Posts tagged ‘barolo’
Renato Ratti Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
On a hillside in the small frazione of Annunziata below the town of La Morra, the handsome winery of Renato Ratti overlooks some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Barolo zone. Today Pietro Ratti manages the winery, having succeeded his father Renato, a legendary figure in the development of the wine and the territory of Barolo during the past half century.
The elder Ratti was definitely a leader in the promotion of Barolo and perhaps his most famous contribution was his map of the finest vineyards – cru – of the Barolo zone in the 1960s. Newer maps have been created, but almost all of them credit Ratti’s work in letting the world know about the finest sites for planting Nebbiolo in this territory.
Today, most releases of Barolo are from a single cru, but this was not the case some 40 years ago, so this idea of Ratti was ahead of its time- thankfully, it was also a necessary concept. Today Pietro Ratti is one of many producers that release cru Barolo, in his case from Rocche dell’Annunziata (labeled simply as Rocche). Ratti also produces two other Barolos – Conca and Marcenasco – that are technically not from a single vineyard, but are instead from subzones in Annunziata.
Ratti today combines both traditional and modern technology when crafting his Barolo, as these wines are aged in a combination of large Slavonian oak and French barriques. The result is that the wines are a bit darker in color than a typical Barolo, but there are unmistakable varietal aromas that emerge from each bottling. Here are my notes on the current 2006 releases of these wines:
Barolo Rocche – cedar, red cherry, sage and tobacco aromas; excellent concentration; rich mid-palate, lively acidity and refined tannins. Beautiful complexity and expression of terroir. Best in 20-25 years.
Barolo Conca – blackthorn, cherry and tobacco aromas; rich finish with very good persistence, lively acidity and refined tannins. Best in 20 years plus.
Barolo Marcenasco – cedar, cumin and dried cherry aromas; medium-full; nicely balanced throughout with good persistence. Best in 12-15 years.
I rated the Rocche as outstanding, the Conca as excellent and the Marcenasco as very good. The 2006 vintage is in the vein of the old-fashioned Barolos – wines that are tightly structured and will reward great patience.
Pietro Ratti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Pietro also produces an excellent Barbera d’Alba as well as notable bottlings of Nebbiolo d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. He continues his father’s work in the vineyards as well as the promotion of the Barolo zone and the entire Langhe area. I’ve come to know him during my visits over the past seven years and find him to be as personable and as helpful a producer as I’ve met in Italy. He is a graceful, elegant man and his wines are in the same manner.
I have previously written about Barolo and listed several of my favorite producers in this area. Now I would like to briefly discuss a few of those producers, as arranged by commune. This post will deal with five of the finest vintners of La Morra, right in the heart of the Barolo zone.
RENATO RATTI – This historic estate is today managed by Pietro Ratti, the energetic and outgoing son of Renato Ratti. The elder Ratti was one of the most important individuals in this zone during the 1950s and 1960s for his work in mapping and identifying the great crus (single vinyards) for Barolo production. The map he created is still a valuable reference point in any discussion on this topic.
Today, Pietro produces three bottlings of Barolo in most vintages: Marcenasco, a selezione from vineyards near the winery, Rocche (dell’Annunziata) and Conca (these last two from single vineyards). The Ratti style of Barolo is ideal ripeness, but subtle wood, so as to allow the terroir of the sites to emerge. The wines are elegantly styled and are first-rate examples of how Barolo improves and changes with time. Ratti is not the only producer to focus on this, of course, but he is one of the finest, no doubt. His recently released 2006s are beautifully layered (especially the Conca), and his 2004s and 2001s are remarkable.
ROCCHE COSTAMAGNA – Located at the top of the hill, just as you enter La Morra, this estate is one of the most consistent in La Morra and the entire Barolo zone. Alessandro Locatelli is the owner and in my mind, the style of his wines are much like the man himself – straightforward, elegant and charming. His regular bottling of Rocche dell’Annunziata is excellent, but it is the Bricco Francesco, made from grapes from the highest portion of the Rocche vineyard, that is his finest wine. Deeply concentrated with a long, beautifully structured finish, this is classy La Morra Barolo with elegant tannins and lovely perfumes.
