Posts tagged ‘renato ratti’

2010 Barolo – Values and Legendary Wines – Notes on more than 100 Releases

 

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The town of Barolo, early morning  (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently tasted more than 125 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, Piemonte. This event is held each year for a select few dozen journalists (about 70) from around the world, who taste the wines blind over the course of several days. This was the tenth year in the last twelve I have participated in this event and it’s one I look forward to each year with great anticipation.

I was especially eager to taste the 2010s, which have been receiving tremendous praise from all corners. In fact when I attended this event three years ago, while I was tasting the 2007 Barolos (an impressive vintage in its own right), several winemakers that week told me the same thing – “wait until you try my 2010s.” They knew back then that 2010 was something special!

Gianluca Grasso, winemaker at the Elio Grasso estate in Monforte d’Alba, told me that 2010 was “one of the longest vegetation cycles ever.” He also knew right away that his wines would be something quite distinctive,” I remember that when I destemmed the first bunch of Nebbiolo for 2010, the perfumes, the aromas that we got during the vinification were something unbelievable. We knew since the beginning it would be a wonderful vintage.”

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Lazzarito vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently wrote a brief overview of the 2010 vintage for Barolo, including my thoughts on the best producers and wines at wine-searcher.com. The article can be found here. In this post, I will briefly mention a few other things about these wines in general.

First, this was a year in which the majority – a great majority – of producers made excellent to outstanding Barolo. Believe me, this does not happen every vintage (for proof of that, one only needs to look back to last year when the 2009 Barolos were released). So from a great, truly classic year such as 2010, yes, there are first-rate wines from famous Barolo producers such as Renato Ratti, Vietti, Ceretto, Francesco Rinaldi and many others.

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So how nice to find so many examples of Barolo from 2010 that are truly excellent, even from producers you may not have heard about, such as Giovanni Viberti, located in the frazione of Vergne, on the outskirts of Barolo. I’ve had the Buon Padre” Barolo from this producer almost every year for more than a decade and it’s one that I’d describe as a nice introduction to Barolo in general, as it has good varietal character and balance. But I have rarely (if ever), rated this wine as excellent- that is, until this year. My notes for this wine mention the “rich mid-palate, balsamic, dried cherry and sage aromas, medium-full to excellent concentration, impressive complexity and varietal character.” This is a beautiful wine that can be served for dinner tonight (though I’d wait a few years), while it has the stuffing to last 25 years. This is quite an accomplishment for a wine that should sell for about $65 retail in the US when it becomes available in a few months. (My rating – 4 stars (out of five) – excellent.)

baroloI was also quite impressed by the Batasiolo 2010 Barolo. This consistent producer gets impressive reviews from many Italian publications for its portfolio of wines (ranging from Gavi and Arneis to Dolcetto and Barolo), yet somehow they are not as well known as they should be in America. The firm has holdings in several distinguished cru in the Barolo production zone and releases as many as seven (yes, seven!) different Barolos from any given vintage. This is the classic Barolo, blended from vineyards in several communes. My notes on this wine: “aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and dried currant, excellent concentration, very good length in the finish; youthful, graceful tannins and very good acidity. Peak in 20 years.” Again, we are looking at a wine that should retail for $60, perhaps a few dollars less. Another 4-star wine from me and what a nice wine for restaurants to buy for service now and over the next few years. Both this and Viberti are brilliant examples of how good the classic Barolos are from 2010. (Incidentally, I also tasted the “Brunate” bottling from Batasiolo for 2010; this from the famous cru situated on the La Morra-Barolo border; this also performed well, but it was clearly made for consumption down the road. I’ll be interested in tasting the other 2010 cru Barolo from Batasiolo soon.)


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While I am on the subject of great values, I have to mention the 2010 Vietti Barolo “Castiglione”. This is always one of my favorite Barolos from this outstanding producer, as this is sourced from their vineyard holdings in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, Monforte d’Alba and Novello (the firm owns parts of some of the finest cru in the Barolo production zone; in fact, very few producers have as many vineyards in as many great sites in the area as does Vietti).

