Posts tagged ‘ceretto’

2011 Barbaresco

 

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Vineyards below the town of Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Once again in mid-May, I was invited to Nebbiolo Prima, an event held in the town of Alba in southern Piemonte to sample soon-to-be-released examples of the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero Rosso. This anteprima (preview) tasting is reserved for about 70 journalists from around the world, who are able to taste these wines before their release in the market and write about them for the public.

Of course, Barolo is always the featured attraction and how could it be otherwise for a product known as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”? Add to that the fact that this year’s tasting focused on the 2010 Barolos, wines that have already been labeled as classic. So Barbaresco, which always has to take a back seat to Barolo, was treated with even less than the usual attention this year, given that 2011 was a warm year, which can often lead to wines that are a bit heavy, alcoholic and tannic – in other words, wines that lack finesse.

My reviews of 2010 Barolos will appear soon, but for today’s post, I’m going to deal with the newest releases of Barbaresco. As I mentioned above, 2011 was a warm growing season: Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose, an outstanding traditional producer at the Rio Sordo sector in the commune of Barbaresco compares 2011 in that respect to 2009. She adds that this is a year that will show “the skills of the producers regarding their work in the vineyards,” as she notes that it was critical to not take away too many leaves from the plant, so as to shield the grapes from too much sun. Her summary of the 2011 Barbarescos: “good acidity and structure, very fine and silky tannins – the wines will show even better with a few months’ time.”

After tasting several dozen examples of 2011 Barbaresco, I agree with Rizzolio in prinicipal. I found some lovely wines with round tannins and beautiful ripeness and overall balance. Many of these wines were from the commune of Barbaresco, which is in keeping with my usual tastes. The producers here seem to be able to craft a wine that communicates Barbaresco; that is a 100 % Nebbiolo that is not trying to be a Barolo – or worse yet, some sort of modern, dare I say, international wine with too much flashy oak. Examples of the best producers here include the impeccable Produttori del BarbarescoAlbino RoccaMarchesi di Gresy and the aforementioned Cascina delle Rose.

Barbaresco is also produced in two other communes, namely Treiso and Neive (there is also a very small part of Alba where Barbaresco can be made, but this is a tiny percentage of these wines). I’ve tended to favor wines from Treiso over Neive, if only for the fact that the wines from Neive are often over oaked. Not all of course – Pasquale Pelissero and Giuseppe Negro are two producers who beautifully integrate wood into their wines, but there are just too many oaky Barbarescos from Neive in any given year for my tastes.

So on to my favorites. My top wine was a wine that I can’t say was a pleasant surprise, as this producer has been making beautiful wine from this vineyard for some time now; it’s just that the Ceretto “Asili” from the highly-regarded cru in Barbaresco has rarely been so elegant and traditional at the same time. Winemaker Alessandro Ceretto has been taking small steps year by year with all his wines, resulting in more elegant and complete bottlings. This has a beautiful pale garnet color with aromas of dried cherry, dried roses and cedar, is medium-full on the palate and offers a lengthy finish with very fine tannins. What a beautiful example of richness and finesse at the same time. This is as traditional a bottling of this wine as I’ve had – I admit to being a lover of traditional wines – but it’s more than that, it’s a wine that is terroir driven as well as being ideally structured for peak enjoyment in 12-15 years- perhaps longer. In an email, Ceretto told me “I’m excited about the quality achieved with my wines these past few vintages.” He should be and wine lovers should be as well!

Other highly recommended 2011 Barbarescos for me included the Produttori del Barbaresco; Giuseppe Negro “Gallina” (from Neive); Albino Rocca “Ronchi” (Barbaresco); Cascina delle Rose “Tre Stelle” (Barbaresco); Prunotto and Francesco Rinaldi.

