Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Real House Wines of FIFA World Cup 2014

Bleary-eyed football fans across Singapore are slowly coming back to reality. Tears of joy have been shed, hopes have been dashed, and the National Council for Problem Gambling found out that betting on an ad campaign can be risky business (that’s the real lesson here, folks). New viewership records were set in several countries, a fact that should please sponsors such as Taittinger and Budweiser.

It got me to thinking, what wines best capture the footballers’ defining moments? And so, like those many “What X are You?” quizzes that have been popping up on Facebook, Éclaircissage presents The Real House Wines of FIFA World Cup 2014.

1. Luis Suárez & Chateau Diana Zombie Zin

The World Cup uncovered many talents, but Suárez's talent for post-apocalyptic survival was one of the highlights. This is a guy who knows what he wants and goes for it with teeth bared. This guy is out for blood, and if that's not readily available, then a glass of Zombie Zin will do in a pinch. According to the producer, the flavours of this wine are complex and rich, sporting succulent blackberries, powdered cinnamon, cola and cherry jam. Pairs well with Italian footballers. His transfer to FC Barcelona should help give that team some bite, although critics may find his €94 million fee a bit hard to swallow.

2. Mario Götze & Strut Well-Heeled White

Mario Götze must be feeling on top of the world after scoring the goal that won Germany the World Cup, but even non-football fans would have noticed the stunning blonde locking lips with him immediately after the win. Lingerie model Ann-Kathrin Brömmel bears more than a passing resemblance to Canadian winemaker Strut's Well-Heeled White, made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Schönberger. They're both fresh, stylish, and have stunning legs.

3. Luiz Felipe Scolari and Giant Mistake 

After the drubbing Brazil received at the hands of Germany, where they lost 1-7 on home soil, it was clear that someone had to take the blame. Scolari and his coaching team were the fall guys, even though he leaves with a record of 19 wins, six draws and four defeats. Lets hope that he will be remembered for more than his Giant Mistake.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Angulo Innocenti – Vineyards in the Sky

After tasting through a dozen wines at a recent Wines of Argentina event, I wondered why it had taken me so long to discover the delights of this wine region. Bursting with sumptuous fruit and refreshing acidity, there was a lot to like about these wines. Singapore benefits from a wide selection of wines from countries that can be seen as comfort zones – Bordeaux, Burgundy and Australian; this tasting was a reminder not to ignore wines from other countries lest we miss out on some truly delicious alternatives.

A producer that stood out at the tasting was Angulo Innocenti wines. At the start, the table was pretty much deserted, as this is a small winery and does not yet have distribution in Singapore. The crowd around the table grew rapidly larger as word of mouth spread. Representing the winery was Maria Luz Innocenti, a fourth generation member of the Angulo Innocenti family. The trip to Singapore was one of her longest flights, a 36 hour journey that required multiple transfers between cities. 

Angulo Innocenti is a joint venture between Mariano Innocenti and his uncle Alejandro Angulo. Both families have winemaking roots, the Angulos hailing from the Basque country and the Innocentis from Tuscany. The winery is located in the Uco Valley south of the city of Mendoza, known for producing some of Argentina’s best Malbecs. The vineyards are planted at high altitudes of 1,200 m with the majestic Andes a constant presence in the background. These vineyards in the sky benefit from strong sunlight during the day and cool temperatures at night, a combination that yields richly concentrated fruit and a crisp acidity to the wines. 

This is a very new project – the first wines were bottled as recently as 2010, but they show lots of exuberance and brilliant structure. According to Maria, the fruit is picked and fermented in several batches. The first picking aims to select fruit for its aromatic qualities, while the second and third pickings aim to add structure to the blend. A check on shows that the wines are distributed only in the United States currently, but if there is any update on local distribution I will mention it here. 

Tasting notes:

Angulo Innocenti Nonni 2013 – A blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, un-oaked. Deep purple in appearance, with youthful primary fruit aromas. The palate shows a soft and supple texture, with generous fruit and soft, rounded tannins. 

Angulo Innocenti Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – Fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks and concrete vats using indigenous yeasts. Oak aged for 7 months. Deep ruby with sweet black fruit, lively acidity and high but balanced alcohol. Soft, rounded edges and ready to drink. 

Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2012 – Same winemaking as the Cabernet Sauvignon, but here the wine shows more aromatic notes of violets and rosemary. Very fresh with a generous dollop of cassis fruit and a full body.

Angulo Innocenti Unisono 2011 – A big wine at 15.8% alcohol, but it carries its weight well. The addition of 7% Syrah contributes some spicy notes to the blend, which is mostly made up of Malbec (67%) and Cabernet Franc (26%). Blackberry jam, pepper and a hint of dark chocolate on the palate. Long, warm finish.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

What’s Old is New Again – The Wines of Van Volxem

The most memorable moment of Roman Niewodniczanski’s talk came when he flashed a picture of a room of people at a wine auction in Germany. The photo was taken just before World War II and depicted a group of middle-aged Jewish men, a gathering of the movers and shakers in the wine trade. This was possibly the last photo of many of them, as a few months later the Nazis would roll in with their tanks.

What does this have to do with German wine? According to Roman, owner of the Van Volxem winery, the backbone of the German wine trade lay with the Jewish community. Their demise led to the decline of German wine, and in an effort to make their wines more appealing to the masses, producers started to increase the sugar content in their wines, which until then were bone dry. Although sweet German wines can be absolutely thrilling, there are far too many cheap, sugary examples that still flood the supermarkets.

Roman has a vast resource of historical material to draw upon. His father was Tomasz Niewodniczanski, a collector of rare maps and manuscripts. This archive would be invaluable when a young Roman decided to pursue the path of a winemaker. Poring through old viticultural maps, he discerned the top vineyards from pre-war days and made it his goal to obtain them. It helped that his family had considerable wealth – his family has a stake in the German brewery Bitburger, but Roman says that timing was also important. Over a decade ago when he bought the Van Volxem winery, land was still relatively affordable. A deal that would be impossible to replicate today.

Van Volxem is located in the Saar Valley, in the village of Wiltingen. The vineyards, bearing distinguished names such as Braunfels, Klosterberg and Scharzhofberger, are planted with Riesling and a tiny proportion of Pinot Blanc. On a previous visit to Germany, I marvelled at the steepness of the vineyards, which require great dexterity and footballer calves to navigate. Roman says that “when you climb the vineyards, you can eat a lot, drink a lot, and stay in good shape”. The average age of the vines is approximately 40-years old, with the top growth Wiltinger Gottesfuss possessing a rare cache of 130-year old ungrafted vines.

These are some stunning wines; much like the owner they are sharp, precise and energetic. In winemaking, it’s what you don’t do that takes hard work. No fining, filtration, or herbicides, using spontaneous fermentation instead of cultured yeast, lower yields, and hand harvesting instead of using machines. Wine critics have lavished praise on the wines, but Roman himself has doubts about the wine rating system, commenting that they simplify the wines too much and place undue pressure on the producer. His own articulation of how great Riesling should be takes cues from Burgundy (of which Roman is a great fan and collector), and the dry style of wines that existed in pre-war Germany. In trying to raise the reputation of Saar wines back to where they were a hundred years ago, it seems that history has found a champion.

Tasting notes:

Van Volxem Saar Riesling 2011 – Light and crystalline with riveting freshness and notes of white pepper, lime and rain-kissed leaves. A long finish – I was surprised to detect a hint of macadamia nut, perhaps due to lees contact?

Van Volxem Alte Reben Riesling 2012 – From old vines of 50 to 100 years age. Slight spritz. Smoke with pineapple, nectarine and white peach aromas. Lots of extract on the palate, marvellous complexity with each sip revealing new flavours.

Van Volxem Scharzhofberger Riesling 2009 – Lemon, honey and straw on the nose, almost like a great Burgundy before the Riesling character reasserts itself. Medium weight, a lot more texture than other Mosel Rieslings. Delicious nonetheless.

