You may like them or dislike them, but Scarzello wines have style! A distinct, clear, individualistic and unapologetic style. Tellingly, this style is so rooted that it transcends generations. Evident and easily identifiable in the wine made by the father just as easily as in the wine made by the son.
I have not met Giorgio Scarzello (the father), but I can clearly see how this wine is a creation of Federico (the son). They share the traits of having a properly thought out foundation, reasoned approach and clear delivery. Firm and convincing, yet friendly, cordial and happy to share their story with those willing and able to hear it.
I happen to like Scarzello wines a lot. I love their individuality and lack of eagerness to please. I admire how their savory signature is so recognizable. Quality, dignity and pride of its origin is what you get in these wines.
We spent some time with Federico and his wife Federica just before the 2014 harvest and these notes are the summary of that meeting.
While Scarzello family has a long history in Barolo, the Cantina’s modern story began in 1947 after Giuseppe Scarzello (grandfather of the current winemaker – Federico Scarzello) came back from the WWII.
At its present form it covers 5 ha. in Barolo area, which consist of the following plots:
- 2.0 ha. in Sarmassa (4 parcels including Vigna Merenda monopole)
- 0.5 ha. in Terlo (1 parcel)
- 1.0 ha. in Sarmassa
- 0.5 ha. in Pajagallo
Scarzello wines have always been made in a traditional fashion and Giorgio (Federico’s father) weary of the ubiquitous infatuation with the modern-style approach has been quite cautious in involving his son, Federiko who, as a youth, was allowed to help in the vineyards, but not with the winemaking itself.
Federico’s break came in 1997 when he, having just begun his studies at the Scuola Enologica at Alba, was allowed to make some Barbera. Having proven his skill and respect for tradition, Federico earned his stripes and with them grew his level of involvement in the cellar. After graduating in 2000 he ran the winery along with his father until taking the reigns (together with his wife Federica) fully in 2009.
VINEYARD PHILOSOPHY AND THE TOUGH 2014
Although farming is organic at Scarzello and biodynamic practices are being employed, Federico tends to downplay his allegiance to both, shying away from the trend where hoards of winemakers are seemingly competing for who is the most organic or who is Steiner’s most ardent disciple. Certificates do not define him or his wines.
When I ask him directly as to how radical are his views and practices in the vineyard he replies with a weighted view, which he clearly has given plenty of thought and will undoubtedly re-assess in the future, if need be.
“After this vintage I understand that, of course, using your head is the best way. But it has to be MY head. I don’t use any herbicides, but not because I want a certification. It isn’t that difficult to qualify for certifications, but I try to work in my own way, trying to understand what is the best approach for my vineyards. For the normal vintage it is easy to support your vines with just copper, a very low concentration of copper, actually. This year we tried to minimize intervention, often using solutions of less than 100g per tank, but this wasn’t the best time to do it. In the vintage like 2014, maybe it is better to use a small amount of something more aggressive just at the right moment to keep pernosopora at bay.”
Federico’s reasoning and that look on his face of having to seek compromise bring up the image of another great young winemaker whom we spoke to a few days prior – Stella di Campalto (Montalcino).
Also mindful of the ecosystem and the strength of the nature’s ability to sustain itself provided human interaction is in sync with the environment, she was also beaten up by the hardships of the 2014 growing season. Atypically she had to green harvest aggressively and struggled to keep the disease under control with just the homeopathic treatments. She also had that same look on her face when talking about having to sacrifice some of her standard practices in order to save the harvest. Indeed, variations of this look were quite commonplace in Montalcino and Langhe in the fall of 2014.
Difficult harvests are not only tough because of the weather conditions, but also because of the way the wine industry functions. Decades of chemically-ensured harvests and dominance of modern-style wines have turned the average wine consumer into a spoiled brat, who demands stable quality every year. Although both trends have been moderating (reversing, even – some would argue) the average consumer is still reluctant to embrace the variation of harvests from year to year. Despite Scarzello being among those who are focused more on the tradition and on their wine rather than chasing the “Coca-Cola crowd” the market trends impact everybody.
Federico touches the subject slightly.
“Just look at the past. Back then, in the vintage like this – they couldn’t harvest. They used only copper and sulphur then, but lost some vintages completely. Forty years ago this vintage (2014) would be down the drain. Nothing. That’s the reality. These days – we have to harvest something. And always have to harvest something good. This year I can save the harvest, but that’s because I have some experience in other situations which are similar to conditions this year. But I hope in my life I will never have to go through this kind of harvest again. Although, if I am faced with it in the future – I’ll know how to adjust.”
