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Beyond Barolo and Barbaresco: Barbera and Chardonnay Shine in Piemonte

October 3, 2013 3:51 pm - Posted by Tracy in Drink

The Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont) is well known for high quality wines, but while Barolo and Barbaresco are its main calling cards, the region has a much broader range of wines that bring great pleasure to the palate.

Situated in the town of Canelli in Asti, Coppo Winery was initially founded in 1892 by Piero Coppo. Today, this family business is in the hands of Piero’s grandsons: Piero, Gianni, Paolo and Roberto. Having found their way in the world, the brothers found their way in the winery, gravitating toward their individual strengths. For example, Roberto recognized that he likes to work with his hands, not a computer, and admits that he has no talent to sell, choosing instead to focus on enology as a good blend of his aptitude and interests.

Although the town of Canelli is best known for its Moscato, the Coppo family has established a strong reputation for their other wines as well. Consequently, we kicked off the tasting with Gavi, produced from the indigenous Cortese grape. While the majority of the winery’s grapes come from its estate-owned vineyards, the Cortese is sourced from five hectares owned by a local dentist with whom the Coppo family has worked for 30 years.

Next, we turned our attention to Chardonnay. Although I initially questioned why Chardonnay was being planted in Piemonte, the discussion quickly revealed the affinity this grape has for the region’s cool climate and calcareous soils, similar to those found in Burgundy’s Meursault. Thus, the question quickly shifted. It was no longer “Why is it being grown there?”, but rather, “Why don’t more producers grow it?”

The Coppo family’s commitment to the grape is clear. Not content to merely produce Chardonnay, they produce three different Chardonnay wines: Costebianche, Monteriolo and Riserva della Famiglia. Overall, the Chardonnays were elegant with restrained use of oak.

More specifically, the Costebianche spends the least time in oak and displays nice minerality with good structure and very long length. In addition to its lengthier time in barrel (two months more than the Costebianche), Monteriolo is also bottle aged for eight months and is produced from a selection of four to five vineyards, with more obvious, but still integrated, use of oak on the palate. Consequently, it was creamier and fuller in style. The top of the line, Riserva della Famiglia, made from a single vineyard in Agliano, sees 20 months in French oak barrels, coupled with lees stirring. This wine was also full-bodied and creamy in texture, with pronounced aromas and flavors of damp earth, citrus, yeast and mineral characteristics, culminating in long length.

The brothers also have a strong passion for Barbera. A grape famous for its acidity and low tannin, the Coppos look to retain the grape’s freshness and food-friendly nature in the production of all of their Barbera wines. But, their dedication goes well beyond simply making good Barbera-based wine and, in fact, the family has been at the forefront of ensuring that high quality Barbera not only has a place in the market, but is recognized and rewarded for what it is.

Consequently, the Coppos were among a handful of Asti producers who came together in 2000 to discuss what they perceived to be a problem with Barbera. With Barbera d’Asti’s vast area of production and diverse soils and microclimate, the producers felt it was important to identify a more restricted area with tighter production regulations.

As a result, the Nizza denomination was created, with production limited not just by geographical boundaries, but also to vineyards with southern exposures, high elevation and high density plantings, along with low yields (even lower than those permitted for Barolo). These wines must be aged for a minimum of 18 months, of which six months are spent in wood. Moreover, while the general Barbera d’Asti denomination allows the inclusion of other grape varieties, this sub-appellation restricts production to 100% Barbera. In 2014, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza will officially became a DOCG, while the producers hope it will earn cru status in the future. [Please see Nizza e Barbera for more information]

At the least expensive end of the range is the L’Avvocata Barbera d’Asti, so named because the grapes come from land owned by a female attorney. Aged for six to eight months in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel tanks, the philosophy in making this wine is to have something ready to drink upon release. Just a little pricier, the Coppo Camp du Rouss Barbera d’Asti is made from 35-year-old vines and spends 12 months in barrel, followed by a year in bottle, before being released.

The flagship Pomorosso is sourced from 40-50 year old vines located in Castelnuovo Calcea and Agliano Terme. All 35 vineyards from these two areas are hand harvested and the grapes kept separately throughout the winemaking process, before being tasted blindly with the best plots selected for this wine. Surprisingly, despite the impartial selection process, the same plots are selected each year; as Roberto notes, “The soil always wins.”  We tasted both the 2009 and 2001 vintages of this wine, both of which were extremely rich and concentrated with nice fruit, well integrated oak and long length. However, my preference was for the 2001, which was still beautifully fresh in spite of its age and showing lovely development on the nose and palate.

Aged the longest (with 16 months in new French oak barrels), the Coppo Riserva della Famiglia Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza is capable of very long aging. The 2004 still displayed youthful character, with medium-firm tannins, and was smokier and spicier than the Pomorosso.

And, while Coppo proudly champions its Chardonnay and Barbera, they still produce great Moscato d’Asti, true to the tradition of the region. Thus, we ended the meeting on a sweet note with a glass of Coppo’s Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti. This lightly effervescent wine is off-dry with fragrant aromas of floral, peach and citrus, while still remaining fresh and cleansing on the palate.

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