Renzo Seghesio Ars Vivendi Langhe Rosso 2013
Winegrower: Renzo Seghesio - Casina Pajana
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Grape: Nebbiolo/Barbera blend
Available: Fall 2017
Barbera doesn’t get the love or respect it deserves; it goes with everything, has great acid, and it’s the perfect grape to blend with Nebbiolo because it complements and doesn’t try to fight it the way Cabernet does. Barbera is happy to flesh out the colour and soften the tannins of Nebbiolo and otherwise stay out of the way. This brings us to today’s offer, Renzo Seghesio’s ‘Oars Vivendi’ Langhe Rosso. This super Piedmontese delivers the heady complexity of Nebbiolo in a softer, earlier-drinking style; it’s a crowd pleaser that’s serious enough for us geeks. This moderately priced Piedmont gem is alive with floral, earthy, spicy and fruity aromas followed by the subtle structure of Nebbiolo and the rich weight of Barbera. And it’s drinking perfectly now with the balance of Barbera’s gorgeous, inviting cherry flavours, minimal tannins and bright acidity playing sideman to the edgier, virtuoso Nebbiolo with its aromatics of red currents, dried flowers, tar and ash; a perfect pairing if there ever was one. Less than 400 cases are produced each vintage. Ars Vivendi – the ‘art of living’ – is a delicious wine that offers impressive refinement, and at $27.50 you will indeed be living well.
For more than a century the Seghesio family has been crafting its traditionally made wines in famed Monforte d'Alba; but the estate's tiny production has kept it a relative secret. Renzo bottled his first wines in 1968; his Barolo bears the name ‘Pajana,’ which might be called a ‘cru-within-a-cru’ in that it’s traditionally been considered a sub-section of Ginestra. Renzo is also a stubborn purist who farms organically, works his small vineyard holdings manually and ferments using indigenous yeasts. Having served as the mayor of Monforte d’Alba for 25 years, this man truly lives and breathes his home terroir.
The wines of Renzo Seghesio have been considered classic, iconic expressions of Nebbiolo and Barolo for decades, but sadly (or happily, depending on your viewpoint) there is little information about them that is readily available and finding their wines can be difficult. When you thumb through Sheldon Wasserman’s landmark tome, The Noble Red Wines of Italy (published 1991), you can read his notes on the wines stretching back decades to his first tasting trips to the Langhe, and he’s not the only notable to be impressed by these wines (Burton Anderson’s Guide to the Wines of Italy is another, and there are more.) It’s an indication of the esteem that these wines enjoy among Nebbiolo connoisseurs and Barolo insiders. But despite its embrace by the Italian wine cognoscenti the estate is one of those rare Langhe wineries that has managed to stay under the radar, which is lucky for us because it helps to keep prices reasonable.
To learn more about these fine, old-school, large-cask-aged wines, an excellent and relatively recent resource is Manhattan restaurateur Joe Campanale’s 2015 podcast interview with Raffaele Seghesio on the Heritage Radio Network. In this highly informative talk (which lasts about 30 minutes), Raffaele, Renzo’s son, gives an excellent description and overview of the estate and its winemaking philosophy.
So back to today’s wine, the vineyard for Ars Vivendi is calcareous and limestone over clay and is planted with 40 year old Nebbiolo and Barbera vines. It covers less than 2 hectares and faces southeast at an elevation just shy of 500 meters. The Nebbiolo and Barbera are fermented separately in steel tanks for 10 days. This is followed by malo-lactic fermentation. The wines are then combined in traditional, old 15-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks and aged for two years after which it is bottled and aged another year before release – a lot of refinement for just $27.50.
In fact, refinement is the perfect word: while the Barbera lends ruby-red depth to the lighter brick-like colour of Nebbiolo, the nose can be easily mistaken for Barolo, with all of the wonderful potpourri-like notes of dried flowers, cedar shavings and warm spices. As noted above, Barbera softens the texture so that on the palate it’s velvety and pleasant with nice cherry nuances. The wine is complex, full and dry. The finish is long and satisfying, the Nebbiolo asserting itself and following through to the end. It’s just coming into its own now and is delightful right out of the bottle, but a half-hour in a decanter helps to open it up. Give this wine a couple more years and it will be absolutely fabulous. Serve at 15˚ to 17˚ in Burgundy stems alongside this traditional roasted herbed beef tenderloin.