Posts tagged ‘barolo’
1961 Fontanafredda Barolo
On Tuesday night in Chicago, on a day where the high temperature reached a tick or two above 100 degrees, I hosted a Barolo dinner at Vivere Restaurant at The Italian Village. The fact that the dinner was sold out is not only testimony of the passion of the wonderful people who attended, but also primary evidence of the everlasting allure of Barolo. This would turn out to be a magnificent evening!
The dinner featured ten different Barolos from my own cellar; these were wines I had brought back from my frequent trips to the Barolo zone over the past decade. Wine director Ian Louisignau and I whittled down my original list of 15 wines to ten, focusing primarily on vintage comparisons, as we would have two Barolos from vintages such as 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004 and 2001 and then finish with one from 1996 and finally a 1961. Each of these vintages was excellent, some outstanding and one (1961), legendary.
I mentioned to the group that what made Barolo so special for me is its uniqueness. We can taste a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to a classified growth from Bordeaux. We can sample a Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey or from Central Otago in New Zealand and note the similarities or differences to a Burgundy from the Cote d’Or. But we can’t do that with Barolo, unless we were to compare it with Barbaresco, another great 100% Nebbiolo wine produced not far away. Barolo then, is its own reference point and the finest examples reflect both a singular varietal identity as well a particular sense of place.
Detail of Lazzarito Vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba, with snow-capped Alps in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The notion of terroir is an important aspect for understanding Barolo. There are two major soil types found throughout the eleven communes that comprise the Barolo zone and knowing what these soils are and where they are found can help one learn about a sense of place with these wines. The older soils, known as Helvetian, are found in Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, while the younger soils, known as Tortonian, are found in communes such as La Morra, Verduno and Novello. As the older soils are thinner, the resulting wines have firmer, more intense tannins as compared with wines from the younger soils, which have more pronounced floral aromatics. Thus a wine from La Morra with younger soils is generally a more approachable Barolo upon release in comparison to one from Monforte or Serralunga, where the heavy duty tannins (in most years) mandate several years of aging before the wine starts to settle down.
This contrast was clear in the first pair of wines, both from 2008: the Ceretto “Brunate” and the Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera.” The Ceretto, from one of the most highly regarded crus in all of Barolo, is a lovely wine with beautiful fresh cherry perfumes and flavors and elegantly styled tannins, while the Grasso from a site on this family’s own estate in Monforte, was more tightly wound with a stronger backbone and firmer tannins. Both wines are beautifully made and perfectly illustrate the terroir of Barolo. Each wine should peak in 12-20 years, with the Grasso probably going a few years beyond that.
Before I move on to the next wines, I want to talk about the meal at Vivere. I have dined here more than a dozen times, always knowing I would enjoy a first-rate meal. What was great about the special menu for this Barolo dinner was that Chef Robert Reynaud assembled a menu as you would find in a trattoria or osteria in the Barolo area; this was not just any old meal put together at the last minute. A lot of thought went into this, as we enjoyed vitello tonnato with caper berry for the first two wines, tajarin with albese sauce with the next two wines, risotto al Barolo with figs with the third pairing of wines, hazelnut crusted ribeye with fontina fonduta with the 2001 Barolos and finally a selection of Piemontese cheeses with the 1996 and 1961 Barolos. Eveything was excellent, with much great praise for the outstanding risotto dish. How wonderful to show off these wines with great Piemontese cuisine!
The next wines were from 2007, the Elvio Cogno “Ravera” from Novello and the Attilio Ghoslfi “Brunate Bricco Visette” from Monforte. These wines displayed not only differences as far as terroir, but also in winemaking philosophy, as the Cogno is a traditional wine, quite lovely with a sensual edge, while the Ghisolfi is aged in barriques; indeed there was more evident oak with this wine, yet there was also very impressive depth of fruit. I enjoyed both wines, but gave the edge to the Cogno, especially as this wine displayed better overall balance as well as finesse.
