It’s not easy to get wowed these days. You see, I’ve been doing this wine thing professionally for nearly 20 years, and getting wowed happens less and less often it seems. Well today that changed – I visited Sottimano.
Andrea Sottimano is slight of build, but his vision for what is possible is quite big, rather impressive in both scale and scope. I say this after having had many of the Sottimano wines going back for 15 years. It’s in the past 5 or so that I’ve really been paying closer and closer attention as the quality of the wine seems to have gone to the next level. I needed to meet with Andrea Sottimano, at his cellar and vineyard, to find out what I didn’t know. Today I found out what he’s doing, and I came away both impressed, and, well, wowed.
I’ve met Andrea many times at trade tastings in Colorado (a trip he just returned from less than 2 weeks ago), but I’ve never had the chance to get to know him, to fully understand his philosophies and his practices. Trade tastings are busy places. Some people go to these tastings and they end up parked in front of the producer for 20 or 30 minutes, making it near impossible for anyone else to taste, let alone get some one-on-one time with the producer. Honestly, I stopped going to trade tastings years ago, for the above-mentioned reason but also for others (wines not at optimal temperatures, lousy glassware, etc.) It’s but one reason why visiting producers, on their turf is so important; important to me, anyway.
Sottimano’s change goes back to the 2001 vintage, by all accounts a great growing year that, for most, yielded some very special wines. But Andrea, and his father (still active in the business, but the reigns are firmly in Andrea’s hands now), felt something was missing from the wines. So it was then that Sottimano’s vineyard practices changed. They decided to grow organically, they also decided to change to a more Burgundian style.
That term, Burgundian, gets used a lot these days, so let me be a little more precise: Andrea was looking for purity of fruit but also elegance, and above all else, he sought to have an expression of place. So, in the years that followed the 2001 vintage he began to use better oak, use longer macerations and he decided to go with some whole cluster as well. Specifically, the Barbaresco wines are fermented on their skins for 40 days, sometimes more. The whole cluster content is now at 30 percent (Andrea’s experimented with 35 and even 40%, but 30% seems to yield the best outcome). The wines do not get racked, and they stay in used Francois Freres barriques for 2, or even 3 years as the fermentation continues.
I’m a believer in the wine being allowed to stay on its lees for longer periods. People have their opinions in this matter, and I have mine. I understand the problems of reduction – and more – that can come with that, but there’s no sign of reduction, or anything else that doesn’t belong, in any of the Sottimano wines. Generally (always?) when the wines are racked, there’s an addition of SO2, but Andrea doesn’t add any more sulfites. Ever. He also doesn’t fine or filter the wines. Things like adding water are incomprehensible.
In the case of their 2010 Barbaresco Riserva (only 900 bottles produced, get several, before they’re all gone), the wine was allowed to stay on the skins for 50 days, and the fermentation took nearly 3 years. The vines for this wine are the oldest in the Pajoré vineyard. And it shows. By it, I mean the complexity, the purity and the structure. This wine is the real deal. It has not only the structure that all great wines possess, but it also has this mid-palate presence of considerable, sweet fruit. The length is what you’d expect, pronounced.
The tasting began with Andrea asking me what I’d like to taste. I said, of all things, the Dolcetto (I wanted to see his take on the grape, having just had one from Anna Maria Abbona the night before). He disappeared into another room that connects to the tasting room for a couple of minutes and reappeared with two bottles in his hand – a Dolcetto, but also something he said I had to try, their Maté, the only wine produced as a Vino Rosso at Sottimano.
The Maté has a history going back as long as I do, to the mid-60s. It was during this time that Andrea’s father, Rino, noticed something he’d never seen before in the vineyard, the color of the leaves was rather strange. The wines made from the vines with the strange leaves was just as odd — this was not Nebbiolo. So, what was it? Some sleuthing on their part determined that mixed among the Nebbiolo vines was some Brachetto (a wine that is most often produced in a sweet, sparkling dessert style). The result, then as now, is fantastic. It’s a lighter-bodied wine with a light garnet core that quickly fans out to a thick watery edge. (see below). The color reminded me of Burlotto’s Pelaverga, but the similarities stopped there.
