Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sergio Germano and the Last "Pra di Pò"

Not long after I opened a bottle of Sergio Germano's 2008 Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò" to serve with dinner on Friday night, poured a glass and took a first sip, I realized something. It might be the last time I'd ever open a bottle of Pra di Pò. I don't just mean of the 2008 vintage. I mean period. No more Pra di Pò.

Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò," Ettore Germano (Sergio Germano) 2008
$19. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
2008 was, in some cases, a tough vintage for Dolcetto. In this case, it's turned out to be a lovely one, albeit different than in typical years. Usually fairly intensely structured, even quite tannic, at least by Dolcetto standards, Germano's 2008 "Pra di Pò" is very supple, medium-bodied and a good deal softer than I would normally have expected. That easy feel carries with it classic aromas and flavors of dark red, bordering on black, cherry fruit and a suggestion of ripe plums. Not to harp on the vintage thing but this is ready to roll — and a very friendly foil to all kinds of everyday fare — while most past vintages would have been substantially tighter and more tannic at a similar point on the time line. If you're sitting on a trunk full, drink up and enjoy. Just don't look back for more....

For as long as I've known his wines (and longer), Sergio Germano has been producing two different examples of Dolcetto d'Alba. Both Dolcetti are vineyard designated: "Lorenzino," hailing from a west-facing parcel on the opposite side of the hill from most of Germano's "home" holdings; and "Pra di Pò," from an east facing site on the hillside directly below the terrace, and beyond to the right as one looks down from the hilltop, at the rear of Sergio's home and winery.

When I visited Sergio in May, he told me (among many other things) that 2008 was the last vintage for his Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò." At what point exactly he decided it would be the last I'm not sure, but at some point after harvesting the fruit for the '08, Sergio grubbed up the Dolcetto vines that his father had planted in 1975. Not long after, he replanted the site to Nebbiolo, in keeping with the remainder of his portions of the Pra di Pò (aka, Prapò) vineyard, one of the prime crus within the municipality of Serralunga d'Alba.

If you look keenly, you can see some of the new plantings of Nebbiolo in the picture above, in the lowest half-dozen or so rows at the base of the hillside. When the vines reach production age, the fruit they bear will most likely be destined for Sergio's Langhe Nebbiolo. When they reach greater maturity, the hope is that their fruit will be of high enough quality to merit inclusion in Germano's Barolo "Prapò."

The decision seems simple enough on the surface. Nebbiolo is economically more rewarding then Dolcetto, after all. Just think of the pricing of that Barolo you've been coveting in your favorite shop, then consider that even entry-level Langhe Nebbiolo tends to fetch a slightly higher price than all but the best, most elaborate examples of Dolcetto d'Alba. All of that said, I don't think Sergio would have made the decision — he is a fan and champion of Dolcetto — if not for the fact that he had recently acquired a "new" plot of 25 year-old Dolcetto vines in the Lazzarito vineyard, closer to the village of Serralunga itself relative to the position of the Germano's cantina on the Cerretta and Prapò hill.

I tasted the first vintage of the Dolcetto from that new site, the 2009, from tank. When ready, it will be christened "Pradone." Though a little early to tell, it struck me as similar to Pra di Pò, perhaps with a touch more brightness in the fruit department. Sergio agreed, also calling it "more typical." As much as I'll miss the occasional bottle of "Pra di Pò" — there are no more in my cellar — there will always be new wines, always new friends. I look forward to getting to know "Pradone."


Marcus said...

You hear so much about Dolcetto dug up for Nebbiolo these days. I suspect you're right about the other Dolcetto plot being the reasoning behind this one. Dolcetto ripens so much earlier in the season than other grapes - the smart vintner in Piemonte is wise to keep those Dolcetto parcels. Of course as you know I need to I keep telling myself this in order to sleep at night.

tom hyland said...


Nice post, especially that you noted how wonderful Sergio's bottlings of Dolcetto are. I love his style wiht this grape and we need more vintners such as him to continue with this variety.

It certainly makes sense for him to replace the Dolcetto in the Prapo vineyard, but it makes me wonder if the same might not be true down the road with this parcel of Dolcetto from Lazzarito. I hope not!

David McDuff said...

@Marcus -- You're absolutely right. In most cases, it boils down to the economics of supply and demand. While Dolcetto remains important and reasonably popular in Piedmont (where it's almost always a distant second to Barbera on the everyday table), the global demand is much stronger for Nebbiolo, which also fetches a higher price. Both Dolcetto and Nebbiolo thrive in similar soil types but, as you mention, Dolcetto ripens earlier and more easily, making it suitable for sites/expositions where Nebbiolo would not ripen at all. It's sites such as those that will keep Dolcetto going, while only the most dedicated/die-hard Dolcetto-loving producers will continue to grow it in sites where they could grow Nebbiolo.

@Tom -- Thanks, and I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts regarding Sergio's expressions of Dolcetto. I haven't walked through the Lazzarito vineyard, so I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that Sergio's plot of Dolcetto there has an exposure better suited to Dolcetto than Nebbiolo. Yet another question for him....

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