1961 Fontanafredda Barolo
On Tuesday night in Chicago, on a day where the high temperature reached a tick or two above 100 degrees, I hosted a Barolo dinner at Vivere Restaurant at The Italian Village. The fact that the dinner was sold out is not only testimony of the passion of the wonderful people who attended, but also primary evidence of the everlasting allure of Barolo. This would turn out to be a magnificent evening!
The dinner featured ten different Barolos from my own cellar; these were wines I had brought back from my frequent trips to the Barolo zone over the past decade. Wine director Ian Louisignau and I whittled down my original list of 15 wines to ten, focusing primarily on vintage comparisons, as we would have two Barolos from vintages such as 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004 and 2001 and then finish with one from 1996 and finally a 1961. Each of these vintages was excellent, some outstanding and one (1961), legendary.
I mentioned to the group that what made Barolo so special for me is its uniqueness. We can taste a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to a classified growth from Bordeaux. We can sample a Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey or from Central Otago in New Zealand and note the similarities or differences to a Burgundy from the Cote d’Or. But we can’t do that with Barolo, unless we were to compare it with Barbaresco, another great 100% Nebbiolo wine produced not far away. Barolo then, is its own reference point and the finest examples reflect both a singular varietal identity as well a particular sense of place.
Detail of Lazzarito Vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba, with snow-capped Alps in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The notion of terroir is an important aspect for understanding Barolo. There are two major soil types found throughout the eleven communes that comprise the Barolo zone and knowing what these soils are and where they are found can help one learn about a sense of place with these wines. The older soils, known as Helvetian, are found in Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, while the younger soils, known as Tortonian, are found in communes such as La Morra, Verduno and Novello. As the older soils are thinner, the resulting wines have firmer, more intense tannins as compared with wines from the younger soils, which have more pronounced floral aromatics. Thus a wine from La Morra with younger soils is generally a more approachable Barolo upon release in comparison to one from Monforte or Serralunga, where the heavy duty tannins (in most years) mandate several years of aging before the wine starts to settle down.
This contrast was clear in the first pair of wines, both from 2008: the Ceretto “Brunate” and the Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera.” The Ceretto, from one of the most highly regarded crus in all of Barolo, is a lovely wine with beautiful fresh cherry perfumes and flavors and elegantly styled tannins, while the Grasso from a site on this family’s own estate in Monforte, was more tightly wound with a stronger backbone and firmer tannins. Both wines are beautifully made and perfectly illustrate the terroir of Barolo. Each wine should peak in 12-20 years, with the Grasso probably going a few years beyond that.
Before I move on to the next wines, I want to talk about the meal at Vivere. I have dined here more than a dozen times, always knowing I would enjoy a first-rate meal. What was great about the special menu for this Barolo dinner was that Chef Robert Reynaud assembled a menu as you would find in a trattoria or osteria in the Barolo area; this was not just any old meal put together at the last minute. A lot of thought went into this, as we enjoyed vitello tonnato with caper berry for the first two wines, tajarin with albese sauce with the next two wines, risotto al Barolo with figs with the third pairing of wines, hazelnut crusted ribeye with fontina fonduta with the 2001 Barolos and finally a selection of Piemontese cheeses with the 1996 and 1961 Barolos. Eveything was excellent, with much great praise for the outstanding risotto dish. How wonderful to show off these wines with great Piemontese cuisine!
The next wines were from 2007, the Elvio Cogno “Ravera” from Novello and the Attilio Ghoslfi “Brunate Bricco Visette” from Monforte. These wines displayed not only differences as far as terroir, but also in winemaking philosophy, as the Cogno is a traditional wine, quite lovely with a sensual edge, while the Ghisolfi is aged in barriques; indeed there was more evident oak with this wine, yet there was also very impressive depth of fruit. I enjoyed both wines, but gave the edge to the Cogno, especially as this wine displayed better overall balance as well as finesse.
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
Next came the 2004 Barolos. As I prepared my notes for this dinner, I took a look at my text about this vintage, which I wrote in the summer of 2008, when these wines were released. I asked if 2004 was the finest Barolo vintage of the last fifteen years and while 1996, 1999 and 2001 were all great vintages, I mentioned that “I’d never had such a collection of Barolos that were this good this young.”
