Friday, February 26, 2010

Wines from Giorgio Carnevale, Winemaker in Cerro Tanaro

Time was, the farmers of the hills around Alba who grew the grapes used to make Piemonte's renowned wines would tend their vineyards, and at harvest time bring the grapes down to Alba's main square, where the mediatori, or wine merchants, waited to buy the grapes and make the wine. Since then the farmers have become vintners, stars of the agricultural firmament, while most of the merchants are gone.

Most; the town of Cerro Tanaro still boasts the Azienda Giorgio Carnevale, founded by Giorgio's grandfather more than a century ago. Back in those days, the commerce centered around the sale of vino sfuso, wine in bulk, and the units of measurement were primarily the barrel and the demijohn. Giorgio, who got his degree in enology in 1946, was one of the first in the area to realize that it was more important to produce quality than quantity (among other things, this led to bottling the wines). All the Piemontese producers whose names are now household words in the wine industry came to see what he was doing, and his Barolo so impressed the commission charged with drawing up the Barolo DOC regulations in the early 60s that it decreed the wine be produced either within the 5 Comuni where the vineyards are planted -- or at Cerro Tanaro.

"The 60s and 70s were golden decades, but in the 80s conditions changed," said Giorgio's son Alessandro, who now directs the family business. "Many of our suppliers turned their vineyards over to their children, people who had studied enology. They invested heavily to increase quality, struck out on their own, and many have become leading figures." The loss of these long-term suppliers has forced the company to adjust and develop new sources of grapes, which is an on-going process. "We do have some advantages over producers who own their vineyards," he continued. Many landowners, especially those who have inherited the land but have other jobs, are quite happy to sell grapes and have someone else worry about production and wine sales; Alessandro has thus been able to select choice parcels of land throughout the area. "The relationship is based on friendship and trust," he says, observing that quality must be recognized and paid for. In return he asks for careful cultivation, minimal use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and low yields. Come harvest time, the grapes are brought to the company headquarters at Cerro Tanaro, fermented, aged, and bottled.

The production is quite traditional, in the sense that though Alessandro likes Cabernet and Merlot, he is against blending them with the local grapes, either to produce table wines or to add an "international" dimension to Piemontese wines. He feels that doing so introduces an element of distortion: The wines may be good, but are no longer uniquely Piemontese, and are therefore not what he is interested in.

I stopped by the winery on my way home from Piemonte last summer, picked up some samples, and though great fault of my own, and none of Alessandro's, am posting the notes now.

Giorgio Carnevale Moscato d'Asti 2008
Pale greenish brassy yellow with intense perlage that fades to ring the glass. The bouquet is intense, with citrus fruit mingles with gooseberry and fair sweetness that gains depth from some bitter accents. Quite pleasant. On the palate it's full, sweet, and creamy, with elegant regina Claudia plum fruit supported by clean bright acidity, creamy sweetness, and sparkelt hat lends lsight peppery accents, while there is ample bright regina Claudia plum acidity that flows into a long clean finish. Quite nice, and will be perfect at the close of a meal, or with friends far from the table.

Giorgio Carnevale La Fleisa Vivace De La Rocchetta Freisa d'Asti Secco 2008
Elegant deep ruby with fine perlage that rises, and then things the glass as it settles. The bouquet is rich, with fresh floral accents mingled with dusky bitterness and raspberry. It brings to mind a crisp fall day, somehow, and is quite invigorating. On the palate it's bitter, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by leafy underbrush bitterness and sparkle, which flow into a clean bitter finish. Simple, direct, and a bit of a lark, it's an ideal wine for cold cuts, pizza, and other quickly prepared foods, for example grilled hamburgers. Expect it to go quickly.
1 star

Giorgio Carnevale Barbera del Monferrato Frizzante DOC 2008
Deep ruby with fine perlage that settles quickly. The bouquet is fresh, and bitter, with some underbrush and dusky berry fruit with savory accents; as it opens delicate floral accents emerge as well. On the palate it's direct, and quite up front, with moderately rich sour berry fruit supported by sparkle and fairly light tannins, while there is moderate acidity as well. It's direct, a simple food wine of the sort one sets out on the table and quickly has to replace, because it will go very well with foods, supporting rather than distracting, and people will drink it. What foods? Quickly grilled meats, simple stews (with polenta) and also pizza or even fried meats and vegetables.
2 stars

Giorgio Carnevale Grignolino D'Asti DOC 2008
Pale pinkish brick with onionskin fading to white rim, the classic color for Grignolino. The bouquet is brambly, with considerable acidity and some leafy underbrush mingled with tart berry fruit and savory spice. Seems tannic, and this is again typical of Grignolino. On the palate it's bright, with lively sour raspberry fruit supported by lively sour cherry acidity and by tannins that are a tad rough, with a clean warm burr that leads into a long tart finish. It's particular, and Grignolino is; if you like tart wines with high acidities you will enjoy it very much, and it will be perfect with fried meats and vegetables, or grilled meats, especially rich fare such as sausage or chicken with the skin. Worth seeking out.
2 stars

Giorgio Carnevale Barbera D'Asti DOC 2007
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with slightly jammy cherry fruit supported by some dusky underbrush and spice from grapes, with hints of graphite shavings and bitterness. Pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderately intense sour cherry fruit sipported by moderate acidity and by smooth sweet tannins. It's a touch lax, and I'd have liked a little more force to the acidity, which is pronounced, the way one wants in a young unoaked Barbera,but not quite forceful enough. This in a tasting situation; it will drink quite well with foods, however, supporting what it's served with without demanding the limelight.
1 star

Giorgio Carnevale Il Crottino Barbera D'Asti DOC 2000
This is obviously not the most recent vintage, but Alessandro still has some and asked me to try it. Since older Barberas are relatively rare, I was happy to say yes. It's deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and brick rim. The bouquet is powerful, with red berry fruit supported by hints of caramel and spice, with underlying cedar too. Nicely balanced,a nd though clearly mature it doesn't come across as old. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich cherry fruit that has a slight sweet underpinning, which is attributable to the heat that came in August 2000, supported by deft slightly savory balsamic acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a graceful bitter cherry finish with graphite shaving underpinnings. To be frank, it's a surprise; it has aged very well, and will be nice with leaner red meats, along the lines of thickly cut rare roast beef. It is particular, but if you like older wines you will enjoy it.

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