This is a lovely wine, one that has richness as well as a great deal of finesse. My notes: “aromas of currant, orange peel and tar, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity, peak in 12-15 years.”  I also noted that “this is one of the best examples of this wine produced to date.” The 2009 version of this wine averaged about $50 in the US, so again, we will be looking at a marvelous value when the 2010 is released soon. What a delicious, stylish wine and what a wonderful choice for consumption over the next few years!

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I have put together a 20-page pdf document with my tasting notes on the 2010 Barolos, reviewing exactly 118 wines. My highest rating is 5 stars – outstanding. In this report, I have given this highest rating to 31 wines (26.2%). Yes, the 2010 vintage is that good! Among the finest were the Renato Ratti “Rocche dell’Annunziata”, the Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione”, the Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”, Bartolo Mascarello and many others. These are truly classic examples of Barolo, so you might expect these wines to rise to the occasion in a great year such as 2010 and they most certainly did! These are wines that will peak in 35-50 years. I know I won’t be around to see these wines at that stage, but it’s nice to know they will last that long (it’s also quite a pleasure and blessing to know I can at least try them now!). These wines will cost you upwards of $100 a bottle, but if you are a Barolo lover, you need to find a few of these wines! (Incidentally, the great examples of Barolo are priced much more reasonably than the finest Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa or examples of Bordeaux or Burgundy of similar quality. This is something that is rarely discussed, but it is a fact and it’s something I need to point out; the best Barolo are under valued.)

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If you would like to receive a copy of this 20-page pdf report (it was sent to contributors of my upcoming book “The Wines and Foods of Piemonte”), the cost is $10, a very reasonable price for this overview of these great wines. Payment is by PayPal – use my email of thomas2022@comcast.net (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail – email me for information).

June 12, 2014 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

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.

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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

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part One

Pietro Ratti, Proprietor, Renato Ratti, Annunziata, La Morra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Continuing with my lists of the Best Italian Wines of 2011, here is the initial post of red wines, focusing on Piemonte and Veneto. In the next two posts, I will write about last year’s top reds from Toscana, Campania, Puglia, Sicilia and several other regions. Please note that this is a partial list – there are other wines that made the list (see end of post for more information).

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Conca”

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Rocche”

The Renato Ratti winery is one of the most revered in all of Barolo, a benchmark estate named for one of the 20th century’s most influential vintners in this area. Renato’s son Pietro now manages the estate, continuing production of some of the finest Barolos from anywhere in the zone. From the excellent 2007 vintage, there are two single vineyard versions of Barolo that were among the best of the year: the Conca and the Rocche. Both are from sites in La Morra, not far from the winery; both are deep in color with excellent depth of fruit and impressive richness on the palate. The Conca, displaying aromas of black plum, tar and licorice is a bit more forward than the Rocche, which is more classically oriented. Both wines are quite elegant with very good acidity and are structured for 20-25 years of cellaring, with the Rocche probably outliving the Conca by a few more years. The wines at Renato Ratti have been routinely outstanding over the past half-decade – bravo, Pietro! $80

2007 Paolo Manzone Barolo “Meriame” - Serralunga d’Alba is home to perhaps the most classically structured examples of Barolo, wines that are structured for the long haul. There are so many outstanding wines from this commune every year; this was one of my absolute favorites from 2007. Produced from grapes sourced from a 60-year old vineyard, the wine offers beautiful aromas of  bing cherry, orange zest and cedar and has balanced tannins and subtle wood notes along with excellent persistence in the finish. An excellent example of Serralunga terroir, this should peak in 15-20 years. $70