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
Next came the 2004 Barolos. As I prepared my notes for this dinner, I took a look at my text about this vintage, which I wrote in the summer of 2008, when these wines were released. I asked if 2004 was the finest Barolo vintage of the last fifteen years and while 1996, 1999 and 2001 were all great vintages, I mentioned that “I’d never had such a collection of Barolos that were this good this young.”
The wines we tasted from 2004 were the Barale Fratelli “Canubi” and the Roberto Voerzio “Brunate”; this pairing an excellent contrast in style as well as weight. The Barale was a medium-full wine with lovely plum fruit that seemed a bit simple at first, but became more complex as it sat in the glass. The Voerzio was a powerhouse wine that offered tremendous depth of fruit, as well as having a great backbone. Voerzio, who uses barriques for his Barolo, has stated that after six to eight years in the bottle, the sensation of the smaller oak vessels fades and you’re not able to tell the difference between small or large oak barrel-aged wines. This did still have a touch of new oak sensation in the nose, but it was slight and not obtrusive; meanwhile the nose was still a bit closed, with hints of cherry and currant fruit emerging. But given the structure and impressive complexity, this is clearly a superb wine, one that can aged for another 25-30 years, when it will truly become great.
The next two wines were from 2001, a great vintage that produced powerful wines with excellent depth of fruit and firm tannins. The Vietti “Brunate” was a superior effort, especially in its elegance and polish; this was a wine that spoke of its origins with its gorgeous aromas of plum, cherry and roses. There are medium-weight, ultra smooth tannins and precise acidity. This is a wine of great finesse that a few of the diners thought was the wine of the evening (at least to that point, see the notes on the 1961 Fontanafredda below).
The other 2001 was the Fontanafredda “Lazzarito”; this a favorite Barolo of mine for many years. Medium-full, this offered power and impressive structure with firm, balanced tannins. This was not as supple as the Vietti, but again, consider terroir in this instance, as this is from a superb site in Serralunga d’Alba that results in wines of very rich tannins, so rich that the winery releases this wine almost a year after their other offerings of Barolo from the same vintage. What I loved about this wine was not only the balance, but also the freshness. This is a wine that should peak in another 15-20 years. 2001 was a great vintage and these two wines were memorable proof of that!
Our last two wines were from stellar vintages. The 1996 Poderi Colla “Dardi Le Rose Bussia” is a stunning wine with intense aromas, a powerful mid-palate and still youthful tannins and a finish with outstanding persistence. 1996 was a great, great year, a vintage that was a classic for Barolo, yielding wines that were truly Piemontese in style – that is, tightly wound and not as immediately approachable as international years such as 1997, 2000 or 2007. This Colla offering from Monforte d’Alba is a great wine now and one that will only improve for another 25-40 years. It’s that special.
Finally we came around to the wine everyone was waiting for, the 1961 Fontanafredda. While this was not a cru Barolo in the technical sense – single vineyard Barolos were not common until the late 1970 and early 1980s – this was a wine of exceptional breeding, sourced from the winery’s finest vineyards. 1961 was not just a great year for Barolo, it was a monumental year – Renato Ratti in his rating of Barolo vintages called it “majestic” at the time – and without doubt one of the ten finest vintages of the 20th century. What made this growing season so special was the notable warmth in the summer, as temperatures approached 100 degrees F. While this has been happening more often during the past fifteen years due to climate change, such hot temperatures were not normal back then. Combine that with the traditional winemaking style throughout Barolo at that time where wines were rather closed and a bit backwards upon release, and you have the makings of a wine that would improve slowly over the course of its life, a time span that would last for at least four or five decades.
Well, here we were, 51 years later and the wine was stunning! I had acquired the one and only bottle I had of this wine at the winery some five or six years ago. I placed the wine immediately in my cellar upon returning home and had only moved it twice in five years: once, a few months ago as I was planning this dinner to see if the wine was still in good condition (it was, as the fill was excellent) and once, last week, when I took all the wines to the restaurant to let them rest for a week.
