It was several years ago when I was contacted by a wine colleague in the UK who said “would you be interested in a tiny, amazing, off-the-radar producer in Barbaresco?”. He added, “imagine if Maria-Theresa Mascarello [of Bartolo Mascarello] made Barbaresco, it would taste like that!”. And, of course, he would know. The colleague was David Berry Green who heads up the Italian Wine purchases for the esteemed Berry Brothers & Rudd, the London-based importer and retailer, and who also is the long time ‘significant other’ of Maria-Theresa.
The producer in reference was Teobaldo Rivella of Cantina Serafina Rivella. But as fate would have it, when we finally tracked down Teobaldo – no e-mail or website for the Cantina, of course – he had recently signed with another US importer. It wasn’t until several years later when the stars would align and the opportunity finally arrived to collaborate.
Rivella’s tiny cellar produces about 1000 cases of wine each year, all heralding from the historic Cru of Montestefano in Barbaresco itself. Of the 1000 cases, about 750 are Barbaresco “Montestefano” and 250 are of a serious and regal Dolcetto. The vineyard was planted in 1963 by Rivella’s father, and the first vintage produced at the estate was 1967. His Montestefano parcel is next to his house, so he treats it, “come il mio giardino” (as my own little garden) he says, meticulously tended. Since the beginning, the vineyards have also been farmed organically.
The Montestefano Cru is unique in that is comprised of a solid meter of active limestone at the surface with clay and tufo underneath. This provides for a wine that has both freshness and lift, but also a bit more serious structure than most Barbarescos. Rivella vinifies more like Barolo, with 3-4 week macerations and long aging of 30-40 months in Botti Grande. As such, he tends to release his wines a year later than his neighbors, more like his brethren further south in Barolo. The Dolcetto too is aged in large cask, and released 18 months after the vintage. Not just a tutti-fruity wine to simply drink and forget.
In getting to know Rivella and his wines over the past several years, one gets a glimpse at the Piedmont of yesteryear. The wines and the people are unabashedly ‘old-school’ in the best sense. There is a sense of strength, pride and character in how they operate. Oh, in speaking with other producers in the region, apparently he is sort of an underground cult figure in the region whose wines are sought out by the most serious and passionate Piedmont cogniscenti.
It is a pleasure to have this tiny gem of a producer as part of our Piedmont roster.