Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to taste with Pietro Ratti, owner and winemaker at Renato Ratti since 1988. Ranato Ratti is a producer from Piemonte that I come back to on a regular basis due to the fact that they are consistently over-delivering on the quality while keeping their prices fair; this, of course, is always a great combination. No ego is driving this winemaker, just a simple drive to produce top quality wines year in and year out.

The biggest challenge for Pietro over the past twenty years has been a determined effort to acquire property since the early 1990s when a lot of growers began to "realize their dreams" by bottling their produce under their own labels. This was a marked change from how things were prior to this movement.

As in many places in Europe, wine producers bought much of the grapes/juice from various growers and would bottle under their own labels. By the early 1990s, though, many producers were gaining considerable notoriety for their respective wines. The overall production of wine from this region was available from a relatively small number of bottlers and as such from a small number of importers/distributors. As the demand for quality Barolo and Barbaresco grew through the 1990s, a number of agents, such as Marc de Grazia, encouraged the growers to begin bottling their own wines. The result has been a wide array of wines available from small high end wine makers.

This change caused a problem for producers like Pietro Ratti, though. With a fairly small estate they were suddenly caught short of the amount of wines that they could produce. Pietro, who had taken over the reins at Renato Ratti when his father passed away, decided to reorganize their business plan and add a long term goal of acquiring and producing only from estate vineyards. Fifteen year on, they now produce from mainly estate vineyards, some of which are the best of their zone.

When tasting through the wines you get a sense of what Pietro is trying to say with his wines and what he believes Barolo has to say. There is a definite sense of pride of his region and a pride in the wines that come from the Ratti estate. I find that Pietro’s wines are telling exactly what the soils and ground of Piemonte are about. There is a definite experience of place in these wines. What could be better?

The wines are deeply colored and loaded with flavor; this has been my experience in past vintages as well.

We first sampled a white wine, a Sauvignon called Cedri (2205), which is almost a singular wine in this area. Crisp and fruit forward – the Sauvignon wet-stone/chalk and herb scents were flowing from the glass and were quite persistent through the long finish. I found this wine to be quite delicious.

We then moved through the Dolcetto and Barbera, both from Alba. The Dolcetto is year-on-year one of my favorite to drink because there is a complex attitude to this wine, but in a fun and easy going manner. Smart and sophisticated in a Euro-chic suit. Dolcetto is a grape that just doesn’t taste like anything from the New World. The Barbera is more brooding and full throttle. Again, deeply colored, but much fuller flavors, deeper, darker flavors and a rich finish. A cab drinker could get into this wine.

We then went on to the best value of the bunch, the Nebbiolo d’Alba (2005). If you like Nebbiolo, but cannot afford to drink Barolo/Barbaresco, then this is your wine. It has the classic character of Nebbiolo, but again there is a deepness to the color and and intensity to the flavors that many producers struggle to find. Unlike any wine from the New World, Nebbiolo only shines in Piemonte; Ratti is at the top of my list in this category.

We then went into a round of the Barolos. The most important difference in the vineyards of the Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo and those of Barolo is that the the soils change. With the Alba vineyards the soil is weel-draining sandy based, but in the Barolo vineyards the soil is composed of Bluish Marle, a clay based soil that has a lot of carbonate of lime mixed throughout it. This is a crumbly soil, but one that can hold more “humidity”. This means that the vines can really develop loads of flavor, which as I have stated is something that is key with Ratti wines.

We tasted three Barolo: Conca 03, Rocche 03, Rocche 01. The 03s were a bit concerning. These are brutes, especially the Rocche 03, which is produced from 50 year-old vines that offer a wine with power and intensity and an extremely long finish. The Conca 03 was a bit weird in my opinion and as a result wasn’t my favorite. I much preferred the Rocche 03, but was really in love with the Rocche 01. This wine delivered what I was looking for in Barolo. The flavors were full-on, but well integrated and just exploding in your mouth. Overall very supple and smooth, yet powerful at the same time, and this is what I am looking for in Barolo. I want the Iron-Fist-in-the-Velvet-Glove thing; Rocche 01 is all about that.

Pietro says, “My Barolos are more Burgundy style, more aromatic. Candyish young but keep for 20 years [because of the built in structure]. This is the terroir of my vineyards”. I would have to agree. Each wine was unique, but definite expressed their commonality: Piemonte and Pietro Ratti.

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