The second week in October isn’t the perfect time to drop in on a winery. Well it is and it isn’t. As a veteran of many visits to silent, echoing cathedrals of stainless steel, it’s exciting to be there as trailers filled with grapes rumble into the yard and even sneak a few berries before they reach the selection tables. There is a buzz and an urgency around the place as all the expensive equipment gets its annual work-out. Great to catch it in action, but there’s no doubt that the winery team would sooner see visitors any other time of the year.
At Marchesi di Gresy, just down the hill from Barbaresco, the town that gives its name to one of Piemonte’s great wines, we are not the only inopportune visitors. Some Swedish restaurateurs are passing through. Yesterday it was the Japanese. A couple of London’s top young sommeliers were here this morning. Marchesi di Gresy’s Kiwi winemaker Geoff Chilcott, who was passing through himself in the early 90s and somehow never left, has seen them all and then sits down with us at 6pm, when the rain has just about held off and the pickers have stopped for the night.
Mid-harvest he looks as though his last straight eight was a while ago and his next is a long way off. And yet as he starts to talk us through the estate’s wines his enthusiasm masters his fatigue. The many decisions that will factor into this year’s wines are shrugged away for an hour as he shows us the results of his earlier decisions, earlier weather, earlier harvests.
He doesn’t stint. He brings us 15 or more wines, adding in some different vintages to demonstrate their development through ageing. Too many to recount, but particularly impressive are:
1. The Langhe Chardonnay, fresh, with apple and pear flavours and a lovely weight.
2. The Dolcetto d’Alba, surprising for not appearing as a slightly weedy poor relation to the Barbera and Nebbiolo, but smooth, and really appealing with something Cabernet Francish about it. It’s the first Dolcetto I’ve ever really enjoyed. Geoff said he’d be happy to drink half a bottle a day for the rest of his life and I couldn’t fault the idea.
3. The Langhe Nebbiolo, very drinkable, with long-lasting cherry, raspberry and spice flavours. Just the sort of thing I think our guests would enjoy in the pub. [Interestingly, Decanter Magazine has just hailed it as one of the top Piemonte wines under £20.]
4. The Monferrato Rosso, a 100% merlot that is open, approachable and delicious. Not an easy sell, as Piemonte and merlot aren’t a classic combination, but Geoff keeps on making it – because it’s good.
5. All three of the estate’s Barbarescos, though the Camp Gros 2006 (from the Martinenga vineyard wholly owned by the di Gresy family) is the classiest of the class acts on show – with red cherry, raspberry and sandalwood all in play in a harmonious whole.
It’s a fascinating tasting and as we stumble out into the cool, damp night we’re glad we came. And we’re sorry, Geoff. Hope you get some sleep soon.