Posts tagged ‘roberto voerzio’
Roberto Voerzio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Roberto Voerzio was in Chicago yesterday. That may not seem like a earth-shattering statement, but when you consider that this celebrated Barolo producer was making his first visit to Chicago during only his second-ever trip to the United States, then you realize this was a very special day.
There are several famous wine personalities from Italy that regularly travel to the US and other countries around the world to promote their wines; Piero Antinori has been doing it for decades, whlie Angelo Gaja makes it a point to visit America often (and he has the suntan to prove it!). But Voerzio isn’t someone that does this sort of thing much, so needless to say when I was invited to join a few of Chicago’s top sommeliers for lunch at Spiaggia Ristorante to taste a selection of his Barolos – plus one Barbera – I said yes in a second.
If you know much about Voerzio, you might think that he hardly needs to do much along the lines of promotion for his wines; he was, after all, one of the first producers to receive 100 points from both The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator, for his various offerings of Barolo from the late 1990s and early 2000s. You can imagine the clamor for his wines at that point and his wines are just as famous and about as highly regarded today.
I met him once before at his winery in La Morra and the experience was quite remarkable. For someone as famous as he is, he doesn’t act like someone who’s in great demand. He had his vineyard manager give me a tour of his plantings throughout La Morra and then welcomed me back in his cellars with a tasting of his current releases of Barolo – he produces as many as seven different cru bottlings in a single year. He answered all of my questions in great detail and was in a wonderful mood, posing for numerous photos. After trying for years to meet him, I realized that here was an individual who was being pushed in many directions, as journalists from all over the world wanted a piece of his time. Yet here he was, a gracoius host, more than happy to talk with me and get my thoughts on his wines. How nice that Voerzio is such a down to earth person!
That same generosity and humility was on display yesterday at lunch. Voerzio talked about his roots in La Morra, as his ancestors have been grape growers for 200 years in this commune. It was in 1970 that his brother Gianni and he decided to produce Barolo from the grapes they grew and then in 1986, the two brothers went their separate ways, releasing wines under their own labels (Gianni produces a beautiful Barolo from the La Serra cru as well as deeply concentrated examples of Arneis, Barbera and Nebbiolo d’Alba, while Roberto has stayed with Barolo and a small amount of Barbera).
Voerzio spoke about his farming and how he green harvests at least twice during the summer to come in with incredibly small yields, at 50 quintals per hectare, about half of the limit allowed in Barolo. The final cuts in the Nebbiolo vineyards trim half the amount of grapes on the vine at the time, reslulsting in miniscule yields. This of course means less wines produced and of course, higher production costs, but the finished wines show tremendous intensity and weight on the palate.
Yet despite their obvious power, the wines are supremely elegant. Voerzio has been labeled a “modernist” among Barolo producers, yet he scoffs at that characterization and clearly wanted us to know that the modernity of his work has much to do with temperature control in the cellar; this technology has allowed him to make more elegant wines, so in this case, modern is a good thing.
When asked by a sommelier at the lunch about his being a modern producer, he replied that when comparing traditional Barolo versus the modern style, the differences have a great deal to do with the aging vessels. “Traditional Barolos are aged in botti, while modern Barolos are aged in barrique; the truth lies somewhere in between,” was his answer.
He emphasized that while he does produce two examples of Barolo that are aged solely in barrique – namely the Sarmassa and the Capalot e Brunate “Vecchie Vigne” – most of his wines are aged in a combination of large and small oak for a period of two years. After that, the wines are then returned to large stainless steel tanks before bottling, so as not to let the wood notes dominate the fruit characteristics.
Having tasted a very few examples of Robeto Voerzio Barolos previously, I can attest to the fact that his newest releases from 2008 and 2009 display less obvious wood notes than before, while maintaining remarkable concentration. These wines, especially the 2009 Brunate and 2008 Rocche Annunziata/Torriglione Barolo – the latter, a particuarly, sublime, outstanding effort – are elegant wines with very fine tannins and marvelous persistence; they are wines that indeed display superb varietal character as well as a sense of place. These are wines that are rightly celebrated as among the very finest in the entire Barolo landscape and upon tasting them, you don’t think of these as modern wines, but rather ones that captivate you with their excellence and honesty.
In an interview after lunch, Voerzio told me that he is proud to have been born in La Morra and clearly his affection for his commune shines through in his wines. High density planting and a perfectionist attitude in his farming and in the cellar are keys to the success of his wines, but after meeting with Roberto Voerzio and listening to him talk about his land, maybe it’s romance that’s the most important ingredient in his offerings of Barolo. If you believe that’s a bit much, well, see what you think when you taste one of his Barolos –it’s bound to be love at first sip!
