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Albino Rocca – Where Family Meets Great Wine in Barbaresco

IMG_0478Sometimes everything just seems to go right on a given day, and when you wake up in the middle of Piemonte surrounded by vineyards then the odds get even better.  Recently we took advantage of being in northwest Italy on an extended vacation and zipped over for a two night stay in Alba, the perfect launching point for a visit to Barbaresco and Barolo.  First up was the Barbaresco DOCG, and a small, family winery (or cantina in Piemonte) in the village of Barbaresco itself.

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A beautiful place.

Barbaresco is comprised of four villages or areas, all of which we could see from the courtyard of Albino Rocca, and a complex hierarchy of vineyards which includes 74 Cru designated vineyards.  It really is similar to Burgundy, where the vineyard land is designated and the vineyards are subdivided and owned by many growers or producers.  We were visiting Albino Rocca, located in the Ronchi Cru vineyard.  They own parcels in other crus as well, and make both blends as well as single Cru wines.  This is Nebbiolo country, and most of the wines are from that varietal, but there was also a great Barbera D’Alba and an excellent Cortese.  Unexpected was the Chardonnay, but it was good too.

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Vineyards to the edge

Albino Rocca is surrounded by vineyards that come right to the edge of the cantina, and the rolling hills of Barbaresco stretch in every direction.  At the moment the tasting areas and top floor of the cantina are being renovated, and they are getting close to completion.  This is a small family winery, so there is a very nice, long tasting table and an elegant glass wine wall, with a library room coming as well, but it is not a place for massive tours.  Our hostess was Daniela Rocca,IMG_0462 fourth generation of the Rocca wine family.  Her father, Angelo, was apparently as icon in Barbaresco.  Tragically Daniela’s father passed in 2012, yet we did meet her grandfather as he came in during our tasting to make sure things were going well.  You immediately get a feeling a family here.  It is everywhere.  The four members of the current generation seem intent on keeping it that way.

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Tasting from the casks

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2000 liters of good stuff!

Daniela led the way to the cellars, and we spent the next twenty to thirty minutes tasting from the casks.  This was fabulous, and the chance to taste the young Nebbiolos gave you insight into where these wines start and just how long their journey is.  In this area the traditional producers use neutral or very lightly toasted oak, and Austrian, German and Hungarian wood specifically are used here.  There are a small number of French oak barriques for certain styles and wines, but that is the exception.  We started with 2013 Atto a DOC Nebbiolo D’Alba, a fresh and lighter style Nebbiolo intended to be something you can drink young.  It was medium bodied and still quite tannic, but will be a very good food wine when bottled.  Next was the 2013 Nebbiolo da Barbaresco Ronchi, Atto a DOCG.   The Atto designation indicates the wine has not spent the required two years aging and thus cannot yet be called simply Barbaresco DOCG.  It is wine that is destined to be something else.  This was bigger, deeper red and has some of the characteristic perfumed elements you would expect in a more mature Barbaresco.  It’s very long now, a beautiful ruby red and will be great in 4-6 years or so.

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Stainless fermentation tanks

There were a lot of casks in the cellar, so we kept going, which was pretty OK with me.  We then sampled the 2013 Nebbiolo da Barbaresco Atto a DOCG, an unusual wine for Albino Rocca as this was fermented in their single oak fermentation tank, and macerated for 55 days.  You would expect a very dark and incredibly tannic wine from that, especially considering this is Nebbiolo.  Not the case, however, as the wine was a brilliant ruby.  It’s big, more rustic, with less perfume and harsher fruits.  But it’s not crazy tannic.  It reminds me more of a Barolo actually.

We ran through a 2012 Ovello V. Loreto and a 2012 Ronchi.  The Ronchi was the most mature tasting of the casks we tried, and it was darker red with a lot of complexity.  Extremely long, this wine really impressed us.