Wine Director Ian Louisignau waited until the last minute to open this wine and when he showed me the cork, I had a huge smile on my face, as the cork was in one piece and offered lovely aromas of fruit. The wine had the color of a five year old Barolo – deep garnet – not one that was 51 years old. The aromas were unbelievably fresh with notes of red cherry, tar and currant with some delicate spice and the mid-palate was quite generous and well developed. The tannins were still quite evident and unbelievably polished and the finish, as graceful as one could imagine, seemed to go on forever. This was a wine I had kept for years for just this occasion and it not only met my lofty expectations, it exceeded them (and I believe everyone else’s, judging from the comments I heard.) I would wager a guess that this wine has at least 12-15 years of life ahead of it- perhaps longer.
Tasting a wine such as this lets you know that great bottles of Barolo have been produced for fifty years and more; great Barolo – indeed, great Italian wine – did not start in the 1970s, despite what certain wine publications may tell us. My how the farmers and winemakers throughout Barolo knew what they were doing back in 1961 and that era! My final thoughts on the 1961 Fontanafredda Barolo are these: I have tasted several thousand bottles of Barolo over the past decade; simply put, this was one of the three or four best examples I have ever experienced.
I touched the tip of the iceberg of my Barolo collection for this and I hope to organize another dinner such as this in the near future. Here’s hoping that next one comes close to the wonderful experience this one offered!
P.S. One final shout out to everyone at Vivere for their help, from manager Fred Ashtari for his organizational skills to Chef Reynaud for his superb menu, to our excellent waiter Ryan and of course, for all of his work, wine director Ian Louisignau. He decanted most of the wines about 90 minutes ahead of time and even more importantly, served them at the proper temperature. He also served various shapes ands sizes of stemware, which made it easy for all of us to remember which wine was which. Having great wines is one thing, but if they’re not treated properly, something is lost in the translation. Thanks, Ian, for your help and professional service!
I’ve recently tasted a dozen examples of Barolo from the 2008 vintage and while only 12 wines is hardly overwhelming evidence, it’s enough for me to offer my first thoughts on wines from this year. I’d say right now, this should shape up as an excellent Barolo vintage – not powerful, but beautifully balanced, with lovely aromas and fine structure.
2008 was not as warm as 2007 or 2009 in the Barolo zone, so this gives the wines a more subdued character when compared to those vintages. 2007 was certainly somewhat of an “international” vintage, with its forward fruit and approachability upon release. There were plenty of cool nights during 2007 to offset the warm days, so the wines are nicely balanced and if not a classic vintage, certainly a very successful one. 2009 may shape up in much the similar way, but this is only a guess, as these wines won’t be released for another 15-18 months.
As 2008 was cooler than 2007 or 2009, the wines are more classically oriented, meaning this is more of a Piemontese vintage. That means the wines are a bit shy upon release, but offer excellent structure as well as a greater notion of sense of place or terroir. Now 2006 was also more of a Piemontese vintage, but the Barolos from that year are bigger wines, ones that need more time to come around and show their best qualities. The best 2006 Barolos are destined for optimum drinking some 25 years or more down the road. I’d say that the time frame for the 2008s is a bit less – perhaps 15-20 for most. Again, I’ve only tasted a dozen and though that hasn’t included some of the most renowned bottlings, I’ve certainly tasted some impressive offerings.
So the 2008s are middle weight Barolos with beautiful balance, very good acidity and impressive complexity. To me, they’re somewhat reminiscent of 2005, which are among the most beautifully balanced of the decade. Those wines, like the 2008s may not win the award for the longest-lived Barolos, but they certainly are beautifully styled.
Here are a few notes on my favorite 2008 Barolos to date:
Luigi Einaudi Costa Grimaldi- Costa Grimaldi is a selezione of the finest grapes from the Terlo cru in the Barolo commune. Beautiful aromas of dried cherry, thyme and cedar. Elegant entry; generous mid-palate. Lovely finesse and balance- best in 15-20 years.
Mauro Sebaste Prapo (Serralunga d’Alba) – Lovely aromas of dried cherry, currant, cedar and a touch of balsamic. Wonderful complexity and balance, this is a subtle, beautifully made Barolo with a nice sense of finesse. A traditionally made Barolo with classic overtones. Best in 15-20 years.
