Posts tagged ‘danilo drocco’

Barolo- che preferisci?

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

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

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

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

Bottles of Aldo Conterno Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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

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

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

Gianni Voerzio, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2011 at 12:43 pm 4 comments

New Reds from Piemonte – Maintaining Heritage

Vineyards below the town of La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

Franco Massolino, Az. Agr. Massolino, Serralunga (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

May 25, 2010 at 9:12 am 1 comment

Fontanafredda – Top 100

Here is another entry in my Top 100 Italian wine producers.

Fontanafredda Estate, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Fontanafredda is a remakable story of a very good producer that has become a great one in just over a decade. Owning choice vineyards may help, but it’s the people behind the scene that have elevated Fontanafredda to such heights.

Located in Serralunga d’Alba, one of the most typical of all communes in the Barolo zone, Fontanafredda is one of the area’s most beautiful wine estates, as the La Rosa vineyard (planted to Nebbiolo) is set in a beautiful ampitheater that is a focal point for lovely grounds that were once home to Emmanuele Vittorio ll, the King of Italy.

Fontanafredda owns the largest number of acreage of Nebbiolo reserved for production of Barolo, but quantity of course, does not always insure quality. For decades, the Barolos (and other wines) of Fontanafredda were always good and sometimes very good, but rarely special.

Then a few individuals saw to it that this estate would change. Giovanni Minetti, a former journalist, took over as general manager during the late 1990s and with the help of the Bank of Siena (Monte del Paschi) that owned the company, decided to upgrade equipment in the cellars as well as planting regimes in the vineyards. He then hired Danilo Drocco as winemaker in 1998, after a long stint at Prunotto, where he produced lovely examples of Barolo and Barbera for years. Drocco finished the 1998 Barolos, which received praise from wine writers throoughout Italy, with the 1998 La Rosa Barolo, receiving the coveted Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso, a first for the winery.

Danilo Drocco, Fontanafredda Winemaker (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Today, Drocco produces several cru Barolos as well as a Serralunga bottling, from vineyards owned by the winery as well as from fruit purchased from local growers. The two cru bottlings from Serralunga offer great insight into Drocco’s winemaking skills. For both the La Rosa and the Lazzarito, Drocco ages the wine in barriques for approximately one year and then swtiches the wine to large oak casks (grandi botti) after that. This blending of modern and traditional winemaking methods has its purpose, as Drocco believes the color of Barolo is preserved in the small barrels, while the large caks insure that the wines do not have too high a level of tannins or wood influence from the small barrels. “A little oak is fine for Barolo, but not too much,” Drocco explains.

Both wines are first-rate and are fine examples of local Serralunga terroir. The La Rosa is a more approachable bottling upon release and offers more floral aromatics, while the Lazzarito (La Delizia) bottling is more tannic and is released almost one year later than the La Rosa. Danilo explains this; “As Lazzarito is located at a higher elevation than La Rosa (1300 feet versus 820), the temperatures at night are cooler, which means Lazzarito needs another 7-10 days for proper grape maturity as compared with La Rosa. This extra hangtime also builds up a greater degree of tannins.” While both wines have been exceptional since Drocco took over with the 1998 vintage, the Lazzarito has definitely been the more deeply concentrated wine and the one offers the promise of longer aging potential. The 1998 is drinking beautifully now, while the 1999, 2001 and 2004 are wines that should peak in another 15-25 years.

In 2008, Oscar Farinetti, head of the cutting edge retail store Eataly, located in Torino, became majority share holder of Fontanafredda (the Bank of Siena has maintained a significant percentage of ownership), leading to a new era for the winery. New value-oriented wines, such as Briccotondo (Barbera Piemonte) and Terremora, a Langhe Dolcetto have been introduced. Improvements continue in many aspects of the company and today, the full potential of this estate is being fulfilled.

Drocco, always looking to improve his wines, has become one of Barolo’s most dedicated winemakers and stresses that his wines need to emerge in the bottle instead of being too obvious and forward upon release. “They should be like the great Burgundies that give to you sensations little by little.”

The best wines of Fontanafredda include:

WHITES

  • Roero Arneis “Pradalupo”
  • Gavi
  • Moscato d’Asti “Montecucco”

SPARKLING

  • Asti “Galarej”
  • Contesa Rosa Brut

RED

  • Barolo “La Villa”
  • Barolo “La Rosa”
  • Barolo “Lazzarito La Delizia”
  • Barbaresco “Coste Rubin”
  • Nebbiolo d’Alba “Marne Brune”
  • Diano d’Alba “La Lepre”
  • Barbera d’Alba “Papagena”

November 30, 2009 at 11:49 am Leave a comment


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