Wein & Vin is the Singapore distributor for Van Volxem. For a complete list of available Van Volxem wines and prices, email

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Urban winemaking with Vinteloper Wines

If you ever find yourself in Adelaide during the month of March, a visit to David Bowley’s Vinteloper Urban Winery Project (VUWP) is well-worth a visit. First launched in 2012, the project is David’s attempt to introduce winemaking to urban folk and demystify the process. A fully functional micro-winery is set up in the Central Business District for the month, with grapes being trucked in from nearby wine regions such as McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. “I didn’t have a traditional cellar door so it was really difficult to connect with people and to get them to understand the wine,” says David. “So I thought, instead of getting people to come to the vineyard, why not do something that people would never consider and go to them?”

This year, my visit coincided with the tail end of the project, held at the historic and vibrant Adelaide Central Market. By that time the wine had been transported to another location for aging in wooden barrels, but the stall where the project had been set up still bore signs of recent use, such as a diagram on the wall tracking alcohol levels in the fermenting must. A new addition to the VUWP is the Reverse BYO (Bring Your Own) concept. It is common for restaurants in Australia to have a BYO sign outside, indicating that you can bring your own wine in. At the VUWP, the wine is provided and you bring your own food from the nearby market stalls. A creative little twist!

I previously met David in Singapore at one of the gatherings organised by the #SGWine group. Most visiting winemakers elect to dine at air-conditioned restaurants, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that David had spent his day trying local delicacies from various hawker centres in the sweltering heat. As the owner of Vinteloper, David is in charge of everything from winemaking to logistics to marketing, so meeting challenges and thinking creatively is very much in his DNA. His novel approach to winemaking was a decision brought about as a result of circumstances as much as the desire to try something new – lacking the time to manage both a vineyard and a winery full-time, David opted to buy in fruit and lease winemaking equipment only when he needed to. However there are other considerations associated with setting up a winery in an urban environment. Transportation and handling are the key challenges – ensuring that the grapes reach the winery in optimal condition, which may mean picking early or refrigerating the grapes. Then there are the issues of waste management and hours of operation, which are subject to strict city council laws, as well as picking the right location. Venues with higher foot traffic bring better visibility and sales for urban wineries, but also higher rent. Due to space constraints, the urban winery model is not suitable for wines produced in bulk.

When David explained his minimal set-up and basic, almost primitive winemaking methods, I was at first sceptical. Would an urban winery be able to produce wine able to excite the taste buds of demanding drinkers? My fears were soon laid to rest by a comprehensive tasting of David’s wines – two Clare Valley Rieslings made in diametrically different styles, a McLaren Vale Shiraz and a red blend of Touriga Nacional, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The quality of the fruit is still the most important consideration, and David spends a lot of time with the growers to ensure that he is getting the best raw material he can. “We can have a great amount of influence [in the winery] but to put it in the simplest way, you can’t polish a turd,” says David.

Will we see more urban wineries in the future, perhaps even one in Singapore? Hong Kong and London, thriving hubs of commerce with active local wine scenes, have both seen urban wineries open in the city. David mentions the satisfaction he gets from seeing people come back every day to see how the wine evolves during the process, and the increased engagement with Adelaide’s community as a result of the VUWP. Says David, “The mantra is participation, education and appreciation.”

Saturday, 17 May 2014

A Retrospective Look at Bordeaux 2011


The 2011 vintage in Bordeaux is not destined to go down in the history books as a particularly memorable one. Following the extraordinary 2009 and 2010 harvests, nature proved to be fickle and delivered a year that will be remembered for its topsy-turvy weather. The spring months of April and May were abnormally warm, while the end of summer was marked by wet weather and hail in some areas. Producers were given a difficult choice – harvest early, risking grapes that had not achieved phenolic ripeness, or wait and hope that the wet weather did not spread rot through the vineyards. The phrases uneven, early maturing, light and difficult have all been used to describe the 2011 vintage.

A tasting organised by Crystal Wines provided a chance to sample the wines in bottle and see how they fared three years on. There was a lack of white wines to taste, which was unfortunate as the whites were rated much higher than the reds that year. Consistency was a key issue, as the variation between good and simply acceptable was much wider than what would have been the case in a better vintage. This is perhaps unsurprising and reflects how producers who have either had the financial resources, made better winemaking decisions or were located in favoured terroirs have crafted wines with greater appeal. While mostly lacking power and concentration, this is not entirely bad, as the wines are a return to a more food friendly and easy drinking style. The lack of hype also means that the 2011 vintage is priced more affordably.

