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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Friday, 21 May 2010 09:57

ROERO DOcG: The Underdog of Piemonte

When you think of top dogs of Piemonte your mind immediately goes to Barolo and Barbaresco-the two docg wines of the Langhe area , but Roero docg red wine made in the Roero area can give a value for money wine too, as Subhash Arora discovered while tasting over three hundred wines from the region at the Nebbiolo Prima tasting of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero docg, organised by the association of Albeisa producers earlier this week.

Piemonte has three Nebbiolo based red wines with a docg appellation. Barolo and Barbaresco are the senior players since 1980, with Roero joining the elite league only in 2004. All three are made from Nebbiolo, the king grape of the region. The fourth one- Dogliani docg is the most recent addition and is made from Dolcetto grapes.

All these areas are concentrated around Alba in Cuneo, one of the provinces of Piedmont. River Tanaro is an important river of the wine region and passes through Alba,-then traveling northeast, upwards towards Asti- another province. Along the river, the left or the west side is blessed with Roero hills while the left side is doted with Langhe hills of which Barolo and Barbaresco are also a part- and the core of the world-famous wines.

Ask anyone about the Big B of Piemonte and most people would tell you about the two Bs- but asking about Roero would at best, bring the image of a white wine- called Roero Arneis. Made from the white, ancient, indigenous grape Arneis it has gained favour even in India with the discerning palates bored with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc preferring it.  

Roero DOcG

The red Roero is essentially made with Nebbiolo grapes- 95% to be precise. The balance 5% has to be the non aromatic variety of other red grapes that need to be added according to the appellation laws that gave it the DOC status in 1989.  However, the Roero producers would admit ion private that this ruling was passed only to protect the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC which had come into existence in1970, most using 100% Nebbiolo.

The lawmakers have realized the lacuna and according to Mr. Ratti, the new President of the Consortium of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, the latest amendment allows the producers to use 100% Nebbiolo.

Terroir and pricing

Though the areas of cultivation are different, with their own terroir and micro-climate which Barbaresco and Barolo producers rightly would go to any length to explain but the Roero has other similarities besides just the grape. While Barolo must have 23 gms/liter of solid residue, Barbaresco is required to have only 22gms/liter, the same amount as required by Roero; even the min alcohol level (12.5%), and min. acidity  (4.5%) are same for both.  

Practically speaking, there are four levels of Nebbiolo wines-the basic being the Nebbiolo d’Alba. As one goes up the hierarchy, the price at each level gets progressively gets higher by 20-30% from Roero to Barbaresco to Barolo. Thus a Roero may be as low as a third of a Barolo, on the average.

Aging is the key

The aging periods required by law are significantly different- Barolo needs to undergo 3 years, while Barbaresco can age only for 2 years. Roero can do with a year and a half as it can be released on July 1, second year after harvesting. So the Barolo and Barbaresco producers would claim that Nebbiolo grape requires long aging to tame the tannins and thus Roero would not cut the ice.

This is precisely the point to remember while drinking a Nebbiolo-any Nebbiolo. The young Roero is too tannic, closed and not drinkable- so are Barolo and Barbaresco even when they are released. Nebbiolo turns softer slowly, adding complexity. But as the aging goes from 5-10 years, the difference between the discernible complexity for average drinkers also goes down. Naturally, Barolo and Barbaresco will age and live a lot longer, but Roero from good year can easily last 10-15 years or more.

For the Indian market, any storage horizon for more than this time is impractical. So, it would make sense to drink a Roero docg at a third of  the price of a Barolo-or less, especially when one considers the cascading effect of high taxes.

Roero scores in Aromatics

If the complexity due to terroir goes against Roero, the aromatics in this wine are certainly a plus feature. Out of the 30 wines tasted at the Nebbiolo Prima on the first day, most of the wines were highly tannic but perfumed as well. Drinking a few older wines, one notices the perfumes are intact, but the tannins have been mellowed down

Why not popular

One major reason of the wine not being popular, besides the difference in the characteristics as explained above, is the branding. Barolo has been in existence for about 150 years and is well established as the top dog of Piemonte- perhaps the whole of Italy, as a single varietal wine.

Barbaresco was made popular globally by the continuing and passionate efforts of Angelo Gaja and his family from the village of Barbaresco in the 1960s. Gajas decided to remove the name of Barolo from all their wines and made Barbaresco as the signature wines. Today, even the worst of their competitors concede that Barbaresco gains tremendous reputation, thanks to his efforts.

What one requires is a godfather and evangelist like Gaja, who is unfortunately not available. Matteo Correggia is one of the reputed producers whose owner was passionate enough to have made the difference, most producers in the area concur. Unfortunately, he died about 9 years ago. His wife is carrying on the business but apparently has neither the courage not the vision to keep the flame burning, to take the torch forward.

Malvira is another reputed producer who could make the difference. But he is a wine producer who makes and sells wine from other areas as well and won’t have the passion, vision or the drive to focus on making Roero a popular, global brand. Therefore, The Roero docg remains the underdog, despite the excellent price/quality ratio it offers.

Idea shaping up
The global meltdown  has become an unexpected ally for this wine, for the time being. Many connoisseurs of Nebbiolo grapes have shifted partially from the two Big Bs to the lesser wine, due to the lower pricing and the connoisseurs, especially in the USA, according to many journalist and importers, they have been forced to look at the alternatives and Roero is the gainer.

While 11.76 bottles were produced in 2009 from the 11 comunes of Barolo and Barbaresco shaved off 20% from its previous year’s production and came down to 4.39 bottles in the 4 approved municipalities of Alba, Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, the 19 municipalities (comunes) of Roero region produced 724,000 bottles but the level remained steady (source: Albo Vigneti 2009).  Many of these bottles may find their way into the Indian market, if the consumer, hotels and importers applied their minds.

Roero Producers   

Besides Mateo Correggia, and Malvira who are very good producers. Vezza d’Alba based Casetta e  who exports to India through Global Tax Free Trades produces pretty good quality Roero at medium prices.(Their Roero Arneis is already quite popular) Some of the others who scored high in my tasting are Cascina Chicco, Pace (pronounced paa-chay) Cascina Val del Prete and Malabaila di Canale.

The Roero which was made a docg only in 2004 and is relatively a new kid on the block , way behind the Big cousins who earned their top stars in 1980, may be an underdog, but its seasoned version will certainly give the bang for the buck for the tax burdened Indian wine connoisseurs-through retail or the restaurants.

Subhash Arora


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