Tracie P and I won’t be heading to Orange, Texas for Thanksgiving this year because we’re about 5 weeks away from our due date! We’ll miss Thanksgiving with Mrs. and Rev. B but I made sure that they have some good wines for their holiday meal. Back here in Austin, this is what we’ll be drinking…
Earlier this year, when my friend, publisher, and wine industry insider Maurizio Gily suggested that we visit the village of Carema before heading to the European Wine Bloggers Conference, it was hard to contain my excitement. As a devout lover of Nebbiolo, I have sought out and drunk Carema whenever and wherever I could: known for its intensely tannic nature, the bottlings of 100% Nebbiolo grown in the hillsides of this pre-alpine village, with its morainic mountains that pop up in the landscape with a beautiful violence as you drive north from the freeway (moraine: “A mound, ridge, or other feature consisting of debris that has been carried and deposited by a glacier or ice sheet, usually at its sides or extremity; the till or similar material forming such a deposit.”—Oxford English Dictionary)
Before we headed to the Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema vinification facility and tasting room in the middle of the village, Maurizio, his colleague Monica, and Italian wine marketer Wineup and I hiked the trail that leads from the town up through the pergola-trained vineyards — yes, pergola-trained! (Check out Wineup’s excellent photos here.)
Pergola training has thrived here for a number of reasons, explained Maurizio. Because of the appellation’s unique geographic and topographic elements (i.e., elevation combined with violently steep slopes, extreme temperature variation, and healthy ventilation thanks to the morainic valley), the pergolas help to keep the fruit cool (thanks to shading) under the warm sun of summer and to keep the grapes warm in the case of early frost.
You really have to see the village and its vineyards to understand how it works…
You can click on the image above for a larger version: as you can see, the terraced, pergola-trained vineyards (planted exclusively to Nebbiolo) are situated on the eastern side of the valley, where the sun beats down in the late afternoon. This combination of the nutrient poor morainic soil, excellent exposure, good ventilation, and the local grape growing tradition is what delivers these incredible, age-worthy wines. (That’s the village of Donnas, Val d’Aosta, in the distance, btw.)
The other reason that pergola training has endured here is the fact that the terrain itself restricts the use of machinery: the vineyards are literally sculpted into the side of the mountains and the only way to work them is by hand. The pergola also allows the growers to employ integrated farming and it wasn’t uncommon to see other crops planted beneath the canopy. Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani calls the viticulture of Carema “heroic.” This is land where, until the advent of modernity (in the 1960s),
life survival was extremely difficult and the terrain challenging. Every grower needs to exploit his vineyards, explained Maurizio, to the greatest extent possible.
Once we made it back to the village and the winery, I wasn’t surprised to find large-format, Slavonian oak casks (like this 1,550 liter beauty). Although the winery does age some wine in barriques (say it ain’t so!), the greater part of ever vintage is destined for large-cask and stainless steel aging.
Growers association president Viviano Gassino had double-decanted an amazing flight of wines for us to taste: 87, 90, 95, 99, 00, 03, 06, and 07.
The 1987 was beautiful: A bit of disassociation, slightly browning (I wrote in my notes), but very alive and tannic; rich fruit but still very tight.
The 1999 stunning: Gorgeous acidity, really bright, with an amazing balance of body and tannin united around rich berry fruit. Maurizio and I both noted more focus in the winemaking style from 1999 onward.
The 2006 was another highlight for me and reminded me of the 1999 in a younger expression. This is what we’ll drink for Thanksgiving this year, at Aunt Holly and Uncle Terry’s house here in Austin.
Simply put, Carema is one of the most amazing appellations I’ve ever visited: for its violent beauty, for its unique confluence of geographic and topographic elements, for its perfectly viable anachronism, and for the outstanding wines it produces.
But the most incredible thing is that you can find the 2006 Carema by Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema in the U.S. for under $30 (2007 is the current release but there is still some 2006 in the market).
I love love LOVE these wines and they are my Thanksgiving pick for 2011 (even though they’re not available in Texas, I’ve managed to evade the authorities and sneak a few bottles in).
Thanks for reading! To get a better sense of the topography of Carema, here’s the slide show that I hurriedly created the week of my visit just over a month ago…