Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Finger Lakes (New York) Wine Region

The US Wine Bloggers travelled to the Finger Lakes region of New York for their 8th annual conference which, as per usual, included immersion in the wines and winemaking practices of the host region. This year was no exception as we were exposed to the wine, grape growing, winemaking practices, and the hospitality of the region's producers and support system. This blog post provides my understanding of the landscape and viticulture of the region.

The Finger Lakes is one of five major wine grape producing regions in the State of New York (the others being Long Island, Hudson River, Niagara Escarpment, and Lake Erie) and, according to, is the second largest grape growing area in the state.

New York State wine regions (Source:

The Finger Lakes region was awarded AVA status in 1982. Its coverage area encompasses 4000 square miles and 2.5 million acres of land, 9432 of which are planted to vines. A total of 118 wineries operate in the AVA.

Finger Lakes wine region

Included within the broader Finger Lakes AVA are two sub-AVAs, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. The characteristics of these sub-AVAs are summarized in the table below.

Included AVAs Year Established Counties Plantings (acres) Wineries Growing Season (days)
Seneca Lake
Portions of:
Cayuga Lake

Landscape Formation
In the Late Silurian and Early Devonian periods (about 416 mya), what is today the Finger Lakes region lay beneath a warm, shallow sea which, over millions of years, deposited eroded material, corals, and shells on its bottom to form the bedrock that undergirds the region today. The deposits of those periods were primarily limestones, shales, sandstones, and conglomerates. The Silurian deposits also contained salts, gypsum, and hematite. These were predominantly sedimentary rocks.

New York State deposits by geologic age

According to the New York State Geological Survey, significant amounts of clay-like sediments were deposited in vast glacial lakes that occupied the state at the end of the last Ice Age. A map of those clay deposits is presented below and shows some intrusion into the western and southern portions of the Finger Lakes region.

Two million years ago the first of two glacial encroachments from the Hudson Bay area signaled the beginning of the Pleistocene glaciation and the eventual formation of the landscape that exists today. According to Allan Lasko's (Cornell University Professor) presentation to the bloggers at WBC15, very large lakes remained after the glaciers retreated. Gradual drainage of these post-glacial lakes led to glacial soils plus salts on the landscape and lakes of varying elevations, depth, and slope. It is estimated that there were two major ice incursions with the first doing most of the "heavy cutting" and the second leaving behind the current surface deposits.

The Finger Lakes macro-climate is humid continental with significant temperature variation between summer and winter. The mean annual temperature is 60℉. The cold winter conditions, plus the relative shortness of the growing season (190 - 205 days), should preclude successful vinifera plantings but a mix of microclimatic effects and cultural practices combine to make the growing of fine wine grapes possible:
  • The harsh winters provide an environment wherein primary buds could be destroyed or vines killed. The practice of "hilling up" protects the graft union which, according to Fox Run Vineyards Winemaker Peter Bell, is considerably more cold-sensitive than the rest of the permanent portion of the vine. The hill is taken down in the Spring to prevent Phylloxera from feeding of the scion wood (Bell) 
  • The lakes provide a mitigating effect in the fall and winter in that the water (and the air above it) is warmer than the land. As the warm air rises, the cold air moves down the slope to occupy the space thus created. This serves to drain the cold air away from the vineyards rather than staying put and damaging the vines. 
  • In the spring, the land warms up more rapidly than does the water and as that warm air rises, the cold air seeps into the open space. This cold air keeps the vines from early budding and encountering potentially damaging late spring frosts. 
According to Kay Whitehall, these lake effects are directly related to the volume and thermal mass of the lake as well as to the distance away from the lake. Her research showed, for example, a 1.72 degree difference in temperature between the weather stations at Valois and Groveland.

Annual rainfall in the region averages 34 inches. The preferred situation in grape growing is for rainfall during the winter months, but fully 60% of the Finger Lakes rainfall occurs between April and October.  An abundance of rainfall during the growing season can cause improper fruit set (a result of shattering of new blooms by rainstorms) and can encourage the growth of mildew.