The wines we tasted from 2004 were the Barale Fratelli “Canubi” and the Roberto Voerzio “Brunate”; this pairing an excellent contrast in style as well as weight. The Barale was a medium-full wine with lovely plum fruit that seemed a bit simple at first, but became more complex as it sat in the glass. The Voerzio was a powerhouse wine that offered tremendous depth of fruit, as well as having a great backbone. Voerzio, who uses barriques for his Barolo, has stated that after six to eight years in the bottle, the sensation of the smaller oak vessels fades and you’re not able to tell the difference between small or large oak barrel-aged wines. This did still have a touch of new oak sensation in the nose, but it was slight and not obtrusive; meanwhile the nose was still a bit closed, with hints of cherry and currant fruit emerging. But given the structure and impressive complexity, this is clearly a superb wine, one that can aged for another 25-30 years, when it will truly become great.
The next two wines were from 2001, a great vintage that produced powerful wines with excellent depth of fruit and firm tannins. The Vietti “Brunate” was a superior effort, especially in its elegance and polish; this was a wine that spoke of its origins with its gorgeous aromas of plum, cherry and roses. There are medium-weight, ultra smooth tannins and precise acidity. This is a wine of great finesse that a few of the diners thought was the wine of the evening (at least to that point, see the notes on the 1961 Fontanafredda below).
The other 2001 was the Fontanafredda “Lazzarito”; this a favorite Barolo of mine for many years. Medium-full, this offered power and impressive structure with firm, balanced tannins. This was not as supple as the Vietti, but again, consider terroir in this instance, as this is from a superb site in Serralunga d’Alba that results in wines of very rich tannins, so rich that the winery releases this wine almost a year after their other offerings of Barolo from the same vintage. What I loved about this wine was not only the balance, but also the freshness. This is a wine that should peak in another 15-20 years. 2001 was a great vintage and these two wines were memorable proof of that!
Our last two wines were from stellar vintages. The 1996 Poderi Colla “Dardi Le Rose Bussia” is a stunning wine with intense aromas, a powerful mid-palate and still youthful tannins and a finish with outstanding persistence. 1996 was a great, great year, a vintage that was a classic for Barolo, yielding wines that were truly Piemontese in style – that is, tightly wound and not as immediately approachable as international years such as 1997, 2000 or 2007. This Colla offering from Monforte d’Alba is a great wine now and one that will only improve for another 25-40 years. It’s that special.
Finally we came around to the wine everyone was waiting for, the 1961 Fontanafredda. While this was not a cru Barolo in the technical sense – single vineyard Barolos were not common until the late 1970 and early 1980s – this was a wine of exceptional breeding, sourced from the winery’s finest vineyards. 1961 was not just a great year for Barolo, it was a monumental year – Renato Ratti in his rating of Barolo vintages called it “majestic” at the time – and without doubt one of the ten finest vintages of the 20th century. What made this growing season so special was the notable warmth in the summer, as temperatures approached 100 degrees F. While this has been happening more often during the past fifteen years due to climate change, such hot temperatures were not normal back then. Combine that with the traditional winemaking style throughout Barolo at that time where wines were rather closed and a bit backwards upon release, and you have the makings of a wine that would improve slowly over the course of its life, a time span that would last for at least four or five decades.
Well, here we were, 51 years later and the wine was stunning! I had acquired the one and only bottle I had of this wine at the winery some five or six years ago. I placed the wine immediately in my cellar upon returning home and had only moved it twice in five years: once, a few months ago as I was planning this dinner to see if the wine was still in good condition (it was, as the fill was excellent) and once, last week, when I took all the wines to the restaurant to let them rest for a week.
Wine Director Ian Louisignau waited until the last minute to open this wine and when he showed me the cork, I had a huge smile on my face, as the cork was in one piece and offered lovely aromas of fruit. The wine had the color of a five year old Barolo – deep garnet – not one that was 51 years old. The aromas were unbelievably fresh with notes of red cherry, tar and currant with some delicate spice and the mid-palate was quite generous and well developed. The tannins were still quite evident and unbelievably polished and the finish, as graceful as one could imagine, seemed to go on forever. This was a wine I had kept for years for just this occasion and it not only met my lofty expectations, it exceeded them (and I believe everyone else’s, judging from the comments I heard.) I would wager a guess that this wine has at least 12-15 years of life ahead of it- perhaps longer.
