Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival: Dinner with Damilano at Cru

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I was extremely fortunate to receive an invitation to attend a dinner with Piedmont’s Damilano at Cru Restaurant as part of the wine festival. Cru is a great little neighbourhood restaurant in Fairview making ingredient focused pacific-northwest inflected international cuisine. Damilano is the winery that first got me excited about Piedmont many years ago – during a previous iteration of the wine festival.

History and Expansion

Damilano is one of the oldest names in Piedmont and one of the original three wineries in the region. They own vineyards in various regions in Piedmont, but most importantly in La Morra and Barolo where they hold properties that become their single vineyard wines “Cerequio”, “Brunate”, “Liste” and “Cannubi”.

The family has recently expanded by purchasing a long term lease to an additional 8 hectares of Cannubi (a monstrously expensive proposition as land prices sit at around 2 million euros per hectare). Cannubi is one of the reverred vineyards in Barolo and with its recent purchase Damilano now controls 60% of the vineyard’s production. Export manager Giuseppe Cristini noted the challenges that come with increased production, particularly in keeping the quality high and in ensuring sales of the vastly increased quantity of wine.

Tasting Perspectives

Wine writers often draft tasting notes with little thought to their communicability to the reader. Indeed, many writers simply write as if their perspective is immediately understandable. This is, in reality, rarely the case and sometimes it is important to be reminded of this fact.

I was sitting across from Tom Firth of the Wine Advocate. Tom was an extremely interesting fellow with plenty of insight into the wine industry. Tom is a more experienced taster than myself, but as an experiment we ‘live’ compared tasting notes of the Damilano Cannubi with considerably different results. I noted primary fruit, cherry, medium+ acidity, solid structure and balance but a closed quality to the wine and a lack of aromatics for a high-level single vineyard Barolo. Tom noted florality, cinnamon, and bing cherries. He agreed on the structure, but found the finish very nice and believed the wine needed several more years to open up. Certainly there was some consensus on the key points, but the differences were just as interesting. Yet further proof that wine can be difficult to pin down.

The Wines

I am a fan of these wines. They are produced in a modern style, but are sufficiently adept at balancing accessibility with character that I would recommend them to many. We spent most of our time drinking the Nebbiolos, but the initial glass of Langhe Arneis 2010 was pleasant as many Arneis’s are – with orchard fruits, clean zippy acidity and a touch of minerality. It was a solid pairing with the squid based appetizer.

The entry level Nebbiolo d’Alba Marghe 2009 was a well made modern nebbiolo with classic cherry aromas and flavours. This didn’t go into the realm of expressivity and excitement that you find in Barolo, but it is a varietally correct and tasty Nebbiolo for under $30 and so this is a recommended bottle from me. I’d rate it Very Good+.

The most interesting wines were, of course, the Barolos. We started with the Barolo Lecinquevigne 2006, a blend of five vineyards in Barolo, Derduno, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra and Novello. This was denser and more tannic than the basic Nebbiolo d’Alba and had greater aromatics. It was still too young, but I appreciated the traditional styling of this wine and think it represents decent value. Very Good+.

The 2006 Barolo Cannubi, grown in sandy soils, was still quite closed, even though it was smoother, fruitier and more accessible than the Liste. As noted above, I thought this was well structured but still young, with good acid and balance but ultimately drinking now is infanticide. Excellent.

The 2006 Barolo Liste was much more tannic than the Cannubi right now. Of course, it is pretty silly to evaluate Barolo so young. Clearly this will be a very good wine with age. Floral and more feminine than the Cannubi, this is densely packed but still holds an innate deliciousness. The modern use of oak is apparent, as with the Cannubi, but I think it is integrated well and that this will be a very tasty wine in 5 years. Excellent.

In conclusion, this was a very good dinner and start to the Vancouver Playhouse wine festival. I look forward to continuing my coverage of future events and the festival tasting, always looking for great new values, and small passionate producers.

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