Bridging the Gap in Piedmont

No, I’m not referring to that quaint residential city surrounded by Oakland. I’m referring to
that Northwestern province in Italy where the Nebbiolo grape is king producing spectacular
Barolo and Barbaresco wines. About 6 years ago, I was fortunate to attend a wine dinner
featuring Alfie Cavallotto and his wines from the Piedmont. Since Piedmontese winemakers
rarely visit Hawaii and since the house of Cavallotto is one of my favorite producers of Barolo, It
was a very memorable experience listening to Alfie Cavallotto and sampling his wines.
Fast forward to June 2013 when we recently were fortunate to share a table with another of the
great winemakers in Northern Italy, Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta. The last time Giorgio Rivetti
visited Hawaii was about 10 years ago when Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar first opened and
since one of my favorite grape varietals is king in Piedmont, I planned on attending this wine
dinner as soon as Chuck Furuya announced the dinner!

La Spinetta

The house of La Spinetta is young by Piedmont standards. It was founded in 1977 by Giuseppe
and Lidia Rivetti who produced their first wine – a single vineyard Moscato the following year.
In 1985 they introduced their first red wine – a Barbera followed several years later by Pin, a
blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera. It wasn’t until 1995 that they produced their first Barbaresco,
Gallina which also was the first bottle to feature the rhinoceros drawing and woodcut by the
German artist Albrecht Dürer. According to Giorgio Rivetti, the rhino had no connection to La
Spinetta, they simply admired the artist’s drawings. The Barbaresco Starderi and Valeirano soon
followed and in 2000 they produced their first Barolo Campe featuring a Dürer pencil drawing
of a lion since Barolo is the king (like the lion) of Nebbiolo.
Since then the 2nd generation of La Spinetta – brothers Carlo, Bruno and Giorgio have acquired
vineyards in Tuscany and produce traditional grape varietals like Sangiovese and Vermentino in
Central Italy.

Learning from both Masters

Chuck Furuya started the evening by briefly explaining the basic differences between wines
primarily highlighting the divide seen between Old World (Europe) and New World (Americas,
Australia, South Africa) wines pointing out that while the New World highlights the grape
varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.), the Old World features the location (Gevrey
Chambertin, Barolo, etc.) and values individual terroir characteristics.
Giorgio Rivetti added that his two main categories of wines were Tasting Wines and Drinking
Wines where Tasting Wines were big rich wines that usually carried higher alcohol levels that
were good for sipping but difficult to pair with food. Drinking Wines had lower alcohol levels
but maintained good acid levels and were very food friendly. He also differentiated between
Winemakers and Farmers and stated that he was a Farmer who produced Drinking Wines because
if you take care of the vineyard and produce great fruit, there isn’t much you have to do in the
Having sampled both Barolo and Barbaresco from the older houses and the younger generation
of Piedmontese winemakers, I do notice a melding of Old World terroir and New World fruit
forward winemaking where fruit is upfront but not dominant. Stone, leather, licorice and tar are
there but not dominant. Oak is there but not dominant. And acids and tannins are still there
but in balance with the various flavors in the wine. And this is what I find with La Spinetta’s

Wine and Dine

The food and wine pairing for the evening looked like this with my personal ratings and
comments about each wine in parentheses:

Home-made Seafood Sausage
with caramelized fennel, roasted tomatoes, Kahuku corn & orzo
2010 La Spinetta Toscana Vermentino (3.75/5)

(Good minerality with pineapple and citrus on the nose. Candied
citrus on the palate with good acid and a long finish)

Home-made Papardelle
with shredded braised, no growth hormone, no antibiotic chicken,
roasted vegetables, wild mushrooms & sage
2007 Il Nero di Casanova (4/5)

(Dark red fruit followed by stone on the nose with ripe fruit on the
palate with good concentration and balancing acidity with a long finish)

Roasted Stuffed Lamb Loin
with Swiss Chard, roasted fingerling potatoes & beets
2001 La Spinetta Barbaresco “Starderi” (4.5/5)

(Ripe red fruit, licorice and stone on the nose with dried red fruit and spice
on the palate with a rich mouth feel and very long finish)

Ricotta Cheese Panna Cotta
with dried cherries & crushed nuts
2011 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti “Bricco Quaglia” (4.25/5)

(Mixed citrus, white flowers and ripe fruit on the nose with an
ethereal flow on the palate and a medium finish)

We normally also bring some wines from home to uncork especially if it fits the theme of the
evening so I brought a 2010 Cavallotto Langhe, a white wine made exclusively from Pinot Noir
and while it didn’t pair as nicely with the Seafood Sausage as the Vermentino, it more than held
up to the Papardelle with Shredded Chicken. And since Giorgio Rivetti was seated right across
from me for the Entrée and Dessert courses, I uncorked a bottle of 2001 La Spinetta Barbaresco
“Valeirano” and let him sample it before displaying the bottle. He nodded with satisfaction that
“This is a good wine”. After showing him the bottle, “Ah, eet eez my wine”. And yes, it IS a

Since the production of the Barolo Campe is in the 1700 case range with the various Barbaresco
produced in the 2800 case range (and only 45% or so makes it to the US), the wines of La
Spinetta aren’t the easiest to find. However if you do a web search, you’ll see that San Francisco
Wine Trading Company and J.J. Buckley in the Bay Area occasionally has a stock of the La
Spinetta wines. Starting just under $20 up to the $100 price point, they are a label I’ll
occasionally splurge my hard earned dinero on and after meeting Giorgio Rivetti, will continue
to do so. They ARE that GOOD!