The village of Serralunga is on the south-east edge of the Barolo appellation. A medieval fortified tower dominates the village, giving fair warning of the character of these wines: structured, substantial, uncompromising.
The Germano winery is a few hundred yards north of Serralunga. Sergio Germano is typical of the new generation of producers in the Langhe; after completing six years of study at the school of Enology in Alba he made wine for a few years at Fontanafredda, one of the largest wineries in the area, before returning to the family winery in 1993.
My ideal producer in a traditional appellation such as Barolo has the modern, scientific understanding of winemaking that his forebears lacked, while still respecting the traditions that they developed. Sergio certainly has that new knowledge and is ready to use brand-new techniques such as micro-oxygenation and must-concentration if he thinks they will make better wine. He also has respect for the style of wine made by his father; hence his Serralunga Barolo will never be a creamy, international-style wine.
Great wine is always made in the vineyard. Sergio does much of the fieldwork himself, with the help of his wife Elena and one worker. His two 'crus,' Cerretta and Prapo, are both steep and perfectly exposed to the south.
Sergio Germano's Alta Langa sparkling wine, and almost all of his white grapes, come from plantings in an entirely separate area from the rest of his wines. Some years ago Sergio went looking for an area not too far from his vineyards in Barolo, but better suited to white and sparkling wines, and he found it just outside the village of Cigliè, at the south end of the Dogliani appellation. The vineyards here are at 500m or more above sea-level, steeply sloped, and consist of white limestoney clay with a lot of stones mixed in. He now has 10 acres of vineyards in Cigliè and is making vibrant and intriguing wines from grapes grown there (and carried back to Serralunga to be vinified, about 30 minutes away).
Alta Langa Metodo Classico Brut (Champagne Method sparkling wine)
The Alta Langa is an area bordering the Langa, where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown, but at higher elevation, hence 'Alta' (high). Sergio Germano decided to establish vineyards in this area in order to produce whites wines (such as Riesling and the rare local variety Nascetta), and the base wine for his Spumante, which is made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The area was originally planted entirely to Dolcetto, which grows very well there, but Sergio has shown that the altitude (1,800 feet above sea level) and soil (limestone-rich and stoney) are also well suited to white and sparkling wine. (The sparkling wine appellation 'Alta Langa' is very recent, established only in 2002. It is defined as 'hilly, marly and limestone-rich, at an altitude of no less than 800 feet above sea level.)
The base wine for the Germano Alta Langa is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The grapes are picked in the beginning of September into small boxes, and taken to the winery in Serralunga for pressing and fermentation (the Chardonnay is fermented in barrels, the Pinot in stainless steel). In April, after the primary fermentation, the wines are blended together, bottled, and the second fermentation begins, lasting 4-6 months. Twenty months of lees aging in the bottle follows, then the wine is disgorged (see [*]). The most famous 'classic' (ie Champagne method, Champagne varieties) sparkling wines made in Italy are from Franciacorta, in Lombardy, but I prefer the best examples from the Alta Langa, and a bottle of this will show you why. The character of the terroir is clearly present along with the flavors that come from the winemaking. I will be aging this for a few years, too.
Grown in Sergio's vineyards in the south of the Dogliani appellation, at between 350 and 450 meters (1,150 to 1,500 feet); limestoney soil, eastern exposure, very good white wine terroir. The fruit is picked in small boxes, then pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Half of the wine is put through ML to round out the acidity somewhat (the rest of this is used as base wine for Sergio's Alta Langa sparkling wine, and has excellent acidity), and the wine is aged in stainless steel, then bottled in the summer following the vintage. Fresh appley bright Chardonnay, very useful food wine.
Serious Riesling is a pretty new thing in Italy, and when Sergio Germano planted the grape in the hills south of Dogliani, about half an hour from his home in Serralunga, he had no idea how well it would do. He knew he loved the variety and wanted to see how it would come out. The experiment worked: the soils are limestone-rich, the altitude provides excellent fresh acidity, and year by year the 'Herzu' ('steep' in the dialect of the village where it's grown) shows more and more clear Riesling character, and more and more class. The wine shows hints of lime-peel, wet stones, and flowers, with a faint hint of the gasoline aroma that is so varietally typical. All stainless-steel fermentation and aging. It drinks well young but I will certainly be cellaring this for a few years. I love indigenous Italian white wine varieties but I am delighted to see that Riesling is doing so well here.