No big surprises there, especially with the Produttori bottling. This cooperative producer is a reference point for Barbaresco, both in terms of quality – they have contracts with several dozen growers in the Barbaresco commune that represent some of the area’s finest sites, such as Asili, Rio Sordo, Pora and Montestefano – as well as consistency. Try a bottle of this producer’s Barbaresco – be it the classic bottling or one of the special cru (this year the 2009 crus are being released) – and you will taste the essence of Barbaresco, one where Nebbiolo fruit – and not oak – is the dominant feature. The 2011 offers beautiful balsamic and orange peel aromas, perfect ripeness and lovely varietal purity; this will be at its best in 10-12 years. Congratulations to general manager Aldo Vacca on such a superb track record of producing such classic examples of Barbaresco!

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It was very much a pleasure- as well as a bit of a pleasant surprise – to see that one of my favorite 2011 Barbarescos was from Francesco Rinaldi (the wines are tasted blind, so we have no idea which wine is which when we sample each bottle). I’m always impressed with the wines from this estate and it seems they have the Midas touch with everything, even with Gavi, which they recently started producing, but I must admit to rarely considering this producer about Barbaresco; I say that as their Barolos are so sublime! But this Barbaresco, from a vineyard in Neive, is exemplary with its delicious cherry fruit, very good acidity, beautifully balanced tannins and excellent persistence. Once again, the house style of Francesco Rinaldi shines through, as this is an ultra traditional wine aged for two years in large Slavonian oak casks for two years; you can barely sense any wood notes. I estimate peak for this wine at 15- 20 years – this was one of the richest examples of 2011 Barbaresco I tasted at this event. This is an exquisite wine – don’t miss it!

Space is always limited with these posts, so briefly, here are a few other notable releases of 2011 Barbaresco: Michele Chiarlo “Asili”Poderi Colla “Roncaglie” (Barbaresco); Ugo Lequio “Gallina” (Neive); Socré “Roncaglie”Angelo Negro “Cascinotta” (Neive) and Castello di Verduno. From a warm growing season that could have been problematical, it is nice to experience so many distinguished wines!

May 23, 2014 at 8:45 am 4 comments

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.

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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

The Brilliance of Barolo – An Unforgettable Dinner

1961 Fontanafredda Barolo

On Tuesday night in Chicago, on a day where the high temperature reached a tick or two above 100 degrees, I hosted a Barolo dinner at Vivere Restaurant at The Italian Village. The fact that the dinner was sold out is not only testimony of the passion of the wonderful people who attended, but also primary evidence of the everlasting allure of Barolo. This would turn out to be a magnificent evening!

The dinner featured ten different Barolos from my own cellar; these were wines I had brought back from my frequent trips to the Barolo zone over the past decade. Wine director Ian Louisignau and I whittled down my original list of 15 wines to ten, focusing primarily on vintage comparisons, as we would have two Barolos from vintages such as 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004 and 2001 and then finish with one from 1996 and finally a 1961. Each of these vintages was excellent, some outstanding and one (1961), legendary.

I mentioned to the group that what made Barolo so special for me is its uniqueness. We can taste a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to a classified growth from Bordeaux. We can sample a Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey or from Central Otago in New Zealand and note the similarities or differences to a Burgundy from the Cote d’Or. But we can’t do that with Barolo, unless we were to compare it with Barbaresco, another great 100% Nebbiolo wine produced not far away. Barolo then, is its own reference point and the finest examples reflect both a singular varietal identity as well a particular sense of place.

Detail of Lazzarito Vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba, with snow-capped Alps in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The notion of terroir is an important aspect for understanding Barolo. There are two major soil types found throughout the eleven communes that comprise the Barolo zone and knowing what these soils are and where they are found can help one learn about a sense of place with these wines. The older soils, known as Helvetian, are found in Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, while the younger soils, known as Tortonian, are found in communes such as La Morra, Verduno and Novello. As the older soils are thinner, the resulting wines have firmer, more intense tannins as compared with wines from the younger soils, which have more pronounced floral aromatics. Thus a wine from La Morra with younger soils is generally a more approachable Barolo upon release in comparison to one from Monforte or Serralunga, where the heavy duty tannins (in most years) mandate several years of aging before the wine starts to settle down.

