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Danilo Drocco, Winemaker, Fontanafredda, Serralunga d’Alba
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently interviewed Danilo Drocco, winemaker at the historic Fontanafredda estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone. Below is the initial text from the interview for wine-searcher.com
Where were you born?
I was born in the area, in a little village near Alba – Rodello is the name. It is a little south of Alba.
Did your family make wine?
My grandfather owned a little winery in Novello, but he died during the Second World War. So my grandmother had to sell the winery to my cousins because she could not manage it by herself. My father decided to move to Alba. I was born in 1965.
To continue reading, please see the article (here) at wine-searcher.com
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Talk about the wines of Piemonte and no doubt, great reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco come to mind. Perhaps you might think about other well-known reds such as Dolcetto or Barbera. Or maybe you’re a fan of the white wines of Piemonte, such as Arneis, Gavi or Timorasso. There are plenty of beautiful wines from this great region, but chances are you don’t think about the sparkling wines. That’s understandable, but if not, you’re missing some beautiful bubblies.
There are numerous producers that make metodo classico sparkling wines in the region and there are several types. Arguably the finest examples are the Alta Langa; currently there are about a dozen firms that make one or more of these wines. Some of these producers are quite small, while others are rather large, but all of them have taken the high road and are producing premium quality sparkling wines.
The name Alta Langa, means “high Langa” (Langa, a.k.a. Langhe is a district in southern Piemonte where these wines- as well as Barolo and Barbaresco – are produced). This particular territory is called the Alta Langa because of the elevation of the vineyards that receive cool breezes from the nearby Liguria sea; while much of the Langa is quite warm – a necessary condition to ripen the red grapes – the Alta Langa is much cooler, making it an ideal location for the production of sparkling wines.
Quality is high if for no other reason than only Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay grapes are allowed in these wines. The production method, as mentioned, is the classic approach, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. Minimum aging on the yeasts is 24 months for a classic bottling, 36 months for a Riserva (Alta Langa is a D.O.C.G. classified wine.)
In my upcoming book The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, I will have a thorough section on Alta Langa and its best wines. For now, I want to tell you about my favorite examples from Enrico Serafino. This is a relatively large winery, located in Canale, and is a member of the Campari group, which also includes wine estates from Tuscany and Sardegna. The range of wines at Serafino include very good to excellent examples of Roero Arneis, Gavi, Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo among others, but it is with the Alta Langa wines that this producer has recently gained a lofty reputation.
There is an entry level Alta Langa that ages for 36 months in the bottle before disgorgement. I tasted the new release from the 2008 vintage at the winery with winemaker Paolo Giacosa at the winery in May. This is very fresh with beautiful aromas of magnolias and melon and has very good acidity and a clean, satisfying finish with impressive length. This is an excellent introduction to the wines of Alta Langa, as this is a sparkling wine with lovely varietal purity as well as finesse. This is not a powerful wine, but it is perfectly balanced and is quite tasty.
Paolo Giacosa, winemaker, Enrico Serafino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As good as that wine is, Serafino and winemaker Giacosa have hit the jackpot with their Alta Langa Brut Millesimato “Zero”, a blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay. The wine is called “zero” as there is no dosage, making this an extremely dry sparkling wine. While many sparkling wines of this type are a bit sharp or slightly bitter in the finish, this is a delight, with ideal balance and excellent length and complexity. This is a late disgorged sparkling wine, one that has spent a remarkable 60 months (that’s five years!) aging on its own lees. There are many vintage Champagnes that aren’t aged on the lees for that long of a period. Needless to say, this is also much more reasonably priced than Champagne, as this cost of this at an enoteca in Piemonte averages around 24 Euro a bottle.
The 2007 Enrico Serafino “Zero” was named as the Italian sparkling wine of the year by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s leading wine publications. That meant the wine sold out quickly, so I tasted the brand new 2008 release with Giacosa. Che un vino! My notes go on about the beautiful Bosc Pear and elderflower aromas, the very good acidity, the remarkable balance and purity as well as the excellent complexity. This is a delicious sparkling wine with a very satisfying finish, as it cleans the palate and gets you ready for another sip. This is so wonderful on its own, but it is a marvelous accompaniment to most seafood, especially river fish. I rated this wine as outstanding and estimate it will drink well for another four or five years, though I’m not sure I can wait that long as far as the other bottles I have!
Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Giacosa has now followed up the great success of the Brut “Zero” with a new product, the Alta Langa Brut Rosé. This wine spent thirty months on the lees; I tasted the second release, the 2011 vintage. I love rosé sparkling wines and this one certainly did not disappoint. The color is a very appealing bright pink/strawberry and the perfumes are of cherry, currant and orange roses. The perlage, as with the “Zero” is quite fine, while there is a long, elegant, dry finish. This too is ultra delicious and simply a great sensual pleasure! I’m thrilled that Serafino is now producing this wine, as it is a great addition to their lineup as well as the roster of Alta Langa wines.
You’ll probably have to go to Piemonte to purchase or enjoy these wines, but believe me, the trip will be worth it!
P.S. Please note the glass in the photos. This is the special Alta Langa glass, designed by Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro. It is one of the most beautiful sparkling wine glasses I have encountered and it is as distinctive and as elegant as the wines themselves!
The town of Barolo, early morning (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently tasted more than 125 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, Piemonte. This event is held each year for a select few dozen journalists (about 70) from around the world, who taste the wines blind over the course of several days. This was the tenth year in the last twelve I have participated in this event and it’s one I look forward to each year with great anticipation.
I was especially eager to taste the 2010s, which have been receiving tremendous praise from all corners. In fact when I attended this event three years ago, while I was tasting the 2007 Barolos (an impressive vintage in its own right), several winemakers that week told me the same thing – “wait until you try my 2010s.” They knew back then that 2010 was something special!
Gianluca Grasso, winemaker at the Elio Grasso estate in Monforte d’Alba, told me that 2010 was “one of the longest vegetation cycles ever.” He also knew right away that his wines would be something quite distinctive,” I remember that when I destemmed the first bunch of Nebbiolo for 2010, the perfumes, the aromas that we got during the vinification were something unbelievable. We knew since the beginning it would be a wonderful vintage.”
Lazzarito vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently wrote a brief overview of the 2010 vintage for Barolo, including my thoughts on the best producers and wines at wine-searcher.com. The article can be found here. In this post, I will briefly mention a few other things about these wines in general.
First, this was a year in which the majority – a great majority – of producers made excellent to outstanding Barolo. Believe me, this does not happen every vintage (for proof of that, one only needs to look back to last year when the 2009 Barolos were released). So from a great, truly classic year such as 2010, yes, there are first-rate wines from famous Barolo producers such as Renato Ratti, Vietti, Ceretto, Francesco Rinaldi and many others.
So how nice to find so many examples of Barolo from 2010 that are truly excellent, even from producers you may not have heard about, such as Giovanni Viberti, located in the frazione of Vergne, on the outskirts of Barolo. I’ve had the “Buon Padre” Barolo from this producer almost every year for more than a decade and it’s one that I’d describe as a nice introduction to Barolo in general, as it has good varietal character and balance. But I have rarely (if ever), rated this wine as excellent- that is, until this year. My notes for this wine mention the “rich mid-palate, balsamic, dried cherry and sage aromas, medium-full to excellent concentration, impressive complexity and varietal character.” This is a beautiful wine that can be served for dinner tonight (though I’d wait a few years), while it has the stuffing to last 25 years. This is quite an accomplishment for a wine that should sell for about $65 retail in the US when it becomes available in a few months. (My rating – 4 stars (out of five) – excellent.)
I was also quite impressed by the Batasiolo 2010 Barolo. This consistent producer gets impressive reviews from many Italian publications for its portfolio of wines (ranging from Gavi and Arneis to Dolcetto and Barolo), yet somehow they are not as well known as they should be in America. The firm has holdings in several distinguished cru in the Barolo production zone and releases as many as seven (yes, seven!) different Barolos from any given vintage. This is the classic Barolo, blended from vineyards in several communes. My notes on this wine: “aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and dried currant, excellent concentration, very good length in the finish; youthful, graceful tannins and very good acidity. Peak in 20 years.” Again, we are looking at a wine that should retail for $60, perhaps a few dollars less. Another 4-star wine from me and what a nice wine for restaurants to buy for service now and over the next few years. Both this and Viberti are brilliant examples of how good the classic Barolos are from 2010. (Incidentally, I also tasted the “Brunate” bottling from Batasiolo for 2010; this from the famous cru situated on the La Morra-Barolo border; this also performed well, but it was clearly made for consumption down the road. I’ll be interested in tasting the other 2010 cru Barolo from Batasiolo soon.)
