Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Italian Wine Country: Costa di Bussia

Sorry for my extended absence. I spent most of the month of October in northern Italy, then faced some pressing personal matters right after my return. I will try to fill in the gaps with some impressions and memories from Italian wine country.

A visit to the Piedmont wine area has been a long-time dream of mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting my way through Barolos, Barbarescoes, Langhe Nebbiolos and Barberas. We stayed four nights in an 18th century Cantina in the middle of the vineyards of Costa di Bussia. Early Fall in the Piedmont was warmer than we expected, but colors were beginning to appear on the vines, and the two to three mile drive through the vineyards of Bussia hill (two or three times every day) was exhilarating. The Nebbiolo grapes on one side of our building were still on the vine--small berries, ripe and lovely. On the other side was a Barbera vineyard with larger grapes, also ripe and lovely but with more straightforward flavors. Harvest was expected to begin about the 20th of October, the day after our departure from the area.

Lodging at Costa di Bussia (about $100 a night) was good. There are three regular rooms, a suite and a community room with refrigerator, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. A selection of cheeses and sausages were left in the refrigerator each morning, along with Nutella, for self service breakfast. The packaged white bread did not tempt us so we got by on cheese, sausage and snacks we brought from home. Breakfast was not the highlight of our stay.

We signed up ahead of time for an afternoon tour and tasting and that was the highlight we anticipated, although I would have liked more detailed information about individual vineyards and their influence on the wines. The Nebbiolo vines outside our room (Campo del Buoi) were only about 30 years old. Donna wisely asked what had been there previously, and the answer (Barbera vines) suggested that the site might not have been considered ideal for Nebbiolo until Barolo prices started to escalate in the 1990s. That is pure speculation, but the Barolo from that vineyard was not my favorite of the four wines tasted, although it does sell for a higher price than the basic DOCG Barolo.

The 2013 DOCG Barolo was my second favorite (after the Riserva) and very impressive: roses, dark cherries and black licorice, savory and silky. Deep and classic.

2013 Barolo DOCG Bussia Vigna Campo dei Buoi: Single vineyard Barolos command a premium price and some (Cannubi, Bric del Fiasc, Sarmassa, Arione) are well worth it because of site and soil. This one is very good and distinctive, but, in my opinion, not worth a premium price. Darker than the DOCG Barolo. Scents of coffee, chocolate and mint. Ripe but feels dry on palate. Deep and persistent flavors.

2013 Barolo DOCG Bussia Riserva: Complex nose: dried flowers, plums, mint. Berry flavors, warm and ripe. Long finish with lots of berries.

2013 Barolo DOCG Bussia Luigi Arnulfa: This is the top of the line Barolo, named after the pharmacist who first shipped Barolo wines to the United States in the late 19th century. Darker. Very ripe aromas. Ripe berries, tobacco, licorice. Powerful tannins but ripe and silky. Although this wine feels like a long ager to me, our tour director told us she would age it for an additional five years but no longer.

I liked all of the Barolos; all are made in the traditional style with aging in large Slavonian oak barrels--12 months for the basic Barolo and 24 months for the others. The Luigi Arnulfa is made from what the estate calls "overripe and selected Nebbiolo grapes." I did not taste the Barberas, but I buy several bottles of the basic Barbera nearly every year at home. It is one of my favorites and one reason I decided to visit the vineyards.

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