Claudio Tipa, proprietor, Poggio di Sotto, Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Montalcino
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My latest print article appears in the August 31 issue of Sommelier Journal, one of this country’s finest wine publications. The article is about Brunello di Montalcino and you can read it by clicking on this link. In the article, I discuss the current goings on in Montalcino, about how producers are putting the controversies of the final few years in their rear view mirrors as they move ahead with the most critical business of all – that of making the finest wines possible.
Various producers go about this in different fashions, of course, as some continue the traditional viticulture of their parents and grandparents, while others aim for a more modern style. Some of this philosophy is determined in the vineyards, while much is determined in the cellars; all of this is covered in the article.
Loyal readers of this blog know that I favor traditional red wines from Italy; ones aged in large oak casks known as botti (plural; botte, singular). These casks, ranging in size from 20 to 50 HL – or 2000 to 5000 liters – (some are even larger) have subtle wood influence. The more modern wines are aged in barriques of 225 liters or tonneaux of 500 liters. Clearly these smaller oak barrels impart more wood sensations to the wines, which can dominate a wine with their spicy and toasty notes. Too often wines that have been matured in these containers tend to blur the varietal characteristics of the grapes. Even worse, one loses a sense of place; it can be difficult to identify if a wine is from Tuscany, Abruzzo, Umbria or any number of regions. For my way of thinking, that’s not a good thing.
Botte in a Montalcino cellar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Now I am not saying that every wine aged in a smaller oak barrel does not have notable varietal character; much of this, as with any discipline, depends on moderation. I enjoy several examples of Brunello matured in mid-size tonneaux; the Poggio Antico “Altero” being a marvelous example. But the appeal of a wine depends on the oak being a supporting player and not the dominant force. It’s all about balance.
In my article, you’ll read tasting notes of some of my favorite wines. Of the more than 75 examples of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino I have tasted this year (2007 is the new release for Brunello in 2012), my favorite is the Poggio di Sotto. This renowned estate in the premier Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone, a bit south of the town of Montalcino, was purchased in 2011 by Claudio Tipa from the original owner Piero Palmucci, who had elevated his winery into one of Montalcino’s most in-demand, due to his ultra traditional style of aging for a longer period of time in botti than required by DOCG reglations for Brunello do Montalcino. Tipa, who also owns the magnificent Bolgheri estate Grattamcacco, promised Palmucci that he would maintain this traditional approach in the cellars.
When I sat down with Tipa this past February at the estate and tasted the 2007 Brunello as well as the 2006 Brunello Riserva, I was impressed with the complexity and richness of each wine. But while I was tasting these wines, it’s almost as though a light went on, as I was completely taken by the delicacy of these wines on my palate. Yes, these are wines that will improve and age gracefully for some 15-25 years, but the beauty of these wines was not their power, but rather their finesse. Clearly much of this elegance on the palate comes from the fact that these wines spend so much time in large oak casks – both were matured for four years in botti – which not only softens the wines, but lengthens the mid-palate and lends an overall sense of refinement. (Note: the DOCG regulations require two years of wood aging for a Brunello normale and three years for a Brunello riserva, so both wines at Poggio di Sotto are matured for longer than normal periods. Even their Rosso, a wine of great character, is aged for two years in botti; this wine type does not even require any wood aging, according to the disciplinare.)
Now this extra time in wood is of course a more costly way to do business and the wines of Poggio di Sotto are priced higher than most other examples of Brunello (I refuse to label these wines as expensive, as that is a relative term. A $150 wine that is magnificent can be thought of as reasonably priced, while an uninspiring $12 wine can be overpriced). But the sensation of elegance, of finesse, of discovering subtleties not found in other wines is a rare treasure. The wines of Poggio di Sotto – along with the examples of Brunello from Biondi-Santi, Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Le Chuise and a few other traditional producers – are in a word, sublime. This is what separates the great producers from the very good ones.
In short, there’s nothing trendy about these wines. For the reviewers at certain influential wine publications in the US, power is what makes a wine stand out; for them, bigger is better. Let them have their way – power is certainly easier to understand than finesse. It’s always been that way and it may always be that way. But for experienced wine lovers, finesse, subtlety and delicacy are magical terms. You wonder if the big-name wine writers will ever learn that lesson.
Learning how to pair distinctive Italian wine and food with a chef and wine director at Vivere, Chicago
I’ve moderated numerous seminars and taught many classes on Italian wines over the past decade and one question that always comes to the forefront is “what foods should I pair with this wine?.” It’s a great question, not only given the relationship of food and wine in general, but especially given the nature of Italian wine and its link to a specific sense of place and the local foods that pair effortlessly with these wines.