MARCARINI – Managed by Manuel Marchetti, this is one of La Morra’s most traditional estates. The two Barolos – La Serra and Brunate – are fermented in cement tanks, as these are inert and impart no additional flavors. The wines are then aged in botti grandi (large casks) to emphasize varietal character as well as a great sense of terroir. The wines are subdued, marvelously balanced and age beautifully. These bottlings are also some of the most fairly priced Barolos in the entire zone – bravo Manuel!
ROBERTO VOERZIO – As traditional as the wines are from Marcarini, the Barolos from Roberto Voerzio are just as modern in their approach. Voerzio makes as many as seven different bottlings of Barolo – almost all from La Morra (Brunate, La Serra, Rocche dell’Annunziata Torriglione), each of which is aged in entirely new French oak barriques. While this may seem excessive, the discipline in the vineyard – extremely low yields – ensure that there is plenty of fruit to balance the wood. While these wines appeal to a different palate than those of Marcarini, one cannot doubt their excellence.
GIANNI VOERZIO – Brother of Roberto, Gianni Voerzio produces only one Barolo from the La Serra vineyard, but it is quite a bottling. Just like his brother, Gianni ages the wine in barriques, so the wine has a ruby red color instead of the garnet one expects with a young Barolo and there is ample oak. Again, yields are low, so the wine is balanced and older vintages show quite well. Gianni Voerzio, like his brother, is also a gentleman as well as an impassioned winemaker.
The latest vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco have just been released – 2006 for Barolo and 2007 for Barbaresco. Given this, I’d like to provide a brief recap of the last decade of vintages.
2007 - A beautiful year with wines offering lovely aromatics, lively acidity and very good to excellent concentration. The wines are forward – indeed quite approachable in some cases – but will probably not be as long lived as the wines from 2001 or 1999. The finest examples of Barbaresco I have tasted so far should drink well for 12-15 years. Excellent to Outstanding (Note: I am basing my opinion here primarily on Barbaresco, but I have also tasted a few barrel samples of Barolo from this year; the 2007 Barolos will be released in a year.)
2006 – This is an old fashioned vintage with deep concentration, firm tannins and a tight style, demanding patience from the consumer. Depending on your viewpoint, you may love this vintage or you may be puzzled by it. I certainly think that Barolo and Barbaresco lovers who have been drinking these wines for a long time will be more of a fan than consumers who try these wines on an occasional basis; those individuals will no doubt prefer the approachability of the 2007s. The finest Barolos from 2006 will be at their best in 20-25 years. Excellent to Outstanding
2005 – A charming vintage with good concentration and freshness as well as finely tuned acidity. Given the intensity of recent vintages such as 2004, 2006 and 2007, this vintage may seem a bit light on the palate; indeed the wines as a rule are not as deeply concentrated as those years. However, these are beautifully balanced wines and offer very good varietal character. Look for optimum drinking for 2005 Barbarescos to be in 5-7 years, while the finest Barolos will be at their best in 10-12 years. Very Good to Excellent
2004 – Gorgeous wines with everything you’d want in these bottlings – deep concentration, beautiful aromatics, lively acidity and ideal structure for long-term aging. When I tasted these wines at first – the Barbarescos in early 2007, the Barolos in early 2008 – I was struck by the amazing perfumes. Rarely have I had wines that were as beautifully aromatic upon release as the 2004s. Yet as mentioned above, the wines will age wonderfully. Look for 20-25 years for the finest examples of 2004 Barbaresco and as long as 35-40 years for the top Barolos from 2004. Outstanding
2003 – Average at best. 2003 was a torridly hot year all throughout Italy, so for the Nebbiolo-based wines here, the acidity levels are lower than usual, meaning the wines will not age well. As these wines are all about aging, that makes this vintage less than successful. The wines have big weight on the palate, but in this year, that translates to a heaviness and lack of elegance. Poor to below average
