Posts tagged ‘aldo conterno’

Older Barolo – Terroir, Breeding and Class

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 (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!

Nebbiolo grapes in vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba for production of Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Nebbiolo grapes in vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba for production of Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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 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

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! *****


1978

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.

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 am 2 comments

Aldo Conterno 1931-2012

I never met Aldo Conterno, but I feel like a lost a friend. The great man passed away on Wednesday at the age of 81 and leaves behind a wealth of brilliant Barolos from his estate in Monforte d’Alba, where his sons Franco, Stefano and Giacomo continue to produce legendary wines.

I did visit with his sons in 2011 at the estate and was impressed with their graciousness and courtesy, as they were delighted to present their cru Barolos – Cicala, Romirasco and Colonello – so I could taste them and share my thoughts. The smile on Giacomo’s face, as I told him of my thoughts on these wines is something I’ll remember for some time. Giacomo, Stefano and Franco are Piemontese gentlemen and it’s clear that their father taught them well.

While Aldo is gone, his sons remain as do his glorious wines.

June 1, 2012 at 7:10 am Leave a comment

Aldo Conterno – Top 100

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Monforte d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Assembling my list of the Top 100 wine producers in Italy has been a fun as well as challenging assignment. There are going to be a few producers that don’t make the final cut, but that’s the nature of these lists. But imagine trying to put together a Top 10 list – who makes the grade? While this would be an extremely difficult task, there’s no question in my mind that Poderi Aldo Conterno would be included in this grouping.

I say that as this producer located in Monforte d’Alba at the southern end of the Barolo zone has proven over the course of four decades that they produce as complete and as complex a Barolo as you will find. Established in 1969, the firm has remained in the Conterno family, with Stefano serving as winemaker, Giacomo taking care of tastings at the winery and Franco working with sales to the trade.

What makes Aldo Conterno such a superb winery is their collection of Barolos. They source fruit from three estate vineyards, all located next to each other in the Bussia sottozona of Monforte. The three vineyards are named Colonello, Cicala and Romairasco and all have the advantage of vine age in their favor, as the first two average 40-45 years of vine age, with the vines at Romairasco being 50-55 years old. This means small yields, which is beneficial to wines of structure and longevity.

The wines are aged solely in large casks (grandi botti), which is the traditional style of aging Barolo. I prefer this approach, as it means that wood notes in the wines are quite subtle, as the flavors of the Nebbiolo grape – cherry, currant, orange, tar and others – can emerge as the dominant notes in the wines. But while other producers also age their wines in this way, what makes Aldo Conterno different is the fact that the family has a much stricter selection method when deciding whether or not to even produce these cru offerings. As hail is a problem here, as in much of the Barolo zone, the family will not bottle a wine if any particular vineyard has been affected by hail. Thus for 2007, there is no bottling of Colonello or Romirasco; only Cicala has been produced as a cru, while there is a Barolo normale, blended from several sites in Bussia.

The cru bottlings of Barolo from Aldo Conterno are quite remarkable; I tasted the 2006 Romirasco and awarded the wine a 5-star (outstanding) rating; with excellent concentration, fine tannins and outstanding complexity, the wine should be at its peak in 25-30 years. I also rated the 2007 Cicala as outstanding, and while this wine is a bit lighter than the 2006 Romairasco, it should still be in fine shape in 20-25 years.

But the wine that truly makes Aldo Conterno such an amazing producer of Barolo is their Gran Bussia. This wine, a blend of their three crus, is produced only in the very finest years and even then, it must be a blend of all three sites. Thus even in a stellar year such as 2004, there will not be a bottling of Gran Bussia, as Cicala was heavily affected by hail that year. Giacomo Conterno told me that they could certainly make a great wine from the other two sites, “but then it wouldn’t be Gran Bussia.”

The most recent bottling of Gran Bussia is the 2001; this is the 14th bottling of this wine, which was first produced from  the 1970 vintage (other bottlings include 1974, 1979, 1985, 1990, 1996, 1998 and 1999.) This is singular Barolo and as I look over my notes, I recall what a wonderful experience it was for me to taste this wine. Aromas include dried cherry, fig, cedar, hazelnut, leather and licorice – what a wonderful aromatic profile!. Full-bodied with a huge mid-palate and outstanding persistence, the tannins are rich, but quite sleek, the acidity is lively and the overall balance is impeccable. Naturally, the wine has unbelievable complexity with an extremely long finish. I wrote that this will will be at its peak in 40-50 years.

