Vineyards near Canale (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Piemonte is a region known for its wines, especially the great Nebbiolo-based reds Barolo and Barbaresco, iconic wines produced from vineyards not far from the town of Alba in the Langhe district. Journalists expound the world-class qualities of wines from this area and tourists visit to experience the glories of this celebrated wine and food territory.
But there’s another excellent wine zone very close to the Langhe that doesn’t receive the attention it should. Head west, across the Tanaro River near Alba and you will arrive in the Roero district. Here, there are white and red wines – and even a few sparkling – that are among Piemonte’s finest, although you just don’t read much about them. It’s a district that is overlooked and while that’s understandable, especially when compared with the Langhe’s wine treasures, it’s more than a little unfortunate.
Arneis grapes just before harvest (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Undoubtedly, what most consumers know about the wines of the Roero are the beautiful whites made from the Arneis grape. This is the spiritual home of this variety, one that has become very successful in the United States and in Europe, especially at wine bars. Dry with appealing notes of pear, lemon peel, and even some notes of guava in ripe years, Roero Arneis is the signature wine of this district. While approachable upon release (current offerings as of this writing are from the 2014 vintage), the finest examples age well for up to five to seven years, with a few acquiring notes of petrol after five years, giving them somewhat of a Riesling identity. “It’s important for us to make people realize that Arneis can age well,” says Francesco Carbone of Monchiero Carbone, located in Canale in the heart of the Roero district.
Giovanni Negro of the Angelo Negro estate (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
It’s somewhat ironic that the most famous examples of Roero Arneis are made by producers in the Langhe (a few famous Barolo and Barbaresco producers, whose name I will omit for obvious reasons); but at least the success these producers have enjoyed has given consumers an awareness of Arneis from the Roero. There are dozens of first-rate producers of Arneis, located in the Roero, among them Matteo Coreggia, Malvirà, Cornarea, Marco Porello and Deltetto, to name just a few. One of the very best producers of Roero Arneis is Giovanni Negro of the Angelo Negro estate in Monteu; his “Perdaudin” offering is exceptional, offering concentration and complexity found in the world’s finest white wines.
The Roero district is also home to several excellent red wines, most notably Roero Rosso, produced exclusively from Nebbiolo. Yes, this is the same variety that is the source of magnificent reds from the Langhe, but here in Roero, the wines made from Nebbiolo are not as renowned. The reason why has little to do with quality; rather the fact that the wines are less powerful offers the best explanation, as many vineyards are composed of sandy soils that regularly yield red wines that are less tannic and forceful than those from the clay soils of the Langhe, resulting in more approachable, often more floral versions of Nebbiolo.
Yes, these wines age very well, thank you. I was treated to a vertical tasting of Roero Rosso from Malvirà, going back to 1996; this particular offering has classic Nebbiolo character with rich tannins, marvelous complexity and good acidity. 1996 was a vintage that offered deeply concentrated wines; this should drink well for at least another 7-10 years. Not unlike numerous examples of Barolo or Barbaresco from that year, but with a significant difference – it costs much less, given the fact that Roero Rosso continues to fly under the radar.
Marco Porello, one of Roero’s finest producers (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
There are other whites and reds produced in Roero, but because of the local disciplinare (wine regulations), only Arneis and Nebbiolo can be labeled with the Roero designation. Another white variety that is a success here is Favorita, which must ironically be identified as Langhe Favorita (Italian wine laws, go figure…). The best examples, from producers such as Angelo Negro and Marco Porello offer excellent depth with stunning aromatics of pineapple and green tea. Medium-bodied, these are charming wines for the short term; enjoy them in their youth (2-3 years after the vintage) with lighter seafood or risotto.
Barbera is also produced by numerous producers in the Roero; here they are labeled as Barbera d’Alba. The finest have ripe, juicy black plum and black cherry fruit with very good acidity and moderate tannins. My favorites included versions from Enrico Serafino, Monchiero Carbone and Pelassa.
Carlo Deltetto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Finally, there are some very impressive metodo classico sparkling wines produced from Roero fruit. Interestingly, two of the finest are from the Nebbiolo grape; these from Cascina Chicco. While few wine lovers think of Nebbiolo as a grape meant for sparkling wines, it does have good to very good acidity, making it an ideal base for bubblies. There are two versions from Cascina Chicco; a rose with a trace of sweetness that is nicely balanced with appealing cherry and strawberry flavors, and a Brut (Cuvée Zero) that is as flavorful a Nebbiolo-based sparkling wine as I have tasted. Medium-full with impressive complexity and persistence, this will be a wonderful opening to a meal over the next 2-3 years.