While I am on the subject of great values, I have to mention the 2010 Vietti Barolo “Castiglione”. This is always one of my favorite Barolos from this outstanding producer, as this is sourced from their vineyard holdings in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, Monforte d’Alba and Novello (the firm owns parts of some of the finest cru in the Barolo production zone; in fact, very few producers have as many vineyards in as many great sites in the area as does Vietti).
This is a lovely wine, one that has richness as well as a great deal of finesse. My notes: “aromas of currant, orange peel and tar, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity, peak in 12-15 years.” I also noted that “this is one of the best examples of this wine produced to date.” The 2009 version of this wine averaged about $50 in the US, so again, we will be looking at a marvelous value when the 2010 is released soon. What a delicious, stylish wine and what a wonderful choice for consumption over the next few years!
I have put together a 20-page pdf document with my tasting notes on the 2010 Barolos, reviewing exactly 118 wines. My highest rating is 5 stars – outstanding. In this report, I have given this highest rating to 31 wines (26.2%). Yes, the 2010 vintage is that good! Among the finest were the Renato Ratti “Rocche dell’Annunziata”, the Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione”, the Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”, Bartolo Mascarello and many others. These are truly classic examples of Barolo, so you might expect these wines to rise to the occasion in a great year such as 2010 and they most certainly did! These are wines that will peak in 35-50 years. I know I won’t be around to see these wines at that stage, but it’s nice to know they will last that long (it’s also quite a pleasure and blessing to know I can at least try them now!). These wines will cost you upwards of $100 a bottle, but if you are a Barolo lover, you need to find a few of these wines! (Incidentally, the great examples of Barolo are priced much more reasonably than the finest Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa or examples of Bordeaux or Burgundy of similar quality. This is something that is rarely discussed, but it is a fact and it’s something I need to point out; the best Barolo are under valued.)
If you would like to receive a copy of this 20-page pdf report (it was sent to contributors of my upcoming book “The Wines and Foods of Piemonte”), the cost is $10, a very reasonable price for this overview of these great wines. Payment is by PayPal – use my email of firstname.lastname@example.org (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail – email me for information).
Vineyards below the town of Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Once again in mid-May, I was invited to Nebbiolo Prima, an event held in the town of Alba in southern Piemonte to sample soon-to-be-released examples of the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero Rosso. This anteprima (preview) tasting is reserved for about 70 journalists from around the world, who are able to taste these wines before their release in the market and write about them for the public.
Of course, Barolo is always the featured attraction and how could it be otherwise for a product known as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”? Add to that the fact that this year’s tasting focused on the 2010 Barolos, wines that have already been labeled as classic. So Barbaresco, which always has to take a back seat to Barolo, was treated with even less than the usual attention this year, given that 2011 was a warm year, which can often lead to wines that are a bit heavy, alcoholic and tannic – in other words, wines that lack finesse.
My reviews of 2010 Barolos will appear soon, but for today’s post, I’m going to deal with the newest releases of Barbaresco. As I mentioned above, 2011 was a warm growing season: Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose, an outstanding traditional producer at the Rio Sordo sector in the commune of Barbaresco compares 2011 in that respect to 2009. She adds that this is a year that will show “the skills of the producers regarding their work in the vineyards,” as she notes that it was critical to not take away too many leaves from the plant, so as to shield the grapes from too much sun. Her summary of the 2011 Barbarescos: “good acidity and structure, very fine and silky tannins – the wines will show even better with a few months’ time.”
