Exploring Piedmont's Diversity in the Wines of Roero
If Italy’s northwestern region of Piedmont is known for one thing, it’s being known for many things.
So many wine regions overlap in Piedmont that it’s not uncommon for the skills being used to produce, say, Barolo also being employed to produce Barbera, Moscato, or – in today’s case – Roero. I recently hopped on a samples tasting with several Roero producers, organized by the Consorzio Tutela Roero, to take part in a bit of a deep dive of both Roero Arneis and the tragically less well known Roero DOCG red category (crafted from Nebbiolo).
Roero DOCG producers generally pride themselves on a completely different expression of Nebbiolo than found on the other side of the Tanaro river in Piedmont: easier to access earlier, very fresh, with its own identity (due to their unique soils), and focusing on elegance and linearity. They have some enviable history to backup their regional pride, too – Roero was the name of a noble Asti banking family from the 13th century, and the wine is mentioned as far back as 1303 (as part of payment used for rent). Soils there are sedimentary, from ancient seabeds and beaches, with differences in texture based on the depth. About 7 milleion years ago, a closed lake in the area evaporated quickly, concentrating mineral salts, followed by the seabed becoming uplifted, creating the sandy deposits on which their vines grow today, with steep slopes/cliffs (due to erosion and diversion of the Tanaro river about 250K years ago).
The pitch from these producers is straightforward: Roero as an appellation is unique enough to produce high-level white wines, as well as high-level reds. They are also, in the case of my tasting, good for some money quotes:
- “Roero is a meditation and a party wine” – Chiesa Carlo’s Davide Chiesa
- “We have four pillars: precision, planning, interpretation, and terroir” – Costa’s Alessandro Costa
- “The best feature is the massive amount of sand; [it] gives to the wine this elegant side, this sapidity, and this helps to pair it with almost every dish” – Nicolo from Filippo Gallino
- “If you could define Roero Nebbiolo in a word, I wold say it’s ‘elegance'” – Malabaila’s Lucrezia Malabaila
- “It’s something beautiful. I go around, and I’m proud to be a farmer [here]” – Giovanni Roagna of Cascina Val del Prete
They happen to produce some vino that’s well worth the money, too…
2018 Chiesa Carlo ‘Quin’ Roero Arneis
An elegant, single vineyard delight, from a spot planted in the 1960s that’s textbook Roero: both sandy and steep. “We try to make wine we want to drink. Wine for our and your party” noted Davide Chiesa. Mission accomplished. This white is textural, sporting both structure and great lift. It’s also pithy and pretty, with lemon rind, toasted citrus peel, and great salinity – both thoughtfully complex, and practically delicious.
2020 Cantine Fratelli Povero Terre del Conte Roero Arneis
This one punches well over its fighting weight class. Farmed organically, and priced almost in “total steal” category, this has a metric ton of peach, melon, and tropical tones. Minerality, depth, even hints of spiciness, and a long finish, all for under $20? Sign me up. Actually, sign us all up.
2019 Costa Stefanino Nino Costa Roero Arneis
This overachieving number has an absolutely banging nose of white flowers and intense tropical fruits. Salinity, depth, pithiness… it’s all there. This is a wine that’s aggressive, but undeniably very, very good – so you won’t mind the forceful acidity, especially on a warmer day.
2016 Antica Cascina dei Conti di Roero Vigna Sant’Anna Riserva
This Nebbiolo is a treat, and combines tradition with a modern sensibility. As Cascina’s Daniela Olivero explained, their vineyard was planted in 1954 by her grandfather on “very steep” slopes that need to be worked by hand. Natural fermentation is employed (“my husband decided to make this wine like my grandfather”), bringing some extra character to the texture. From its tar, violets, black cherry, black raspberry, and dried herb notes, to its fresh, exciting, structured, mouthfeel, this one is screaming – both in general, and to be paired with osso buco.
2018 Malabaila di Canale Bric Volta Roero
These guys can trace their history back to 1362 – almost back to when Roero got itself started- when the family arrived in the area from Asti. Apparently, the Prince of Piedmont was asking for their wines personally in the 15th Century. Three women now run the business, which is farmed organically (with truffles and hazelnuts also part of their estate offerings. Offering notes of crushed violets and dark cherries, this red is vibrant, with sapidity and transparency all the way through. It has grip, and I imagine will still be pretty a few (or even several) years from now.
2016 Mario Pelassa Antaniolo Roero Riserva
This single vineyard Nebbiolo hails from the northernmost portion of Roero. As Daniele Pelassa explained, the soil’ “red sand and gravel makes our wines quite special.” In a word, this red is textural. The acidity is focused and pronounced, but has soft, rounded edges. The cherry fruit flavors have staying power, enhanced by wild raspberry and earthiness on a long finish.