Finger Lakes soils range from well-drained sandy loam to iron-oxidized red clay with the common characteristic being shallowness and sloping beds. Around Seneca Lake the bedrock is primarily shale with the southern region being a mix of sandstone and shale. Cayuga Lake bedrock is shale. The bedrock is calcareous in some places and non-calcareous in others. The limestone soil is found in the north of the region with more acidic soils to the south. In the areas with limestone soils, acid rain leaches calcium carbonate out of the bedrock and deposits it in the soils and lake. This calcium carbonate acts as a buffer against soil pH, rendering said soil ideal for grape growing. In the non-limestone zones, ground limestone has to be added to the soils to create this buffering effect.

The soils in the region have a high clay content and while clay has some beneficial qualities (moisture retention and high mineral content) it also has some disadvantages:
  • It takes longer to heat up in spring
  • Swells when it absorbs water and shrinks as it dries. This can cause cracking through which water is lost and can also damage the root system
  • Does not drain well
  • Becomes sticky when wet and structure deteriorates if worked in that condition.
Vineyards and Vines
The lakes have north-south orientations and the vineyards are located on the slopes above. The vines, therefore, have east or west aspects depending on the bank on which they are sited. Vines run perpendicular to the slope -- as a counter to erosionary tendencies - and are trained Scott-Henry or VSP, depending on soil type. According to Bell, this palnting orientation allows the plant to intercept the maximum amount of sunlight.

Drainage tiles are deployed below the surface because the water table is only 4 feet down. The relative fertility of the soils, ready access to water, and the shortness of the growing season dictate an active canopy management program in order to: ensure adequate sun exposure; promote fruit ripening; and promote air flow which, in turn, reduces disease pressure.

As shown in the tables below, the region is in the midst of a long-term shift towards a greater reliance on vinifera plantings. Fully 65% of the vinifera grown is white, with Riesling, the region's focus, experiencing a 56% increase in plantings since 2006.

Table1: Finger Lakes AVA acreage by vine type, selected years
Vine Type
Vinifera N/A
Source: Caplan and Gerling; Newman

Table 2: Finger Lakes Vinifera plantings
Color Variety Acreage
White Riesling



Pinot Gris

Gruner Veltliner N/A

Sauvignon Blanc
Red Cabernet Franc

Lemberger N/A

Pinot Noir

Cabernet Sauvignon


Source: Caplan and Gerling

The Riesling clones used in the Finger Lakes are 90, 239, 198, and 110 and the rootstock is 3309.

Diseases and Pests
A survey by Fuchs, et al., found that 2/3 of all Finger Lakes vineyards were infected with Grapevine Leaf Roll (GLR) virus (GLRaV-1, -2, and -3). Seven percent of the vineyards had low levels of infection, 21% moderate levels, and 40% had high or extremely high levels of infection. Infection with GLR complexes can result in delayed fruit maturity, poor color, and reduced yield. Infection is most likely the result of poor sanitary status of planting material and mealybugs and soft scales as vectors. The control mechanism employed is to replace infected vines or vineyards with certified products.

The insect and mite pests most likely to be encountered in Finger Lakes vineyards are shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Insect and Mite Pests in Finger Lakes Vineyards
Budswell to Bloom Bloom to mid-Season Towards Harvest
Steely Beetle Grape Berry Moth^ MALB
Climbing Cutworm Grape Leafhopper Spotted Wing Drosophila***
Soft Scales* Phylloxera Vinegar Flies***
Mealybugs* Grape Rootworm

Banded Grape Bug** Spider Mites

Lygocoris Bug** Japanese Beetle

Grape Plume Moth Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (MALB)

Source: Greg Loeb
*Vectors for GLR virus
**Greatest insect risk for yield loss
***Role in spreading sour rot bacteria
^Most important arthropod pest