At the end, the main challenge for 2014 harvest is the uneven ripeness of the fruit, which makes proper vinification quite difficult. “We’ll try. If the result is good – it becomes a bottle of Scarzello wine. If it’s not good enough – I sell in bulk to some negociant and forget the vintage” – finalizes Federico, quite content with taking a philosophical stance. “Or,” he chuckles, ”actually REMEMBER it!”
It wouldn’t be the first time the cantina abstained from releasing its wine. In the 2002 and 2003 (difficult harvests in Piemonte) the quality of the wine was not up to their standards. Unwilling to send out in the world something that would mislead a potential neophyte about the quality of his wines – Scarzello did not bottle any Barolo at all.
Federico produces 4* wines under the Cantina Giorgio Scarzello label:
- Barbera d’Alba Superiore
- Langhe Nebbiolo
- Barolo del Comune di Barolo
- Barolo Sarmassa Vigna Merenda
*Technically, he also makes a Dolcetto, but this is a special bottling of only 300 bottles for his Norwegian importer. Federico’s view is that his plots are not ideal for Dolcetto because the resulting wine is quite heavy and high in alcohol , which aren’t typical characteristics for an easy-drinking Dolcetto. He therefore, does not produce it in large quantities, but only for this one importer whose clients seem to appreciate this particular style of Dolcetto.
Individual plots are vinified separately and maceration is long (always in steel) – up to 50 days for Barolo Sarmassa Vigna Merenda, their top wine made only in the best years.
Tradition is king in Scarzello cellar, so you will see no French oak here.
Even the new 25 hl. Slavonian oak botti see only Barbera for the first 2 – 3 years and only after that are allowed to take in Langhe and Barolo.
BEYOND BAROLO – EPACRIFE
While Cantina Giorgio Scarzello produces only red wines from Barolo, Federico, a big fan of Champagne, is involved in another project called Epacrife, which is not located in Barolo and produces only sparkling wines.
The name Epacrife represents the first letters of the names of its founders and friends from oenological school – Eric, Paolo, Cristian and Federico.
They produce three wines (all sparkling): Epacrife Nebbiolo, Epacrife Bianco and Epacrife Moscato.
It all started in 1999 with a project during their last year of oenological school, in which the four friends, all Champagne lovers, decided to produce a Méthode Champenoise wine in Langhe. They bought some grapes and made a classic Pinot Noir / Chardonnay blend. However, having opened a few bottles the following yeartheir verdict was that the wine was Ok, but nothing exciting or special. They realized that something had to change or the project would be dead within a couple of years because the wine was just like a million others.
Eventually an idea of drawing parallels between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo came up and they recalled that over a 100 years ago Piemonte did indeed produce sparkling Nebbiolo wines. The practice was totally lost due to a number of reasons: economic hardship in the region, dominance of Champagne as the sparkling wine in the world and the resulting focus on red wines in Piemonte.
Their first experiment with Nebbiolo spumante in 2000 rested on the premise that the resulting wine was to be white. The catch was that regardless how careful and gentle you crush Nebbiolo it still bleeds some color from the skins. While Nebbiolo, just like Pinot Noir, skins are not packed with pigment, whatever minute amount of color they give – is very difficult to take out. Extremely difficult. Passionate and stubborn as the were the young crew persevered. And succeeded. The color was gone. But so was all the identity of the wine and Nebbiolo grape. The resulting wine was anonymous.
The light bulb came on after the second vintage. Why fight the unique characteristics of the variety and negate the character of the area? Thus the natural rosé was born. A very very pale rosé.
In parallel the crew also experimented with some indigenous white grape varieties for a white spumante and traditional Moscato spumante.
The future for the Epacrife project seems quite promising as there is a lot of interest in producing Nebbiolo spumante and if the market will embrace the idea Federico and the gang may increase their production (currently around 8,000 bottles). They are even pushing for a dedicated appellation creation. Luckily they have an ability to scale since they currently use only a portion of their 1.5 ha. plot in Madonna di Como and sell the rest.
Erbaluce Nebbiolo Spumante
- 100% Nebbiolo from a vineyard in Madonna di Como (Asti), 570 – 600 msl.
- Classic method
- Zero dosage
- Harvested grapes are cooled and stored at 0 – 5 C for a week, then de-stemmed.
- Vacuum crushing with CO2. Maceration for 20 – 24 hrs. in closed press to avoid oxygenation. Then pressed. Yield is 50 – 55%.
- Fermentation 100% in steel. Yeast: indigenous (inoculation if fermentation doesn’t start after 48 hours). Stays on lees for 6 – 7 months.
- Tirage – in March/April.
- Sur lie – minimum 30 m.
