How could I turn down an invitation to dine with three Italian ladies? Actually, one of them turned out to be French. Nobody’s perfect.
On Monday 20 September I went to Al Duca restaurant in St James’s to taste some wines from Cantina di Clavesana, one of the largest co-ops in northwest Italy. My hosts were Anna Bracco and Tessa Donnadieu of Clavesana and Marta Sobrino of Wellcom PR in Alba. I had some dealings with Marta in my previous day job but did not meet her until March this year at the Barbera Meeting 2010.
Like the Sputnik, Cantina di Clavesana was launched in 1959, just south of Dogliani in the Langhe. Production is mostly Dolcetto, with a bit of Barbera and Nebbiolo also made. In all, 15 wines are made but in theory it could make 340 wines! The co-operative has 340 growers spread across 500 hectares of vineyards, so the average holding is less than 1.5 hectares per grower. That is a lot of people and vineyards for Anna, who has been MD since 2002 but has worked at Clavesana since 1975, to oversee. It’s a big job and even tougher in the macho world of Italian winemaking: “It’s not easy to be a woman in a winery in Piemonte”, she admitted.
A whopping 1.5 million bottles are made of the basic Dolcetto di Dogliani. The 2009 was rustic, simple, unoaked and had the distinctive bitterness of an honest Italian red. It was less funky than the other wines, too – maybe there is some Brett lurking in Clavesana’s barrels. I liked this Dolcetto’s bucolic charms. It is sold ex-winery at €3 a bottle, which would equate to about £5 on the shelf in the UK – great value and very much my type of wine.
Il Clou 2008 is a more “structured” style of Dolcetto, coming from riper vineyards and spending six months in oak botti. The dry tannins were not very appealing but were far from the the horrors of so many overoaked wines at the Barbera Meeting. Nobody in their right mind would put Dolcetto into barriques: “It would kill the wine”, reckoned Tessa.
Clavesana’s 110 Dolcetto Dogliano “Dalle 3 giornate” is a single vineyard bottling from “3 giornate” (“3 days work”), the old measure of a vineyard’s size – one “giornata” is equivalent to a third of a hectare. There are coordinates on the back label of this and the other single vineyard wines for Google Earth so that people can see exactly where the wine comes from. Like Il Clou this spent six months in botti but has absorbed the wood flavours and tannins more effectively, retaining a rustic edge but with a smoother patina.
Domestic demand is falling so export markets must be found and cultivated. Clavesana is currently seeking UK representation and began to export to the USA in November 2009. The D’Oh bottling – not influenced by Homer Simpson, apparently – is a horses for courses drink made to appeal to the US palate. It is, of course, a bit sweet. Let the Yanks drink it.