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Ceretto Zonchera Barolo 2007
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. The Ceretto family has become one of the largest vineyard proprietors in Piedmont with more than 400 acres of estate-owned vineyards, located primarily in the Langhe and Roero region. This includes the prestigious DOCG areas of Barolo and Barbaresco. The family name is synonymous with estate-grown; carefully produced wines that express true varietal character with purity and elegance. In 2012, under the leadership of Alessandro Ceretto, the Ceretto family began the lengthy process of obtaining Organic certification for all of their vineyard holdings. The Ceretto family does not apply herbicides in the vineyards and fertilizes with manure only. Green cover crops are planted between the rows of vines to reinforce soil fertility and structure. And in the single vineyards, natural sprays are applied to vines to boost plant vitality and photosynthetic capacity. All this is aimed at developing a sensitive and healthy vineyard system capable of maintaining its own natural resources over time. The Ceretto family is wholly committed to their home in Piedmont’s Langhe—its wine, its gastronomy, and its arts. The family supports numerous art projects, a tradition that began in 1982 when they commissioned the Italian designer Silvio Coppola to design elegant and unmistakable packaging for their entry level wines. Modern architecture blends into the green hillsides at Ceretto’s world-class wineries and the family provides residency to visiting artists at their Casa dell’Artista. Furthermore, the Ceretto family invites the world to celebrate the bounty of the Langhe at the two restaurants they operate in Alba: La Piola and its big brother, Piazza Duomo, which has been awarded three Michelin stars. However, primary consideration is always placed on the vineyards and on the wine. Under the current leadership of Alessandro Ceretto, winemaking practices have evolved to emphasize terroir above all else. Both small and large oak barrels can be found in Ceretto’s cellars but the use of large, traditional botti has increased, as these big barrels do not overwhelm the wines’ nuances with oak flavor. Wild yeasts are used to ferment Ceretto’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines and harvest is conducted by hand and followed by rigorous sorting to deliver only the best raw materials to the winery.
The center of the production of the world’s most exclusive and age-worthy red wines made from Nebbiolo, the Barolo region includes five core townships: La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and the Barolo village itself, as well as a few outlying villages. The landscape of Barolo, characterized by prominent and castle-topped hills, is full of history and romance centered on the Nebbiolo grape. Its wines, with the signature “tar and roses” aromas, have a deceptively light garnet color but full presence on the palate and plenty of tannins and acidity. In a well-made Barolo, one can expect to find complexity and good evolution with notes of, for example, strawberry, cherry, plum, leather, truffle, anise, fresh and dried herbs, tobacco and violets.
There are two predominant soil types here, which distinguish Barolo from the lesser surrounding areas. Compact and fertile Tortonian sandy marls define the vineyards farthest west and at higher elevations. Typically the Barolo wines coming from this side, from La Morra and Barolo, can be approachable relatively early on in their evolution and represent the “feminine” side of Barolo, often closer in style to Barbaresco with elegant perfume and fresh fruit.
On the eastern side of the region, Helvetian soils of compressed sandstone and chalks are less fertile, producing wines with intense body, power and structured tannins. This more “masculine” style comes from Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. The township of Castiglione Falletto covers a spine with both soils types.
The best Barolo wines need 10-15 years before they are ready to drink, and can further age for several decades.
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 and 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.