If you’ve read my Northern Italy Overview and, more recently, my Diploma WSET Theory and Tasting—Piemonte, you’ll note that (for good reason) the primary focus is on the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, Dolcetta d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and to a somewhat lesser extent my personal fav—Gavi di Gavi.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.
And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.
According to regulations, Roero DOCG is reserved for Roero Bianco made from Arneis grapes (minimum 95%) and Roero Rosso made from Nebbiolo grapes (minimum 95%). The DOCG also includes the Riserva typology—16 months of ageing for the white wine, 32 months for red.
In 2017, the Consorzio added provisions for MGA (or single-vineyard/site-specific plots that can be named on the bottle labels). There are 135 MGAs and our tasting focused on producers creating expressions of either their Arneis or Nebbiolo grapes from their specific MGAs. I’ve included maps on the right-hand side of each tasting note indicating where each winery’s MGA is located in Roero. The thumbnails can be expanded into a larger image.
Another interesting thing about the Roero terroir is that it is home to steep slopes with high percentage of sandy soils (in addition to clay and marl) along with salt deposits, from its prehistoric underwater past.
In the white Arneis wines, there was a clearly consistent wet stone/mineral note I picked out in each of the wines; the Nebbiolos were lighter, and slightly more lifted aromatically (even a bit more ‘approachable,’ I’d say) than their Barolo or Barbaresco counterparts.
Clearly an indication of terroir.
Further, all the winemakers who spoke indicated that they are either hold a sustainable certification or, at the least, practice sustainability in the vineyard and in the cellar in order to “safeguard the health of the producer, the customer, and of course the health of the soil,” as one producer said it. The Consorzio is also in the process of banning all herbicide use.
A brief overview of the two grapes (based on DipWSET information):
- “Tar and roses,” is the common descriptor for the wines produced from this fickle grape
- First to bud, last to ripen, it’s susceptible to all the environmental threats known to Piemonte’s continental climate: thunderstorms, hail fog, frosts and late-autumn rains.
- The vines themselves are quite vigorous, thus canopy management is essential to avoid shading
- Vines have to be pruned high because the first few buds are infertile, thus more buds are needed (and again canopy management/cluster thinning essential for vine balance)
- Mass selection preferred for new vine propagation; the goal: vines with low vigor, open bunches, and small berries
- Best wines are said to come from vineyards planted calcareous marls on south, south-west facing aspects
- Most Arneis is, indeed, grown in the Roero area.
- said to have light (but complex) aromas, typically including white flowers, chamomile, white peach and lemon
- medium (–) acidity, as the grapes are known to drop acidity fairly quickly, thus proper picking time is essential
- described by Jancis Robinson as “Piemonte’s scented and full-bodied signature dry white.”
PLEASE NOTE: I’ve included links to the exact wines tasted where possible, however, I assessed all wines “blind:” previous to the virtual master class and without any winemaking tech sheets.
Enrico Serafino ‘Poggio di Caro’ Roero Arneis DOCG 2020
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—yellow and green apple, meyer lemon, white blossom, wet stone/mineral, under-ripe white nectarine
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body (soft, round, with the acidity piercing a clean, needle-point line through the center), medium alcohol, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose, adding lime zest, lime leaf, subtle hint of nasturcium nectar, and maybe even a bit of mandarine peel
Finish is medium
Conclusion: This is a very good white wine, clearly intended for immediate consumption, with a good dose of solid acidity that perfectly complements and enhances the vivacious primary fruit and floral aromas. I found, while the aromas and flavors are all of a primary nature, that the range of them (from citrus to orchard, with kisses of stone fruit, highlighted by delicate integrations of floral notes as well) lended a good depth of flavor and complexity. I found that all of these aromas and flavors intermingled well together from beginning to end with a good level of intensity. The finish did fall at a medium length—we are left with some sour citrus notes and even a bit of bitter citrus skin/pith lingering on the tongue and the back of the palate, while the soul of the fruit gently fades away. Very good. Drink now.