2002 – Hailstorms throughout much of the Barolo zone were the story here, especially in La Morra. This reduced the crop as well as causing berry shatter, so the wines are quite light. Producers in communes that escaped the hail, such as Verduno, did produce some stylish and complex wines, but for the most part, this is a disappointing vintage. It’s doubtful you’d even find any 2002 Barbarescos or Barolos on retail shelves or restaurant wine lists these days, but if you do, they’re not as bad as advertised. At least these wines have elegance and good levels of acidity, unlike those from 2003. The wines should be consumed now or over the next 3-5 years. Below average
2001- A stellar vintage with excellent to outstanding concentration, beautifully defined acidity and wonderful expression of terroir. Every district in Barbaresco and Barolo performed brilliantly. Look for these wines to peak in another 12-20 years. Truly one of the most successful vintages of the past twenty years. Outstanding
2000- Despite one or two early proclamations that this was an amazing year, 2000 turned out to be an average vintage. This was a hot year (not as hot as 2003, but quite warm), meaning the wines had ripeness without the proper acidity. The wines were forward with round tannins, prompting the early raves, but in reality, these are nice wines that lack intensity as well as the structure for long aging. While a few of the best wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, most are ready to go now, and as this is only 10 years out, that certainly doesn’t equate to a great – or even excellent – vintage for these wines. Average
1999 – Another stellar year, the top Barbarescos and Barolos from 1999 offer excellent concentration, firm tannins and ideal acidity (one Barolo producer told me that in his opinion, the 1999s offer the best levels of acidity for Barolo in the last decade). While a few of these wines are drinking well now, the finest will offer another 12-20 years of pleasure. A great, great vintage. Outstanding
1998 – A vastly underrated vintage, 1998 had the bad luck to be sandwiched in between 1997 (a vintage that has been overrated) and the stellar 1999. 1998 offers everything you want in a textbook Barolo or Barbaresco – beautiful concentration, firm tannins and precise acidity. In fact, it is the acidity of these wines that in my opinion carry these wines, keeping a wonderful freshness and elegance to these wines. This is not the most deeply concentated vintage of the past decade (1999, 2001 and 2004 resulted in much more powerful wines), but there is admirable depth of fruit and great balance and finesse. Most of the finest bottlings of Barbaresco as well as many Barolo from 1998 are drinking beautifully now, while a few of the top Barolos will offer another 7-10 years of pleasure. Excellent
Text ©Tom Hyland, 2010
If you would like to read more of my thoughts on Barbaresco and Barolo, see:
I’ve just returned from Piemonte, tasting new releases of Barbaresco (2007) and Barolo (2006). I briefly wrote about these wines on my other blog (read here and here). Now I would like to go into a bit more depth on Piemontese reds in general.
The Langhe area of southern Piemonte where the Barolo and Barbaresco zones are located, has been on a bit of a roll as of late. After the rainy 2002 vintage and the torridly hot 2003 growing season, which resulted in wines that were powerful, yet poorly balanced, the weather has cooperated. 2004 was a glorious year, producing wines of superb aromatics along with impressive weight. While 2005 was a lighter vintage, the wines are beautifully balanced with precise acidity and are drinking well. 2006 was a big year – this is a vintage where the wines need plenty of time – and 2007 was a relatively warm year that resulted in ripe, forward wines that are very enjoyable in their youth. The 2007 reds – at least what I have tasted so far (dozens of Barbaresco along with a handful of Barolo from cask) are notable wines, though probably not meant for the long haul, especially when compared to 2006.
Then there are the vintages of 2008 and 2009. You will be reading a great deal about the quality of 2009 in Piemonte (as well as the rest of Italy). It was a warm year, producing rich wines with impressive concentration; based on what I’ve tried so far with the whites as well as some reds from tank and cask, it definitely has the potential to be an outstanding vintage. That means that 2008 will likely be lost in the shuffle, as this was a cooler year that yielded less weighty wines.
