More Piemontese Wines
- LUCIANO SANDRONE
- "Mister Barolo" started his little enterprise back in
1977. We've been fans since his fantabulous 1982 vintage, a stellar Barolo marking a
new style and grace to winemaking in this region. The wines were unknown then and we
had little problem in acquiring the wines since they were unheralded.
You had to be "in the know."
Sandrone worked for another, rather large, winery in Barolo and he had the
urge to own his own place. His brother, Luca, is quite capable in the
vineyard and Luciano took care of the cellar. Mrs. Sandrone, Mariuccia,
took care of vineyard or cellar work...
An old "liquor" man had started a small importing business and one
of the first wines he got his hands on was the Barolo of Sandrone. We
were delighted with the quality of the wine and quickly became the president
of the Sandrone Barolo Fan Club. A year, or so later, we actually
visited Sandrone and the family seemed perplexed that we'd made the effort
just to see the tiny cellar perched on a hill on the road up to the main
part of the town of Barolo.
The wines were much in demand and Luciano and Luca looked for additional
vineyard sources. I think the estate now owns 25 hectares of vines,
maybe more. After renting a cellar up the hill, today they have a
remarkable, state-of-the-art (and then some!) facility down in the flat
below the famous hill known as "Cannubi."
- The new "Castello Sandrone."
In the early 1980s, some people
railed against the "new" style of Barolo that Sandrone was
making. His wine was different. While so many people made
hugely tannic wine which was left in some sort of wood tank, cask or cement
vat, Sandrone had the idea of using smaller French oak. (While some
viewed this as "modernista" winemaking, Sandrone reminds people
that barrels the size of puncheons WERE, in fact, once the traditional size
of cooperage used for aging Barolo.)
leaving the wine in wood and waiting to bottle it until the fruit was gone
or the wine was, perhaps, past its prime, Luciano bottled the wine
earlier. Suddenly Barolo had lost its "rusticity."
Here was a fellow making a brighter wine which was much more approachable in
its youth and which, as it turns out, still has rather good cellaring
Sandrone then received favorable reviews for the wines. Sales were
soon handled by a young, dynamic "ambassador," a fellow who
assembled a lovely range of Italian wines. Other Piemontese notables
in this "stable" included Domenico Clerico and Elio Altare.
They would all get together, from time to time, and share their winemaking
experiences. This was unheard of in the region, as most of the, then,
"older generation" viewed the neighbors as competitors. ((I
remember inviting another winemaker to come with me to visit a nearby winery
and I was told they could go only as far as the front door. "They won't
allow me to come inside."))
I'm sure there are some tasters who will view today's Sandrone Barolo as
being in the "modernist" camp. Yet we have found the wines,
once they've had sufficient time in bottle, change significantly. You
might be hard-pressed to taste some of the good vintages from the 1980s, for
example, and to say "Aha! This wine was aged in French
I opened a bottle of Sandrone's delightful 1985 Barolo in the Spring of
2007. Classic Barolo...
Sandrone and his lovely daughter, "Barbara d'Alba", had come to San Francisco
on a tour of the U.S. market. I hosted a nice dinner and decanted a
prized bottle. The wine was a classic Barolo and surely any of the
"old-timers" from the Langhe would have immediately recognized the
wine was good Barolo.
We had a bottle of Sandrone's 1991 Barolo "Le Vigne" in, say, 2002
or 2003. Here was a wine from an unheralded vintage
and the wine was spectacular. It is important to point out why...It
seems to me that Sandrone was one of the first to really have a good sense
of the quality of the fruit he was vinifying. Like a good chef in the
kitchen, Sandrone seemed to know how much time to leave the newly-fermented
wine on the skins, how much time to leave it in wood, etc. Yes, you
will find vintage "variation," of course. But we have seen
the wines are consistently good here. That's another reason we're
The winery is a remarkable showplace.
They have a couple of special rooms for the primary fermentation.
There's a lovely hall for bottling, labeling and case preparation.
