Often, as in more times per day than I can actually remember, I am asked the question “What is your favorite wine?” This is a great question and one that for most of my time as a sommelier I have answered by just stating my favorite regions (which is of course a perfectly good answer). However, as I have grown and traveled and met amazing people in the wine world, some wines and wineries have gained a very special place in my heart. Castello di Verduno, in the small town of that same name is one of those wineries.
For years now I have been a fan and showcased these wines at the Fearrington House Restaurant. They produce classic styles of Barbaresco and Barolo, perhaps the most noble of Italian red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape (the name of the grape means “of the fog”). They also make the usual Piedmontese duo of Barbera and Dolcetto, and in addition one of their most distinctive wines, the Pelaverga Piccolo, a grape grown only in the vineyards around the village of Verduno (where it is known as Pelaverga di Verduno, with just 26 hectares or 64 acres in existence). All of their wines, from the aromatics to the palate, share an ability to transport you to another time. These wines are the definition of multidimensional in that they express themselves differently from moment to moment, with layers of fruit, earth, spice and history.
When you taste these wines it is no surprise to find that this was one of the first places that the wines we know of as Barolo were produced. In the 1830s the property was owned by King Carlo Emberto of Savoy who had hired the winemaker Paolo Francsesco Staglieno. Staglieno began experimenting with Nebbiolo at this time, making dry red wines and aging them in large wood barrels. The winery was purchased by the Burlotto family in 1909, and is still owned and run by the same family. Knowing the richness of this property’s history and loving the wines that are unlike any others on earth, I made it a goal that one day I would visit the winery. As luck would have it I made that journey with Fearrington General Manager Theresa Chiettini, Owner R.B. Fitch, and Chef Colin Bedford last November – the visit was beyond my expectations.
Verduno is the most northern town in the DOCG (quality appellation) of Barolo. It sits on the top of a hill with panoramic views of the Langhe Hills and to the north the snow covered Alps. It is a medieval village with the Castello and the town church as the center. Construction of the Castello began in the 16th century, so you can feel the history when you walk down the streets and through the gardens. While we were there we were hosted by the winemaker Mario Andrion, who has for years worked with Franco Bianco making the wines. Bianco is married to Gabriella Burlotto and together with their daughters manage the winery and the hotel/restaurant Ca Del Re. Mario, a very gracious and knowledgeable host, took us through the cellars where Staglieno did his first tests with Nebbiolo, and where vintages of Barolo going back a hundred years lay on their sides, waiting one day to tell their stories of times long past. Walking through the cellar I saw some of my favorite wines, like the Montvigliero Reserva, not even labeled yet, that waits in the cellar for eight years before it is released.
After the tour of the cellar we went to the tasting room, and Mario lead us through the majority of their wines. Some highlights being:
Pelaverga Bianco, 2011: this is a white wine made from the juice of the red Pelaverga di Verduno grape, it was floral, with quince and yellow pear on the nose, full on the palate with medium plus acidity.
Pelaverga di Verduno, Basadone, 2009: The Verduno original, smokey, earthy, peppery, with plum and sour cherry notes on the nose. A lighter-bodied red wine, riper fruit than the nose leads one to believe, and refreshing at the same time. Mario’s main focus when he studied winemaking at the univesity was Pelaverga di Verduno, he is THE expert on this grape.
Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2010: This is the lighter side of Nebbiolo, fresh and floral, with aromas of rose, bing cherry, violets, and spring. On the palate it is just a little more full-bodied than the Pelaverga, this is great everyday wine.
Barbaresco, 2008: Although they are in Barolo the winery has a fair amount of vineyards in Barbaresco the appellation to the east of Barolo, where Nebbiolo is also the only allowed varietal. The 2008 was very floral and perfumed, with pomegranite, wild cherry and leather aromatics, it was medium-plus in body, with medium-plus acidity. Super elegant wine.
Barolo, Massara, 2006: From the best vineyard in the town of Verduno, this 3 acre vineyard is at 245 meters in elevation on the climb to to the town of Verduno. The wine is macerated (left on its skins for 40 days), which is a traditional method in Barolo, this increases the tannin and body of the wine, it is also aged for two years in 2,500 liter Slavonnian oak barrels from a cooper in Switzerland. The wine was intensley aromatic with dark cherry, plum skin, leather, smoke, and rose notes, on the palate it had high tannin, and high acidity, super powerful, this wine will age for a long, long time.
We went on to have an amazing lunch at Ca Del Re after the tasting, and walked around the village, in a way never really wanting to leave. When we did I thought that one day I might just move here with my wife and daughter, maybe another goal for the future?
This post has been a long time in the making, but was really brought about because Mario and Marcella Bianco (of the Burlotto family), visited us at the Fearrington House last week. We tasted the wines, a similar line up in our wine cellar this time. The wines, as always, brought me back to another time, now however, that time and place is Verduno itself, at what is with out hesitation one of my favorite wineries and favorite places on earth.