On Tuesday, oenophiles have a golden opportunity to taste brilliant Piemontese wines at Zino Ristorante in Edwards. Renato Vacca, winemaker and proprietor of Cantina del Pino in the Barbaresco appellation, is coming to town to show four of his prized red wines.
All wines will be paired with special creations from Zino partner and Executive Chef Nick Haley. Recently, Haley wowed gastronomes with his unique five-course "Mystery Culinary Tour of Italy" menu he created for the Vail chapter of Chaine des Rotisseurs. A sellout crowd enjoyed Haley's pairings with six of Schweiger Vineyards' wines at a dinner last month. Now Haley is going back to his culinary training roots in Piemonte with this one-time menu.
The northwestern Italian province of Piemonte has long been a popular destination for European gastronomes. Opting to flock to Tuscany, Americans have largely ignored Piemonte's stellar wines, including noble Barbaresco and Barolo, and rustic, yet elegant cuisine. But that trend is changing as Americans' knowledge of Piemonte's vinous and culinary treasures increases concurrently with the broader availability of financially approachable wines from the region.
Renato Vacca is one of many Piemontese producers making high-quality wines at costs that don't require a second mortgage. Many producers such as Aldo Vajra of G. D. Vajra (Barolo) and Giulio Grasso of Ca' del Baio (Barbaresco) resisted the temptation of significant price hikes during the heady vintages between 1997 and 2001.
The combination of rising stars such as Renato and his peers, and customer loyalty cultivated by producers like Vajra and Grasso, makes Piemonte a perfect destination for wine choices on wine lists and epicurean vacations. That is not to say the more expensive wines of Piemonte's luminaries, such as Angelo Gaja, are to be passed over. It's just that Barbaresco and Barolo are two wines that many need to "date" awhile before committing. Cantina del Pino's wines are perfect to date and to marry!
Cellar of the pine
Cantina del Pino is a small family-owned winery just outside the iconic village of Barbaresco. Its large triangular Mediterranean pine tree (pino) towering over neighboring evergreens on a ridge across from Barbaresco is a great landmark for wine explorers navigating the winding, narrow vineyard roads of the region. The pino is also the logo on the simple, elegant etiquette (label) of all of Vacca's wines, serving as a landmark on bottles in wine stores and restaurants.
Unlike the Disney-like wineries that pepper Napa and Sonoma, most wineries in Piemonte are simple, almost nondescript places. The courtyard of the modest "cellar of the pine" belies what's beyond the heavy winery door. Here, it's what inside that counts!
The winery has been in the Vacca family for nearly 100 years; however, its market entry was relatively recent. Wine production began under the Cantina del Pino label with the 1997 vintage Barbaresco. Renato learned his craft working with his father, Adriano, at Italy's largest cooperative, Produttori di Barbaresco. Adriano, who was one of the cooperative's founders in 1958, now manages Cantino del Pino's prized vineyards consisting of vines that never suffer chemical fertilizers and range in age between 35 and 70 years. The average vine age is 40. Renato's mother, Carla, along with aunts, uncles and family friends also work in the vineyards. It's truly a family affair!
The Cantina del Pino portfolio consists only of red, unfiltered wines, primarily Barbareschi, including two crus, Ovello and recently introduced Albesani. When asked to confirm he only produces red wines, the humble, yet humorous Renato answered, "Sure, what else could I do?" Fair enough considering how passionate Renato is about nebbiolo, dolcetto and barbera. Although his crus are the highest priced wines in his portfolio, Renato loves presenting his Barbaresco classico made from grapes of four vineyards, including those of the two crus. It is that wine he is most excited to share with diners at Zino.
The high marks of the Gambero Rosso, Wine Spectator and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate given to Vacca's wines have helped raise his the profile and increase demand for the wines. Wine Spectator recently awarded ratings of 90 and above to Vacca's three Barbareschi: Barbaresco Albesani 2009 (93), Barbaresco Ovello 2009 (92) and Barbaresco 2009 (90).
But don't just take the opinion of the wine raters, even though they gave the wines great ratings. Taste for yourself. No doubt you will award the wines with the most important high ratings of all, yours!
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney and Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.