Marcarini La Serra - This great traditional producer makes two cru Barolos from La Morra. Floral aromas of red roses, carnation, dried cherry, coriander and nutmeg. Very good concentration and acidity with silky tannins and precise acidity. Best in 12-15 years.
Marcarini Brunate - Aromas of red cherry, cumin and cedar. Medium-full; very good acidity and persistence; subtle wood notes and polished tannins. A bit richer on the palate than the La Serra; best in 15-20 years.
Conterno Fantino Sori Ginestra (Monforte d’Alba) – Classic aromas of red cherry, orange peel, currant and cedar. Excellent concentration; rich mid-palate with layers of fruit. Beautifully structured wine; very good acidity, excellent persistence with wood notes that are nicely integrated. A touch of modernity; beautiful complexity and varietal character. Best in 20 years plus.
Ca’ Rome Cerretta (Serralunga d’Alba) – Aromas of cedar, dried cherry, orange peel and sandalwood. Rich mid-palate, lovely balance, excellent persistence, very good acidity and refined tannins. Nice expression of Serralunga terroir. Best in 15-20 years.
Luigi Einaudi Cannubi (Barolo) – Red cherry, red rose and cedar aromas; medium-full with very good concentration. Tightly wound, this is rich with young balanced tannins, good acidity and persistence. Best in 15-20 years.
Cascina Bongiovanni Pernanno (Castiglione Falletto) – Currant, dried orange peel, dried cherry and cedar aromas – very classy! Medium-full, very good acidity and persistence with balanced tannins and nicely integrated oak. Best in 12-15 years.
Poderi Aldo Conterno, Monforte d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Assembling my list of the Top 100 wine producers in Italy has been a fun as well as challenging assignment. There are going to be a few producers that don’t make the final cut, but that’s the nature of these lists. But imagine trying to put together a Top 10 list – who makes the grade? While this would be an extremely difficult task, there’s no question in my mind that Poderi Aldo Conterno would be included in this grouping.
I say that as this producer located in Monforte d’Alba at the southern end of the Barolo zone has proven over the course of four decades that they produce as complete and as complex a Barolo as you will find. Established in 1969, the firm has remained in the Conterno family, with Stefano serving as winemaker, Giacomo taking care of tastings at the winery and Franco working with sales to the trade.
What makes Aldo Conterno such a superb winery is their collection of Barolos. They source fruit from three estate vineyards, all located next to each other in the Bussia sottozona of Monforte. The three vineyards are named Colonello, Cicala and Romairasco and all have the advantage of vine age in their favor, as the first two average 40-45 years of vine age, with the vines at Romairasco being 50-55 years old. This means small yields, which is beneficial to wines of structure and longevity.
The wines are aged solely in large casks (grandi botti), which is the traditional style of aging Barolo. I prefer this approach, as it means that wood notes in the wines are quite subtle, as the flavors of the Nebbiolo grape – cherry, currant, orange, tar and others – can emerge as the dominant notes in the wines. But while other producers also age their wines in this way, what makes Aldo Conterno different is the fact that the family has a much stricter selection method when deciding whether or not to even produce these cru offerings. As hail is a problem here, as in much of the Barolo zone, the family will not bottle a wine if any particular vineyard has been affected by hail. Thus for 2007, there is no bottling of Colonello or Romirasco; only Cicala has been produced as a cru, while there is a Barolo normale, blended from several sites in Bussia.
The cru bottlings of Barolo from Aldo Conterno are quite remarkable; I tasted the 2006 Romirasco and awarded the wine a 5-star (outstanding) rating; with excellent concentration, fine tannins and outstanding complexity, the wine should be at its peak in 25-30 years. I also rated the 2007 Cicala as outstanding, and while this wine is a bit lighter than the 2006 Romairasco, it should still be in fine shape in 20-25 years.
