Elvio Cogno Winemaker Dinner

Published: 01-11-2018

Elvio Cogno Winemaker Dinner

Elvio Cogno - Traditional winemaking preserving Langhe’s unique heritage at Ravera
Sara Guiducci, Co-Head of Private Client Sales

‘Cogno is one of Piemonte’s up and coming stars’ Antonio Galloni wrote in 2012 and he was absolutely right. On Wednesday 24 October we co-hosted a dinner with Valter Fissore from Elvio Cogno at Café Murano to explore the exceptional range of Cogno’s Baroli.

A little background

Valter Fissore is the son-in-law of Elvio Cogno and current owner and winemaker at the estate. He has worked alongside Elvio for about 20 years. The Cognos have been making wine in Piedmont for at least 4 generations, previously in partnership with the Marcarini family in La Mora, but in 1990 Elvio Cogno left that partnership and founded Elvio Cogno after purchasing a farmhouse at the top of Bricco Ravera

Valter’s opening sentence was ‘I don’t speak very good English’ and he then continued in perfect English to  explain his personal philosophy of winemaking as ‘a journey to improve the small detail’ and ‘I consider my wines to be very natural’. The winemaking at Elvio Cogno is indeed very traditional with long fermentations and ageing in large traditional botti. No pesticides are used in the vineyards, but Valter has not pursued organic certification as he cares more about the well-being of his vines than the legalistic seal of approval. As most Italians, he talks of number of bottles produced, rather than cases and though a 80,000 bottles sounds a lot, but to put that in perspective, at 7000 cases, his entire production is much smaller than the Grand Vin of a First Growth and only about 1000 cases above the entire production at DRC.

The Dinner

As an aperitif, we drank the only white made by the estate; 2016 Langhe Nascetta DOC, "Anas-Cëtta". This wine reflects some of the passion of the estate for the region. It is made with a 100% Nascetta, which is the only indigenous white grape from the Langhe and 200 years ago was among the most famous white grapes of Italy, yet today is nearly extinct. Elvio Cogno was the first producer to replant a full vineyard of it or in Valter’s words ‘an indigenous grape that we spend a lot of time to save’. While crisp, fresh and dry in youth with notes of sage, acacia and pink grapefruit, Valter claims that with age it takes on salty and savoury notes creating wines similar to Marsanne, with notes of white almonds and honey. It definitely shares a textural quality with white Rhone. A perfect match with Tempura.

The first pair of reds, to introduce us to the estate, were 2011 and 2013 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC "Montegrilli" served with the antipasto. These are made with a 100% Nebbiolo and named after the original vineyard owned by Valter’s grandfather. The 2013 was more powerful and more serious and frankly would benefit a bit more ageing and food, while the 2011 had a delicate purity and freshness which makes it perfect as an aperitif or with food.

With Rigatoni and wild boar ragu, we tasted the two single Ravera plots of Elena and Pernice. Cogno is synonymous with the Ravera Cru. The Ravera Cru is located in an amphitheatre, almost entirely in the region of Novello, though a tiny parcel is situated across the boundary with Barolo. Cogno’s parcels are located about 380m above sea-level and the soil is famous for the high levels of limestone and clay with very little sand, (much less than in neighbouring Barolo). Though it would be easy to produce one wine from Ravera, the estate produces three different wines in recognition of both the differences in soil between the different parcels as well as the different clones of Nebbiolo traditionally planted.

The two sub-plots that produce the single vineyard wines of Elena and Pernice are located 500 meters apart, yet the wines are completely different. The 2012 Barolo Ravera Vigna Elena Riserva was limpid in colour with delicate soft tannins and a breathtaking energy and ethereal quality, while the 2012 Barolo Bricco Pernice in Valter’s words is ‘more powerful, more classic and requires more ageing’. The Elena is made with a 100% rosé, a sub-variety of Nebbiolo, which people stopped planting for a while as it easily overcrops, giving thin wines, but properly handled the wines have an exceptional delicacy. Today Cogno makes the benchmark Barolo with 100% rosé and other producers are starting to replant their vineyards with the rosé clone in recognition of the quality that can be produced. The wine is named after Elena, Elvio Cogno’s grand-daughter (Valter’s daughter) who was born in 1991, when the vineyard was founded.

The Barolo Ravera "Bricco Pernice" is made from a small plot within the original part of Ravera and planted with 100% lampia (another sub-variety of Nebbiolo). Valter describes it as the historic centre of Ravera and it is split to 2ha each owned by Vietta and Elvio Cogno. It was fragrant, yet powerful with a powerful tannin structure and Valter said that in his opinion the wines from Pernice was most similar in style to Cascina Francia. I rather agree with Valter who said ‘both have real personality, but you may have more preference for one or other, but both are expressions of nebbiolo’.

3 vintages (2008, 2006 and 1998) of Raverawere served with the main course of venison, red cabbage and honey&thyme parsnips. The Barolo Ravera is a blend of lampia and michet (sub varieties of Nebbiolo) and this reflects all the classic elements of the Ravera Cru. Valter explained that ‘the Ravera Cru is a special cru because of altitude…there is a real difference between day and night, which is important for Nebbiolo…and it is therefore easy to spot Ravera in a blind tasting’.  As expected there was some bottle variation on the 1998. The 2008 and 2006 Ravera had transformed during the evening. I had tasted them both before the dinner and found the 2008 more aromatic with finesse of a pronounced tannic structure and a long, long finish and the 2006 was more closed. During dinner I found the 2006 far more expressive and the 2008 was more closed.

Valter treated us with a bottle of the 2004 Elena to finish. As with the 2012, this was about finesse and a lifted ethereal quality rather than power. It has a gorgeous long length scented with lavender and a fine structure that belies the power of this wine. To drink tonight, I would probably prefer the 2004 Elena, but with time I think the 2012 Elena was my wine of the night for it laser-sharp precision. The interesting element of the night was that people were genuinely split between favourites, be it the appeal of age from the 1998 Ravera, the seductiveness of Elena or the power of Pernice.

The one wine we spoke about, but not taste was the Barbera produced from ungrafted vines. Another project of Elvio Cogno was to rescue a small parcel of ungrafted Barbera vines, the only ungrafted vines in Langhe. He produces one barrel of Barbera from this plot, which he bottles separately from his Barbera d'Alba DOC "Bricco dei Merli" and which Valter refers to as ‘a fabulous example of traditionally made, cask-aged Barbera at its best’.

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