The Sesia River originates high in the Italian Alps, just below the Monte Rosa glacier on the border of Switzerland, and flows 140 kilometers southeastward before joining the Po River near Casale Monferrato. Along its path, the Sesia passes neatly through the center of the Alto Piemonte, bisecting its winegrowing communes into western and eastern appellations. One hundred and fifty years ago, the Nebbiolo-based wines of the Alto Piemonte were held in equal esteem to their southern counterparts in the Langhe—and, in the case of Gattinara, were widely considered superior. But phylloxera exacted an enormous toll here—one compounded by the two World Wars and a mass exodus during the 20th century’s textile boom, wherein city factory jobs offered a more attractive way of life than the wearying toil demanded by these steep sub-Alpine slopes. At its nadir of production in the early 1990s, less than 2% of the Alto Piemonte’s former vineyard area was still planted to the vine, and the region was mired in economic depression.
The current situation, however, is happily different—a testament to that within the human spirit which seems to need to connect with great terroir and will overcome immense odds to do so. The past decade has witnessed a massive influx of interest in the area, as a younger generation whose forebears may have fled the area for big-city comforts came to realize the specialness of what was left behind, and have dedicated themselves to reestablishing the Alto Piemonte’s former viticultural glory. While that goal is still far beyond the horizon’s vanishing point, the sense of energy and excitement here today is palpable, and recent investments in the area by notables in the Langhe and beyond suggest that this momentum will only increase over time.
At the forefront of this movement is Andrea Mosca, who abandoned his career as an architect nine years ago and acquired three hectares of vines in and around the village of Brusnengo, in the heart of the Bramaterra appellation. Christening his project NOAH, after his then-newborn son Francesco Noah, Andrea quickly set to producing thrillingly pure wines beginning with the 2011 vintage, and we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant have been by his side since the outset. Bramaterra—a portmanteau of bramare (“to long for”) and terra (“the land”)—is certainly a fitting home base nomenclature-wise for one who changed careers in the manner of Andrea, and he has since acquired a hectare and a half in the neighboring appellation of Lessona as well. It has been a thrill to witness Andrea’s evolution, and today, with nine harvests under his belt, he exudes the quiet confidence of a skilled winegrower—one who is always seeking to coax further expressiveness from the land to which he returned.
We have just received a round of new releases from NOAH, including the debut vintage of his riveting Lessona, and a joyously delicious new wine called ROSSONOAH, as well as the current vintage of his flagship Bramaterra. These wines—farmed organically, and vinified and aged in deeply traditional fashion—demonstrate pointedly the deep promise within the great terroirs of the Alto Piemonte, and offer irrefutable evidence of an immensely talented young winegrower on the ascent.
2017 ROSSONOAH Costa della Sesia
Andrea’s vineyards were ravaged by hail in 2016, compensating with extra vigor in 2017—particularly among the young Nebbiolo vines he had planted in 2012. It occurred to Andrea that these exuberant young vines might marry interestingly with a parcel of 70-year-old maggiorina-trained Croatina he had previously vinified and bottled separately (see below), and thus ROSSONOAH was born. Comprising 50% young-vines Nebbiolo, 40% old-vines Croatina, and 10% Vespolina, it is a perfect rendering of the Alto Piemonte in miniature. One senses the strict mineral discipline of Bramaterra’s volcanic rock, the savory beam of high-tension-wire fruit, and the high-toned aromatics fostered by these northerly slopes, yet its texture is supple and approachable, its structure friendly rather than imposing. Andrea employed a relatively brief 10-day maceration without excessive extraction in order to preserve the wine’s sense of freshness, with vinification occurring in stainless steel and aging taking place in large Slavonian cask for one year. The wine deftly balances serious terroir articulation,and the overall impression is one of lip-smacking resonance on the palate.
One of the Alto Piemonte’s great virtues is the variety of soil types found among its seven communes, each of which marks the Nebbiolo—itself a profoundly articulate conduit of terroir—in distinctive ways. Bramaterra’s hard, red volcanic porphyry yields wines of penetrating minerality, sizzling acidity, and incredible, almost saline tension; these are lean and chiseled wines, even within the context of northern Piedmont Nebbiolo. Andrea Mosca’s Bramaterra comes from a sector of Brusnengo known as Mesola, a zone whose praises can be found being sung in printed materials dating back to the early 19th century. He works his four sites within this zone fully manually, and the final wine blends 80% Nebbiolo with 10% Croatina, 5% Vespolina, and 5% Uva Rara, with an average vine age of 25 years. Vinification takes place in large, well-used 80-hectoliter open-top casks of Slavonian oak, and the wine ages one year in 80-hectoliter cask, and a second year in 27-hectoliter cask—a staunchly traditional cellar regimen which allows this unique terroir to shine through with brilliance. This 2014, despite the growing season’s difficult weather, offers a striking core of pure wild strawberries, with grace notes of menthol, black pepper, and herbal spice. That unmistakable volcanic minerality binds the whole affair like a tightly laced combat boot, and this wine should improve for at least a decade in bottle.
Andrea applies the same traditional approach to his Lessona as he does his Bramaterra, and the finished result highlights the enormous differences between these two terroirs. Lessona is an appellation of marine sands, which lend its Nebbiolo a silken elegance and a sense of refinement, and this 2014 (NOAH’s first vintage from this appellation) clearly highlights those typical characteristics. Its tannins are no less significant than the Bramaterra, but they are more polite, more filigree—a firm handshake through a soft glove. Its overall texture is rounder, yet not richer, offering excellent poise and length, and its impression of acidity is more serene. Notably, NOAH’s Lessona is 100% Nebbiolo, without any of the secondary varieties that frequently make appearances in these appellations. One marvels at the authority and precision on display here, especially considering it is only the fourth vintage Andrea made, and we cannot wait to track its progress over the years ahead.
2015 Coste della Sesia Croatina
2013 Coste della Sesia Croatina
Now a component in the ROSSONOAH, Andrea’s 70-year-old Croatina in Brusnengo used to be bottled separately, and the result was adamantly one of the most serious versions of an Alto Piemonte “secondary variety” we have ever encountered. Bearing the structure and minerality of the Bramaterra, NOAH Croatina displays an intensely savory soil impression, with notes of iodine and smoked meat framing its dark black fruits.