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Roero is a continuation of the UNESCO Piedmontese World Heritage site that also covers the Langhe; this is where the famous Barolo is produced. This area is renowned for its great red wines but it has one hidden treasure. The white Arneis grape is local to this area but had been almost completely abandoned in favour of the more prestigious Nebbiolo. Fortunately, it was re-discovered by the legendary gastronome and oenophile, Luigi Veronelli. He was instrumental in the resurgence of interest in this wine.
Now this area produces both a red and white DOCG wine and it was with no small sense of anticipation that I visited the winery of Lorenzo Negro. The vineyard lies northwest of the town of Alba, and high up on a ridge. Here, Lorenzo cultivates 8 hectares of land from which he produces around 35,000 bottles of wine per year. The vineyard is surrounded by hills too steep to cultivate. Consequently, wild boar who have developed a taste for grapes now roam freely. Further, the vineyard is not far from the Alps where the hot Mediterranean air meets the cold mountains thus creating storms which can easily destroy a crop in the space of a few minutes. For all this, Lorenzo still exudes the quiet confidence of a man at peace with himself.
The terrain up here is a mixture of sandstone and clay, and although we were high up, the soils here contain sea shells, a reminder of the turbulent geological history of the Italian peninsula. As you enter the winery there is a display of seashells found in the vineyards; they also feature on the label of Lorenzo’s wines. The cantina building itself dates from the 18th century but was refurbished in 2004 and some works are ongoing. The intention is to turn the remainder of the building into a tasting room – it will have a spectacular view over the Piedmont countryside.
In the existing tasting room we first sampled a 2020 Arneis. After a harvest around mid September the grapes are pressed softly and, after fermentation in stainless steel at a cool temperature, the wine remains on the lees until the spring when it is bottled. A wine with a clear yellow gold colour it has a big strong bouquet full of apricots and peaches and the delicate citrus of Amalfi lemons. On the palate there is a salinity from the soil and a beautiful hint of lemon. Try pairing this with turbot or swordfish.
We then moved on to the red DOCG Roero and the first we tasted was a 2016 Prachiosso. Like its more distinguished cousin Barolo, this is 100% Nebbiolo but this is no lightweight substitute. After a two to three week fermentation Lorenzo matures this in French oak botti for 12 to 18 months before allowing it to rest in the bottle for around 12 months. The result is a wine with a bright garnet colour and a complex bouquet containing bitter cherry, vanilla, leather, and Mediterranean herbs. On the palate there is the flavour of amarena cherries which, balanced with the sapidity from the soil and the tannins of the Nebbiolo produces a beautifully structured wine.
Finally, we tried the 2014 San Francesco Riserva. This is matured for 12 months in French oak barriques that have been used two or three times before. This reuse of the barrels allows for a longer, gentler period of ageing. The wine is then transferred to larger botti, again of French oak, for 12 months, before being bottled. On the nose it is soft, rich, and complex as befits a wine that has been carefully matured and aged; the vanilla, cherries, and leather blend harmoniously together. In the mouth there are hints of pepper that add spice to smooth tannins and a great structure and a long finish. This is a wine that has already spent 5 years in the bottle and Lorenzo is confident that it has another 15 years of life. Enjoy this riserva with a mature cheese or wild boar (tit for tat here…)
Italian inheritance law means that estates are often broken up into smaller and smaller pieces and end up so fragmented as to be useless. This happened to Azienda Agricola Lorenzo Negro but the estate was partially restored by Lorenzo’s father in the 1960s and 70s. We can only be grateful for his and Lorenzo’s efforts in this regard.