But the wine that truly makes Aldo Conterno such an amazing producer of Barolo is their Gran Bussia. This wine, a blend of their three crus, is produced only in the very finest years and even then, it must be a blend of all three sites. Thus even in a stellar year such as 2004, there will not be a bottling of Gran Bussia, as Cicala was heavily affected by hail that year. Giacomo Conterno told me that they could certainly make a great wine from the other two sites, “but then it wouldn’t be Gran Bussia.”
The most recent bottling of Gran Bussia is the 2001; this is the 14th bottling of this wine, which was first produced from the 1970 vintage (other bottlings include 1974, 1979, 1985, 1990, 1996, 1998 and 1999.) This is singular Barolo and as I look over my notes, I recall what a wonderful experience it was for me to taste this wine. Aromas include dried cherry, fig, cedar, hazelnut, leather and licorice – what a wonderful aromatic profile!. Full-bodied with a huge mid-palate and outstanding persistence, the tannins are rich, but quite sleek, the acidity is lively and the overall balance is impeccable. Naturally, the wine has unbelievable complexity with an extremely long finish. I wrote that this will will be at its peak in 40-50 years.
After writing that estimate of aging potential for the 2001 Gran Bussia, I realized two things: first, I had never written that length of time for optimum drinking for any wine, Barolo or other. Secondly, I realized that at 55 years of age myself, chances are I won’t be around to try this wine when it’s at its best. So I’ll have to settle for being able to taste this wine at this stage of its life and hopefully, I’ll secure another bottle soon to enjoy it again. (note: the supply is quite limited and the suggested retail price in America is $240 a bottle. Given the rarity and quality of this wine, I’d say the price is actually quite fair).
One final note: If you can’t find or afford the Gran Bussia, try the Barolo normale (2006 and/or 2007 are currently available). I rated the 2007 as excellent (4-stars) and was impressed by the excellent persistence, lovely varietal character and beautiful balance of this wine. You should be able to find this wine for about $125 a bottle. Again, for a Barolo from one of the greatest of all Barolo producers, the price is just.
Everyone loves Italian food and naturally wants to pair Italian wines with this cuisine. What are the best pairings of Italian wine and food? I went to three authorities in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and asked them what Italian wine (or wines) they would pair with some classic Italian dishes. The three wine and food authorities are:
Charles Scicolone – New York City
If you want to know anything about Italian wines – especially those made during the 1950s and 1960s- ask Charles. He is a wine consultant, writer and educator and has been specializing in Italian wines for more than 40 years. He was the wine director for I Trulli Restaurant in New York City for 10 years and today consults for various Italian restaurants in the city. He authors the blog Charles Scicolone on Wine and is also the wine editor for www.i-italy.org. He has lectured about Italian wines for the Italian Trade Commission and is often hired by regional Italian wine departments to make presentations about their wines. He also is one of this country’s leading authorities on pizza, especially the classic pizza margherita from Napoli.
Piero Selvaggio – Los Angeles
Long before today’s fascination with Italian wine and food in America, Piero Selvaggio was educating Americans on the glories of these products. Born in Sicily, he arrived in Brooklyn in 1964 and soon learned how different Italian-American food was from that of his native Italy. He attended college in California and worked at several restaurant jobs – everything from busboy to waiter to assistant manager.
He opened the restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica in 1972 with a friend. Praise for this restaurant was extraordinary right from the start; it is no exaggeration to write that this was the first great Italian restaurant of the modern era in the United States. Along with using the finest ingredients, Selvaggio emphasized the best wines from all over Italy.
He has since opened a Valentino restaurant in Las Vegas and Houston and continues to explore the ever-changing relationship between Italian wine and food.
Jason Carlen, Chicago
Early this year, Jason Carlen took over the wine program at one of America’s temples to Italian food, Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago. Carlen is the newest wine director here, following the magnificent work of Henry Bishop and then Steven Alexander. While the Italian wine program here does not have the most selections in the country, it is as thorough and eclectic as any in America. Before coming to Spiaggia, Carlen spent four years as sommelier at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge resort in Bluffton, South Carolina.
I will also be adding my thoughts on the pairings. I have made 49 trips to Italy over the past ten years and have enjoyed wonderful meals throughout the country, from humble trattorie and osterie to two-star Michelin ristoranti.