Tasting a wine such as this lets you know that great bottles of Barolo have been produced for fifty years and more; great Barolo – indeed, great Italian wine – did not start in the 1970s, despite what certain wine publications may tell us. My how the farmers and winemakers throughout Barolo knew what they were doing back in 1961 and that era! My final thoughts on the 1961 Fontanafredda Barolo are these: I have tasted several thousand bottles of Barolo over the past decade; simply put, this was one of the three or four best examples I have ever experienced.
I touched the tip of the iceberg of my Barolo collection for this and I hope to organize another dinner such as this in the near future. Here’s hoping that next one comes close to the wonderful experience this one offered!
P.S. One final shout out to everyone at Vivere for their help, from manager Fred Ashtari for his organizational skills to Chef Reynaud for his superb menu, to our excellent waiter Ryan and of course, for all of his work, wine director Ian Louisignau. He decanted most of the wines about 90 minutes ahead of time and even more importantly, served them at the proper temperature. He also served various shapes ands sizes of stemware, which made it easy for all of us to remember which wine was which. Having great wines is one thing, but if they’re not treated properly, something is lost in the translation. Thanks, Ian, for your help and professional service!
When most of us think of Frascati, the image is one of a refreshing wine wine meant for summer sipping or pairing with a light salad; we certainly don’t think about aging the wine too long or even consider this a product with great complexity and subtlety. Yet thankfully there are a few vintners that see beyond the marketing limitations of Frascati as a simple wine and realize its true potential. One of those individuals is Mauro Merz, winemaker at Fontana Candida.
Merz, who had studied enology at the Istituto San Michele in Alto Adige, came to Fontana Candida in 2001 after producing sparkling wines at a firm in Trentino. He sought to make special bottlings of Frascati at this famous winery located very close to Rome, as he was convinced that Frascati could be something more than just a commercial product.
Fontana Candida, for those not familiar, is a huge winery, producing more than six million bottles per year. Clearly, the regular bottling of Frascati was and is always going to be the engine that drives the train for this firm, but Merz knew that he had the financial support of Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV) on his side; this company owns wineries in many regions of Italy and can fund special projects such as the one Merz had in mind.
Merz realized that if he were to produce a more complex Frascati, he would have to work with better source material. “You can take excellent grapes and make bad wine,” he states. “But you can’t take bad grapes and make excellent wine.” This meant that he would implement a greater percentage of the Lazio clone of Malvasia (Malvasia del Lazio) in his wine as compared to the Malvasia di Candia strain, used to produce most versions of Frascati. He believes that the latter is a workhorse and produces clean wines, but ones that lack depth and interest. Malvasia del Lazio, on the other hand, may not deliver as large a yield and may be more difficult to grow, but this clone could clearly produce much more complex and age-worthy wines.
Merz also decided to use some late-harvest grapes in this new wine, which he called Luna Mater. Combine that with whole berry fermentation and drying the grapes for 20-30 days and you have a Frascati that is a revelation. I recently attended a vertical tasting of four years of Luna Mater, beginning with the initial release of 2007 right up to the 2010. The wines were served at lunch and incidentally were served at room temperature, with absolutely no chill. This would be the ultimate test for any white wine.
Vineyards at Frascati (Photo courtesy of Fontana Candida)
Going through the various offerings, you realize that this is a Frascati that clearly needs time, as the 2010, while a beautifully made wine with aromas of yellow peach and yellow flowers, is relatively straightforward at this moment. But go back to the 2008 and you are rewarded with a striking wine with pineapple, peony and honey aromas, beautiful complexity and excellent persistence. This is a wine of zestiness and a rich mid-palate, a wine of notable structure and balance. This was my favorite of the four wines, one that should drink well for another 3-5 years. Imagine that, a Frascati that will be in fine shape at eight to ten years of age!
So for anyone who thinks that Frascati can never amount to much, we have Mauro Merz to thank for producing Luna Mater, a wine that shows the world what this famous white from Lazio can deliver. “I take a purist approach,” says Merz. “I try to have the wine tell the story of where it comes from.”
