Sunfish Cellars: A Class on the Pinnacle of Piedmont Wines
In a typical wine class, I expect to taste a number of inexpensive wines and one or two top wines. Sunfish Cellars brought Weston Hoard, the Piedmont Guy, to teach a class focusing on the king (Barolo) and queen (Barbaresco) of the Piedmont, considered by many the pinnacle of Italian wine. Tonight, we tasted only the best: Barolo and Barbaresco.
A few years ago, Weston moved to the Piedmont region in the far northwest corner of Italy (there may have been a young woman involved); and he fell in love with the region. At the outset of the class, Weston told us we could ask him anything about Barbaresco and Barolo, but he didn’t know anything about the rest of the wine world. Obviously, he’s a believer in deep vs. wide knowledge!
Over the next hour, we learned all about these two regions, their history and how things work today. One interesting point is shown in the photo below (Barolo). This region uses the same inheritance laws as those of Burgundy in France. When the father dies, the land is split between all his sons; no choice. There is no turning the business over to one son (or daughter). Over time, the inheritance is broken into ever-smaller blocks. You end up with a region with no large vineyard blocks. A single vineyard may be split among a hundred different families.
Nebbiolo based wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo benefit by being served with a bit of food. Sunfish Cellars made sure we had appropriate partners for these wines. For cheese, they served Soto Cenere (left), young Taleggio (stinky), and Robiolo wedges. The meats are two different kinds of Copa (cured pork butt). The cheese were well chosen and paired well, but I think these wines enjoy being served with charcuterie like the Copa the most.
There is something special about the combination of soil, geography and climate in the Piedmont. The ocean is not far away and the frequent fog is named Nebbia (the source of the name of the grape). The land is hilly and the slopes are just right, and the soil is very unique, including lots of shells from an ancient seabed. We had the opportunity to feel a rock from a Barolo vineyard; you would rub your finger over the rock and what rubbed off was finer than the sand on any beach, it was the finest dust. It all figures into the fact that there are very few places in the world capable of producing the best Nebbiolo based wines.
These wines are a mid-toned red and still translucent, as you can see in the photo below. They are not pitch dark. However, when you take a taste, you will see they are filled with energy! They generally offer red fruit flavors and are quite acidic and tannic. Aromas of roses and tar are classic, but I confess I don’t usually get those aromas. I usually detect tart cherries or strawberries, sometimes some earth. And, of course, acidity and tannins.
The lineup of wines we tasted was amazing. We sampled wines from three wineries; each had a unique flavor profile that we could differentiate from the others. We even had the opportunity to taste multiple single vineyard wines from these producers. A rare treat!
The Ca’ del Baio wines give you everything right up front. The aromas and flavors are a bit more obvious and immediately accessible. As are many Barolo and Barbaresco wines, these were both acidic and very tannic. I enjoyed these wines very much.
The Oddero wines were more restrained and shy. You would want to take your time with these wines as they open up over the course of several hours. I found them to be a bit shy on the nose and really required me to pay attention and think while I was sampling them. They were less overtly tannic than the other wines we sampled. We had the opportunity to sample both the general Barolo, two single vineyard Barolos, and a single vineyard Barbaresco. We enjoyed working out the similarities and differences between the four examples. These wines were very nice, but I would need to spend more time with them to form a good opinion.
The wines from Podere Ruggeri Corsini were very nice. In style, I placed them between the two previous wineries. They were a bit more accessible but still indicated they would share their secrets over a period of a few hours. While I would have been happy to bring any of these wines home, I decided to purchase a couple of the Corsini San Pietro Barolos to enjoy with a meal sometime in the future.
Barbaresco and Barolo wines aren’t inexpensive. These wines ranged from $40-70 per bottle. However, in the world of fine wines, these are not outrageously expensive. French Burgundies in this price range are often village level wines and not the best the region has to offer. Likewise for top French Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet Sauvignons.
If you’d like to get started, you can certainly try more basic Nebbiolo wines from the region. They will be labeled Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Asti, or Nebbiolo d’Alba. I particularly like Nebbiolos from Produtturi del Barbaresco and Pio Cesare. You will get an excellent idea of the grape and the wine and you should definitely try them with a variety of foods. However, as you explore, you may want to plan an occasional splurge into special wines such as these. Nebbiolo based wines have a very distinctive flavor profile, one you won’t confuse with other wines. I hope you’ll give them a try!
Classes like this are really good to get acquainted with wines from a region. I do find that I need to come back and spend more time with a few examples. I need to try a bottle, usually in the context of a meal, in order to really feel like I know the wine. I decided to try a couple bottles of the Corsini San Pietro Barolo. Later on, I bought a bottle of the Ca’ del Baio Asili Barbaresco so I could get acquainted with that wine and winery. I’ll make sure I let you know what I think after I return to each of these wines.
Thanks to Weston for sharing a bit of his knowledge and enthusiasm for these wines with us. And thanks to Sunfish Cellars for hosting the event!