2007 Pio Cesare Barolo “Ornato” - Here is another outstanding example of Serralunga terroir. Pio Cesare, one of Barolo’s most historic producers, sources the grapes for this wine from this beautiful sloping vineyard in Serralunga and ages the wines in a combination of barriques and mid-size casks. Deeply colored with an impressive mid-palate as well as excellent persistence in the finish, this is a powerful Barolo that stands the test of time. This will offer much greater complexity in another 5-7 years and should drink well for 25-30 years from now. The finest Ornato since 2001. $100

2007 Massolino Barolo “Parussi” - For many years, Massolino has been one of the reference points for Barolo from the Serralunga commune. For 2007, the Massolino family produced their first single vineyard Barolo from outside Serralunga, this being the Parussi bottling from the cru in Castiglione Falletto. Beautiful young garnet with aromas of candied orange zest, caraway and cedar, this has a lengthy, well-defined mid palate and a beautifully structured finish with youthful tannins and balanced acidity. There is also a subtle spiciness to this wine and as usual with a Massolino Barolo, the wood influence is minimal. Beautiful complexity and first-rare winemaking in this Barolo, a lovely representation of Castiglione Falletto terrior. This should be at its best in 20 years and will be in fine shape for a few years after that. $85

2007 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo “Monvigliero” - Here is a lovely Barolo from the tiny commune of Verduno, situated at the far nothern reaches of the Barolo zone. This vineyard, at an elevation of almost 1200 feet has south and southwest-facing vines that are 30 years old, resulting in a wine of impressive richness. Aged in a combination of tonneaux and mid-size Slavnonian oak casks, this is an elegantly-styled Barolo that combines richness with finesse. This is a lovely wine that is a beautiful expression of terroir; it should be at its best in 15-20 years and will probably drink well after that. $65

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Rio Sordo”

2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco “Tre Stelle”

This tiny producer in the town of Barbaresco makes some of the very finest examples of Barbaresco. The winery is situated amidst the vines of Rio Sordo; owners Italo Sobrino and Giovanna Rizzolio own a small portion of this great site. Production here is traditional, as aging is done solely in large oak casks (grandi botti), which lends not only a strong sense of the vineyard’s terroir, but also a great deal of finesse. The aromas are lovely – red cherry, orange peel sandalwood and cedar – and there is excellent persistence and a long, graceful finish. These wines will be at their best in 12-15 years. (note” Tre Stelle” is actually a new cru located within Rio Sordo. This is the only winery to use this designation for their wine.) $50

2008 Barbaresco Pertinace “Vigneto Nervo” - While most producers of Barbaresco and Barolo are private firms, Pertinace is a cooperative producer, where the various growers are also members. This is generally the finest Barbaresco from this company, with grapes coming from a cru in Treiso. Displaying currant and orange peel aromas with a hint of fig, this is an elegant, beautifully complex Barbaresco that is an excellent representation of local terroir. This wine will be at its best in 12-15 years and is a great example of what this underrated producer is all about. $45

2008 Ceretto Barbaresco “Bricco Asili” - Here is the flagship Barbaresco from one of the zone’s most celebrated producers. This cru, planted in 1969, delivers grapes of tremendous concentration and character; naturally yields are quite low. 2008 was a true Piemontese vintage, meaning that the wines from this year are more classically structured for cellaring, more so than a warmer year such as 2007 or 2000. Aged in small oak barrels (larger than barriques) the wine has aromas of bing cherry, dried rose petals and vanilla; the concentration is quite impressive and the finish is very long with polished tannins. This is a sublime wine, meant to be enjoyed down the road – it’s impressive now, but wait another 5 or 7 years and if you have the patience, try it at peak in 15-20 years. A great Barbaresco! (and only 500 cases produced.) $75

2006 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Monte Ca’Bianca”- Here is a real gem of a producer, one that delivers the highest quality with all of its wines. Their regular Amarone is quite complex and very nicely balanced; this cru bottling takes things up a notch or two, especially in terms of concentration. Black raspberry, black plum, clove and tar aromas grace this wine and the mid-palate is rich and nicely developed while there is excellent persistence and graceful tannins. Wonderful complexity with this wine- this is approachable now, but will be at its best in 12-15 years. $75