Francesco Carfagna, Az. Agr. Altura, Isola del Giglio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As we turn the calendar from June to July, we come to the half way point of 2012. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on the best Italian wines I’ve tried this year, both from my three trips (Verona, Montalcino and Grosseto/Campania) as well as a few wines I’ve tried at home, while working on a special project. It’s been a great year so far with plenty of highlights!
Best Sparkling - Bellussi DOCG Superiore di Valdobbiadene Prosecco Ferghettina Extra Brut 2005
The Bellussi Prosecco (green label) is everything I look for in a Prosecco: excellent freshness, very good acidity and a richness on the mid-palate. This has excellent complexity. The Ferghettina is a multi-layered Franciacorta with tantalizing notes of caramel and honey that you rarely find in this wine type. It is an outstanding sparkling wine.
Best Whites - Several examples from Campania
I tasted so many first-rate whites during my visit to Irpinia in May; this is a tribute to the work of the producers as well as the quality of the fruit. A few highlights include the 2009 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”; 2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; 2010 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and the 2010 Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo “Tornante“. All of these wines show wonderful varietal purity, perfect balance and a vibrancy that keeps these wines fresh and gives them longevity. I’ve been a fan of Campanian whites – especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – for many years and based upon the examples I’ve tasted over the past two or three years, I have to rank these whites as among the very best in all of Italy!
Wild papaveri amidst the vineyards in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Best Reds – 2007 Brunello/ 2006 Brunello Riserva/ 2008 Barolo
So many great wines to choose from here; let’s start with the newly released examples of Brunello di Montalcino. Both 2007 and 2006 have been rated as 5-star (outstanding) vintages by the local consorzio with 2007 being more forward while 2006 is a more classic, tightly wound vintage that will need more time. I don’t have room to list all the great wines here, so a few highlights from the 2007 Brunello normale: Poggio di Sotto, Lisini, Fuligni, Sesta di Sopra and Sassodisole. For the 2006 Brunello riserva highlights include Biondi-Santi, Le Chiuse, Il Poggione “Vigna Paganelli”, Tassi “Franci”, Talenti and Citille di Sopra. As you can see from the photo above, Montalcino in May was the most beautiful viticultural area I have visited this year!
As for 2008 Barolos, this is shaping up to be a classic vintage, as temperatures that growing season were relatively normal, cooler than several recent years where conditions were quite warm. The 2008s have beautiful aromatics and acidity and display a sense of place in a far more direct way than the hotter vintages. I have only tasted about 20 examples so far, with several dozen to go, so my list is partial. But at this point, here are my favorite 2008 Barolos: Renato Ratti “Marcenasco”, Mauro Sebaste “Prapo”, Conterno-Fantino “Sori Ginestra”, Marcarini “La Serra” and Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi.”
I also have to tell you about a fabulous red wine I tasted at a wine fair near Grosseto back in May. I met Franecsco Carfagna, who with his family, farm a few acres on the island of Giglio in the Tyrrenhian Sea. His winery is called Altura and his estate red is called Rosso Saverio; it is a blend of about 15-18 varieties, both red and white, some of them well-known, such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, others rather rare, such as Empolo, Biancone Giallo and Pizzutello (!). The result is a totally original wine, one that has aromas like a white wine (yellow peaches) at first, but then quickly reveals more typical red wine aromas, such as strawberry, dried cherry and notes of milk chocolate. Medium-full, this has amazing complexity as well as a velvety feel on the palate. The current vintage is the 2010, which is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for the next 3-5 years. This is not a powerhouse Italian red, but one that shows what a dedicated producer with a vision can do. As I taste so many wines in my trips to Italy, it takes something special to get me excited – well, this is the wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US in limited quantities by Louis Dressner.)
Best Older White – 1994 Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino
Not only did I taste so many wonderful new white wines from Irpinia, there were also a few beautiful older versions as well. None was more eye-opening than the 1994 Fiano di Avellino from Vadiaperti. Proprietor Raffaelle Troisi was kind enough to open this wine for my friend and I at his estate and I am forever grateful for that decision! Light yellow in color, this looked like it might be four or five years old, not eighteen. The aromas were lovely – Anjou pear, honey, mango and magnolia blossoms and the wine tasted as fresh as it smelled. The finish was quite long with impressive persistence and distinct minerality. What a gorgeous wine – one that shows how wonderfully Campanian white wines can age!