Atallah et al., Working Paper.
Benjamin Linhoff, Soil Acidity in Vineyards of the Finger Lakes of New York,
Fuchs et al., Survey for the Three Major Leafroll Disease Associated Viruses in Finger Lakes Vineyards in New York
Greg Loeb, Grape Insect and Mite Pests -- 2014 field season
James L. Newman, Vines, Wines, and Regional Identity in the Finger Lakes Region, Geographical Review 76(3), July 1986.
Kate Whitesell, The Lake Effect on the Surrounding Climate of the Finger Lakes in New York,
New York State Geological Service
New York Wines,
Peter Bell, Winemaker, Fox Run Vineyards, Personal communication.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, August 24, 2015

Infographic: Modern winemaking vs. Clark Smith's postmodern winemaking

According to Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking), "... a revolution is taking place within the winemaking industry. Precepts of the modern winemaking system we were taught in school simply don't support the making of the great wines the market demands, and as a result, some of our most successful winemakers have strayed quite far from conventional dogma." These winemakers are using what Smith calls postmodern winemaking to "... merge all of the wine's flavor into a coherent whole like a well-conducted orchestra producing a unified, soulful voice."

I have pushed back previously on Smith's assertion re wines and market and presented an architecture for his postmodern winemaking concept. In this mini-post I provide a graphic representation (shown below) of wine production under both the modern and Smith's postmodern schemas as a prelude to a full-throated discussion of the elements.

As stated in his book, postmodern winemaking does not seek to throw out all elements of modernity and replace them lock, stock, and barrel with a new canon. Rather, postmodern winemaking uses existing pieces where appropriate and substitutes as necessary. So, for example, the postmodern winemaker can operate in both the modern and organic viticultural spheres but would prefer organic viticultural practices with its focus on living soils and no synthetic pesticides. The key extensions of postmodern winemaking are provided in red in the above chart and in the box in the top-right labeled Postmodern Toolkit.

I will begin detailed discussion on wine structure under the postmodern schema in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking): It is all Emile Peynaud's fault

Both Isabelle Legeron (Natural Wine) and Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking) are of a mind that technological advances in the post-WWII period changed the nature of winemaking and wine. As a result, today's product does not compare favorably with the wines of yore. Their solution to this jointly perceived problem differs markedly though, with each casting a jaded eye at the other's selection (natural wine for Ms. Legeron and postmodern winemaking for Smith). Ms. Legeron refers to some of the tools in Smith's postmodern toolkit as "intervention technologies" while Smith titled a chapter in his book "Natural Wine Nonsense." In this post I will explore what Smith sees as the problem with modern wines and the path that has taken us to this special place.

I have previously related how the restriction of access to oxygen resulted in the creation of crisp white wines in Germany, an approach that was quickly adopted in Bordeaux. Smith sees this as the beginning of the end for red wines of pre-war profundity as Emile Peynaud, the famed French enologist, declared oxygen the enemy of wine and, in so doing, launched the age of solution chemistry and scientific enology.

At this time I will take a brief detour to highlight the solution model of wine as described by Smith. According to Smith, scientific enology starts with the idea that wine is a chemical solution. If wine was in fact a solution, it would have the properties/capabilities detailed in the figure below.

In this model, wine flavor is the sum of its parts and managing those parts allows control of the whole. Smith sees both the model elements and the approach as being "injurious to wine quality" and identifies a number of instances in the past which hinted at the model's shortcomings:
  • The limited solubility of anthocyanin, as shown in the 1970s work of Riberau-Gayon
  • His (Smith's) ultra-filtration work which shows anthocyanin (molecular weight of 300) unable to pass through a filter with porosity of 100,000
  • As indicated in the figure above, aromatic intensity should correlate to in-solution concentration but micro-oxygenation of Merlot will reduce the bell pepper aromas without a reduction of its pyrazine content.
The path to today's modern winemaking is illustrated below along with the dominant pedagogy. According to Smith, "modern day winemaking has been useful in eliminating gross defects but has done little to promote excellence."

