Ceretto Barbaresco 1999
Bouquet: Good intensity, hint of withered flowers.
Palate: Well-balanced, displays vigor and youth as well as soft persistent bouquet, complex flavor and a lasting finish. Recommended with: Pasta, poultry, red meats.
The Langhe hills of Piedmont constitute that area of northern Italy where the wide and flat Pò river valley suddenly disappears and gives way on all sides to hulking and precipitous slopes. The Langhe hills are more than hills. They are ancient and rugged earth. Their narrow peaks are topped by castles, and they are thick to the horizon with grapevines. The Langhe hills are home to a small group of farmers and winemakers who, together, have succeeded in creating some of the planet’s finest expressions of place.
The Ceretto family is among that fortunate group. For three generations members of the Ceretto family have transformed the fruit of the Langhe’s vineyards into wines that speak of the regions identity. The famed Italian gastronome and intellectual Luigi Veronelli wrote, "The land, the land, the land, the land, always, the land." This philosophy is central to the Ceretto family. Reverence for this land has passed from Riccardo, who blended fruit from the region’s best vineyards, to Bruno and Marcello, who purchased Langhe vineyards and began bottling single crus, and finally to Alessandro, who is taking the winery into the 21st century by using natural methods to foster vines that are stronger, healthier, and more in balance with their environment. The Ceretto family has always been committed to producing the most expressive and authentic wines their land can yield.
A wine that most perfectly conveys the spirit and essence of its place, Barbaresco is true reflection of terroir. Its star grape, like that in the neighboring Barolo region, is Nebbiolo. Four townships within the Barbaresco zone can produce Barbaresco: the actual village of Barbaresco, as well as Neive, Treiso and San Rocco Seno d'Elvio.
Broadly speaking there are more similarities in the soils of Barbaresco and Barolo than there are differences. Barbaresco’s soils are approximately of the same two major soil types as Barolo: blue-grey marl of the Tortonion epoch, producing more fragile and aromatic characteristics, and Helvetian white yellow marl, which produces wines with more structure and tannins.
Nebbiolo ripens earlier in Barbaresco than in Barolo, primarily due to the vineyards’ proximity to the Tanaro River and lower elevations. While the wines here are still powerful, Barbaresco expresses a more feminine side of Nebbiolo, often with softer tannins, delicate fruit and an elegant perfume. Typical in a well-made Barbaresco are expressions of rose petal, cherry, strawberry, violets, smoke and spice. These wines need a few years before they reach their peak, the best of which need over a decade or longer. Bottle aging adds more savory characteristics, such as earth, iron and dried fruit.
Responsible for some of the most elegant and age-worthy wines in the world, Nebbiolo, named for the ubiquitous autumnal fog (called nebbia in Italian), is the star variety of northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Grown throughout the area as well as in the neighboring Valle d’Aosta and Valtellina, it reaches its highest potential in the Piemontese villages of Barolo and Barbaresco. This finicky grape needs a very particular soil type and climate in order to thrive. Outside of Italy, growers are still very much in the experimentation stage but some success has been achieved in parts of California. Tiny amounts are produced in Washington, Virginia, Mexico and Australia.
In the Glass
Nebbiolo at its best is an elegant variety with velveteen tannins, mouthwatering acidity and a captivating perfume. Common characteristcs of a well-made Nebbiolo can include roses, violets, licorice, sandalwood, spicebox, smoke, potpourri, black plum, red cherry and orange peel. Light brick in color, Nebbiolo is a more powerful wine than one might expect, and its firm tannins typically need time to mellow.
Nebbiolo’s love affair with food starts in Piedmont, which is home to the Slow Food movement and some of Italy’s best cuisine. The region is famous for its white truffles, wild boar ragu and tajarin pasta, all perfect companions to Nebbiolo.
If you can’t afford to drink Barolo and Barbaresco every night, try the more wallet-friendly, earlier-drinking Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d'Alba. Also search out the fine offerings of the nearby Roero region. North of the Langhe and Roero, find earthy and rustic versions of the variety (known here as “Spanna”) in Ghemme and Gattinara.