It’s a subject that has many right answers (and very few wrong ones) and it’s one that I never tire of studying. Given that there are hundreds of indigenous varieties used throughout Italy, which are used to produce thousands of wines, well you can just imagine the endless array of flavors – as well as textures and acidity levels – in these wines. A medium-bodied red such as Dolcetto with its fruit forward nature is going to need an entirely different food than a Barolo with its firm tannins. And these are two wines that are often produced from vineyards only a few miles apart in Piemonte! Now think about the red wines from southern Italy, such as Puglia or Campania and you have a whole new set of variables. As I said, this is an endless journey; but it’s also one that brings a great deal of pleasure into one’s life.
Ian Louisignau, Wine Director, The Italian Village, Chicago (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
So to learn more about the subject of pairing Italian wines and food, I went to see my friend Ian Louisignau, wine director at The Italian Village Restaurants in the heart of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Ian took over this job last year and has continued the stellar tradition of an exceptional wine program at this long-time family owned restaurant.
So I brought four Italian wines – two whites and two reds – that were not sold at the restaurant and asked him to pair them with something off the menu at Vivere, the upscale dining room at The Italian Village (there are also two less formal dining rooms at The Italian Village: La Cantina and The Village.) I thought that by bringing in wines Ian had not tasted, he would have to come up with an original pairing – this wouldn’t be a wine and food match that he makes all the time. I loved doing this and I believe Ian did as well, so here are his thoughts on what to match with each wine.
2011 Le Caniette Passerina “Lucrezia” (the label of this wine is pictured at the beginning of this post) – I thought this would be a great, slightly offbeat way to begin, by tasting out this relatively rare white indigenous variety from southern Marche. This is an excellent example of this wine; medium-full with aromas of dried pear, orange blossom and biscuit, this has lovely texture and a rich finish with a note of honey. Aged only in steel tanks, this has very good acidity and offers a great deal of character for its moderate pricing (about $12 retail, a steal!).
Ian (and his chef Robert Reynaud, who was with us for a few minutes), suggested the Spiedino di Capesante, rosemary skewered scallops with lime braised fennel, crisp romaine and yellow tomato purée (my mouth waters even as I write about this!). As the Passerina is not a big wine, scallops are ideal for a dry white such as this and certainly the aromatics of the wine are nicely complemented by the lime braised fennel. A nice start and an intriguing match!
2010 Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino “Alimata” – Here is one of two cru offerings of Fiano di Avellino from this excellent Irpinian producer; this wine was awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri ranking from Gambero Rosso in their 2012 guide. This is a very impressive Fiano with flavors of lemon and Bosc pear and a very, very long, satisfying finish with notes of honey and minerality; it is drinking beautifully now and will be enjoyable for another 3-5 years. To pair with this wine, Ian selected Granchio e Astice Freddo - jumbo lump crabmeat and Maine lobster with a tarragon emulsion, toasted brioche and micro arugula. I think this is a great pairing, as not only are the flavors of the crab and lobster ideally suited for Fiano, but you also have the slight earthiness of the wine’s finish that is picked up by the bitterness of the arugula.
2005 Falalone Primitivo Riserva – This wine from the Gioia del Colle zone, one of the great growing areas for the Primitivo grape in Puglia is a robust (15% alcohol) red with plenty of character as well as a slight rustic edge. It’s a big, gutsy wine, but it’s elegant with subtle wood and balanced tannins. For this wine, Ian suggested two different options. The first was Pappardelle with wild boar ragu; the second, Cannelloni di Vitello, crepes filled with braised veal breast, fava beans and pickled red onions. Two excellent choices here, given the power of this wine as well as its hearty character; the wild boar is a natural for the assertive flavors of Primitivo.
2006 Batasiolo Barolo “Vigneto Boscareto” – The final wine was a cru Barolo from the commune of Serralunga d’Alba from Batasiolo, a consistent producer with an impressive track record for single vineyard Barolo. This is from the classic 2006 vintage, a year that resulted in very rich Barolos that are tightly wrapped and need several years to reveal greater complexity. This Boscareto from Batasiolo is not as intense as some 2006s, but it is a big wine with plum, cherry, myrtle and tar flavors with medium-weight tannins; while it will be at its best in another 12-15 years, it is balanced enough to pair now with the proper foods.
For this wine, Ian opted for Maiale con Speck, pork tenderloin wrapped in speck, potato carrot purée, brussel spout leaves and a balsamic glaze. This is a lovely match, a dish that has the richness of the pork tenderloin to stand up to the fullness of this wine along with the earthiness of the carrots and brussel sprouts that pick up on the tannins and render them more elegant (carrots and turnips are great to serve with a young, tannic red as they make the wine seem less tannic- this, a tip I picked up from a winery chef years ago).