Renato Buganza Roero Arneis DOCG Dla Trifula 2019
Appearance: pale lemon (with a small indication of petulance)
Aroma: medium intensity—mineral/wet stone, yellow apple (fresh, crisp), gooseberry, chamomile, white blossom and pink rose petal
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body (and yes, there is a bit of sparkle on the tongue) medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity—confirms the nose while adding lemon and lime flesh and peel, orange blossom, and a hint of lemongrass and a kind of ginger or white pepper heat
Finish is medium
Conclusion: This is a good, refreshing white wine that is completely enjoyable now (not intended for extended aging). While the aromas and flavors weren’t particularly pronounced, there was a decent range of primary characteristics, ranging from citrus to orchard and incorporating some floral notes and even some spice/pepper notes on the palate. The high acidity did well to keep all of these characteristics front and center on the palate from start to finish; the moderate alcohol gives the wine a modest medium body that lends to the fresh, light, crisp nature of the wine. The finish did fall at a medium and one is left with a bit of the sparkle tickling the tongue and just a slight sense of phenolics gripping the exterior of the tongue. Good. Drink now.
FUN FACT: The winery also produces an orange wine from the Arneis grape.
Fratelli Rabino Roero Arneis DOCG Coste Anforiano 2019
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium aromas—wet stone/mineral, meyer lemon, yellow apple, white blossom, orange blossom,
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, high alcohol, medium (+) body (touch of phenolic grip along top and exterior perimeter of tongue), medium intensity of flavors—confirming the nose, adding a touch of toast, bread, and maybe some dry wood tones as well (perhaps from lees aging and/or a touch of wood)
Finish is medium.
Conclusion: While this wine shows a bit more complexity in winemaking, as noted by the toast/bread/dry wood tones found on the palate indicating lees aging and/or barrel usage, the overall intensity of the primary characteristics—the innate fresh fruit flavors/aromas—were lacking in intensity for me. I appreciated the secondary, winemaking characteristics of the palate, but wish they could have elevated instead of further masking those fresh fruit components. I also found that the alcohol was a tad out of balance, leaving a warmth in the chest and throat following the finish. And because the finish fell somewhat flat at the finish, I am concluding that this wine is of acceptable quality. Though there are structural components that could lend toward longevity (acid, alcohol, oxygen integration, phenolics), I don’t think the concentration of fruit is strong enough to withstand the test of time. Thus, this wine is acceptable and best enjoyed now.
Paitin Roero Arneis DOCG 2019
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—ripe to over-ripe yellow apple, honeysuckle, agave nectar, wet stone/mineral, wet grass, fully ripe white peach and white nectarine, hint of ripe apricot, apple blossom
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, high alcohol, medium body (with just a touch of texture on the tongue), medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose and adding meyer lemon flesh, a touch of toast, nutmeg and dried coriander (note: I don’t really get any indication of oxygen influence on this wine, other than that deeper color, which is most likely the grape itself; I believe these last few ‘spice-ful’ notes may be from contact of lees rather than oak)
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that shows a great integration of predominantly primary characteristics along with some secondary ones—an integration that’s even more pronounced on the palate than on the nose. There’s a good dose of acidity that keeps the fresh, fully ripe fruits in play from start to finish. There’s that integration of, what I suspect is, lees/yeast contact that adds both textural intrigue as well as depth of flavor. And that integration continues on through to the medium (+) finish, falling just shy of a fully long finish. Though I marked the wine as high in alcohol (indeed, there is a bit of warmth to the chest and on the palate even during the finish), I think the level of alcohol used is perfectly complementary to the ripeness of fruits expressed and adds a good weight to the body of the wine (which I marked as medium, but could have hedged at a medium (+)). Once again, I do recommend drinking this wine sooner rather than later. Very good. Drink now.
Marchesi di Barolo Roero Arneis DOCG 2019
Appearance: pale lemon (with tiny little petulant bubbles)
Aroma: medium intensity—chamomile, white tea, white blossom, lemon, lime, baby’s breath, fresh hay, honey or honeycomb
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity—confirming the nose and adding just a touch of white pepper florals and white pepper spice
Finish is medium.
Conclusion: This is a good wine that is all about the floral aromatics with just subtle hints of lemon and lime zest. These are earthy florals, incorporating white tea and fresh hay, along with a natural honey or honeycomb nuance. The modest alcohol does well not to overwhelm the flavors but adds just enough lift and body to give the wine some weight (any less, and the wine would indeed be flat and watery). I do not find the wine overly complex. Indeed, this is a wine that is best enjoyed in its youth. The finish concludes at a solid medium length, incorporating a bit of bitterness (not unpleasant—in fact I rather enjoy a bit of bitterness in these styles of wine). This is an overall good wine. Drink now.
