The Michele Chiarlo winery has been producing wines in the Piedmonte region of Italy for 60 years. With the specialness of this 60th anniversary, Alberto Chiarlo, has been visiting some cities around the world presenting the wines of their family to media and special guests. I was privileged to be invited to a sit-down tasting of 4 wines with Alberto, followed by a 5-course dinner served with their wines, at the La Terrazza Restaurant in Yaletown. It was an amazing experience; one that I would like to share with you.
But first, you may not know much about the Piedmonte region and their DOC and DOCG appellations.
A Few Piedmonte Appellations
The Michele Chiarlo winery has vineyards in 8 DOC/DOCG appellations in the Piedmonte area. For our pre-dinner wine tasting with Alberto, we tasted wines from the Barolo DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, and Nizza DOCG. Within a DOCG region, there can be vineyards owned by different wineries. For this tasting, we sampled wines from the La Court vineyard in Nizza DOCG, Cerequio vineyards in Barolo DOCG, and the Asili vineyards in Barbaresco DOCG.
When most people familiar with Italian wine hear “Piedmonte” they think Barolo, and the Nebbiolo grape, but there are also Barbera and Dolcetto red grapes. The Michele Chiarlo family’s winery started off producing wines from the Barbera grape and Alberto would like to have people try a quality wine made from this grape.
Their family has slowly been purchasing top Cru quality vineyards over 60 years. Just as in Burgundy or Bordeaux, there is certain terroir where the grapes grown produce superior quality wines. The type of soil, the slope and aspect of the land, and climate all play a part in the development of quality grapes.
Cerequio Vineyards in Barolo DOCG
Cerequio, located in an amphitheatre terrain, facing south and south-west, is considered one the most prestigious crus of Barolo, growing Nebbiolo, and has been known as such since the late 1880s. The soil of Cerequio according to the winery, “…are among the most ancient in Langhe. Formed during the Tortonian period (approx. 9 million years ago) it is composed calcareous clay marl of sedimentary marine origin, it is characterized by a basic pH, poor in organic matter, but rich in microelements such as magnesium and manganese winery…” The winery owns 9 ha in this DOCG. More details about the Cerequio Cru is on Michele Chiarlo website.
Maps showing the Cerequio Cru in Barolo DOCG
La Court Vineyard in Nizza DOCG
The Nizza DOCG is recognized as the top region for the Barbera grape and is located at the heart of the best Italian Barbera zone called Asti. This is a very new DOCG, being named in 2014. Before it was designated Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore Nizza. The soils of Nizza DOCG “…are a part of the so-called ‘astiane sands’, consisting of calcareous clay marl of sedimentary marine origin, with a good presence of lime and sand, rich in microelements, in particular, magnesium…”
La Court is a single parcel of over 20 hectares located between two hills in Nizza DOCG. The land faces southeast to southwest. There are cypress trees planted on both these hilltops, and if you check the wine label, you can see the hills and the cypress trees. More details about the La Court Cru is on Michele Chiarlo website.
Maps showing the La Court Cru in Nizza DOCG
Asili Vineyards in Barbaresco DOCG
The Asili cru is located in the village of Barbaresco. Asili is a historic Added Geographical Indication to the Barbaresco DOCG. Nebbiolo is grown in this region. The soil is “…Blue-grey calcareous marl having a basic pH with a small presence of clay, poor in organic matter, but rich in microelements such as magnesium and calcium“. More details about the Asili Cru is on Michele Chiarlo website.
Maps showing the Asili Cru in Barbaresco DOCG
Pre-Dinner Wine Tasting
Alberto Chiarlo provided us with some background information about their family history and the DOCG regions where their vineyards are located, along with some of their philosophy on winemaking. They are the first winery under UNESCO heritage.
As part of their winemaking process, they do not like to over oak their wines, and never use 100% new oak for any of their wines. Since the 2010 harvest, their Barolo Cerequio has been certified a VIVA Sustainable Wine. And since 2016, all Michele Chiarlo Grand Crus are VIVA certified. The 2015 release of their wine represents their 50th harvest.
It was interesting to learn that in Piedmonte a greater amount of Barbaresco wines are consumed compared to Barolo, while the opposite is true in the rest of the world.
