Tag Archives: 2010

Meeting the Vintners: Ezio Cerruti, Castiglione Tinella in Piemonte, Italy

A man in his element.

A man in his element.

While we’re currently in Piemonte, this winery and winemaker profile begins in August 2014 at the Mosel:

Nina and I were on our way back to Mainz from a week spent in Burgundy with my high school host family, which really is my second European family. It’s hard for us to drive so close by the Mosel and not stop, so we had made plans to see friends in Trier on the way and then head up to one of our favorite wineries along the Mittelmosel, Weingut Karl Erbes, to see our good friend Stefan, the owner and winemaker. The tasting was set for 10 am, which is the usual for us and Stefan, don’t ask…As we approached the tasting room, Stefan came outside and, after a hug, told me there were three winemakers from Piemonte in his tasting room, and none of them spoke any German or English, and since I speak some Italian, he decided I could translate. I must have been hung over or exhausted, because I immediately agreed, after having spoken French for a week, and with only a year of college Italian under my belt. Let me say it was not the easiest task I had picked: The three guys, one of whom turned out not to be a winemaker, but the other two were from Barolo and just south of Asti, peppered Stefan with technical questions and nothing in my life had prepared me for translating them: From free and not free (???) sulphur levels to soil composition and winemaking techniques I had never heard of. I was sweating after ten minutes. However, three hours, a cellar and vineyard tour as well as roughly 20 Rieslings later, and with the Italians pleading to stop the tasting (they still had to get back on their motorbikes), we’d formed a bond. One of the winemakers scribbled his name and telephone number on a scrap of paper, also the name of the other winemaker, and told me that “that guy has email”. Handing me the scrap, he told me to get in touch if we ever make it to Piemonte.

Fast forward to February 2015 and we find an Emirates flight from New York to Milan for less than USD 400 round trip and all of a sudden Piemonte is on the map. I start searching for the scrap of paper, to no avail, and a few weeks later, just before we’re about to get going, Nina finds it (one of the reasons I married her!). I googled the two names, Ezio Cerruti and Giuseppe Rinaldi, and lo and behold do find Ezio’s email address online and shoot off an email in Italian. He responds within a day, tells me he’s mostly not in Piemonte during our visit, but could make time for us our first day in the afternoon.

Once in Piemonte, we’d done our research, and from our apartment it should be about 30 minutes to Ezio’s winery. Unfortunately, since we’re in Italy, there was a closed road and we had to turn around and drive around the whole hill which cost us dearly and by the time we get to the winery we’re 25 minutes late. The German in me cringed. But all embarrassment disappeared when I saw Ezio storm out of his home, arms wide, with a big grin. He gave us hugs and it was clear we’re good old friends, and according to Italian time, we were on time anyway. I hate being so German at times… He had also asked his US importer, Summer of Indie Wineries, to join us, and man, was I glad she was there to translate (and as we got to know each other also for her insight and wonderfulness). Clearly, my Italian in Germany had not impressed Ezio, but I was more than happy for the help!

Quite the view

Quite the view

We began by sitting on his terrace, looking over vineyards, catching up over a cup of espresso, and discussed life and travel. Ezio is a character, totally and always himself, and whenever I meet people like this, I just want to stick around longer (and eventually married one of them). He is a man of many shades, and we discussed the fact that he has never flown in his life and has zero intention to, while at the same time he drives his motorcycle all over Europe, has moved from one room into another in his family home, never lived anywhere else, and yet has a sign hanging above his head that reads: “He who experiments might lose, he who doesn’t experiment has already lost.” Talk about contrasts…

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti's winery

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti’s winery

Eventually, we headed to the cellar, which is located under his family home. The old, steel-concrete harvesting facilities are still there, including the filters, but the rooms were renovated in a modern, understated style a couple of years ago. Behind the main room, which serves as the tasting room, lies his cellar: about 30 small barrels and five big barrels. And that’s it. I was stunned to see on what small scale he operates. Ezio wants to know exactly what is going on with every single barrel at any time, so he prides himself in small scale: 5,000 bottles of passito, the sweet wine, every year, and maybe a total of 20,000, 25,000 bottles a year. All Moscato. In 2014, he couldn’t make any passito due to weather, and made barely 4,000 bottles of his normal Moscato. And that’s about it. Can you imagine?

