough zip in the finish to balance it. What I love about this wine (along with the under-$20 price tag) is that you can sense both the warm days and cool nights of these Sicilian vineyards (1,800 feet above sea level).
Amazingly, timorasso, now being recognized as one of the potentially greatest white grapes in Italy, was nearly extinct before Walter Massa made a point of saving it and producing superlative examples. Timorasso, in the hands of a master like Massa, has an attractive, slightly oily texture, but with ample acidity–rich but firm. These wines make for surprisingly successful food pairings. Try it with Asian fare.
Many Italian wine aficionados believe Fiano di Avellino to be Italy’s supreme white wine, and I would have to agree. We always offer an extensive range of them, so they are pretty accessible for discovery. I love the Marsella for its gorgeous texture, its expressive notes of volcanic terroir, and a snappy finish that holds together all of the exotic, intense flavors.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we’ve always been staunch proponents of Italian whites. Stop by the shop to discover the world beyond pinot grigio.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00Joel Mullennixhttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgJoel Mullennix2022-01-30 14:32:062022-01-30 14:32:06The Answer: Where Do I Go After Pinot Grigio?
Several times a day, a customer will come in and ask, “Where do I find Barolo?” And with good reason–Barolo produces some of the world’s greatest wines. These customers have certainly come to the right place, because we do have a large selection of exceptional Baroli.
Rarely, though, does anyone ask to be directed toward our fabulous Barbaresco section. Why is this? For starters, Barbaresco is smaller than Barolo, and far less of it is imported to the U.S. Plus, it hasn’t received as much attention from the public or from wine journalists. This is unfortunate, because Barbaresco can be every bit as marvelous as Barolo, with the added advantages of earlier drinkability and much lower price points.
The Estate of Produttori del Barbaresco, a favorite within the shop.
Barolo and Barbaresco come from the hills of southern Piedmont in a region called the Langhe. Both must be produced using 100 percent nebbiolo. Much like pinot noir, nebbiolo produces elegantly textured, lighter-colored wines that nevertheless have tremendous depth and intensity. Its aromatics are as beautiful and complex as they come, and with incredible contrast. (Famously, descriptions such as “tar and violets” or “rose petals and truffles“ are used in attempts to depict these wines.) They also deliver gorgeous cherry fruit, with notes of licorice and leather.
Just like pinot and sangiovese, nebbiolo can thrive in a number of different zones, each with its own distinct vibe. But, as with those other two grapes, its most noteworthy achievements usually come from just a couple of modestly sized areas. In this case, that means Barbaresco and Barolo. If you have not experienced much in the way of Barbaresco, by all means treat yourself to a few examples.
Without over-generalizing, Barbaresco tends to have a little more finesse and a little less power and tannin than Barolo. It is more closely aligned to the softer wines of La Morra in Barolo than those of, say, Serralunga. At Paul Marcus Wines, we offer wines from some of the top Barbaresco producers. There are the great traditionalists like Produttori del Barbaresco, which is finally getting the acclaim it’s long deserved, and La Ca’ Nova, whose wines represent insane values, with offerings from the grand-cru-level vineyards Montestefano and Montefico for prices below those of even entry-level Barolo. There are the beautifully elegant, polished wines of Sottimano and Musso, as well as gems like Poderi Colla, Serafino Rivella, and Cascina delle Rose. For well under $50 a bottle, you can experience some magnificent wines from this amazing enclave.
Lest I shortchange the “king” Barolo, I should mention that we currently have very small amounts of some of the most impressive and hardest-to-find Baroli, from esteemed producers such as Bartolo Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno, and Giuseppe Mascarello. Please visit us at the shop if you are interested in any of these prized bottlings.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00Paul Marcus Wineshttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgPaul Marcus Wines2020-07-20 20:02:482020-07-20 20:05:52Regional Roundup: Barbaresco
The hilltop enclave of Montepulciano, located in the Southern Tuscan province of Siena, has a long and storied winemaking history. As with much of Tuscany, sangiovese reigns supreme here (known locally as prugnolo gentile). The historic town, surrounded by vineyards and benefiting from mild Mediterranean weather, produces wines that are capable of reaching the heights of its more recognizable (and, often, more expensive) neighbors, Chianti and Montalcino.