Here are the foods and the recommended pairings from these gentlemen:
Risotto with Vegetables (pictured above)
Charles Scicolone: “Classic vegetable risotto with peas and carrots calls for a Soave. This white wine with good acidity from the Veneto will work very well with the richness of the risotto and the mild flavors of the vegetables.”
Piero Selavaggio: “Part of the fun of pairing wine with certain food is always the originality, the nuances, the way salt of food and acidity of wine dance well together. Here is a new partner in the contest. For the risotto, I picked a wine of exemplary elegance: Grifola. It is from the small Marche region in central Italy by Poderi San Lazzaro.” (note- this is a Marche Rosso IGT produced exclusively from the Montepulciano grape – TH.)
“It is a wine of dark black fruit, yet fresh and elegant in the finish able to enrich and complement the richness of the cheese and the butter that ties the risotto and sustains the simplicity of the veggies.”
Jason Carlen: “As for the risotto, I would love a Trebbiano by Valentini. I think the purity of those wines and slight oxidative quality are reminiscent of Puligny-Montrachet. I love pairing the richness of a risotto with an equally rich wine that is perfectly balanced with acid.”
Tom Hyland: I am in agreement with Charles on this one. A Soave Classico from a top producer such as Pieropan, Ca’ Rugate or Coffele has the ideal flavors that pick up on the risotto, while the aromatics of the Garganega grape blend ideally with the vegetables.
CS: “Pizza Margherita is not only the perfect pizza, but also the perfect food. The wine I like to drink with pizza is Barolo, one from a traditional producer. Barolo of this type has subtle fruit, hints of tar, tobacco, etc. with good acidity. This is a perfect combination for the tomato sauce, the mozzarella and the basil of the margherita.
PS: “For pizza, I always think Sangiovese. From Umbria, I like the Falesco; it is bold and supple, jammy and easy, just like the pie. An alternative is always a good Chianti, like Felsina, Ricasoli or Fattoria La Massa in Panzano. These are the type of new Italian wines that made people fall in love with Italian gastronomy.”
JC: “I think there are so many directions you can go with a margherita pizza.Personally I prefer a red with enough acid to cut through the fat of the cheese and to hold up to the tomato. Perhaps the COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2008. I love the sweet herbaceous cherry fruit in this wine, the chalky tannins and the bright acidity.”
TH: I agree with Charles about Barolo with the margherita pizza, especially when it comes to a traditional style of Barolo. I also think a traditional Barbera d’Alba with plenty of spice can work well, while an Aglianico-based wine from Campania or Basilicata can also pair well with the pizza.
CS: “With this dish I would drink an Amarone. I would prefer one with good acidity and the characteristics of a table wine, as opposed to some Amarones with intense flavors and aromas that can make it more like a dessert wine. The gaminess of the duck will not be overwhelmed by the Amarone and the raisins and onions will enhance the flavors of the Amarone.”
PS: “For the sauteed duck breast I like a Veronese Ripasso: Palazzo della Torre by Allegrini. A young wine that has been blended with Amarone-style raisiny juice. It is robust and concentrated, yet showing the elegance of the Corvina grape, that should wrap well with the sweetness of the sauce.”
JC: ” I normally like to pair duck with a pinot noir but in this case I am thinking a Gattinara would do the trick nicely. With the fat of the duck I think a more polished Gattinara would work well. The little bit of tannins would made docile by fat of the meat and the sweetness of the raisins would help to bring out the fruit in the wine. A favorite right now is the Anoniolo “San Francesco” Gattinara 2006.”
TH: I also like a Ripasso or Amarone with this dish. I would also love to pair this with a Dolcetto from Diano d’Alba – the Fontanafredda “La Lepre” is a tantalizing example of this wine. The black cherry and cranberry fruit flavors are spot on here, while the tannins are not very strong and do not overpower the duck.
Do you have any thoughts on what Italian wines you would pair with these dishes? Do you have other Italian wine and food pairings you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!
Text and photos ©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!
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).
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.
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?
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.