Winery Visit: Giovanni Rosso

June 7, 2016

Everyone knows excessive drinking kills, but I wasn’t aware the act of wine production could also be life threatening until Daniele casually relayed an incident from last week as we rumbled down a steep dirt slope — a 60 year-old man died when his tractor rolled down a similar slope in nearby Monforte d’Alba. Despite the odd chance of casualty and the physical toil generally associated with farming, many people in the Langhe have dedicated their lives in the vineyards; Daniele and his colleagues at Giovanni Rosso are no exception.

Vigna Rionda

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Guided by Daniele, who works as sales and marketing, we toured Giovanni Rosso’s 0.85-hectare portion of Vigna Rionda, one of the best crus in Serralunga d’Alba, split between multiple producers including Massolino, Oddero, Guido Porro and Ettore Germano.

Meaning “round vineyard”, the 25.29-hectare Vigna Rionda has an ideal combination of attributes for growing Nebbiolo; its altitude ranges from 250 – 360 m above sea level that generally guarantees a steady amount of annual sunshine, yet the vineyard is sheltered from excessive winds by the nearby Castelleto hill. The soils are the typical Serralunga mix of calcareous marl and red sandstone. Alessandro Masnaghetti, who produces the most detailed maps of the Langhe, believes the wines from Vigna Rionda are uniquely austere and unyielding in the commune, home to the most powerful wines in Barolo.

The linkage between Giovanni Rosso and Vigna Rionda began in 1934, when Tommaso Canale, the great grandfather of the current owner Davide, purchased a slice of the cru. Life was difficult, especially after World War II when the Langhe suffered depopulation as much of the workforce was attracted by Turin’s economic boom; without better options Davide’s mom Esther decided to sell the parcel to her uncle Aldo.

The wheel of fortune continues to turn, and after almost four decades in 2010, Aldo’s son Tommaso died unexpectedly and the plot of land, along with vines dating to the 1940s, were transferred back to Davide.

Expanding business model

Barolo has never been more hotter. Along with this upsurge in popularity are the conversion of large swathes of land to growing Nebbiolo and seemingly the expansion of every winery in the Langhe, though Davide has taken it a notch further by buying a new piece of land and completely building a new complex from the ground up.

Walking through the site — three years in the making with 18 more months to go — it was clear Ceretto, the local behemoth that has a full-blown entertainment complex as its headquarter, was the inspiration. There were dining hall, conference room, tasting bar, and a helipad where guests could fly in from European financial centers or arrange aerial tours.

“Everyone knows Barolo is one of the world’s most prestigious wines,” Davide gestured us to another room where guest chefs would prepare gourmet meals for VIPs. “What we lack here is infrastructure. We can absolutely rival Bordeaux or Burgundy as the top wine destination in Europe.”

Although I feel lukewarm at best towards Ceretto, a winery with some potentially great wines but also a healthy percentage of uninspiring ones hiding behind its formidable marketing and distributing efforts, I am hopeful Giovanni Rosso’s focus won’t be distracted away from its wine.

Wine tasting

We tried three wines from the barrels.

Leading off was the 2014 Barolo La Serra. 2014 was a relatively challenging year. A wet and warm summer increased the chance of fungal diseases and some vineyards in Barolo were devastated by hail. Davide green harvested 40% of his crop to ensure quality.

Facing southeast and located in the upper part (378 m above sea level) of the Serralunga, La Serra contains vines planted in 1984, 1996 and 2003. The limestone soils have a lighter color than most other crus in the commune.

Fermentation lasted 35 days in cement tanks and the wine would age in 25 hl French oak casks for 36 months. Still developing, the wine had a strong aroma of dark berries and licorice and a hint of cherries. Dense tannin with a long aftertaste.

2015 Barolo Ceretta was next. Blessed with an extreme contrast of a bitterly cold winter and the hottest summer on record, 2015 was regarded as the best vintage since 2010, although the high temperature did affect the acidity of some grapes.

Again facing southeast, Cerreta is 2 km north of Serralunga. The elevation is slightly lower than La Serra at 360 m above sea level and the vines planted are replanted in 1984 and 2000. The soils are consisted of calcareous clay or marl.

The fermentation lasted six less days than the La Serra and the aging process was the same. Even with one less year of aging this Cerreta was more approachable than the previous wine — it was smoother and more elegant, less powerful but equally long finish. The palate included red fruit and a little spice.

Finally we tasted the 2015 Barolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale Rosso. Grapes from this cru are usually harvested last, in the second half of October. Fermentation took place over six weeks in a stainless steel tank and then the wine was transferred to large Slavonian oak casks for aging, again for 36 months.

This wine revealed the characteristics of both the La Serra and Cerreta, but overall it was closer to the former in that both were very powerful and had an almost overwhelming tannin at this very young stage. The palate contained dark fruits like black cherry and some spices.

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