Deltetto Brut Rosé (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
At the Deltetto winery in Canale, Carlo Deltetto and his father Antonio produce a sublime sparkling rosé that is made from both Nebbiolo and Pinot Nero. I don’t know of any other sparkling wine such as this in Piemonte (as a comparison, an Alta Langa Rosé can only be made from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay- no Nebbiolo is allowed), but perhaps other producers should follow the lead of Deltetto, as this is excellent, with great harmony, light spice, very good acidity and excellent persistence. Offering a lovely sense of finesse, this is delicious and will drink well for another 3-5 years. (Deltetto also makes a lovely Extra Brut from the 2009 vintage, a blend of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay that was aged for five years on the lees- it’s terrific!)
So there you have it – the Roero is a wine zone that has all sorts of beautiful wines that are out there waiting to be discovered. What’s stopping you?
Francesco Carbone, Monchiero Carbone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here are notes on my favorite wines from my recent trip to the Roero:
Cornarea 2014 – Lime, apple, pear and melon aromas. Medium-bodied, good acidity, impressive compexity. A delight to drink over the next 2-3 years.
Coreggia 2014 – Fresh yellow peach, spearmint and melon aromas. Medium-full with excellent complexity and a distinct minerality. Very bright fruit – 2-3 years – excellent!
Marco Porello “Camestri” 2014 – Intriguing aromas of green mint, Bosc pear and pine. Medium-full with excellent richness on the mid-palate and beautiful varietal focus along with a touch of minerality. 2-3 years.
Malvirà “Saglietto” 2013 – Released one year later than their other versions of Arneis (the excellent “Vigna Renesio” and “Trinità”), this is unlike most Roero Arneis, as it receives a touch of oak aging. Spearmint and white pepper aromas, this is medium-full with lovely complexity and a rich mid-palate. Offering excellent harmony, this wine has more of a Mediterranean feel to it, with a touch of salinity in the finish. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years – outstanding!
Angelo Negro “Perdaudin” 2014 – Spearmint and melon aromas; great richness on the palate, distinct minerality, outstanding complexity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Outstanding!
Deltetto 2014 – Tropical nose with aromas of mango and orange blossom. Medium-bodied, with great freshness; clean and enticing. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.
Marco Porello 2014 – Pineapple and melon aromas; medium-full with excellent ripeness and richness. Fresh, clean, juicy and delicious! Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.
Enrico Serafino “Bacajé” 2014 – Black cherry and tar aromas. Aged only in steel tanks, this is a refreshing, straight-to-the-point style of Barbera with juicy black fruit, soft tannins and very good acidity. Simply delicious, this is beautifully balanced. Lovely food wine, especially with antipasti and salumi- enjoy over the next 2-3 years.
Monchiero Carbone “MonBrione” 2012 – Blackberry and clove aromas; medium-full. Rich with good spice, modest tannins, very good acidity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.
Pelassa “San Pancrazio” 2013 – Beautiful aromas of black plum and figs; medium-bodied. Very rich and succulent with beautiful balance, this is very appealing for the next 2-3 years.
Matteo Coreggia “Marun” 2012 – Blackberry and mincemeat aromas; medium-full with excellent concentration. Very good complexity and excellent persistence. Very impressive – enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Excellent!
Cornarea 2012 – Aromas of dried cherry and cedar with a light hint of meatiness. Medium-bodied, elegant tannins, very good acidity. Elegantly styled for consumption over the next 3-5 years.
Malvirà Riserva “Renesio” 2010 – Dried cherry and tar aromas; medium-full, beautifully balanced tannins, very good acidity. Notes of black mint in the finish. Elegantyl styled with subtle wood notes. Best in 7-10 years. Excellent!
Marco Porello “Torretta” 2013 – Beautiful garnet; aromas of cedar, dried cherry and a hint of sage. Beautifully defined mid-palate. Elegant tannins, precise acidity, lovely complexity. Peak in 7-10 years. Excellent!
Enrico Serafino “Pasiunà” 2011 – Intriguing aromas of incense, dried cherry and currant. Medium-full; earthy finish with notes of tobacco. Medium-weight tannins, oak well integrated. Very good varietal character- best in 5-7 years.
Pelassa Riserva “San Antaniolo” 2011 – Cedar, coffee and dried cherry aromas. Medium-full, good acidity and persistence, nicely integrated oak. Elegant wine for enjoyment over the next 5-7 years.
Angelo Negro Riserva “Sudisfà” 2012 – Beautiful young garnet; aromas of strawberry, cedar and a hint of tobacco. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is a very pretty wine! Great complexity, outstanding harmony, beautiful varietal purity. So appealing now, but best in 7-10 years. Outstanding!
Cascina Chicco “Cuvée Zero” – 100% Nebbiolo – zero dosage. A light yeastiness in the aromas with notes of plum, magnolia and lemon rind. Medium-full, this is quite dry and has very good acidity, impressive complexity and excellent persistence along with very good freshness. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. Excellent!
Deltetto Brut Rosé – A blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Nero. Lovely delicate pink color; appealing aromas of strawberry, red cherry and carnation. Medium-full with lovely ripe flavors, this is quite dry with very good acidity and is quite rich with beautiful balance and finesse. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Excellent!
Text and all photos ©Tom Hyland