This contrast was clear in the first pair of wines, both from 2008: the Ceretto “Brunate” and the Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera.” The Ceretto, from one of the most highly regarded crus in all of Barolo, is a lovely wine with beautiful fresh cherry perfumes and flavors and elegantly styled tannins, while the Grasso from a site on this family’s own estate in Monforte, was more tightly wound with a stronger backbone and firmer tannins. Both wines are beautifully made and perfectly illustrate the terroir of Barolo. Each wine should peak in 12-20 years, with the Grasso probably going a few years beyond that.

Before I move on to the next wines, I want to talk about the meal at Vivere. I have dined here more than a dozen times, always knowing I would enjoy a first-rate meal. What was great about the special menu for this Barolo dinner was that Chef Robert Reynaud assembled a menu as you would find in a trattoria or osteria in the Barolo area; this was not just any old meal put together at the last minute. A lot of thought went into this, as we enjoyed vitello tonnato with caper berry for the first two wines, tajarin with albese sauce with the next two wines, risotto al Barolo with figs with the third pairing of wines, hazelnut crusted ribeye with fontina fonduta with the 2001 Barolos and finally a selection of Piemontese cheeses with the 1996 and 1961 Barolos. Eveything was excellent, with much great praise for the outstanding risotto dish. How wonderful to show off these wines with great Piemontese cuisine!

The next wines were from 2007, the Elvio Cogno “Ravera” from Novello and the Attilio Ghoslfi “Brunate Bricco Visette” from Monforte. These wines displayed not only differences as far as terroir, but also in winemaking philosophy, as the Cogno is a traditional wine, quite lovely with a sensual edge, while the Ghisolfi is aged in barriques; indeed there was more evident oak with this wine, yet there was also very impressive depth of fruit. I enjoyed both wines, but gave the edge to the Cogno, especially as this wine displayed better overall balance as well as finesse.

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate

Next came the 2004 Barolos. As I prepared my notes for this dinner, I took a look at my text about this vintage, which I wrote in the summer of 2008, when these wines were released. I asked if 2004 was the finest Barolo vintage of the last fifteen years and while 1996, 1999 and 2001 were all great vintages, I mentioned that “I’d never had such a collection of Barolos that were this good this young.”

The wines we tasted from 2004 were the Barale Fratelli “Canubi” and the Roberto Voerzio “Brunate”; this pairing an excellent contrast in style as well as weight. The Barale was a medium-full wine with lovely plum fruit that seemed a bit simple at first, but became more complex as it sat in the glass. The Voerzio was a powerhouse wine that offered tremendous depth of fruit, as well as having a great backbone. Voerzio, who uses barriques for his Barolo, has stated that after six to eight years in the bottle, the sensation of the smaller oak vessels fades and you’re not able to tell the difference between small or large oak barrel-aged wines. This did still have a touch of new oak sensation in the nose, but it was slight and not obtrusive; meanwhile the nose was still a bit closed, with hints of cherry and currant fruit emerging. But given the structure and impressive complexity, this is clearly a superb wine, one that can aged for another 25-30 years, when it will truly become great.

The next two wines were from 2001, a great vintage that produced powerful wines with excellent depth of fruit and firm tannins. The Vietti “Brunate” was a superior effort, especially in its elegance and polish; this was a wine that spoke of its origins with its gorgeous aromas of plum, cherry and roses. There are medium-weight, ultra smooth tannins and precise acidity. This is a wine of great finesse that a few of the diners thought was the wine of the evening (at least to that point, see the notes on the 1961 Fontanafredda below).

The other 2001 was the Fontanafredda “Lazzarito”; this a favorite Barolo of mine for many years. Medium-full, this offered power and impressive structure with firm, balanced tannins. This was not as supple as the Vietti, but again, consider terroir in this instance, as this is from a superb site in Serralunga d’Alba that results in wines of very rich tannins, so rich that the winery releases this wine almost a year after their other offerings of Barolo from the same vintage. What I loved about this wine was not only the balance, but also the freshness. This is a wine that should peak in another 15-20 years. 2001 was a great vintage and these two wines were memorable proof of that!