I would like to push back gently against Mr. Smith's assertion that (i) wines were probably better in the past and (ii) that we lost our ability to produce wines of that type due to the post-war technology advances and winemaking changes.  The implication contained therein is that the wines of yore were "better" than the wines of today. Hence the need for a postmodern-style of winemaking.

First I would take a look at the market and US wine consumption from 1950 to 2010. In the figure below, we see an almost unrelenting increase in wine consumption in the US; even with all that bad wine sloshing about. The data show a 460% increase in total wine consumption and a 1700% percent increase in table wine consumption. In 1950, table wine consumption was 25% of total wine consumed but by 2010 it had grown to 82% of total wine consumed. Folks generally consume sweet wines to cover up faults but this dramatic migration to table wine consumption would seem to indicate improving satisfaction with the quality of the product being presented to the market. Not shown in the figure is the fact that per capita consumption has increased from 0.93 gallons to 2.93 gallons over the same period, an increase of 172%.


As it relates to how good wine was in the past, I direct the readers' attention to the post I wrote refuting Ms. Legeron's similar claim wherein I draw on Paul Lukacs (Inventing Wine) scholarship to lay out the conditions that prevailed pre- and post-war and the role of science (and Emile Peynaud) in bringing winemaking under control. I also direct the reader to a more recent post on the development of the Piemontese wine industry (Simone Cinolto, Soft Soil, Black Grapes) to gain a perspective of traditional winemaking conditions and the risk posed for the wines produced in those environments.

The next time I revist this topic I will look in greater detail at Clark's solution (postmodern winemaking) for getting us out of the rut that we are in.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Development of a Piemonte wine industry and wine-making culture in the late 1800s

In the late 19th century, Piemonte vied with Tuscany for the title of most illustrious wine region in Italy based on the amount of land devoted to grape growing in each region and the "modernity" of their respective winemaking industries. But this was definitely not the status quo for these regions. This post draws heavily on the scholarship of Simone Cinolto (Soft Soil, Black Grapes, New York University Press, 2012) to examine how Piemonte arrived at that coveted position.

Pre-19th-Century Wine Environment in Mediterranean Europe
According to Cinolto, very few people experienced wine during this period "except during rural cycles and religious festivals." The resulting limited economic value of wine, combined with its highly perishable nature -- a result of a lack of understanding of its chemistry and a paucity of viable storage mechanisms -- did not provide the ideal conditions for development and sustenance of a wine industry.

Further, grape growing was a very personal affair. Vineyards, as we know them today, did not exist. Grapevines were, instead: cultivated alongside subsistence crops; unrestrained as to height; and supported by pergolas or co-located trees.

As it related to wine production, harvested grapes were brought to the cellar and foot-trod in large vats. White wine grapes crushed in this manner were quickly moved to a hand press for juice extraction. In the case of red wines, the wine was separated from the post-fermentation residue and placed into barrels for "maturation and preservation."

This traditional winemaking process was fraught with risk for the resulting wine (Cinolto):
  • Dirty barrels
  • Lack of filtration
  • Oxidation
  • No temperature control.
According to a pamphlet from the late-1800s cited by Cinolto, "The traditional practices resulted in the farmers harvesting too early, crushing grapes with dirty feet in unclean vats, and fermenting the grapes too long in pursuit of alcohol and color."

According to Cinolto, "The commercial production of wine therefore remained a fragile, risky, and inevitably underdeveloped enterprise until well into the nineteenth century."

Mid-1860s in the Langhe and Monferrato Hills
A number of factors led to the transformation of farming in southern Piemonte from the subsistence model to the position described earlier -- viable competitor for the title of most illustrious wine region in Italy. The factors, and their impacts, are detailed in the figure below.

