We are driving on the flat out of Alba besides hazelnut plantations, the small Piedmontese town wedged between a series of two wine hills: Barolo and Barbaresco, viewing the Roero hills to the north as we speed west for just ten minutes.
The converted farmhouse is in sight at San Cassiano; the family Ceretto’s main property, Monsordo Bernardina cantina since 1989, originally built in the 1880s. The Cerettos own 160 hectares of vines.
We are here to understand what the Ceretto success is all about for there is a murmur about a dominant white wine and an international red Monsordo turning the minds of drinkers. Nothing better from this organic maker.
And indeed, an Australian assists in the making of wines here. Formerly McLaren Vale based David Fletcher is assistant winemaker to chief Alessandro Ceretto, keeping an eye on production at wineries in Castiglione Falletto (Barolo), here at Monsordo Bernardina (Langhe) and smaller needs at Bricco Asili in Barbaresco. This is estate production taken to completion! The fourth, the bubbly winery is further east in Santo Stefano Belbo.
I am totally amazed looking west towards Grinzane Cavour, the towering castles overlooking vines, and learn of non traditional Piedmontese grapes planted here. In the craze to plant French grapes through the 80’s, Ceretto found their newly minted wine to be vividly popular.
Tried was Monsordo 2013 Langhe DOC, packed in a thoroughly hip bottle, an admixture of cabernet (50%), merlot and syrah, quite bizarre to encounter, very much cedary from careful oak application and fruits of spice, spearmint and licorice. Bravo, a winner in USA.
But we were present to taste the local hero grape, nebbiolo. And that was a hoot as the Cerettos served the young then a mature vintage from the same place; a sort of fast track tasting to see the wines develop glass by glass. Fab.
The Ceretto family are traditionalists so the New World style wine Monsordo ages in 300 litre French forest-origin containers called hogsheads while the nebbiolo is found in some 300/500 litre oak but mainly larger vessels, 2500 litres upwards made of the more neutral white oak from Croatian trees. Of interest though is the renewed interest to move to Austrian-sourced oak for coming maturings.
Nebbiolo must not smell of its oak habitat at making to be right on style. Unlike Napa Valley cabernet, too much oak detected in high end nebbiolo is deemed a fault. Dave Fletcher adds that the sweet spot is only 10-15% new wood so it is easily covered by blending later. But 3 years is a long time in barrel. So no faults here.
First wine is single vineyard 2008 Barbaresco Bricco Asili (1.2 ha, 39 year-old-vines) , fresh in its nebbiolo purity, licorice, sweet, it feels good in the mouth, classic tannin which remains as a long sensation; just starting to age, 10-15 years will hold it.
Then single vineyard (1.2 ha in Castiglione Falletto) 2006 Barolo Bricco Roche (one of four, also Brunate-La Morra, Cannubi San Lorenzo-Barolo and Prapo-Serrulunga), has begun aging also, shows mushroom, bitumen, strength, then great sweetness impressions alongside its firming tannins. Great.
Finally the last, aged Barolo, 1993 Bricco Roche, all tertiary so the fruits have been consumed by the aging aromas, truffle, fungi, tar, sweet aldehyde, tasting very dry as a 12 year-old, right in the middle of its aging end-point, and now a mature wine with little more to give than what it has. All was revealed: very dry red wine, silky, mushroomy and cheese loving. Mature.
Alessandro Ceretto noted that 50 years ago the annual rainfall was 1200-1300 mm with often soaking rain, now it has reduced to 800 mm with a deal of it delivered by storms. Heavy rain downpours cause vineyard erosion on the steep slopes causing a move to grass more vineyards. Climate swing.
And about Ceretto’s famous white wine, first made in 1985. It is varietal arneis, wildly popular now in Italy, all organic, fashionable in taste and easy to drink, all 600,000 bottles of it from 80 hectares of vines.
Uncorked and Cultivated Wine and Food Tours visit Ceretto at Monsordo Bernardina in San Cassiano, Alba.