After tasting several dozen examples of 2011 Barbaresco, I agree with Rizzolio in prinicipal. I found some lovely wines with round tannins and beautiful ripeness and overall balance. Many of these wines were from the commune of Barbaresco, which is in keeping with my usual tastes. The producers here seem to be able to craft a wine that communicates Barbaresco; that is a 100 % Nebbiolo that is not trying to be a Barolo – or worse yet, some sort of modern, dare I say, international wine with too much flashy oak. Examples of the best producers here include the impeccable Produttori del Barbaresco, Albino Rocca, Marchesi di Gresy and the aforementioned Cascina delle Rose.
Barbaresco is also produced in two other communes, namely Treiso and Neive (there is also a very small part of Alba where Barbaresco can be made, but this is a tiny percentage of these wines). I’ve tended to favor wines from Treiso over Neive, if only for the fact that the wines from Neive are often over oaked. Not all of course – Pasquale Pelissero and Giuseppe Negro are two producers who beautifully integrate wood into their wines, but there are just too many oaky Barbarescos from Neive in any given year for my tastes.
So on to my favorites. My top wine was a wine that I can’t say was a pleasant surprise, as this producer has been making beautiful wine from this vineyard for some time now; it’s just that the Ceretto “Asili” from the highly-regarded cru in Barbaresco has rarely been so elegant and traditional at the same time. Winemaker Alessandro Ceretto has been taking small steps year by year with all his wines, resulting in more elegant and complete bottlings. This has a beautiful pale garnet color with aromas of dried cherry, dried roses and cedar, is medium-full on the palate and offers a lengthy finish with very fine tannins. What a beautiful example of richness and finesse at the same time. This is as traditional a bottling of this wine as I’ve had – I admit to being a lover of traditional wines – but it’s more than that, it’s a wine that is terroir driven as well as being ideally structured for peak enjoyment in 12-15 years- perhaps longer. In an email, Ceretto told me “I’m excited about the quality achieved with my wines these past few vintages.” He should be and wine lovers should be as well!
Other highly recommended 2011 Barbarescos for me included the Produttori del Barbaresco; Giuseppe Negro “Gallina” (from Neive); Albino Rocca “Ronchi” (Barbaresco); Cascina delle Rose “Tre Stelle” (Barbaresco); Prunotto and Francesco Rinaldi.
No big surprises there, especially with the Produttori bottling. This cooperative producer is a reference point for Barbaresco, both in terms of quality – they have contracts with several dozen growers in the Barbaresco commune that represent some of the area’s finest sites, such as Asili, Rio Sordo, Pora and Montestefano – as well as consistency. Try a bottle of this producer’s Barbaresco – be it the classic bottling or one of the special cru (this year the 2009 crus are being released) – and you will taste the essence of Barbaresco, one where Nebbiolo fruit – and not oak – is the dominant feature. The 2011 offers beautiful balsamic and orange peel aromas, perfect ripeness and lovely varietal purity; this will be at its best in 10-12 years. Congratulations to general manager Aldo Vacca on such a superb track record of producing such classic examples of Barbaresco!
It was very much a pleasure- as well as a bit of a pleasant surprise – to see that one of my favorite 2011 Barbarescos was from Francesco Rinaldi (the wines are tasted blind, so we have no idea which wine is which when we sample each bottle). I’m always impressed with the wines from this estate and it seems they have the Midas touch with everything, even with Gavi, which they recently started producing, but I must admit to rarely considering this producer about Barbaresco; I say that as their Barolos are so sublime! But this Barbaresco, from a vineyard in Neive, is exemplary with its delicious cherry fruit, very good acidity, beautifully balanced tannins and excellent persistence. Once again, the house style of Francesco Rinaldi shines through, as this is an ultra traditional wine aged for two years in large Slavonian oak casks for two years; you can barely sense any wood notes. I estimate peak for this wine at 15- 20 years – this was one of the richest examples of 2011 Barbaresco I tasted at this event. This is an exquisite wine – don’t miss it!
Space is always limited with these posts, so briefly, here are a few other notable releases of 2011 Barbaresco: Michele Chiarlo “Asili”; Poderi Colla “Roncaglie” (Barbaresco); Ugo Lequio “Gallina” (Neive); Socré “Roncaglie”; Angelo Negro “Cascinotta” (Neive) and Castello di Verduno. From a warm growing season that could have been problematical, it is nice to experience so many distinguished wines!
Vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba looking towards the snow-covered Alps (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Exciting news- my next book will be about the wines and foods of Piemonte. I’ll be heading there next week for a ten day visit and will be doing some research – tasting, reporting, taking photos, and of course, eating! Then I’ll be working on the book throughout the summer.
I have enjoyed very fine success with my first book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, which was released in February 2013 and is still selling well. That was a self-published book, but for this project, I believe it is time to upgrade. So this will be a hardcover book complete with 24-28 full color photos. I’ll also be working with one of the finest academic publishers in the nation, the University of Nebraska Press.
Clearly this will be a much more expensive project to undertake, so to make this work, I am asking my friends and colleagues to help me out with a financial contribution. I have begun a campaign on indiegogo.com (click here), which explains more about this book as well as the various perks offered for contributing, from photos to a signed book.
I do realize that today’s economic climate is difficult, but I hope that enough of you will be able to contribute even on a small basis. I’m confident that my goal will be reached with your help.
The classic tajarin pasta of the Langhe – this with vegetables and seafood (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Besides interviews with winemakers from various areas of Piemonte, I will also be writing about the classic foods of the region, from tajarin to coniglio (rabbit). I’ll include interviews from chefs as well as thoughts from them (along with winemakers) about the best wine and food pairings of the area. There are many books on food and a few on wine, but very few that deal with both aspects of one region, so I’m excited to write this book.
The fundraising campaign for the book has just begun and will run through June 6. I hope you can help!
The Wines and Foods of Piemonte
By Tom Hyland, University of Nebraska Press
Fundraising campaign at Indiegogo.com
Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
So many excellent whites from Italy, so little time…
Recently, I was in the western reaches of the Veneto region near Lake Garda, tasting new releases of Bardolino. A bonus of this event was an additional tasting of a lovely white from the area known as Custoza, named for the small local town. I had tasted a handful of these wines over the years and had enjoyed them, but had never studied the wine in great detail. I’m glad I’ve had this experience, as Custoza is a white that offers beautiful complexity, is ageworthy and has become one of my favorite Italian whites; this is a wine that certainly deserves to better known.
Custoza is also known as Bianco di Custoza, but you don’t see that designation much anymore, as the producers most certainly wished to make the name of this town and wine forefront. It’s a blend of a few grapes, as few as three, as many as six or seven. The principal variety (as much as 40%) is Garganega, which is the same grape that is the backbone of Soave, another beautiful Venetian white. Other varieties include Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello (a local clone of Tai or Friulano), Bianca Fernanda (a new one for me, I must admit; this is a local clone of Cortese, the same grape used in the production of Gavi from Piemonte); there are also small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Incrocio Manzoni and Riesling Italico allowed in the blend. With a makeup like that, you can imagine how varied the styles of Custoza are from the area’s producers.
Most examples see only steel aging; this of course, helps preserve the engaging perfumes of Garganega as well as Malvasia and some of the other varieties. While Garganega helps give this wine its charm, it is the other varieties such as Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia that are important as far as acidity, which assures aging potential.
Custoza is rarely a “big” wine, so perhaps that’s why it isn’t more familiar to wine lovers; it’s also a bit in the shadow of Soave, which is quite well known. Add the fact that it is a blended white, a type most consumers have not yet embraced and you see the problem with marketing this wine.
Marico Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
One of the premier producers of Custoza is Marica Bonomo at Monte del Fra, in the town of Custoza. She sources her grapes from her own estate and makes two versions, the signature bottling called Ca’ del Magro, which is one of the most famous – as well as most highly rated – examples of Custoza. I’ve tried both the 2011 and 2012 versions in the area and loved both wines. Offering perfumes of lemon zest, mangnolia and chamomile, this has very good acidity along with notable persistence. Again, this is not a powerful wine, but what a charming wine, one with ideal balance and a nice sense of finesse. It’s especially lovely at the table and I love it with tortellini, risotto and more delicate seafood. Both wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, with the 2012 a candidate for an extra two to three years.
