A trip to Italy with my wife started with messing up with Europcar personnel and we needed to change a car. When we hit the road after waiting a long time in a hot garage (very pissed off), our navigator died. Navigation in iPhone helped us to center of Alba after numberless of U-turns and lost rounds. Like a miracle, finally we found our booked place to stay. This fight with navigation of iPhone continued the entire trip but at the end we always found our destination after all.
VinCafe that we had booked after recommendation from Riikka Sukula, was awesome. The room was spacey and cozy. Even we arrived very late, there was table reserved for us for dinner. After a big steak and a bottle of Barbaresco we had no difficulties to get sleep.
There was no buffet breakfast, instead ala carte without actual menu – we could order what ever we wished to. Breakfast was made using extremely fresh and high quality ingredients. After eating fruit salad, yogurt, omelette, fresh mozzarella breads and croissant with cafe latte, first thing crossed to mind was to go back to bed. We had appointments booked so the only option was to start Alfa Romeo Giulietta engine and head to the first appointment in Barbaresco.
BARBARESCO, Azienda Agricola Sottimano
We were late 5 minutes from our appointment with a family winery named Sottiman0. Elena Sottimano welcomed us and she was a little bit reserved but not for long as she turned out to be a warm and nice person who was very passionate to wines and local food. We were pleased to hear a good speech about how good is the pairing of local wines and local food, for example home made pasta and ragu paired with light body Dolchetto. Elena, the daughter of owner/founders Maggiore and Rino Sottimano and with their son and Elena´s brother Andrea (winemaker) are very present in the family business.
Sottimano is an organic winery and they will get a certificate of bio dynamic wine making in 2017. They have 18 hectare vineyards divided to five cru´s of Barbaresco: Currá, Cottá, Fausoni, Basarin and Pájore. In addition to these they have one Dolcetto: Bric del Salto, one Barbera: Pairolero and one Brachetto: Maté. After cellar tour we had a chance to taste of 2015 Dolcetto, 2014 Barbera (10.000 bottles made), 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo, 2013 barbaresco Cottá and 2012 Barbaresco Currá.
Barbaresco wines were about 5 years too young to get all what they can offer and also Langhe Nebbiolo needs couple of years of cellaring. We purchased a bottle of Barbera which convinced us with strong fruitiness and mineral with elegance. Currà was our choice of these two Barbarescos. This one had aromas of mint and liquorice with silky tannins. Vintage of 2010 Currá was made only 1000 bottles and very unlikely to find on sale anymore. Average production of Currá are 4500 bottles per year. We also bought a bottle of Langhe Nebbiolo. This wine will be so close to Barbaresco (as Elena mentioned) after few years cellaring that it will make it an excellent price-value wine. It was very attempting to purchase more wines but flying back to Finland set some limitations and we had five wineries still to go.
This visit was a good start for our journey and we thank you Elena of your great hospitality! After Sottimano it was time to visit downtown of Barbaresco and have a lunch there (of course with more tasting of local wines) before heading to Barolo.
I had been waiting to visit at G.D. Vajra for a long time since I have been drinking amazing wines from this producer, especially Bricco del Viole Barolo and extremely fruity Moscato d´asti.
We found the winery but we went accidentally to somebody´s home yard. Aldo Vajra, the main owner, came pretty fast to ask who we were. We introduced ourselves and we were guided to a company of a young lady (who´s name I can’t remember). She gave us a tour in the cellars and fermentation area. G.D. Vajra uses two smaller barrels: French barrique and Croatian wood. Big barrels were 1500 liter Slavonian oak barrels from Croatia.
After the cellar tour we were guided to tasting room. Winery family´s daughter Fransesca joined and took the lead of the tasting set. Francesca told about Vajra family winery and their philosophy. She told us also about the current situation in Barolo overall and discussions of whether the Barolo making should or should not be more modernized these days, for example using only smaller barrels. G.D. Vajra is a traditional producer but open to try something new as well.
Following wines were brought for the tasting:
- Langhe Riesling 2015: Very fruity as a Vajra style with apple and rhubarb
- Dolchetto d´Alba 2014: Light body, sweet raspberries, light fruitiness
- Barbera `d Alba 2012: Round, strawberries and other red berries, spices
- Langhe Freisa 2012: Very tannic but different way than Barolo, tannins coming from seeds as Fransesca told. Very long finish. Perfect wine for venison. My first experience of this variety called Freisa, cousin or little brother of Nebbiole.
