The histories of Rosenthal Wine Merchant and the village of Carema have been intertwined since January of 1980, when Neal purchased a small lot of wine from Luigi Ferrando—the very first wine he ever imported. In the ensuing four decades, Ferrando’s Carema has gone from a wine virtually unknown outside of its immediate vicinity to one of the most iconic wines in our portfolio, revered by enthusiasts across the United States and well beyond, and allocated down to the bottle. Our shared history has come full circle in recent years, with Neal and Kerry having had the incredible opportunity to purchase three minuscule parcels within Carema itself: Piole, Runc, and Sasso, totaling six-tenths of a hectare. And, in one of the most moving moments in RWM’s long history, Neal was made an honorary citizen of the village of Carema this past March. On a cloudless Alpine day, and in the company of so many members of our winegrowing families, it was a celebration of the human element that underpins all meaningful wines—a reminder that, for those of us involved in the world of real wine, our fortunes are all inextricably linked.
Northern Piedmont is in the midst of a gradual but palpable renaissance, with winegrowers reclaiming vineyards that had been abandoned through the political and economic woes of the 20th century, and consumers increasingly realizing the value and character of Nebbiolo planted in these cooler climes. This vibrant spirit has taken hold in Carema as well, which totaled 36 hectares when the DOC was created but fell to 14 hectares at its nadir a few decades back. Today, there are 16 hectares under cultivation, with further vineyard expansion—a mindbogglingly arduous process on these steep and soil-less slopes—taking place, and even a few newcomers beginning to bottle their own wines. Still, at the heart of it all remains the Ferrando family, the standard-bearer for this singular place since Luigi began bottling his own wines in the early 1960s. Today, his sons Roberto and Andrea work tirelessly for this DOC for which their family name is nearly synonymous, and are currently clearing out and replanting a 0.1-hectare parcel called Laurey in the old historical heart of the zone.
Visitors to Ferrando’s cellar in Carema are confronted with an unassuming room whose stark simplicity stands in contrast to the visual splendor of the vineyards themselves. There is no expensive thermoregulatory equipment, no spotless new barrels; it is, quite simply, a room full of old oak casks, bare-walled and raw-floored. But three years in this humble chamber transforms the juice of that amphitheater’s fruit into the most ethereal of all Nebbiolo—one which Neal named in Reflections of a Wine Merchant as no less than his desert-island wine. Certainly, in its emphasis on grace over force, on tension over richness, on equilibrium above ostentation, it embodies those characteristics that tend to guide RWM’s choices in this vast world of wine. There is beyond that, however, a certain spirit to the wine; an ineffable quality of pride which only truly great wines possess.
We stand ready to receive a duo of 2015 Carema from Ferrando toward the end of this month—a vintage so spectacular that Roberto joked they had briefly considered bottling the entire crop as “Etichetta Nera,” the black-label prestige cuvée they produce in limited quantities and only when the vintage allows. The growing season was warm and sunny but not excessively so, with beautiful conditions at harvest and little disease pressure, and the concentration and structure of the finished wines stands in sharp relief to the relatively welterweight 2014. Still, in this Alpine zone where Nebbiolo struggles the mightiest to achieve ripeness, even a vintage this generous in nature cannot mask the wine’s inherent scintillating tension. These 2015s are extraordinary even in the context of a grower whose output is as consistent as Ferrando’s, and they will surely live and improve for decades—wines whose future is as bright as that of the zone from where they originated.
2015 Carema “Etichetta Bianca”
For us, Ferrando’s white-label Carema is perhaps the ne plus ultra of Alpine wine—as well as the most gorgeous expression of Nebbiolo in existence—and the 2015 is a future legend. With its mouthwatering acidity, its sumptuously velvety texture, its panoply of spices, and its eerily pure fruit, it embodies what makes Carema so special, yet with a bit more authority and power than in a more typical vintage. Aged in a combination of large Stockinger casks and smaller barriques and tonneaux (all well-used), it presents relatively open at this youthful stage—perhaps a function of 2015’s generosity of fruit—yet the underlying structure and tension promise a long life.
2015 Carema “Etichetta Nera”
Comprising only 20% of the vintage’s production, the 2015 black-label Carema is more inward and reticent at this early point in its life than its white-label brother. Interestingly, the black-label displays less disparity in heft with the “Etichetta Bianca” than it often does, coming across as relatively equal in structure yet with more bottom-end and a slightly darker, lusher personality than the white-label In contrast to the white-label, this is aged exclusively in smaller French oak—a mix of 225-liter barriques and 500-liter tonneaux—and without anything close to new wood. This is a monumentally built wine that beckons for a bit of time, but will surely reward it.