Barbaresco Rio Sordo: Giovanna, cry me a silent river


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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, 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….

Vini Veri participating producer list (public service announcement)

Above: The dearly departed Baldo Cappellano (right), one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement, with his son Augusto, who now manages their family’s historic winery.

In the wake of my post on the Vini Veri tasting details for April 2010, a lot of folks have written me asking where they can find a list of participating producers.

My good friend Marisa Huff, one of the organizers of this year’s event, has graciously shared the recently published link.

I wish I could be there: it is my favorite tasting of the season. But I’ve just been on the road too much already this year and there are more travels ahead.

Buona lettura e buona degustazione!

Blood, frogs, lice, flies, disease…

… boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death.

ten plagues

Do you want to tell the story?

family passover

Four cups of wine are raised during the Passover seder. Ten drops of wine are arranged on everyone’s plate to remember the plagues of Egypt.

family passover

Some day Oscar will tell the story.

Hag sameach, ya’ll!

Vajra Wire! and killer wines I drank in San Diego

Wow, everybody was at Jaynes last night for our fantastic Piedmont tasting and a great tavolata afterward. That’s my super good buddy John Yelenosky, with his “Barolo King” t-shirt by Mouton Noir (John and his lovely wife Megan brought 2004 Asili by Produttori del Barbaresco. YES!). I’d like to thank everyone for coming out and taking the time to taste and chat with me about wines I truly love.

Above: 1999 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo by Valentini and scallop ceviche? Hell yeah!

Between me, Jon of Jaynes, and Whitney of Brunellos Have More Fun, nearly half of the Barbera 7 was also there! @Whitney so great to see you and get to taste together again!

I also wanted to thank my good friend Anthony Wilson, who made the trip down from Los Angeles to make the tasting. So good to hang with you, man. You make one Puro? Czak czak! ;-)

Above: My friend John Rikkers brought a magnum of 2006 single-vineyard Barbera Falletto by Giacosa… sheesh! good stuff…

I also wanted to thank everyone for all the thoughtful comments about yesterday’s Vajra post. If you have a Facebook, check out the comments I got over there: Roberto Paris, Ed McCarthy, David McDuff, Kyle Phllips, Colum Sheehan… wow, a heartfelt thanks to all of ya’ll for taking the time to read my posts and weighing in on Aldo’s remarkable Riesling. I felt like a celebrity with all this star-power! (Btw, if we’re not friends on Facebook, you can find me here.)

Above: Grand cru Chablis from 2002, anyone? Woooooooowwwww… THANK YOU ROBIN! :-)

I don’t really have time to post today and so my Italian fan, the one who expressed his “burning disappointment” that I haven’t finished posting on our February trip to Piedmont, will just have to wait.

Above: Top San Diego sommelier Brian Donegan is the KING of German Pinot Noir. Killer wine…

I’m going to be taking tomorrow off from blogging: tomorrow is the first day of the Passover and tonight we’re doing the seder at brother Micah’s house.

Above: Jayne let me try the new Pimm’s cup at Jaynes. Tennis, anyone?

So I’ll see you day after tomorrow. Thanks for reading in the meantime!

One note before I go… The 2005 Vajra Barolo Albe showed BEAUTIFULLY at the tasting yesterday. I noticed that a lot of folks have trouble pronouncing Vajra. It’s easy… It’s pronounced just like my middle name, Ira.

Hag sameach, ya’ll!

A “wife for Barolo”? Aldo Vajra’s Riesling


Above: Tracie P and I tasted with Aldo Vajra at his winery in early February. You can taste Aldo’s excellent 2005 Barolo Albe with me today, Sunday, at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego, 5-7 p.m.

When revered Italian wine scribbler Mr. Franco Ziliani asked Tracie P and me if we would mind tasting with Aldo Vajra in Barolo before we headed out to meet and taste with his dear friend Giovanna Rizzolio at Cascina delle Rose, we were thrilled, of course. Mr. Ziliani was interested in tasting Vajra’s first bottling of 2005 Baudana: Aldo’s newly inaugurated stewardship has preserved the legacy of the famous Luigi Baudana estate.


I won’t go into a history of Vajra here. Ubi major, minor cessat: no one has written more eloquently about Vajra and its wines than a wine writer I truly admire — both for his generosity of spirit and his deft hand at the keyboard — David McDuff. I will say that wines we tasted that day were awesome, across the board. As I peruse my notes from our visit, I am reminded that highlights were:

Vajra 2008 Dolcetto Coste & Fossati

Earthiness that balances the fruit beautifully.

Vajra 2007 Barbera d’Alba

Fantastic! Nebbioleggia!

Vajra 2006 Freisa Kyè

OUR kinda wine, tannic, and earthy, with nice fruit and great acidity.

Vajra 2005 Barolo Bricco delle Viole

Wow! Yes! Earthy, structure, gorgeous mouth. Superb.

Vajra 2009 Moscato d’Asti

Best Moscato d’Asti I’ve ever had. Unctuous in the mouth, gorgeous fruit, simply stunning expression of this wine.


But the wine that intrigued me the most, in part because of Aldo’s keenness for it, was his 2008 Langhe Bianco, made from 100% Riesling, clone 49, to be precise, taken from Alsatian rootstock.

Very little white wine has been produced historically in Langa and even less of it would be considered aristocratic in nature. Aldo spoke to us about his quest to make a truly noble white wine in Barolo: his first vintage of this planting was 1989 and until 1995, when the Langhe Bianco DOC was created, it had to be labeled as a vino da tavola or table wine. Labeling regulations still forbid him from writing the grape variety on the label. He believes that he was the first to plant Reisling in Barolo and I loved the way he described it, as a moglie per il Barolo, a spouse for Barolo. The wine was bright, with elegant white fruit flavors and lip-smacking acidity. I thought it was fantastic and would love to see how it ages. A truly noble white wine. If you can find this wine in your market, I highly recommend it…

aldo vajra

Aldo is such a gracious man and I really love his wines. The 2007s and the 2005s are some of the best I’ve ever tasted from him winery. Really great stuff… and highly recommended… When he found out that we were recently married, he gave us a beautiful coffee-table encyclopedia of Italian cheeses. You can tell from the way he shakes your hand that he’s the type of person who gives a gift without expecting anything in return. But then again, a gift isn’t really a gift if its given with the expectation of something in return, is it?

Speaking of weddings and wedding gifts, remember when Tracie P and drank us some Vajra on another particularly joyous occasion?

Next on deck: “Our Lady of the Deaf River” or “The Subsoil of Rio Sordo Up Close and Personal”…