- Barolo Bricco del Viole 2012: Mind blower, there is something perfect in this wine! Can be found liquorice, anis, smell of roses. Complex, structured and well balanced, very long finish. Monica Larner gave only 89 pts for this vintage but other vintages are around 95 pts. This is a good example that professional review does not always match with your own. We left with a bottle of Bricco del viole 2012 with us and we will put it to the wine cabinet for the next 6 years. We heard that Bricco del Viole Barolo is best to drink in age of ten years. We enjoyed a bottle of 2007 vintage of Bricco del Viole in our Christmas table in 2015. When Francesca heard that she was very pleased, “our guy in your Christmas table!”
- Barolo Ravera 2012: So powerful that it feels like a bomb exploding in your mouth. Really strong tannins and bombastic wine overall. This is the most powerful Barolo I have ever tasted. This was a must buy.
- Luigi Baudana Barolo 2012: This is a collaboration wine between Luigi Baudana and G.D Vajra. There is fatty meat and black pepper in nose and palate.
- Barolo Chionato: Sweet fortified dessert wine made with 85% Barolo and 15% of herbs and spices. This had unique taste which reminds me of Christmas. This was a positive surprise and we purchased a bottle for next Christmas.
Bricco del Viole
This visit left us with very good feeling. Fransesca was extremely kind and lived so into philosophy of wines that we were definitely at the same page with her. It was a pleasure to visit at G.D. Vajra and have so good tasting set. Thank you Fransesca!
It was a long day and it was time to go back to Alba to drive back and fight with iPhone navigation. Incredible dinner at Osteria del Vicoletto with bottle of 2010 Damilano Liste Barolo (Robert Parker 95pts) hit the spot. Food and wine is so much cheaper than in Finland. You can buy high quality Barolo such as Damilano Liste 2010 with just below 40€ from restaurant as a take away but unfortunately this time we drank the restaurant’s last bottle. There wasn´t time to party because we had an early appointment at Sukula Winery and also needed to drive 300km to Verona.
BAROLO, part 2. Azienda Agricola Sukula
It was very difficult to find a Sukula´s place at Meriame, near to village of Serralunga d´Alba, but after couple phone calls to Riikka and we were there. Sukula´s house was in the middle of the vineyards, on the hill of Meriame and the views were amazing.
Vineyards are about 350 meter from the sea level. Soil in Meriame cru are sandstone, limestone and clay. Sukula follows an organic method and sustainable farming. Manual pruning and harvest. Riikka showed some examples of pruning by hands so that racemes could breath and do not packed too tight together. I felt sorry when good shape racemes dropped down. Jyrki and Riikka Sukula purchased the vineyards 10 years ago in 2006 and they did a difficult decision to remove old vines after vintage 2012. New vines will start to produce proper Barolo around 2030. Sukula produce also Barbera d´Alba wine.
It was time to sit down and start a tasting of valuable wines from Sukula winery. First we tasted lighter Barbera d´Alba (DOC) vintage 2014. A lot of red berries at nose which follows in palate and leave round and slightly velvety finish. Average production of Barbera is 2000-2300 bottles per year. Next wine was Barolo 2011 (DOCG), nose: mint and rosemary and red berries like cherry. Tightening tannins were causing dry mouth but high acidity caused mouth watering. Average Barolo production is around 4000-4500 bottles per year.
While we were taste the Barolo, Riikka told that they have 2000 visitors per year and that just saying a car drove to outside of the house. Finnish guy with his son came inside. He did not introduce himself to us but told a lot about himself and his properties during a short visit. He asked what are in the tasting menu and after Riikka told that Barolo 2011 , he asked to taste 2010. Riikka opened a bottle of 2010 and after tasting the guy purchased a case and told us that likely he do not need to carry those by plane since he had a second house near by. What a lucky bastard! Well now there was the open bottle of 2010 Barolo so tasting continued.
2010 followed 2011 in nose and palate but was more complex since it was already developed 1 year more than 2011 vintage.
We bought a bottle of 2010 Barolo to bring home to. We got recommendations from Riikka for lunch places in Serralunga d´Alba and very good recommendation it was indeed. We ate very good home made pasta with ragu and half a bottle of Barbera d´Alba from good producer named Ettore Germano. After lunch it was time to say goodbye to Piedmont and head to Veneto and Verona.
Thank you Riikka for great hospitality, info package and your recommendations of place to stay and restaurants. Hope we will see again one day.
-Markus Laukkanen, 31.8.2016