Wine Tasting and Tour at Ettore Germano Winery in Barolo, Italy
As a winelover it was necessary that I visit a vineyard and winery during my trip to Italy! Luckily I have a friend Matteo who lives here and he could recommend somewhere we’d be able to go for a tasting.
Coming from the US, I didn’t really know if something similar to US tasting rooms would exist here. I was asking him all kinds of questions like, “Will we get a tasting sheet?” , “Will there be a tour?” and “Are there vineyards there?”. He had not taken a trip to Ettore Germano in person so he wasn’t sure of the details, but he had signed the three of us up for a Wine Tasting with Tour. And, because of Matteo’s connections, we would be meeting and touring the winemaker himself.
Being generally unfamiliar with the geography of all the wine villages of Italy (since it seems like there are a million), I brought up a map of where we’d be heading that day. We’d be in the car for a few hours to get there but we’d be going to the Barolo region.
Anyone who knows Italian wine has heard of the Barolo region and may also know that the wines are typically pretty bold. A few things I learned during the car ride was that Barolo is the region and Nebbiolo grapes grow there. Also Nebbiolo can grow in other places but there are specific wine rules for becoming a Barolo wine. When learning more about the area, you need to be familiar with the crus as another way of identifying the wine. These are determined essentially by which hill your vineyard is on and there are over 30 crus in Barolo alone. If you’re curious, another part of the same area is Barbaresco and we’d be driving through there when we left the winery. They also use Nebbiolo grapes.
Nebbiolo is a red grape. But during our ride through the Italian countryside, I saw some grapes that were beginning to ripen and had a yellowish tint. These were white grapes! So although the Nebbiolo grape is the big one for the area, other grapes grow here, too.
As we pulled up to the winery, I could hardly wait. I was so excited for my first Italian wine tasting in Italy! Julia greeted us and let us know that Sergio Germano, the winemaker and owner, would soon be meeting with us. Also on the tour was Umberto, Matteo’s friend, who lived nearby and knew a lot about the brand since he’s part of the US distribution team for this winery.
The tour began in the winery which had aromas of wine filling the air, yes! We learned about the history of the winery which began with Sergio’s father, Ettore, in the 1970s. Winemaking and grape growing was in their blood though, as the land was originally farmed by their ancestors for grapes that would be sold to local wineries. The Ettore Germano winery began with the production of Barolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto wines. After Sergio finished up at the school of enology in Alba, he was excited to bring innovative ideas to the winery! This began with his desire to grow white grapes in Alta Langhe, including Chardonnay and Riesling. With this began their flagship white wines.
Today Ettore Germano winery owns over 50 acres, spreading from Serralunga d’Alba to Ciglié, an area South of there, near Liguria. Although they have four vineyards nearby, all of the production takes place in the building I was touring.
We walked by the different tanks while we learned all this history. From working at wineries throughout the US, I’m familiar with oak barrels and stainless steel tanks but there were a few more options for me to discover that day. I had heard of clay pots through my wine research but I was so excited when I noticed the first one. They were about as tall as me and they are used to help soften the tannins through the aging process. Sergio said they provide a good purpose but they can be hard to clean and maintain due to the shape. This brought us to the next tank which was made from cement and had a glass lining. They are much easier to clean so they’ll be moving towards this aging method in the future. Of course, the flavor of the wine can be influenced by aging in oak barrels or stainless steel, too, so the wines will spend some time in multiple aging tanks.
Once we learned a little about the aging, it was time to make our way toward the table with rocks on it so we could learn more about the soil of the region. Each rock represented a different amount of limestone, calcium or sand and illustrated the different vineyards where the grapes were growing. Cerretta vineyard is at the top of the hill when looking out from the viewing area and contains clay and calcareous limestone. Prapò is at a lower altitude and can be seen down below the viewing area. These grapes are influenced by the water rolling down the hill towards it as well as the clay and limestone with layers of sand in the soil. The Lazzarito vineyard contains only a small percentage of sand or iron but is made up of limestone and marl (mudstone) which had a soil that was more like a combination of the other two areas.
Now it was time for the barrel tasting so cool that was part of our tour too! We began with a red sample that had only been aging for 6 months. The next sample was slightly more aged and we could taste the flavors beginning to develop. The third sample was Cerretta from 2020 and our introduction to the rocks/soils we were just learning about. I loved the aromas leaping from the glass. We finished out our barrel samples with a reserve wine that was ready to bottle. It was only 2 years old so it would be aged in bottles for 2 more years.
Remember I was saying there were certain rules about a wine becoming a Barolo? Well, the first rule is that the wine must be aged for at least 4 years before being released. And if you think that is a long time, just wait, the wine will actually be ready to drink 6-10 years from harvest. You want to wait this amount of time in order to have some fresh flavors, some aged flavors and some wine evolution!
Another rule we learned about was the time that the juice spends on the must. A wine is allowed to be called a Nebbiolo if it spends 4 or 5 days but needs to spend 40-50 days in order to be considered a Barolo. We were learning so much about this region and winemaking here. What an opportunity for us!
Just as we were about to wrap up our winery tour, we walked past the bottling crew, where they were performing the method champenoise. It’s ironic because just a few days before the tour we were discussing this process with Matteo in his personal wine cellar. We watched them remove the beer cap, remove the plug of yeast, add the extra juice and then replace with the mushroom cork. I’m sure I could have stood there forever to see more about the production line, but there were wines to taste upstairs and we were headed there!
