Roero Heroes
October 20, 2021

Vinnie and I were in southern Piedmont, leaving the Langhe and crossing the river Tanaro to the neighbouring area of Roero. “What do this river and the Missouri have in common?” I asked. “I’m a corkscrew – not Wikipedia,” he replied sarcastically. Well, I explained, when the Tanaro flows into the Po as a tributary it is actually 50 kilometres longer than the Po and the Missouri is longer than the Mississippi at their confluence. With that obscure piece of geographical trivia safely out of the way, we continued into the vine-laden hills. 

Roero is a continuation of the Piedmont UNESCO World Heritage site that is such an attraction, especially in the autumn when the vines become a riot of intense shades of red, yellow and orange. But although the days were shortening and the harvest was fast approaching, all was still verdant when we visited.

Roero

This is an area of quiet prosperity with well-ordered vineyards asserting the mastery of man over nature. However, this is but a recent development; towards the end of the 19th century a combination of hard winters and phylloxera proved so devastating that the inhabitants abandoned vines completely and turned to growing soft fruit, particularly peaches. Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on your point of view), they were too successful and other areas copied them taking their markets and so they reverted to grape production. There are a few orchards that recall the past but the lasting reminder is in the delicious local dessert of pesche ripiene or stuffed peaches. Luckily, this area had one more hidden treasure that was to come to its rescue. The white Arneis grape is local to this area but had been almost completely abandoned in favour of the more prestigious Nebbiolo when it was re-discovered by the legendary gastronome and oenophile, Luigi Veronelli. He was instrumental in the resurgence of interest in this wine. 

So now this area produces both a red and white DOCG wine and it was with no small sense of anticipation that I travelled to the winery of Lorenzo Negro. Northwest of the town of Alba, and high up on a ridge, Lorenzo cultivates 8 hectares of land from which he produces around 35,000 bottles of wine per year. The vineyard is surrounded by hills too steep to cultivate. Consequently, wild boar who have developed a taste for grapes now roam freely. Further, the vineyard is not far from the Alps where the hot Mediterranean air meets the cold mountains thus creating storms which can easily destroy a crop in the space of a few minutes But for all this, Lorenzo still exudes the quiet confidence of a man at peace with himself.  

Roero

The terrain up here is a mixture of sandstone and clay, and although we were high up, the soils here contain sea shells, a reminder of the turbulent geological history of the Italian peninsula. As you enter the winery there is a display of seashells found in the vineyards; they also feature on the label of Lorenzo’s wines. The cantina building itself dates from the 18th century but was refurbished in 2004 and some works are ongoing. The intention is to turn the remainder of the building into a tasting room – it will have a spectacular view of the Piedmont countryside.

In the existing tasting room we first sampled a 2020 Arneis. After a harvest around mid September the grapes are pressed softly and, after fermentation in stainless steel at a cool temperature, the wine remains on the lees until the spring when it is bottled. A wine with a clear yellow gold colour, it has a big strong bouquet full of apricots and peaches and the delicate citrus of Amalfi lemons. On the palate there is a salinity from the soil and a beautiful hint of lemon. Try pairing this with turbot or swordfish. 

Roero

We then moved on to the red DOCG Roero and the first we tasted was a 2016 Prachiosso. Like its more distinguished cousin Barolo, this is 100% Nebbiolo but this is no lightweight substitute. After a two to three week fermentation, Lorenzo matures this in French oak botti for 12 to 18 months before allowing it to rest in the bottle for around 12 months. The result is a wine with a bright garnet colour and a complex bouquet containing bitter cherry, vanilla, leather, and Mediterranean herbs. On the palate there is the flavour of amarena cherries which, balanced with the sapidity from the soil and the tannins of the Nebbiolo produces a beautifully structured wine.

Finally, we tried the 2014 San Francesco Riserva. This is matured for 12 months in French oak barriques that have been used two or three times before. This reuse of the barrels allows for a longer, gentler period of ageing. The wine is then transferred to larger botti, again of French oak, for 12 months before being bottled. On the nose it is soft, rich, and complex as befits a wine that has been carefully matured and aged; the vanilla, cherries, and leather blend harmoniously together. In the mouth there are hints of pepper that add spice to smooth tannins and a great structure and a long finish. This is a wine that has already spent 5 years in the bottle and Lorenzo is confident that it has another 15 years of life. Enjoy this with a mature cheese or wild boar. 

Roero

Italian inheritance law means that estates are often broken up into smaller and smaller pieces and end up so fragmented as to be useless. This happened to Azienda Agricola Lorenzo Negro but the estate was partially restored by Lorenzo’s father in the 1960s and 70s. We can only be grateful for his and Lorenzo’s efforts in this regard. 

 

More about this vineyard

Useful links:

www.lorenzonegro.com

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