My top picks from this tasting are Durfort-Vivens, Domaine de Chevalier, Clerc Milon and Haut-Bages Libéral for early to medium-term drinking, and Brane-Cantenac, Lafon-Rochet and Calon Segur for long-term pleasure. The only two sweet wines on show were superb, although quite different in style.


Tasting notes:

Château Brane-Cantenac 2011 – A classically Bordeaux and structured style with savoury fruit and crunchy blackcurrant. Very poised. Brigette Lurton, the château’s representative, attributes the quality of the wine to the use of a high-tech optical sorting machine which made it possible to discard dried berries. The 2011 vintage was the first time that the Carmenere grape was included in the grand vin, at a miniscule 0.5% of the blend.

Château Malartic-Lagravière 2011 – The château is one of only six classified growths for both its red and white wines. The 2011 displayed a vibrant ruby robe, with an approachable palate that was soft and ripe with medium tannins.

Domaine de Chevalier 2011 – This is an outstanding producer that seems to be able to produce consistently good wines in any year. The 2011 is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. A forward and aromatic nose with subtle oak nuances and a hint of bell pepper, but very rich fruit.

Château Dassault 2011 – A blend of 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Graphite and cedar on the nose, an intense wine with massive structure and dense, tight tannins.

Château Corbin 2011 – A Grand Cru Classé from St. Emilion. Rather angular and lacking in fruit.

Château Ferrière 2011 – A third growth from the Margaux appellation, Château Ferrière vanished from 1952 to 1992 when it was sold as the second wine of Château Lascombes. The Villars family then bought over the property and sold it under the original name. The 2011 effort was rather closed, not showing the aromatic richness one would expected of Margaux. The palate showed savoury fruit with decent length but without much complexity.

Château Durfort-Vivens 2011 – A second growth from Margaux, owned by Gonzague Lurton. Fragrant and pleasantly floral on the palate, with ripe fruit and notes of small red berries on the palate. Medium-weight and charming, for short-term cellaring.

Château Giscours 2011 – One of the largest Margaux properties with 90 hectares under vine. This wine was not very expressive on the nose, with a slightly disjointed palate and oak that did not seem very well integrated.

Château du Tertre 2011 – The property was bought over by the owner of Château Giscours, Eric Albada Jelgersma, in 1997. Pronounced, seductive aromas of black fruit, cinnamon spice and licorice. Well balanced on the palate with a lasting finish.

Château Calon Segur 2011 – A popular Valentine’s Day wine because of the distinctive heart on the label. The story goes that in the 18th century the Marquis de Ségur, who also owned several other first growths, once said “I make wine at Lafite and Latour but my heart is in Calon”. Perhaps a bit austere but classic in style with earthy notes and savoury black fruit. Very fresh, with fine tannins. Could benefit from further aging – love takes time, yes?

Château Lafon-Rochet 2011 – The wines of Lafon-Rochet have a reputation for being tannic and hard, although the proportion of Merlot in the blend has been increasing in recent years. The 2011 is made of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It shows quite a powerful nose for the vintage. Lots of structure here, along with sticky tannins, but balanced with a solid core of dark fruit.

Château Clerc Milon 2011 – The château is part of the Rothschild stable, and the label which depicts a pair of dancers is based on one of the pieces at the Mouton Rothschild art museum. Well delineated and intense on the nose, showing ripe black fruit, incense and a hint of violets. Freshness evident on the palate, with good fruit concentration and weight. Showing well.

Château d’Armailhac 2011 – The sister property to Clerc Milon has many similarities – both are fifth growths based in Pauillac, owned by the Rothschild family, and the artwork for the label of d’Armailhac also comes from the same source as Clerc Milon. The wine showed a keen resemblance in style to Clerc Milon, forward with inky black fruit and a savoury undertone, but the finish was a bit dry and short.

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2011 – The name of the château refers to its location on the Bages plateau in Pauillac and its original owners, the Libéral family. Run by Claire Villars Lurton, who also owns Château Ferrière. The wine is on the lighter side, with black cherry and raspberry notes. Not especially dense, the palate is cheerful and approachable with refined tannins and a long finish.

