On 30 August 2012 Carlo Merolli, old friend of mine and the most important importer of Italian wine to Denmark during the past 35 years, had invited for a tasting at the fantastically sited Italian restaurant La Vela, literally 10 metres from the beach in posh suburb Vedbæk north of Copenhagen. The wines of four producers were on show, among which a large range of wines from Ioppa, a small-to-medium-sized producer from northern Piedmont (also known as Alto Piemonte). Subsequent (and shorter) posts will deal with the wines of the three other producers, Savignola Paolina, Campi Nuovi and Podere Fortuna.
The Ioppas have been owning vineyards and making wine in the general vicinity of the Ghemme denomination since 1852. Present vineyards amount to some 27 hectares, most of which within the Ghemme denomination, with a bit in the nearby Sizzano denomination.
Ghemme and Sizzano are sited at the upper reaches of the Sesia river, and both lie in the shade of Monte Rosa. The soil in the area is partly heavily influenced by alluvial deposits from the Sesia river, partly fine, sandy moraine soil left over from when the glaciers retreated during the last ice age. A few pockets of heavier, clayey soil also exist. The climate is fairly cool, and certainly near what used to be the northern limit for growing nebbiolo (in Piedmont, that is, and pre-global warming). The Ghemme area enjoys fairly windy and therefore dry conditions, while the Sizzano area, further down the river, is less windy and therefore somewhat more humid.
Nebbiolo dominates in the area, and as a result of the particular soil characteristics and the cool climate, the nebbiolos from here are medium-weight, juicy, acidic, tannic, austere and generally extremely minerally. Aromas are somewhat cooler than the southern areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, but longevity is frequently greater, and the wines, when well made, often develop spectacular tertiary aromas with time in bottle, virtually wiping out primary fruit, and supplanting it with a sometimes staggering range of mineral, soil and vegetal/fungal aromas. The nebbiolo wines from these parts, then, are hardly for the wine novice, and very much something for discerning palates that have developed beyond the “gobs of fruit” stereotype and into the rarefied (and for some probably strange, snobbish and somewhat effete) strata of terroir and typicity that require little or no obvious fruit character. I count myself among the fans of this type of masochistic wine.
The Ioppas are the happy owners of two very special vineyards in the Ghemme area, Bricco Balsina and Santa Fè, both perfecly exposed towards the south-west. The former is sited close to the town of Romagnano Sesia, in the northern part of the Ghemme zone, and stands in heavily alluvial soil on the slope of the first hill rising from the Sesia river; the wines from here are of medium body and very minerally. The latter vineyard is sited towards the top of a hill further downriver towards the town of Ghemme itself, and features a large clay content, which renders wine with quite a dark, austere and tannic disposition.
It has been tradition in the area to mix fickle and highly variable nebbiolo with other, more early-ripening red grape varieties, partially to soften the austere, tannic and acidic nebbiolo from these parts, partly to ensure decent wines even in less-than-stellar vintages. The main contender for this supporting duty is vespolina, but also uva rara makes an appearance. Both are fairly soft, just slightly greenish-aromatic, low-acid and low-tannin varieties, with the vespolina probably being slightly fuller and rounder. Both also sport a bewildering array of other nicknames that have ensured great confusion with grape varieties from southern Piedmont and Lombardy, to which they are not closely related. The Ioppas use some 15% of vespolina in their Ghemme wines.
This is not traditionally white wine country, but in not-so-distant Caluso there is tradition for making a passito white wine from the erbaluce variety, which, even more confusingly, is called greco when it arrives at the banks of the Sesia, despite having no close relationship with the greco varieties from the south of Italy (in its defence, I have to mention that there are numerous greco varieties in Italy, many of them completely unrelated to each other). Quite a few producers in the area around the Sesia now make white wines from this variety, either on its own or in blends.
Some years ago, the Ioppas teamed up for a while with controversial wine middleman Marc de Grazia, who turned them in the direction of new barriques for their prestige wines, and made them throw out their large old botte. While de Grazia undoubtedly pointed them in the direction of greater attention to vineyard work, thus improving the quality of the raw materials, his influence on the final wine style for me certainly is not unequivocally positive. On tasting, the prestige wines from the de Grazia period, while clearly made from superior grape material, are rather marred by an unwelcome new wood character. The Ioppas have subsequently purchased new large botte, and as those botte become seasoned, the Ioppas are gradually reverting to a more traditional style of winemaking. I am fairly certain that, with the new quality vineyard work and the revaluation of traditional winemaking, the Ioppas will go from strength to strength in the years to come.
We tasted the following wines (as usual, no colour notes, and in serving order):
San Grato 2011
This is a white wine made from variably quantities of erbaluce, timorasso and traminer aromatico (gewürztraminer). Fresh, minerally nose with green perfume and a lightly resinous note. Light, fresh, acidic and dry in the mouth. Not long, green perfume, resin, mineral. Fairly typical white wine from the area.
Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo Rusin 2010
I refer to the tasting note in my earlier summer 2012/rosé post. The entire 2011 vintage of this wine apparently went to Norway as a result of having won a tender by the Norwegian wine sales monopoly…
Colline Novaresi Tinet 2011
This is made as the young, everyday red wine from the Ioppas. A blend of barbera and uva rara. Young, fresh, acidic red berry nose, slightly reductive, lightly spicy. Very light in the mouth, fresh, acidic, dry. OK length, dry, mild berries, lightly spicy. Nothing particularly wrong with this wine, but Northern Piedmont is not great barbera territory.
