In the land of Piemonte, Langhe is kind of like the Napa of California and Roero like the Sonoma. They are two side by side regions with many similarities to eachother compared to the rest of the world. But, when put side by side, have extremely different identities.
Langhe like Napa, is grand in stature and reputation. The wines are some of the world’s best and deservedly so. Contrary, Roero and Sonoma have hid a bit in the shadow of their neighbor and has taken much longer to establish their own identity. These days, Sonoma has finally done so with exploring some of their cooler climate coastal areas and planting some incredible Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. Roero, is still establishing their identity as a region. After spending a couple months working harvest in the area, especially as a Sonoma girl, I feel a special attachment to the wild hills of Roero. Their wines can be fantastic and offer something extremely different than the rest of Piemonte.
Roero: charmingly rural
Roero is North West of the Tanaro river in the direction of Turin, the province’s capital. Geologically Roero is different in that it’s hills are formed from a plateau that is being eroded away. At one point this entire plateau was covered by the sea. The soils tend to be a bit sandier and looser and full of decomposed sea material. There’s a certain wildness of the Roero, with all of it’s ravines, peaks, and forests. Culturally, it’s a bit more laid back. Regular households still raise chickens and feed their families from large gardens. No one will look twice at your dirty sneakers. Agriculturally it’s very diverse with livestock, hazelnuts, corn, peaches and pears as well as vines being grown... not to mention, it’s where many of our beloved White Alba Truffles are found. There have been sacred vineyard sites in the Roero for many generations and more and more vineyards have been planted more recently following the rise and popularity of Piemontese wines. Roero has been riding the wave of popularity hailing from the great Barolos and Barbaresco but has yet to establish a name of it’s own.
Langhe: where the royalties of Nebbiolo are found
Contrary to Roero, the Langhe hills are in fact ancient mountains that have exposed themselves with time. These hills once formed cliffs on the shores of the sea that once covered the Roero area. To put it into perspective this happened over the course of six million years. Parts of the Langhe hills, like Serralunga and Monforte are compact bedrock that once formed these cliffs. While other parts of the Langhe, like Barbaresco and La Morra made up a softer shore with loser soils, but still dramatically different from that of Roero. The wines these soils produce reflect their nature, they are also compact and rigid. They take years and great care before they show their true elegance and elegant they are. They have achieved great acclaim. The vineyards have been studied meticulously, borders have been drawn, and names have been given setting up a Burgundian system. Particular vineyards produce great wines year in and year out. Vineyard designated bottling started appearing in the 60’s. Barolo and Barbaresco as we know it today, received DOCG status in the 1980s. With Langhe’s elevated status in the wine world most of its landscape has been planted with vines. Lots of money has poured into the area. The small towns of La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga and Monforte are quaint and charming full of shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels. During summer and autumn months many languages can be heard in the streets.
The palate of Roero Nebbiolo
The Nebbiolos of Roero tend to be a little softer, their tannins not quite as firm, and it’s fruit a bit darker. I find “tobacco” and “lakrits” are often a part of my tasting notes for Nebbiolos of the area. Many producers make their equivalent to a “Langhe Nebbiolo” with younger vines, the wines rarely see any oak and are usually bottled the year after harvest. These wines deliver excellent value as they have a bit more of a mid-palate than your typical Langhe Nebbiolo. Roero, does have it’s equivalent to Barolo and Barbaresco with a Roero DOCG designation. This is for the areas best vineyard sites and best grapes. The DOCG (the highest status for any Italian wine) was recently given to Roero in 2004. These wines must be aged for 20 months of which 6 months must be in barrel before being released.
Don’t stop drinking Barolo but do keep your eye out for Roero. If you make it to Piemonte, do spend some time eating and drinking on the other side of the Tonaro river.
Erin Stockton, sommelier at Gaston winebar.