The wines of Ceretto, Piemonte, with Federico Ceretto

Piemonte is on fire at the moment. This wonderfully complex wine region, driven by terroir and an interesting set of grape varieties, is getting some serious attention, and the two most famous areas of Barolo and Barbaresco have never had as many fans as they do today. I caught up with Federico Ceretto to try the 2018 releases from this widely acclaimed producer.

‘2018 is a vintage where you will see a clear step up between the blended wines from multiple parcels and the single vineyards,’ says Federico. ‘The difference is mainly in the strength and the concentration.’

He adds, ‘2018 has started to be a very interesting vintage, but it is also a controversial vintage in the Langhe.’ This is because it is a warm vintage that raises an important question for the region. ‘There is a division between the critics and the producers as to whether because of changes in climate, should we continue to produce Barolo and Barbaresco with this tannic, austere feeling of hyper longevity and ultra austerity?’

There has been a change in the climate in the region and this is reflected in wines tending to be more approachable earlier. ‘In our opinion this started in the mid-1990s and it has continued every decade. Today we are in the situation where finally we can take advantage of these new climate conditions. We can use our knowledge of viticulture and the amazing balance that biodynamic agriculture brings.’

‘These wines today are shining and expressive in their early stage, the first two or three years after release. Finally, we have Nebbiolo wines from Barolo and Barbaresco where you can enjoy in equal proportion the purity of the variety Nebbiolo, and the delicate aspects of each vineyard, and the wines  don’t have this ultra tannic lifting that makes them difficult to understand. I’m trying not to use the word “approachable”. This has been abused in the last 20 years.’

‘We are now in the position of having Nebbiolo wines where if I tell you the story of our winery, and the idea we have behind the viticulture, or the winemaking processes, or the soil, you will find this clearly in the glass. We have made wine for 500 years but now is the very first moment when you are discovering and understanding the diversity of Nebbiolo expression in the great vineyards.’

‘The other controversial thing about 2018 is that some people have criticised the vintage as being dilute, a little bit like 2014. It’s a vintage where spring saw really hot days. The problem was that later there were severe frosts. In Barolo frost means a vineyard that is mid-hill or down the hill. We are proud that all our vineyards are between 350 and 480 m and most of them are on top of the hill, which is why some of the wines are called Bricco. So frost for us is not a real problem. In May and June there was a lot of rain, and also in September. 2014 was more problematic because it rained during July. In July we are expecting sun and ripening. The 2014s are super elegant wines but in the mid palate they are a little dry. In 2018 we had a beautiful July and August, but September was a bit problematic.’

The theme of climate change is present in the tasting. ‘The climate is making us face important decisions,’ says Federico. ‘The beauty of this is that we are clearly taking advantage of having fantastic line-ups of good vintages. For my grandfather, maybe there were three good vintages every decade. The rest of the vintages, they were trying to get to full ripeness but they couldn’t get there. Today we have climate conditions where every decade we have 8 or 9 harvests where we are wearing t shirts and it is sunny and dry. We can decide when to harvest. There are producers that I respect a lot and they harvest the same vineyard next to us three weeks later. Fifty years ago three weeks later meant snow, fog and humidity. Today we are really taking advantage of having a favourable end of the summer, and especially early fall. This is why in the glass we have this detail coming up. We are having grapes that are ripe in good balance.’

Ceretto have been farming biodynamically. Has this helped? ‘My opinion is that being biodynamic in farming really makes a difference. We arrive at harvest time with our environment in such great balance. The grape is perfect. But we have to understand that the grape is perfect for that vintage. If you are expecting 2018 from Prapò to have huge power, then no, because 2018 is a vintage of balance of fruit over concentration, with delicacy of tannins. When we released Prapò 2014, today it is a wine you can drink by the litre because it is shining condition, but when we released it it was a vintage that didn’t have power. The point is, should I only release the wines when the opinion reflects the style of the wines? The vintage drives the characteristic of the wines.’ 

And another topic often discussed in Piemonte is the split between the traditionalists who have favoured large oak versus the modernists moving to small oak. ‘We are gradually learning year after year which are the perfect size of casks,’ says Federico. ‘I would say today with all this big focus on small parcels, the majority of producers are doing this. This has been positive evolution of the appellation. When I started to work 25 years ago, if you mentioned barriques you had to stay on one side or the other side and they were shooting each other. Today it is absolutely common to have the two options. If you bring grapes in small quantities the only solution you have is to use small barrels.’


Ceretto Barolo 2018
This is a blend of eight vineyards, with La Morra better represented (40%). This is quite taut and supple with some sweet cherry and plum fruit, a touch of sour cherry. This is juicy with good structure, and a slightly dry finish with some firm tannins. There’s a bit of sternness here, but also some sweet fruit. Very appealing if lacking slightly in texture and concentration, but that feels a bit picky. Has the potential for some development. 92/100

Ceretto Barbaresco 2018
This is quite a delicate, textured wine with sweet red cherry and redcurrant notes, but also a bit of silkiness that counters the acidity and tannin well. There’s a prettiness here with some flesh on the bones, and fine-grained tannins. Lovely juiciness here. A very nuanced wine that approachable but has some potential upside. 94/100

Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2018
Concentrated and refined with some real substance: sweet cherries and plums with fine-grained structure that fits in beautifully with the fruit. There’s a lovely texture here with nice concentration of fruit, and enough but not too much structure. It’s really refined and elegant, even at this young age. 95/100

Ceretto Barbaresco Asili 2018
Subtle minty/sage hints on the nose adding a nice framing to the sweet cherry fruit. There’s a lovely stern structure here with good acidity sitting under the red cherry and plum fruit, with just a subtle sour twist here. Lovely intensity here with real focus and potential for good ageing. Vivid and fresh with lovely juiciness. 96/100

Ceretto Barolo Brunate 2018
This is quite beautiful. There’s no shortage of structure, but it is cloaked in elegant, concentrated sweet cherry and plum fruit. This is silky and delicious, even at this very young stage. Lovely red cherry fruit with some brooding spicy notes and a touch of iron and blood. Very fine. 97/100

Ceretto Barolo Bussia 2018
Taut and quite structured, this has a slight earthy, savoury edge to the sweet cherry and plum fruit. It’s a little firm and closed now, with lots of tannin. There’s fruit, but there’s also quite a lot of structure. A serious effort. 94/100

Ceretto Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2018
This has brightness and also some elegance. Supple and fleshy but also with good acidity and some tannic structure. I love the freshness and directness of this wine: elegant, precise, poised and fine-grained with a slight juiciness and elegant cherry notes. There’s some delicacy here. Such a beautiful, detailed wine. 96/100

Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2018
This is really expressive. There’s some warmth here with sweet cherry and plum fruit, there’s some lovely grainy structure, and a sense of harmony. It’s tannic but approachable with bass, mid and treble – rounded and refined. Lovely aromatics up front, and nice brightness on the finish. Lovely. 95/100

Cerreto Barolo Prapò 2018
Powerful but also elegant, with fresh red cherry and redcurrant notes, a core of supple sweet red cherry fruit and a touch of dried herb, as well as some orange peel. Juicy and fresh with nice grip on the finish. A complete expression of Barolo showing lovely elegance, combined with good intensity, and a very fine tapered finish. 96/100

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