For us at Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Ferrando Carema is more than a wine; it’s an emblem—a one-wine encapsulation of our history, our aesthetic sensibilities, and our most deeply held values. Back in 1980, when Neal and Kerry were still lugging boxes around their Upper East Side shop themselves, it was the very first wine they ever imported. (Carema is still a relative obscurity, but imagine trying to sell it 40 years ago to a demographic still weaning themselves off of highballs and California-made “hearty Burgundy”!) And, in a full-circle flourish of unplannable poetry, when the opportunity unexpectedly arose a few years back, they actually became landholders in Carema, purchasing several miniscule plots now being replanted and worked by Andrea and Roberto Ferrando for inclusion in their future vintages.
Carema’s origin story is the stuff that raises our arm hairs: a singular terroir, nestled in the foothills of the Alps in the long shadows of Mont Blanc; a visually breathtaking amphitheater of steeply terraced vines trained to hang from ancient pergolas; and a family—the only family to produce a Carema under their own name—of immense warmth, profound intuition, and unquenchable passion for their home soil. Like all of the world’s greatest wines, the mere existence of Ferrando Carema almost defies logic. It speaks to something deep in our human blood, something that seems to need to toil in difficult, grueling environments in order to wring out the very taste of the earth itself.
There are wines that dazzle with their intensity, which overwhelm with their power, or which seduce with their flagrancy. Ferrando Carema is not such a wine. The wines we cherish most demand a bit of attention—they draw one in to listen rather than scream to be heard—and nothing embodies that like Ferrando. Sitting as it does at the northernmost limit of Piedmont, Carema is a master class in vinous tension. The Langhe has muscles, but Carema has nerve. Its monumental mountain acidity allows it to outlive even many of its far more tannic brethren from Barolo or Barbaresco. And its sensory dance of warm musk, cool Alpine herbs, gleaming red fruits, and caressing tannins is difficult to do justice to in words, but it possesses a mystical, Mona-Lisa-like beauty that keeps us eternally intrigued.
We are gearing up to receive the 2014 Carema from the Ferrando family—a challenging growing season, to be sure, but one which embodies the “great producers make great wine even in tough vintages” adage that has by now become cliché. Carema by nature is elegant and subtle, and the result of a season which accentuates that is, in a sense, even lovelier than one sporting the gym muscles of a more solar vintage. Furthermore, while the Ferrandos often make two versions of their Carema—a “white-label” constituting the majority of their production, and a barrel-selection “black label”—there is but one Carema in 2014. And, as much as we relish the extra depth and intensity of the “Etichetta Nera” when it’s produced, there is something poetically satisfying about offering a single definitive representation of this incredible zone.
The 2014 is nimble, precise, and irresistibly delicious. Carema can be legendarily reticent in its extreme youth (despite an absence of brawny tannins), but this vintage begs to be enjoyed. Still, its bones are there; its soul is strong. It is a wine of relative delicacy, but adamantly not of weakness, and it will certainly make old bones as all great Carema does. Those fortunate enough to obtain a few bottles will possess a stethoscope unto not only the most magical of all Nebbiolo terroirs, but unto the beating heart of Rosenthal Wine Merchant.