When you cross the Tanaro River, north of vineyards in Barolo and Alba, you leave the prized production zone known as the Langhe and enter a wine region called Roero. It’s a bit like leaving Napa Valley proper and heading to Sonoma county.
And just as Napa Valley has done such a great job at marketing its wines to the world, so locals in the Langhe want you to think of Roero wines as coming from “the other side of the tracks.”
Land is cheaper in the Roero, and wines produced in the yellowish, sandy, limestone and marl soils here sell for less than similar wines produced in the Langhe (Alba, Asti, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, etc.).
But on my recent visit to Piemonte, knowledgeable local winemakers told me that professional tasters and sommeliers often cannot distinguish between Roero and Langhe wines when tasted blind.
Sort of like what happens when you sit down and blind taste a group of wines from Sonoma and Napa Valley. Often you can’t tell which comes from which appellation.
As it turns out, one of my favorite wine discoveries in
Piemonte was a Roero wine – and even more shocking, it was white.
The wine was the 2008 Malvira Arneis Trinita, which I scored 93 points. This lovely, lemony, fruited wine comes from Malvira, a strikingly modern winery owned by Roberto and Massimo Damonte, two brothers whose families own the vineyard where the Arneis grape was first planted in – are you ready for this? – 1478.
If you are not so hot at math, that’s 531 years ago. In wine-speak, that’s an awfully long time ago to have planted grapes.
Arneis, pronounced ar-nays, usually has wonderful hints of licorice or fennel and is, like Argentina’s Torrontes, an inexpensive white wine, to which I often turn for summer drinking pleasure.
But the Arneis wines from Malvira are unlike anything I have ever experienced from this grape. It’s almost like Malvira should have it’s own DOCG, or Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita for the grape as it sets a different standard for how Arneis is meant to taste.
The winery makes three different Arneis wines. The 2008 Malvira Arneis Renesium has the most typical Arneis flavors, with herbal, licorice and earthy notes appearing at the finish.
Half the 2008 Malvira Arneis Saglietto is aged in large, older French foudres for 10 months, which adds finesse and complexity to this wine; I loved the apricot-y top notes and tropical finish.
And then there is that 2008 Malvira Arneis Trinita, named for the small church on the winery estate to which pilgrims venture one day a year (the only day of the year that the church is even open).
Lemon, lemon zest and lemon juice are the first hints that this is not your daddy’s Arneis. The wine unfolds with rich, tropical notes. I rated this fabulous wine 93 points, the highest rating accorded any white wine during my trip to Italy.
I spent half a Sunday at Malvira, most of the time in the winery’s sensational dining room, called Villa Tiboldi, which mostly caters to guests in the winery’s small, adjacent agriturismo inn. Anyone visiting Piemonte wine country would be smart to make a reservation and put this dining destination on his, or her, calendar.
The setting, high in the Roero hills, is breathtaking, but no less so is the food. I was served a succession of dishes for four hours, and think I used up all the exclamations in my laptop to describe the wines and courses.
The Villa Tiboldi wine list boasts 600 wines, 98 percent of them from Piemonte, all of them reasonably priced.
Highlights of a 4-hour meal at Villa Tiboldi:
+ A soft-boiled egg with a runny, school-bus-yellow yolk, is crowned by the knowledgeable sommelier, Silvia Aiassa, with a cap of freshly shaved white truffles.
+ A very tasty leek tart, made with leeks from Cevere, in the region, set in a delicious, house-made, pastry shell.
+ 2006 Malvira Langhe Nebbiolo. Having spent 18 months in French oak, this wine sports great structure, youthful tannins and promises great complexity. Really liked the focus and bead on this beautiful wine. Dried rose and tobacco on the nose. 92 points.
I had intended to illustrate the dessert described below with a close-up shot, but we inhaled the dessert so quickly that I couldn’t get the photo; it’s easier to catch the photo-finish of a horse race than it is to capture the speed at which the dessert, billed as “Coffee Three Ways” was devoured! So you’ll just have to content yourself with this shot of a corner of the Villa Tiboldi wine cellar.
+ “Coffee Three Ways.” That’s how the dessert is billed on the menu and as original and cheeky is the description, that’s how good, original and tasty is the dessert. Here’s affogato, granite and a semifreddo, all made with a high-quality coffee. Loved this dish.
Villa Tiboldi’s restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesday for lunch. As there are only 12 tables, and they are meant to first serve inn guests, reservations are required. Case Sparse Canova, 144, 12043 Canale, Italy. Tel: + 39.0173.978145, or fax + 39.0173.959154, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.