Michele Chiarlo: Gavi, Nizza Barbaresco, Barolo, Brilliant!

What a fabulous Tasting!

I came away from an intimate tasting last week positively buzzing. It made me wonder why so many other tastings this year haven’t produced the same effect! *

Mackenway Distributors opened a dozen bottles at the Italian restaurant GIGI’s in Ranelagh. The wines were by Michele Chiarlo and the event was titled ‘The Cru’s of Piedmont‘. We were guided with a fine expertise through the region and the wines, by Erica Galardo.

We tasted the following:

Michele Chiarlo ‘LE MARNE’ Gavi DOCG 2018: I admit that I am a long time fan of good Gavi. (The Cortese grape, though, needs to be properly ripened or the result will be simple, without interest and best off used as a blending grape). This La Marne is excellent. It’s a rich, full style with a light straw-like and textural palate showing a lovely tropical fruit background balanced to the fore by a brilliant and yet light acidity. Every restaurant considering which white wine from Italy to list ……! c. €20 per bt.

Piedmont is home to both the Barbera and Nebbiolo red grapes. Each is considered among the finest grapes in the world and Piedmont the best place to grow them. In turn they bring us some of the most incredible wines – Barbera ‘d’Asti DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, Nizza DOCG and Barolo DOCG. (I have left Barbera d’Alba to one side here as Michele Chiarlo does not produce one. Indeed, Erica was adamant that only Barbera d’Asti can produce sufficient acidity to make truly great wines! Personally I have fond memories of some great ‘dAlba Superiore wines ..)

Michele Chiarlo began in 1956 as a Moscato and Barbera d’Asti producer. In the 1970’s and 80’s he bought some of the finest vineyard land in Piedmont. These are now priceless and capable of producing grapes that in turn make uniquely brilliant wines.

Michele Chiarlo ‘LE ORME’ Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2017: Full ruby, fruit filled, some spice (careful use of oak across all of Chiarlo wines, emphasis is always on the fruit. Oak may be large Botte as seen below), rounded, rich and brilliant acidity. A selection of fruit from several vineyards and oaked for 16 months. c. €25.00

Michele Chiarlo ‘CIPRESSE’ Nizza DOCG 2017: I tasted the 2015 of this wine two years ago. At the time I was immediately struck by its brilliance and my own ignorance of the DOCG in question. Then it was named one of the finest wines in the world and I found out that Nizza only became a DOCG in 2014 and had up to that point been a subzone of Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Indeed Wine Enthusiast named this wine it’s #1 for 2018! It’s a brilliant style and comes from the most exposed sites on the la Court vineyard purchased back in the 1970’s. Full and rich with immense depth to the fruit – alert, young and tannic – gentle and long. c. €25.00

Michele Chiarlo ‘LA COURT’ Nizza DOCG 2016: Immediate spiced cherry flows into a gorgeously styled palate. This is exquisite Barbera. Erica told us that they leave as much as 50% of the crop on the ground as a culled green harvest so as to build intensity into the remaining fruit. That means as few as 3 to 4 bunches or only 1kg per vine! Then one parcel is vinified in Botte, one in Barrique. after 1 year they are blended to bottle age for a further 18 months. This gives them a three year post vintage release date – just as in Barolo. 5 thousand bottle production.

The €30.00 bottle price for La Court Nizza is a bargain!

Then we moved on to the wines (rarified these days) of Barbaresco and Barolo. It still surprises me that given the prices attracted by Barolo these days that the Barbaresco region (670 hectares) is only 1/3 the size of Barolo (1800 hectares). Mind you, Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco does retail at around €70 to €80 a bottle! The Barolo wines tend to be at the €100 a bottle mark. What is it with the Nebbiolo grape!

Michele Chiarlo ‘ASILI’ Barbaresco DOCG 2016: Attractive and distinctively light (coloured) pour. Very full fruit on the nose with a whiff of warm asphalt embedded into rich cherry/violet and spice. Magnificent structure on the palate holds a brilliant fruit together into an elegant wholesomeness that has superb length. Will age well, good to drink now.