My thanks to Marilyn Krieger and Maria Megna of Winebow for their assistance with this event.
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!
I have previously written about Barolo and listed several of my favorite producers in this area. Now I would like to briefly discuss a few of those producers, as arranged by commune. This post will deal with five of the finest vintners of La Morra, right in the heart of the Barolo zone.
RENATO RATTI – This historic estate is today managed by Pietro Ratti, the energetic and outgoing son of Renato Ratti. The elder Ratti was one of the most important individuals in this zone during the 1950s and 1960s for his work in mapping and identifying the great crus (single vinyards) for Barolo production. The map he created is still a valuable reference point in any discussion on this topic.
Today, Pietro produces three bottlings of Barolo in most vintages: Marcenasco, a selezione from vineyards near the winery, Rocche (dell’Annunziata) and Conca (these last two from single vineyards). The Ratti style of Barolo is ideal ripeness, but subtle wood, so as to allow the terroir of the sites to emerge. The wines are elegantly styled and are first-rate examples of how Barolo improves and changes with time. Ratti is not the only producer to focus on this, of course, but he is one of the finest, no doubt. His recently released 2006s are beautifully layered (especially the Conca), and his 2004s and 2001s are remarkable.
ROCCHE COSTAMAGNA – Located at the top of the hill, just as you enter La Morra, this estate is one of the most consistent in La Morra and the entire Barolo zone. Alessandro Locatelli is the owner and in my mind, the style of his wines are much like the man himself – straightforward, elegant and charming. His regular bottling of Rocche dell’Annunziata is excellent, but it is the Bricco Francesco, made from grapes from the highest portion of the Rocche vineyard, that is his finest wine. Deeply concentrated with a long, beautifully structured finish, this is classy La Morra Barolo with elegant tannins and lovely perfumes.
MARCARINI – Managed by Manuel Marchetti, this is one of La Morra’s most traditional estates. The two Barolos – La Serra and Brunate – are fermented in cement tanks, as these are inert and impart no additional flavors. The wines are then aged in botti grandi (large casks) to emphasize varietal character as well as a great sense of terroir. The wines are subdued, marvelously balanced and age beautifully. These bottlings are also some of the most fairly priced Barolos in the entire zone – bravo Manuel!
ROBERTO VOERZIO – As traditional as the wines are from Marcarini, the Barolos from Roberto Voerzio are just as modern in their approach. Voerzio makes as many as seven different bottlings of Barolo – almost all from La Morra (Brunate, La Serra, Rocche dell’Annunziata Torriglione), each of which is aged in entirely new French oak barriques. While this may seem excessive, the discipline in the vineyard – extremely low yields – ensure that there is plenty of fruit to balance the wood. While these wines appeal to a different palate than those of Marcarini, one cannot doubt their excellence.
GIANNI VOERZIO – Brother of Roberto, Gianni Voerzio produces only one Barolo from the La Serra vineyard, but it is quite a bottling. Just like his brother, Gianni ages the wine in barriques, so the wine has a ruby red color instead of the garnet one expects with a young Barolo and there is ample oak. Again, yields are low, so the wine is balanced and older vintages show quite well. Gianni Voerzio, like his brother, is also a gentleman as well as an impassioned winemaker.
For my final post of 2009, I want to salute some of the finest Italian producers of this decade. Each year in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, I list the year’s best wines and producers. I’ll be working on that shortly, but for now, let’s focus on the most important producers of the decade. There is no way I can do this with a single post, so this is part one. I’m juding not only on the quality of the wines, but also the influence these producers had in the marketplace and media and among their peers.
If Luca Currado at Vietti only made Barolo, this winery would have made the list, but there are also gorgeous bottlings of Barbera, as well as a sleek, delicious offering of Arneis. The wines are beautifully made and sell through in good order.
This family-owned winery makes the list for maintaining its traditional winemaking methods, as the great Barolos are aged in botti grandi – no barriques here. Is there a more graceful and ageworthy Barolo than the Bricco Boschis San Giuseppe Riserva?
Very modern Barolos here, aged in barrique, but amazing concentration and style. You may or may not like this style of winemaking, but you cannot help but admire the class of the offerings here.
Produttori del Barbaresco
Ultratraditional wines that show what the local terroir of Barbaresco is all about. An excellent Barbaresco normale and outstanding (often stunning) cru bottlings from the town’s best sites, including Asili, Rabaja and Montestefano. General manager Aldo Vacca is as classy as his wines!