Downstairs in the "cellar," you'll find plenty of cooperage.
Sandrone seems to favor puncheons and barriques. What a luxury to not
have so many barrels stacked one on top of another on top of another!
Luciano is quick to point out the spaciousness of the facility is not for
future expansion, but for the ease and comfort of making the wines and
constantly making them better.
(If that's possible!)
Recently released...very fine!
The Sandrone family makes a nice range of wines. Two Barolo wines
head the list, one the famous single vineyard Cannubi Boschis and the other
is a multi-vineyard blend called "Le Vigne" (the
- Cannubi Boschis is produced in more limited quantities and
carries a higher price tag. It's typically the more profound and
complex bottling, but don't sell short the Le Vigne!
Sandrone sources Nebbiolo in sites near Monforte, Barolo and Novello.
The Le Vigne has the Sandrone elegance and finesse.
2011 SANDRONE DOLCETTO D'ALBA
Here is a wine, made by one of Italy's foremost vintners and it carries a
price-tag within reach of most wine drinkers.
The 2011 vintage saw curious growing conditions...the Spring saw some really
lovely warm days and the vines woke up early. Then there was a fairly
cool period during the summer when growers were a bit antsy, curious if the
temperatures would reach "normal" for June and July. The
heat returned in August and early September, so the fruit attained a nice
level of sugar and Sandrone picked at a point in time allowing him to
produce a balanced wine with less than 14% alcohol.
Beautifully fruity...deep and dark in color...very fine.
$24.99 (with case discounts).
You can enjoy this wine immediately and it's going to hold nicely for the
next year, or so.
Barbera is also quite good here. Though you might expect a producer of
French oak-aged Nebbiolo to really oak the hell out of a Barbera, Sandrone's
is remarkably balanced. I was amused when we dined at the Villa Tiboldi in
Piemonte with Sandrone and he ordered a bottle of a Barbera d'Asti which had
more wood than you can shake a stick at! Yet in his own wine, the fruit dominates as
it is matured in puncheons, rather than small oak barrels. I find it far more close to the style of Barbera one finds
at Giacomo Conterno (when they're not off-the-charts high in alcohol) or the Mascarello winery rather than the Vietti or Coppo
Sandrone also makes a very fine Nebbiolo from fruit grown in the Roero
region known as Vezza d'Alba. It's called Valmaggiore (Bruno Giacosa
makes a Valmaggiore bottling, too) and Sandrone's is matured in
puncheons. You might consider it a mini-Barolo, but the wine tends to
have more fruit and a nice measure of finesse.
We have some 2006, an excellent vintage. I was in Piemonte in the
Spring of 2008 and we had a magnum of the 1998 vintage. Most people
would view this wine as a short-term ager, yet the wine was amazingly
youthful and in perfect condition. In fact, I'd say it could probably
be cellared another 5-10 years!
- They used to make a proprietary red called "Pe
Mol" (Piemontese for "peg leg," apparently a tribute to a
vineyard worker they have or had)...Though we had success with the Pe Mol
wine, the exporter didn't work to sell it and Sandrone finally stopped
Luciano Sandrone, Gerald and Barbara d'Alba.
- I suppose some people who like "old
style" Barolos, wines with gritty tannins and shrill, sharp edges, might have a tough
time enjoying such drinkable, graceful wines as Sandrone's.
His wines cellar handsomely. They show elegance and brilliance when
they're young. I find them nicely balanced, even when they're from a
tannic, well-structured vintage. Many winemakers dealing with the
inherently tannic Nebbiolo grape, have difficulty in managing the
tannins. Some wines take a decade or two for the tannins to resolve
themselves. We like some of those wines, of course, but appreciate
Sandrone who manages to find a point of balance virtually every time.
He is a real gentleman and an excellent winemaker. He remains a very humble fellow
for being as famous in his realm as Mick Jagger or Kobe Bryant are in theirs.
