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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Friday, May 15 2009. 13:34

Roero: Neglected Cousin of Big B

When you talk of Italian wines in India, the Big B undoubtedly stands for Barolo or possibly the more elegant and feminine version Barbaresco. But similar wines from the nearby Roero district stand completely neglected in the Indian market due to lack of knowledge, writes Subhash Arora

Barolo and Barbaresco are the two small towns, actually villages in Piemonte where these wines have been produced for centuries. Barolo has been termed a ‘king of wines and the wine for kings.’ Barbaresco has been rubbing shoulders with Barolo since Angelo Gaja came on the wine scene in his family winery in Barbaresco almost 40 years ago and started producing excellent quality, albeit quite expensive and today the name is used almost interchangeably with his name internationally.

Both are made from Nebbiolo grape and both are DOCG wines since July 1, 1980-having come to existence in April 1966 as DOC wines when the current system of wine appellation was evolved in Italy through the government decree. Both are naturally expensive wines; Barolo still commanding slightly higher price primarily as the appellation laws require it to be cellared for a year more and partly because of the old and traditional reputation.

Queen Barbaresco docg-the Big B

Although the two are named after the villages respectively, this appellation in fact includes the nearby municipalities known as comunes. Thus, Barbaresco can also be made in Neive or Treiso- the two neighbouring villages. In fact, out of a total of around 682 hA* area under vine, only 234 are from Barbaresco. Neive grows more- 248 hA while Treiso has cultivation of 162 hA. Alba has a small area which comes under the appellation too-perhaps because Barbaresco was being produced here before the appellation laws came into existence.

King Barolo docg- the Bigger B

Barolo has a total area which is around 2.5 times more at around 1800 hA out of which the commune of Barolo is responsible for only 13%, with a cultivation of only 240 million hA. The biggest commune making Barolo is in fact La Morra at 450 hA.  The other important comunes that one might of heard of, are Castiglione Falletto (134 hA), Monforte d’Alba (348 hA), Novello (141 hA) and Serralunga d’Alba (307 hA) with a small cultivation in the Comune of Verduno (88 hA).

Cousin Roero docg

If docg were a title for the quality, the younger cousin of the Big B, the district of Roero would have earned the same title. It was declared a doc wine on March 18, 1985 but was elevated to the status of docg in December 2004, making wines from this region more prestigious, as this is the highest appellation available for Italian wines.

Located on the northern side of river Tanaro: the Big Bs are located on the southern side surrounding Alba town, Roero has 19 villages on steep slopes in the hilly zone in its fold and cultivates only around 200 hA of red wine- Canale being the most important village with around 63 hA of red wine grapes cultivated-most of which are Nebbiolo- the appellation allows the use of 5% non-Nebbiolo, non aromatic varieties. Other important areas, though less important in terms of vineyard areas are Castagnito, Montá, Monteu Roero, Santo Stefano Roero and Vezza d’Alba.

The last-named village is significant as Casetta, based in this commune has been exporting the white wine Mumplin Roero Arneis to India through Global Tax Free for around 5-6 years now, along with Barolo, Barbaresco and a few other labels though Roero docg apparently has still not made a presence in India.

Value-for-Money Roero docg

Roero is actually world famous for its white, low alcohol, crisp wines that are fresh. Crisp, minerally and with a touch of bitter almonds. But the reds are relatively unknown although they are more prestigious.  They cost around 50% less than the Big B.

Roberto Damonte, owner of the prestigious and historically interesting winery- Malvirá, located in Canale tells me, ‘producers from our area have not promoted these wines well. Place the wines from good producers from our region next to Barolo and Barbaresco and do a blind tasting and you will find that our wines are not inferior.’

It is practically impossible to talk prices since there is a lot of variation in the spectrum. For example, the Enoteca Regionale of Barbaresco sells them from as low as € 12 to as high as € 48 for comparable vintages- and these do not include iconic wines like Gaja. However, Roberto feels that the good quality Barbaresco is generally priced at € 18-30. ‘Compared to this, one can buy its equivalent from us at less than half the price.

As any wine knowledgeable person would tell you there is really no ‘equivalent’ in wines. The terroir and the producer make all the difference. Explained a lady winemaker from Neive, ‘Roero is different wine just like ours is different from Barbaresco. Moreover, by law Barbaresco has to be aged for a minimum of 2 years, while the period is less for Roero; Barolo requires even more aging, 3 years of which at least 2 years must be in the cask, this adds to the cost of storage as well as evaporation.’

The aging potential of the Big Bs would also be naturally more, although the Roero Riserva 1999 from Malvirá was still drinking very well as we found at the dinner at the beautiful 13-room agriturismo he is running at the top of a beautiful hill top with a breath taking view of the valley and mountains around. It was quite well rounded and complex. But Damonte was quick to add ‘the problem with the Roero producers is that there is much less consistency in style than in Barbaresco and so it is very important to spot the right producers.’

Albeisa, the organisation of Alba Wine Exhibition 2009 had organised a tasting of  Roero docg wines from Almondo Giovanni, Careglio, Cascina Cá Rossa, Cascina Chicco, Cascina Vale del Prete, Cornarea, Malabaila, Malvira, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero Carbone, Negro Angelo e Figli, Pace (pronounced Pa-chay), Ponchione ( Pon-key ohnay) Maurizio, Porello Marco, Taliane Michele and Giacome Vico some of whom had excellent wines to taste.

Of course, for the Nebbiolo fans more affordable wines Nebbiolo d’Alba doc and Langhe Nebbiolo doc are also available.

But, if the importers and the consumers feel-over-burdened with the heavy taxation making the Big Bs beyond the reach of most Indians, there is a middle-of-the-road value for money option available; that of the hitherto neglected cousin from Piemonte-Roero docg.

Subhash Arora


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