“I’m a lucky man. One and a half hectares of land is enough to live.” Giovanni Canonica – Gianni to his mates and honoured guests at his Barolo home – is pretty cool from where I’m sitting. Scruffy and handsome in red-rimmed specs that only an Italian could carry off, he’s showing us his wine in his sitting room. We’re staying next door, in his three-bedroom farm stay, Il Quarto Stato. The place is named after the iconic 1901 painting of striking peasants by Piedmontese neo-impressionist Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, a print of which adorns our front door. The house is slap bang in the middle of this storied village, and the Paiagallo vineyard can be seen from my bedroom window.
It’s from a 1.5-hectare patch of this vineyard that Gianni makes his one and only Barolo. He does it naturally, with no yeasts, no filtering, just a touch of sulphur at bottling to arrive at 30mg/L. It’s made in tiny quantities – 6,000 bottles in 2009 – in the shed and cellar out back. The basket press is endearingly ancient, the 2,500L Slavonian oak casks cumbersome and uncomplicated. The only other wine Gianni makes is 1,000 bottles of Barbera d’Alba.
And distribution is fittingly random yet simple. In the mid-1990s, when times were pretty desperate here, a natural wine lover from Japan tasted some and became unofficial brand evangelist. Gianni now sells half his production to the Japanese. They’ve scored a rare treat.
Light ruby to garnet colour, this 100% Nebbiolo has a pronounced nose of cherry blossom, roses, red cherry, tar, leather and roasted nuts. It’s medium to light bodied, and the soft strawberry, red and black cherries and prunes on the palate are a striking follow-up to the savoury overload of the nose. Plenty of layers here too, though, with caramelised orange, leather and spice on the back palate. The tannins are very fine with a firmness that keeps everything in check. The wine finishes long, with bit of tang and some spirity warmth. It’s a bit out there but honest as the day is long, and with bundles of intrigue to go back for. Personally I loved it. Drink 2014 to 2022.
RRP €20 from the cellar* – Alcohol 15% – Tasted on 16/11/13
*Gianni says he’s sending 120 bottles of Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo 2009 to Australia this month.