- Currently available:
2006 Nebbiolo d'Alba "Valmaggiore" $49.99
2004 Barolo "Le Vigne" $179.99
2006 Barolo Cannubi Boschis $149.99
2008 Barolo "Le Vigne" SALE $144.99
2009 Barbera d'Alba $39.99
2013 Dolcetto d'Alba $24.99
Enjoying a sip of Franciacorta before lunch at Chateau Sandrone
in Barolo at the new facility.
2000 Le Vigne...showing well in 2007...still young and developing.
A bottle tasted in 2010 was in the realm of "exceptional." The
wine is still youthful, but was showing some nicely developed notes of the
- E. PIRA e FIGLI
- Pira was a famous name in
Barolo for many years. This guy, Luigi Pira, put the "piedi" in
Piedmont. Pira was a famous name in
Barolo for many years. This guy, Luigi Pira, put the "piedi" in
- He was the last guy to actually crush the
grapes with his feet (piedi). The winery was sold by his
heirs shortly after Pira died (and not of "athlete's foot"). Sold to the
Boschis family, owners of the larger Giacomo Borgogno winery, E. Pira e Figli is run by the
charming and attractive Chiara Boschis. While the Borgogno wines are very
traditionally-made, old-style offerings, we kept our fingers crossed for Chiara to produce
wines of greater intensity. Her early vintages, where she was getting her feet wet,
so-to-speak, were good.
have been of a quality which challenges for a spot on the short list of top sources for
modern and exceptional Barolo. The Barolo is matured in French oak, so
they're not exactly traditionally-styled.
These wines seem to start out with tons of sweet
oak, but if given enough time in the bottle, they "return" to
displaying the real character of Nebbiolo from Barolo. That is, the
oak diminishes with time and the wine starts to exhibit the typical aromas
and flavors of old-styled Barolo. "Old styled" , not "badly
Chiara Boschis...May 2007
The 2003 is excellent. I found it to be one of my favorite wines in a
marathon tasting of 2003 Barolo's. It showed magnificently in May of
2007...we had a bottle in a tasting and it showed well and a bottle on the
dinner table was even more enjoyable. I suspect it will blossom around
2012-2020 and maintain nicely for some years if well-stored.
The 2004 Cannubi is more classic and restrained, with higher acidity and bright
fruit. It should last longer, but both vintages are good expressions
There's another bottling called "Via Nuova" and this comes from a
tiny parcel in Barolo. It's a shade less complex, but still
There will be a new addition to the line-up in a few years...Chiara now is
making Barolo from a tiny parcel in the Monforte d'Alba area...stay tuned
We were amused to read an article by an American wine critic who decried the
use of French oak barrels for Nebbiolo wines, contending it was a stylistic
mistake and that wines matured in barriques don't age well.
The article then had tasting notes of his top 20 wines from the 1998
vintage, tasted a decade after the vintage. He wrote a glowing review
of the E. Pira 1998 Barolo and termed the wine a "classic."
I suppose he did not know it spent a couple of years in brand new French
2003 Barolo Cannubi $85.99
2004 Barolo Cannubi $109.99
2005 Barolo Cannubi $99.99
2006 Barolo Cannubi $99.99
2004 Barolo Via Nuova Sale $99.99
1961 Barolo, still resting peacefully in the cellar at the Boschis'
family's old winery, "Giacomo Borgogno & Figli" facility.
Photo taken by Gerald Weisl.
Old Bottles in the Pira cellar.
- PRODUTTORI del BARBARESCO
- There are
grower's cooperative wineries all around Italy, since so many people just
happen to have a tiny patch of vines on their property. These
enterprises sometimes offer advice on the cultivation of the fruit and then
accept the grapes, vinify the wines and market them. Some co-op
wineries produce really marginal products and others make wines which
challenge small, artisan winemakers for a piece of the wine market.
Today some of the best wines in the Alto Adige, for example, are being made
by co-op wineries.
