'La Milla' 2015
You can’t drink Barolo everyday. Just as it can’t be your birthday everyday. And you probably shouldn’t smash loads of cake or indulge that nasty coke habit everyday that you unsuccessfully try and hide from your spouse, your siblings and mostly yourself. I mean, you could. You certainly can drink Barolo everyday, (particularly if you’ve made your way onto a Forbes list and the rivers of your wallet run deep and you’ve teeth and gums made of steel to combat the sumptuously high-tannins and a heart of harder steel to match regular consumption of the ghostly romances that so embody old Piedmontese reds), but if our elders are to be listened to, you might be best not to. Most things should be taken not with pinches of salt but with the virtue (and torture) of moderation in mind.
In the Northern reaches of the long-calved Italian boot and leaning to the west you’ll find Piedmont where the king of Italian wine, Nebbiolo, has made his/her/their home and continues to make the wine-drinking world swoon. Almost (if not every) house will also mess with Barbera and Dolcetto on their less prominent sites and spin wines of varying quality, of varying maturity, of varying styles. The Nebbiolo wines are thought to be special occasion wines: your Fridays/Saturdays, your religious holidays, your divorce, your firstborn. The Barbera’s are more Thursday night first-date wines, or weekday birthdays with the in-laws or dinner party go-to’s for the savvy host churning Oliver, Hartnett and Locatelli copies. The Dolcetto’s are often relegated to lunch wine, to literal beakers and plastic cups, to parks and pubs and Monday pizza joints. And not unfavourably so. They more often than not should be drunk young and joyously and without much rumination. As with every thing and every rule and every wine, there are always exceptions. And in this case the exception is also exceptional, possibly even extraordinary.
If you are looking for a daily juice that might half-fill a beaker alongside Wednesday night takeaways and chill, or satisfy the masses at a Sunday luncheon after mass where familial disputes and quiet guilt and friendly conflict circle a grilling and recent kill; a daily juice with all the rusticity and elegance and savoury satisfaction of the Nebbiolo staples of Barolo, Barbaresco and greater Langhe, but without the price tag and the seriousness, without the oak and the call to arms, a splash of Dolcetto might just about be the new apple-a-day to keep the wolves at bay. And not any old purple-hued, youthful sprite, lower-cuvee Dolcetto from the many wine houses that scatter the rolling patchwork of the Piedmont, but the meaty, dried-plum, spice box Dolcetto that is ‘La Milla’ from Cascina Borgatta.
Cascina Borgatta is run by wife and husband Maria Luisa and Emilio Oliveri on their relatively small (2 hectare) estate in Tagliolo. Too far north to fool around with Nebbiolo Maria’s father planted Dolcetto in the 50’s and 60’s and it is these same vines that Emilio and Maria work today. And now in their 80’s it is still only they that work them. It is all of your spiralling romantic notions about a small winery come true: limited release, no chemicals ever, charming couple, handsome labels, old vines, family-run, elegant profile, perfect food partnering all-rounder: a banging, banging rustic beauty. If ever there were a wine for the special occasion that is each and every day of the week―the special occasion that is merely the humble fact of you having risen from slumber to fight another good fight, this pastoral banger is it.
It has the brooding, ruby glow of dark-skinned jam and against the light promises to throw stewed wisdoms and maybe an oratorio or two. On first whiff it’s exotic spice and cooking herbs and black cherry. It’s smells as though it’s been kicked off someones boot to feed your hungry thirst and sate your weary soul. There is something of fresh suede about it, of tender animal hide; on the tongue and in the mind. It tastes to me of a dustbowl-berry torta. And smells of dying flowers. And offers only a tiny whiff of smoke, though it should be said that the Borgatta duo age not in oak but the more neutral concrete and thus the expression is purer and more precise, allowing Dolcetto the rare chance to settle, to stew, to shine.
It’s an earthy, gritty, grimy, spice-laden wonder that goes down as easy as syrup to the sick or roast duck gravy to the gourmand uncle. There’s a maraschino and pig’s blood kiss to it and a satisfying stickiness on the fruit that compliments the mouth feel with a balanced mid-palate acidity and medium tannic grip holding it all together. It’s bound by patience; a wine that is in no hurry to reach the shop shelves or the carta de vino (as Emilio will age for almost four years before release) and in no rush to fade in the bottle either. It rides across the mouth unhurried and unsubtle, aware it’s many virtues, of it’s liquid-marriage of the savoury and the seductive: of cardigans and clove, of leather and coffee and poise and burnt oranges and sun-loved delights harvested at their peak.
You get the lick of booze-soaked red berries atop a chocolate pudding. You get every Italian holiday you’ve not yet had, rushing tiny streets in small cars or rattling vespas in busy cities, you get hanging garlic and short strong coffees and talking with your hands and open church doors and frankincense and the charm of ageing hotels and young boys smoking cigarettes and made-up woman wearing heels to the grocery store and charred vegetables dripping in olive oil and cracking statues holding leaves over their genitals and the blood-red moon that mostly shows when the days have been hot and sandal-clad kids murder an ancient fountain. You get something old and earthen about the nose. Like a heavy book in a university library that hasn’t been studied in decades, that throws memories and dust with every page, that occasions to make you sneeze. You get something bloody, something deliciously on the edge of decay. Maybe even a little Dante, call it comedy, call it tragedy, call it a whiff of Inferno, the La Milla is liquid poetry. And you even get lashings of black olive tapenade and roasted tomatoes; with a bottle of La Milla under one arm you could just pick up a fresh loaf from the baker, maybe a chunk of pecorino and call it dinner.
When I’m old and Italian and married to my own Maria and I change my name to Emilio and grow the perfect moustache I’m gonna work Dolcetto too, and do an amazing job of it and live in northern Italy and sell mostly to the locals and be humble and handsome and have the best time doing so. When I’m old. And Italian. But for now, an antipodean expat surviving and somm-ing in the big smoke, I’ll have to settle for at least being able to find the Cascina Borgatta wines at only the best delis or on only the most sensible wine lists because whilst you can’t drink Barolo everyday, you can sure try your luck with Dolcetto.
tasted June 2021