The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano moniker dates back about a century, and in 1980, the appellation became one of the first to receive Italy’s DOCG designation. To qualify for the DOCG, wines must be made of at least 70 percent prugnolo gentile and undergo at least two years of aging (three years for riserva). In the past, Vino Nobile was often considered a midpoint between the brighter, red-fruited Chianti and the darker, more tannic Montalcino offerings, although those generalizations don’t necessarily apply today.
Usually, Vino Nobile wines deliver ample medium-plus structure and bracing acidity, with tannins that are both present and quite polished. (It should be pointed out that wines from this Tuscan region are completely unrelated to wines made in Abruzzo using the montepulciano grape.) Earthy, spicy, and balanced, Vino Nobile can handle everything from hearty roasts and braises to classic tomato-based pastas.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we are currently featuring a number of worthy examples. The stunning 2013 Palazzo Vecchio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Maestro” shows a dark ruby color and an enticing floral bouquet typical of high-level sangiovese. Made with 85 percent prugnolo gentile and rounded out with a little canaiolo and mammolo, the Palazzo Vecchio spends at least two years in French oak and six months in bottle before release. The result is an exquisite blend of power and elegance that is entering its prime.
The 2014 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comes from an estate that dates back to the 18th century; today it’s run by brothers Simone and Leonardo Abram, who took over in 2007. The 2014 Vino Nobile, made from 100 percent prugnolo gentile, is a very pure, stylish expression of sangiovese–tense, mineral-driven, and with just enough dusty grit.
For special occasions, we are pleased to offer two of Il Macchione’s big brothers as well. The 2010 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, which sees 40 months in wood of ascending sizes and an added three years of bottle aging, comes from their oldest (and highest-elevation) block. The 2009 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “SiLeo” cuvee, in its first vintage, is named for the two proprietors and spent 50 months in large 2,500-liter barrels.
Finally, if you’re looking for an introduction to the wines of Montepulciano, the shop also offers the 2018 Gracciano della Seta Rosso di Montepulciano. This young bottling adds a bit of merlot to the mix and is done in a fresher, more accessible style, eschewing oak influence for a sleeker result.
To learn more about the sangiovese-based wines of Montepulciano, please stop by and visit us at Paul Marcus Wines.
There’s a reason why nebbiolo remains one of the most prized grapes of the wine world. Few, if any, varietals can offer its combination of fruit, spice, earth, aromatics, acidity, and tannins–a blend of power and finesse that sends palates dancing.
Of course, the Piemontese DOCGs of Barolo and Barbaresco dominate the nebbiolo market, and why not? These regions produce some of the most enduring and memorable bottles you’re likely to find. However, if you head to the north of Piemonte, in the foothills of the Alps, you’ll discover the wines of Alto Piemonte, which provide more affordable and often more approachable alternatives to the bottlings of its Langhe rivals.
Image from Testimony of a wine junkie
There was a time, a couple or more centuries ago, when Alto Piemonte’s offerings commanded the respect and admiration that Barolo and Barbaresco do now. A one-two punch of phylloxera and fiscal downturn ended its reign as Northern Italy’s supreme red-wine region, but a renaissance that began in the late 1900s has only deepened in recent years, making Alto Piemonte a region worth investigating by nebbiolo lovers.
The typical expression of Alto Piemonte’s wines differs somewhat from that of its Langhe counterparts a couple of hours to the south; the wines of the north tend to be a bit more lithe, highly fragrant with softer (though still prominent) tannins and a well-defined minerality. There are a number of reasons for this distinction. First and foremost is the Alpine weather, which provides an abundance of afternoon sun but is tempered by colder nighttime air–helping to keep all of nebbiolo’s myriad elements in balance.
In addition, while the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco require cépage to be exclusively nebbiolo, the wines of Alto Piemonte allow for nebbiolo to be blended with other local grapes such as vespolina or croatina, which tend to accentuate the higher-toned flavors. There are also differences in soil composition: Alto Piemonte’s terroir is more volcanic in nature, instead of the limestone and clay that feature prominently in the wines of Langhe.
The Alto Piemonte is bifurcated by the Sesia River– Colline Novaresi to the east and Coste della Sesia to the west–and the better-known sub-regions lie directly on the river’s shores. Ghemme, on the right bank, and Gattinara, on the left, are the only two to have attained DOCG status.
