Sunday, March 24, 2019

Carema - “Strong and Likeable as the Sun and the Stone”

Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema
Imagine families, perched precariously on the side of a mountain, working the land, generation after generation, tending their vines, to make a wine from their grapes. And imagine, on the other side of the planet, nary a person knows about the many souls who have poured out their life’s effort, their heart and soul, for a wine that is virtually unknown. This is one of the existential problems facing the winegrowers and winemakers in northern Italy who make the wine from Nebbiolo grapes called Carema.

Ian D'Agata and Roberto Ferrando
It isn’t unique to them either. When I was last in Italy for Ian D’Agata’s Gastronomix, we were days in full immersion over the wines of Grignolino, Erbaluce and Ruchè, among others. But as I scan my local wine shops, I’m not finding much of these wines. Why? Aren’t they quintessentially Instagrammable? Maybe they aren’t Unicorn wines? But they are at the very least, Pegasus wines? Or Griffins? Or maybe they are just garden variety goblins. Or gnomes. However, they have come to be overlooked in the vast badlands of Middle America, the truth is that those families clinging to their hillsides aren’t going to stop making Carema just because the heartland is unsuspecting of these gems. That just makes more for those of us with our high beams on.

Here are some basic numbers relating to Carema (with data from Italian Wine Central):
  • 1967 – The year Carema became a DOC.
  • 35 – Acres under vine (as of 2015).
  • 3.410 – Cases produced (as of 2016).
  • 2 – Main producers - Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema and Ferrando Vitivinicola.
  • 4 – The amount of potential additional producers.
  • 0.5 – The average landholder size in acres.
  • 55 – The average age of the vineyard owner.

Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema
So little wine, so few producers, why should we care? I don’t know. Why should we care about Menetou-Salon in France or any other obscure vineyard area? The short answer is: You don’t have to. But someone needs to give a care about Carema. And I’m glad if you wish to join our coterie of Carema devotees.

What can you expect to find in Carema that you cannot already have in Barolo, in Barbaresco, in Gattinara? Ideally, one wouldn’t make the comparison, anymore than one would weigh a Gevrey-Chambertin against a Volnay. Oh, but we are only human, so comparisons are wired in our chattering little monkey brains. So, go ahead and submit to another exercise of compulsion.

Not to take away from anything my dear friends do in Barolo and Barbaresco, let’s just consider the region in which Carema is placed. More akin to the Valle d’Aosta (or perhaps even the Haute-Savoie), this are mountainous high elevation wines, up to 2,000 feet. The Nebbiolo bio-type is 308 Picotener, which is better suited to Carema than Barolo. In Carema it makes a light colored, highly perfumed wine.

Roberto Ferrando - Image courtesy of Ferrando Vini
If you can find the wines in America one first must give thanks to Neal Rosenthal, who early on, forged a deep relationship with Luigi Ferrando, and fiercely listed the wines next to his Burgundy finds. While every sommelier on the search for the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir has endlessly stuck their nose in every nook and cranny of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, Carema was the forgotten child by that crowd. Not to Neal. And those of us for which Italy is not an also-ran. “Strong and likeable as the sun and the stone,” Mario Soldati once wrote.

With only 35 acres of vineyard planted to the appellation, that’s less than half of the space that the Dallas Cowboy stadium takes up. And with only 3,410 cases produced, that’s just a little more than a 10-ounce beer for every game-goer in that often filled-to-capacity arena. It’s not a lot of wine. But with under 80 winegrowers, that’s a village of families that rely on this agricultural product, generation upon generation. And with the average age of the vineyard owner being 55 (with many well beyond that age) can you see these could be endangered goods.

When you are delving off into the world of esoterica, whether it be old-vine Carignane from Contra Costa County or Ramisco from Colares, think about Carema. Here today – who knows where it’ll all be in 20 years?

Oh, and the inevitable tasting notes from the Gastronomix Mini-Master Class.

2015 Carema Classico – Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema – this is the “entry level” wine, in a black label (their Riserva comes in a white label) - Tar (which according to Ian, one does not find in young Nebbiolo) – powerful – lovely perfumed light color, beautiful balance (note to self: Get Some).

2014 Carema Ferrando Etichetta Bianca – this is the “entry level” wine of Ferrando, the white label (their Riserva comes in a black label) – Richly perfumed, cherry, nice fruit, dry, no discernible tannins.

These are not wines to search out because they are better values than their Barolo or Barbaresco counterparts. In fact, they are often priced higher. But the figures are what they are. You are either in or you aren’t.

As for myself, I think I can find a little more wiggle room in my wine closet for a few more bottles of wine. And why shouldn’t it be Carema?

Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema

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