The Produttori del Barbaresco has had a couple of incarnations. They
claim the place started back in the 1890s when the headmaster of the wine
school in nearby Alba gathered the fruit from nine growers and they made
wine in the cellar of his modest castello. This fellow, Domizio Cavazza,
seemed to understand that the Nebbiolo grape produced a different wine than
those made near the town of Barolo. He, in fact, chose to label the
wine as "Nebbiolo di Barbaresco," something remarkable in
its day. The fascist government closed the place in the 1930s and it
took until 1958 for someone to organize the local farmers and start making
The leader of this bunch, back in 1958, was Celestino Vacca. They made
wines which rivaled any in Barbaresco and the winery was always cited as a
model for grower's cooperative wine companies.
The current manager of the place is Aldo Vacca, Celestino's son. We
first met Aldo when he was the dashing right-hand P-R man for another winery
in town, that of Angelo Gaja. Aldo studied viticulture and he's got a
good palate for wine, having grown up immersed in a wine culture. His
buddies are all winemakers and so, of course, he understands the need to
improve wine quality if the enterprise is going to continue to prosper.
Aldo Vacca shows off an anniversary bottling of an old vintage of
Gianni Testa is the winemaker. He's a serious fellow and a capable
enologist. I think he, too, understands the need for good quality
wines and the protocol for making "traditional"
Signor Testa and his lovely daughter, Simona.
We see Aldo, from time to time, on our visits to Piemonte or on his visits
to California. He's a great character and a real pal. We usually
find the wines from the Produttori to be good quality, traditionally-made
wines. Typically the wines are a reliable choice if you're unsure about
which Barolo or Barbaresco to select from some small, possibly unknown
You have to also understand, though, the Produttori don't make Gaja-styled
wines. No French oak. No pushing-the-envelope winemaking
here. No "gobs of fruit." Just good, reliably-made
They make a Nebbiolo Langhe, a bare-bones bottling of Nebbiolo. I have
been delighted by recent vintages of this easy-to-drink, simple, pleasant Langhe
there is the normal bottling of Barbaresco.
And a flock of
"Riserva," single cru Barbaresco bottlings. These can be
really nice and complex wines, but drinking them when they're less than ten
years old is a bit like putting a roast on the table half-way through the
cooking process. I've tasted through the line-up of single vineyard
wines on various occasions and when these are young, it's a tough
tasting. They're simply hard, fairly unyielding wines.
Back to the "normale": I've tasted these over several
decades. From my humble perspective, I think the wine has
improved. This basic bottling has been reliably good for many years,
but it just seems like they're producing a wine with a bit more stuffing and
length. And I'd also say the wine is perhaps a bit more
approachable as a young wine than it was back in the 1970s...
The Produttori wine is a good bell-weather for a vintage, too.
I might cite the 1999 normale bottling as my vintage for the step up in
But we enjoyed a wonderful bottle of 1978 in Piemonte...It was deftly
decanted by our friends at Antica Torre in Barbaresco (right next to the
winery...but a bottle I'd acquired in a shop in Alba)...tasted in
2009: perfect garnet/brickish color...great nose, underbrush, mildly
truffley/earthy/leathery and with a little bit of 'bite'
The 2011 is very good. I'd first tasted it in a line-up of Barbaresco
wines and was pleasantly surprised at how nicely balanced it was. Good
fruit. And it has nice tannin. This is worth stashing some
bottles and allowing it to grow over the next decade, or so. It's
remarkably fine and on par with most good Barbaresco wines. You won't
find it to have the oak of some flashier producers, but it tastes like
Barbaresco and it doesn't cost a fortune.
There are several 2008 and 2009 Riserva wines in the shop. These are not
produced every vintage (no 1998s, 2002s or 2003s).
The various growers whose fruit is used in a particular "Riserva"
wine are honored by having their name on the back label...this is a bit of
an incentive for each Produttori affiliate to grow the best grapes possible.