Colline Novaresi Coda Rossa 2010
This is 100% vespolina with no wood ageing. Delicious, fresh red berry nose, juicy, a hint of sweet spice, a hint of soft green herbs, touch of tobacco. Mild, juicy, soft and fresh in the mouth, dry, light tannin. OK length with mild red berries, sweet spice and tobacco. A charming, simple wine.
Colline Novaresi Vespolina 2006
This has spent a few months in wood. Soft nose with dark berries, lightly spicy, slight perfume, hint of tobacco and a sweet wood note. Fresh, light, mild and juicy in the mouth, light tannins. OK length, with mild red and dark berries, a bit of dry spiciness and hint of tobacco.
Colline Novaresi Vespolina 2005
Round, dark berry nose, slight perfume, hint of tobacco. Light, fresh and dry in the mouth, juicy, acidic, very little tannin. OK length with mild berries, dry tobacco and a hint of spices. It seems to me that the appetising greenness sometimes observed in vespolina wines with time can morph into somewhat vegetal tobaccoey aromas. Interesting.
This is the non-vineyard-designated Ghemme from the Ioppas. No barriques here. Slightly closed nose with dark berries, tobacco, mineral, forest floor. Medium weight and juicy in the mouth, dry, good acidity, fine grape tannins. Fine length, very minerally, with cherries, rose and tobacco. Still very young, likely to have an interesting tertiary development.
From half-bottle. Rounded nose with cherries, rose, light truffle, hint of tobacco. Medium weight in the mouth, juicy, dry, acidic, good whack of tannin. Good length, cherries, dried flowers, minerals, truffles, hint of tobacco. Fine wine, real Ghemme.
Highly tertiary nose with crushed rocks, truffle, tar, tobacco, forest floor and dried cherries. Medium weight in the mouth, dry, firm, with good acidity, some tannin. Quite long, very tertiary, repeating the aromas from the nose plus some sweet meat. Old-fashioned, lovely terroir wine.
Another highly tertiary nose, with truffle, forest floor, sweet tobacco, spices, leather and dried flowers. Medium weight in the mouth, dry, firm, good acidity, quite some tannin. Good length with liquorice, sweet tobacco, minerals, forest floor, dried rose, slight prune. Certainly not a “fruit-wine”, very much a “terroir-wine”, spectacular aromas of northern Piedmontese nebbiolo.
Young and strongly minerally nose with cherries, truffle, hint of orange zest, kerosene, wet gravel and hint of tobacco. Medium weight, fresh and juicy in the mouth, good acidity, some tannin. Good length, fresh cherries, minerals, light tobacco, dried rose, forest floor, truffle. Despite being very complex, this is clearly still a young wine which should last for years to come, with further tertiary development.
Broad, powerful nose with dark berries, tobacco, dried flowers and minerals. Medium weight in the mouth, of a dark disposition, some tannin, good acidity. Good length with dark fruits/berries, light touch of prune, tobacco, good fruit sweetness, minerals. This is clearly from a somewhat riper year than the 1996, so has a darker disposition, but it has the stuffing to last for many years, and seems yet to need time to develop its full tertiary potential.
Ghemme Bricco Balsina 2004
This spent some time in new and old barriques. Broad, powerful nose with sweet dark berries, very minerally, hint of truffle, leather, some wood spice. Medium weight and juicy in the mouth, round tannins. Good length, darkly fruity, truffle, tobacco, dried flowers and some wood sweetness. Very handsome wine, but the devil in me tells me it could have been even more typical and of the terroir had it been spared the small new wood treatment. The likelihood is that the wood flavours will recede further into the background with time.
Ghemme Bricco Balsina 2005
This spent time in old and new barriques as well as new botte. The nose has clear wood sweetness, but under that there are a very wholesome dark fruit sweetness, tobacco, powerful minerals and dried flowers. Medium weight in the mouth, firm, handsome tannins, good acidity, quite dry. Long, with good dark berry fruit, tobacco, minerals, dried flowers and a touch of forest floor. Another fine wine that is also clearly marked by wood, yet is very young and minerally, so I believe this will also recover from the rough treatment it received in its youth. The raw materials are very obviously of the highest order.
Ghemme Santa Fè 2004
Same vinification as the Balsina ’04. Some wood sweetness on the nose, but then dried cherries, quite austere and brooding, dry spices, white truffles, minerals and tobacco. Medium weight in the mouth, sappy/juicy, fine-grained tannins, dry. Long, with a fine acidic cherry fruit, minerals, violets, light tobacco. Another fine wine with a bit of wood character, but again this seems likely to recede further into the background.
Ghemme Santa Fè 2005
Same vinification as the Balsina ’05. Wood sweetness on the nose, then powerfully minerally, kerosene, cherries, truffle, tobacco. Medium-weight to full and quite austere in the mouth, dry, tannic, good acidity. Long, juicy, dry cherry fruit, very minerally, flowers, truffles, tobacco. Very interesting wine, destined for spectacular tertiary development, and bound to shrug off the slightly invasive new wood.
Stransì Passito di Vespolina 2007
This is a sweet red wine made from vespolina grapes that have dried for 2-3 months, with the wine aged for some 4 years in barriques. Apparently, this style was once traditional in the area, but had almost disappeared. Thick, dark berry nose, sweet perfume, minerals, fruity/juicy chocolate (the likes of Valrhôna’s Manjari), meat and violets. Medium weight in the mouth, elegant sweetness, fine acidity, slightly dryish tannins. Long, with thick berry sweetness, a bit of dry wood, violet perfume, very minerally.