My last stop of the day was the most memorable. I met with the entire core team at Roberto Voerzio, which meant Roberto, his son Davide and Cesare, who’s the do-it-all man, working the cellar, the vineyards, and the reception. Before arriving at the estate I had read that Roberto was considered one of Piedmont’s “superstars” so I was looking forward to the visit, especially since the Voerzio name is not as marketed as Gaja or Giacosa, who have decades of history behind their brand.
Roberto Voerzio founded his estate in 1987. He manages 21 acres of vineyards in La Morra, about a 30-minute drive from Neive, where Bruno Giacosa is located. Roberto owns 6 different plots – Sarmassa di Barolo, Pozzo dell’Anunziata, La Serra, Brunate, Cerequio, and Capalot, which is the oldest with 50-year-old vines. Annual production peaked in 2004 at 60,000 bottles, marking the estate’s most productive year. Normally production levels are a little over 40,000 bottles.
Prior to Roberto’s arrival—he was the last person to show up—Cesare gave me a very in depth tour of the vineyards and cellar. According to Cesare the vineyard density is around 8,000 vines per hectare, which is the highest density I ran across during my short visit to the region. However, Roberto Voerzio prunes religiously to 3 to 5 bunches per vine to ensure the full complexity and concentration of all their wines. The estate produces 12 different bottles, which I found rather impressive, considering the relatively small size of the estate. Granted, all 12 wines are rarely made during any given vintage, since Roberto refuses to bottle a wine that doesn’t meet his high quality control standards. Roberto makes all the standard bottlings of Barolo, Barbera and Dolcetto; however, he also owns some merlot and cabernet sauvignon vineyards. I wasn’t fortunate enough to taste these particular wines. Roberto Voerzio is a modernist and from 1987 to 1995 he aged his Barolos in a combination of large oak casks and barriques. Then he switched to only barriques up to 2005. And just recently he switched back to the combination of both. Overall, the Barolos are aged anywhere from 20 to 28 months in oak. I asked Davide about the 2008 vintage and he noted that it was a good year. The summer was cool; there was rain in August and September, followed by a solid week of sun. The harvest was later than usual and the resulting wines were more tannic and acid and should age very well.Cesare, Davide and I finished tasting through three recent releases and it appeared that the visit was coming to an end. Just about at that moment, Roberto strolled in and I found out why Robert Parker referred to Roberto as a “superstar”. Roberto Voerzio’s winemaking style spans far beyond the vineyards and the cellar. Other than being a modernist, which honestly I don’t think is most significant to his overall wine making approach; the most inspiring and distinctive characteristic of Roberto’s wine making philosophy is that he’s a naturalist deep at heart. Roberto has a strong faith in organic viticulture and wine making. His philosophy is to manipulate the wine as little as possible. He does not use any fining or filtration and uses some of the lowest levels of sulfites in Piedmont. Roberto is 57 years old, which granted is not that old, but in any case he’s got the energy of a freshman in college.
Roberto is a firm believer in terroir and more importantly he believes that his terroir in La Morra is some of the best in all the Piedmont. He told me that what is key to his wine is that he lets the vineyard do its job. Other than temperature control techniques, the vineyard is where the wine is made, not the cellar. In so many different anecdotal ways Roberto expressed his genuine passion in making wine and was insistent in the fact that he “doesn’t work to make money … he works to make a wine that always tells a story” (I had to paraphrase a little since our conversation jumped between French and Italian, while I was taking notes in English). Then Roberto proceeded to tell me one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard during my many bibulous travels. I know I won’t do it justice. He explained to me that his passion in making great wine is not to release it to the French or American market and generate top Wine Spectator and Robert Parker ratings. Granted this is one of the many side-effects. But rather Roberto’s drive in making wine is to produce a unique wine with spirit that can be enjoyed by some unnamed man or women, relaxing far, far away on an unknown deserted tropical island. Roberto told me that if he’s made that person, with whom he’ll never cross paths, happy, then he’s fulfilled his mission. It’s pure, unquestioned and personal satisfaction that Roberto is after. Roberto ended his story with “vivre la difference”! (basically, long live diversity)
Unfortunately during the latest release, apparently only three wines were bottled, and so I wasn’t fortunate enough to taste many of the gems of the Roberto Voerzio portfolio, other than one of his Barolos. All of Roberto’s Barolo crus have received 95+ scores for multiple vintages and his barbera from the Vigneto Pozzo dell’Annunziata is suppose to be one of the best expressions of barbera anywhere. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time tasting Roberto’s three latest releases, detailed below.
2007 Roberto Voerzio “Priavino”, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC
Blend: 100% dolcetto
Vinification: No ageing in barriques, only a few months in stainless steel, 14.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Bubble gum and candy aromas, followed by red fruits and minerality. Acidic, juicy and refreshing. Medium-bodied and simplistic. A good everyday drinking wine.
Price: 9€ in Europe
2006 Roberto Voerzio “Cerreto”, Barbera d’Alba DOC
Blend: 100% barbera
Vinification: Aged 12 months in barriques, 14.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Aromas of dark fruits and some spice. Great earthy and mineral tones. Soft tannins and vibrant acidity. Sour cherries, berries, and minerality on the palate.
Price: ~35€ in Europe
2005 Roberto Voerzio “Cerequio”, Barolo DOCG
Blend: 100% nebbiolo
Vinification: Aged 12 months in barriques and 12 months in foudres, 14.5% ABV
Tasting Notes: Black fruits, dirt and spice aromas. Good acidity and very strong sweet tannins with some walnut skin coming out. Dark chocolate, plum, and spice flavors. Still a little unbalanced. Needs some time to develop and for the tannins to soften.
Price: ~150€ in Europe