Montestefano comes from a cru comprising 5 hectares. Clay and chalk
soils... It's a reasonably tannic wine in its youth and has,
typically, a long life span...this 2004 certain requires some
patience. Big, tannic and deep. Light leathery notes and a touch
PajŔ (Pie-ay) is a fairly tiny site...less than half the size of
Montestefano, this site has chalk and clay with a bit of sand. It is
perhaps a shade lighter and has fairly high acidity in addition to its ample
tannins. These tend to age handsomely and retain their fruit a bit
longer than many other crus.
RabajÓ (Rah-by-yah) is, I believe, the highest elevation of the
various Produttori crus. Its wine comes from vines in chalk/clay and
sand and it has more body than the PajŔ, for example. The 2004 is
intense, a bit backwards at 6 years of age...
|A SMALL ANECDOTE
I was driving around Piemonte with my adopted
"family," the Currados from the Vietti winery in Barolo.
We had stopped for dinner at some way out-of-the-way restaurant far from
their home in Castiglione Falletto.
I cannot tell you anything of the food we had that evening, for it was
not the cuisine which was memorable. Instead, it was the
wine. We noticed a MAGNUM of Produttori del Barbaresco on the wine
list for, as they often are, a most tempting price. Even though we
were but four or five that day, we asked for the magnum of 1978
Barbaresco. The owner returned to our table a few moments later,
informing us this was his last magnum and cautioning us it was "in
the cool cellar" and would probably be too cold for to
I found this amusing, since we like red wines served at cool cellar
temperature and enjoy watching the wine blossom in the glass as it airs
We were not dissuaded from our desire for this wine and the owner,
begrudgingly, brought out this bottle and decanted it for us.
"Alfredo," I said, "I think the proprietor is a bit sad
to 'waste' this bottle on us."
"Anch'io. Lo so" he replied (Me too. I
In any case, this bottle far outshined the meal that evening. The
color was perfect for a 20-something year old bottle. The
fragrance had that perfectly haunting bouquet Nebbiolo can acquire with
proper cellaring. The flavors were unusually well put together and
the finish lingered for quite a while. I can't for the life of me
recall the menu...just the cramped table and the large decanter,
"jug" of wine and some great friends. Oh, and we shared
a glass with the sad owner of the restaurant and, I can tell you, this
brought a twinkle to his eye and a smile to his face as he said
"goodbye" to an old friend.
Currently in stock: 2011 Produttori del Barbaresco
"Barbaresco" (list $35) SALE $29.99
2008 Produttori del Barbaresco "Montestefano" (list $60) Sale
2004 Produttori del Barbaresco "Paje" Sale
2009 Produttori del Barbaresco "Montestefano" (list $65)
- 2008 Produttori del Barbaresco "Pora" (list
2009 Produttori del Barbaresco "Pora" (list $65) Sale
A magnum of the 1990, sporting a special label from a by-gone era...
A double magnum of the 1982 Barbaresco, the last remaining bottle in the
cellar at the winery.
It was magnificent...and had matured beautifully.
CASCINA VAL DEL PRETE
The Roero region does not receive much attention from fans of Italian, or more
specifically, Piemontese, wines. The area has long been known to those
in the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations as many wineries bought grapes from
the Roero to augment their own productions. If winemakers in Barolo knew
the fruit from the Roero to be of good quality, perhaps wine drinkers should
explore their options in the Roero.
"We are Sonoma while Barolo and Barbaresco are the Napa area of
Piemonte." claims winemaker Mario Roagna of the Cascina Val del Prete.
Viticoltore Mario Roagna, whose mom Carolina and father
Bartolomeo (Lino to his friends) bought this estate in
1977. They'd been share-croppers of the property, so they were
well-acquainted with the land. Realizing the area offered great
potential for winemaking, Lino took out some of the other agriculture (grain,
I think) and replaced it with grapevines.
Roagna and his brother Luigi have been organically farming the vines in this
marvelous amphitheater. Mario explained he's happy with his decision to
cultivate in a biodynamic fashion.
