Posts tagged ‘barolo’
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.
Everyone loves Italian food and naturally wants to pair Italian wines with this cuisine. What are the best pairings of Italian wine and food? I went to three authorities in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and asked them what Italian wine (or wines) they would pair with some classic Italian dishes. The three wine and food authorities are:
Charles Scicolone – New York City
If you want to know anything about Italian wines – especially those made during the 1950s and 1960s- ask Charles. He is a wine consultant, writer and educator and has been specializing in Italian wines for more than 40 years. He was the wine director for I Trulli Restaurant in New York City for 10 years and today consults for various Italian restaurants in the city. He authors the blog Charles Scicolone on Wine and is also the wine editor for www.i-italy.org. He has lectured about Italian wines for the Italian Trade Commission and is often hired by regional Italian wine departments to make presentations about their wines. He also is one of this country’s leading authorities on pizza, especially the classic pizza margherita from Napoli.
Piero Selvaggio – Los Angeles
Long before today’s fascination with Italian wine and food in America, Piero Selvaggio was educating Americans on the glories of these products. Born in Sicily, he arrived in Brooklyn in 1964 and soon learned how different Italian-American food was from that of his native Italy. He attended college in California and worked at several restaurant jobs – everything from busboy to waiter to assistant manager.
He opened the restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica in 1972 with a friend. Praise for this restaurant was extraordinary right from the start; it is no exaggeration to write that this was the first great Italian restaurant of the modern era in the United States. Along with using the finest ingredients, Selvaggio emphasized the best wines from all over Italy.
He has since opened a Valentino restaurant in Las Vegas and Houston and continues to explore the ever-changing relationship between Italian wine and food.
Jason Carlen, Chicago
Early this year, Jason Carlen took over the wine program at one of America’s temples to Italian food, Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago. Carlen is the newest wine director here, following the magnificent work of Henry Bishop and then Steven Alexander. While the Italian wine program here does not have the most selections in the country, it is as thorough and eclectic as any in America. Before coming to Spiaggia, Carlen spent four years as sommelier at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge resort in Bluffton, South Carolina.
I will also be adding my thoughts on the pairings. I have made 49 trips to Italy over the past ten years and have enjoyed wonderful meals throughout the country, from humble trattorie and osterie to two-star Michelin ristoranti.
Here are the foods and the recommended pairings from these gentlemen:
Risotto with Vegetables (pictured above)
Charles Scicolone: “Classic vegetable risotto with peas and carrots calls for a Soave. This white wine with good acidity from the Veneto will work very well with the richness of the risotto and the mild flavors of the vegetables.”
Piero Selavaggio: “Part of the fun of pairing wine with certain food is always the originality, the nuances, the way salt of food and acidity of wine dance well together. Here is a new partner in the contest. For the risotto, I picked a wine of exemplary elegance: Grifola. It is from the small Marche region in central Italy by Poderi San Lazzaro.” (note- this is a Marche Rosso IGT produced exclusively from the Montepulciano grape – TH.)
“It is a wine of dark black fruit, yet fresh and elegant in the finish able to enrich and complement the richness of the cheese and the butter that ties the risotto and sustains the simplicity of the veggies.”
Jason Carlen: “As for the risotto, I would love a Trebbiano by Valentini. I think the purity of those wines and slight oxidative quality are reminiscent of Puligny-Montrachet. I love pairing the richness of a risotto with an equally rich wine that is perfectly balanced with acid.”
Tom Hyland: I am in agreement with Charles on this one. A Soave Classico from a top producer such as Pieropan, Ca’ Rugate or Coffele has the ideal flavors that pick up on the risotto, while the aromatics of the Garganega grape blend ideally with the vegetables.
CS: “Pizza Margherita is not only the perfect pizza, but also the perfect food. The wine I like to drink with pizza is Barolo, one from a traditional producer. Barolo of this type has subtle fruit, hints of tar, tobacco, etc. with good acidity. This is a perfect combination for the tomato sauce, the mozzarella and the basil of the margherita.
PS: “For pizza, I always think Sangiovese. From Umbria, I like the Falesco; it is bold and supple, jammy and easy, just like the pie. An alternative is always a good Chianti, like Felsina, Ricasoli or Fattoria La Massa in Panzano. These are the type of new Italian wines that made people fall in love with Italian gastronomy.”
JC: “I think there are so many directions you can go with a margherita pizza.Personally I prefer a red with enough acid to cut through the fat of the cheese and to hold up to the tomato. Perhaps the COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2008. I love the sweet herbaceous cherry fruit in this wine, the chalky tannins and the bright acidity.”
