The tiny town of Barolo is still a very busy place in mid-October. Grapes are all in but the last of the Americano influx to hit the enotecas was in full swing. It was a sunny afternoon to walk along the cobbled street and watch transactions under way for lots of Euros for scantly-heard of single vineyard Barolos.
But evening temperatures drop very quickly, and at departure on October 22, the signs of the first frost were there, and autumn colours starting on the well-managed, greener vineyards, while the more stressed ones were well into leaf drop.
I met a terrific chap local chap; Enzo Brezza who started making the family’s wines in 1989. The cellars, the family hotel (called Brezza too) and restaurant are all in one, on the main road out of town towards Alba.
As you do in these wonderful old cantinas, descend quite quickly into the basement, which of course is the original winery storage cellars gouged out of rock and lined with stone to house those original big oval barrels from 1885.
That makes Enzo the fourth generation family winemaker.
Standing in the original cellar Enzo says, “My production is from only my vineyards; 23.5 hectares of which 16.5 ha is in production. That is growing nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto. I do have one ha of chardonnay which is my only white wine, but this is not a white wine area.”
Brezza Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 San Lorenzo, (89), 14%, USD 11, is grown on the lesser soil, the better provides for the nebbiolo, so it’s very sandy, yet that has not diminished this wine. The vineyard site is the Cannubi vineyards side of San Lorenzo in Barolo. Nose is earthy; taste is morello cherry and quite soft and juicy.
Dolchetto is stainless steel made, bottled in April 2010. For a country of inhabitants who drink wine daily, this variety and its various other simply-made brands are regarded as making good, every day wine. I agree.
Brezza Barbera d’Alba 2009, (90), 14%, USD 22, comes from their Santa Rosalia vineyard, has some pippy fruit aromas, is earthy, a good chew without being tannic, and has some great character.
Barbera in Piemonte is regarded as the low tannin, high acid variety of the region, and only rarely is more tannin added via oak aging to change its natural structure. Consequently most barbera sees stainless steel during ferment and aging, which is usually not very long either, followed by early bottling, early release.
Brezza Barbera d’Alba 2008, Cannubi Muscatel vineyard (89), 14%, USD 26, is aged one year in new oak before release as a 2-y-o wine. It has a terrific violet colour which is attractive, is juicy and earthy, and a good long palate tasting of black cherries. Muscatel (non-Italian spelling), white grapes were planted there pre-Phylloxera (1880s) and hence the retained name.
Since 2002 all Brezza early release reds, dolcetto and barbera are sealed under the German-origin ground glass bottle stoppers which accounted for the high level of freshness (and my high points) of these wines.
Brezza Langhe Nebbiolo 2009, (89), 14%, USD 17, is made from the single rose clone of nebbiolo, and hence its paler colour, made in stainless steel and bottled early to preserve its rose/floral aromas. It’s nice and simple.
Brezza Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008, (91) 14%, USD 20, comes from seven km away from the cantina, in the regional split between the two premier nebbiolo regions; Barolo (11 villages) and Barbaresco (4 villages), so that it has the less auspicious generic name of Alba wine attached.
This has one year in old large barrels before bottling; it’s terrific, lots of nose, violets, licorice, oak too, but quite advanced colour and big juicy fruit. This is Brezza’s sole generic nebbiolo which is a very easy drink.
Larger brands buy grapes from a collection of regions and villages to make their regional Barolo. In the case of Brezza all Barolo origin nebbiolo is single, named vineyard, usually making 6-7,000 bottles annually.
Brezza Sarmassa Nebbiolo 2006, (91) 14%, USD 90 has a traditional nose expressing the old oak aging, the palate is fine but growing in charm.
Brezza Sarmassa Nebbiolo 2005, (92) 14%, USD 90, ruby colour, a majestic nose of roses, minty, herbal, vibrant tannins with some of the green mint residues, now needing some time in bottle to go to the next stage of subtlety.
There was some discussion with Enzo about the evolution of nebbiolo, particularly in single vineyards or such pristine wines which reward drinkers by longer aging. What is the sensory chemistry?
Enzo says ”The primary evolution takes place in bottle over the first three years, or six years on from harvest, and they are well appreciated at this time, then there is a dip in nose or palate or both where hibernation occurs, and wines will come out of this in 5-10 years for appreciation at the higher plane.”
This explains the bottle age phases of nebbiolo. Also beware of drinking top bottles in restaurants; and controlled breathing takes place best over 2-3 days. So a freshly opened bottle may never give the best.
This was often the case on winery visits where makers could show a range of vintages because the wines had been held over from previous days’ tastings and had completely evolved.
The single vineyard nebbiolo spend their first year in 5-10 yo big barrels (1500-3000 litres), the second in 10-15 yo ones. Enzo wishes to avoid oak tannin but wants the oxidative softening. Barrels are replaced after 15 years, one annually made of Slovenian oak.
Brezza Bricco Sarmassa Nebbiolo 2006, (94), 14.5%, USD 90, is just full of roses, elevated by its volatility, a very concentrated nebbiolo showing oodles of still firm tannin, aged this longer. 5440 bottles and 780 magnums made.
Bricco Sarmassa is the top part of the Sarmassa vineyard; in some years the two are combined, where there is no quality difference (the highest elevation portion sometimes excels).
Brezza Cannubi Nebbiolo 2003, (90), 15%, USD 90, is a very aged colour, browning considerably but no doubt that does not phase Enzo, this is normal for nebbiolo, the nose is very baked as in molasses, the Piemontese call this “balsamic freshness”, and it is very, very soft, though high on mouth sweetness.
Enzo rates his recent vintages for me: 2003 (hot, uncharacteristic, unsure of ageability), 2004 (elegant, so a long classic aging arc ahead), 2005 (vertical; difficult year from rain, greener tannins though ok), 2006 (classic year, same maturing profile as 2004); 2007 (rounder wine, meaning hotter and wines very concentrated, bigger therefore shorter in the classic age cycle), 2008 and 2009 remain in barrel. www.brezza.it