Our last two wines were from stellar vintages. The 1996 Poderi Colla “Dardi Le Rose Bussia” is a stunning wine with intense aromas, a powerful mid-palate and still youthful tannins and a finish with outstanding persistence. 1996 was a great, great year, a vintage that was a classic for Barolo, yielding wines that were truly Piemontese in style – that is, tightly wound and not as immediately approachable as international years such as 1997, 2000 or 2007. This Colla offering from Monforte d’Alba is a great wine now and one that will only improve for another 25-40 years. It’s that special.

Finally we came around to the wine everyone was waiting for, the 1961 Fontanafredda. While this was not a cru Barolo in the technical sense – single vineyard Barolos were not common until the late 1970 and early 1980s – this was a wine of exceptional breeding, sourced from the winery’s finest vineyards. 1961 was not just a great year for Barolo, it was a monumental year – Renato Ratti in his rating of Barolo vintages called it “majestic” at the time – and without doubt one of the ten finest vintages of the 20th century. What made this growing season so special was the notable warmth in the summer, as temperatures approached 100 degrees F. While this has been happening more often during the past fifteen years due to climate change, such hot temperatures were not normal back then. Combine that with the traditional winemaking style throughout Barolo at that time where wines were rather closed and a bit backwards upon release, and you have the makings of a wine that would improve slowly over the course of its life, a time span that would last for at least four or five decades.

Well, here we were, 51 years later and the wine was stunning! I had acquired the one and only bottle I had of this wine at the winery some five or six years ago. I placed the wine immediately in my cellar upon returning home and had only moved it twice in five years: once, a few months ago as I was planning this dinner to see if the wine was still in good condition (it was, as the fill was excellent) and once, last week, when I took all the wines to the restaurant to let them rest for a week.

Wine Director Ian Louisignau waited until the last minute to open this wine and when he showed me the cork, I had a huge smile on my face, as the cork was in one piece and offered lovely aromas of fruit. The wine had the color of a five year old Barolo – deep garnet – not one that was 51 years old. The aromas were unbelievably fresh with notes of red cherry, tar and currant with some delicate spice and the mid-palate was quite generous and well developed. The tannins were still quite evident and unbelievably polished and the finish, as graceful as one could imagine, seemed to go on forever. This was a wine I had kept for years for just this occasion and it not only met my lofty expectations, it exceeded them (and I believe everyone else’s, judging from the comments I heard.) I would wager a guess that this wine has at least 12-15 years of life ahead of it- perhaps longer.

Tasting a wine such as this lets you know that great bottles of Barolo have been produced for fifty years and more; great Barolo – indeed, great Italian wine – did not start in the 1970s, despite what certain wine publications may tell us. My how the farmers and winemakers throughout Barolo knew what they were doing back in 1961 and that era! My final thoughts on the 1961 Fontanafredda Barolo are these: I have tasted several thousand bottles of Barolo over the past decade; simply put, this was one of the three or four best examples I have ever experienced.

I touched the tip of the iceberg of my Barolo collection for this and I hope to organize another dinner such as this in the near future. Here’s hoping that next one comes close to the wonderful experience this one offered!

P.S. One final shout out to everyone at Vivere for their help, from manager Fred Ashtari for his organizational skills to Chef Reynaud for his superb menu, to our excellent waiter Ryan and of course, for all of his work, wine director Ian Louisignau. He decanted most of the wines about 90 minutes ahead of time and even more importantly, served them at the proper temperature. He also served various shapes ands sizes of stemware, which made it easy for all of us to remember which wine was which. Having great wines is one thing, but if they’re not treated properly, something is lost in the translation. Thanks, Ian, for your help and professional service!

July 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm 6 comments

2007 Barolo – Initial Thoughts on an impressive vintage

Paolo Manzone (with his wife Luisella) produced one of the top Barolos of 2007 (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

Vineyards at Verduno (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.


Detail of Sorano Vineyard of Ascheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

May 17, 2011 at 7:11 am Leave a comment

Tre Bicchieri Winners

Just announced are the 2011 Tre Bicchieri winners, the top rated Italian wines of the past year, as judged by the editors and tasters of Gambero Rosso, that country’s most famous wine publication. Here is the link

As always, lists such as this will be debated and my list will be different in some cases than that of Gambero Rosso (and so will just about every Italian wine lover’s). But it’s certainly an excellent list and one that highlights every region in Italy, so good for them!