Best Older Reds – Several at the Frederick Wildman Italian Portfolio Tasting
National importer Frederick Wildman held a tasting of their Italian producers in several cities across the US back in May and made a stellar decision to have the producers pour an older wine. They made it clear that these wines were not available any more, but how nice is it that they took this approach so one could witness first hand how wines such as Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and other wines age. Also, isn’t it great to be able to try these older wines, especially with the producers present? There were several outstanding wines, my favorites being the 1985 Le Ragose Amarone ( a stunning wine), the 1974 Barolo from Marchesi di Barol0 (a true classic) and the 2001 and 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Le Chiuse (marvelous wines of grace, finesse and complexity – seamless wines that are perfectly balanced.) Thank you to these producers for showing these wines and thank you to the people at Frederick Wildman for offering this opportunity. Here’s hoping that more importers offer tastings such as this one!
Gianpaolo Paglia, Poggio Argentiera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
During my most recent trip to Toscana in May, I spent some time with Gianpaolo Paglia, co-proprietor of Poggio Argentiera, one of the top estates in the Morellino di Scansano zone, in the area known as the Maremma. I’ve admired his wines for several years, so it was a great pleasure to finally meet him, taste his new releases in the cellar as well as see his vineyards.
Paglia is a fascinating example of a producer who has altered his style. While he once made wines that were aged in small oak barrels, he has now changed his approach. He got rid of the barriques at his winery and now only uses large casks for maturation. He firmly believes that tradition is the way to go when producing wines in his area – as well as other zones in Tuscany. By that he means not only aging in large casks, but also the varieties used, so for his Morellino di Scansano, he uses only local varieties such as Ciliegiolo and Alicante to blend with Sangiovese, opting not to include international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.
As Paglia drove me to one of his vineyards, he was only too happy to tell me about his winemaking philosophy.
GP: “There’s much better wine that can be made here if you stop following that kind of model (small oak). We don’t do those wines anymore and I can see the huge potential that there is.
“I think there are a lot of people who consciously or unconsciously doing that (moving away from producing international wines). Colleagues were coming to taste my wine at the last VinItaly. What is drawing them back is the fear that the market doesn’t want those wines (oaky, modern wines). They say, ‘I don’t want to make those types of wines (international styles), but that’s what the market wants.’ The market doesn’t want that at all.
The Maremma is a place where you can make beautiful, true Mediterranean wines without having to show the muscle, without all this new oak, without all this body from concentration. Just let the wines be what they are without forcing them. That can really show the true potential. And I can tell you that those wines are successful in the market as well, contrary to what they think. I’m proving that.
“We have had great success in the market and there are other people who said, ‘I was waiting for that.’ Especially the people in the trade. They said, ‘I don’t like the wines with oak, but that’s what the market wants.’ Actually, it’s not true. You ask those people what they like to drink and they tell you, white wines and sparkling wines. That’s because they don’t like heavy reds.
“We’ve been through that. I was at a wine dinner last recently. People who were there included local doctors, lawyers, notaries, retired professsional people, all of whom have a passion for wine. They’re not in the wine business. Several of the wines were light or pale garnet in color and people loved those wines. They told me, these are the wines we want to drink.”
“This is what can be done here. These wines are all successful and all demand a good price and are all true to the terroir.”
“I have received more accoaldes than ever this year. I think a lot of people will notice that and make wines like this. Once that happens, that’s good news for this area, because once you remove this structure of oak, the terroir really emerges in the wines.
“The more producers who make wine in this way, the more Scansano has an identity. Stop using a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It’s easier to work this way, because you are not following any model, you are following nature. That’s how the wines comes. OK, it’s not dark in color, but who cares? If the color’s not there, it’s not there.
“You go back to tradition and you make amazing wines. It’s like a pendulum. We’ve gone too far one way and now we’re going back.”
