I visited Alto Piemonte for the first time in November after having been fascinated by this region for some time. I was really keen to visit the small zone of Carema, as I had been seriously impressed by the refinement of the wines from the Produttori di Carema and wanted to visit the other producer of a great note, Ferrando. The journey was well worth it. It may be way off the normal tourist track, it may seem like a quiet backwater and Ivrea, where Ferrando are based, nothing more than a pass-through town, but the wines from this tiny region speak for themselves.
Carema essentially marks the divide between Piemonte and the Aosta Valley, about 50km north of Turin. This village, which appears lost in a time-warp, is surrounded by terraced vineyards that cover the rocky slopes up to an altitude of 600 metres. It is Nebbiolo that is planted on these terraces, trained over pergolas supported by the traditional pillars known as ‘pilun’, which are made of stone and lime. These vineyards have been cultivated in this manner for hundreds of years. The wines of Carema have received notable mention over the centuries; the bottler for Pope Paul III commented in 1539 that it was ‘an excellent drink, perfect for princes and lords’. In the same century it was mentioned as being served at the table of Popes, to the Dukes of Savoy and to French Royals. I think you get the picture – Carema has an illustrious history and was better known in the past than it is today.
What fascinates me about the wines from Carema is the sheer refinement that they reveal. This is a different interpretation of Nebbiolo – far softer, rounder in nature. The wines do not lack character or intensity, but they certainly aren’t bold and imposing. A friend in the trade refers to Carema as the Chambolle-Musigny of Piemonte and the reference makes sense. This character can be ascribed to the climate of the region which still permits harvest in the latter half of October, providing Nebbiolo with a long hang-time, and also what is referred to a glacial till or moraine, essentially the material, soil and rock, left behind by a moving glacier.
Talking with Roberto Ferrando, it is clear that climate change has elevated the fortunes of this area. Ripeness was previously hard won, now it is a common feature. In years where Piemonte proper might struggle for sufficient rainfall, Carema receives enough, whereas historically too much precipitation was more of an issue. Frankly, a changing climate has brought a level of consistency to Carema, and particularly to the wines of skilled producers like Ferrando. Antonio Galloni once commented on vinous.com that ‘Ferrando has long been the leading producer in the tiny appellation of Carema. The Etichetta Bianca and Etichetta Nera are reference-points.’
Production in Carema is dominated by a cooperative that boasts over 100 members and makes very good wines. Ferrando is one of the few producers to stand outside the cooperative – the family has been making wine for five generations and was founded by Giuseppe Ferrando in 1890. Production in Carema is by no means vast with a total of 16 hectares in production – the Ferrandos own 2.5 hectares, producing on average around 10,000 bottles each vintage. They make two different Carema – a white label (Etichetta Bianca) and, in the best years, a black label (Etichetta Nera).
It is worth noting that the pattern of vintages does not necessarily follow with those regions further south, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. If you visit the region, you can see a different topography, a different altitude and learn about different soils – it should come as no surprise that vintage conditions are different.
The 2018s in various communes of Alto Piemonte have impressed me greatly.