A Study in Piedmont Terroir & the Wines of Michele Chiarlo!

Alberto Chiarlo & Moi

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Alberto Chiarlo, son of Michele who established the family’s eponymous winery in Italy’s renowned Piedmont region in 1956. The Chiarlo wines represent this family’s dedication to the mastery and expression of Piemontese terroir through the use of indigenous grape varieties, innovative viticultural practices and seven generations of winemaking tradition.

We met at Piattini, a new Italian eatery in Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Place, whose deliciously authentic cuisine provided the perfect accompaniment for the featured wines. As we took our seats Chiarlo explained, “We make wine to go with food,” reinforcing one of my favorite things about Italian wine, “and Piemonte is the food capital.” With just shy of 20 Michelin-starred restaurants in the region, he made an excellent point.

We began the tasting with the 2012 Chiarlo Gavi “Le Marne,” a delightful white wine made from 100% Cortese grapes with inviting aromas of white flowers, citrus and minerals. Chiarlo explained, “Our goal is to make wines that are expressive of the soil, [they are] not super modern.” Stefano Chiarlo, Alberto’s brother and Chiarlo winemaker, generally abstains from the use of temperature controlled fermentation and new French oak.” [We are] traditionalists and use the same style now as my grandfather. Our wines are grown in the field…the less touch in winemaking, the better.” This bright white wine had flavors of white peach and lemon accompanied by a crisp acidity which paired deliciously with the freshly grilled octopus.

Of all their wines, Barbera is most definitely at the heart of the Chiarlo ethos. This might sound surprising in the context of this region which deifies the Nebbiolo grape and has historically considered Barbera a simple, one-dimensional offering not suitable for much more than everyday enjoyment. However, Barbera was essentially the first wine the Chiarlo family produced and over the years they’ve done much to elevate its reputation. “Our first goal is to make Barbera,” Chiarlo stated with conviction. In order to produce the finest incarnation of this grape, the winemaking team implements green harvesting, a technique first introduced to the region by Michele Chiarlo in which the fruit of the vigorous Barbera vines is dramatically thinned, resulting in fewer grapes of higher quality with the goal of creating a more complex and potentially age-worthy wine.

Since Barbera plantings must vie for land with Nebbiolo in the town of Alba, another region known for producing much of Piedmont’s Barbera wines, Barbera from Asti is generally considered more structured and complex due to the availability of superior vineyard land. The 2011 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Le Orme,” is made from fruit sourced in the southern part of Asti from the hills around Nizza Monferrato. The wine is fermented for ten days in stainless steel tanks and then aged for eight months in large French oak casks prior to release. The wine had enticing aromas and flavors of black fruit, cassis and spice as well as a lovely hint of violet. On the palate, the wine had a velvety mouthfeel while the acid and tannin struck a harmonious balance. This wine was perfect for enjoying on its own but also paired extremely well with the flavors of the Prosciutto di Parma and decadent duck pate.

In addition to the “Le Orme,” we also sampled the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “La Court,” Chiarlo’s single vineyard Barbera made from fifty year old vines and only in the best vintages. Again, Chiarlo stressed the wine was, “very traditional, [fermented in] open vats with no temperature control. In order to do this we must have perfect grapes.” Fermentation in large oak casks was followed by an additional twelve months of oak aging resulting in a wine with structure and balance as well as heady aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, plum and spice with a tangy acidity and lengthy finish. This wine is delicious now but will continue to benefit from and evolve with additional time in the bottle. The “La Court” synergized deliciously with the Aged Goat Cheese studded with heavenly bits of Black Truffle.

Next were a dynamic duo of Chiarlo Barolos, the 2008 Tortoniano and the 2009 Cerequio. The ’08 Tortoniano Barolo is named for the tortonian-era soils in which the Nebbiolo vines are grown. This wine is more feminine in style than the other Chiarlo Barolos and is considered a great introduction to this wine known for its abundant levels of both acid and tannin. This wine is aged in oak barrels for two years and an additional year in the bottle prior to release resulting in a wine with a vibrant garnet color and fragrant aromatics of red cherry, roses and black truffle. On the palate flavors of pomegranate, ripe cherry, spice and Piemontese earth are accompanied by soft tannins and a lengthy, spice-tinged finish.

The Cerequio vineyard’s soil composition, southern exposure and mild climate make it one of the most prestigious crus of the Langhe. Located at 1,200 feet elevation within the La Morra commune the vineyard’s soils are rich in magnesium which has been found to result in wines of great elegance. Fermentation on the skins is followed by aging for two years in large oak barrels and an additional fifteen months in bottle before release. The resulting ’09 Cerequio Barolo was indeed elegant with complex, layered notes of black currant, cherry, spice and anise. This rich, full-bodied red clearly exhibited the hallmark acid and tannin levels often associated with these renowned wines and will most definitely age gracefully for years to come. Following Chiarlo’s lead, I also ordered the Bucatini Amatriciana, a pasta dish featuring crispy guanciale (cured pork jowl/cheek), flavorful pomodoro sauce and an ample dusting of Pecorino Romano cheese. The housemade bucatini pasta was cooked perfectly “al dente” which brought a smile to Chiarlo’s face as well as all who ordered it. Needless to say it was the perfect accompaniment for both Barolos demonstrating how a robust wine can stand up to a dish with comparable levels of flavor and texture which, in return, will serve to tame the wine’s acid and tannins.

Bucatini Amatriciana

The Michele Chiarlo wines offer a wonderful opportunity to explore Italy’s Piedmont wine region, one of the most renowned wine regions in the world. Whether you’re looking for a crisp, refreshing everyday white wine; an immensely enjoyable selection of red wines or age-worthy additions for your wine cellar there’s definitely a little something for everyone. Also, if you live in the Boca/Delray area (or happen to be visiting) be sure to visit Piattini Ristorante located at 187 SE Mizner Blvd in Boca Raton. For information on purchasing any of the Michele Chiarlo wines, please click here to visit The Wine Atelier.