Another top Custoza estate is Albino Piona, where Silvio Piona performs winemaking duties. A pleasant, subdued individual, he clearly fits the bill of someone who lets his wines do the talking. His 2013 classic Custoza is excellent, offering lovely floral (peony) and fruit (melon) aromas backed by very good concentration, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years.
Piona also produces a special bottling called “Campo del Selese”; a truly excellent wine. Here there are subtle differences in respect to the classic bottling, as the Selese has a bit more richness in the mid-palate as well as a longer finish. The Custoza I really enjoyed from Piona that week however, was his 2008 classic bottling. Deep yellow with aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit rind and dried apples, this was quite rich with excellent complexity. A beautiful wine, one that is quite stylish from the excellent 2008 vintage (a sorely underrated year for whites and reds in Veneto and many other Italian regions), this was drinking beautifully after five plus years and should offer pleasure for another three to five years. Tasted at lunch after my visit to the cellars, this was particularly wonderful with tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, a classic dish at Ristorante alla Borsa in the town of Valeggio. (Note – this is tortellini heaven – you must have lunch or dinner at this restaurant – I guarantee you will love it!)
Luciano Piona, Cavalchina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few other examples of Custoza I thoroughly enjoyed were from Cantina di Custoza, Le Vigne di San Pietro and Enzo Faccioli; this last one, particularly well done with its attractive floral perfumes, bright fruit and excellent persistence. One final wine I wanted to single out is the marvelous 2012 Custoza Superiore “Amadeo” from Cavalchina. This is a textbook Custoza, with engaging aromas of pineapple, golden apple, spearmint and lillies. Medium-full, this has excellent persistence and complexity and is truly a lovely wine! This is just now being released and should drink well for 5-7 years, given its ideal structure and balance. I’d love this with risotto primavera, while it’s rich enough to stand up to tuna.
An added bonus regarding Custoza is the price, as you can find classic bottlings from the best estates on retail shelves in America for $12 or so, with the special bottlings coming in around $16-$20, which are excellent values. So what are you waiting for?
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
In a few short weeks, I will be in Alba for a special tasting called Nebbiolo Prima, an anteprima (preview) tasting of hundreds of new releases of wines produced exclusively from Nebbiolo. There will be releases of Roero Rosso from the 2011 vintage as well as similar wines from Barbaresco.
But the highlight of this five-day event will be sampling more than 200 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage. This vintage is already being spoken of as a modern-day classic, wines that have the potential to age for as much as 40 or 50 years. In case you believe this is typical wine industry hype for the latest releases, think again. When I attended this event three years ago, when the 2007 Barolos were featured (a very impressive group of wines, in its own right), several producers told me that while they thought I would like their 2007s very much, “wait until you try my 2010s in a few years.” They knew they had something special right from the start and were excited about these wines even in their initial stages, years before release. (I have tasted a handful of these wines – some of them tank samples – so while it’s too early to tell, yes, these wines should be something very special.)
I’ll report on these wines next month, but whenever you taste a new vintage of Barolo, you find yourself comparing it with other vintages, especially ones that are similar in style. Then of course, you size up the vintage for its aging potential. Even in an ordinary year, a well-made Barolo can age for 12-15 years and in most vintages, 15-20 years is the norm. Then you have a few outstanding vintages when the finest examples of Barolo are candidates for 25-40, perhaps even 50 years of aging potential.
Last year, I wanted to try some older Barolos and see how they were tasting after a number of years in the bottle. So with fellow American journalists Tom Maresca and Kerin O’Keefe, we visited nine great Barolo producers and tasted older wines at their cellars. We requested four wines from each producer; the years would cover several decades, ranging from the 1970s and 1980s and well as the 1990s and up to the decade of the 2000s. Each producer had at least four wines for us to taste, some even graciously poured an extra one or two wines; we did not refuse!
We sought out an array of great Barolo producers, with a selection that would represent various communes in the Barolo zone. These were the nine cellars we visited: Massolino (Serralunga d’Alba); Giacomo Fenocchio (Monforte d’Alba); Elio Grasso (Monforte d’Alba); Pio Cesare (Alba); Ceretto (Alba); Marcarini (La Morra); Oddero (La Morra); Renato Ratti (La Morra) and Prunotto (Alba). Before Tom and Kerin arrived in the area, I also visited a tenth cellar – Borgogno in the town of Barolo – to taste older examples of their Barolos as well.
