Blending Traditional and Modern Practices in Piedmont

Today’s Story: Luciano Sandrone

Luciano Sandrone is a highly regarded producer in Piedmont, Italy, established by Luciano in 1978. Luciano was passionate for winemaking at a young age, exploring viticulture as young as 14 or 15 years old and ultimately working as a cellar hand at Marchesi di Barolo. In 1977, Luciano depleted his savings and purchased his famed Cannubi Boschis vineyard. Starting with his first vintage in 1978, Luciano crafted all of his wines at home and started in his parents’ garage so he could learn and hone his style and talents over time. When his wines started receiving high critical acclaim for the 1989 and 1990 vintages, Luciano started to think of building a winery which was completed in 1998 and first used for the 1999 vintage. Luciano today produces wines from Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, with his most famous and prized bottling being the Cannubi Boschis Barolo.

Sandrone’s viticulture and winemaking styles are often characterized by straddling traditional and modern techniques. Sandrone farms about 27 hectares (67 acres) of vineyards, of which roughly 75% are owned and the balance is leased out under long-term contracts. They practice green harvesting with an incredible focus on training, pruning, and harvesting to limit yields and enhance quality of their fruit. Winemaking is where the blending of traditional and modern practices occurs most notably, as all wines ferment with native yeasts but typically see shorter maceration times than tradition dictates. During the maturation process, Sandrone also utilizes some new oak in 500 liter French barrels and ages his wines for slightly shorter periods which also blends the lines between traditional and modern. These wines are often much more approachable in their youth due to this blending of practices, though they retain the same structure and characteristics to provide for long aging potential as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Barbera d’Alba

100% Barbera; 14% ABV

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba is deep ruby in color and opaque. I decanted this for about 45 minutes, which the wine needs at this stage. The aromas are of medium intensity, with a rather gorgeous nose showcasing black plum, crushed blackberry, black cherry, anise, violet, scorched earth, sandalwood, and cracked black pepper. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of juicy blackberry, blueberry, cherry sauce, plum, dried green herbs, truffle, and mild peppery spice. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very enjoyable Barbera that should only improve with a couple more years in bottle.

Price: $37 (though there’s a wide range of pricing depending on location). This is a very solid value to step into Piedmont with, particularly if you haven’t explored the region or the Barbera variety yet. It’s showing very solid complexity at this stage and is a high-quality offering from a great producer.

Who Says Barbera Has to Be a Lesser Wine?

Today’s Story: Braida

Braida is a family winery established in 1961 by Giacomo Bologna in the province in Asti in Piedmont, Italy. Though Piedmont is dominated by Nebbiolo and famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco, a large percentage of vineyard land is planted to the Barbera variety which, largely until Giacomo, was known to produce a cheap, highly acidic table wine. A staunch enthusiast for wine, his town of Rocchetta Tanaro, and the Barbera variety, Giacomo set about to rattle Piedmont by showcasing the untapped potential of Barbera simply by improving viticultural methods and aging the wines in small, French oak barriques. During the 1980s, Giacomo proved his point with great acclaim for his Bricco dell’Uccellone (1982), Bricco della Bigotta (1985), and Ai Suma (1989). These wines in turn demonstrate the immense promise, ageability, and complexity of Barbera done right and Giacomo will forever be appreciated by the wine world for his passion. Though Giacomo very sadly passed away prematurely on Christmas Day in 1990, his widow Anna and their children Raffaella and Giuseppe continue his legacy with unwavering dedication to his principles, their home, and the “fruit” of their labor.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone Barbera d’Asti

100% Barbera; 16% ABV

The 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone is opaque deep ruby in color with nearly black/deep purple hues in the bowl. I decanted this for 3 hours or so and drank it over the following hour, with the nose opening to showcase blackberry, black plum, tart red cherry, anise, dried green herbs, bitter chocolate, crushed rock, and oak. While not overbearing, there is slight heat as well that should integrate with age. Moving onto the palate, this gorgeous Barbera displays notes of plum, blackberry, sour dark cherry, tomato paste, cigar box, scorched earth, oregano, black pepper, and charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. Most may very well see this as a very expensive Barbera, and they would not be wrong because Barbera is overshadowed by the Nebbiolo (Barolo and Barbaresco) of Piedmont. However, this is a wine to prove a point – that Barbera can be high quality, complex, and beautiful. The price here is justified in my opinion, though I do find myself partial to their 2015 Bricco della Bigotta I drank for about the same price.