Posts tagged ‘fontanafredda’

Approachable 2010 Barolos

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Vineyards at Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone with the snow-covered Alps in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, penned an excellent column on October 17 about the 2010 Barolos. (read here). I almost don’t even have to use the word “excellent” for Asimov’s work, as he is a first-rate wine writer, not only a good journalist, but someone who can write about wine – famous or entry level- with equal focus; he writes intelligently and never talks down to the reader. We need more people like him.

In this article, he praises the 2010 Barolos; his panel of tasters sampled 20 wines, ranging from $43 retail up to $95 (the limit for this tasting was $100 retail). The tasting included such renowned Barolo producers such as Vietti, Renato Ratti, Giacomo Fenocchio and Elio Altare among others. Asimov and his team were generally pleased with the wines; he wrote that “2010 was an outstanding year for Barolo.” This statement is something I am in total agreement with; having sampled more than 125 this past May at a special tasting for journalists in the city of Alba in Piemonte, only a few miles from vineyards in the Barolo zone. You can read my post about these wines here.

Asimov and I agree on the quality of the 2010 Barolos. We also agree that the best examples will need time; this is true for any Barolo vintage, as Nebbiolo, the grape which is used exclusively in the production of this wine, has high levels of tannins. Barolo is just meant for enjoyment down the road in most instances; that may be five to seven years, it may be 10-20 years, the finest examples may even be at their best in 35-50 years. To me, the absolute best offerings of 2010 Barolo that I have sampled, such as Bartolo Mascarello, Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione, Umberto Fracassi and Francesco Rinaldi “Cannubi” will peak sometime between 30-35 years in my estimate (this is never an exact science, but after tasting several thousand Barolos for the past fifteen years in the production zone, I can start to make an honest prediction, based on experience).

So I agree with Asimov that the best of the 2010s need time. However, I disagree with him regarding one point. He writes that these wines “are not nearly ready for drinking.” He later writes in the same paragraph, “How will restaurants handle such a vintage?”, noting that most restaurants are not able to store Barolo for the years it will take for the wines to be approachable for service.

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However, if one were putting together a wine list with Barolo and did not select a 2010 Barolo, because they believed the wines would not be approachable now, would be doing somewhat of a disservice. In the post I wrote back in June, I singled out some examples of 2010 Barolos that can be enjoyed relatively soon; these include Batasiolo and Giovanni Viberti “Il Buon Padre”; other 2010 Barolos that are enjoyable now include Fontanafredda “Serralunga d’Alba” and the Poderi Ruggeri Corsini “Corsini Bussia”.

It’s important to note that all of the wines mentioned in the above paragraph will be better with time; Barolo shows greater complexity a few years after release (which is generally four years after the vintage). Some examples of Barolo drink well at 7-10 years of age; some of these will peak in 20 years. But while the most famous (and often the most expensive) examples of Barolo do need at least a decade to soften their youthful tannic grip and round out, the wines listed above can be enjoyed tonight, as the tannins are quite round and beautifully balanced.

So if a wine director at a restaurant wants to include 2010 Barolos on his or her list, go right ahead! This is the beauty of 2010, which is a classic Piemontese vintage – you will have Barolos that will drink well in 30-40 years, while you have some very fine examples that while nowhere near their peak, can be enjoyed tonight. Add to that the fact that virtually every producer in the zone crafted a noteworthy Barolo from 2010 and you have the rarest of all vintages – one in which you can’t go wrong!

Tom Hyland is the author of Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines (published in 2013)  and is currently writing a book titled The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, to be published in 2015.

October 23, 2014 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

Interview with Danilo Drocco

 

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Danilo Drocco, Winemaker, Fontanafredda, Serralunga d’Alba

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently interviewed Danilo Drocco, winemaker at the historic Fontanafredda estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone. Below is the initial text from the interview for wine-searcher.com

 

Where were you born?

I was born in the area, in a little village near Alba – Rodello is the name. It is a little south of Alba.

 

Did your family make wine?

My grandfather owned a little winery in Novello, but he died during the Second World War. So my grandmother had to sell the winery to my cousins because she could not manage it by herself. My father decided to move to Alba. I was born in 1965.

