Barbaresco Rio Sordo: Giovanna, cry me a silent river

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Above: Giovanna Rizzolio is a delightful woman, wholly committed to terroir-expression wines and the traditions of her beloved Barbaresco. She presents her wines every April as part of the Vini Veri tasting.

The inestimable Italian wine raconteur Mr. Franco Ziliani certainly never promised me a rose garden but he most definitely delivered a bunch of roses when he o so generously introduced Tracie P and me to his dear, dear friend Giovanna Rizzolio (above), who runs a wonderful bed and breakfast on the cozy Cascina della Rose (literally, rose farm) estate, owned by her family for two generations, atop one of my favorite vineyards in the world, Rio Sordo, with a view upon Rabajà and Asili (the latter two considered by many the greatest expressions of Barbaresco).

Mr. Ziliani (arguably one of Italy’s greatest wine experts) is a huge fan of Giovanna and her wines and an even bigger fan of her estate, where we all stayed the night of our tasting and dinner, as Giovanna and her significant other Italo’s guests.

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Above: I just had to take this photo. It’s the view from the bathroom of the guest room where Tracie P and I stayed, looking northward (Rabajà and Asili to the right, out of frame). One of the coolest things about being in Langa with snow on the ground is that you can see where the “snow melts first.” In the olden days, everyone will tell you, grape growers planted Nebbiolo where “the snow melts first” because the melting of the snow reveals the growing sites with the best exposure.

A home-grown Piedmontese, Giovanna is as true to her land as her wines are: she makes some Barbera and Dolcetto but her best rows, situated at the top of the Rio Sordo cru, are devoted to her beloved Nebbiolo (even before she made wine, when she was still working in the schmatta trade, she told me, she drank Barbaresco almost exclusively).

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Above: One of the coolest things about tasting with Giovanna in her cellar is seeing the exposed subsoil, a cross-section as it were, where you can see the white calcareous marl that makes Barbaresco and Rio Sordo such unique expressions of Nebbiolo.

The top of the Rio Sordo vineyard, which literally means deaf or silent river, runs parallel to the Tanaro river (just to the northwest). It’s essentially an underground river: as they search for the water below, the roots of the vines are forced to dig through the calcareous marl and in turn render the rich fruit necessary to make fine wine.

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Above: Giovanna showed me this tear drop, a product of the silent underground river. Photo by Tracie P.

The wines of Rio Sordo are softer than the more potent wines on the northside of the valley. Rio Sordo doesn’t enjoy the ideal exposure of Rabajà and Asili. But it’s for this very reason that I have always loved this cru: the wines don’t take as long to “come around,” as we say. As with Pora, the fruit emerges at an earlier moment in the wines development and what gorgeous fruit it is! I thought Giovanna’s wines were great, especially the 2006 Barbaresco Rio Sordo.

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Above: Giovanna loves cats, as is evidenced by the image on her label.

But the thing I love the most about Giovanna is her attitude toward wine and life in Piedmont. Whether it was tales of dealing with unscrupulous wine pundits or the INCREDIBLE spinach casserole she served at dinner, she speaks with an honesty and integrity uncommon in the supremely competitive world of Langa wines. Her house atop Rio Sordo came to her long before the renaissance of Italian wine began and her love of Langa shines through in her personality and her wines.

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Above: Giovanna’s wines are available in a few American markets.

I’m not the only one who digs Giovanna and her farmhouse bed and breakfast. Doug Cook, of AbleGrape.com, and his wife Rachel are frequent visitors. I highly recommend staying there: I can’t think of a better way to be in touch with Langa and the folks who live and make wine there.

Giovanna, you can cry me a river, anytime you like, honey! Thanks again for a wonderful stay and tasting…

Here’s Diana Krall singing “Cry Me a River” with our friend Anthony on guitar….

13 Responses to Barbaresco Rio Sordo: Giovanna, cry me a silent river

  1. Simona says:

    What can I do to convince Giovanna to share her recipe for the INCREDIBLE Spinach Casserole di cui sopra?

  2. Do Bianchi says:

    @Simona I’m sure Giovanna will be happy to share it. It was the mise-en-place that took it over the top though!

  3. Giovanna says:

    Thank you a lot Jeremy, you are so kind with us!
    can you help me for translate the recipe? is very easy to do it…
    pulire bene e far appassire gli spinaci in padella con un pizzico di sale, strizzarli bene, passarli al setaccio e insaporiteli ancora in padella con un po’ di burro. Preparate una besciamella, aggiustate con sale e poco pepe o un po’ di noce moscata, amalgamate con il passato di spinaci e aggiungete parmigiano grattugiato, due uova intere più un tuorlo. montate a neve l’albume rimasto ed unitelo con cautela all’impasto. prendete uno stampo per plum kake (o per budino, con il buco al centro), imburratelo, infarinatelo e versate il composto. Scaldate il forno a 200° e cuocete a bagno maria per 40-45 minuti. prima di capovolgerlo nel piatto, lasciatelo raffreddare un po’. potete servirlo con la fonduta o con una salsa di funghi o fegatini. Una vecchia ricetta semplice e gradevole. grazie ancora Jeremy, a presto!

    • Do Bianchi says:

      @Giovanna as FZ would say, “dovere!”, my duty! Seriously, Tracie P and I had such a great time at your place and the wines are truly beautiful… As for Simona, she’s from Umbria (and writes a wonderful blog called Bricole, http://briciole.typepad.com/) so no need to translate for her. But I’ll translate the recipe and post it tomorrow. That will be fun! :-) thanks again! un abbraccio j

  4. tracie p says:

    thank you giovanna and italo, your b&b is so homey and warm with a view to die for! i was mesmerized by the chickens, you know. cascine delle rose is the perfect place for someone who wants a truly local experience and we feel honored to have spent two days of our honeymoon with y’all :)

    faro’ anche io quel sformato…mmm

  5. Giovanna says:

    ciao Tracy, thanks for your nice remember. The honeymoon need to be a special moment…I hope you can remake it after 10 and 20 and 30 and 40 and more years your new honeymoon together!

  6. Doug Cook says:

    Jeremy – great article about a special place and special people! We are so lucky to have found them. (Oh yeah, and the wines are pretty delicious too).

  7. Simona says:

    Grazie Giovanna! Chissa’, magari un giorno riusciro’ a venire a conoscerti di persona.

  8. Great people, great place, great wines. And a special sense of friendship. Very happy to be a great friend of Giovanna and Italo

  9. andrea says:

    Jeremy, do you know if her wines are represented in NYC?

  10. […] mature wine, from one of Giovanna Rizzolio’s top growing sites, was gorgeous, its acidity zinging and dancing around the Barbera’s meaty […]

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