I know you’re just as anxious as we were to learn more about the wines, but first a quick geography lesson. We already said that this region has a lot to know before you even start sipping your wine. So let’s break down where we were. Yes, we’re in Northwest Italy near the Alps and yes, Barolo is in the Piedmont (also called Piemonte) region but let’s get a little more detailed. Langhe, the DOC, is in the lower part of Piedmont and it extends between the provinces of Cuneo and Alba. This means that when you’ve heard of Barbera d’Alba, it’s also produced in this area. One last bit: Langhe is the plural form of langa which means long hill, and Alta Langa is another region within Langhe. Ok now, let’s bring on the wine!
- Alta Langa Classic Method Extra Brut 2018
- Alta Langa Classic Method Reserve Blanc de Noir pas dosé 2015
- Rosanna Classic Method Extra Brut NV
- Hérzu Langhe Riesling 2020
- Langhe Nascetta 2020
- Langhe Nebbiolo 2020
- Barolo del Comune de Serralunga d’Alba 2018
- Barolo Cerretta 2018
- Barolo Prapò 2018
- Barolo Riserve Lazzarito 2015
- Barolo Vignarionda 2017
Our first sparkling wine was 25% Chardonnay, 75% Pinot Noir and had a very crisp and clean flavor. The second sparkling was made from 100% Pinot Noir and really stood out for us. We identified toast and floral aromas with citrus flavors. We’ll be taking one of these home! The final sparkling was a rosé named after Sergio’s mother that’s made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Neil made note of the rose gold color of the wine. We could smell roses, feel the nice texture of bubbles on our tongue and I felt it was a bit more mild than the second wine.
There were two more white wines for us to try before moving on to the reds. The Hérzu Riesling is aged in steel, starting at one temperature and then decreased to a cooler temperature as well as skipping malolactic fermentation. This process produces lychee aromas, and flavors of fruit that lead to a slight sweetness that seemed like honey and minerals.
The Nascetta is an indigenous grape to the Langhe region that many people use as a blending grape, but this wine is the pure varietal version. During our winery tour, we learned that they achieve a more intense flavor by pumping the wine over the must for up to 2 weeks. The wine is aged in steel and the clay amphoras (that I was so excited to finally see). It was very aromatic with flowers and honey. Neil found it to smell great and picked up both creme brûlée and North Carolina barbecue sauce aromas. Despite all these varied aromas, the flavor was very clean. We wondered if this grape might be similar to the Muscat grape since it was a floral white but I couldn’t find any relationship in my research.
We began the red wine tasting with a Nebbiolo. This wine is only 2 years old so although it’s from this region, it doesn’t fulfill the rules to become a Barolo, just as a heads up. It’s aged in steel and the strawberry and raspberry aromas were very pleasing. Also it had light tannins so I was enjoying it.
Next we tried our first Barolo that was a blend of the three different soils we were learning about in the winery. All of the grapes are grown very close by in the community of Serralunga d’Alba. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and, after the barrel aging, it’s aged in the bottle until it reaches 4 years old. This is a very traditional example of Barolo with mineral and cherry aromas, a softer texture and flavors of dark fruit that were dry with a nice amount of acid.
These next two wines will be our first exposure to Single Vineyard wines in the area so we tasted them side by side to showcase the differences. The Cerretta wine had pepper aromas with tannic flavors, but it felt clean in the mouth too. The Prapò vineyard has a more sandy soil with some iron. The soil as well as the location at the bottom of the hill contributed to the aromas of meat in this wine. Neil and I discussed our different impressions and he thought it was more like grilled meat while I thought it was more like an aged meat. I felt this wine had more tannins than the Cerretta and it was drier. Neil thought it reminded him of a California Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Reserve wine that we tried was from the Lazzarito vineyard and it goes through a slightly different winemaking process as it’s aged for 3 years in the barrel and 2 years in the bottle. Matteo said it was one of his favorite wines at Ettore Germano. I noticed anise aromas as well as a green vegetable, maybe like broccoli rabe and a tannic flavor.
Our final wine in the tasting was from the Vigna Rionda vineyard which is well known around the region for it’s mixed soil and ideal climate. This wine has a very limited quantity of around 6000-7000 bottles, so we used the Coravin for our samples. Neil said it smelled amazing and I could pick up on its complexity. I was able to identify fruit, anise and tannins which made me think that it was good. Matteo described it as velvety!
As you can imagine, this was an incredibly full day for us. We learned about the region, the grapes, the DOC rules for Barolo, tasted barrel samples and then 11 ready to drink/sell wines. What an experience! It also introduced me to the experience of tasting wine now to predict how it will taste in the future. This was new for me as I usually purchase wine to drink now.
We took home 4 bottles; 2 sparkling and the first two reds for consumption in the next month. I look forward to trying more Barolo wines during our Italy trip so I can start to get a better feel for the flavors to look for in the wines. It would also be great to try more samples that are dubbed “ready to drink now” in a restaurant since I don’t have access to a wine cellar of my own.
After all this wine tasting, we made our way to La Ciau del Tornavento in Barbaresco for lunch. If you’re looking for more to read about that day, head to our Facebook Page and read all about it there.