It’s only been for a short time that wines with small oak have been made here in Tuscany. They were made in a different way for hundeds of years. You can do a lot in ten years. It takes a bit of money as well as encouragement. But money is constantly being spent on a lot of things.
“Replace all the Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and graft them over or replant Sangiovese. You can do that and reshape the image of your area. It takes a bit of vision, not a lot, just a bit.”
One of Paglia’s vineyards in the Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I asked Giampaolo about the so-called gurus who write for certain publications or websites who see themselves as opinion makers. Don’t they have a lot of influence on consumers and the way wines are made?
GP: “Perhaps, but there isn’t all the power there. Yes, for some people. But the vast majority of people don’t read that, they’re not interested. If you make the wine with a strong character from that particular area, people understand that. If something is true, if something is real, whether it’s a tomato or a bottle of wine, you feel that. And I can see that more and more and more.
“I recently started selling wines at Majestic, a retail chain in England. These stores have thousands of labels from all over the world. 200 shops, they move a lot of wine. We are selling the regular Morellino, made with Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo, so no international varieties, nothing to appeal to the international markets.
“People that buy the wine, they do not read Parker. They taste the wine, they see that is is real. They like it because this wine reminds them of something. Maybe they’ve been to Tuscany, they can connect with the place.
“You can only do this if the wine is real. Because if the wine is full of Cabernet or Merlot, it doesn’t connect to the place, it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t connect.
“People love that. Give them something different. We notice that. Don’t give them what you think they want.
“I understand if you produce millions of bottles. If you’re somebody like Jacob’s Creek from Australia, you make wine a certain way. That’s a commodity. But we’re not in the same business.
“Take the wines as they are. Present them for what they are and people will see that you believe in them. People will taste them and see that they are real. They might not be to the liking of 100% of the people, but what is?
“People want to try something original. If you open a bottle of wine, you want, ‘Oh, this is the bottle of wine I tasted the last time and it tastes of something, it tastes of that place. It doesn’t taste like something else.’
“People who say that they have to follow the fashion (of making international wines) … it’s all in their minds. It just takes someone to show they can do it and they follow.”
We all owe a debt to Gianpaolo Paglia for making wines that reflect tradition, that show a sense of place. It’s true that there are many other producers that do the same; it’s just that they are not as outspoken on this topic as Paglia. But they share the same vision. As he says, “the pendulum is swinging back.”
It seems to me that the only way that Italy will continue to sell more wines in the world market is to make wines that are authentic. Bravo to Gianapolo Paglia and hundreds of other producers for understanding that!
Text and photos ©Tom Hyland, 2012
I will be hosting a remarkable Barolo dinner at Vivere Ristorante at The Italian Village in Chicago on Tuesday, July 17. The focus of the dinner will be cru Barolo from the last fifty years, as we will taste ten wines, ranging from the newly released 2008s back to the Fontanafredda 1961, one of the 20th century’s greatest Barolo vintages.
These are wines that I have taken from my cellar, bottles that I have been bringing back from the Barolo area over the past decade. I have put together a mix of the finest producers, such as Elio Grasso, Vietti, Marcarini, Roberto Voerzio and Fontanafredda, to name only a few, representing various Barolo communes as well as winemaking styles.
Here is the menu and list of wines for the evening:
Welcome wine: Bruno Giacosa Brut
1st course: Vitello Tonnato with Caper Berry
2008 Ceretto “Brunate”
2008 Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera”
2nd course: Tajarin pasta with Albese Sauce
2007 Elvio Cogno “Ravera”
2007 Marcarini “La Serra”
3rd course: Barolo risotto with Figs
2004 Fratelli Barale “Cannubi”
2004 Roberto Voerzio “Brunate”
4th course: Hazelnut Encrusted Ribeye with Fontina Fonduta
2001 Vietti “Brunate”
2001 Fontanafredda “Lazzarito”
5th course: Selection of Piemontese Cheeses
1996 Poderi Colla “Bussia Dardi Le Rose”
The price for this dinner will be $175 per person, which includes tax and gratuity. Considering that a single bottle of the 2004 Voerzio Barolo will cost you more than that (if you could find it), the total charge for this dinner is quite reasonable.
Please note that this dinner will be at a single table in Vivere and will be limited to ten people. Thus it is important that you need to contact me as soon as possible to reserve your seat, as this will no doubt fill up very quickly.
