After her kindergarten teacher decided she was too disruptive to remain in class, Marina Marcarino’s grandmother was tasked with the job of making sure Piedmont’s youngest juvenile delinquent stayed in line. When children are misbehaving, we often punish them with banishment to ‘the corner.’ That may be better than the old days when spanking was the norm but it is not nearly as good as the penance the precocious Marina had to pay. One wrong move and she was sent off to the vineyards. This is how she met her first love, Nebbiolo.
Marina’s early childhood provided a clue to the independent spirit she would display later on. “In the beginning of my experience as a winemaker, there was a lot of influence of short fermentation, hot temperature and small oak that made wines ready but died in a very short time. I started to make wine with the idea of some aromas and taste that are tied to the time I was a baby when we were forced to taste the wine because it was considered a food and so important for our growth and for our experience. “
Marina’s south-facing Barbaresco vineyards (Neive in the background)
During a time when many of Barolo and Barbaresco’s producers were moving away from tradition and making wines that could be consumed earlier, she not only stuck to traditional winemaking but also converted the Punset estate to organic viticulture.
In 1982, Marina embarked on a university course that made her rethink the way wine was made. At a time when chemical pesticides were the norm, she was taught about organic farming and respecting the earth. Her family had always practiced minimal intervention but at her prompting, they embarked on a five-year path that led to organic certification. There were many ups and downs along the way and despite losing over 70% of their first crop, Marina’s family stuck by her decision.
This may not sound like a big deal today but 30 years ago organic grape-growing was just not discussed, not even in the areas where organic viticulture is common today. To put it in perspective, Nicolas Joly’s first biodynamic vintage was 1981. Obviously, things have changed quite a bit she admits, “Thanks to the fashion of organic something is moving forward.”
While many producers will lay claim to sustainability, leaving the option open to do what needs to be done in difficult vintages, Marina is a firm believer in organic viticulture no matter what Mother Nature has in store. The strict regulations that come with Ecocertification make winemaking much more challenging but she feels
it is in the best interest of the winemaker, the customer and the earth to make the best wine possible with natural means.
“For the planet, for our lives, it is important to have certified organic.”
Located in Santo Stefano, one of the best sites in Barbaresco, Punset makes 11 wines as well as a grappa and traditional liquor. The soil is typical for the area:; poor calcarious with iron. Marina feels that what makes her wines stand apart from her neighbors is “tradition and exposure,” the latter being attributed to the elevation of some of the vineyards, among the highest in Barbaresco.
All of the grapes are harvested by hand, then brought into the winery and immediately pressed. The whites are placed in stainless steel tank and the reds in concrete where they go through natural fermentation. “What is nice with concrete is this material heats very slowly and that only slowly it refresh so the wine never gets a shock.
The vintage determines how long the wines spend in wood. She prefers to use 2500-liter Slovenian casks. “This size is very important because this is the perfect balance between the quantity of wine and surface of wood that operates the exchange with the oxygen inside. It is in my opinion much easier to control character of the wine.”
The Barbaresco spends a minimum of 18 months in wood, no matter what, and sometimes up to two or three years. Bottle time before release always matches the amount of time in casks as the act of bottling itself causes the wine stress. Sometimes a more recent vintage is released before the previous, depending on whether or not the wine is ready. Marina wants the wines to have plenty of time to settle in bottle before the wine reaches the customer.
Before I met Marina, I was not looking for a Piemontese producer, at least at that moment. I was in Piedmont on my way to Emilia-Romagna to seek out natural winemakers of Lambrusco. But fate intervened and after hearing Punset’s story and tasting the wines, I knew could not pass them up. Considering the incredible response her wines have received, I could not be more pleased.
With this initial offering of Punset’s wines, I limited our selection to the Barbera and Barbaresco as these two wines epitomize the terroir and are a great introduction to the estate. We hope to bring you more in the future.
Punset Barbera d’Alba, 2011
Fermented in concrete, Punset’s Barbera does not see any wood so it has a fresh, vibrant quality with red berries, cherries, plums and violets. It is lively and juicy and keeps you wanting to refill your glass. An excellent accompaniment to pizza, charcuterie and polenta with fontina. SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $19
Punset Barbaresco, 2006
The Barbaresco, of course, is special and here Marina’s goal is to “bring back this sensation of violet or roses that are typical of this land.” Punset Barbaresco is elegant and charming but restrained at the same time- only giving up so much to the initial taste. As it opens it gradually reveals its combination of floral, balsamic, dried cherry, plum and mocha. A vintage with both acidity and fruit, it has the expected Nebbiolo tannins that should allow it to age for many years, though it is accessible and pretty now. Barbaresco traditionally pairs with the secondi or meat dish but this version will also go with vegetable risottos and pasta dishes, especially if you shave a few truffles on top. SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $49
Punset Barbaresco, 2007
Carrying the same floral and fruit notes as the 2006, the warmer 2007 vintage is evident here in the darker cherry and riper plum characteristics. The wine opens more readily and the tannins are velvety, making for a sexier wine than the 2006. After breathing a bit it shows dried fig and rose petal. While slightly different from each other, both Barbaresco vintages embody Marina’s feminine, delicate and traditional style. SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $49
Raphael, Cristin, Alejandro, JB, Jennifer, Kaci and Laurent