Posts tagged ‘vietti’

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

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

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

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part Two

In my last post, I listed a few of my choices as the Best Italian Red Wines of 2011, focusing on Amarone as well as Barolo and Barbaresco. In part two, I will look at some other wines from Piemonte as well as several from Tuscany. Again, this is a partial list; for more information about all my selections, see the end of this post.

2008 Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina” - While this great estate in Monforte d’Alba is best known for their cru Barolo, this selection, named for Elio’s wife, has become one of the finest examples of Barbera d’Alba. Light purple with inviting aromas of black plum, blackberry and violets, the wine is matured in half-new French barriques, but unlike too many examples of Barbera these days, the oak sensation here does not overwhelm. The 2008 bottling is especially accomplished with lively acidity and excellent persistence; it’s also quite delicious. This is fine now, but it will be better in a year when it settles down and should drink well for another 3-5 years. $30

2009 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Scarrone Vigna Vecchia” – This is arguably the most famous version of Barbera d’Alba; it’s also one of the most famous red wines in all of Italy. Vietti owns this vineyard, planted on a steep hillside in Castiglione Falletto and prodcues two wines from here. The regular Scarrone Barbera is from the section of the vineyard that averages 60-65 years of vine age. That’s pretty impressive, but this “Vigna Vecchia” (old vine) bottling is sourced from the vines on this hill that are aproximately 85 years old! Now imagine how small the yields are and how concentrated the wine must be and you have some idea of how spectacular this wine truly is! Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of boysenberry and black plum, this has excellent concentration and a generous mid-palate with layers of fruit. The acidity, though not as high as a more traditional Barbera is still very good and there is a powerful finish with excellent persistence. This is, in a word, hedonistic. A modern Barbera that is as captivating and as well made as any on the market, this is a beautifully made, exquisitely balanced wine that will impress you like few red wines made from any variety. If you haven’t had this wine in the past, you owe it to yourself to find a bottle of this wine, as the 2009 is a memorable a version as any in some time. This is so appealing now, but this will improve and drink well for another 7-10 years. $75

E. Mirafiore Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 - The Mirafiore line of wines, produced at the venerable estate of Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba is a special set of wines that harkens back to the origins of this firm in the late-1800s, when it was known as Mirafiore. Made from grapes grown in Serralunga, the wine was aged in medium and large-sized oak casks for two months, resulting in a wine of beautiful variety purity. Displaying aromas and flavors of cranberry, black raspberry and violets, this is medium-ful with moderate tannins and a lengthy, satisfying finish. What a lovely Dolcetto on its own or served with duck, rabbit or pork tonight or over the next 2-3 years. A lot of character here for only $20.

2007 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Vigneto Bucerchiale” - Under the guidance of Francesco Giuntini A. Masseti, this estate has risen to the top of a very small group of the finest wine estates in Tuscany. This wine is produced from a single vineyard on the property that was planted back in 1968. The lovely aromas of wild strawberry, bing cherry and rose petals are simply intoxicating and there is beautiful texture and structure with medium-weight tannins, ideal acidity and excellent persistence. An outstanding offering – this is what great Chianti should taste like! Appealing now, this will drink well for 10-12 years. $35 (and worth every penny.)

2009 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico – You can never go wrong with a wine from this estate, one of the most consistent in Tuscany for more than 40 years. The 2009 Chianti Classico offers aromas of red cherry, thyme and red roses with very good depth of fruit, a beautifully defined mid-palate and excellent structure; the oak is subtle and there is very good acidity. Beautifully balanced and such a lovely food wine, enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. $20

2009 Felsina Chianti Classico- Here is another great producer that produces first-rate wines across the board. While probably best known for their Riserva bottlings (both a regular and the exquisite “Vigneto Rancia” offerings), their Chianti Classico normale is noteworthy as well. 100% Sangiovese, aged in medium-sized Slavonian oak casks, the wine offers textbook varietal aromas of red cherry along with notes of red roses and thyme and has a beautifully defined mid-palate, lively acidity and excellent persistence. Approachable now, but at its best in 5-7 years. $20

2008 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico “Castello di Brolio” - This is the famous Brolio estate where the recipe for Chianti Classico was formulated back in the 19th century. Today Francesco Ricasoli oversees production at this magnificent site, which features one of Tuscany’s most splendid castelli. While this is labeled simply as a Chianti Classico, it could be designated as a Chianti Classico Riserva. But Ricasoli does not use that term; indeed, this is the finest wine of his estate each year and wants the consumer to know the wine simply as Castello di Brolio, much like Lafite or Latour and other top chateaux in Bordeaux. A blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot matured for 18 months in tonneaux and barriques. Offering excellent concentration and perfectly tuned acidity and beautifully integrated oak to go along with the sumptuous red cherry and black currant fruit, this is an accomplished Chianti Classico – one of great breeding and class! This 2008 version- from a very underrated vintage in Chianti Classico – is one of the best; it will be at its peak in10-12 years and may drink well for several years after that. At $50, this stands up to the finest of all Tuscan reds.

