We just came back from Piemonte, Italy, a month or 2 ago. While to most visitors it may seem things haven’t changed much over the years, to me it has.
Please remember this was a region where once upon a time the Nebbiolo grape variety was lucky to ripen 2 or 3 vintages out of every decade, at least enough to produce a stately, eye catching Barolo or Barbaresco. One could therefore safely say the Langhe hills was a very marginal growing region for the Nebbiolo grape, therefore quite challenging to produce true magic.
In comparison to the old days, consider the wonderment of a string of recent, highly accoladed vintages–2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001 & 2000.
Yes, I would say things have changed & Nebbiolo is certainly now more than ever the center of attention…..AND in a big way. (I was, in fact, utterly amazed how at the producers we visited, they were essentially sold out of everything).
This trip to Italy really wasn’t about wine, so our winery & vineyard visits & times were quite limited. When we first drove into the region, we were drawn to the La Morra hillside, it was that breathtaking, especially this time of the year, full of grapes & workers buzzing around. Some of the grapes were already harvested & others were just waiting to be plucked. Yes, it look to be another successful crop. The Nebbiolo grapes we tried from Cru vineyards such as Brunate, Cannubi, Cerequio, Rocche & Bricco Boschis, although quite different in taste & character, the grapes we randomly tasted seemed to have wonderful ripeness & superb physiological maturity. Furthermore, watching the faces & expressions of the winemakers, as they tasted the grapes coming into their winery, they seemed quite happy with the quality.
Our first official stop of the morning was with Elena Penna & her husband/winemaker Luca Currado of Vietti. As Barolo followers well know, Vietti is & has been one of the true pillars of Barolo wines. Although some might say this is a traditional minded winery, there is some modern innovations & thinking going on at this estate. I would also venture that since the estate was recently sold to an American family, it is inevitable there will be further changes down the road. Still, on this day, Elena was at her best–BIG personality, just full of life, passion, so exuberant & so charming. How can one not love her? The estate has roughly 37 hectares (30 owned & 7 leased). The vineyards are farmed organically & biodynamically. Their main Crus–Villero (1.3HA old, 1HA new); Brunate (2.2HA, planted in 1965), Lazzarito (roughly 4HA, planted in 1965); Ravera (7HA, planted in 1999 & 2000) ( Rocche di Gastiglione (2.2HA, planted in 1961).
In between grape deliveries, Luca would come in & out & taste the wines with us. Each of the wines tasted were stellar. I was especially, however, taken by the 2013 Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Scarrone”. This is truly some kind of Barbera. Luca, in fact, convinced his father this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) should be planted to the Barbera grape instead of Nebbiolo. And, so it was in 1989 & 1990. This was a REALLY big deal! Such a big leap of faith to say the least! I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement. Truly a standout!
I was also quite taken with the 2013 Nebbiolo “Perbacco”. (We also had had the 2012 the night before at a restaurant in Alba the night before). The wine had such elegance & class AND WAY over delivered for the dollar. I wasn’t at all surprised, given the innate class both wines deftly displayed, that both vintages were comprised of some noteworthy Barolo vineyards.
Lastly, we tasted all 5 of their 2012 single vineyard designated Barolo. While each of them were truly superb & for different reasons, I was especially drawn to the 2012 “Brunate” & the 2012 “Rocche di Castiglione”, each being a scant 300 case production in 2012. The 2012 Barolo “Brunate” (the vines planted in 1956 & 1964) was resoundingly Grand Cru like in quality, if there was such a thing. It was that good! It was rich, savory with deep, provocative character, umami & vinosity with saddle leather, bay leaf, sandalwood, roasted chestnut nuances & a distinct rose petal like quality in the finish. The 2012 Barolo “Rocche di Castiglione”, on the other hand, was totally all about pedigree & vinosity from the very first whiff–majestic & aristocratic, done with refinement & style.
Our next stop was at Giacomo Conterno. The winery is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno. The estate vineyard, Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera. In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera). Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different. In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard (100% Nebbiolo). “Monfortino” is the estate’s top wine–(a concept hard for me to explain, as sometimes in parcels which standout in the vineyard or lots which standout in the winery & is produced only in certain years–by Conterno himself. There was, for instance, NO Monfortino made in 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011 & 2012).
The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different. The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness character. The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame.
We then continued with the 2012 Barolo “Francia”–very majestic, magnificent, elegant with tar, roses, musk & lots of pedigree. The 2012 Barolo “Ceretta”, in contrast, was seemingly more forward, riper, bigger tannins with a savoriness & distinct bay leaf nuance & a rose petal-ness in the finesse.
All 4 wines displayed terrific presence, style, balance & top tier quality & in my opinion well deserved of their high level of respect & acclaim.
Having said that, the 2010 Barolo “Monfortino” was on a whole ‘nother level. OMG. In the past, I found some vintages of Monfortino to be somewhat over the top & actually too much for me. This was NOT the case with the 2010. Yes, it was more intense, concentrated with much mojo than the younger 2012 “Francia”, but was at the same time amazingly pure with breathtaking depth, intricacy & with such grandeur & pedigree. It certainly WOW-ed me that’s for sure. (BTW & FYI–in 2013 there will be NO “Francia”….all 100% “Monfortino”….which should tell you something about what Roberto thinks of the vintage).
We also did a quick jaunt to taste/buy some other Piemontese producers of which the 2 we were most impressed with was Giuseppe Cortese (Barbaresco & his “Rabaja” bottling) & Cavallotto (Barolo & his “Bricco Boschis” bottling). Both were sold out of 2010, 2011 & 2012 & we tried in vain to get some 2013. We were especially fortunate at Giuseppe Cortese, however, as he had some open bottles of older vintages we could try. I must say, the 2005 & the 1998 were in real sweet spots right now. I could go on & on about these 2 standout producers & their wines, but let’s just say these are 2 stars well worth seeking out, especially if you are looking for pure, elegant, refined, more traditional minded Nebbiolo.
Finally, let me just say, I am also in awe every time I have the opportunity to visit Rabaja. Whether it is considered a vineyard or a hillside, the answer depends on who you speak to. In any case, one thing is certain….this is certainly one of those special, unique sites for Nebbiolo.