Source: Compiled from Cinolto (Soft Soil, Black Grapes)

This boom lasted for two decades before being brought to heel by a number of factors (Cinolto):
  • The spread of Phylloxera beyond the Alps
  • The resumption of viticulture in France
  • A tariff war between France and Italy.
By this time, however, wine had become a thriving sector of the Piemonte economy as exhibited by the following realities (Cinolto):
  • The establishment of Piemonte's international prestige for its particular vineyard areas and high quality grapes
    • Nebbiolo in Alba for the high-grade wines Barolo and Barbaresco
    • Parts of Cuneo and the areas around Alessandria and Casale Monferrato for the production of distinctive wines like Barbera, Dolcetta, and Freisa
    • Moscato in Asti for the production of a Spumante
  • Improvement of enological knowledge
    • The birth of the professional expert
    • Creation of specialized institutes like the School of Viticulture and Enology in Alba in 1881
  • Emergence of a large-scale capitalist winemaking industry
    • Factories
    • Machines
    • Equipment for mass production
    • New class of merchant intermediaries who acted as interlocutors of the large wineries and small independent wine producers.
Wine as a thriving sector of the Piemontese economy did not necessarily translate to thriving inhabitants of Piemonte. For example, even though there was a significant improvement in enological knowledge, this was shared only between a tight circle of well-to-dos and people associated with the large wineries and emerging wine indsutry. The small farmer continued to produce wine in the traditional manner. Moreover, the shift from a mixed-farming economy to a monoculture with intervening midlemen, probably contributed significantly to the heavy out-migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, August 7, 2015

Architectural construct for Clark Smith's postmodern winemaking concept

In his book postmodern winemaking, author Clark Smith advances " a new vision of the winemaker's craft ..." but that vision, and the associated underpinnings, are spread randomly throughout the book. As the first step in what will be a lengthy examination of the proposed concepts, I have attempted to gather the scattered elements into a single place and to organize them in a manner which will aid me in my endeavor.

My framing attempt is captured in the graphic below which arranges the postmodern descriptions into groupings of elements. The relevant text from the authors work is reproduced below the figure.

Foundational Elements
The first grouping -- Foundational Elements -- captures the philosophical underpinnings of the system, its intentions, and guiding principles.

Postmodern Definition
Smith's definition of postmodern winemaking first appears on page 16 of the text and goes thusly: "The practical art of connecting the human soul to the soul of a place by rendering its grapes into liquid music."

Postmodern Objectives
The postmodern objectives, as described by Smith, are as follows:
  • To decentralize the embedded myths that shape modern winemaking but fail to serve winemakers well. These pedagogies include:
    • The application of the solution model, a model that is injurious to wine quality
      • Solution model behavior is not just incorrect, it is undesirable
      • The extent to which wine deviates from "ideal" behavior (as pursued by the solution model) is a pretty useful working definition of quality (p. 23)
    • The direct link between chemical and microbial compositions on the one hand and flavor on the other
    • The use of component aromatics as preferred drivers for quality (p. 11)
  • To merge all the wine's flavors into a coherent whole, like a well-conducted orchestra producing a unified, soulful voice (p. 27)
  • To capture what nature has put in the vineyard's grapes and present it with grace and balance (p. 32)
  • Accessing the mysterious language via which wine communicates subtle emotional messages (p. 135).

Postmodern Tenets/Views
  • We seek to work within the condition of the modernity, incorporating what is useful while moving beyond the hubris of the modern mindset (p. 5)
  • Postmodern wine should not conform to expectations (p. 9)
  • The experience of wine is not actually in the bottle; rather, wine resonates in tandem with its consumer according to the environment of consumption. This interaction possesses features of resonance, harmony and dissonance that are strongly shared and for which "predictive" strategies can be employed (p. 10)
  • Respect for diversity (p. 15)
  • Place premium on quality over image (p. 52)
  • Never use a technique or additive that you aren't willing to disclose and defend (p. 57)
  • Wine's chemical properties does not determine its sensory properties (p. 150)
  • Pragmatism (p. 152)
  • Careful examination of the consequences of innovation and thoughtful auditing for what may have gotten lost in the shuffle aesthetically (p. 188)
  • Suspended structures in wine contains its essence and their exact nature determines wine's ability to touch us in a special, soulful way (p. 202)
  • Wine is a solution containing suspended colloids that are the source of texture, soulfulness, and aromatic integration (p. 206)
Postmodern Principles
On page 77, the author refers to postmodern principles and mentioned the following as one of those principles: "Flavor finesse is achieved through fineness of texture." I was unable to uncover any additional identified principles prior to or post this reference.