A few points about the Barolos we tasted and how these wines have changed over the years. We were able to taste a few examples from 1978, a great vintage that is finally starting to show its best, after more than 35 years. Certainly the winemaking was different in the 1970s, especially in terms of technical approach, but also a philosophical view, as the typical Barolo made some 40-50 years ago was a wine that was rather closed and even a bit backwards upon release. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your view; certainly with the proliferation of powerful wines from California, Australia and other corners of the globe, wines that display forward fruit are the ones that attract the attention of today’s wine media, at least in terms of high scores and important ratings. So some Barolo producers, in order to garner greater attention for their wines, have followed suit to some extent, as examples of this iconic wine from the 1990s and on are more forward and not as tightly wound upon release as in the past. Is this an improvement? Again, this depends on your point of view, but it is a reality.
Pio Boffa, Pio Cesare Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Another form of reality is climate change; anyone who denies this condition as part of the equation in the Barolo zone is simply overlooking the truth. Each of the producers I spoke with commented on ever warmer temperatures in the area; the only disagreement was when it first occurred. At the Giacomo Fenocchio estate, Claudio Fenocchio said that 1990 was the first vintage he noticed this condition, while for Pio Boffa at the Pio Cesare estate, 1982 was the first year of climate change.
This has resulted in earlier harvests; where Nebbiolo for Barolo had traditionally been picked in mid-late October – and sometimes even early November in some extreme years, those days are pretty much long gone. Harvest these days is often in early October and rarely later then the 2nd or 3rd week of that month. “The biggest change in the Barolos today is the climate,” comments Mariacristina Oddero.
Here are notes on a few of the best wines I tried that week:
2006 – This was a classic Barolo year, one that offered powerful wines meant for the long haul. Beautifully structured wines with very good acidity; the finest should age for 25-35 years.
Oddero “Brunate” Deep garnet; meaty aromas – orange peel and Asian spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Big mid-palate, though not as concentrated as some of the ’06 Barolos. Very good acidity, subtle wood notes and excellent persistence. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer. ****
Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera” - Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, marmalade and caraway seed. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Lovely mid-palate, big fruit flavors, perfectly balanced. Very good acidity, subdued wood notes, outstanding persistence. Powerful wine of great breeding and ideal structure. Peak in 25-35 years. *****
2004 – A brilliant year for Barolo. Wines of amazing aromatic complexities – I recall being as impressed as I had ever been with the perfumes of these wines when I tasted them upon their release – and remarkable elegance. Ideal ripeness along with very good acidity, these are Barolos of grace and finesse. Yet these are not less accomplished than the 2006s, merely less forceful; still, the finest examples of 2004 Barolos will age for 25-40 years.
Franco Massolino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Franco Massolino comments on the 2004 growing season. “In 2004, the weather was simply perfect. It was a wet spring followed by a summer that was not too hot. 2004 is a wine I really like, a combination of power and elegance.”
Claudio Fenocchio labeled the 2004 vintage as “bellissima. It is traditional with great elegance.”
Renato Ratti “Rocche” – Deep garnet; aromas of kirsch, tar and red roses – just beautiful! Excellent concentration with a rich mid-palate. Great fruit persistence with notes of orange peel in the finish. Excellent persistence. Long, long finish; the tannins are remarkably fine. 25 years plus. *****
Marcarini “Brunate” – Deep garnet; aromas of Oriental spice, dried cherry, orange peel and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent complexity, this has a meaty character to it. Long, finish, great structure, rich, polished tannins, very good acidity, outstanding persistence. 25 years plus. *****
Massolino “Vigna Rionda” – Lovely pale garnet color, aromas of red cherry, red roses and carnation. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, precise acidity and a long, long, finish. Beautiful harmony of all components and superb varietal purity. 15-20 years -perhaps longer. ****
1999 - An outstanding Barolo vintage; wines of power and elegance. The 1999s, as well as any vintage in the last twenty years, are beautiful wines that truly reflect their origins.