TH: I agree with Charles about Barolo with the margherita pizza, especially when it comes to a traditional style of Barolo. I also think a traditional Barbera d’Alba with plenty of spice can work well, while an Aglianico-based wine from Campania or Basilicata can also pair well with the pizza.
CS: “With this dish I would drink an Amarone. I would prefer one with good acidity and the characteristics of a table wine, as opposed to some Amarones with intense flavors and aromas that can make it more like a dessert wine. The gaminess of the duck will not be overwhelmed by the Amarone and the raisins and onions will enhance the flavors of the Amarone.”
PS: “For the sauteed duck breast I like a Veronese Ripasso: Palazzo della Torre by Allegrini. A young wine that has been blended with Amarone-style raisiny juice. It is robust and concentrated, yet showing the elegance of the Corvina grape, that should wrap well with the sweetness of the sauce.”
JC: ” I normally like to pair duck with a pinot noir but in this case I am thinking a Gattinara would do the trick nicely. With the fat of the duck I think a more polished Gattinara would work well. The little bit of tannins would made docile by fat of the meat and the sweetness of the raisins would help to bring out the fruit in the wine. A favorite right now is the Anoniolo “San Francesco” Gattinara 2006.”
TH: I also like a Ripasso or Amarone with this dish. I would also love to pair this with a Dolcetto from Diano d’Alba – the Fontanafredda “La Lepre” is a tantalizing example of this wine. The black cherry and cranberry fruit flavors are spot on here, while the tannins are not very strong and do not overpower the duck.
Do you have any thoughts on what Italian wines you would pair with these dishes? Do you have other Italian wine and food pairings you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!
Text and photos ©Tom Hyland
I had the pleasure of dining with Luciana Currado of the great Piemontese estate Vietti in Chicago yesterday. Currado was in town to taste out a number of wines, most importantly the brand new release of Barolo Villero Riserva 2004.
I’ve known Luciana and her son Luca, who serves as winemaker, for more than a decade. Both of them are hard working, down to earth people, who are very gracious and always willing to listen to what you have to say. Luciana has been at the forefront of promoting Vietti wines; this responsibility has become a larger part of her life since her beloved husband Alfredo passed away last year after a long illness. While Luciana misses her husband, she clearly brings a lot of energy and passion to her job, as she talks of the history of her estate.
We started off the tasting with two bottlings of Barbera: one, the 2007 La Crena, is from Asti, while the other, the 2009 Scarrone Vigna Vecchia, is a Barbera d’Alba (this vineyard is at the Vietti estate in Castiglione Falletto). While both are modern interpretations of Barbera- that is to say, very ripe with slightly lower acidity and more small oak aging – these are beautifully balanced wines (unlike too many examples of Barbera today that are overly ripe, “serious” wines). The La Crena has beautiful black fruit along with a hint of mocha and excellent persistence; forward and quite tasty, this will be at its best in 5-7 years.
The Scarrone is from a vineyard at the Vietti estate in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. There are two bottlings: a regular and this, the Vigna Vecchia (old vines), from vines that are now more than 90 years old. Although not as deep in color as the La Crena (deep ruby red/purple on the Scarrone versus deep, bright purple on the La Crena), this is a richer, riper, more sumptuous wine in every way. With boysenberry and plum fruit and outstanding persistence, this is a great success. 2009 was a warm vintage, which aided ripeness and helped keep the natural acidity down; Luca Currado plays this up, but the wine is in perfect balance with every component in harmony. This is a delicious, hedonistic, decadent style of Barbera that is a long way from traditional Barbera and a wine that has to be tasted to be believed!
Next were the 2007 Castiglione Barolo and the 2006 Masseria Barbaresco. The Castiglione Barolo is a blend of Nebbiolo grapes from several communes and is a nice introduction to Vietti Barolo, with its varietal purity and distinctive spice. As for Barbaresco, here is a wine few talk about when referring to Vietti; that is a shame, as this is a lovely wine, very underrated. With beautiful aromas of persimmon (I find this to be a trademark aroma for Nebbiolo in the Barbaresco area) and dried cherry and expressive spice notes in the finish (cumin, oregano and thyme) along with excellent persistence and acidity, this is a notable wine. 2006 was a classic Piemontese vintage, that is to say, one in which the finest wines offer beautiful structure, impressive concentration and outstanding complexity- these are wines that are not as forward as in some years, but with patience – 12-15 years for this wine, in my opinion – they will display their finest traits.