Functional Elements
In this section I gathered together the elements which I felt were directly associated with winemaking.

Postmodern Practices
  • Use of organic principles
  • Pick ripe but not overripe
  • Lees incorporation to enhance structural fineness
  • Shape polyphenols that are as small as possible, thus forming into small colloids that maximize surface area and promote hydrophilic/hydrophobic interaction (p. 132)
  • Resolve microbial balance prior to bottling so sterility is unnecessary (p. 203)
According to Smith, these postmodern practices eliminate many of the problems (excessive tannins, bitterness, vegetal aromas, microbial spoilage) that conventional winemakers obsess about (p. 28).

The challenge that the postmodern winemaker faces is the "proclivity of well-extracted, properly ripe musts grown on living soils to produce sulfides.

Postmodern Toolkit
The tools (when used in pursuit of postmodern objectives) which set the postmodern winemaker apart from the modern are as follows:
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Ultrafiltration
  • Micro-oxygenation
  • Oak chips
  • Electrodialysis
  • Crossflow clarification
Postmodern Skill Requirements
  • Control of tannin polymerization
Postmodern Action Item
The author calls on postmodern winemakers to "place a high priority on understanding and evaluating the diverse menu of deacidification options that are soon to be thrown on our plates."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Instances of Nebbiolo: A wine tasting

I recently concluded a blog journey through the geographical locations and naming conventions associated with the Nebbiolo grape and, being driven to taste the associated wines, organized an event at my home in order to realize that ambition.

I have Barolos and Barbarescos in my collection but did not have any of the wines from the other relevant locales. I reached out to selected retailers with whom I had relationships (Morrell, Crush, Italian Wine Merchants) and bought what they had available. I fleshed out the list with purchases from other online retailers. All wines were shipped to Florida next-day air in order to minimize environmental degradation. A shoutout to Morrell where one of the staffers dug into his personal collection to make the Ghemme DOCG wine available to me.

The invitees to the event included a local group of Certified Sommeliers who have formed a Tasting Group to aid in their studies for the Advanced Sommelier certification. This group is honchoed by Melissa McAvoy of Swirlery and Citricos and she did an awesome job coordinating her group's participation. Besties Ron and Bev were also there along with longtime friends and neighbors Fred and Laurie and new friend Evan (@nerditry).

My wife did all of the hard work involved in event planning. And she is good at it. Look at the wonderful setup below. I almost didn't want anyone sitting at the table and messing it up. Thank you Parlo.

The evening began with copious amounts of Champagne and conversation around the bar. After they were suitably lubricated, Parlo invited our guests to partake of the evening's fare. Upon completion of their meals, attendees repaired to the "tasting area."

I began the proceedings with a presentation on Nebbiolo. Post this high-level presentation, I drilled down into the Valtellina region of Lombardia and the instance of Nebbiolo grown/produced therein. Upon completion of the region-specific presentation, we tasted the Valtellina Superiore DOCG. This cycle was repeated until we had tasted a total of eight wines.

Used with permission

Some qualifying remarks about the tasting. It was never intended to be truly comparative because (i) the vintages did not line up and (ii) I was unsure whether the quality of the producers aligned. Each wine would, therefore, be evaluated on its own and any interior comparisons would have to take these caveats into consideration.

The cocktail party, dinner, and tasting had taken up a lot of time -- and the group still had their regular bi-weekly blind tasting to do -- so I opted to leave the following two wines out of the formal tasting:
  • 2008 Deltetto Roero Riserva Braja DOCG (Roero)
  • 2011 Sandrone Valmaggiore Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC (Langhe-Roero).
In leading the tasting, I forfeited the opportunity to take notes but Ron was kind enough to make his notes available for this post. Below are his impressions of the wines we tasted.