- Production is very small: First year – 500 btls., second – 1,200 btls. From 2005 onward – around 4,000 btls.
Epacrife Bianco Spumante
- Erbaluce, Cortese, Timorasso, Moscato from a vineyard in Madonna di Como (Asti), 570 – 600 msl.
- Classic method
- Zero dosage
- Separate vinification, blended in the spring.
- Sur lie – 24 months
Epacrife Moscato Spumante
- 100% Moscato from a vineyard in Madonna di Como (Asti), 570 – 600 msl.
- Fermented in the bottle
- Alcohol: 8 – 9%
- Sugar: 150 g.
- Production: ~1,000 bottles every 3 – 4 vintages.
0.5 ha. in Sarmassa (Barolo) / Exposition: West / 250 msl. / Soil: calcareous and clayey / Vines age: 10 – 15y / Yield: 7.0 tons/ha / Vinification: 15 – 18 days in steel / Ageing: 12 months in 25 hl. Slavonian oak + 12 months in bottle / Production: 4,000 – 5,000 btls.
2012: Very well structured light and less serious version of Federico’s Baroli. Still slightly tainted by that young wine’s slightly bready nose which should integrate over the next few years and allow for the clean and lean fruit to peak out more. Good stuff, but needs some more time in the bottle. I’ll love it at 10 years of age.
Barbera d’Alba Superiore
1.0 ha. in Sarmassa and 0.5 ha. in Pajagallo (Barolo) / Exposition: Sarmassa-South/Soth-East, Pajagallo-South-West / 250 msl. (Sarmassa), 350 msl. (Pajagallo) / Soil: calcareous and clayey / Yield: 6.5 tons/ha / Vinification: 20-30 days in steel / Ageing: 18 months in 25 hl. Slavonian oak / Production: ~7,000 btls.
2010: Serious and well balanced Barbera. Good body. Herby and vinous. Could use a little more depth, but knowing Scarzello style that might come with age, so I won’t make a call on that just yet.
Barolo del Comune di Barolo
2.0 ha. Vigna Merenda in Sarmassa + 0.5 ha. in Terlo / Exposition: Vigna Merenda – South/South-West; Terlo – South-East / 250 (Sarmassa) – 300 (Terlo) msl. / Soil: calcerous and clayey (some sand in Terlo) / Vines age: 10 – 15 y. (Sarmassa), 20 (Terlo) / Yield; 6.5 – 7.0 tons/ha / Vinification: 30 days in steel / Ageing: 24 months in 25 hl. Slavonian oak + 12 months in bottle / Production: 5,000 – 7,000 btls.
2008: More open than the Vigna Merenda, still showing the characteristic savory soul, but with more pronounced liquorice and deep strawberry layers. Quite round.
Barolo Sarmassa Vigna Merenda
2.0 ha. in Vigna Merenda, Sarmassa Cru (Barolo) / Exposition: South, South-West / 250 msl. / Soil: calcareous and clayey / Vines age: 10 – 15 y. / Yield: 6.5 – 7.0 tons/ha / Vinification: 4 plots of Vigna Merenda vinified separately, 50 days in steel / Ageing: 30 months in 25 hl. Slavonian oak + 24 months in bottle / Production only in best years: ~ 6,000 btls.
2008: Doesn’t bombard with fruit or with too much liqurice. Restrained and quiet, in need of time to develop, but all the elements are there. Nice tannic texture – quite silky and properly ripe; grippy, but not harsh. Acidity volume is a good match for the level of tannins here. It wasn’t being sold yet when we tried it and I think it shouldn’t be drunk for at least a few years after it starts selling. Not for the fear of it being prohibitively harsh, but simply because it will still be in a bud and won’t deliver the nuances of a full blossom.
2007: No Vigna Merenda was produced in 2007. When the grapes arrived at the cellar, Federico felt they were not good enough for the top bottling because the wine would be bigger and more extractive due to the hot vintage.
2006: Clearly cut from the same cloth as the 2008 version, but somewhat more evolved and nicely medicinal in addition to the buckwheat, hay, sundried tomatoes. Very cool savoriness and salinity, even in the aroma. Will be a conservative and classy beauty with age.
1990: Distinctly savory with ample dusty buckwheat in the nose, complemented by liquorice, old strawberry preserves, some balsamic, herbs/hay and a touch of bitter chocolate. Very backward in its attitude and evolution. The latter reminded me that of the 1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi San Lorenzo-Ravera somewhat. Oldish at first and growing younger with air and time. After 2 hours of decanting Scarzello shed the dusty nose and was crisp as a whistle, but still quite austere. Tons of character.