Then came the showcase wines – three vintages of Villero Riserva Barolo. Villero is a single vineyard in Castiglione Falletto and in most years, Luca Currado uses the grapes from this site as part of the cuvée of his Castiglione Barolo. But in truly exceptional years – he will bottle this wine separately. We tasted three vintages, the newly released 2004 along with the 2001 and 1996; in tasting these wines the character of this vineyard, its outstanding fruit and the precision winemaking of Currado were all clearly on display.
The 2004 displayed the beautiful perfumes and ideal acidity of that vintage; red cherry and currant fruit are featured in the aromas and the wine has excellent persistence and complexity along with a beautiful sense of place. Look for this deeply concentrated wine to be at is best in 20-25 years- perhaps longer. (The playful label reminds one that 2004 was the year of the rabbit.)
The 2001, from an amazing Barolo vintage, is a huge wine of great power and intensity. Here the aromas are of cherry and black plum and there is outstanding depth of fruit and complexity. This is a wine of great persistence and structure; my best guess is that this wine will peak in 25-40 years! This is a great bottle of Barolo!
The 1996, from a truly great Barolo vintage, offers a bit more subtlety now, which is no surprise as the wine is a few years older. The aromas are of red currant and strawberry preserves (heavenly!) and there is a bit more spice on display in the finish (cumin, oregano and cinnamon). The tannins are big, but beautifully balanced, the acidity is perfect and the persistence is quite impressive; look for this wine to peak in 25-30 years, although it will probably drink well for a few years after that.
These three vintages all offer a beautiful sense of the terroir of Villero and are packed with layers of fruit. The complexity on all three wines is impressive; each is an outstanding wine, a testament to the life’s work of the Currado family. Not only was it a rare treat to try three vintages of the Villero Barolo at one sitting, but how wonderful to enjoy these wines along with Luciana Currado!
The tasting/lunch was held at the Balsan Restaurant at the Elysian Hotel in Chicago, a property that has only been open a little more than two years. The space is quite handsome and cozy and the food was excellent. For the Barolos, we were offered the option of a rib-eye steak or rainbow trout; as I don’t eat red meat, I opted for the latter. While I have enjoyed fish a few times with Barolo (only a few), I would have never thought of trout as an accompaniment, but it was perfect here, served with goat cheese and arugula. It had enough texture and flavor to stand up to the Barolo and captured the earthiness of the wines quite well. Bravo to the chef!
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.
During my most recent visit to Piemonte, there was a lot of excitement about one particular Barolo cru, that of Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba. One of the owners recently passed away and the section he possessed is being divided up among three wineries, all of whom will produce a Vigna Rionda Barolo for the first time.
This is newsworthy because of the historical importance of the Vigna Rionda cru. Literally meaning “round vineyard”, Vigna Rionda is sited on a slope at elevations ranging from 820 to 1180 feet above sea level; the beneficial siting of this hill insures a great deal of sun throughout the day. The soils are a combination of marl, calcaire and a touch of sand; the vineyard is sheltered from excessive winds by the nearby Castelleto hill. In his beautifully detailed map of the vineyards and cellars of Serralunga, Alessandro Masnaghetti writes these words of acclaim for the quality of this vineyard:
“Vigna Rionda, in the collective imagination of many wine lovers, has become synonymous with the Barolo of Serralunga d’Alba… the Barolo which is produced here can be termed – even more than a Barolo of Serralunga – a Barolo of Vigna Rionda, such is the imprint of the cru on this wine.”
When you consider the number of remarkable Barolo crus in Serralunga, such as Ornato, Falletto, Lazzarito, Prapo and La Rosa, this is high praise for the distinctive style that emerges from Vigna Rionda. Thus the excitement over the new wines down the road.
Regarding the change in ownership of a small (2.2 hectare) section of Vigna Rionda, the details have to do with the passing away of Tommaso Canale, whose ancestors had purchased this plot back in the mid-1930s. Tommaso died in December, so now his section of Vigna Rionda will be turned over to three producers, who are relatives: Guido Porro, Ettore Germano and Giovanni Rosso. In the case of the Rosso estate, this is wonderful and appropriate news, as current proprietor and winemaker Davide Rosso (his father Giovanni passed away only recently) is the son of Ester Canale Rosso, who once owned this section along with her mother Cristina (due to financial difficulties back then, they were forced to sell to a family member).