2001 Ar.Pe.Pe Valtellina Superiore Riserva Sasella Rocce Rosse DOCG (Valtellina, Lombardy)
Medium color. At first slightly austere, with dried red fruits, herbs, and good acidity. Lighter in body and finish than a typical Barolo.

2008 Donnas Vallée d’Aoste DOC (Donnaz, Valle d'Aosta)
Dark in color. Red berry fruits and rosemary. Full-bodied. Supple, round tannins. Appeared to be more modern in style than the Valtellina.

2011 Cantine Garrone Prünent Valli Ossolane DOC (Val d'Ossola, Alto Piemonte)
Medium color with bright red fruits. Spice and floral notes with a rose petal orientation. Comes across as lighter-bodied with an elegant style

2008 Antoniolo Gattinara Osso San Grato DOCG (Gattinara, Alto Piemonte)
Sweet red fruits. Very aromatic showing plum, sweet tobacco, tar, mushroom, balsamic, and rose petal. Nice acid level with good structure and weight. This has a great future. Liked this very much!

2006 Antichi Vignetti di Canalupo DOCG (Ghemme, Alto Piemonte)
Red fruits consisting of rhubarb and sour cherry. Spicy with dried herbs. A little funky with hints of mushroom, earth, tobacco. A lighter, more elegant style.

2007 Le Piane Boca DOC (Boca, Alto Piemonte)
Cherry with Nebbiolo aromatics. A little funky with floral, tobacco, and licorice notes.

2008 Roccalina Barbaresco DOCG (Barbaresco, Langhe)
Red fruits. Lighter in style and slightly more austere than the other wines. A little disappointing for a Barbaresco.

1997 Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione DOCG (Barolo, Langhe)
Dried cherry, truffle, rose petal, licorice with a riper style reflecting the warmer vintage. Drinking beautifully now.  

I was pleasantly surprised by a number of the wines. The Valtellina Superiore and Gattinara impressed me and are wines that I am going to be buying in the future. I was somewhat disappointed with the Ghemme DOCG. It was tasted right after the Gattinara which had performed remarkably well and had set some expectations for the Ghemme. The Boca DOC was too thin for my liking. In the blind portion of the tasting which immediately followed, I bagged up the Roero and had the group taste it. It showed really well.

Everyone enjoyed the proceedings in that (i) they found it educational and (ii) they had discovered wines with which they were unfamiliar. Pleasant.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, August 3, 2015

Langhe-Roero: Where Nebbiolo is called Nebbiolo

During the course of this journey through the geographical locations and naming conventions associated with the Nebbiolo grape, we have encountered it as Chiavennasca (Valtellina, Lombardia), Picotendro (Donnaz, Valle d'Aosta), Spanna (Vercelli-Novara region of Alto Piemonte), and Prunent (Val d'Ossola). We will round out our journey by reviewing the wine zones where Nebbiolo is actually called Nebbiolo.

Langhe, inclusive of Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG
The Langhe region may not have been the origin point of the Nebbiolo grape but it has become its spiritual, emotional, and financial home and Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG provide the reference points against which all Nebbiolo wines are measured. A detailed discussion of these regions is presented here.

Roero DOCG
Roero is a small DOCG (DOC 1985, DOCG 2004) located on the north bank of the Tanaro River and running along said bank for approximately 24.1 km (15 miles) between Bra and Govone. The zone is approximately 878 ha (2169 acres) in size with 2014 production of approximately 436,000 cases. The relative positioning of Roero DOCG is illustrated in the map below.

The climate of Roero is described as cold temperate and manifests as harsh, cold winters; hot, humid summers; and unpredictable springs and autumns. Climatic effects are moderated by (i) the warm Mediterranean winds meeting and mitigating the cold winds flowing down from the north and (ii) the Apennines providing a barrier to the winds from the sea.

