Boca DOC – A Hidden Gem in Piemonte

Where is Boca you ask?  Boca DOC is in Piemonte and is one of the smallest and Northernmost appellations of Italy.  Produceing Nebbiolo, Vespolina and Uva Rara, it is one of the most unique terroirs in the world. Influenced by the 2nd highest peak of Europe (Monte Rosa), the wines are vastly long aging, intriguingly earthy and splendidly complex.

A recent seminar was conducted by Professional Sommelier, Master Taster and North American Sommelier Association (NASA) Vice President Diego Meraviglia, a native of this region.  We were in for a great treat, tasting these great Nebbiolos, known locally as “Spanna”.

The Terroir of BOCA

The area of Boca is similar to the state of New York in the sense that it is surrounded by glacier lakes (Lago Maggiore and Lago Orta).  Although not famous like their neighbors in the Langhe, Boca is the birthplace of Nebbiolo.

The morenic hills of Boca are of glacial origin.  The region has long rigid winters, with cold winds from the Alps, and hot summers with high humidity and fog.  The soil is very acidic, rich in iron and poor in limestone. These conditions contribute to the wines having acidity, minerality, longevity, complexity and peculiarity. In fact, becasue the acidic soils are ruch in magnesium, potassium and iron, the wines of Boca can small like blood….ok, it sounds better to say that it smells like iron.

The Grapes of BOCA

While Nebbiolo is the predominant grape in Piemonte, it goes under different names in some areas.  In Ghemme, Gattinara and Boca, they call it Spanna; in Biella they call it Melascone; in Val d’Ossola they call it Prunenta.

Spanna is the span between the thumb and the pinky. The producers in the region had to plant, under oath, one vineyard “altenis” (tree tied, producing high density) and one vineyard “spanis” (low trained vines, producing low density).  Hence the locals began calling Nebbiolo Spanna.

The extremely ancient grape Vespolina is also planted in Boca.  The name comes from vespa (wasp) because due to the high sugar in the grapes, it was used to attract the wasps away from the Nebbiolo.  Vespolina has a tendency to overripen on the vine. It adds spice, structure, fruit and color to the Boca wines.

BOCA DOC

The Boca DOC, established in 1969, requires that the wines must be 70-90% Nebbiolo (Spanna) and 10-30% Vespolino (which adds spice) and Uva Rara (aka Bonarda, which gives color and fruit).  The vines must be a minimum of 7 years old. The wines must be aged in oak or cherry wood for a minimum of 18 months, and a total aging time of 34 months.  Boca Riserva DOC must be aged for 46 months, 24 months in barrel.The wines must be a minimum of 11.5% alcohol.

The Wines of BOCA

There are 30 producers today in BOCA.  The Nebbiolo they produce is more acidic, lighter in color, longer aging, earthier, lower in alcohol and more minerally than their Langhe neighbors.  And, the wines pair well with fattier food. These are wines of terroir, not fruit.  Our recent tasting introduced us to:

Le Piane Boca

Le Piane was founded in 1998 and today has 6.5 hectares of vineyards. Winemaker Christoph Künzli came to Boca in 1998 because he recognized the quality of wines in this historically important wine region.  Although Boca was nearly forgotton, when Christian relaunched it in the market, his wines received Tre Bicchieri and the region was brought back to life.

Le Piane Boca DOC 2006

85% Spanna, this wine sees maceration on the skins for 30 days in both open wooden vats and in stainless steel, with punch-downs three times per day.  The wines are aged for 48 months, 36 months in wooden casks and 12 months in bottle.  The nose is earthy and with red berries and minerals and the palate is structured.

Le Piane Boca DOC 2004

Medium dark ruby, fruity on the nose with vanilla notes.  Good intensity and long finish.

Castello Conti

Conti is the oldest winery in Boca, and was in fact the only one at one point.  Cantine del Castello began in 1963 by Ermanno Conti and today the winery is run by his three daughters. They produce approximately 30,000 bottles.  The grapes see 20-25 days of maceration and then are stainless steel fermented.  They are decanted in fiber glass post-fermentation and then spend three years in 550 liter oak Tonneau.

Castello Conti Boca DOC 2004 and 2003 (70% Spanna, 20% Vespolina, 10% Uva Rara)

Brilliant ruby red, the nose has notes of spice and violet with cherry and licorice. This bright and spicy  wine has a long finish and great acidity.

Boca DOC wines are serious wines for wine lovers.  While they will probably do best with a little more aging time in your cellar, next time you are walking through your local wine store, pick up a bottle of Boca to add to your collection.

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