Tiziano Mazzoni, Ghemme DOCG “Ai Livelli”
Tiziano Mazzoni, Ghemme DOCG “Ai Livelli”

Tiziano Mazzoni, Ghemme DOCG “Ai Livelli”

Piedmont, Italy 2017 (750mL)
Regular price$55.00

Tiziano Mazzoni, Ghemme DOCG “Ai Livelli”

In the climate change era, all manner of regions once considered marginal are now basking in the limelight—or sunlight, if you will. The so-called Alto Piemonte, the “upper” part of Italy’s Piedmont region, is one such place, and we celebrate it often. Clustered around the Sesia River north of the city of Novara, the assorted wine appellations of the Alto Piemonte are prime hunting ground for value, and the Ghemme DOCG has proved especially fertile. Like the other northern Piedmont appellations, Ghemme is tiny (vineyard acreage has shrunk to almost nothing) and yet it has produced its fair share of new sensations in recent years—including the stellar wines of Tiziano Mazzoni. This single-vineyard, old-vine masterpiece, “ai Livelli,” is Mazzoni’s top wine and much more than just a “Barolo alternative.” This is a distinct expression of Nebbiolo that stands on its own merits and it’s a must-have for anyone who loves this grape and place.

Tiziano Mazzoni is a modern-day back-to-the-lander who acquired a small assortment of Ghemme vineyards in 1999. His wines are evidence of the ongoing revival underway in Ghemme, Gattinara, Lessona, and other historic appellations of Northern Piedmont. This area was once the commercial capital of Piedmontese wine—much more significant than Barolo and Barbaresco—but in the modern era, the Alto Piemonte is a shadow of its former self. The Ghemme appellation, for example, only has about 20 commercial producers making wine from just 80 or so hectares of registered vineyards. After the second World War, Northern Piedmont rapidly industrialized, prompting many farmers—including Tiziano’s father, who went to work at a plumbing-fixtures factory—to mostly abandon their vineyards.

Mazzoni’s small winery is in the hamlet of Cavaglio d’Agogna, in the hills east of Ghemme, where his family has roots dating to the 14th century. He decided, at the age of 40, to go into winemaking, and has since acquired 4.5 hectares of vineyards in and around his home village, from which he produces about 1,200 cases of wine a year. He is farming organically (non-certified) and crafting his wines in the same style as his favorite “traditional” Barolos, which inspired him to get into wine in the first place: He favors 100% Nebbiolo wines (even though the Ghemme and Colline Novaresi appellations allow for blending) aged in larger-sized, used oak barrels.

Ghemme—the town and the broader appellation it lends its name to—sits on the eastern bank of the Sesia, which runs from the glaciers of Monte Rosa down past the towns of Novara and Vercelli to connect with the Pò further south. The soils are comprised mostly of volcanic material, red clay, and some alluvial gravel/sand. The Ghemme DOCG zone is a gentle plateau above the Sesia with a higher clay percentage than many of its neighbors—including the more-volcanic Gattinara directly across the river—and there’s a gentleness to even the longer-aged DOCG Ghemme wines that is uniquely appealing.

Mazzoni’s “ai Livelli” is a single-vineyard bottling, sourced from what might be called a parcel-within-a parcel: Grapes come from the oldest vines (planted 1968) in the first vineyard Mazzoni acquired, in the hamlet of Roncati. Fermentation with indigenous yeasts was carried out in stainless steel tanks, with maceration on skins lasting about 40 days, after which the wine aged 18 months in 500-liter French oak tonneaux and 18 months in larger (15HL) casks (also made of French oak). It then spent another nine months in bottle before its initial release.

So, what you have before you is a wine that matured for a good amount of time, in perfect conditions, before it was made available for sale—and it shows. In the glass, it’s a deep garnet-red with pink and orange reflections, with heady aromas of red cherry, plum, rose petals, blood orange, pink peppercorns, tobacco, black tea, and wild herbs. Medium-bodied and tautly structured, it nevertheless has less alcohol and a more finely grained tannic component than the typical Barolo. Its red fruit character and somewhat softer edges (by Nebbiolo standards, anyway) lend it a kinship to Burgundian Pinot Noir, and in the same way that seemingly delicate Burgundies can age for decades, this Ghemme will certainly reward cellaring. This should reach its 20th birthday with relative ease, but that is not to say you shouldn’t enjoy some now: Decant it 30-45 minutes before serving at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems and serve it with the attached truffle-stuffed roast chicken. This combination will be awfully tough to top. Enjoy!

Tiziano Mazzoni, Ghemme DOCG “Ai Livelli”

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