2005 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva - Zenato has been producing superb versions of Amarone for some time now, but without the press you’d expect. Perhaps this 2005 Riserva – from a very good, but not great year, will change that. Deep ruby red with inviting aromas of tar, stewed cherries, damson plum and tobacco, this is a marvelously complex Amarone with layers of fruit on the palate and a long, elegant finish. This is delicious now and will only improve for the next 12-15 years. Very classy and stylish! $100

2004 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Mazzano” - Masi, one of the leading producers of Amarone, produces several versions of this iconic red wine, ranging from a regular bottling and a riserva bottling (both of which offer excellent complexity and beautiful balance) to cru bottlings from older vineyards in the Classico zone. The Mazzano bottling from a spectacularly situated, terraced vineyard, some 1300 feet above the valley floor in Negrar, is a powerful Amarone with a strong note of bitter chocolate to go along with aromas of red cherry, tar and violets. There is outstanding persistence with very good acidity and firm tannins. This should be at its best in 15-20 years, though it may drink well for another decade after that. (Note: if you cannot find the 2004 Mazzano, look for the 2001, which is an outstanding wine and will age for another 20 years.) $140

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This is a partial list of the best Italian red wines of the year. The complete list will be in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers. If you are interested in subscribing to my publication – currently in its 11th year – email me at thomas2022@comcast.net.

January 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm 2 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

Renato Ratti – Top 100

Renato Ratti Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

On a hillside in the small frazione of Annunziata below the town of La Morra, the handsome winery of Renato Ratti overlooks some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Barolo zone. Today Pietro Ratti manages the winery, having succeeded his father Renato, a legendary figure in the development of the wine and the territory of Barolo during the past half century.

The elder Ratti was definitely a leader in the promotion of Barolo and perhaps his most famous contribution was his map of the finest vineyards – cru – of the Barolo zone in the 1960s. Newer maps have been created, but almost all of them credit Ratti’s work in letting the world know about the finest sites for planting Nebbiolo in this territory.

Today, most releases of Barolo are from a single cru, but this was not the case some 40 years ago, so this idea of Ratti was ahead of its time- thankfully, it was also a necessary concept. Today Pietro Ratti is one of many producers that release cru Barolo, in his case from Rocche dell’Annunziata (labeled simply as Rocche). Ratti also produces two other Barolos – Conca and Marcenasco – that are technically not from a single vineyard, but are instead from subzones in Annunziata.

Ratti today combines both traditional and modern technology when crafting his Barolo, as these wines are aged in a combination of large Slavonian oak and French barriques. The result is that the wines are a bit darker in color than a typical Barolo, but there are unmistakable varietal aromas that emerge from each bottling. Here are my notes on the current 2006 releases of these wines:

Barolo Rocche – cedar, red cherry, sage and tobacco aromas; excellent concentration; rich mid-palate, lively acidity and refined tannins. Beautiful complexity and expression of terroir. Best in 20-25 years.

Barolo Conca – blackthorn, cherry and tobacco aromas; rich finish with very good persistence, lively acidity and refined tannins. Best in 20 years plus.

Barolo Marcenasco – cedar, cumin and dried cherry aromas; medium-full; nicely balanced throughout with good persistence. Best in 12-15 years.

I rated the Rocche as outstanding, the Conca as excellent and the Marcenasco as very good. The 2006 vintage is in the vein of the old-fashioned Barolos – wines that are tightly structured and will reward great patience.

Pietro Ratti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Pietro also produces an excellent Barbera d’Alba as well as notable bottlings of Nebbiolo d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. He continues his father’s work in the vineyards as well as the promotion of the Barolo zone and the entire Langhe area. I’ve come to know him during my visits over the past seven years and find him to be as personable and as helpful a producer as I’ve met in Italy. He is a graceful, elegant man and his wines are in the same manner.

January 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm 2 comments

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

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