- Mario Roagna shows off the roots of the vegetation they plant in the
rows between the grapevines. "These roots add a lot to the soil
and actually 'work' the earth for us so it's quite an efficient
system. We like to sow seeds of favas and poppies . Some people
look at these as weeds, but they bring oxygen to the soil and this is very
These rolling hills are gorgeous. The building down below with the red
roof is the winery.
We've tasted the Val del Prete wines numerous times over the
past few years. They are routinely very good and easily worthy of
comparison with wines of more famous estates in the Barbaresco and Barolo
Oak plays a prominent role in the wines of Cascina Val del
The wines, though, have a nice balance of fruit and wood.
They used to make an unusual style of Arneis, giving the wine a pass in
oak. They've changed to a more traditional style and we find it to be
nice, but not different from others. I can order that for you, as we do
not have it in stock.
Our other selection from Cascina Val del Prete is their
exceptional "Roero" wine, a red that's made from Nebbiolo. Now,
they make a "Nebbiolo d'Alba" which can also sometimes be sold as
"Roero." For the Roero appellation, the wine might have a drop
of the white wine Arneis in it...but the distinctions and differences are foggy.
In any case, the 2006 "Roero" from this vintner is excellent.
The soils are sandy and this apparently means the wines tend to develop a bit
more quickly than their cousins from Barbaresco and Barolo. Cascina Val
del Prete's 2006 Roero is very showy, having dark berry and cherry fruit along
with nice oak. It's a mildly cedary, woodsy red wine, so pairing it with
grilled or roasted lamb makes for a good match. The tannins are modest, so
we suggest drinking this over the next 5 to 8 years.
Currently in stock:
2006 CASCINA VAL DEL PRETE ROERO (list $65) SALE
Springtime in the vineyards of Cascina Val del Prete.
Mario tastes wine while his kid is curious to see who's coming to taste in the
- The name
"Virna" is a relative new-comer on the Barolo scene, but the
name "Borgogno" is an old one.
Actually, there are a number of producers with the Borgogno name, so this
branch of that tree now carries the name of the winemaking daughter of
Lodovico Borgogno, "Virna" Borgogno.
Virna and her sister Ivana run this property, one that's been well
under-the-radar of most Barolo connoisseurs.
Their Pop launched his winemaking career around 1950 and began bottling
wine a decade later. Now the two daughters have a brand new cellar
on the "low" road to Barolo, right next to our friends at the
Luciano Sandrone winery.
The estate comprises something like 10 hectares of vineyards.
Virna's husband, Giovanni Abrigo (who has 12 hectares of vineyards and a
winery in the Barbaresco town of Treiso) handles the viticulture.
Between the two of them (both graduates of the Alba wine school), they
make some impressive wines.
Virna appeared on my radar screen a few years ago and I was really
impressed with their "cru" Barolo wines. One is from
Cannubi Boschis and the other is a two vineyard blend of Preda and
Sarmassa. The wines of the difficult 2003 vintage were really good
and the 2004s are exceptional, as well.
A local importer told me he was looking for a second producer of Langhe
wines and I suggested he check out the Virna wines. And he did and
he felt the wines were well-farmed and well-made. Of course, the
price of a bottle of Barolo can be daunting, but, having tasted the wines
he told me he was going to bring in a few cases even though finding
customers for the wine would be difficult in a weak economy.
"The wine is really good and it's only going to improve." he
We currently have a nice little blended red wine from Ivana and
Virna. It's a 2007 Langhe Rosso which is a blend of Barbera and
Nebbiolo. Though the former dominates the blend, it's the latter
which seems to be more expressive. We find the wine to actually have
some of the elements of a nicely aged Barolo with the vitality of a young
wine. And for twenty bucks, we're able to recommend this knowing
true fans of Nebbiolo will be delighted.
And we're waiting for the 2004 Barolo to land...stay tuned!
Currently in stock: 2007 VIRNA "LANGHE
ROSSO" Sold Out
Virna uses small French oak as well as traditional Slavonian cooperage
for its wines.
In Virna's kitchen...good Piemontese red wine and good Piemontese pasta.
Ivana shows off her sister Virna's handiwork!