Posts tagged ‘barolo’
Wine journalism, as we know it, is a dying art. The reason is simple; most wine publications these days specialize in points – the ultimate sound bite – as a way to attract readers. They’re easy to understand and much quicker to peruse. The editors of these publications – in print and online – have clearly decided to limit traditional articles about wine regions and grape types, as they sense that readers prefer a quick fix.
That’s why it’s a true pleasure to read Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe. It’s clear from the first chapter that O’Keefe knows her subject well and is passionate about these wines. While other authors have also contributed notable works on these iconic red wines of Piemonte, O’Keefe takes the extra steps necessary to inform the reader about the DNA of these wines, from their history to their soils to their styles, as crafted by dozens of the finest producers. The fact that she does so in such a well-written, well-documented and opinionated manner is all the more reason to acquire this book.
First things first – full disclosure. I have known Kerin O’Keefe for about ten years as I tend to see her at special events in Italy; we have tasted together not only in Alba for Barolo and Barbaresco anteprime, but also in Montalcino as well as Sicily. She has an excellent palate, is a first-rate writer and is professional in her discipline. For all the wine gurus out there who tend to gloss over too many wines, they could learn a lot from O’Keefe’s common sense approach to the great wines of Italy. (I’ll also note that O’Keefe and I also have very similar palates, as we tend to favor the more traditional, terroir-driven wines and not the splashy, overripe offerings made by some producers if only in hopes of gaining a big score for a wine publication.)
Last year, O’Keefe wrote an outstanding book titled Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines that was among the finest wine books I have ever read. She takes a similar approach in this new work, first giving us an examination of a history of these wines along with a detailed analysis of local terroir. To my way of thinking, this is the best part of this new book.
I mentioned that the author is a talented wine journalist and it is in this section that her talent shines, especially in the chapters “Noble Nebbiolo” and “The Barolo Wars and their Effects in Both Denominations.” In the former chapter, the author deals with several aspects of this grape that is the sole variety used to produce both Barolo and Barbaresco. How it was named, DNA analysis and several statistics on planting are detailed and there is an interesting fact about the Nebbiolo Rosé clone not being a clone at all, but rather a separate variety. I’ve never read that anywhere else; kudos to the author for doing her research and uncovering that piece of information.
Besides being remarkably well-informed about these wines, O’Keefe is opinionated, but in a professional manner (unlike certain famous wine critics). She was and remains opposed to too much oak (especially new) in these wines, believing that small barrels too often yield wines that are not representative. She writes of “mundane and ubiquitous sensations of toasted oak, vanilla and chocolate” in these wines. She also takes a jab at certain wine gurus who were only recently discovering Barolo and Barbaresco (especially with the warm 1990 growing season), writing that the flavors she mentioned above “put many influential critics in their comfort zone. Before this, these same celebrated palates either ignored Barolo and Barbaresco or slammed it.” Great insight here by the author!
I love her take on this subject, as she goes into great detail about the Modernist producers who made Barolo in a very different manner than the previous generations; she also notes that many producers, whom she labels Traditionalists, continued to produce wine in the tried and true manner of their parents. The various production methodology is an important theme of this book and it carries over into the descriptions of the producers in the second half of the book.
The latter half of this book consists of producer profiles in which the author gives us the necessary contact information (location, website, email – all very helpful) as well as her take on each vintner’s style – if they age in large casks or small, what are the specific vineyards they work with, etc. She organizes each chapter into communes, which is a very smart approach, as the Barolos from Serralunga and Monforte with their assertive tannins and muscular frame are much more tightly wound and need more time to settle down that their counterparts from La Morra, which are much more approachable wines upon release. Again, her insight into these wines is very impressive, almost encyclopedic.
There are tasting notes, including a vertical of eighteen examples of Gaja Barbaresco. Her section on this world-famous producer is quite illuminating, nicely communicating the tremendous influence Angelo Gaja has had on Barbaresco. O’Keefe’s work over the years earned her the right to be able to taste these wines with the producer – where else can you find such detailed notes about these famed wines?
This section of producer profiles is extremely well done, as the reader learns the names and styles of the finest vintners working today in Barolo and Barbaresco. One thing that is unavoidable about listing producers in a work such as this is that you can’t include everyone. In a private email about this book, O’Keefe admitted that she was given a page limit by her publisher, the University of California Press. This meant that she had no opportunity to feature every producer she wanted to. So while I would have loved to read about the Barolos of Giovanni Rosso and Luigi Baudana as well as Barbaresco from Serafino Rivella or Pasquale Pelissero (all traditional producers, incidentally), there are no descriptions or mention of these estates and their wines.
Well, you can’t have everything, but the author more than makes up for a few omissions by including text on numerous underrated producers that have not revived much attention elsewhere. This is especially true in the chapters about Barbaresco, where O’Keefe writes about the wines of Pier and Socré; I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the wines of these producers, so I was delighted to learn about them. Barolo and Barbaresco in general have never received as much attention as other renowned red wines of the world (such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons), so the very fact that the author has included several unheralded estates is another strong recommendation for the book.