So there you go, class dismissed. I hope you learned a few things about pairing particular Italian wines with Italian foods. If you’re ever in Chicago, dine at The Italian Village and you’ll have a wonderful experience learning about this subject. Hopefully Ian will be there to answer your questions – you’ll learn a lot!
I always love discovering value wines and boy, have I found one! It’s the 2011 Bibi Graetz “Casamatta” Bianco from Tuscany. Bibi Graetz makes a wide variety of white and red wines (as well as a lovely rosé) from several growing areas in Tuscany. Of course, it’s the more expensive wines that get much of the attention (human nature, I suppose), but what a delight it is to report that this white is a first-rate value and bottom line, an excellent wine!
This is a blend of grapes from vineyards near the seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia in the province of Grosseto in southwestern Tuscany. It’s a blend of 60% Vermentino – the perfect variety for this location near the Tyrrenhian Sea – 30% Trebbiano and 10% Muscat. If you think that the Vermentino and Muscat lend some beautiful aromatics to this wine, you’re right! My notes detail the lovely perfumes of fresh red apple, honeydew melon and magnolia flowers, while there is very good depth of fruit and a rich, flavorful finish with striking natural acidity. This is aged solely in stainless steel to let the perfumes emerge – why mess with oak in a wine like this? – and it’s beautifully balanced, dry and absolutely delicious!
I’d love to pair this with shellfish – this would be especially great with sautéed shrimp or prawns – but I’d also enjoy it with vegetable risotto or even a chilled chicken salad.
Bottom line – you don’t have to think about a wine such as this. It’s made for food and it’s delicious, so just drink it!
Best of all, it has a suggested retail price of $13. That’s $13! Please let me know if you can find any other Italian white – or white wine from anywhere at $13 that’s this good (and from as famous a producer). You can’t afford to miss this wine!
P.S. The artwork on the label is by Bibi Graetz himself.
I was told by a friend in Italy that the phrase “unexpected brilliance” really doesn’t translate very well, so I’d be better off using the words una sopresa magnifica – “a magnificent surprise” to describe a marvelous Alto Adige red wine I recently tasted.
The wine – the 2009 Campill – is from a small producer Weingut Pranzegg, located in Bolzano in northern Alto Adige. The grower and winemaker of this wine is young Martin Gojer, an artisan producer who also makes an excellent Lagrein and Lagrein rosato along with a lovely blended white from local vineyards. The Campill, named for the site where the winery is located, is 95% Schiava, with the remaining 5% a mix of Lagrein and Barbera.
The very fact that I am strongly recommending a Schiava will probably come as surprise to most readers. I would imagine that many have never even heard of this variety (it is also known as Vernatsch), while those familiar with it know it as one that yields a very light red, one with high acidity and very light tannins. It’s the type of red that normally must be comsumed within a year or two and it is often served slightly chilled as it can be quite refreshing that way.
Now while I do enjoy the typical style of Schiava, I have discovered a few examples that represent more than just a pleasant offering. This is a remarkable wine and the main factor for that – as with most first-rate wines – can be found in the vineyard, as Gojer is working with vines that have an average age of 45 years; a few of the vines are 30 years of age, but several are 80 years old! Clearly these old vines limit yield and deliver a wine of great complexity and structure.
My notes list the “sensual” aromas of carnation, red roses and strawberry; medium-full with excellent depth of fruit, there are silky tannins, very good acidity and a lengthy finish with notes of Asian spice and nutmeg. This has excellent balance, lovely finesse and amazing complexity! It is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for another four or five years. I’d love to try this with a pork dish, especially in a Thai or Oriental cuisine, although roast pork or roast chicken with mushrooms would also be an ideal partner.
Currently, the wines of Weingut Pranzegg are not available in America, so here’s hoping some smart importer brings these products in soon. For now, you’ll have to head to Alto Adige and pay 13.90 Euro a bottle, which may be one of the wisest decisions you’ll ever make for a bottle of wine!
Bravo, Martin for making such an extraordinary wine from a variety most commonly associated with ordinary wines!
I’ve tasted several hundred Italian wines from every region of the country over the past few months for an important project I’m working on (more on that in a few weeks). I’m getting there, but have a lot more to taste, so today, just a fun post displaying some of my favorite Italian wine labels. God knows there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of wonderful labels out there, especially the classically designed ones that adorn the products of many famous Barolo, Brunello and Amarone producers. For this display however, I thought I’d go with some of the more distinctive modern designs, all graphically unique and beautiful.
What I love about these labels is that they are beautifully designed with distinctive graphics, yet you have no problem identifying the wine and the producer in an instant.
Do you have any cutting edge Italian labels you love? Let me know!