Ghemme’s terrain includes more clay and sits at a lower elevation. Therefore its wines often have a fuller body and more pronounced tannins than that of its neighbors. With its volcanic assortment of granite, quartz, and iron, Gattinara produces wines known for their vibrancy and mineral-driven focus.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we are currently featuring the all-nebbiolo 2008 Ca` Nova Ghemme, a wine firmly in its sweet spot. Displaying savory notes of earth and spice at first, this wine is rounded out by fresh acidity and a gentle but noticeable tannic grip. The 2013 Antoniolo Gattinara, also available in the shop, is a lively, graceful rendering that spends 30 months in oak and boasts buoyant red fruits with just enough tannic support. Made with 100 percent nebbiolo, this bottle can easily lie down for another decade.
Other Alto Piemonte appellations worth seeking out include the higher-altitude areas of Boca (east of the Sesia) and Bramaterra (west of the river), as well as low-lying Fara (southeast of Ghemme) and sandy-soiled Lessona, whose wines are among the most supple and polished of the region.
There are also wines that are simply labeled Colline Novaresi or Coste della Sesia, usually lighter, more ephemeral wines intended to be enjoyed young. For an example of this style, look toward the Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia rosso, a lean, refreshingly limber blend of 70 percent nebbiolo, 15 percent vespolina, and 15 percent croatina. (Bear in mind that this producer keeps output low, so these bottles move quickly.)
Fans of rosé can get in on the Alto Piemonte action, too. You can pick up a bottle of the Antoniolo Bricco Lorella rosato–aromatic, herbaceous, and dry, but with a bit of weight–or maybe Al Posto Dei Fiori by Le Pianelle, which ranks as perhaps the shop’s most full-flavored, complex rosé.
Finally, mention must be made of the tiny Carema DOC. Bordering the Valle d’Aosta and a good 40-plus miles west of the river Sesia, Carema’s terraced, steeply situated vines produce streamlined, gloriously perfumed wines bursting with acidity and propped up by persistent, fine-grained tannins. The big fish in this little pond is Ferrando, whose expression of nebbiolo epitomizes the strength and beauty of Alto Piemonte and, in peak years, can age for 20 years or more. Paul Marcus Wines is fortunate to have the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Ferrando Carema. Get them while you can.
artifact / ärdəfakt / noun: an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest.
archeology / ärkēˈäləjē /
noun: the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.
Wine can represent many things, like a particular flavor, a palatal experience, the time and efforts of cultivation, or the intellectual design of a product. And we can talk about it in so many ways too, evaluating wines geographically, aesthetically, linearly, horizontally. We use metaphor. We use qualitative biochemical data. We use narrative, and we attach it to a physical object destined for consumption, consume it, and begin to evaluate based on an array of potential methods of inquiry. If we are to treat the appreciation of wine in any academic way, that is to study it, we first must choose the method and scope of inquiry, which for me, particularly regarding older bottles, skews to the archeological.
Throughout my time at Paul Marcus Wines I was fortunate to taste, with some regularity, wines that far surpassed me in age and maturity. Over the past few years I’ve seen a surge in interest, enthusiasm, and availability of more obscure wines like this (18 year-old Sancerre Rouge, 28 year-old Portuguese Arinto, 30 year-old Santa Cruz Cabernet), wines that have taken on the secondary and tertiary characteristics of graceful development. Right away you can recognize acidity and color, defining characteristics of longevity, the ability to stay fresh, and the availability of concentrated fruit. But always, wines like these come with a caveat, a disclaimer of sorts about provenance, about transportation, storage, preservation, the guarantee on untainted products, the artifacts we so casually imbibe. So what can the study (and appreciation) of these agricultural remains signify about history? Perhaps that it inevitably devours itself.
Vineyard at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte
Last November, I was invited to Italy by the business consortium and viticultural association of Beilla, a small sub-region of the Alto Piemonte, west of Milan and almost to the Alps. It is an absolutely beautiful area, richin chestnuts, risotto, and an earnest wool milling industry. Right now, the region is in the process of redefining itself as a premium growing and production zone for grapes, particularly Nebbiolo. Today about 1,500 hectares of vines are planted in Alto Piemonte, primarily to Nebbiolo, though small amounts of Vespolina, Croatina, Uva Rara and Erbaluce are also planted. In 1900, however, over 40,000 hectares of grapes filled the region, a gross historical disparity which the winemakers there hope to resolve. The cool temperatures, extended sunlight exposure from altitude, latitude, and proximity to the Alps, and the geological event in which a volcano upended a mountain to expose ancient marine soils, all contribute to the severe minerality, acidity, and vivid coloration and red flavor of these Nebbiolo wines. Although the Langhe in the more southern part of Piedmont carries more commercial and critical weight in the industry now, the sheer volume of wine produced in the heyday of Alto Piemonte, and the evaluative quality of that wine, can shed light on both the cultural and natural history of the area. Touring vineyards and wineries, attending a seminar on soil types, tasting recent releases of wines from a dozen Alto Piemontese producers, and eating beautifully from the local farms and tables were all illuminating aspects of the culture and the cuisine and the heritage of the region, but nothing taught me more than tasting through a series of library bottles from four small wineries. It was easily the most personally revealing experience I’ve ever had with wine.