However, 2008 is an excellent vintage – don’t let the hype fool you. While the wines may be less robust than those from 2009, they do offer beautiful varietal character and, most importantly, excellent acidity, which means the wines will age gracefully.
In fact, when it comes to Barolo and Barbaresco – both made exclusively from Nebbiolo – 2008 may be the better year. Danilo Drocco, winemaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone, told me that he believes 2008 will be the better of the two years for Nebbiolo-based wines. “I prefer 2008 for Nebbiolo,” Drocco related. “2008 was a long, cool growing season while 2009 was a shorter, hotter year. 2009 will be better for Barbera and Dolcetto, but it was not great for Nebbiolo.” Dante Scaglione, former winemaker at Bruno Giacosa and now consulting enologist for several projects including Cascina Roccalini in Barbaresco, told me that he agrees with Drocco about Nebbiolo for 2008.
Vintage assessments are always fascinating, but it’s also important to think about the style of the red wines made in Piemonte. From what I tasted during my recent trip, it was clearly noticeable that oak is becoming more of supporting player in the wine, as it should have been all along. Barolo went through its stage of high percentage, new barrique aging during the 1990s and early 2000s, but now the tide is turning back to larger barrels and thus, less wood influence. Another promising trend is that here are more and more cellars fermenting and/or aging their wines for a short time in cement tanks. Franco Massolino in Serralunga prefers fermenting his Barolo in cement, as “this helps preserve the aromas.” How nice that producers such as Massolino, Giovanni Rosso, Elio Grasso, Marcarini, Bartolo Mascarello and others are producing wine with the goal of emphasizing the flavors of the Nebbiolo variety as well as focusing on terroir to produce a wine with a sense of place.
There are so many wonderful reds that will be released over the next 3-4 years from Piemonte and while things look good in the short term of this span, it’s especially nice that tradition will play a more important role in this area for years to come.
“In my opinion, the 2005 Barolos are the best balanced of the last decade.” - Sergio Germano, winemaker, Ettore Germano estate, Serralunga d’Alba
Each year, I am invited to taste the new vintage of Barolo at a series of special press tastings in the city of Alba, only a few miles from the vineyards of these famous wines. Last May, I tasted over 100 examples of Barolo from the 2005 vintage and while I liked the wines overall, I was not that excited. I gave the vintage a rating of three stars – very good – and thought that while some of the wines were nicely concentrated, others lacked fruit. In other words, a mixed bag.
A few months later, I saw the promising notices in a few of Italy’s top wine guides such as Gambero Rosso and Duemilavini (the guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers) regarding these wines. Each guide had given their highest rating to more than two dozen 2005 Barolos. My immediate reaction was that the staff of these guides had been too generous.
But after retasting some of the wines last Friday at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in Chicago, I have to admit that these publications were quite accurate. Any Barolo will improve after additional time in the bottle and now almost ten months after I first tasted the wines, they are rounding out nicely. The wines are now showing more expressive aromatics as well as more pronounced fruit on the palate and are indeed beauitfully balanced wines.
I think what happened was that 2005 followed a great vintage in 2004. That vintage combined remarkable aromatics and fruit that were evident immediately upon release. Combine excellent concentration along with ideal acidity and you had a recipe for greatness.
Wines like this don’t come along too often (otherwise the word “great” to describe a vintage would be relatively meaningless) and sure enough 2005 was a year that gave us wines that were not as immediately impressive as those from 2004. Call these wines shy, if you will, but they did not show as well upon release as did the 2004s.
Now I am reevaluating my thoughts on the 2005 Barolos. Here are a few thoughts on a few of my favorites:
Dried cherry and caraway aromas, medium-full with stylish tannins. A classy wine with pleasing herbal notes from this ultraconsistent, traditional producer. Best in 12-15 years.
Ettore Germano Prapo’
Gorgeous orange peel and marmalade aromas; elegantly syled tannins and beautiful acidity. Round, complex and complete, this is a silky, graceful wine. Best in 10-15 years. I also like the Germano Ceretta, which is a more powerful wine; however the Prapo’ gets my vote as the top Barolo from this producer.
