This is the story of an inexpensive Italian Chardonnay which drinks like an expensive White Burgundy.
I’m talking about Cavallotto Chardonnay, from Piemonte, Italy.
Last June, on a trip to Italy, my good friend Josh Eisenhauer, who is head sommelier at the 1-star Michelin Ristorante Guido da Costigliole d’Asti, introduced me to the exceptionally talented winemaker brothers Alfio and Giuseppe who own and operate Cavallotto, their family winery, in Castiglione Falleto. Their sister Laura is a third partner in the winery.
The vineyards of Barolo
For a whole morning, the brothers paraded out a series of their killer reds – Barolos, Nebbiolos and Barbarescos.
The Cavallotto Baroli (plural of Barolo) are considered by collectors and wine writers as some of the very best in the region.
Antonio Galloni, who formerly wrote for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and who now operates his own web wine business called Vinous, has said of the winery:
“Cavallotto may very well be the greatest Barolo producer.... Truth is, it isn’t just the Barolos here that are impressive, the entry-level wines are every bit as delicious and well-priced.”
At my tasting, I discovered that they excelled at entry-level whites, too; they poured a sample of their 2012 Pinner, an effusive, fruited, young white.
Winemaker Giuseppe Cavallotto and his delicious Pinner white
Pinner is 100 percent Pinot Nero, fermented without skin contact at very low temperature for 2 months, after which, the wine stays on the lees for nine months.
Formerly, the wine was called Langhe Bianco at Cavallotto, but in recent vintages it became known as Pinner,” the brothers’ shorthand for PINot NERo (PINNER).
At a lunch, which the brothers hosted following our tasting, I was bowled over by the complexity, minerality, and length of their 2012 Chardonnay. The wine was 12 Euros, which, at the time, was about $18 US. It was one of the most pleasing wines I tasted in my ten-day visit to Italy and one of my favorite wines of the year. So much for the theory that Chardonnay is boring, out of fashion and irrelevant.
I returned home to Napa Valley and spent six months trying to source this wine from some of my favorite wine retailers.
I regularly checked wine_searcher.com, an excellent search engine to locate ANY wine ANYWHERE in the US. But for six months, not a single bottle of Cavallotto Chardonnay showed up on the radar screen.
Then, one day in January, I was speaking to Aaron Diodato at Sokolin, in Bridgehampton (Long Island), NY; we were casually talking about how great Cavallotto reds are. I asked if Aaron had ever seen their crazy good, crazy cheap, Chardonnay.
Aaron checked with his importer source and within a week, I had a case of the 2013 Cavallotto Chardonnay air shipped to Napa Valley. The cost before shipping, $20/bottle, is virtually what the wine costs in Italy. The trans-Atlantic trip was free!
I poured some of this exceptional Chardonnay blind for friends in Napa Valley; one friend thought it was a $125 white Burgundy; another bottle tasted more like a $75 Chablis due to the minerality and fresh acidity.
This is NOT your daddy’s Chardonnay, this is not the over-extracted, over-oaked, over-worked, over-alcoholized, butterscotch-y wine, which has become synonymous with Napa Valley Chardonnay.
Cavallotto’s version is young, fresh, bright on the palate, refreshing, food-friendly, and though it tastes like a great, white Burgundy, it doesn’t cost like one.
The grapes grow on vines planted with an eastern exposure in calcareous soil. The Chardonnay is fermented in temperature controlled, stainless steel tanks. About 40 percent of the wine is put through secondary (malo-lactic) fermentation, which keeps more than half the wine bright and acidic.
There were only 415 cases made of this wine – and my friends and I have already accounted for seven of them:
I bought two cases. And mentioned to five friends how good this wine is and they contacted Aaron and each purchased a case.
When I spoke with Aaron this week, the mentioned that the importer is bringing in new stock – “should be here by April,” he said.
It turns out that the cases, which I bought and which I induced five friends to buy, wiped out the entire inventory in the US!
No one at Cavallotto expected to sell very much Italian Chardonnay here – so they only threw a few cases onto a pallet to test the market in America.
If you like a bargain; if you like bright, young, fresh, food-friendly white wine... I suggest you contact Aaron at Sokolin NOW and place an order for the small quantity of this wine, which will arrive in April.
I suspect that by that time, napaman will need another case, or two, as will those who have already discovered this wine, which, at $20 a bottle, is a steal. You won’t find a better house white at this price for the summer ahead. That’s napaman’s tip of the week. If not of the year.
Aaron Diodato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 631-504-5319.