Back in April, I wrote a post about a few examples of Italian wines that I loved, if for no other reason than they were unique – uniquely Italian, that is. Given that producers in all 20 regions of Italy- from the cool mountain territories of Alto Adige and Friuli – to the warm sectors of Basilicata and Sicily – craft products made from any number of varieties, Italian wines offer an endless glimpse into the viticultural landscape. No country works with as many indigenous varieties as there are in Italy; thus there are more distinctive and individualistic wines from Italy than any other country in the world.
With that in mind, here are a few more examples of distinctive Italian wines I have tasted lately:
2010 Argiolas “Iselis Bianco” – Here is one of my new favorite whites from Italy – and I have a lot of them! This is from one of Sardinia’s best producers and it’s a blend of Nardo along with a lesser percentage of Vermentino. Nardo is a rare variety that’s normally used to produce dessert wines, but it’s also excellent when vinified dry. This has a bright golden yellow color and beautiful aromas of jasmine, banana and apricot. Medium-full, this has lively acidity (as you would expect) and a rich finish with notes of dried yellow fruit and a distinct minerality. First and foremost, this is a delicious wine that’s very rich with impeccable balance, but it’s also a lovely food wine, especially paired with vegetable risotto, roast chicken or many Greek dishes. ($20, excellent value) – Imported by Winebow, Montvale, NJ.
Grotta del Sole Aspirinio di Aversa Spumante NV - Italians love – make that adore sparkling wines. Several of the finest Champagne houses sell more of their product to Italy than any other export market. Then of course, Italians produce some excellent bubblies; Franciacorta and Prosecco are the most famous, but there are also notable sparkling wines known as Alta Langa in Piemonte, while there are assorted producers such as Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania that work with Champagne producers as partners with their sparkling wine project.
There are also more humble everyday spumanti made all over Italy, from Friuli in the north to Sicilia in the south. One of the more unique is Aspirinio di Aversa from the northern Campanian province of Caserta. Aspirinio is a high acid white, so that while it is often made as a dry white, is is also ideal for a sparkling wine.
I’ve just tried the non-vintage Asprinio di Aversa spumante from Grotta del Sole, a wonderful producer based in the Campi Flegrei area just north of Naples. This bottling is made according to the charmat method, the same used to make Prosecco; the producer also has a sparkling Aspirinio made according to the classic method (as with Franciacorta).
The wine has attractive melon, lemon and peony aromas, a good stream of bubbles and a clean, dry finish with good acidity. This is not a sparkling wine to age, but rather one to enjoy on a summer of fall day by itself or with lighter antipasti. – ($16.99 – Imported by Downey Selections, Lorton, VA)
2008 Didier Gerbelle Torrette Superieur “Vigna Tsancognein” – Ask yourself- when is the last time you tasted a wine from Valle d’Aosta? It’s probably been some time and for some of you reading this, the answer may be “never.” Clearly this region in far northwestern Italy is the least publicized of any wine region in the country (except perhaps for Molise); while that’s easy to understand based on the limited production as well as the unusual varieties planted here, the flip side is that these wines are among the most distinctive in all of Italy. Torrette is a red wine produced near Amayvilles in the center of the region that is made primarily from the Petit Rouge grape (70% minimum); this bottling also has smaller percentages of local varieties Cornalin, Premetta and Fumin. Didier Gerbelle, who graduated from the enology school in Alba and has returned to work his family’s vineyards, has made a lovely version of this wine, which has blackberry, mulberry and charred meat aromas. Medium-full, this has medium-weight tannins, subtle wood notes (it was aged partly in large oak casks and partly in steel tanks) and a rich, flavorful finish with notes of ripe plum. It’s a little bit like a Dolcetto, but racier and a bit heartier in nature. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years with a variety of foods, from tajarin pasta with tartufi to pork medallions. ($32.99 – Imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, Oakland, CA)
2007 Villa Dora Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso “Gelsonero” – Many tourists to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast have enjoyed a glass of Lacryma Christi del Bianco at a local trattoria, but they may not realize there is also a red Lacryma Christi (as well as a rosato). This version from Villa Dora is easily one of the finest I’ve tried. This producer, whose organically-farmed vineyards are situated on the lower slopes of Mount Vesuvius, has made a Lacryma Christi rosso that is a bit more serious than most other examples, as this has 20% Aglianico in the blend along with 80% Piedirosso. This is significant, as many examples of this red are pure Piedirosso, which delivers a fruit-driven, charming red with very light tannins; as this wine has Aglianico in the blend, it makes for a wine that can stand up to richer foods and can also age for several years. This has sensual black plum, black raspberry and tar aromas, is medium-bodied and is quite delicious; the acidity is very good and the tannins are round and not obtrusive; in short, this is one of the most stylish examples of this wine you can find. Still offering very good freshness, this is drinking well now and will be enjoyable for another 3-5 years, especially paired with lighter pastas. ($24.99 – Imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, Oakland, CA)
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!