Chiesa and the Roero

11/23/15 -

(Photo: Daniele, Davide, and Renato Chiesa)

For several years I attended the annual giant tasting in Alba called Nebbiolo Prima; tasting 70-80 Nebbiolos before lunch is a truly interesting and challenging experience. By far the hardest group of wines to taste were from the Roero, the Nebbiolo-centric DOCG just north of Barolo. Poured first in the morning, almost all of the Roeros appeared to be aged in new wood and were overwhelmingly oaky. Their jammy, over-ripe character suggested heavy use of roto-fermenters or some other extraction methods, and most seemed to be trying too way hard to achieve an intensity that wasn’t inherent in the wine. In short, the wines were very much not to my taste, and it was a struggle to be respectfully attentive before tackling that day’s 60+ Barolos.

Since then, aside from a couple of quasi-distastrous winery visits, I’ve pretty much avoided the Roero (one exception: Val del Prete), so it was a fine surprise to discover the wines made by the Chiesa family.

They’ve only been in place on the family farm since 1700 – practically newcomers – but it’s increasingly unusual to find a thriving multi-generational farm still engaged in polyculture, and (at least to the visitor) this one seems a very harmonious operation.

Certainly the food at lunch – all from the farm – was incredible, and although this photo was taken during a rare moment of quiet reflection at table (probably in hommage to the excellent asparagus), it was a lot of fun too.

The Roero landscape is very beautiful, very hilly and more compact and intimate in feeling than in the Langhe. There is real beauty in the Roero’s diversification of agriculture, while the Langhe (while also stunningly beautiful!) is now almost entirely given over to vines. In general the soils of the Roero are sandy, and they have the potential to produce elegant Nebbiolo that matures earlier than Barolo or Barbaresco

Since Chiesa’s land has been in the same hands for over 300 years, the family can assert with authority that only copper and sulfur have ever been used in the vines. The work in the cellar is similarly straight-forward and traditional. The wines stand out in the Roero for their lack of intervention and manipulation, which shows through in their purity and focus. Jamie Wolff

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