Far to the north of Barolo and Barbaresco in the densely wooded hills surrounding the village of Boca in the northern Piedmont a change is taking place, and one of Italy’s most historic regions – home to some of the Piedmont’s most elegant and intriguing Nebbiolo-based wines – is reawakening. At the forefront of this change is Christoph Künzli, owner and winemaker at Le Piane, whose efforts to revive this once-great region are now beginning to bear fruit.
We are pleased to announce that Christoph will be joining us here at our store, 1355 Second Avenue, on Thursday, May 15, from 5:30 to 8:00 for a free tasting of his wines – don’t miss the opportunity to meet the man behind this exciting resurgence.
By the years leading up to the end of the last century Boca, once considered among the preeminent wine regions of northern Italy, as a result of two World Wars and the economic changes in the middle 20th century, had been nearly entirely forgotten, shrunk to the point that fewer than 10 hectares of vineyards remained scattered among the hillsides. The forests had encroached and covered most of the abandoned vineyards. In the mid-1990s Christoph, enologist Alexander Trolf, and a group of investors purchased the small half-hectare estate of Antonio Cerri, one of the last remaining growers who, well into his 80s and preparing his well-earned retirement, was still crafting traditional Boca wines from a blend of Nebbiolo and Vespolina. Sadly, Alexander was killed in a traffic accident in 1998 and did not live to see the reception that awaited the wines of Le Piane and the confirmation of his and Christoph’s shared vision. However, the Meridiana vineyard, replanted by Alexander, stands at the center of Le Piane’s holdings in the hills outside Boca as a testament to his efforts in restoring the estate and region.
Through the work of restoring Cerri’s vineyard and painstakingly acquiring new sites through dozens of real estate transactions – the hillside parcels of Boca being as fractured as the famously small vineyards of Burgundy – Le Piane was built into a domaine with 8 hectares under vine. Each new parcel of land that Christoph and his team acquired was then reclaimed from the forests that had recovered the hillsides – the workers occasionally discovering old, overgrown vineyard buildings and sheds, or vines from some long forgotten vineyard which had grown wild through the underbrush. The results of these labors prove not only that Boca is a unique terroir and well worth the saving, but that it is a region capable of producing truly great wines.
This is Le Piane’s interpretation of the classic field blend table wines of the alto Piemonte. Fermented in stainless steel, and intended for earlier drinking, it is a blend of Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Croatina, Uva Rara, and more. Though it’s certainly unpretentious, it’s also entirely delicious, and the immediate, fresh fruit tones, hints of spice, and minerality, really do convey an unadulterated sense of the terroir of the northern Piedmont. The name “Maggiorina” comes from the old system of training the vines by drawing shoots out along the four cardinal points and shaping a cup, wherein the fruit is scattered at different heights along the vine – a system that is poorly adapted to modern agriculture, but which still prevails in many of the older vineyards in the area. About 1,000 cases produced.
Made from a blend, the majority of which is Croatina, a grape which produces full-bodied, powerful red wines with pronounced tannins, along with Nebbiolo, the Le Piane “Piane” is a concentrated and expressive red, far darker in color (Croatina again) than the Boca or Maggiorina. The Croatina vines which are tended and harvested for the Le Piane “Piane” are located at 500 meters above sea level and contain many vines that are as much as 100 years old. As a result the yields are low and the wine is naturally extremely concentrated. In order to smooth the often wild tannins of Croatina, a combination of tonneaux and Slavonian oak barrels, both old and new, are used so that the gentle exposure to oxygen can flesh out any coarseness and the wine is able to develop a velvety texture to match its densely packed flavors of dark fruit and earth. About 600 cases produced.
Made from a blend of roughly 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina (a related grape that adds “flesh” to the structure or skeleton of the Nebbiolo), the Boca of Le Piane have proven that this is a region that is capable of producing wines that are the rival of even some of the most revered names found further south in the Langhe. Though unlike the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, which take their tannin as the basis of their structures, Boca, significantly farther north and at significantly higher altitude, is built, and will age extremely well, upon its acidity – a common trait for these Boca is a citrus like quality which blends perfectly with their striking minerality and the more typical Nebbiolo notes of red fruits and floral tones. An impressive and truly singular terroir. We are currently offering three vintages of this phenomenal wine, each of which we fell for before having seen the scores: 2005 awarded the prestigious Tre Bicchierri, 2007 rated 93 points in the Wine Advocated, and 2008 – Tre Bicchierri and 96 points by Antonio Galloni in the Wine Advocate. About 1,000 cases produced.
Along with the purchase of Antonio Cerri’s small vineyard in the hills above Boca came his cellars and their contents. From the casks quietly resting in his cellars the Campo delle Piane wines were born. These are among the last remaining bottles of wines produced by Antonio Cerri. The wines spent years aging in casks before being bottled by Christoph in two waves in the middle-1990s, and they unquestionably demonstrate the capacity of Boca wines to age. These are truly special bottles that offer a glimpse into a past that very nearly disappeared as well as an insight into what the future might hold for the wines of the reborn Le Piane estate. We are very excited to be able to offer these unique wines in the following vintages: 1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Stocks of these rare wines are, of course, extremely limited.