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The tunnel to the fermentation room

We should mention that Albino Rocca does export to the US, so you can get their wines here.  In the Northeast, you can find Albino Rocca wines at www.vintagesonline.com, and they have stores in Concord and Belmont, Massachusetts.  We’re planning on a trip to pick some up.  Hopefully they’ll have some of the wines we tried next from bottle, because we were far from done after the cask tasting.  Up a flight of stairs and into the tasting room we went.  Daniela presented a wide range of their wines, whites to red, and we were even more impressed when it was over.  Here they are:

2013 Langhe Chardonnay – there is land here that doesn’t face south, southeast or southwest (which is where they plant Nebbiolo), so why not plant Chardonnay?  Carrying no oak this was bright with a rich nose of stone fruit.  The palate was clean and extremely long.  We liked it very much.

2013 Peimonte Cortese – since it’s Cortese you would think Gavi, not Barbaresco, but here it is anyway.  Is sees some oak, and it presents a big, aromatic nose.  There is a beautiful minerality through the wine, and it finishes long.  It reminded us of a richer Chablis or a leaner Meursault, either way it was an excellent white and a classy wine.

Interestingly enough they move the white wines outside in the winter here to inhibit the natural onset of malolactic fermentation.  It seems like a wonderfully simple and elegant way to use the cold weather to your advantage.

2013 Barbera d’Asti – from ten year old vines this wine is lighter, very fruity, carries crisp acid and is meant to be drunk now.  This would be outrageous with pizza.

2012 Barbera D’Alba “Gepin” – from a great Barbera vintage according to Daniela, this wine is not IMG_0473exported to the US, and all we can say is we are very sad.  From 50 year old vines, this is dark red/purple,  opaque and carries a huge nose of red and black, almost macerated fruit.  On the palate the fruit is unbelievably pure.  The wine is fairly big, carries 14.5% alcohol, has great body, long legs and a long finish.  It is, in summary, truly delicious.  I wish we could get a case.  Maybe Daniela can send us one via their distributor in Massachusetts? (Hint!)

2011 Ovello Barbaresco – this is muted red with pink/orange tinges.  There is a huge nose of fruit, with cherry prominent, as well as tobacco notes.  The palate is more complex.  There is some earthy terroir here, and the wine is really lovely.  This is an elegant wine, and is typical of why I think I prefer Barbaresco to Barolo (slightly – I will gladly drink either).

2011 Ronchi Barbaresco – again here we have a huge nose of red fruit, cherry and tobacco.  On the palate this is quite tannic, and obviously a baby in its evolution.  It needs time, and I would not open this for at least three to four years.  It will be great in time though, and is obviously an outstanding wine.

2009 Ronchi Barbaresco – here we have a couple more years of bottle aging, and it shows IMG_0476wonderfully.  The wine is a beautiful red color, with pink and orange tinges.  A great nose of fruit, leather, tobacco and perfume leads to a powerful yet elegant palate, with still stiff tannins just starting to integrate a bit.  You can drink it now, but it’s going to get much better.  This is another beautiful wine.

Just for fun we ended with a bit of a palate cleanser, and it was also delicious:

2013 Moscato d’Asti – there are Moscatos and then there are Moscatos.  All we can say is this is IMG_0477simply delicious, and one of the best Moscatos we have ever tried.  Daniela said their goal was to make a good Moscato, and did they ever succeed.  I am looking for this in the US, because I want some in the cellar to pop open over the next few years.  Really good stuff here.  The great ones are ethereal in their lightness, and this has that quality.

Wow, what a way to spend a few hours.  There are much bigger producers around, but the charm of Albino Rocca is really in its close, family atmosphere and smaller size.  At around 100,000 bottles per year they live on the lower end of the production scale.  There is a co-op in Barbaresco which buys grapes from independent growers and makes lots of wine.  According to Daniela they do make good wine.  We can tell you that at Albino Rocca they make some great wines.

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The full line up we tasted

If you’re in the area it is worth arranging a visit.  You’ll get to see what a family run cantina here is all about.  Our thanks to Daniela, who was a very gracious hostess.  Hopefully she’ll get to the East Coast of the US sometime soon and we’ll get a chance to see her again.  Better yet, maybe we’ll get back to Barbaresco and drop in.

If you’ll be in the area and would like to drop by, we suggest you call ahead and make a reservation.  Here is the address and number:

Albino Rocca  –  Strada Ronchi 18  – 12050 Barbaresco (CN)  –  Italy

Telephone: 0173635145

A votre sante!

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