What all this means is that some producers who worked with this fruit will no longer produce a Vigna Rionda Barolo – Roagna is perhaps the best known firm in this instance. But Porro, Rosso and Germano will be producing a Vigna Rionda Barolo down the road. Sergio Germano told me in an email that he will probably produce his first Barolo from this site from the 2017 vintage, while for Rosso, his first bottling will be from this vintage, the 2011, though in small quantities. (I do not have the information on when the initial Porro bottling will be produced.) Much of this section contains vines that are 60-years old and while some of these vines are in wonderful condition, others need to be replanted.
One thing that needs to be noted is that the transfer of this section of Vigna Rionda is limited to a small section of this cru. There are indeed other owners of Vigna Rionda, who will continue to produce a Barolo from this vineyard. Among the most notable is the Oddero estate of Santa Maria (La Morra); Mariacristina Oddero notes that their family purchased one hectare in 1982. To be exact, they own parcels 335, 340, 338 and 337 of plot number 8 (the Rosso section is parcel 251P of plot number 8). The have been producing Vigna Rionda Barolo for many years and will continue to do so.
Also, the largest single owner of Vigna Rionda is the Massolino family of Serralunga, who owns 2.3 hectares (parcels 79-80-81-82-84-85-86 of plot number 8, to be exact.). Massolino produces a Riserva Barolo from Vigna Rionda fruit, which is one of the most complex, complete and most powerful Barolos of Serrallunga. It also has great cellaring potential – often as long as 40 years – and is one of the most authentic representations of this great vineyard.
Thanks very much to Sergio Germano, Davide Rosso, Franco Massolino, Mariacristina Oddero and Alessandro Masnaghetti for their assistance reagrding this topic.
I have just returned from a 10-day trip to the Langhe in Piemonte where I was able to taste soon-to-be released bottlings of three wine types produced entirely from the Nebbiolo grape: Roero Rosso (the new bottlings from 2008), Barbaresco (2008) and Barolo (2007). This was the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, organized for several dozen journalists (as well as some retailers) from around the world. I wrote about 2008 Barbaresco last time out – in this post, I will deal with 2007 Barolo.
First and foremost, this is a very good to excellent vintage, but not one I think can be defined as great. 2007 was a warm year to be sure and the wines have impressive ripeness and very good acidity. The wines are balanced and in some cases, quite approachable now, a trait not seen in the 2006 Barolos. However, that year’s Barolos displayed much deeper concentration along with more firm tannins; the 2006 Barolos are wines for 10-15 years down the road, with many of them peaking in 20-30 years. While there are a few bottlings of 2007 Barolo that will drink well at 25 years of age (such as Pio Cesare “Ornato” and the Renato Ratti “Rocche”), I believe most of these wines will peak at 15-20 years of age, which is for the most part, a typical timeframe for a very good Barolo vintage.
So while 2007 is not a great vintage, it is most certainly an appealing one. Several producers told me that they expect these wines to sell very well, as they have such forward fruit as well as round, elegant tannins. This is the thing to remember about the quality and characteristic of this vintage; unlike 2006 which needs time, these wines can be enjoyed in the near term. This is important, as there are many wine drinkers who are curious about Barolo, especially this particular vintage, which will no doubt receive very good press. 2006 may be a more classic Piemontese vintage (and one I think is outstanding), but for many wine lovers who do not drink Barolo on a regular basis – or for those interested in discovering Barolo for the first time – 2007 is a vintage that will offer ample pleasure.
As for the individual communes themselves, Verduno performed brilliantly. This is not one of the larger communes of the Barolo zone, but the quality of wines from this small area was remarkably high. There were five wines in the tasting from Verduno and I awarded three of them a 4-star (excellent) rating with one wine receiving three stars (very good) and one wine – the Fratelli Alessandria “Monvigliero”- receiving my top rating of five stars – outstanding. This wine has lovely perfumes – my notes refer to orange pekoe tea, strawberry jam and cedar – and there is beautiful depth of fruit with ideal sturcture. This is a wine that should be at its peak in 20 years – or perhaps longer. The wines from Verduno are not the most powerful of the Barolos, but they are among the most seductive. The producers here, such as Burlotto and Castello di Verduno have been performing at a high level for years, so it’s nice to see their success in 2007.
The commune of La Morra is home to a higher percentage of Barolo vineyards than any other, so naturally there were many bottlings offered at this event. To no surprise, the wines of Renato Ratti were among the very best, especially the “Conca” and “Rocche” bottlings. Both wines offer marvelous aromas of red cherry, orange peel and plum with nicely integrated wood notes backed by an impressive mid-palate. These wines are almost as deeply concentrated as their 2006 counterparts – not quite, but almost – and offer beautiful acidity. These are built for the long haul – I marked down “25 years plus” for the Conca and “30 years” for the Rocche. Pietro Ratti has done a marvelous job following in his father’s footsteps and has been producing some of the finest and most consistent Barolos of the past decade; these bottlings from 2007 are further evidence.