 

To continue reading, please see the article (here) at wine-searcher.com

August 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

Learning about Italian Wine and Food at Eataly

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Alex Pilas, Executive Chef, Eataly, New York City 

In mid-July, I was honored to co-teach an Italian wine and food class at Eataly in New York City with Dan Amatuzzi, wine educator for the store. The experience was great and I want to thank everyone at Eataly that assisted in this class.

That’s about all I want to write about myself, as this post is about learning about Italian wine and food the right way. At least that’s my opinion. What do I mean by the right way? I’m referring to enjoying a variety of Italian wines from numerous regions with traditional Italian foods.

Just look at the wines we tried in the class:  the special cuvée “Rabochon” (2005 vintage) from the Franciacorta producer Monte RossaVespa Bianco 2011 from Bastianich; Friulano 2007 “Vignecinquant’anni” from Le Vigne di ZamoMorellino di Scansano 2010 “Le Perazzi” from La MozzaDolcetto di Diano d’Alba “La Lepre” 2008  from Fonatanafredda and the Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 from Borgogno.

If you think this wasn’t the typical array of Italian wines you’re likely to taste at a class, you’re right. The wines were chosen for a few reasons, one being that they are all given a writeup in my recently published book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. In this book, I have endeavored to give the reader a portrait of the true Italian wine scene and not just coverage of the most famous wines from the country.

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So notice that there wasn’t a single example of Barolo, Brunello or Amarone, but rather wines that you might come across everyday in Italy. Combine that with some marvelous foods prepared by Eataly’s executive chef Alex Pilas  and you have a setting that in some ways brings Italy home. I told the students at the class that they were learning about Italian wine as the Italians do – in a relaxed setting, enjoying a glass of wine with local food.

Pesce crudo (raw fish) was served with the sparkling wine and the two whites; the acidity of these wines were an ideal match for the fish. Various styles of salumi (prosciutto di parma, soppressata) accompanied the Morellino di Scansano and the Dolcetto, while the final course was a mushroom ravioli that was paired with the Langhe Nebbiolo. I absolutely loved this match – and given the comments by the students, so did they – as the earthiness of the mushrooms were in tandem with the similar qualities of the Langhe Nebbiolo, which also happens to offer subtle notes of porcini in the aromas. You just don’t get a pairing that works as beautifully as that one did every day, so complimenti to chef Pilas!

Another note about the Borgogno Langhe Nebbiolo. I wanted to feature this offering, as this is the exact type of Italian wine that does not get the attention it deserves in the well-known consumer wine publications. Yet it is excellent and offers a sense of place – you can tell instantly that this is from Piemonte. What I love about this wine is that this is 100% Nebbiolo – the same as the much more expensive Barolo and has a lot in common with that more famous wine. Indeed, Borgogno produces this wine with Nebbiolo fruit sourced from five local vineyards that are also used by the produced for its various bottlings of Barolo. This is the type of Italian wine that everyone needs to know more about, not only because it displays lovely varietal purity and beautifully represents the land, but it is also a very reasonable alternative, pricewise, to Barolo. You’d be surprised how many of these wines exist in Italy, from Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba in Piemonte to Aglianico in Campania in the south.

Generally, Italian wine classes are often about what I call “trophy” wines; the bottles that are the longest-lived and most renowned wines from the country. I love them, but more often, I seek out the best examples of everyday wines crafted by producers throughout Italy. That’s something I think every wine lover should do, as this will be an exercise in tradition and heritage and not merely a search for the highest scores. The best wines of Italy are meant for consumption with food; they play up to the food and when it’s done right, the total is far more than the sum of the parts.

So I was thrilled to have this experience co-teaching this class to consumers who were eager to learn about pairing Italian wines and foods the right way. Oscar Farinetti, who created Eataly in Torino about a decade ago, as well as Lidia and Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali, co-proprietors of the New York Eataly, are creating an atmosphere of helping the consumer learn about the pleasures of Italian wine and food in a relaxing, no-nonsense way. Here’s to each of them for their work and here’s to their staff for involving me in this environment.

I can’t wait for Eataly to open up in Chicago later this year, where I hope to be part of more education about Italian wine and food!

