May 31: The first webinar organised by the Delhi Wine club during the current pandemic was providential in that the city of Alba and the Mauro Sebaste Winery featured, have a link with the history of the Club launched formally on 17 May, 2002 at a wine show when we had co-organised wine dinners in Diva Restaurant and Hotel Marriott with wines from Fratelli Casetta, a producer from Alba, whose wines were available for years before withering away but is soon coming back, writes Subhash Arora who narrated an incredible coincidence story
Wine is all about telling stories and here is one which I never shared before and relates to the Webinar organised by President Ranganathan Parthiban (Parthi), centered around Alba and Mauro Sebaste Winery in the area. The Webinar was moderated by Sourish Bhattacharyya who presided over the club in 2020 after I took voluntary retirement after 300 wine events and 18 years, and passed on the mantle to Parthi earlier this year. After a brief introduction, Sourish invited me to talk about Alba as the wine region. This was followed by a Presentation of Alba as a tourist destination by Parthi and the team Mauro Sebaste presenting their estate near Grinzane Cavour and the wines.
Alba and DWC connection
Delhi Wine Club was formed in early 2002 but did not have the first formal dinner till May; it was actually launched on 17 May at a Wine Show where I had helped organise a few events. The two most significant events were dinners at Diva Restaurant and Hotel Marriott (now Sheraton).
Would you believe that we served wines from a producer from Alba (actually Vezza d’Alba- a part of Alba wine region and is barely 9 kms from Alba?! Fratelli Casetta who had been participating in the wine show offered Casetta wines. I organised at least 3 wine dinners in later years with different labels from this Alba winery!
Therefore, it was providential that 19 years to the week, our President Parthi organised a Webinar with Mauro Sebaste Winery from Alba.
Alba- the Fine Wine region of Piemonte
When one talks about Alba, one immediately thinks of Ferrero Rocher, the world’s second biggest chocolate manufacturer. Truffle lovers know the significance of the International White Truffle Fair in Alba in October. I think of La Banco del Vino- a wine bank barely 15 minutes from Alba in Pollonzo in Bra which one must visit. I also have fond memories of Nebbiolo Prima every year when the iconic wines of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero are tasted by the invited Press and Sommeliers from around the world. I also think of dozens of enotecas in the city which focus on wines from Piemonte-with a few even owned by producers like Ceretto. I also think of Fratelli Casetta Winery in Vezza d’Alba, and Pio Cesare in Alba I have visited.
Alba is considered the capital of the UNESCO Human Heritage hilly area of Langhe. The city joined the prestigious UNESCO Creative Cities Network in October 2017.
Wines of Alba
In the wine region of Alba, there are around 290 wineries which grow 700 hA (1,700 acres) of land, producing an average of 61,200 hL of wine annually.
To me, Alba is really the gateway to the treasure of fine Piemontese wines- starting with Barolo and Barbaresco- both made exclusively with the autochthonous Nebbiolo grapes grown fairly exclusively in Piemonte (Piedmont). You go to the Northeast of Alba for Barbaresco-which is an elegant lighter than its cousin Barolo which is more masculine and more well- known, and is in the Southwest of Alba. You need to turn right on River Tanaro (pronounced as Taa-na-ro) to reach Barbaresco while a left turn would take you to Barolo- incidentally you will pass Mauro Sebaste Winery on the way to Barolo.
Barolo and Barbaresco-King and Queen of Piemonte
Alba city has 12 wineries including Pio Cesare. Which is imported in India by Prestige wines. Barolo is situated in the South-West of Langhe; a hilly are in the province of Cuneo in Piedmont-one of the 20 regions of Italy. Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Torino, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and Vercelli are the 8 provinces. Alba is in Cuneo although the city of Cuneo is the capital of the province.
Barolo lies at slightly higher elevations, nearly 50 metres higher than Barbaresco, which is located North-East and is closer to the river Tanaro and the nearby Ligurian Sea. The distance between the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco is barely 17 km; Alba being in the middle.
Barbarescos and Barolos are both made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Broadly speaking, Barolos are denser and more tannic expressions of Nebbiolo, while Barbarescos are more approachable and graceful. Single Vineyard variants are more exclusive now and have become popular because the soil characteristics vary immensely. Both enjoy docg status and are iconic and even perceived as premier brands in India (and not the areas).
Roero is a small docg wine district in the Roero hills and is made in both the white and red version. White is more popular because of refreshing white wines made from Arneis grapes. Roero Arneis docg is a medium-bodied wine often with bitter almond taste in the finish. They are fresh and grassy and similar to the Sauvignon Blanc in the white wines of Bordeaux.
It also makes bold, fragrant reds from Nebbiolo signature red wine grapes, although by appellation law it has to have only 95% Nebbiolo but aged for a minimum of 20 months.
Nebbiolo d'Alba has been a DOC since 1970 and encompasses a large area around Alba. The classification refers to the Nebbiolo from the area where they are produced. The production zone includes Alba, Canale, Castellinaldo, Corneliano, Diano d'Alba, Vezza and Grinzane Cavour. Vineyards are located on the hills on both sides of the Tanaro River, predominantly on the northern side in the Roero hills.
Barbera is truly the signature red grape from Piemonte where it is the most planted red variety. The deep ruby coloured grape is full-bodied with low tannins and high acidity. The yields are high but it offers a wide range of expressions from easy-drinking to cellarable wines. When young, the wines have an intense aroma of fresh red cherries, blueberries and blackberries, changing into black cherries in riper grapes.
There are basically 3 appellations of Barbera followed by Nizza docg given an independent designation in 2014- Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Nizza docg. The Barbera d’Alba category belongs to the vines around Alba. Most producers of Barolo and Barbaresco grow Barbera in the vineyards not suitable for Nebbiolo which fetches higher prices. The colour is darker and wines are more powerful.
Dolcetto from Alba
Another red grape that is popular in wines around Alba is Dolcetto. Dogliani docg (formerly Dolcetto di Dogliani) is a red wine made exclusively from Dolcetto which is a lighter, softer, juicy wine to drink while the Nebbiolo ages better. There is, of course, the more affordable and common version known as Dolcetto d’Alba doc.
The area is also the largest for this category since more than half of the production is represented by this variety. Barolo and Barbaresco producers also produce this more affordable red wine. The taste and style vary but the wines are usually soft, fruity and well balanced and have aromas of a newly fermented wine. They are drunk young, within 3 years of the vintage and are marked with lower alcohol as low as 11.5% and are great condiments with pizzas and pastas.
Mauro Sebaste was the second protagonist of the evening and will be the focus in Part-2 of the Article in the next issue.