Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Tasting with Walter Anselma of Schiavenza + an addition to the Amari file

Walter Anselma was in town recently, and I was happy to get a chance to taste with him. Walter helps run the Schiavenza winery in Serralunga, which I was able to visit not too long ago. Amiable and patient, Walter is a kind soul, and I found him to be in a particularly good mood when I caught up with him. As he explained, back home at the winery the expectations of work only allow him to sleep 4 to 5 hours a night, but while travelling he is allowed to sleep for 8. Plus, this was his first visit to the big New York City and he was understandably excited about it.

We moved into the wines with the 2011 Dolcetto d'Alba and the 2011 Barbera d'Alba. The Barbera, in contrast to most of the Schiavenza wines, is sourced entirely from Perno at the moment, in Monforte. Schiavenza, which does not buy in grapes, has a parcel in Perno in addition to the holdings in Serralunga. In 2012, Schiavenza added to their owned vineyards in Serralunga by purchasing two parcels that total about 0.6 hectares. Inside of the new vineyards there was some Barbera planted, so that in the future, after some time, their Barbera may be a blend of Monforte and Serralunga fruit. But for now the bottling is a strictly Monforte Barbera.

In terms of bottling, Walter decoded for me the lot number labeling information on the back of the bottle. L12285 means that this 2011 Barbera was bottled in 2012 (the first two numbers), on the 285th day in that year (the last three). The Barbera typically spends 6 months in oak before being bottled.

After tasting the Dolcetto, the Barbera, and a Langhe Nebbiolo made from declassified Barolo, we moved to Barolo. The Schiavenza Barolo are, for me, a really interesting translation of the power inherent in the Serralunga crus, and I find tasting them to be somewhat of a mind bender, because they are stylistically unique. Or at least I think so. In an era where primary fruit is king, whether it be obtained by modern methods or natural, Schiavenza plots a course in another direction. Schiavenza racks often, and draws out with exposure to oxygen the orange marmalade and rusted rebar notes of Nebbiolo. I sometimes find a Schiavenza Barolo to taste dusty, like with the flavor and texture of dust, as if some of that drying quality had been kicked up by the movement of the swirled glass. There is little gloss or sheen or polish to a Schiavenza Barolo, and rather they seem untamed, like the burning embers of a smoldering fire. Where there is fire there is smoke: I should mention that if you are adverse to VA that this is perhaps not the Barolo address for you.

Each of the Schiavenza Barolo are handled in the same fashion. The are fermented in cement, with pumping over, and they see a maceration on the skins of 25 days. The malo occurs in oak botte, and after frequent racking ("we often move the wine to separate the sediment," says Walter), the wines matures in botte for 4 years, or longer for some of the more rarely released Riserva bottlings. Interestingly, Walter mentioned that the Barolo vineyards which Schiavenza bottles individually, the Broglio, the Prapo, and the Bricco Cerretta, all have the same exposition to the sun. So the differences might be said to come down to the soil types. The Serralunga Barolo normale is a blend of four different vineyard sources within Serralunga. This 2008 was, I thought, a good representation of that restrained vintage.

The Broglio Barolo, which I typically find to greatly benefit from some serious time left open, was rather shy from this particular bottle of 2008. Walter mentioned that the bottle had been opened the previous day, and I think we may have caught the wine in that chrysalis moment before something special happens. Not too long ago I double decanted a 2006 Broglio and then left the half open bottle in my fridge for three days and that turned out to be just the best thing ever after all of that.

Next up was the last bottling of what was the Bricco Cerretta and what will be from 2009 the Cerretta. The Consorzio has decreed that the Bricco designation should be left off the bottle labels, and Schiavenza will comply with the next release. The Bricco Cerretta is a particularly small holding for Schiavenza, which is why they rarely release a Riserva from that cru. Riservas were made of the other two crus in 2006 and 2008, and even a touch in 2007.

The Prapo 2006 showed the approachable character of Prapo, and the extra age on this bottling had allowed for all the aromatic oils of the Schiavenza style to swell up and run together. Walter noted that Prapo is distinct from the other crus because of the limestone soil found there. He also expressed admiration for the 2006 vintage, which he called "very classic."

And a few more details besides what I've already collected about the Schiavenza Barolo Chinato, because you know I am into that. A Barolo Chinato has been produced at Schiavenza since 1956. The recipe calls for 15-18 herbs, depending on the year. As with Cappellano, the family buys herbs from many different sources, so as to protect their recipe. Those herbs are crushed by hand with a mortar and pestle. Then they take a demijohn half filled with water and blend in alcohol that has been macerated for 2 to 3 months with the herbs and taken the form of a kind of concentrated syrup. To this mixture is added the wine, some sugar, and some more alcohol. The finished product is usually either 17% or 17.5% alcohol. About 2,000 bottles of the Chinato are produced each year, and none leaves Italy. The Japanese importer asked about bringing some in, but the quantity of extra paperwork was so much that the winery just said no.

I really appreciated Walter sharing some of these details with me. If you really want to know about the crus of Serralunga, then this is a producer whose interpretations you should seek out.

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