A couple things to add: while there wasn’t enough room for every producer, there are a few that are missing from the book, namely Vietti (Barolo) and Marchesi di Gresy (Barbaresco). O’Keefe does mention their names at the end of their respective chapters (“other firms of note”). Yet even with this, there is no mention of the Barolos of Roberto Voerzio in La Morra. Perhaps the style of his wines is not what the author favors; regardless, it’s a strange omission.
Also, and this may be a personal thing, but after reading all the detailed tasting notes as well as information about how each producer makes their wines, I wanted a bit more. I don’t mean more in the sense of quantity – there is a wealth of information in this book and I can only imagine how many hours went into this book – but I mean more in the sense of a broad look at the subject. I would have loved to read a few quotes from the producers about what makes them tick. There is information such as this with a few important producers, but not as much as was possible (again, perhaps space limitation was a reason for this).
I think the reader would like to know how these producers view Barolo and Barbaresco in the larger world of wine – are the wines marketed well, are they priced fairly, how have the wines improved over the past thirty or forty years? Again, this is touched upon from time to time in the book, but not as much as could have been. The tasting notes are detailed as are the estate profiles, so clearly that is what O’Keefe wanted to write and has written. I have to review the book that’s been written and not what I want, of course. To that end, someone looking for an up-to-date analysis of what’s happening in Barolo and Barbaresco today will find a book that is as thorough and as informative – and as engaging – as anyone could want.
I would think that anyone who reads this book would want to taste many of these wines and perhaps make a visit to these marvelous wine districts. That is about as great a situation as could be possible for this subject. It’s one thing to write facts, but it’s another thing to make them come alive. Kerin O’Keefe has done just that and has written a memorable book.
Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine
Written by Kerin O’Keefe
Hardcover, 386 pages
University of California Press
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
I 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.)
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!
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.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail – email me for information).
(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!
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.
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.
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! *****
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.
Mauro Sebaste and his daughter Sylla (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Let me start with an analogy. Many of us love dreaming about flashy sports cars, but the truth is that most of us will never own one; they’re too expensive and they really don’t fit our lifestyle. The same holds true for watches that cost several thousand dollars or mansions that run into the millions.
The same thinking often comes to being with wine; people love to read about the most expensive, longest-lived red wines, ones of great breeding and class. The editors at the most influential wine publications know that, which is why the 100-point scale is in use these days. Hey, wouldn’t you prefer a 95 or 97-point wine as compared to a 91 or 92-point wine? The editors are betting you will – as are the producers that receive the higher scores.
But let’s wait a bit. What do those scores really mean? I could go off on this at great length, but basically, this is a case of “bigger being better.” Whatever you think about a particular wine or group of wines, you have to admit there’s not right or wrong at play. If you like a bigger wine, fine. But there are many of us that would rather have a more delicate wine, especially if we are trying to find the ideal match with food.
All of this brings me to the wines of Mauro Sebaste in Piemonte. I first met him in Chicago more than a decade ago and recently visited him at his winery near Alba, in the heart of the Barolo zone. I find him to be a gentleman, one who goes about his business in a professional, thoughtful and relatively quiet manner. It’s a bit of a cliché, I suppose, but he prefers that the wines speak for themselves.
It’s the same understated qualities of the man that are on display in his wines. These are not powerhouse, showy wines meant to “wow” you, but rather, they are beautifully balanced wines that display excellent varietal character; for me, that’s what I seek and I think it’s what a lot of wine drinkers prefer.
In their 2013 Guide, Gambero Rosso, the Bible of Italian wine publications, mentions that these wines “are not overly extracted and faithfully reflect the character of their individual terroirs.” This is a valuable assessment of Sebaste’s wines and it’s that first part of the sentence I want to focus on, as those wines that get the high point ratings I referred to earlier are generally deeply extracted to obtain the deepest colors and get every fruit essence they can from the grapes. The results are often like jam, not wine; if that’s what you like, fine. But upon further examination, the best wines are about balance and expression of the site where the grapes are grown. That’s what Sebaste brings to all his wines.