After writing that estimate of aging potential for the 2001 Gran Bussia, I realized two things: first, I had never written that length of time for optimum drinking for any wine, Barolo or other. Secondly, I realized that at 55 years of age myself, chances are I won’t be around to try this wine when it’s at its best. So I’ll have to settle for being able to taste this wine at this stage of its life and hopefully, I’ll secure another bottle soon to enjoy it again. (note: the supply is quite limited and the suggested retail price in America is $240 a bottle. Given the rarity and quality of this wine, I’d say the price is actually quite fair).

One final note: If you can’t find or afford the Gran Bussia, try the Barolo normale (2006 and/or 2007 are currently available). I rated the 2007 as excellent (4-stars) and was impressed by the excellent persistence, lovely varietal character and beautiful balance of this wine. You should be able to find this wine for about $125 a bottle. Again, for a Barolo from one of the greatest of all Barolo producers, the price is just.

December 19, 2011 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

Barolo- che preferisci?

Giovanni Manzone and his son Mauro, Monforte d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently wrote a post about 2007 Barolo; I sampled over 100 bottlings during my stay in Alba for the Nebbiolo Prima event in early May. That post focused on the qualities and characteristics of the 2007 vintage and how it compared to other years. I commented that while I believe 2007 is an excellent vintage, as the wines display lovely balance and impressive depth of fruit, I prefer the Barolos from 2006, which should prove to be a much longer-lived vintage. Several winemakers I spoke with agreed with me, telling me that 2006 is a “more classic Piemontese vintage” while 2007 is more of “an international vintage.”

This got me thinking the other day about a number of things. It’s one thing for myself to prefer a specific vintage, but what about everyone else? I’ve always said that wine is a sensory experience, which means that all of us will react to a particular wine in our own particular way. A wine I love might have levels of acidity that are too high for someone else, while a ripe wine someone else likes may be too one-dimensional for me.

This is hardly original material here, but what I’m after is that with wine, style matters. Not just the style of the vintage, but the style of the wine itself. Don’t just consider the vintage – learn about the approach taken by individual estates. Regarding Barolo, does the firm make a traditional wine, aged in large casks or do they produce a modern, more-forward wine, often aged in small oak barrels? Learning about the style of producers is more important in my mind than memorizing details about each vintage. What do you prefer? Discover that and you’ve gone a long way towards learning about Barolo (or many other famous wines).

Bottles of Aldo Conterno Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Take as an example, the brilliant Barolos from Poderi Aldo Conterno in Monforte d’Alba. This is one of the finest of all Barolo estates, as the wines have outstanding depth of fruit, marvelous complexity and the potential to age for as long as 35-40 years from the finest years. The winery produces anywhere from two to five bottlings of Barolo per year; this depends on growing conditions (hailstorms sometimes cause problems in their vineyards, as with other estates). There is a regular Barolo, three cru bottlings (Romirasco, Colonnello and Cicala) and in exceptional years, a wine called Gran Bussia, a blend of these three vineyards. The wines are all aged in large casks of Slavonian oak known as grandi botti, which is the traditional aging vessel. To me, aging Barolo in large casks means that wood notes are not dominant and that the beauty of the Nebbiolo fruit emerges. When we speak of the terroir of Barolo, I find this emerges more often in traditionally aged wines.

Yet what about the wines of another excellent Monforte estate, that of Domenico Clerico? This is another famous Barolo producer, but their approach is quite different, as barriques are used here for the aging. The wines are of course different – very different – than those from Aldo Conterno or two other superb traditional estates in Monforte, Elio Grasso and Giovanni Manzone, whose wines I greatly admire. I prefer the wines of Grasso, Giovanni Manzone and Aldo Conterno to those of Clerico on a regular basis, yet I have enjoyed several excellent Barolos from Clerico over the years. Who makes the best wines? Part of the answer for each individual depends on what they think constitues the “best.” I generally tend to prefer traditionally aged Barolos, as that is what I have discovered I like (they also seem to me to be wines that better display a true sense of place), but I don’t rule out modern Barolos, simply because of the aging process.