Rather than bring up wines that I thought should have made the list, I want to focus briefly on a few wines I am most excited to see receive the award (an honor that carries a great deal of weight in Italy as well as some influence in America). To start with, I am excited that my friend Davide Rosso has finally been awarded a Tre Bicchieri: this is for the Giovanni Rosso 2006 Barolo Ceretta. This is good news for three reasons: first, Rosso has been crafting some beautiful Barolos from Serralunga vineyards for several years now, so this award may finally give him some overdue attention. Secondly, Gambero Rosso is in total agreement on this wine with me – I rated this wine as one of the top 10 Barolos from 2006 that I have tasted to date (out of 125) – so I guess great minds think alike! Third, taste this wine and see if you don’t agree with me that this is an sublime Barolo that is floral with appealing fruit and elegant tannins. 2006 was an old-fashioned vintage with deep concentration and big tannins, so the wines will age for quite some time, but this wine is going to be more drinkable over the short term than most of its competitors. By the way, this is a traditionally aged Barolo in botti grandi – it is a gorgeous traditional Barolo. Complimenti, Davide!

Davide Rosso, Az. Agr. Giovanni Rosso (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Gambero Rosso also agrees with me on several other 2006 Barolos, most notably the Ceretto Bricco Rocche, Vietti Rocche and the Renato Ratti Rocche (note: the Rocche vineyard of Ratti is located in La Morra, while the Rocche of the other two wineries is in Castiglione Falletto.) These are superb wines with impressive concentration and structure; expect them to be at their best in 20-plus years. It is also nice to see Gambero give their highest award to the 2006 Ascheri Barolo Sorano Coste e Bricco; this is an elegant, polished Barolo that is only produced in the finest vintages and one I’ve loved for some time now. I didn’t have the 2006 rendering of this wine rated as high as previous vintages (such as 2004), but no mind, I have it rated as excellent and it’s nice to see Matteo Ascheri receive this honor.

Briefly, I think GR missed the boat on a few bottlings of 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, but I am pleased to see that they did honor the Canalicchio di Sopra and Caprili, two excellent estates that make their wine in a traditional style. I’m also pleased to see the 2004 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino Ugolaia get the award; this winery just keeps improving year after year.

Other wines I’m delighted to note received a Tre Bicchieri:

  • Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino 2008
  • Inama Soave Classico Foscarino 2008
  • Agostino Vicentini Soave Superiore Il Casale 2009
  • Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2006
  • Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio 2006
  • Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva 2007
  • Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino Pietracalda 2009
  • Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino Villa di Congregazione 2008
  • Mastroberardino Taurasi 2006 and Taurasi Riserva 2004

Of course, there are many other wines that I’d like to salute, but can’t list, given space limitations. But let me note one final wine, one you wouldn’t think would get the same honor as a wine such as Sassicaia or Ornellaia. The wine is the 2009 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Vermentino Nera, a rosé from this exemplary estate in Liguria. What’s that you say, a rosé from Liguria being rated as one of the year’s best Italian wines? Well it’s true and in my mind, it deserves the award. I tasted this wine at VinItaly this past April and loved the wine and reported about it in a previous post.

Including a Ligurian rosé is an excellent decision by Gambero Rosso and proof of the tremendous variety  and outstanding quality of Italian wine being produced throughout the country today. Who says Italy only makes great red wines?

October 18, 2010 at 9:22 am 3 comments

Ceretto – Top 100

Another entry from my Top 100 Italian wine producers list:

Bottle of Ceretto Bricco Rocche Barolo with the town of Castiglione Falletto in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

When you think of the great producers of red wines from the Langhe, Ceretto certainly demands a spot at or near the top. Famous for their sublime bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco, this family-owned estate also crafts excellent bottlings of other reds, such as Barbera d’Alba and Nebbiolo d’Alba as well as charming whites such as Arneis and Moscato d’Asti.