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This is a partial list of my selections for the best Italian red wines of 2011. In my next post, I will focus on Brunello di Montalcino along with several choices from Campania, Sicily and Puglia.

January 24, 2012 at 10:50 am 5 comments

The Soul of Vietti

Luciana Currado, Vietti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I had the pleasure of dining with Luciana Currado of the great Piemontese estate Vietti in Chicago yesterday. Currado was in town to taste out a number of wines, most importantly the brand new release of Barolo Villero Riserva 2004.

I’ve known Luciana and her son Luca, who serves as winemaker, for more than a decade. Both of them are hard working, down to earth people, who are very gracious and always willing to listen to what you have to say. Luciana has been at the forefront of promoting Vietti wines; this responsibility has become a larger part of her life since her beloved husband Alfredo passed away last year after a long illness. While Luciana misses her husband, she clearly brings a lot of energy and passion to her job, as she talks of the history of her estate.

We started off the tasting with two bottlings of Barbera: one, the 2007 La Crena, is from Asti, while the other, the 2009 Scarrone Vigna Vecchia, is a Barbera d’Alba (this vineyard is at the Vietti estate in Castiglione Falletto). While both are modern interpretations of Barbera- that is to say, very ripe with slightly lower acidity and more small oak aging – these are beautifully balanced wines (unlike too many examples of Barbera today that are overly ripe, “serious” wines). The La Crena has beautiful black fruit along with a hint of mocha and excellent persistence; forward and quite tasty, this will be at its best in 5-7 years.

The Scarrone is from a vineyard at the Vietti estate in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. There are two bottlings: a regular and this, the Vigna Vecchia (old vines), from vines that are now more than 90 years old. Although not as deep in color as the La Crena (deep ruby red/purple on the Scarrone versus deep, bright purple on the La Crena), this is a richer, riper, more sumptuous wine in every way. With boysenberry and plum fruit and outstanding persistence, this is a great success. 2009 was a warm vintage, which aided ripeness and helped keep the natural acidity down; Luca Currado plays this up, but the wine is in perfect balance with every component in harmony. This is a delicious, hedonistic, decadent style of Barbera that is a long way from traditional Barbera and a wine that has to be tasted to be believed!

Next were the 2007 Castiglione Barolo and the 2006 Masseria Barbaresco. The Castiglione Barolo is a blend of Nebbiolo grapes from several communes and is a nice introduction to Vietti Barolo, with its varietal purity and distinctive spice. As for Barbaresco, here is a wine few talk about when referring to Vietti; that is a shame, as this is a lovely wine, very underrated. With beautiful aromas of persimmon (I find this to be a trademark aroma for Nebbiolo in the Barbaresco area) and dried cherry and expressive spice notes in the finish (cumin, oregano and thyme) along with excellent persistence and acidity, this is a notable wine. 2006 was a classic Piemontese vintage, that is to say, one in which the finest wines offer beautiful structure, impressive concentration and outstanding complexity- these are wines that are not as forward as in some years, but with patience – 12-15 years for this wine, in my opinion – they will display their finest traits.

Then came the showcase wines – three vintages of Villero Riserva Barolo. Villero is a single vineyard in Castiglione Falletto and in most years, Luca Currado uses the grapes from this site as part of the cuvée of his Castiglione Barolo. But in truly exceptional years – he will bottle this wine separately. We tasted three vintages, the newly released 2004 along with the 2001 and 1996; in tasting these wines the character of this vineyard, its outstanding fruit and the precision winemaking of Currado were all clearly on display.

The 2004 displayed the beautiful perfumes and ideal acidity of that vintage; red cherry and currant fruit are featured in the aromas and the wine has excellent persistence and complexity along with a beautiful sense of place. Look for this deeply concentrated wine to be at is best in 20-25 years- perhaps longer. (The playful label reminds one that 2004 was the year of the rabbit.)

The 2001, from an amazing Barolo vintage, is a huge wine of great power and intensity. Here the aromas are of cherry and black plum and there is outstanding depth of fruit and complexity. This is a wine of great persistence and structure; my best guess is that this wine will peak in 25-40 years! This is a great bottle of Barolo!

