Posts tagged ‘aldo conterno’
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.