Ceretto wines were first made in the 1930s by Riccardo Ceretto, but it was the efforts by his sons Bruno and Marcello that made this family’s wines famous. Winemaking improved under their watch, but it was their acquisition of several properties in Barbaresco and Barolo that enabled Ceretto to produce world-class wines.

Today, Marcello’s son Alessandro is the winemaker and has further evolved the winemaking discipline at Ceretto. One of his best traits is decision-making process with wood, as some wines are aged in large casks (botti grandi), while other wines spend some time in barrique. Recently, he has decided to age some of the Barolos in mid-size French barrels known as tonneaux, as he believes that barriques often dominate the fruit in these wines.

Alessandro Ceretto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are several Ceretto estates, the two most famous being in Barbaresco at the Bricco Asili cru while the other showcase estate is at the Bricco Rocche estate in Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Barolo zone. This estate is ultramodern and is perhaps best known for its iconic Cube, a structure designed by Luca and Marina de Abate of Torino. The setting for the Cube is a dramatic one, atop this beautiful vineyard, offering a panoramic view of virtually the entire Barolo zone.

The Cube at Bricco Rocche (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Every Ceretto wine is quite special; the finest include the Bricco Asili Barbaresco, the Prapò Barolo and the Bricco Roche Barolo. The Asili Barbaresco is a textbook example of this famous wine type, with haunting aromas of persimmon and balsamic; there is great concentration, as the vines are now 40 years old.

As for the Barolos, the Prapò is a classic represenation of Serralunga Barolo, with its rugged tannins and tightly packed fruit. As big a wine as this is, it is still more approchable upon release than the Bricco Rocche. The Rocche is deeply concentrated with firm tannins and ripe red cherry fruit and orange peel aromas; the acidity is always quite good (especially in 2004 and 2005) and the wine should be at peak in 15-20 years for a lighter vintage (such as 2005) or 25-40 years, as in a classic vintage such as 2004.

While these wines are aging, lovers of Ceretto Barbaresco and Barolo can enjoy other bottlings of these wines. The “Asij” Barbaresco is medium-bodied with beautiful cedar and caraway flavors and plenty of red cherry fruit, while the “Zonchera” Barolo is a beautiful blend of Nebbiolo fruit from the communes of Barolo and Serralunga; offering delightful cherry fruit and notable cedary qualities, this is a lighter Barolo that will drink at its best 5-10 years after the vintage.

Barolo and Barbaresco as a rule age as well as just about any red wine; certainly the robust tannins of the Nebbiolo grape has much to do with that. It’s been my experience that the finest Ceretto offerings from Asili, Prapò and Bricco Rocche are among the longest-lived wines of their type. In this age of buying wines and drinking them as soon as possible, it’s nice to know that a great Ceretto bottling will stand the test of time.

One final note – if you visit the Barolo zone, make sure you reserve some time to see the new visitor’s center at the Ceretto estate known as Monsordo, located on the outskirts of the town of Alba. Organized by Bruno’s daughter Roberta, it  was opened to the public last May and is one of the few places in Barolo where wine lovers can get a glimpse of a major winery’s history – past and present. Overlooking some of the family’s pristine hillside vineyards, this is a lovely spot to enjoy a glass of Barolo.

January 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

Barbaresco

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the great red wines of Piemonte made from the Nebbiolo grape. Included in that post were the two most famous reds of the Langhe, Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, I would like to go into greater detail about Barbaresco.

Vineyard on the outskirts of the town of Barbaresco 

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Produced entirely from Nebbiolo, Barbaresco originates from vineyards in three communes east of Alba: Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive as well as a small section of Alba itself known as San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. The wine must be aged for a minimum of two years with one of those in oak casks of any size. The wine is released after three years (the 2006 vintage of Barbaresco is the current one on the market in 2009), while a Barbaresco Riserva can be released four years after the vintage.