If you are interested in attending, contact me, Tom Hyland, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will let you know about payment options. You will be required to pay me before the dinner to reserve your seat. Please do not contact Vivere or The Italian Village – you need to contact me.
Tuesday, July 17
Vivere at The Italian Village
71 W. Monroe, Chicago
I look forward to seeing you at this special dinner, one we will all remember for quite some time, as we celebrate the best in Piemontese food and wine!
Marco Salustri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
There are countless treasures out there, if you only know where to look. This is true in many aspects of life; it’s especially valid when it comes to the subject of Italian wines. My most recent trip in mid-late May was an eye-opener, especially during my stay in the province of Grosseto.
Grosseto is located in the far southwestern reaches of Toscana; it reaches from the Tyrrhenian Sea east to its boundaries abutting the southwestern part of the province of Siena. There are numerous DOC and DOCG wine zones in Grosseto and many of them are a mystery to even the most avid Italian wine fan. These include Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Bianco di Pitigliano, Parrina (with only one producer!), Sovana and Morellino di Scansano; this last is the most famous of the wine zones, yet even this is hardly a household name.
For five days, I learned a tremendous amount about this territory, truly one of the most beautiful wine areas anywhere in Italy. I spent two days in the Morellino di Scansano area, visiting several estates with Giacomo Pondin, director of the local consorzio, who took me to a few vantage points with splendid panoramas, situated at an elevation of 1000-1200 feet where we could look out past the gorgeous vineyards on rolling hills all the way to the sea. If heaven looks half this lovely, I’ll be a happy man!
I also tasted a vast array of wines – white, red and rosé – from Grosseto province at Maremma Wine Food Shire, a fair that focused on local wines along with some lovely olive oils, salumi, cheeses and even some excellent local beer. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with some of the area’s finest producers, taste their wines and get to better understand what the viticultural scene of Grosseto is all about.
I’ll write only about a few highlights in this post. Most impressive were two examples of Montecucco from Tenuta Salustri. The Montecucco zone, planted primarily to Sangiovese – as are all red wines zones in the province – is situated between Morellino di Scansano and Montalcino. I tasted several examples at the fair, but the Salustri wines were in a league of their own. The “Santa Marta” offering, made exclusively from Sangiovese has very good varietal purity, excellent persistence and fine tannins; aged for two years in grandi botti, this is a lovely wine with ideal balance. The 2009 I sampled is drinking nicely now, but will improve for another 5-7 years.
The “Grotte Rosse” bottling, also 100% Sangiovese, takes things up a notch. Produced from 70 year-old vineyards with the Salustri clone that features very small berries, this is medium-full with excellent concentration. The aromas are simply wonderful, with perfumes of morel cherry, red roses and strawberry preserves; also aged for two years in large casks, the wood notes are subdued, while the finish is very long and pleasing with excellent persistence. The 2008 was the version I tried and I rated this as outstanding, a wine that should be at peak in 10-12 years. I’d match this up with 90% of the examples of Chianti Classicos out there; this is not only a wine that is of equal or better quality as compared with the top Chiantis, it also much less expensive.
Vineyard near Magliano in Toscana, Morellino di Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Regarding Morellino di Scansano, there are numerous styles of this wine, which must contain a minimum of 85% Sangivovese. One of my favorite wines made in a fresh, charming style with moderate tannins and supple, tasty morel cherry fruit is the Fattoria Mantellasi “Mentore”; the 2011, aged solely in steel tanks is a delight with a hint of tobacco in the nose to accompany the appealing cherry notes. Medium-bodied, this has typical tart acidity and modest tannins you expect from a young wine made from Sangiovese; enjoy this over the next two years.
Fattoria Le Pupille, one of the most celebrated estates in the zone, brought back a lovely version of their Morellino di Scansano Riserva; the 2009, which contains 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend has complex aromas of cherry, marjoram and clove and has excellent concentration. The entry on the palate is elegant, there is impressive persistence and very good acidity, which rounds out the wine and gives it ideal balance. This is a first-rate wine that will drink well for 7-10 years.
