THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Bridging the Gap in Piedmont

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 The Gochiso and the Missus get to wine and dine with Giorgio Rivetti (center).
The Gochiso and the Missus get to wine and dine with Giorgio Rivetti (center).

No, I’m not referring to that quaint residential city surrounded by Oakland. I’m referring to that Northwestern province in Italy where the Nebbiolo grape is king, producing spectacular Barolo and Barbaresco wines. About six years ago, I was fortunate to attend a wine dinner featuring Alfie Cavallotto and his wines from the Piedmont. Since Piedmontese winemakers rarely visit Hawai‘i and the house of Cavallotto is one of my favorite producers of Barolo, listening to Cavallotto and sampling his wines was a memorable experience.

Fast forward to June of 2013 when we recently had the opportunity to share a table with another great winemaker in Northern Italy, Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta. The last time Giorgio Rivetti visited Hawai‘i was about 10 years ago when Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar first opened in Honolulu, and since one of my favorite grape varietals is king in Piedmont, I planned on attending this wine dinner as soon as Chuck Furuya announced the dinner!

La Spinetta
The house of La Spinetta is young by Piedmont standards. Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti founded it in 1977, and produced their first wine — a single vineyard Moscato — the following year. In 1985, they introduced their first red wine, a Barbera, followed several years later by Pin, a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera. It wasn’t until 1995 that they produced their first Barbaresco, Gallina, which also was the first bottle to feature the rhinoceros drawing and woodcut by the German artist Albrecht Dürer. According to Giorgio Rivetti, the rhino had no connection to La Spinetta; they simply admired the artist’s drawings. The Barbaresco Starderi and Valeirano soon followed, and in 2000 they produced their first Barolo Campe featuring a Dürer pencil drawing of a lion since Barolo is the king (like the lion) of Nebbiolo.

A GOOD WINE ­— The Gochiso and the Missus get to wine and dine with Giorgio Rivetti (center). Rivetti and his brothers run La Spinetta, which produces a variety of fine wines bottled with its iconic rhinoceros on the label.    courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto
A GOOD WINE ­— The Gochiso and the Missus get to wine and dine with Giorgio Rivetti (center). Rivetti and his brothers run La Spinetta, which produces a variety of fine wines bottled with its iconic rhinoceros on the label. courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto

Since then, the second generation of La Spinetta, brothers Carlo, Bruno and Giorgio have acquired vineyards in Tuscany and produce traditional grape varietals like Sangiovese and Vermentino in Central Italy.

Learning from Both Masters
Chuck Furuya started the evening by briefly explaining the basic differences between wines, primarily highlighting the divide seen between Old World (Europe) and New World (Americas, Australia, South Africa) wines, pointing out that while the New World highlights the grape varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.), the Old World features the location (Gevrey Chambertin, Barolo, etc.) and values individual terroir characteristics.

Giorgio Rivetti added that his two main categories of wines were tasting wines and drinking wines, where tasting wines were big rich wines that usually carried higher alcohol levels that were good for sipping, but difficult to pair with food. Drinking wines had lower alcohol levels but maintained good acid levels, and are very food friendly. He also differentiated between winemakers and farmers, and stated that he was a farmer who produced drinking wines, because if you take care of the vineyard and produce great fruit, there isn’t much you have to do in the cellar.

Having sampled both Barolo and Barbaresco from the older houses and the younger generation of Piedmontese winemakers, I do notice a melding of Old World terroir and New World fruit forward winemaking where fruit is upfront but not dominant. Stone, leather, licorice and tar are there, but not dominant. Oak is there, but not dominant. And acids and tannins are still there but in balance with the various flavors in the wine. And this is what I find with La Spinetta’s wines.

Wine and Dine
The food and wine pairing for the evening looked like this with my personal ratings and comments about each wine in parentheses:

Homemade Seafood Sausage with Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Tomatoes, Kahuku Corn and Orzo
2010 La Spinetta Toscana
Vermentino (3.75/5)
(Good minerality with pineapple and citrus on the nose. Candied citrus on the palate with good acid and a long finish)

Homemade Papardelle with Shredded Braised, No Growth Hormone, No Antibiotic Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Wild Mushrooms and Sage
2007 Il Nero di Casanova (4/5)
(Dark red fruit followed by stone on the nose with ripe fruit on the palate with good concentration and balancing acidity with a long finish)

Roasted Stuffed Lamb Loin with Swiss Chard, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Beets
2001 La Spinetta Barbaresco “Starderi” (4.5/5)
(Ripe red fruit, licorice and stone on the nose with dried red fruit and spice on the palate with a rich mouth feel and very long finish)

Ricotta Cheese Panna Cotta with Dried Cherries and Crushed Nuts
2011 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti “Bricco Quaglia” (4.25/5)
(Mixed citrus, white flowers and ripe fruit on the nose with an ethereal flow on the palate and a medium finish)

We normally also bring some wines from home to uncork, especially if it fits the theme of the evening, so I brought a 2010 Cavallotto Langhe, a white wine made exclusively from Pinot Noir. While it didn’t pair as nicely with the Seafood Sausage as the Vermentino, it more than held up to the Papardelle with Shredded Chicken. And since Giorgio Rivetti was seated right across from me for the entrée and dessert courses, I uncorked a bottle of 2001 La Spinetta Barbaresco “Valeirano” and let him sample it before displaying the bottle. He nodded with satisfaction and said, “This is a good wine.” After showing him the bottle, he said, “Ah, it is my wine.” And yes, it IS a VERY GOOD wine!

Since the production of the Barolo Campe is in the 1,700 case range, with the various Barbaresco produced in the 2,800 case range (and only 45 percent or so makes it to the U.S.), the La Spinetta wines aren’t the easiest to find. However, if you do a Web search, you’ll see that San Francisco Wine Trading Company and J.J. Buckley Fine Wines in the Bay Area occasionally have a stock of the La Spinetta wines. Starting just under $20 up to the $100 price point, they are a label I’ll occasionally splurge my hard earned dinero on and after meeting Giorgio Rivetti, will continue to do so. They ARE that GOOD!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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