The soil is primarily sand, a result of the area being an ancient seabed, with clay and/or limestone intermixed in specific areas. Unlike the Langhe, formed 15 million years ago during the Miocene, the soils of the Roero are only 5 million years old, laid down, as they were, during the Pliocene period of the Tertiary era. The proliferation of sea fossils in the sand is a testament to its sub-sea past. According to Antonio Galloni (Exploring Roero, Vinous, May 2015), the soil characteristics give the Roero wine much of its mid-weight, perfumed personalities. In the places where the sand is intermixed with silty soils rich in clay and marine deposits, the grapes grown thereon confer a greater depth and structure to the resulting wines (Galloni).

Roero DOCG governs the production of white and red wines within the zone. The white wines are produced from Arneis, maybe the most important white grape in Piedmont. The reds are made from Nebbiolo and Barbera and, according to Michael Skurnik, the young reds from the region have a "particularly fresh and vibrant character." Galloni sees Roero excelling with Arneis and expressed pleasure with both the top-end and entry-level Nebbiolos and Barberas. He does see some challenges for the region though:
  • The most famous Roero wines are made by producers who are based outside the region (Giacosa and Sandrone, for example)
  • The region lacks a visible, reference point producer who might be able to elevate the standing of the entire area
  • The region continues to live in the shadow of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC and Alba DOC
Nebbiolo DOC was founded in 1970 and covers production in 25 communes on both sides of the Tanaro River. The production zone extends over 536 ha (1370 acres) and is used as a fallback appellation by producers whose wines do not meet the stringent standards of the Roero, Barolo, and Barbaresco DOCGs. Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC wines are 100% Nebbiolo and are aged for 1 year prior to market. Alcohol level has to be 12% at a minimum. The wine can be made as dolce and spumante.

Alba DOC was established in 2010. It has a vineyard area of 2 ha (5 acres) and produces 630 cases annually. The red wine is 70 - 85% Nebbiolo, 15 - 30% Barbera, and 5% max other authorized varieties and is aged for 17 months, nine of which are in barrel. The Riserva has a similar varietal requirement but is aged for 23 months, 12 of which are in barrel. The minimum alcohol level is 12%.

Carema DOC
Carema is the last Piemontese village before you cross over into Valle d'Aosta. The vine-growing region is 12 ha (32 acres) in size and elevation can range as high as 762 m (2500 feet). Annual production is fewer than 10,000 cases. The DOC was established in 1967 and requires a minimum of 85% Nebbiolo plus other authorized grapes. The resulting wine is light-to-medium body; exudes aromas of tar, licorice, camphor, and strawberry; and is both tannic and more acidic than the reference Nebbiolos.

The wine is produced as Rosso and Riserva, both with minimum alcohol levels of 12 % but with the former aged for 24 months and the latter for 36. Both styles require 12 months aging in barrel.

To summarize then, following are the characteristics/requirements of the wines produced in the areas where the variety is called Nebbiolo.

Alcohol (min %)
Barolo DOCG
100% Nebbiolo
Min. 38 mos (18 in barrel)

100% Nebbiolo
Min. 62 mos (18 in barrel)
Barbaresco DOCG
100% Nebbiolo
Min. 26 mos (9 in barrel)

100% Nebbiolo
Min. 50 mos (9 in barrel)
Roero DOCG
Nebbiolo (95%) + OA
Min. 20 mos (6 in barrel)

Nebbiolo (95%) + OA
Min 32 mos (6 in barrel)
Langhe Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo (85%) + OA

Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC
100% Nebbiolo
Min. 12 mos

100% Nebbiolo
Min. 18 mos (6 in barrel)

100% Nebbiolo
Min. 6 mos

Spumante Rose
100% Nebbiolo
Min. 6 mos
Alba DOC
Nebbiolo (70-85%), Barbera (15-30%), OA (max 5%)
Min. 17 mos (9 in barrel)

Nebbiolo (70-85%), Barbera (15-30%), OA (max 5%)
Min 23 mos (12 in barrel)
Carema DOC
Nebbiolo 85% + OA
Min. 24 mos (12 in barrel)

Nebbiolo 85% + OA
Min. 36 mos (12 in barrel)

OA = Other Authorized

©Wine -- Mise en abyme