Other examples of Morellino that impressed were the Moris Farms Riserva 2009, a wine of ideal harmony and complexity that will drink well for 5-7 years; the 2008 Riserva Massi di Mandorlaia, a lighter-styled riserva that is a lovely food wine and the 2008 Riserva “Primo” from Provveditore. This small estate is one of the most consistent in the area and I love all their wines! Even their regular Morellino di Scansano displays wonderful character and balance (the 2011 is the current release), while the riserva combines richness, complexity, ideal acidity and impressive persistence just beautifully; this is a wine with every component in perfect harmony. Drink the regular bottling now and give the riserva another 7-10 years to round out and display its finest qualities. This is a wine of impeccable breeding, one that combines great focus and varietal purity with beautiful expression of terroir.
I’ll deal with the white wines that impressed me (especially the 2011 Fattoria di Magliano Vermentino) and a few other reds (including an amazing Ciliegiolo from Gianpaolo Paglia at Poggio Argentiera) in a future post. Just too many special wines for one post!
I recently returned from my second trip to Montalcino this year – how nice to see the colors of the vineyards and wildflowers in May instead of the grays and browns in February – and I’ve tasted through more than 75 examples of the new releases of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino and almost as many versions of the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. I’ve reported on these wines already and will write more in the future.
Whenever I visit a producer in Montalcino, I taste through the entire lineup, which includes their Rosso di Montalcino. This is a wine, also made exclusively from Sangiovese, that is sourced from vineyards that are less than ten years old or perhaps from cooler vineyards that do not get as ripe as the finest plantings in the area. It is a wine that is generally released some 18-24 months after the harvest – much earlier than Brunello, which is on a five-year release cycle – which makes the Rosso a lighter, more approachable wine that is meant for earlier consumption. I don’t generally agree with those who label Rosso di Montalcino as a “baby Brunello,” as it doesn’t have the richness or the complexity of a Brunello, but is is a pleasant, sometimes very fine bottle of wine that does at least give one a preview of the vintage, letting us know what that year’s Brunello will be like in some three years’ time upon release.
What all this is leading to is the remarkable quality of the 2010 vintage for Rosso di Montalcino. I met with several producers who told me about the excellence of this particular growing season in Montalcino, with Mario Bollag of Terralsole telling me that, “the grapes from 2010 are the best he’s ever seen.” Other producers echoed this thought, so while the bottles of Brunello from this vintage will be something to look for when they are released in three years, at leat now we can enjoy the new versions of Rosso di Montalcino.
I’ve tried several examples of 2010 Rosso di Montalcino to date and have been most impressed by the SestadiSopra, a small traditional estate that I’ve rated as among the best producers of Brunello over the past half-dozen years. Their new Rosso is a lovely wine, with aromas of ripe morel cherry, cedar and a hint of mint with precise acidity and an ultra clean finish and excellent persistence. I ordered a bottle of this for our small group at Taverna Grappolo Blu in the town of Montalcino and it was wonderful with lunch; I don’t know if I’ve ever tried a more delicious Rosso di Montalcino!
Other 2010 Rosso di Montalcino I love include the elegant Ciacci Piccolomini, with its lovely red cherry and red rose aromas; the Lisini, with its light herbal notes in a traditional, subdued style; the fruit-forward Uccelliera; the appealing and perfectly balanced Fuligni, which has lovely cleansing acidity; the irresistible Le Chiuse with inviting fruit and floral aromas and remarkable balance and finally, the exquisite Il Paradiso di Manfredi, with beautiful morel cherry, red plum and iris aromas, notable concentration and gorgeous varietal purity; this is as complex and as ideally structured a Rosso as you can find.
There are other examples of 2010 Rosso di Montalcino that I have yet to try, these include top producers such as Il Poggione and Gianni Brunelli. Then there are producers such as Biondi-Santi, Tassi and Poggio di Sotto, who will not release their 2010 Rosso for another 8-12 months; I can’t wait to try these versions!
While these are not wines to replace Brunello, as they do not have the depth of fruit of those wines, these Rosso are beautiful wines that are ideal bottles to enjoy while you wait for the 2010 Brunello to become available on the market in 2015. Many of the best Rosso di Montalcino from 2010 will be at peak enjoyment then, so grab them now while you can easily find them. You have been warned!