For the recent harvests, Alberto noted that 2015 and 2016 were characterized by long, dry summers and produced 5-star quality wines. Their 2015 wines will be released to the public in November 2018. We had a chance to sample their Barbaresco DOCG Asili 2015 before the official release (see my notes below). We also as part of this special event, had the chance to try their Barolo DOCG Cerequio 2001. 2001 was noted as the vintage of perfection this century by Alberto. And it was!
Michele Chiarlo La Court, Nizza DOCG, 2013 – Opaque ruby in the glass. Medium intensity purple fruit, along with light oak, and sweet spices. Medium plus to full body with medium plus tannins. Full, deep, dark ripe red fruit flavours fill your mouth. Medium acidity and some sweet spices, with minerality later on the palate. Long length, finishing with black ripe cherries and dark chocolate. Quality.
Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Asili DOCG, 2015 – Medium-plus garnet in colour, with a little translucency. Light nose, showing Old World oak (some say cedar), and red fruits. Lighter mouthfeel, with a bit of astringency. Light red fruits and red apple flavours. Medium plus tannins, finishing firm on the finish, along with tart red fruits, cherries and sweet spices. With air, this wines gets fuller bodied, rounder, and the fruits sweeter. Nice.
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio DOCG, 2013 – Medium intensity, translucent garnet in colour. A nice nose; deep aromas of ripe cassis and cherry along with vanilla. Smooth and silky tannins on the palate, with flavours of red fruits, raspberries, cassis, and oak. The tannins do get stronger on the finish. Longer length, finishing dry with more cassis, cherry and oak. Very good quality. –
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio DOCG, 2001 – Almost opaque garnet; much darker than the 2013 vintage. Medium intensity nose of red fruit and Old World oak. Full body, firmer tannins and acidity provides a solid backbone to the wine. Cassis, sweet ripe fruits and dark chocolate upfront, followed by red fruits mid palate then red cherries and vanilla. Long length with a very grippy finish. Black cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate on the finish. Spectacular. This wine shows no sign of ageing and I can see it going for at least another 10 years.
Celebrating Michele Chiarlo Dinner
Our menu for the evening was:
Traditional steak tartare with white Alba truffle
Le Marne Gavi DOCG 2016
Veal with a traditional tuna sauce
La Vespa Monferrato DOC 2013
Risotto with roasted quail & sweet potato with rare Winter truffle
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG 2013
Braised veal cheek with Barolo sauce and apple puree
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG 1999 and Cannubi Barolo DOCG 2012
Hazelnut parfait with an almond cream and cocoa
Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 and 2017
La Terrazza has a reputation for top quality dishes, made by Chef Tim O’Brien. For this special dinner, Michele Chiaro sent one of their chefs, Chef Vincenzo La Corte, from Palas Cerequio, to work together with Chef O’Brien to combine Italian tradition with our New World style to come up with unique dishes. An added bonus is that Alberto brought truffles grown this past Fall from Piedmonte to be used in our dishes.
The Traditional steak tartare with white Alba truffle was paired with Gavi, a white wine made from the Cortese grape. One would think that steak tartare should be served with a light red wine, but Alberto noted to us that steak tartare is thought of as the sushi of Piedmonte. Sushi goes well with bright white wines. This pairing worked exceptionally well.
Le Marne Gavi DOCG 2016 – Stonefruit nose. Dry and round with medium acidity. Almost a thick mouthfeel. Stonefruit flavour along with minerality and bitter pit toward the finish. Balanced fruit and acidity.
The Veal with a traditional tuna sauce was to me a strange-sounding dish, but I was told that it is very traditional in Italy. The veal was very thinly sliced. The tuna sauce was nice and not overly fishy. The La Vespa Monferrato DOC wine’s roundness and full dark fruit flavours made a complementary pairing. The dish and the wine did not compete or overpower each other.