The 2013 Maté that we tasted had a minerally sense of place, it was dry, well-lifted and exhibited the same fine structure as the rest of the Sottimano wines we tasted this day. And before I forget, all of the wines were pop-n-pour, opened just minutes before they were tasted. And even though Thai food is not something found in Piemonte (or if it is, run the other way), it’s all I could think about as perfect pairing with this red-fruited beauty.
The next wine tasted was the 2015 Dolcetto Bric del Solto (13% abv), bottled just 2 weeks prior. It was years ago that I got to meet a famous consulting enologist here in Langhe while he was visiting a property I was staying at at the time. He taught me what Dolcetto is ‘supposed’ to taste like (I had my ideas, being quite familiar with the grape, but I got schooled). He explained the characteristics that a Dolcetto should have (and by that reasoning what it should not have). The Sottimano Dolcetto, with its medium-garnet core, had the nose I was trained to look for, but the taste was much greater, much more elegant than any Dolcetto I’ve had heretofore. It also exhibited some very fine structure that seemed to be the icing on the cake as it were. This is an elegant Dolcetto, and not something I was expecting to come across this morning. Or during my 3 months in Italy, for that matter.
Next up (Andrea was into this, I could tell) was the Barbera. Andrea asked me what else I’d like to taste, and being the geek that I am, and having been made very curious by the beauty of the Maté and the Dolcetto wines that were just poured, I asked to taste the Barbera. The 2013 Sottimano Pairolero Barbera Superiore saw 25 days on the skins. Again, there was no racking here, no added sulfur, either. The total production was approximately 12,000 bottles, the alcohol (already fully resolved) is 14,5%. The wine opens with a potpourri of herbs, followed by chalky soil and finally, red berry fruit. I’m so used to opening Barbera wines (at all price levels, mind you) that seem to explode (to one degree or another) with ripe, almost jammy red/black berry fruits, that I was not expecting the wine to open with a sense of place over a sense of ripeness, or worse, oak spice.
Andrea’s having fun today (he’s always in a lively, fun mood, from what I’ve observed over the years), and he convinces me that we’ve got time to go through some Barbaresco wine, too. Again, he departs the tasting room and re-emerges minutes later with two more bottles in his hands: the 2013 Barbaresco Pajoré and the 2010 Barbaresco Riserva. I objected to his generosity, but he was already opening the capsules, so there you go, we were going to taste some more wines.
2013 is a vintage that’s been (or likely will) get panned here in the Langhe. There was hail, heat, rain, and none of it came at a time that was convenient to the grapes/vines. Having said that, I can honestly say that if I had been served this wine blind, the vintage not revealed, I would have never guessed 2013. 2012? Maybe, perhaps even 2010, but surely, given what I’ve been told by others and from what I’ve tasted thus far, it could not be 2013. But it was, and so I sat there, shaking my head, with a grin from ear to ear, as my level of respect for what Andrea was doing in the vineyards and cellar jumped to yet another level. Perfumed, elegant and so very well structured, the wine offered length, perfectly ripe (for me) red fruits and tell-tale Nebbiolo aromas of roses and wet tar. Here again, the (14,0%) alcohol is fully resolved.
The final wine of the day is the 2010 Barbaresco Riserva. I’ve already mentioned many of the protocols (no sulfur added, no racking, etc.) that were observed, and I’ve mentioned some taste and aroma attributes, but I feel compelled, nearly 12 hours after I first tasted this wine, to comment on the breadth and depth of the stunning nose – one I could smell for hours and hours. This wine, according to Sottimano – and I fully agree – is the best one they’ve ever produced. The sheer elegance, combined with the type of structure few wines are ever endowed with, firmly put this in the wow! camp.
But don’t take my word for any of this, get some of the new Sottimano wines (I’d recommend giving them all at least an hour in decanter) and see for yourself.