When one of us mentioned that a cellar is full of blood, sweat, and tears, Ezio insisted not in his cellar. There it’s only sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I like that guy, I really do.

Ezio Cerruti's small cellar

Ezio Cerruti’s small cellar

We began our tasting with his 2014 dry Moscato named Fol. The wine has been moved from the barrels and is currently in a different container, settling, and getting ready for bottling sometime this month. And yes, you read that right: dry Moscato. Winemakers in the region are firm in the belief that Moscato needs sugar to cloak the bitterness they claim is inherent in the grape. When Ezio decided to make a dry Moscato, they called him crazy and he named the wine accordingly (“fol” is “crazy” in the local dialect). The wine was stunning, and I’d never had any Moscato like it before for sure: The nose full of nectarines and lots of floral aromas, mostly lavender. On the palate, the acidity was strong and fresh, I got lots of grapefruit aromas, and it was a bit yeasty in the end, a bread-kind of yeastiness. The best thing was indeed a very slight bitter note, but more the bitter of the white skin in grapefruits, not at all disturbing but enhancing this fascinating wine. The “wows”
were flying freely. I cursed him for not having bottled it yet, I would have made room for a bunch of bottles in our limited luggage space.

Fol and Sol, Cerruti's Moscato

Fol and Sol, Cerruti’s Moscato

From there, we went on to his passito-style Moscato wines named Sol, his signature wines. We tried several vintages, and began with the 2009 (which was bottled in 2013). 120 grams of residual sugar (RS) sound intimidating, but it really wasn’t too much: The wine had fresh acidity, some musty aromas, but mostly pear and honey. It was incredibly fresh for this sweetness level, and the best thing was a hint of salt that gave it a certain edge. I liked it a lot! The 2010, which we tried after, has only 100 grams of RS, and has more acidity. Ezio thought it needed a couple more warm months in the bottle to reach its full potential. I thought it was already singing: much fresher than the 2009 (which I already considered fresh), intense, intense aromas of honey, licorice, orange, and sage, again this saltiness, but also with a great and refreshing bitterness in the finish. Just a hint, again adding to the wine. This was amazing, really amazing. After the 2010, he had us try a 2007, mainly to show us how he and his winemaking style changed after both his parents died in 2007 and 2008. 2007 was a very warm year, so always a bit difficult for sweet wines, because the lack of acidity can be a problem. In this case, the wine definitely showed lower acidity, but it also felt a lot creamier. It was sweeter and more in line with other passitos I have had, which are sweet, but can lack personality. It was a good wine for sure, but doesn’t come close to the 2009 and 2010.

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

As a last treat, Ezio opened a 2010 Moscato Passito Botrytis, a wine he has made since 2005 with only botrytized grapes. He used 3 grams of sulphur per 100 liters (an insanely low amount), which are all gone by the time fermentation are over. Nothing is done to prop up its color or aromas. It spent 4 years in the barrel and 7 months in the bottle. And man, what a treat: An abundance of apricots, freshly cut, that were layered on whipped cream, along with some herbs….but also so much more. It was one of those wines that makes you want to stop use descriptors and just dive into and never let go. The nose enchanted and held us, and the wine itself just startled us. I have had many botrytized wines before in Germany, but nothing like it. It was a different kind of botrytis, less honey, more primary fruit. Hard to describe. Just incredible.

After a good 2 1/2 hours, and not before Ezio had arranged another tasting for us in Barolo, we parted ways, a few of his half bottles in tow. We’d come to Piemonte not for its Moscato, but Ezio proved us wrong. And what a great time we had. We cannot wait to come back.

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

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A little place of serenity outside of Napa: Ladera Vineyards

End of January, Nina and I spent a week in California. I’ll readily admit it was a nice break from the Michigan winter. We’d both never been to either Napa or Sonoma, so we decided it was time. Me being the complete newbie to wines from that region, I relied on friends and fellow bloggers to give me some direction on which wines to try. We decided to limit it to four wineries, two in Napa and two in Sonoma. We only had the weekend, and we have by now learned that tastings usually take a while and there is nothing worse than rushing away from a tasting to make the next on time.