Langhe Bianco ‘Nas-cetta’
'Nas-cetta' is a white grape indigenous to the Barolo village of Novello, about 30 minutes north of Sergio Germano's vineyards near Cigliè. These vineyards, south-east-facing rich in limestone and high in altitude (1,800 feet above sea level), seem to suit the variety; although the vines are still young (they were planted in 2004), the wine shows very distinctive character (aromas and flavors of Mediterranean herbs and lemon) and structure. The grapes are picked in the beginning of October; the structure of the wine is bolstered by including the skins for the first 3 or 4 days of fermentation, which adds breadth and aromatic complexity to the wine. Very interesting and singular indigenous Piedmontese white, said to be ageworthy (for more on the variety, see http://dobianchi.com/2010/08/24/nascetta/).
Some Barolo producers use their Dolcetto as a cash-flow wine, which is understandable given the dreadful cash-flow of Barolo itself (more than three years from vintage to release). Not Germano. This wine is inky purple in color; on the nose it is blueberry with tar and a hint of flowers, classic dolcetto; on the palate it is big, full-bodied, high in both fruit and tannins. (See general Piedmont notes for more about dolcetto, which IS NOT 'the Beaujolais of Italy.') Dolcetto is said to run in the veins of these winemakers, and now it runs in mine too. I drink a lot of it.
Barbera 'Vigna della Madre'
I get less than ten cases of this a year, and one of those cases goes straight into my cellar. Barrique-aged, very good integration of fruit and oak.
Fruit from the younger vines is used to make this village wine, Serralunga Barolo. The wine is traditionally fermented and aged in smaller cooperage. It shows all the classic aspects of Nebbiolo from Barolo: medium garnet color, very distinctive aromas of red-currants, strawberry, licorice, and violets. It pairs with substantial meat dishes (lamb, beef) and cheeses.
Barolo 'Prapò' & Barolo 'Cerretta'
Prapò and Cerretta are Sergio’s two single vineyard barolos. The Prapò vineyard, .7 hectares planted in 1967, is just beneath the winery and the Cerretta vineyard, 2 hectares planted in 1978, is just up the ‘Cerretta’ hill to the east, a short tractor ride away. They are both south-facing. Usually the Cerretta is a bit bigger, and the Prapo more feminine; both age well, and I cellar both. This illustrates the similarity between Burgundy and Barolo, in that you can compare the terroir of different vineyard sites, vinified by the same person. The '04's are both outstanding.
Although the Barolo region has a very well-defined geography of the best vineyards in the Burgundian model*, there is no Piedmontese classification of Premier Cru and Grand Cru the way there is in Burgundy. If there were, I think it's safe to say that both Cerretta and Prapo (the vineyards around Sergio Germano's house) would be Premier Cru, and Lazzarito, which he added in the early 2000s, would be a Grand Cru. I am happier every year with the wines Sergio makes from Cerretta and Prapò, and happier still when I drink them after ten or more years in the cellar, but Lazzarito has a combination of power and complexity and freshness that makes you weak at the knees. Fully traditional winemaking (long maceration and aging in big barrels) combined with an outstanding vineyard is a fine thing.
In Sergio's words: 'The grapes are harvested into small boxes when fully ripe, but not over-ripe. After going through the crusher-stemmer the wine is fermented for 35-40 days on the skins, then aged for 30 months in barrels of 2,000L. It is released on the market after a further two years. The vineyard is very old (planted in 1931) but still vigorous and in very good health, and it gives a very elegant wine of great power, combining the structure of an outstanding site with the extreme finesse of the Nebbiolo grape. The perfumes of small red fruit combine with the aromas of brown spices and licorice. In the mouth, the entry is fine and elegant, and the wine finishes with sweet tannins, which suggests that it would go well with various red meats or cheese, as well as being a fine accompaniment to the conversation after dinner.'
* Alessandro Masnaghetti has compiled remarkable detailed maps of the major Barolo villages, with each holding shown; I recommend them highly for Barolo geeks
Sergio and his family run a great agriturismo, a type of hospitality sometimes referred to as 'farmhouse bed and breakfast.' If I didn't have a house in this area I would stay at the Germano agriturismo every time, all the luxuries I like (amazing breakfast, absolute tranquility, lots of hot water) and no frippery. There are lots of great restaurants within a 30-minute drive, and the town of Alba is only 10 minutes away. Tell Sergio I sent you.www.germanoettore.com/it/agriturismo.php