The 1996, from a truly great Barolo vintage, offers a bit more subtlety now, which is no surprise as the wine is a few years older. The aromas are of red currant and strawberry preserves (heavenly!) and there is a bit more spice on display in the finish (cumin, oregano and cinnamon). The tannins are big, but beautifully balanced, the acidity is perfect and the persistence is quite impressive; look for this wine to peak in 25-30 years, although it will probably drink well for a few years after that.

These three vintages all offer a beautiful sense of the terroir of Villero and are packed with layers of fruit. The complexity on all three wines is impressive; each is an outstanding wine, a testament to the life’s work of the Currado family. Not only was it a rare treat to try three vintages of the Villero Barolo at one sitting, but how wonderful to enjoy these wines along with Luciana Currado!

The tasting/lunch was held at the Balsan Restaurant at the Elysian Hotel in Chicago, a property that has only been open a little more than two years. The space is quite handsome and cozy and the food was excellent. For the Barolos, we were offered the option of a rib-eye steak or rainbow trout; as I don’t eat red meat, I opted for the latter. While I have enjoyed fish a few times with Barolo (only a few), I would have never thought of trout as an accompaniment, but it was perfect here, served with goat cheese and arugula. It had enough texture and flavor to stand up to the Barolo and captured the earthiness of the wines quite well. Bravo to the chef!

September 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm 4 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

Reevaluating 2005 Barolos

Sergio Germano (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

“In my opinion, the 2005 Barolos are the best balanced of the last decade.” - Sergio Germano, winemaker, Ettore Germano estate, Serralunga d’Alba

Each year, I am invited to taste the new vintage of Barolo at a series of special press tastings in the city of Alba, only a few miles from the vineyards of these famous wines. Last May, I tasted over 100 examples of Barolo from the 2005 vintage and while I liked the wines overall, I was not that excited. I gave the vintage a rating of three stars – very good – and thought that while some of the wines were nicely concentrated, others lacked fruit. In other words, a mixed bag.

A few months later, I saw the promising notices in a few of Italy’s top wine guides such as Gambero Rosso and Duemilavini (the guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers) regarding these wines. Each guide had given their highest rating to more than two dozen 2005 Barolos. My immediate reaction was that the staff of these guides had been too generous.

But after retasting some of the wines last Friday at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in Chicago, I have to admit that these publications were quite accurate. Any Barolo will improve after additional time in the bottle and now almost ten months after I first tasted the wines, they are rounding out nicely. The wines are now showing more expressive aromatics as well as more pronounced fruit on the palate and are indeed beauitfully balanced wines. 

I think what happened was that 2005 followed a great vintage in 2004. That vintage combined remarkable aromatics and fruit that were evident immediately upon release. Combine excellent concentration along with ideal acidity and you had a recipe for greatness. 

Wines like this don’t come along too often (otherwise the word “great” to describe a vintage would be relatively meaningless) and sure enough 2005 was  a year that gave us wines that were not as immediately impressive as those from 2004. Call these wines shy, if you will, but they did not show as well upon release as did the 2004s.

Now I am reevaluating my thoughts on the 2005 Barolos. Here are a few thoughts on a few of my favorites:

Brezza Sarmassa

Dried cherry and caraway aromas, medium-full with stylish tannins. A classy wine with pleasing herbal notes from this ultraconsistent, traditional producer. Best in 12-15 years.

Ettore Germano Prapo’

Gorgeous orange peel and marmalade aromas; elegantly syled tannins and beautiful acidity. Round, complex and complete, this is a silky, graceful wine. Best in 10-15 years. I also like the Germano Ceretta, which is a more powerful wine; however the Prapo’ gets my vote as the top Barolo from this producer.

Vajra Bricco delle Viole

This Barolo is from a small vineyard just above and outside the town of Barolo and means “hill of violets.” That is an apt descriptor for this fragrant wine which is as supple and as elegantly styled as you could want from a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape. Perfect acidity, bright fruit and ultra fine tannins. The finish goes on forever. Best in 12-15 years.

Vietti Lazzarito

Luca Currado at Vietti has been producing remarkable wines from this great Serralunga site for the past decade and has made this one of the winery’s best bottlings, an impressive feat considering that Currado also produces a Barolo from Brunate and Rocche. Deeply concentrated with firm, balanced tannins, this has the stuffing to age well for at least 12-15 years, perhaps longer.

Bruno Giacosa Le Rocche di Serralunga

No surprise here, as this is a huge wine with great fruit depth and typical Serralunga structure, meaning this will need many years in the bottle before its greatest complexities emerge. Big spice in the nose and on the palate with youthful, firm, but nicely integrated tannins, this will offer pleasure for at least two decades more.


March 3, 2010 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

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