Château Beychevelle 2011 – Aromatic, spicy, elegant and refined, with slight warmth on the palate. Beychevelle has become quite popular in China due to its label, which resembles a Chinese dragon boat.

Château Lagrange 2011 – Acquired by the Suntory group in 2011, which invested the necessary funds to renovate the property and raise the wines to a level befitting its status as a classed growth. This wine was not particularly expressive however. The nose was introverted with faint nuances of incense and oak. Medium tannins with blueberry notes, although with fresh acidity.

Château Cantamerle 2011 – A blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Rather lacking in concentration, acidity and tannins are there but not enough fruit to balance it out.

Château Guiraud 2011 – The 2011 vintage was a milestone for Guiraud, as it was the first time the château could label their wines as organically farmed. Since 2000 the direction for the wine has been towards a fresher and lighter style while avoiding botrytis notes. This was a stunning example, humming with vibrancy and piquant notes of pineapple and starfruit. Zesty freshness, with a brilliant concentration that sings right to the end.

Château Coutet 2011 – A blend of 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadelle. Aged in new oak barrels for 18 months. The nose was a bit dull, although I will put that down to the wine being too chilled, as the palate was definitely rich and expressive, oily and layered with pineapple, white forest cake, and honey. Sumptuously textured, but with sufficient acidity to prevent fatigue.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Tasting of BBR Wines

Venerable British wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd celebrated the opening of their new office at Amoy Street on the 16th of April with a tasting for trade and private customers. Simon Berry, Chairman and clerk of the Queen’s Royal Cellars, was himself present, although noticeably reticent when asked what Her Majesty prefers to drink. The new premises includes a tasting room on the fourth floor, which will allow BBR to move ahead with their expansion plans in Singapore. Mark Holguin, Managing Director (Asia), shared that BBR plans to start offering WSET accredited courses in Singapore up to the Diploma level, and hold regular wine masterclasses similar to what they already do in the UK. For those who feel that their wine habit cannot be satisfied by merely drinking the stuff, BBR also acts as the Asia marketing representative for VINIV, the Bordeaux-based company that enables clients to make their own wine.

The tasting featured a selection of wines mainly from Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a few odds and ends from other notable wine regions such as Marlborough and Rioja. BBR also presented several eponymous wines under the Berry’s Own Selection brand, which I found to be very attractively priced. Hugo Thompson, Fine Wine Advisor for BBR stated that these wines provided clients an introduction to a region and were the best value in class. The key word here is value – by cutting out advertising and middlemen costs, BBR can offer wines with an excellent price to quality ratio, but they are not necessarily at budget prices.

Tasting notes:

Berrys' United Kingdom Cuvée, Grand Cru, Mailly – A non-vintage champagne made of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Mailly. Toasty and lemony with a fine bead and laserlike acidity. Complex and weighty. At SGD71, it represents very good value.

Champagne R&L Legras, Blanc de Blancs NV – Based in the Côte des Blancs, R&L champagnes can be found on the wine list of several Michelin-starred restaurants. This wine has an attractive nose of grassy meadows, with barley sugar and lemon sherbet on the palate. Energetic with a lovely mineral tension.

Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Organic certified and biodynamic. The wines are given at least nine months aging on lees, plus a further six months bottle age. A medium intensity nose offering sweet pea and passionfruit. Light bodied with mouthwatering acidity. Not unsubtle, this showed more fruit and lime than aggressive green notes.

Berrys' Meursault, Guyot-Javillier 2010 – Made by Patrick Javillier, whose vinified his first wine in 1974. A delicious powerhouse here, rich melted butter exemplifying typical Mersault concentration and heft, against a floral background.

Château de Puligny-Montrachet “Clos du Château” Bourgogne Blanc 2011 – Lime and green plums with a hint of straw and a stony finish. A “teenager wine” – lean, young and a bit abrasive.

Benjamin Leroux Puligny-Montrachet 2010 – The young and incredibly talented Benjamin Leroux has been touted as the natural heir to the late Henri Jayer. This wine is from his own négociant business established in 2007. The wine lives up to his reputation, displaying an elegant, floral nose and a seductive palate packed with cashew and orchard fruit, tightly wrapped in silky oak nuances. Fresh and zesty. A real stunner.

Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent 2010 – No, it’s not a typo, the name of the producer is Château du Moulin à Vent, producing wine from the Moulin-à-Vent appellation in Beaujolais. The winery was bought over by the Parinet family in 2009. This is an easy-drinking wine with soft tannins and a vibrant red fruit profile. A solid if unexciting example.

Domaine des Croix Corton “La Vigne au Saint” 2009 – Medium ruby with pronounced dark roast aromas. Soft and rounded on the palate, with quite a bit of baby fat.

Churton Marlborough “The Abyss” Pinot Noir 2010 – Taken from the “Grand Cru” site of Churton. Impressively floral with intense notes of rose petal and violets. Concentrated and dense on the palate, with medium tannins and high acidity. A serious expression of Pinot Noir.

Berrys’ Good Ordinary Claret – Once again a solid example, offering comforting toast, vanilla and blackcurrant fruit. I’d like to pit this wine blind against a selection of classed Bordeaux and see where it ends up.

Berrys’ Extra Ordinary Claret – Made from vineyards in the Graves region of Bordeaux owned by Château Villa Bel-Air, itself a property of the Cazes family. Offers more interest on the nose than the Good Ordinary Claret, with savoury spice and light vanilla notes. The palate was a letdown though, rather light-bodied with bell pepper and metallic notes.

Château Petit-Figeac 2009 – An early-maturing version of the grand vin Château Figeac, this wine also contains a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon rather than Merlot which is usually the case in St-Emilion. This is shown in the flavour profile, which has masses of dark fruit and impressive structure. Drinking nicely now but has the stuffing to go the distance.

Château La Conseillante 2005 – La Conseillante keeps company with illustrious neighbours such as Cheval Blanc and Petrus. The strength of the vintage is evident in the fully ripe aromas, the concentrated fruit and fine tannins. Steven Chan, BBR Fine Wine Advisor, compares the muscularity of this wine to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. Save this for truly special occasions.

Château Sociando-Mallet 1996 – An overperforming Cru Bourgeois property. Deep brick colour and a smudgy rim. Chocolate on the nose, with the fruit just starting to show some age. Savoury on the palate, layered complexity and fantastic length. At the peak of its drinking window, showing what great pleasure mature Bordeaux can deliver.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva “890” 1998 – The Tempranillo grape variety continues to intrigue with its ability to produce long-lived wines. At 16 years of age the wine displays an intense bouquet of red cherries and vanilla ice cream, with a sweet note reminiscent of Horlicks. Fully mature, with resolved tannins, freshness and an easy balance. Outstanding.

BBR's Singapore stock list can be viewed here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Beautiful Barolos of Giovanni Rosso

 Have the Italians taken over Singapore? Coming on the heels of last November’s Grandi Marchi tour, the Gambero Rosso Top Italian Wines roadshow saw a large turnout this March, especially for its masterclasses. Even Robert Parker’s much hyped stopover in Singapore during his Grand World Tour, also held in March, focused solely on Italian wines. A keen observer of Singapore’s fine dining scene would have noticed how many Italian-themed restaurants have popped up over the past few months - &Sons, Cicheti and Concetto to name a few.

If you can’t beat them, join them, and so it was that I found myself having lunch with Davide Rosso, owner and winemaker of Azienda Agricola Giovanni Rosso. Based in Piedmont in northwest Italy, the winery makes only red wines and is known for its long lived Barolos. Piedmont is somewhat of an anomaly in Italy. The pyramidical Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) system introduced in 1963, meant to denote quality, failed abjectly as producers rejected its rigid rules and chose their own path to quality. An example of this is the emergence of the Super Tuscan category, which used grape varieties that fell outside the system and thus the wines, when first released, were relegated to the common level of Vino da Tavola.