The first thing that struck me visiting the two regions is really how much they look like other wine regions: a long, winding road in a center of a valley, with hills rising, sometimes steeper, sometimes gentler, but always surrounded by vines. There really is nothing like it, and I was not prepared for how much at home I felt immediately. And the light and slight warmth certainly helped.

Ladera Vineyards was suggested by Anatoli of Talk-a-vino. He insisted one had to try their wines, and he helped us in setting up a tasting there. The first thing I had to do was google the winery (I know, shame on me). So what did I learn? Ladera is located on Howell Mountain, one of the top spots in Napa, and its roots go back to 1886, when the first winery building was erected in that same spot it now is, with vineyards dating back to 1877 (not the vines, mind you). The winery building is still standing in all its glory, but has been completely modernized inside and a large cellar has been constructed underneath. Ladera has been owned by its current owners Pat and Anne Stotesbery since 2000 and has built an impressive reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon.

So on Sunday, around noon, we curved our way up the valley onto Howell Mountain, pretty steep at times, and then finally turned into the property of Ladera Vineyards. From the website, Nina and I were not prepared what was awaiting us at the winery. The place is an absolutely breathtaking stunner: The old winery building with its gorgeous sandstone facade, the sky was of a deep, satisfying blue, and the vineyards are gently sloping around it. It was just a wonderful piece of quiet and calm, way above the fray that can be Napa. We were really speechless for a bit. I mean, look at this:

Ladera Winery Building

Ladera Winery Building (and yes, that is Nina sitting in the sun)

Everything was just so peaceful, you almost wanted to speak in a hush not disturb it. The tasting room manager during our visit, Julie, was friendly and knowledgeable and was happy to share with us the story and wines of Ladera. And we were ready to have both shared with us.

Get what I mean about the sky?

Get what I mean about the sky?

We started with a 2013 Ladera Sauvignon blanc, from what I can tell the winery’s only white wine ($30). And it was a great start: The nose was full and lush, with kiwi and gooseberry aromas, some flint, slight green pepper and bitter almonds, as well as beautiful hints of cassis (yes, I am a white wine person). It was bone dry, crisp and fresh, and oh so flavorful: grapefruit and other citrus in the forefront, cassis and blackberry, but also nicely creamy and almost doughy (in a good sense – it spent 7 months on lees!). I loved the balance of it, it was the right opening for a sunny day. I could drink that any time.

On we went to the 2010 Ladera High Plateau, a mix of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot ($65). The wine poured in a dark ruby red, and the nose was amazingly powerful, with what felt like many layers of blackberry, plums, cacao, and, to my surprise, what I can only describe as watermelon. I guess a hint of sweetness combined with freshness. Definitely unexpected. The wine was dry with medium tannins and body, and nicely crisp acidity. On the palate it was aromatic, with sage and brush (Julie mentioned later the vineyard is surrounded by evergreens), raspberry, mocha and bitter chocolate with a long finish. Count me as impressed: This was a Cabernet Sauvignon that made me understand why people can love that grape, which I am often ambivalent about: It had the right mix of fruit and spice, and presented itself very well.

In between, we took a tour of the facility and state of the art cellar, probably one of the most beautiful modern cellars I have ever visited. And they have a great tasting room down there as well. The press and fermenting tanks are modern and lots of steel, it was quite pretty. In general, wines are fermented in open top vats with a cold soak for two to three days.

Inside Ladera's modern cellar

Inside Ladera’s modern cellar

From there, we went to the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain Reserve Cab, a just released 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the winery’s best lots in Howell Mountain ($85). It poured in a similar dark ruby that the 2010 High Plateau poured in, but the nose was a lot more powerful: plums, but then a bunch of green peppercorns, tobacco, and some smoke with definitely more prominent wood aromas in the nose. To my surprise, the palate was definitely more fruity than the nose gave away: There was a bunch of black berries and cassis, but paired with a certain rubberiness that can be expected in such a young wine of this intensity. What I loved most about this wine was its texture, which was just beautifully chewy. The acidity and the tannins were in good balance, and the wine showed a lot of promise, although I want to try it in five years when it has calmed down a bit (as most of you know, I like my reds with some age on them).