FUN FACT: This is actually a combination of three different MGAs. “The three different combined provide a more ‘generous expression’ of the Arneis grape.”
Pace Roero Arneis DOCG 2020
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) aromas—bread, biscuit, hint of cream, toast/toasted bread, lemon, lime, yellow apple, white blossom, matchstick/flint, dried florals (potpourri)
Palate: dry, medium acid, high alcohol, medium (+) body, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose and adding ripe yellow peach and nectarine, just-ripe mango, and maybe even a touch of hazelnut or almond, and saffron
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine. While there’s not a racey level of acidity here, the amount is high enough to elevate the ripe fresh fruit aromas, which expand from citrus through to stone (with a touch of tropical) once moving on from the nose to the palate. There’s a higher level of alcohol here, but it doesn’t leave a burning sensation nor detract from the vivacity of the fruit flavors—instead it complements the ripe nature of those fruits and adds a good weight to the body of the wine, adding a little bit of roundness to the texture as well. Secondary characteristics, which could come from either lees aging or oak usage (or, perhaps, a bit of both) nicely complement the primary characteristics without overwhelming them. While I do get hints of what could be characterized as tertiary notes (most notably the nuttiness), I don’t think they actually are—those nuts are more ‘raw’ in nature, indicating a kind of freshness themselves. Again, I think the beauty of this wine is to be found in its youth. Very good. Drink now.
Angelo Negro Roero DOCG Prachiosso 2016
Appearance: pale ruby (with a slight garnet to the rim)
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, cedar wood, toast/smoke, black currant, fresh and dried tobacco leaf, black plum and black plum skins
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) chalky tannins, high alcohol, medium (+) body, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose, adding hints of prune, fresh and dried fig, a touch of toasted coffee, dried plum and leather
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that will only become more interesting with time. Right now there’s a great integration of both fresh and developed fruit flavors, indicating some notes of age already. Though the alcohol is technically high, it complements the ripe nature of the primary fruits and is well-integrated so as not to distract or detract with any heat or burning. The tannins, too, are on the high side at a medium (+), but add a good dose of textural intrigue as well as depth of flavor to the wine. With time, I believe they will smooth further and add to the decadence that is the future of this wine. There’s a great level of fruit concentration and, as these fruits continue to develop, the wine will become more voluptuous and, again, decadent in nature. Very good. Drink now or hold.
Marco Porello Roero Riserva San Michele 2016
Appearance: pale ruby (just the slightest hint of garnet at the outer-most perimeter)
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—black cherry, black berry, cedar wood, toast/smoke, black plum, mission fig, hint of licorice, all spice, hint chocolate
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) tannins (mature, ripe), medium (+) body, high alcohol, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose and adding just a hint of fennel, fresh leather and forest floor
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that certainly has potential for aging. There’s a great integration of primary and secondary characteristics, with notes of barrel fermentation and aging that do not detract from the fresh fruit flavors that are clearly already seeing some development. Alcohol is high, but well balanced due to the concentration of these fully ripe fruits. Tannins too are on the high side, but because they are fully ripe, mature, they’re almost soft in texture and will certainly smooth further with time. The wine is already showing some signs of development as indicated by the leather and forest floor and, as I go back, I’m also getting a bit of dried plum or like a fruit-leather characteristic. Given the intensity of aromas and flavors along with the overall concentration of fruit, I believe this wine will develop positively. Very good. Drink now or hold.
Giovanni Almondo Roero Bric Valdiana 2017
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: medium intensity—red and black cherry, strawberry, red currant, red raspberry, tomato leaf, hint toast/smoke, touch of nutmeg, fruits smell ripe in nature
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) tannins (ripe, mature, well-integrated), medium alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity—confirming the nose, adding a hint of fennel
Finish is medium in length
Conclusion: This is a good wine emitting a nice range of red fruits that are fresh, vivacious, carried through the palate by a good dose of acidity. The tannins are ripe, mature, and well-integrated, neither distracting nor detracting from the primary fruit characteristics. Secondary characteristics (the smoke, nutmeg) are very subtle in nature, which is perfect, as the aromatic and flavor intensity are simply medium and any more oak would possibly overwhelm those delicate fruits. I think the joy in this wine is found in its youthfulness; the lack of overall concentration and length of finish tells me this wine is not intended for long-term aging. Good. Drink now.