Michele Chiarlo ‘FASET’ Barbaresco DOCG 2016: A noted tawny depth to the pour. Love that! Everything about this wine screams youth and ‘please don’t drink me yet!’. Tannins, acidity and sheer angular nature of the fruit are fabulous. In addition there isa marked minerality seeping through a finish that suggests a great future in a few years time. Love this for its intense nature. A completely different wine to ASILI. Thinking of game? Think FASET.

Michele Chiarlo ‘Tortoniano’ Barolo DOCG 2015: The vintage 2015 was one of the finest for ripening the Nebbiolo grape. That said the region has had a run of fine vintages with 2018 being almost perfect as well. This is a wine that shows how far Barolo has progressed from traditional styles (big tannin, acid, alcohol and fruit that needed extensive aging to soften out) to fruit driven modern styles fermented in stainless steel and aged for 24 months in ‘average sized’ oak casks. The result is soft, elegant with loads of fruit and length. (The name, Tortoniano, is derived from the geological age of the local rock). While this wine regularly features among the finest Barolo’s available it just doesn’t quite float my boat! Why? It needs a cutting edge of some description – perhaps a gutsier bouquet or a tighter palate … what do I know -it will probably feature among the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 again and again …

Michele Chiarlo ‘CANNUBI’ Barolo DOCG 2015: Both Cannubi (and Cerequio below) are tiny vineyards. This one is 1hectare with a very small production. This wine shows how Michele Chiarlo is absolutely determined to make elegance a hallmark of his Barolo wines. The soil here is key. Chiarlo tells us that it is, ‘A mixture of Tortonian and Helvetian calcareous marl of a basic pH with over 30% sand, poor in organic matter, but rich in microelements such as iron and magnesium‘. High pH and high Magnesium. That’s a serious WoW factor and together with the fine 2015 vintage has produced a subtle and complex wine where ripe elements interplay well with dry herbal notes. Fabulous structure ( not hard in any way), rich depth, long spiced finish.

Michele Chiarlo ‘Cerequio’ Barolo DOCG 2015: Love the light tawny pour. Very impressive. Top class from the very beginning. Restraint. Elegance. Spice, herbs and great depth to the bouquet. Intrigue. Polished sophistication. High but well hidden acidity. Character. Depth of layered flavours. I think I like this a lot!! My wine of the tasting – mind you, Fa set gives it a run for its money…

(Chiarlo owns 6has at Cerequio and takes grapes, on long term contacts, from a further 3has grown by 16 small growers. These are the very best of Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont.)

Bren Smith (of Mackenway Distributors) then spoilt us with a bottle of Michele Chiarlo ‘Cerequio’ Barolo DOCG 2013. Superb ruby with a tawny background. Very deep seated richness to the nose which was subdued. I expected to see more age. Rich and warming style. Less angular and less piercing than 2015. Fruit is big and strong. More muscular than 2015 but less interesting.

Finally we were treated to the Michele Chiarlo Moscati d’Asti ‘Nivole’ DOCG 2017 5%vol (half bottle). These wines are only bottled to order so that their extreme bursts of freshness and wildly ripened peach and apple style fruit bouquets can be experienced. The low alcohol is developed by arresting the ferment by rapidly lowering the temperature causing the poor old yeast to die off after only being able to produce a miserable 5%vol! Completely gorgeous and refreshing wine. Often reckoned to be the best Moscato made. Chiarlo is currently on the 2019.

* (What makes a great tasting? Simplicity, superb wines and an educated speaker capable on focusing on the job at hand. In this case Michele Chiarlo. So many speakers focus on themselves or some obscure point or grape. So many small tastings are held at the wrong venue – dark and/or crowded spaces are ridiculous as tasting venues! Gigi’s last week was simple, bright, friendly and inviting. Erica was a brilliant speaker. )