August 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

Little-Known Italian Wine Surprises

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Numerous people have asked me how I selected the specific wines for my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. I think some of them want to know if these wines received a particular high rating or award in a certain wine publication; the easy answer is that the book is my guide to the amazing variety of Italian wines. Some of these bottles may have found favor with other reviewers, but this is my selection and mine alone, as I write in the introduction.

The bottom line as to why I included a wine can be found in the title of the book – this is a look at Italy’s most distinctive wines. That means wines that have something to say, wines that reveal lovely varietal character, charm and harmony, ones that ultimately display a sense of place. That’s what I’m looking for with Italian wines, be it an expensive Amarone, Barolo or Brunello or a lesser-known, more humble (but no less excellent) wine such as Soave, Dolcetto, Verdicchio, Fiano di Avellino or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, just to name a few.

Here then are a few words on some of the more unique and distinctive wines I selected for my book:

DACAPO Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato “Majoli” - Piemonte is known for its full-bodied red wines with the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco being the most renowned. Yet there are many other lighter reds that deliver a great deal of character; this Ruchè from DaCapo, named for the hill where the vineyards are planted, is a great example. Aged only in stainless steel tanks, this has intriguing aromas of rhubarb, strawberry and nutmeg; medium-bodied, this is quite elegant, although the tannins sneak up on you in the finish. This is meant for consumption within two to five years of the vintage and would be lovely with a local pasta such as agnolotti al plin. (Imported in the US by A.I. Selections)

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FONTANAFREDDA Dolcetto Diano d’Alba “La Lepre” – I love Dolcetto, one of the big three red varieties of the Langhe (Nebbiolo and Barbera being the other two), so I’ve included several examples in the book. But while Dolcetto di Dogliani (referred to simply as Dogliani for the DOCG versions) is more highly praised and Dolcetto d’Alba is more widely available, Dolcetto from the small village of Diano d’Alba, not far from Serralunga d’Alba, is not well known. This version from Fontanafredda, named for the wild hare that runs through the vineyards, is a real delight. Made from old vines that give this wine a bit more body and character, this has an appealing dark purple color and intense aromas of black raspberry and black cherry preserves along with notes of licorice. Medium-full, it’s approachable at an early age (one to two years), but there are some medium weight tannins that give this wine some ageability. But for  me, the best thing about this wine is that you don’t have to think about it too much – just pour yourself a glass and enjoy as it’s absolutely delicious! (Imported in the US by Palm Bay)

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LO TRIOLET Pinot Gris - There are hundreds of ordinary examples of Pinot Grigio (sometimes labeled as Pinot Gris) produced throughout Italy. Then there are a few dozen examples from cool climate regions in the north such as Alto Adige and Friuli that have vitality and complexity. Then there is this wine, from a small estate in Valle d’Aosta, in the far northwestern reaches of Italy, that may be the finest version of this variety in the entire country. As with any distinctive wine, the grape source is often the key; here proprietor Marco Martin is dealing with 15-25 year old vines situated some 2900 feet above sea level! (this may be the highest PInot Gris vineyard in the world). At this elevation, temperatures are quite cool, ensuring a long hang time for the grapes so they can accumulate proper ripeness as well as dazzling aromatics. This is a vibrant white of outstanding complexity, a Pinot Gris that is completely dry, one with excellent depth of fruit and a distinct minerality. While it’s not meant for long term cellaring, it is ideal at three to four years of age and it’s rich enough to accompany river fish or lighter poultry. (Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines)

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ETTORE GERMANO Riesling “Hérzu”- Think Piemonte and you think red wine. So what a pleasant surprise to discover such a lovely dry Riesling from this region, as this Hérzu from Ettore Germano. Proprietor/winemaker Sergio Germano produces a very rich version from his vineyards not far from Dogliani; the oldest plantings date back to 1995. This has beautiful aromas of apricots and peaches as you would expect, so your world won’t be turned upside down by enjoying this sleek, beautifully balanced Riesling. I love this wine when it is between five and seven years of age, although the examples from the finest vintages drink for as long as a decade. (Various US importers including Oliver McCrum Wines and Beivuma Distributors).

Here is the link for ordering my book.

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April 12, 2013 at 9:18 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

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

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