Simone Ermanno was spending his honeymoon in the United States when he stopped by to introduce his family’s wines, Ermanno Costa. He wasn’t the first to combine business with pleasure, but most of the time, the 28-year-old is working his family’s organic vineyards in the Roero region of Italy’s Piedmonte.
“I drive the tractor and my sisters (Fabrizia and Giorgia) are in the cellar,” Ermanno said.
They represent the fourth generation to make wine, and, as tradition goes, no one is immune from chores.
Ermanno Costa is a small 17-acre, 3,000-case winery that bottles only estate wine from their lots of chardonnay, arneis, barbera, brachetto and nebbiolo.
The winery is located on the north side of the Tanaro River across from the wine growing regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. Ermanno explained that their side (Roero) of the Tanaro River is primarily sandy soils while the more prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco side of the river’s vineyard are in clay soils.
Ermanno said the sandy soils promote “more aromatics and less body,” especially in the nebbiolo wines.
We were impressed with the easy accessibility of the Ermanno Costa wines. The Ermanno Costa “Balin” Piedmonte 2018 ($30) is all chardonnay and is totally produced in stainless steel tanks, thus creating a pure fruit experience for those who eschew oak in their white wines.
The Ermanno Costa Arneis Roero DOCG 2018 ($24) is a superstar in the world of arneis. In many cases arneis produces an undistinguished white wine that is eminently forgettable. Not so in this case. This wine had very expressive apple and peach notes and a hint of flowers. No oak exposure made this a perfect pairing for many fish and poultry dishes.
The Ermanno Costa Barbera d”Alba Piedmonte DOC 2014 ($25) is made entirely from barbera. This example also defies the typically simple barbera that washes down a good bit of the pizza consumed in this country. It is aged in new and old French oak, presenting ample cherry notes accented by elements of earth and leather.
Ermanno Costa Roero DOCG Piedmonte 2014 ($32) is for those of you craving a nebbiolo experience without having to wait for it to age. Big, deep, ripe fruit dominates this soft tannic red wine with a whiff of licorice. Made entirely of nebbiolo, it is aged in French oak for 18-20 months, and would be a great accompaniment to big red meat dishes.
We’ve been tasting through a number of riojas lately. Here are our favorites:
CVNE Cune Rosado 2018 ($13). Using tempranillo only, this Rioja rosé is light in color, but sporting generous floral and strawberry aromas with a touch apricot and peach. Hint of licorice.
CVNE Cune Rioja Crianza 2016 ($13). Jammy blackberry and wild berry flavors with a dash of licorice and oak-inspired vanilla and cocoa nuances. It is a blend of tempranillo (85 percent), garnacha tinta, and mazuelo.
CVNE Vina Real Crianza 2016 ($16). Fresh cherry and blackberry flavors with a dash of licorice.
Bodegas Ollauri Conde de los Andes Tinto 2015 ($50). This serious, full-throttle Rioja is made entirely of tempranillo grapes from old vineyards. Strawberry and cherry aromas open the door to ripe plum flavors.
Kirkland Signature Rioja Reserva 2014 ($7). This is an insane price for a medium-bodied rioja this good. We tucked it into a flight of more expensive riojas and it held its own at half the price. Made entirely from tempranillo grapes, it has blackberry notes with hints of spice, licorice, and vanilla.
Marques de Murrieta Rioja 2015 ($30). A blend of tempranillo,garnacha, mazuelo and graciano, this medium-bodied wine explodes in ripe dark fruit flavors with hints of tobacco and spice.
Bodegas Muriel Vina Eguia Reserva 2015 ($19). Wonderfully luxurious and rich, this tempranillo from Rioja exudes ripe red fruit with hints of licorice, spice and vanilla.
Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County 2017 ($16). If you want to taste what zinfandel is all about, try this wine that the producer calls a zinny zin. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves even on our best day of wordsmithing. It is 85 percent zinfandel with 15 percent petite sirah and aged in 1- to 2-year-old French oak barrels. Ripe blackberry and raspberry notes dominate with accents of cinnamon and pepper. Unctuous and long lasting in the mouth.
McIntyre L”Homme Qui Ris Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine Santa Lucia Highlands N/V ($42). This is an amazingly good sparkling wine from a region not known for producing world-class sparklers. It is 100 percent pinot noir and aged on the lees “en tirage” for four years prior to disgorgement. The wonderfully complex wine exhibits baked apple toast and citrus and floral notes in the nose and mouth. Very satisfying long finish. A must-try for sparkling wine aficionados.
Masseria Altemura Sasseo Primitivo IGT Salento 2016 ($18). This is an amazing, powerful wine for the price. Primitivo is a kissing cousin of zinfandel and displays elements of blueberry and blackberry fruit with ample acidity and palate cleansing tannins. Perfect for barbecues or winter red meat dishes.
The Federalist Honest Red Blend Northern Coast 2016 ($22). A delicious blend of merlot (55 percent) and zinfandel, and a splash of cabernet sauvignon. The softer merlot and more aggressive zinfandel balance out to create a pleasant mouth-filling experience. Smooth but mouth filling big fruited red wine.