The reason I went to Piedmont, Italy in the first place was to see the region famous for Barolo (along with Barbaresco, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Roero – but all are made from the native Nebbiolo grape) and do as much wine tasting as possible. Barbera, another Italian varietal, is also grown in Piedmont, and there is actually over 15 times more Barbera grown in Piedmont than Nebbiolo! #funfacts A friend of mine set up a tasting for me at a winery owned by a former colleague of hers. But before I get to the winery and the tasting, here’s a bit of background on the grape and the region.
Nebbiolo itself is a thin skinned, late ripening black grape known for its high tannins and acidity. Typical flavours on the nose and palate include roses, tar, violet, red fruits and berries, tobacco, herbs, and truffles (not surprising, seeing as how the region is also celebrated for its wild truffles, with foodies flocking from around the world to attend the yearly truffle festivals). Because it needs sufficient warmth to properly develop the sugars and fruit flavours, Nebbiolo is often grown on southward facing slopes (ideal elevation 500-1,000ft) to catch the most sunlight. This varietal is finicky when it comes to weather and soil type. The area on the right bank of the Tanaro river is where Barolo and Barbaresco are produced; this soil is highly concentrated calcareous marl (clay soils high in minerals such as calcium/lime/chalk). Roero is produced on the left bank of the Tanaro, where the soil is sandy with high acidity.
Stories claim the word Nebbiolo comes from the word “Nebbia” – Italian for “fog” – a suitable reference due to the fog that settles on the rolling hills in the Langhe region which helps its long ripening phase (while it’s one of the earliest varieties to bud, it isn’t picked until early/mid October). Others contend it springs from the Italian “Nobile” meaning “noble”.
Alberto Burzi is the winemaker and master of everything to do with Burzi. Located in La Morra, the biggest Cru (La Morra accounts for 35% of Barolo production) and one of the most prestigious of the 11 Crus of Barolo, Burzi is looking for their wines to be “clean, but not too fine a style.” The land consists of 7 hectares and 8,000 vines – a much more densely populated vineyard than many others which, Alberto told me, would typically hold closer to 5,000 vines. While not certified organic, Burzi does practice organic cultivation wherever possible. His dedication to the vines knows no bounds – hand pruning, careful training of vines (leaving one long for the current year and a short nub for next year), and being out in the middle of the night checking the vines for cutworms, a type of caterpillar that is nocturnal and whose feeding habits can devastate a vineyard’s yield, are all part and parcel for this hard working wine maker’s life.
Burzi has been in operation for only a few years (their first vintage being 2012 with a single Barbera which was rated in the 500 best wines of Italy for that year), but many of the vines are over 80 years old. Alberto’s grandfather had owned and cultivated the vineyard originally and was one of the first members of a cellar collective – a group of vineyard owners who didn’t want to make the wine themselves, so they sold their grapes to local winemakers, instead. Due to such a small operating team (it’s mainly Alberto and some of his family members doing all the work), Burzi bottles 20,000/year and sells the rest of the yield to other producers.
A Bit About Aging
In ordered to be considered a Barolo, the 100% Nebbiolo wine must spend a minimum 18 months in oak (Burzi uses new Austrian oak) with a total aging time of 38 months. A Riserva must be aged a minimum 5 years.
Barbaresco, often considered the lighter style but still 100% Nebbiolo, requires 9 months in oak and 21 months total aging. 45 months total aging is required for a Barbaresco Riserva.
Roero is a younger, less prestigious area than Barolo or Barbaresco (potentially producing wines with less structure but more flavour), with only a 6 month oaking requirement and an allowance to blend in 2-5% of Arneis with the Nebbiolo.
Depending on the year and style desired, fermentation at Burzi can be 5-20 days. They currently have 4 labels.
Plaustra Barbera d’Alba (2015) – a beautiful purple ruby colour smelling of chocolate, violet, dark fruits, and woods. Dry with high but soft and balanced acid, medium tannins. The body was bursting with dark, ripe fruits, rich wood (curious, as it was aged in steel), and a hint of mint. The finish was long and soft. This was my personal favorite for easy drinking – it was smooth, fun, complex, and perfect to share with friends at a dinner party (which is exactly what I did). It’s not a boring, simply quaffable wine, but one that enhances the meal and the gathering by being able to talk about it. And for only €10, it was a steal!
Runcaja Langhe Nebbiolo (2016) – medium garnet, 6mths oak. Prominent nose of dried strawberries, pungent dried cherries, tobacco, wood shavings, violet, and pungent herbs. Dry with high tannins and acid. Strawberries, dark fruits, and bark came through on the palate. A long, dry finish.
Barolo (2013) – medium garnet in colour with prominent bright red fruits such as strawberry and raspberry popping out, underlying violet, as well. Incredibly dry with high tannins and med+ acid. Dried red fruits, oak, bark on the palate. Incredibly dry, medium length finish.
Capalot Barolo (2013) – over 80yr old vines. Medium garnet with prominent nose of cherries, olives, green herbs, dark violets, wet wood, earth, and red fruits coming through. Dry, high tannins, med+ acid. Palate full of dark fruits, light violets, oak, cassis, and underlying raspberries. Nuanced finish – Very Good.
I also had the chance to taste a dessert wine concoction macerated with local wild flowers (along the line of daisies). It was curious and delicious.
While the initial facade of Burzi leaves something to be desired to please the eye, what matters is downstairs, and the finished product is more than worth the trek out. I loved Alberto’s passionate enthusiasm, and his sister, who did the wine tasting for me, was easy to chat with and knowledgable. These are gracious hosts, young in their craft but already on to something great.