In Piedmont however, there has been a concerted effort to implement a cru system similar to the vineyards of Burgundy. Davide, who worked with Domaine Jean Grivot and Domaine Denis Mortet in Burgundy, is supportive of this system, saying that it works here because Piedmont has a history of crus unlike other parts of Italy. It is significant that Piedmont has never needed to implement the IGT system because its reputation for quality meant that a substantial proportion of its wine was labelled DOC or DOCG. In the village of Serralunga d’Alba where Giovanni Rosso is located, Davide bottles two single-vineyard wines from Ceretta and La Serra. In 2011, when Davide’s uncle Tommaso Canale passed away, part of the Vigna Rionda vineyard was inherited by Davide. This celebrated vineyard, composed of calcareous marlstone, was made famous by Bruno Giacosa’s Collina Rionda, produced until 1993. In his book Grandi Vini: An Opinionated Tour of Italy's 89 Finest Wines, Masterchef judge Joseph Bastianich writes that “when you have the good fortune of owning a cru like Vigna Riona, or even the fortune to be based in Serralunga, the way you view the world changes.”

The grape that reigns above all others in Piedmont is Nebbiolo, which along with Sangiovese is probably the best known and highest quality of the indigenous varieties of Italy. The name is thought to be derived from nebbia, the Italian word for fog that occurs frequently in Piedmont during the harvest period. Deceptively aromatic and floral, nothing can prepare you for the savage kick of tannins that the wine delivers. Like riding a wild stallion, the grape requires a steady hand to tame its ferocity and draw out its thoroughbred character. Davide likes long, slow fermentations for his Barolos, stating that “Long fermentations keep the bouquet and perfume of the wine, one fast fermentation for Nebbiolo doesn’t go well.” As much as possible is handled by nature – no fining or filtering, the use of indigenous yeast, spontaneous fermentations. Instead of installing temperature controlled tanks, he opens the cellar doors and lets in cooling breezes whenever the fermentation gets a little too warm.

Historically, most Barolos were aged in large Slovenian casks called botti, but Davide has decided to utilise French oak from the forests of Fontainebleau instead. “It is important to use the size and type of oak in synergy with the terroir,” explained Davide. “You must see the soil, the type of tannin and the type of grape. Slovenian oak has big and strong tannins that clash with Nebbiolo, which also has strong tannins. The use of Fontainbleau oak introduces oxygen that helps polymerise the tannins, making the wine more sweet and balanced.”

The challenge with Barolo is that in the past its harsh tannins and austerity demanded prolonged ageing, often more than a decade before the wine could be approached. Producers are now shifting towards making their wines more accessible in their youth, without compromising the ability of the wine to age and develop. The revolution is on-going. Davide says, “Our direction is to continue improving the quality every year – it is a task that can never be finished”.

Tasting notes:

Giovanni Rosso Barolo DOCG Cerretta 2008 – The Cerretta vineyard has a thicket of trees at its base, which acts as a windbreak. It is located 360m above sea level, with calcareous clay or marl soils, producing wines that Davide describes as feminine. Aged in 25 hl Fontainebleau oak for 36 months. The 08 has a medium ruby robe with an orange rim (characteristic of Nebbiolo), showing notes of balsamic and violets on the nose. The palate has small red berries with dense, sinewy tannins. Alcohol is noticeable but integrated. An extraordinary length. Feminine perhaps, but more G.I. Jane than Anne Hathaway.

Giovanni Rosso Barolo DOCG Cerretta 2009 – More subtle on the nose than the 08, but palate displays broader definition and fruit, with red cherry and mandarin orange showing through. Delightful drinking now, but shows freshness and structure indicative of prolonged ageability.

Giovanni Rosso Barolo DOCG La Serra 2009 – La Serra is located at an elevation of 378m above sea level, where the soil is most calcareous. A pronounced nose, floral with intense notes of violets, cotton blossom, and red plums. Impressively fresh and pure, with chewy tannins and light vanilla spice on the palate.  Finishes clean and long.

Giovanni Rosso Barolo DOCG Vigna Rionda “Ester Canale” Rosso 2012 – A barrel sample of a production that runs only to 150 cases a year (less than DRC, jokes Davide). 2012 was described as a vintage of balance between acidity, fruit and colour. Intensely floral and perfumed on the nose, but brooding and closed on the palate, shielded behind a thick wall of tannins. Still very early in its development, showing lots of dark fruit and a savoury, umami character. Prepare to wait at least a decade for this flower to blossom.

Note: Berry Bros & Rudd are the worldwide distributors for Giovanni Rosso.