Aldo Conterno “Romirasco” - Deep garnet; aromas of mocha, mint, red poppies and brown herbs. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, beautiful acidity and fruit – perfectly ripe. Gorgeous balance and outstanding persistence. 25-35 years. *****
Ceretto “Bricco Rocche” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of leather, tar and strawberry jam. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Long finish with supple tannins, excellent complexity and very good acidity. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer. *****
1996 – Another classic year, resulting in wines of great power and varietal purity. Fenocchio, comparing 1996 with 1990, which received brilliant reviews, said “1996 is difficult to describe now. When you compare 1990 and 1996, no one will remember the 1990 ten years from now, but the 1996 will be drinking beautifully.”
Giacomo Fenocchio “Villero” - Deep garnet; aromas of leather, truffle, balsamic, dried cherry and myrtle. Medium-full with very good concentration. Excellent ripeness – sweet fruit – good acidity and rich tannins. Very good acidity with impressive persistence. 25 years plus. *****
Borgogno Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, dried orange peel, dried cherry and a hint of tobacco. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, still rich, firm tannins. Excellent complexity – lovely wine! Best in 15-20 years. ****
1989 - A great Barolo vintage, somewhat overshadowed for some years now by the more powerful 1990, but given some time, most of the 1989s are now showing their brilliance. Tremendous depth of fruit with superb structure.
Prunotto (classic Barolo) – Deep garnet/light brown edge; aromas of herbal tea, dried cherry, truffle and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich tannins, big persistence, very fine acidity. Excellent balance and still very young. 12-15 years. ****
Renato Ratti “Conca” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of balsamic, tea leaf and licorice. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Huge mid-palate, very powerful wine. Big tannins, very good acidity; outstanding persistence and complexity. Touch of savoury quality. Notes of oregano and sage in the finish. Slightly austere finish, thanks to the amount of tannins. 20-25 years to peak – perhaps longer. Great wine! *****
Pio Cesare - Deep garnet with a light brown edge; aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich persistence, lovely balance, very good acidity. Best in 12-15 years. ****
Ratings – ***** Outstanding / **** Excellent
I’ve listed just a few of the wines I tasted over the course of a magnificent week in the Barolo zone. Here is the complete list of older Barolos I tasted during that time.
Borgogno – 1998 Riserva, 1996 Riserva, 1982 Riserva
Ceretto – 2004 Bricco Rocche; 1999 Bricco Rocche; 1993 Bricco Rocche; 1989 Bricco Rocche
Pio Cesare – 2000 Barolo; 1996 Barolo; 1989 Barolo, 1978 Barolo
Aldo Conterno – 2005 Gran Bussia Riserva, 2004 Romirasco, 1999 Colonello
Giacomo Fenocchio – 2004 Bussia Riserva; 1996 Villero; 1990 Bussia Riserva; 1978 Barolo Riserva
Elio Grasso - 2006 Gavarini Chiniera; 2004 Gavarini Chiniera; 2001 Ginestra Casa Maté; 1996 Runcot
Marcarini – 2004 Brunate, 1996 Brunate; 1990 Brunate; 1978 Brunate
Massolino – 2004 Vigna Rionda; 1996 Vigna Rionda Riserva “X Anni”; 1989 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo Riserva
Oddero – 2006 Brunate; 2004 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 2001 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 1998 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo (classic)
Prunotto – 2004 Bussia; 1996 Bussia; 1989 Barolo (classic); 1985 Bussia; 1982 Riserva Bussia; 1978 Riserva Bussia
Renato Ratti - 2008 Rocche; 2004 Rocche; 1999 Rocche Marcenasco; 1998 Rocche Marcenasco; 1990 Marcenasco; 1989 Conca
If you would like to read my reviews of all 41 wines as well as reviews of more than 100 Barolos from 2006, 2004 and 2001, as well as reviews of wines from other recent vintages such as the best from 2009, 2007 and 2008, please contact me, as I will be releasing a special issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. This will be published in a pdf file and will be sent to those that pay a small fee. More information can be found by emailing me (click on this link for my email).
You won’t want to miss this special Guide to Italian Wines, a complete guide to Barolo in general and the best wines over the past decade.