There are more than 60 geographical designations that can be named on a bottle of Barbaresco. Most of these are cru (vineyard) designations, which were most recently reorganized in 2008. Among the most famous cru designations in the Barbaresco zone are the following:

BARBARESCO

  • Asili
  • Ovello
  • Pajé
  • Rabaja
  • Pora
  • Montefico
  • Montestefano
  • Moccagatta

TREISO

  • Rombone
  • Valeirano
  • Cichin
  • Pajoré
  • Nervo
  • Fondetta
  • Bricco

NEIVE

  • Cotta
  • Curra
  • Sori Burdin (Bordini)
  • Basarin
  • Serraboella
  • Serracapelli

Asili Vineyard, Barbaresco

 

Soils throughout the area are generally Tortonian, which are the younger of the two predominant soil classifications in the Langhe; the other, older soil is from the Helvetian era. As the yonger soils are not as deep as the older ones, wines from these soils tend to be more approachable upon release and do not have as intense a tannic profile. This is one of the primary reasons why the wines of Barbaresco are more approachable than those from Barolo, as that zone is comprised of more Helvetian soils. 

As Barbaresco is a much smaller area than Barolo and has a shorter history, Barbaresco is not as well-known as its neighbor. Add in the fact that Barolos in general can age longer than Barbarescos and you have a situation where Barbaresco is usually thought of as a “lesser” wine than Barolo. This is quite unfortunate, as Barbaresco is a great wine in its own right.

Two Great Producers

While there are not as many famous producers of Barbaresco as compared to Barolo, there are two in particular that have done a tremendous job of elevating the image of Barbaresco. These two producers – Angelo Gaja and Produttori del Barbaresco – have a different approach to winemaking, but each in their own way have done tremendous work in the promotion of Barbaresco.

Angelo Gaja (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Gaja is the master salesman who makes wines from great sites and charges a good deal of money for his wines – if you want a bottle of Gaja wine, you have to pay for it. But what you get is a wonderful offering with great depth of fruit and a lovely expression of site. The wines offer tremendous complexity, are elegantly styled and age well. They are made in a modern style of winemaking (aged in small oak barrels), yet the wood rarely overwhelms the fruit.

For years, Gaja produced several bottlings of Barbaresco, from a normale to cru bottlings from Sori San Tilden and Sori San Lorenzo, but some years back, he changed the designation on these last two wines to Langhe Nebbiolo. This has alowed him to alter the wines in slight fashion – often these wines now contain a small percentage of Barbera, to increase the acidity of these wines. Thus Gaja now only produces one bottling of Barbaresco each vintage, while his most famous offerings are no longer known as Barbaresco. This has angered some of his fellow producers in this area, yet the truth remains that for many consumers, the name Gaja is the most recognized with Barbaresco.

Aldo Vacca, Produttori del Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for Produttori del Barbaresco, the message here is much more tied in with the land and not an individual; in fact, managing director and winemaker Aldo Vacca is about as far removed from Angelo Gaja as you can imagine. Reserved and insightful, Vacca produces wines that reflect the terroir of Barbaresco as well as any wines do. This is a cooperative producer with growers from several of the finest crus in the town of Barbaresco supplying their grapes. 

Each year, there is a regular bottling of Barbaresco from the Produttori and in the finest vintages, the cru botlings – nine in all – are produced. The wines vary in intensity with examples such as Pora and Ovello offering less concentration and tannins than those from Montefico and Montestefano, yet all beautifully express their site’s terroir. One of the principal reasons for this is the winemaking, as each wine is aged solely in large casks (botti grandi), which minimize wood influence while emphasizing the varietal character. These wines offer aromas of dried cherry, cedar, persimmon and orange peel which changes to a profile of balsamic as they age. Impeccably balanced, these are in my opinion, the most classic representation of Barbaresco and some of Italy’s greatest red wines.

There are of course, dozens of other excellent producers of Barbaresco. These include:

  • Bruno Giacosa
  • Ceretto
  • Fontanabianca
  • Ada Nada
  • Fiorenzo Nada
  • Marchesi di Gresy
  • Sottimano
  • La Ca Nova
  • La Spinetta
  • Moccagatta
  • Bruno Rocca
  • Rino Varaldo

The message then about Barbaresco is that it should be examined as a great wine in its own right instead of being constantly compared to Barolo. The 2007 bottlings of Barbaresco will be on the market in the fall of 2009 and these wines should offer exemplary proof of what a great wine Barbaresco truly is!

December 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

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