Briefly then, don’t look for the highest scores or the most precious descriptors for the wines of Mauro Sebaste. But be prepared for elegant, flavorful wines that are well made and a pleasure at the dinner table. Here are notes on wines I tried with Mauro earlier this year at his winery:
2012 Roero Arneis - Appealing Anjou pear and melon aromas; medium-bodied, very appealing, with excellent varietal character. Very good acidity, this is sleek and beautifully balanced. This would be a wonderful partner with a vegetable risotto. (Very good to excellent)
2011 Barbera d’Alba “Santa Rosalia” – Bright purple; black cherry and black plum aromas. Medium-bodied, good acidity with a slightly tart finish. Nicely balanced with very light tannins and notable varietal character. A bit of an old-fashioned Barbera, one that’s not over-oaked or tricked up, but nicely made for food, be it pizza or roast veal. (Very good)
2009 Barolo Prapò – This is from the famed cru in Serralunga d’Alba. Lovely delicate garnet color (again, not overextracted); expressive aromas of cedar, dried cherry, orange peel, rose petals and a hint of tar – just lovely! Medium-full with elegant tannins, good acidity and a clean finish of good length. While not as complex as recent vintages (especially the 2008), this is a well made wine and a notable example of the understated style of the Mauro Sebaste Barolos. Best in 12-15 years. (Very good to excellent)
Incidentally, I wrote about this wine, the Mauro Sebaste Barolo Prapò, in my book, Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distincitve Wines. Here is an excerpt from that text:
“This is a classy Barolo that expresses its terroir in a graceful manner. It’s made in a style that offers approachability upon release, as it’s not a tightly wrapped wine, yet it will clearly offer greater complexity at twelve years of age and older; the best vintages will drink well for as long as 25 years.”
(Clearly, I enjoyed writing about this wine almost as much as I loved drinking it! I always wish to find wines like this – ones that are true to their variety as well as heritage.)
2007 Barolo “Brunate” Riserva – The Brunate cru, situated in La Morra, is one of the famous in the entire Barolo zone. Deep garnet; aromas of dried cherry, dried currant, orange peel and a note of tobacco. Medium-full with a generous mid-palate. Long finish, excellent persistence, good acidity and nicely balanced tannins. Best in 12-15 years – perhaps a bit longer. (Excellent to outstanding)
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.
If you’re a lover of Barolo, you are certainly familiar with great cru offerings from some of the most celebrated producers; these include wines such as Briccco Rocche from Ceretto, Bricco Boschis from Cavallotto, Rocche from Renato Ratti or any one of several from Roberto Voerzio (Brunate, Cerequio, La Serra, et al). There are dozens of other great cru Barolos from many other renowned estates, but one I’m certain most people haven’t heard of is the Bussia Soprana “Vigna Mondoca” from Oddero.
Located in Santa Maria, a frazione of La Morra, in the heart of the Barolo zone, this distinguished family firm under the direction of Mariacristina and Mariavittoria Oddero has quietly become one of the most consistent and most highly regarded of all Barolo houses. The quality level is routinely excellent and has been steadily improving for the past decade.
Oddero produces as many as six different examples of Barolo per year, including one blended from La Morra and Castiglione grapes along with several cru bottlings, including Villero from Castiglione Falletto, Vigna Rionda from Serralunga d’Alba and Rocche di Castiglione from Castiglione Falletto. These vineyards are quite famous; other producers also craft single vineyard wines from these sites.
But it is the Bussia Soprana “Vigna Mondoca” that may just be the finest Barolo produced by Oddero, although it is nowhere as famous as their other wines. The vineyard itself is quite unique, comprised of white/grey marls and yellow sands with more limestone than clay. At the top of the hill (1180 feet above sea level), the soils are almost completely white, leading Mariacristina Oddero to comment that it looks “like lunar soil.”
Mariacristina Oddero (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Oddero acquired their section of this vineyard in 1970 and has never replanted, so the vines are at least 40-45 years old. Typical of a Barolo from the commune of Monforte d’Alba, this is a wine with firm, abundant tannins, so much so that the proprietors have made the decision to hold on to this wine one extra year before releasing it in the market. So while the current release of the other Barolos from Oddero, such as Villero, is 2008 (these were released a few months ago in 2012), the new release for the “Vigna Mondoca” is the 2007 – the 2008 will not be released until the fall of 2013.
I’ve recently tasted the 2007 and 2006 versions of this wine and I rated both as 5-star (outstanding) wines. The 2007 is much more intense and powerful than the typical 2007 Barolo, as this vintage produced many forward wines with medium-weight tannins. But the Oddero “Vigna Mondoca” from 2007 is a wine that needs a lot of time to shed its youthful tannins and settle down; in my notes, I have estimated that peak drinking for this wine will be in 20-25 years.
As for the 2006, this wine really displays its breeding and class along with the intensity and rich concentration of that wonderful vintage. Offering marvelous aromas of currant, dried cherry, balsamic, orange peel and cedar, this is a tightly wrapped wine that is an superb representation of this site; it is intense, yet beautifully balanced, so the wine should be in excellent condition when it peaks in 25-20 years.
The proprietors mature this wine each vintage in 40, 60 and 75 hectoliter (4000, 6000 and 7500 liter) Slavonian and Austrian oak casks for 30 months; this allows for beautiful expression of terroir, as the large casks let the Nebbiolo fruit characteristics emerge without being overwhelmed by too many wood notes. This gives the wine a unique identity, something that is a shared trait with other great examples of Barolo or many other superb red wines of Italy and the rest of the world.
Compliments to the Oddero family on such a superb wine each vintage. As with anything that is truly great, this is not easy to find (only about 30,000 bottles are produced in a year), but the search will undeniably be worth it!