Before the tasting at Villa Era, a tiny producer in midst of laborious reclamation of vineyard sites from a century or so of forest encroachment, we toured the cellars (as we had the previous evening at Castello di Castellengo) to see the dusty, cobwebbed and moldy bottles of mismatched shape and size with tags and decomposing labels that date these artifacts through the past several centuries. These library collections of estate bottlings provide evidence that throughout time the properties yielded a product worth preserving in glass, underground in stable conditions, on the assumption that someday, someone would recognize that this was a fine wine designed to shine for future generations.
Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte
Experiencing Aged Piemonte
The oldest artifact was a bottle of 1842 Castello di Montecavallo which is almost impossible to describe ingesting other than physical euphoria a, sensation of emotionally charged discovery. To share this piece of completely vibrant, assertive history, with the current generations of folks who farm the same land produced in me this neurological firing where I tried to connect pure sensory experience with the particular circumstance and somehow try to intellectually remember that this wine was deemed over the course of 175 years to be worth preserving, and that this gorgeous and completely unexpected semi-sweet but citric and lively wine five times my age was now going to be absorbed by my body. It felt as though I’d consumed an ephemeral dose of wisdom.
I know that’s hard to qualify. But trying to compare, or at least comprehend, the 1896 Castellengo and 1897 Villa Era was somewhat more grounded. I’d been in these cellars, walked in these vineyards; I was sitting in the building where 120 years earlier one of these wines had probably just finished fermenting, maybe just gone into barrel. One was reddish and slightly tannic, the other golden and slippery, and both were fresh. So you speculate. The grape, the vintage, the design? Two wines made a year apart within ten kilometers of each other and yet so fantastically different. And still with this surreal recognition that these wines were made around the time that my ancestors left Europe to participate in a different history a continent away.
Tasting a pair of wines, 1931 Montecavallo and 1934 Castellengo, I could sense some greater intensity, whether to do with process development or a renewed artisanal concentration in the wines after the industry fallout in the first decade of the 20th Century due to climate and disease, I don’t know. But the Montecavallo, like the 1842, offered a pure, sandy, pear-like quality, and the Castellengo, like the 1896, was denser, richer in color. The 1934 showed great definition as Nebbiolo, herbal, brilliant red, tannic and tough like a the skin of a wizened crabapple, a gorgeous wine and my favorite of the entire tasting.
The more recent presentations, a 1960 from Villa Era, and a 1965 and 1970 from Tenuta Sella, a producer PMW has recently carried, proved a welcome familiarity, more within the bounds of my previous experience. These were wines with structure, ripe and dusty fruit and emphatic texture. These were wines wound with youth, wines that I expected to develop further. In the Sella wines, particularly, a continuously operating producer since the 17th Century, I tasted exuberance, a great and yet unrevealed potential. I felt aligned with Nebbiolo, a tart little corner of recognition on my palate, but I also felt the resonance of timbre, a uniformity, or at least a seam of connective tissue that stitched me to the place, to the people, to the things this circumstance in time and culture had revealed.
Tenuta Sella 1965 Lessona & 1970 Lessona
And then after sharing a bottle of the 2010 Sella Lessona over dinner back in California, and talking and laughing and telling the story, exposing the narrative and presenting the evidence, one can still only project the future. We have what we have and we have what has been preserved and with that we have to make do. I know that in Alto Piemonte they used to make great wine and that over time the wines changed and adapted and that now by looking back, it is also possible to look forward, to understand the history and prehistory of a specific place, the culture of past, present and future through artifacts.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/20171118-095107_orig.jpg556417Paul Marcus Wineshttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgPaul Marcus Wines2018-03-19 06:59:422019-02-23 01:49:12Excavating Alto Piemonte