Then there is the example of Luca Currado at Vietti, who ages each Barolo according to the approach he believes is proper. For example, he ages his Barolo from the Brunate cru in La Morra in small barrels, as he reasons that the soft tannins and delicate aromatics of this wine need a touch of new oak to give the wine more complexity. Yet for his Rocche Barolo from the famous cru in Castiglione Falletto, Currado ages this wine in large casks, as he wants to downplay the firm tannins that naturally emerge from this site. Thus Vietti makes Barolos that are traditional as well as modern. Here it’s not about an overall philosophy, but instead doing what’s proper for each wine. Currado told me once for an article I was writing that he compared this craftsmanship similar to a tailor making a suit of clothes for a man. Each customer is different, so the tailor has to alter each suite to make it fit just right; the same for Vietti and making Barolo.

Gianni Voerzio, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Try various bottlings of Barolo from the La Serra cru in La Morra. Renowned producers such as Gianni Voerzio and his brother Roberto each produce this wine as does the Marcarini estate. The Voerzio bottlings are undoubtedly modern in their approach, while the Marcarini bottling is as traditional a Barolo as you can find. Each of these producers captures the elegance and deep fruitiness of this cru, but each does it in his own way. What do you prefer?

Then you have producers that combine a bit of each approach. At Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba, winemaker Danilo Drocco uses a similar approach for two cru Barolo: La Villa from Barolo and La Rosa from the winery’s estate. He begins the aging in barriques, but then completes it in large casks. His reasoning is that small barrels can help deepen the color, but he needs to change to large casks in order to prevent the wine from becoming dominated by oak flavors. This is the decision that Drocco, a veteran of more than 25 Barolo vintages, has realized for his wines. Who would say he is wrong?

Renato Ratti Winery, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the great Barolo estates – and clearly one of my favorites –  is that of Renato Ratti in La Morra. Renato Ratti was one of the key figures in mapping out the crus of Barolo and today, his son Pietro manages the winery, producing three excellent Barolos per year. Like Fontanafredda, these Barolos are aged in both barrique and grandi botti, so they are an in-between style. They are certainly not “international” wines, overburdened with spice and vanilla from small barrels, but neither are they old-fashioned wines with strong herbal notes. Rather, they are superb reflections of the specific sites where the grapes are grown. The Marcenasco, Conca and Rocche Barolos from Ratti each offer different characteristics and have different life spans; the Rocche, especially, is one of the most consistent, ageworthy Barolos I’ve enjoyed over the past decade- to me this is a classic Barolo in every sense. Some winemaking has changed as Ratti moved into a new, state-of-the-art cellar a few years ago. I won’t go into all the technical details, but Ratti believes the wines now have a richer mid-palate that makes the wines more complete. Perhaps the notion of modern versus traditional shouldn’t even be a consideration when we’re speaking of the sublime Barolos of Renato Ratti.

So there you have it – given all the approaches by various producers in Barolo, you have the option of many wines. Find a style you like, but also try other wines to appreciate everything that is available. Barolo is a magnificent wine for many reasons, not the least of which are the complexities inherent in these wines. These characteristics can emerge from a specific site or from the winemaking approach of an individual producer or it might come from a vintage.

Put all this together and you realize that this is another argument against points. Barolo is too singular a wine to be branded – awarding a 95 versus a 92 on another wine really means nothing; if it shows anything, it’s the preference of the individual or group that handed out the score. What can a number tell you about one of the world’s greatest wines?

Finally, in the case of rating vintages, it is important to note the style of wines emerging from a vintage. Yes, for me, 2006 is a superior vintage as compared to 2007, but that doesn’t mean that will be the case for someone else (and I do think 2007 is an excellent vintage). Let’s face it – when Pietro Ratti comments that for the 2007 Barolos, “the balance is fantastic,” doesn’t that say it all?

P.S. This is my last post for at least a few weeks. Between my upcoming trip to Soave, Valpolicella and Collio along with a few projects I’m working on, I’ll be busy (that’s the sound of me knocking on wood that you are hearing). So I have no idea when my next post will be up, but I’m guessing within 3-4 weeks.

The number of hits has been on the increase, so thank you to everyone that is checking in on my blog. Now I hope to read some nice comments from time to time. I don’t write controversial stuff, but I do hope it’s interesting and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

May 26, 2011 at 12:43 pm 4 comments


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