La Vespa Monferrato DOC 2013 – La Vespa is the name of the single vineyard where this wine is produced. La Vespa also is the Italian word for wasp, which is an important note to the winery as an abundance of wasps indicates to them when the grapes are ripe and full of sugar. This wine is a blend of indigenous and international varieties. This region, Monferrato, allows the blending of international grapes, while it is not allowed in other regions of Piedmonte. I do not know the blend of this wine, but the grapes allowed in this region are Barbera, Freisa, Grignolino, Dolcetto, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. This wine is opaque garnet in colour. Leather and dark fruit aromas in the glass. Medium plus body, dry and round with firm tannins. Red fruits, dark fruits, and oak on the palate with some pepperiness.
The Risotto with roasted quail & sweet potato with rare Winter truffle was a delicately flavoured dish. The risotto rice was al dente. The roasted quail succulent. A lighter bodied wine, with red fruit and good acidity, would be a good match to this dish, and we were treated to that wine with the Tortoniano Barolo 2013. Three great pairings so far.
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG 2013 – Medium translucent garnet. Light red fruit and oak on the nose. Lighter bodied, dry with higher acidity and medium tannins. A mix of red fruit and pepper on the palate.
The Braised veal cheek with Barolo sauce and apple puree was possibly my favourite dish. The braised veal cheek placed on top of the sliced truffles and Barolo sauce, and topped with thinly shredded green apples, which added a nice acidity to the dish. The veal cheek had deep flavours and fell apart when you placed your fork in it. To match the depth of flavour of the veal cheek needed a full-bodied red wine with dark fruit flavours and tannic structure. Again this is what we had with the Tortoniano Barolo DOCG. An excellent complementary pairing.
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG 1999 – Deep opaque garnet colour, quite amazing for its age. Light leather and a mix of red and black fruit aromas. Full body, round with higher acidity, a strong tannic backbone. Dark fruit, pepper and rose flavours. Dry finish. A privilege to enjoy.
Cannubi Barolo DOCG 2012 – Many wines built to age go into a phase where they become closed on the nose and palate, and then a few too many years later, open up magnificently. This wine was currently in its closed phase, which is unfortunate. I kept swirling this wine and tasting it several times, hoping that it would open up, but it decided to keep its secrets. This wine is still a baby with only 6 years under its belt. In time this wine will show its character.
Our dolce, Hazelnut parfait with an almond cream and cocoa, was delicious. The almond cream was served frozen, like ice cream, with layers of hazelnut and cocoa. There was also candied hazelnuts, and slivers of almonds. The dessert though was not overly sweet; just right. To pair with this dessert, we had two vintages of Moscato d’Asti, made from the Moscato grape. It was quite interesting how different tasting both wines are, as described below. The pairing with both wines worked with the dessert, as the wines both had higher acidity to balance out the sweetness and richness of the almond cream.
Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 – Green fruit and pine needle on the nose. Sweet, with medium body and high acidity. Bitter citrus rind, oranges and green fruit flavours. A fun wine.
Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2017 – Roses and lychee aromas. Sweet but with high acidity biting your tongue. Roses and lychee on the palate. Completely different from the 2015 vintage.
Where Can I Get These Wines?
These wines are in general in limited quantities. Below are the wines and the SKUs in case you would like to order some wines if they are not currently available in your wine shop. The BC Liquor stores have the following 3 wines available for general purchase:
- BAROLO – MICHELE CHIARLO CEREQUIO 2012
- BAROLO TORTONIANO – MICHELE CHIARLO 2011
- MONFERRATO ROSSO – MICHELE CHIARLO LA VESPA 2013
(SKU) +415307 – 2015 Barbaresco Asili, 3 pack
+511170 – 2013 La Court Nizza Barbera D’Asti, 6 pack
+534420 – 2012 Barolo Cerequio, 6 pack
2001 Barolo Cerequio (Library wine. Not available to the public.)
(SKU) +372359 2016 Gavi Le Marne, $19.99
+455691 2013 La Vespa Monferrato, $14.47 / $17.99 – 70 cases
+139582 2013 Tortoniano Barolo, 6 pk, $41.57 / $52.99 – 10 cases
1999 Tortoniano Barolo (Library wine. Not available to the public.)
+297424 2017 Nivole Moscato D’Asti 750ml. $21.99
+400382 2015 Nivole Moscato D’Asti 375ml. $17.49
Thank you to Univins and Spirits for inviting me to this tasting and dinner.