Another producer that delivered beautiful Barolos in 2007 is Ascheri; there are two wines from the Sorano vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba: the regular Sorano bottling and the Sorano “Coste e Bricco” offering. The former is more traditionally aged while the latter is crafted in more of an international style (only slightly, thankfully), but both are subdued, elegant wines that show the balance and elegance of Barolo, especially in this vintage. Matteo Ascheri is another ultra consistent Barolo producer and it’s time more reviewers celebrated his excellent work!
The wines from Serralunga d’Alba were again routinely excellent and while the overall effect was not as brilliant as 2006 from that commune, I can easily relate the quality of these wines once more. For me the two best wines were in different styles. The Paolo Manzone “Meriame” from 60-year old vines, is a classic Serralunga Barolo with a great mix of red fruit and spice aromas and a rich, tannic finish. It is quite complex and has beautifully balanced tannins and a generous mid-palate. Everything you would want in a young Barolo is in this bottling; I also tasted the 1999 Meriame at the winery before the tasting and had a similar rating. This is an outstanding vineyard and Paolo Manzone has been producing one of the most underrated Barolos for some time now. Bravo, Paolo!
The Pio Cesare “Ornato” is this historic firm’s flagship Barolo and boy, did they ever deliver in 2007. This is more of an international style, as the wine is aged in French barriques, but with the 2007 bottling, there is more than sufficient depth of fruit to balance the wood influence. There is also beautiful acidity along with great complexity and the wine is a beautiful expression of its site (the vineyard is next to the Falletto cru of Bruno Giacosa- this is clearly the high rent district of Serralunga). The wine is a bit of a monster, but I say that as a compliment, as it is a monster that has been tamed. This is my favorite Ornato since the 2001 vintage; look for this wine to be at its best in 25 years and it should drink well for several years beyond that.
Finally a few notes on some of my favorite wines from the three days of tastings. The Cogno “Ravera” is as elegant and as lovely as ever – the wines features beautiful cherry and strawberry fruit and subtle wood notes and will be at its best in 12-15 years. The Massolino “Parussi” is this estate’s first Barolo ever from Castiglione Falletto; with its orange zest and caraway aromas (typical of this commune) and its long, well-defined mid-palate, this was my favorite of this firm’s 2007 Barolos. (Massolino has also just released the Tenth Anniversary bottling of 2001 Vigna Rionda Barolo – the wine is a stunning success! It is quite simply a classic Barolo that will drink well for decades.)
Also the Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera” and the “Ginestra Casa Maté” are beautiful expressions of Monteforte d’Alba terroir. These wines have excellent depth of fruit (though lighter than the outstanding 2006 offerings) and as they are aged in botti grandi, have very subtle wood influence, a quality that was not common among the Monteforte Barolos of 2007, I’m sorry to say. (I should note that the Monteforte Barolos from Giovanni Manzone (“Gramolere”) and the Giacomo Fenocchio “Bussia” were also lovely wines made in a traditional style.)
A pleasant surprise this year from Ceretto, as my favorite Barolo of theirs was the “Brunate”, which though lighter than the “Prapo” and the “Bricco Rocche”, was a bit more seductive and appealing at present. The other wines are excellent and may shine brighter in 12-15 years, but for now the Brunate is an unqualified success.
The last notes in this post are on one of my favorite producers, Francesco Rinaldi of Barolo. I visited the cellar for the first time this trip and I honestly thought I had traveled 150 years back in time – I’d never seen a cellar that old. No matter, the Barolos from this great firm have been of exceptional quality for quite some time now. This is an ultra traditional estate – the wines are aged in large Slavonian oak, which allows the Nebbiolo fruit to emerge. The first thing you note about these wines is the delicate color – pale garnet – which is in my mind, what a young Barolo should look like. The red cherry and wild strawberry fruit of the two Barolos – “Le Brunate” and “Cannubbio” - are marvelously seductive and the wines have remarkable finesse and subtlety. These are Barolos as you might have tasted 40 or 50 years ago – these are not old-fashioned wines, but ones that are classic. Congratulations to the Rinaldi family for such timeless work!
P.S. I will have full tasting notes on more than 100 of the 2007 Barolos as well as 50 of the 2008 Barbaresco in a special issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be published soon. Regular subscribers to my Guide will receive this as part of their subscription. Others who want only this issue can acquire it for $10. You can email me (click on the “about me” tag of this blog) for information.