Wood is good - the wines of Tenute Sella
I recently tasted through the latest set of wines from Tenute Sella, a family owned estate in Biella, Alto Piemonte. I first discovered the estate when I met owner Marco Rizzetti on a press trip in Biella and visited Tenute Sella's beautiful vineyards in Biella a couple of years ago.
Their wines are generally released under the Lessona and Bramaterra DOCs or the more generic Coste della Sesia DOC. The wines are typically Nebbiolo based blends, with varying amounts of Vespolina and Croatina. Having not tasted their wines for a year or so, when Marco said he was going to be at the London Wine Fair showing his wines, I made sure I caught up with him.
All of the Tenute Sella wines are made from their own estate grown fruit in Lessona and Bramaterra. Most of the red are given extended ageing in large oak barrels, or botte as they are known in Piemonte. More about wood later.
Below are my notes on the wines, all of which are highly recommended. I don’t have the retail prices on these unfortunately as the UK importer, Dionysius Importers, only had a rather complex array of wholesale prices when I asked for pricing.
Broadly I think the Coste Della Sesia wines are c.£15-20, the Bramaterra and Lessona DOCs are c.£25 and the crus c.£35 but that is very broad brush, best contact the importer or check out wine-searcher. Tannico have some of their wines but appear to be a vintage or so behind the wines I tasted below.
Clementina, Rosata Spumante NV – 100% Nebbiolo, just the juice, no skin contact. An appealing light salmon pink colour, this has delicious red cherries and white grapefruit freshness. Bursting with energy aided by a lot of tiny bubbles and a thirst-quenching saline tang on the finish. €7 on the cellar door apparently, oh to live in Biella…
Insubrico, Metodo Classico, Pas Dose NV – named after the fault line between Africa and Europe. I had forgotten that Alto Piemonte wine producers all wax lyrical about the fact that they sit on volcanic soils and that’s why their wines are actually better than Barolo… interesting to know but if you ever visit the area be prepared for everyone to tell you the same story at length, just smile, nod and keep drinking, the wines are generally ace.
Also be prepared to eat risotto at every meal, most of the Arborio rice produced in Italy comes from Alto Piemonte. The first couple of bowls are great but it becomes a bit monotonous after 4 days…
Anyway, back to the Insubrico. It is made from Nebbiolo from the 2014 vintage so has a bit of age. 5000 bottles were produced made and they have just released the first 1000 bottles and plan to do a staged release over the next few years, so one to check in on to see how the wine develops – the date of disgorgement is on the bottle so you’ll be able to work it out.
Early signs are good, the nose is bouncing with tropical fruit and the texture and body are elegance personified. The finish is alive with minerals (it’s the volcanic soils, did I mention the volcanic soils? volcanic soils, volcanic soils, volcanic soils…), acidity and the taste of freshly sliced white grapes, strangely.
Orbello, Coste Della Sesia, 2016 – a pet favourite of mine, this is their entry level red, the 2014 was the first Sella wine I ever tasted, and I loved the spicy tang the Vespolina brought to the mix. The 2016 is a blend of Nebbiolo (50%), Barbera (20%), Croatina (15%), Vespolina (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) – pretty sure that adds up to 100. This just screams drink me, brambly red fruits and crackling acidity. Simple but very effective.
Castaltorto, Coste Della Sesia, 2014 – 60% Nebbiolo, 35% Croatina and 5% Vespolina is aged for 14 months in great big Slovenian oak barrels, this bad boy is ready to go. A brilliant food wine, it has the tannic structure and acidity to cut through a rich pasta sauce (or more likely a risotto in Biella, did I mention the risotto?) backed up with delicious dark fruit. What else do you want?
Lessona 2012 – 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina aged for 24 months in Slovenian oak. Now we’re talking, what a nose! Rose petals and spice fill the nostrils and then cherry sweetness washes your tongue before dried flowers burst through a wall of tannins.
Bramaterra 2011 – 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina and 10% Vespolina. Absolutely ready to go this, very together, a seamless mouthful. Flavours of cherries stewed in pepper and spice and smooth tannins. Feels much more evolved and ready that the Lessona.
Lessona, “San Sebastiano Allo Zoppo”, 2010 – 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina, aged for 36 months in oak. This is the “premier cru” Lessona bottling, made with fruit from the top rows of the vineyard, where the sun shines most. As Marco says; “the top rows give the top quality”, and it is hard to disagree. The same floral, rose petal aromas as the straight Lessona but the palate is more evolved, has greater concentration of cherry fruit and a more complex array of spices. The fried flowers on the finish go on forever….
Bramaterra, “I Pordifi”, 2010 – 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina and 10% Vespolina. Similar to the San Sebastiano, this is the “premier cru” from the top rows of Sella’s vineyard in Bramaterra, where the soil is more rocky than the clay soils at the foot of the hill. Amazing acidity and freshness, but still a bit of a baby. A refreshing mix of grapefruit and melon along with the trademark cherries.
Lessona, “Omaggio a Quintino Sella”, 2009 – 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina. The “grand cru” bottling from the estate, this is only made in the best vintages, when they hold the best cask of the San Sebastiano in oak for a further 12 months (so 48 months in total). Amazing concentration in this, the red fruit flavour is off the charts. So good.
There are a lot of oak naysayers these days, refusing to drink anything that has touched the inside of a wooden barrel because it detracts from the terroir. But when you taste wines like these which have had extended time in large old oak barrels, you realise how silly generalisations like that can be.
Wood is a seasoning, just like salt in cooking. Too much oak will ruin a wine just like too much salt will ruin a meal. But used thoughtfully it enhances the end product beyond the sum of its parts and allows the terroir to flourish.
Extended oak aging is not a fad. Marco tells me he recently enjoyed a bottle of the 1921 Omaggio.
Long may it continue.