Vajra Bricco delle Viole
This Barolo is from a small vineyard just above and outside the town of Barolo and means “hill of violets.” That is an apt descriptor for this fragrant wine which is as supple and as elegantly styled as you could want from a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape. Perfect acidity, bright fruit and ultra fine tannins. The finish goes on forever. Best in 12-15 years.
Luca Currado at Vietti has been producing remarkable wines from this great Serralunga site for the past decade and has made this one of the winery’s best bottlings, an impressive feat considering that Currado also produces a Barolo from Brunate and Rocche. Deeply concentrated with firm, balanced tannins, this has the stuffing to age well for at least 12-15 years, perhaps longer.
Bruno Giacosa Le Rocche di Serralunga
No surprise here, as this is a huge wine with great fruit depth and typical Serralunga structure, meaning this will need many years in the bottle before its greatest complexities emerge. Big spice in the nose and on the palate with youthful, firm, but nicely integrated tannins, this will offer pleasure for at least two decades more.
Here is another of my Top 100 producers in Italy.
One of the seminal producers of Barolo is the Cavallotto family of Castiglione Falletto. Established in 1948 by Olivio Cavallotto, the operations are run today by his offspring, siblings Alfio, Giuseppe and Laura, who continue to make wines that are shining examples of terroir.
The key to their wines – as with any producer – emerges from the vineyards and the Cavallotto family’s prized site is Bricco Boschis, which sits on a hillside in Castglione Falletto, overlooking much of the Barolo zone. Several red wines are produced from this vineyard, including Grignolino, Freisa and Barbera, but the various offerings of Barolo offer the best evidence of the superior quailty of this vineyard.
Each year a regular bottling of Bricco Boschis Barolo is bottled, while in the finest vintages, a Riserva bottling, labeled Vigna San Giuseppe, is produced. Both of these Barolos, as well as the Riserva bottling from the adjacent Vignolo vineyard are excellent examples of wines that perfectly display their terroir.
A principal reason for this is the decision to only use grandi botti for aging the wines, which allows the fruit to shine through with minimal wood influence. Combine this traditional way of winemaking along with low yields on immaculately farmed sites and you have a recipe for greatness. Even a humble Piemontese red such as Grignolino is an unqualified success, as the Cavallotto bottling offers more depth of fruit and greater complexity than almost any other example of this variety.
But the Barolos from Bricco Boschis are what truly define Cavallotto as one of the greatest producers in Italy. Offering gorgeous cherry and raspberry fruit along with hints of nutmeg and cedar, the wines are quite full in the mouth; elegantly crafted tannins and pinpoint acidity give the wines a remarkable silkiness. The regular bottling of Bricco Boschis Barolo is always striking, while the Vigna San Giuseppe is even better; more deeply concentrated and structured for 20-25 years of cellaring – and in some vintages, such as the glorious 2001 – perhaps as long as 30 or 40 years. This is one of the great bottlings of Barolo and you owe it to yourself to try at least one vintage of this wine to understand what classic Barolo is all about!
One final note about these wines is that they are ideal for food. The family does not make wines to garner high ratings or please the market; rather they make wines that are perfect representations of their site. I have tasted Cavallotto Barolo with any number of dishes, be it roast duck, braised rabbit or even river trout and have been mesmerized by how well the wine works with each food. Given that the Piemontese are idealists when it comes to pairing their wines with the local cuisine, this is about as high a praise I can offer!
The best wines of Cavallotto include:
- Grignolino (Piemonte DOC)
- Dolcetto d’Alba “Vigna Scot”
- Barbera d’Alba “Bricco Boschis – Vigna Cucolo”
- Langhe Nebbiolo “Bricco Boschis”
- Barolo “Bricco Boschis”
- Barolo “Bricco Boschis – Vigna San Giuseppe” Riserva
- Barolo “Vignolo” Riserva