I am saluting Gian Luigi Orsolani for his outstanding work with the Erbaluce grape, an indigenous white variety from northern PIemonte. Orsolani is the finest producer of this grape type in my opinion, crafting first-rate examples of dry white, sparkling and passito versions.
Braida – Giacomo Bologna
Splendid bottlings of Barbera d’Asti, from the humble to the sublime, especially the Bricco dell’Uccellone and the Bricco della Bigotta. Still one of the finest and most influential producers of Barbara d’Asti. Also a superb Moscato d’Asti (Vigna Senza Nome) and arguably the finest bottling of Brachetto d’Acqui. Raffaella Bologna is continuing her late father’s work in fine fashion.
This gorgeous estate in the heart of the Barolo zone has been improving dramatically for the past decade, thanks to the efforts of general manager Giovanni Minetti and winemaker Danilo Drocco. A few years ago, Oscar Farinetti, the owner of the gourmet food store, Eataly, became the prinicpal owner of the winery and has already shown his influence by introducing value-priced Barbera and Dolcetto. There are so many excellent wines produced at Fontanafredda; this is an estate that has numerous wines for a wide consumer base and any producer that wants to grow their business in the coming decade should be looking at this model.
Tenuta San Guido/Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
I am putting these two estates in Bolgheri together, as they both produce outstanding examples of local reds that not only are beautiful wines on their own, but are also known around the world. These estates, along with Grattamacco and Le Macchiole continue to be the identity for Bolgheri, Tuscany’s new light.
Bottles of Ornellaia and Masseto, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Brunello di Montalcino has been in the news as of late, and not for all the right reasons. So let’s salute Il Poggione for making Brunello the right way – the traditional way. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci has a gentle winemaking hand, as he prefers to let the local terroir shine through in his wines. I’ve tasted examples of Il Poggione Brunello from the 1970s that are still in fine shape. As for the recent controversy about the possible inclusion of grapes other than Sangiovese in Brunello, well, there was never any doubt about that at Il Poggione; so the respect for the land and the wine as seen here (as well as at dozens of other local estates such as Biondi-Santi, Col d’Orcia, Talenti and Sesta di Sopra to name only a few) needs to be saluted.
Federico Carletti has done as much as any producer in Montepulciano to revive the fortunes of its most famous wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The regular bottling is always very good, but it is the Vigna Asinone bottling is the star here. Deeply concentrated with new oak and sleek tannins, this is a modern, but very precise wine that is one of Tuscany’s finest.
Campania’s most historically important winemaking estate, this winery continued to improve after a family split in the 1980s (some of the family members established a new winery in the Avellino province) and the change in leadership from Antonio Mastroberardino to his son Piero. Clonal research became an important factor here, and today, the family is producing the best examples of Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina they have ever made. Of course, Taurasi is still the most important wine here, and if today’s bottlings are not as staunchly tradtional as those from the 1960s and early 1970s, they are still first-rate and just as importantly, are not covered up by the vanilla and spice of new oak that other Taurasi producers seem to prefer these days. How nice that this defender of the local winemaking heritage is doing so well these days!
Feudi di San Gregorio
This estate made a splash with its entrance on the scene in the mid 1980s and they are still one of Campania’s most important producers. Rich, deeply concentrated bottlings of Taurasi, but even more impressive white wines, especially Cutizzi Greco di Tufo and Pietracalda Fiano di Avellino. Now there are even beautifully made single variety sparkling wines in the classic method produced from Greco, Falanghina and Aglianico. Congratulations to owner Antonio Capaldo on his innovative efforts at this great estate!
Luigi Maffini is making some of the most brilliant white wines in all of Italy as his small estate in the province of Salerno, south of Napoli. While his reds made from Aglianico are nicely done, the whites made from Fiano are routinely outstanding. There is the non-oak aged Kratos and the French oak-aged Pietraincatenata, an age-worthy Fiano. There is also a sumptuous Fiano Passito, which in my opinion, is one of the greatest dessert wines in all of Italy (the 2004 is particularly exceptional).
Cantine Marisa Cuomo
This small estate, located in the town of Furore on the Amalfi Coast, is set in an exceptionally beautiful seting, as the pergola vineyards cling to steep slopes a few hundred feet above the sea. Marisa and her husband, winemaker Andrea Ferraioli, are best known for the exceptional white, Fiorduva, a blend of indigenous varieties (Ripole, Fenile and Ginestra), but I think the Furore Rosso Riserva is also an important wine. This is extreme viticulture at its finest!
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)