Hidden Gems from Piedmont, Italy

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It is always a privilege in the wine world to be asked to attend an event of note. The email invitation to taste and compare the wines of Lessona and Bramaterra with some of Tuscany’s finest Chianti’s was hastily accepted.

Our destination was the commune of Biella, lying 80 kilometres North West of Milan where the sub-districts of Lessona and Bramaterra are situated in the lye of the Alps, at upwards of 350 meters altitude.

Having arrived safely via Milan we headed for Villa Era near the commune of Lessona. This historic Villa is also the home of Villa Era wines that like many others are in the process of development after many years of neglect.

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Neglect sounds a strong word but the story of wine here is unique and compelling.

History tells us that this district has a chequered past, one of great interest, certainly with regard to its close proximity to Switzerland and France. Roman occupation was evident with Pliny writing notes about the region. As with other parts of Italy, many changes followed with marauding tribes and neighbouring countries having a bite at this regions natural bounty. Mountains, differing climates and soils and plenty of water are the plus here bringing a 20th century textile boom where sheep were required to roam freely, producing quality wool for the Milan-based textile moguls.

Historic vineyards produced lots of regional styles of wines for both local and national markets but this was about to change as the price of grapes and wine were about to crash. Sheep 1- Grapes 0!

Fast forward to the 1990s and the rise of cheaper textiles from the Far East forced the value of the wool to also crash, rendering the restoration of these precious vineyards a reality. The forests that had once occupied the best land could (with permission) be removed, revealing historic sites once used to grow vines.

By the early 21st century the scene was set for a quiet revolution as the vines and winemaking quietly returned to Lessona and Bramaterra.

Nebbiolo is the grape that governs here and like its more illustrious neighbours Gattinara, Barolo and Lange to the south,  it takes some patience and skill to coax the hidden flavours from this illustrious grape.

With obligatory oak aging (for Riserva) these rare wines are best consumed at around 10 years aging.

The resulting tasting we were about to attend, comparing Lessona wines with their fabled “cousins”  from the commune of Rufino in Chianti made with the Sangiovese grape was eagerly awaited.

Our tasting was hosted by the noted wine author Kerin O’Keefe who has many years of hands-on experience in both districts.

We kicked off with a 100% Nebbiolo from Villa Guelpa – Longitude8 26 2016 – Lessona. With no sign of oak in this very young wine it showed a modern approach. Bitter cherries and violets predominate in this charming wine. Another 3 – 5 years will show its mettle best.

Villa Era – Nebbiolo 90% Coatina and Vespolina 10% - Coste Della Sesia DOC 2015 – This again was a gentle wine with light closed fruit on the nose and palate. Another 3 – 5 years will shape its future as a gentle expressive wine.

I Veroni - Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG 2016 – another infant! Hints of balsamic and cherries are in the body of the wine. 3 – 5 years cellaring will help.

La Baldina DOC – Lessona 2013 – 100% Nebbiolo with plenty of (older) oak in this elegant red. Only 818 bottles were produced from a beautiful “garden” vineyard. Closed a tad at the moment but the classical violet scent with high acidy and layered spice will be at its best in around 5 – 7 years.

Il Pozzo – Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG 2013 – Showed it’s Sangiovese credentials with a bright red fruit nose, followed by a complex middle body followed by a light elegant finish. Traditional and at its best – drink now to 10 years hence.

Selvapiana – Chianti Rufina Vigneto Bucerahiale Riserva 100% Sangiovese 2013 was next and came with a big reputation! Truly great nose of red and black fruits, elegant and fine, quality throughout! Drink now or keep for 10 years.

Massimo Clerico – Lessona Riserva DOC 98% Nebbiolo 2% Vepsolina field blend 2013. Made by the ebullient Massimo Clerico in historic family hillside vineyards his wine offers an elegance and subtlety with huge African spices to the finish. Beautifully integrated it has a long (cellaring) future.

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti – Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG 2012 – another stellar Chianti elaborated mainly with Sangiovese on the very best years. Although 2012 was a very mixed year a wine of great distinction was created. Deep scented black fruit with a dark brooding colour was evident. Spice and suppleness followed on every sip. Drinking now plus 10 years.

Colline Biellisi – Castello Montecavallo – Coste Della Sesia - 100% Nebbiolo 2011 – A vineyard in Organic conversion set in a magical hillside location. The nose was showing a raisin like aged style with a raft of red fruit over elegant balsamic spice. Crafted with minimal intervention it is unique. Drinking now – 3 years.

Ludie – La Vechia in Salita Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva 2011 Fine expressive nose of tight black fruits. V dark and concentrated this organic wine is a fruit driven beauty of great style. 

Fresh to the finish with typical acidity derived from the Rufino hills. Drink now to 10 years.

Tenute Sella – San Sebastiano allo Zoppo – Lessona 2009 – Nebbiolo 85% Vespolino 15% creates a wine with more age offering a light floral note of violets over a red fruit base. Most elegant and mature, finishing with supple spice and acidity.

Colognole Reserva del Don Chianti Rufina Riserva 2009 – Bright hints of red fruits on the nose lead to red and black fruits to the middle palate. Complex and classical as it moves into a bitter cherry note finishing with freshness and texture.

Gringnano – Poggio Gualtieri – Chianti Rufino 2001 – with its bright aging colour evident to the edge of the wine over a bold body of Blackberries and Cherries this is a v classy drop. Plenty left in this wine over the next 10 years.

In tasting these classic Italian red wines we are able to see the difference between Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Lessona and Rufino.

Youthful and expressive Lessona’s Nebbiolo should certainly enjoy some time in the bottle after releasing. The tight fruit profiles are held together with tannins and acidity and are generally dormant for between 5 and 10 years after which the legendary nose of violets coupled with the heart of cherry scented fruit and spice is unleashed.

Chianti Rufino’s classical Sangiovese style tends to be open and accessible earlier in its life. But quiet cellaring will also allow an elegant slumber into cherry notes with fine texture as it develops.

Lessona (and Bramaterra) are but babies in this world of quality, funky, sexy, red Italian wines. As more vineyard areas come on stream (only 44,000 ha of vines in production as we speak) the wines will gain a greater understanding and market appreciation. Hell-bent on quality the winemakers will ensure a bright future with individuality and deft expression from these ancient “New Frontier” wines.

In comparison the wonderfully historic and sophisticated Chianti Rufino wines have the advantage of a connoisseurs market as its base. Drinking a little younger nonetheless they are at the pinnacle of excellence and style.  



Stephen Barrett Wine Writer and Educator – www.stephenbarrett.com   www.vinelives.com

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