Ca’Rossa Roero Riserva Mompissano 2016
Appearance: pale ruby (again with a slight garnet around the perimeter)
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—black cherry, black plum, blackberry (ripe, almost jammy in nature), white pepper spice, fennel, hint chocolate, hint all spice
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) tannins (sticky, tacky), high alcohol, medium (+) body, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose, but adding some red fruits as well such as ripe/jammy red plum and red cherry
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that I think will benefit from additional aging. Right now there’s a great range of primary fruits that range from fresh to fully ripe and even cooked/jammy in nature, giving the wine an overall complexity and depth of flavor. There’s a wonderful integration of secondary characteristics (all spice, chocolate), along with more natural spices and herbs (white pepper, fennel), again adding to the range of aroma and flavor character within the wine. The alcohol is high, but well-suited given the concentration and ripeness of the fruit flavors. And given that high alcohol, the level of acidity, tannin, and concentration, the wine is completely suited to longevity. Further, I believe with time, the sticky/tacky tannins will soften further, become more integrated, smoothing out the body and making the wine all at once more engaging and approachable. Very good. Recommended for aging.
Cascina Chicco Roero Riserva DOCG Valmaggiore 2016
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—fresh red and black cherry, fresh red raspberry and blackberry, fresh roses, violets, and lavender, tomato leaf, hint fresh fennel frond, a touch of toast, clove and nutmeg
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) fine-grained tannin, high alcohol, medium (+) body, medium (+) flavor intensity—confirming the nose, adding a bit of fresh and dried tobacco, charred wood (cedar), and a hint of mocha
Finish is just shy of long at a medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very well-integrated wine that, despite high alcohol and a good level of tannins, has a wonderful vivacity of fresh ripe red and black fruit aromas and flavors alongside fresh floral notes. Those primary characteristics are complemented by the subtle oak integration as indicated by the smokey/woody notes along with those baking spices, which work to enhance the fruits and florals rather than overwhelm and detract. The tannins, though fine-grained, are still a bit rough around the edges, clinging somewhat to the palate—a characteristic that will certainly smooth out with time. And because of the concentration of fruits, the freshness and liveliness of those fruits (along with structural components such as acid, tannin, and alcohol) I do think that this wine is suitable for extended aging and its a wine I’m excited to see develop over time. Very good. Drink now or hold.
Malvirà Roero DOCG Riserva Trinità 2009
Appearance: pale garnet
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—fresh black cherry, black cherry compote/jam, black plum compote, blackberry jam, raspberry jam, molasses, vanilla, caramel, clove, nutmeg, mushroom and/or forest floor and/or wet leaves, fresh and dried violets and roses
Palate: dry, high alcohol, medium (+) acid, high (firm, mature) tannins, full body, pronounced flavor intensity—confirming the nose, adding prune, fresh and dried fig, dried leaves, tobacco/cigar smoke, and chocolate (bittersweet)
Finish is long
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that, despite its age, still has a good amount of life left in it. There’s a wonderful integration of fresh fruit flavors that ride along seamlessly with the same fruits in cooked/jammy form as well as their dried forms. These are complemented nicely by the floral notes which are also combination fresh and dried in nature. The tertiary characteristics carry over into more earthy notes as well—forest floor, dried leaves, wet leaves, and even some mushroom. All of this is nicely spiced by the oak integration which brings in delicate hints of baking spices (nutmeg, clove) along more decadent aromas and flavors (chocolate, molasses, caramel) that work to uplift all the other flavors, never overwhelming the palate or aromatic profile. And this seamless integration carries through to the long, elegant finish, which incorporates all of these notes through to the very end and linger on the back of the palate forever. Outstanding wine. Drink now or hold.
FUN FACT: Malvirà is a nickname of the family’s old home, where the backyard was north-facing. Typically, homes had their yards and farms facing south in order to receive optimal sunlight. Malvirà means “badly turned” or “wrong turn,” and was how everyone called the winemaker’s grandfather’s house (and, also, the grandfather himself). The label is a depiction of the Peimonte Wheel of Fortune. “If you’re Malvirà, we are hoping to turn it to the good part.”
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