Finally, we got to try some of the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain “S” Cabernet, another 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but this one stemming from the one block in Howell Mountain with the oldest vines, and only the four best barrels of that. So just a teeny little amount available ($175). The wine poured in a very dark ruby, almost black. The nose was intriguing, but also a bit mystifying: some brush, some licorice, some red berries, but also a bit musty at this stage. On the palate, you could tell this is way too young right now, but it provided a nice little window into its development: It felt a bit all over the place and very intense right now. What I liked about it was its fruit and acidity with powerful tannins that need settling down. But that’s a great structure for development. The finish was great: dark chocolate for days with no end in sight. Want to try this again in seven to ten years.

For me, this visit has the potential of being transformative. I never quite got why people could be so obsessed with Cabernet Sauvignon, which to me is often just powerful with no finesse. Ladera showed me that there is a different route for that grape, and it’s definitely worth exploring more. Needless to say, Nina knew that all along and had a great time as well. So, thanks to Ladera and thanks to Anatoli for opening my mind!

And thanks to the sun, for making these wines possible and that day gorgeous. I paid it my respects:

In the sun at Ladera

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2010 Bargetto Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot

2010 Bargetto Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot

2010 Bargetto Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot

Last summer, we spent about 10 days with Nina’s grandmother who lives in Santa Cruz, California. During that visit, we had the good fortune to attend a tasting at Ridge (for the report and an awesome photo of me see here – at the bottom of the post). While I love visiting producers that are widely known and appreciated, I also get a kick out of visiting smaller, less well know, more local wineries. For one weekend, we decided to go and hit up Bargetto Winery, a winery I had never even heard of. It’s located in Santa Cruz and was established in 1933. It was founded by two brothers that migrated to the United States from the Piemonte region in Italy. From 1918-1933, due to prohibition, the winery was only making wine for family and friends, until in 1933 they cranked up production with the end of prohibition. It is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.

We went to the tasting room in Soquel on a Saturday afternoon, and had a great time. It was a rather quiet day, we paid the California obligatory tasting room fee, and then proceeded to try their Merlot, Pinot Noir, and other varietal wines. We got to talk to Michael Sones, the winemaker who is a great guy, and got a tour of the estate. The winery claims to try to follow the Northern Italian wine making tradition, which seems to entail trying to express colder climate flavors in their wines. For us, that approach seemed to work. Grandma signed up for the wine club, and we took home a couple of bottles of this Merlot, and one of their high end Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed.

Another note to send ahead: I don’t understand why so many people have issues with Merlot. When done right, it is such an interesting grape, with awesome flavors. Its rather light feel is a much better fit for me than the seemingly heavier Cabernet Sauvignons. In my book, if you are looking for something between Cabernet and Pinot Noir, try a Merlot….but that might just be me.

The 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot is composed of 90.2% Merlot and 9.8% Petite Syrah grapes with the vast majority of grapes coming from Regan Estate vineyard. The wine has 13.5% ABV and was aged in 33% new oak barrels for 18 months before being bottled in September 2012. 381 cases were produced. Price: $25.

In the glass, the wine showed a bright darker red with hazy rims. The nose was extremely full of berries, mostly crushed raspberries, but also currants. There were floral aromas, and hints of smoke. I thought the nose was terrific. After a while, branch aromas started to show up and the nose got more earthy. On the palate, the first thing I noticed was a healthy acidity, and then what I can only describe as vanilla ice cream with raspberry sauce. It was such a cool tasting experience, and definitely not what I remembered from our tasting room tasting. The mouth-feel was silky and fresh, and some wood aromas shown through. The wine was of good length, with all in all well integrated flavors. If I had one issue, it would be that the acidity was maybe a bit too bright for it to be entirely balanced.

All in all, a cool tasting experience. I enjoyed the flavors, which became more spicy and herbal as the bottle progressed, and it brought back good memories from last year’s visit to the Bay area. Cannot wait to go back. Also, I tried some dark chocolate with this wine, and it was a great pairing. The red berries and chocolate just hit it off! If you get a chance, stop by at Bargetto Winery and give their wines a try.

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