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ITALY:  PIEMONTE

Located in North-Western Italy, Piemonte offers a wonderful array of wines.

The primary area of Piemonte for wine (and food) is centered around the city of Alba.  The region is known as the Langhe and these hills are responsible for the potentially noble wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as satisfying Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis and Moscato wines. 

The landscapes are varied and the hilltops crowned with castles.  Once relatively "poor" farmers now find themselves wealthy and world-famous as a result of increasing connoisseurship of their wines.   Much as with vignerons in Burgundy, small, family-run wineries turn out some of the very finest of the region and, sadly, some of the poorest wines. 

Major Piemontese Grapes and Wines

ALTA LANGA This is a new designation for bottle-fermented sparkling wines from Langhe vineyard sites of at least 250 meters in elevation and made predominantly (90%) of Chardonnay or Pinot Nero.  Though typically a "white" wine, these can be pink or even red sparkling wines.  There are less than 10 producers of such bubblies as of March 2009.
ARNEIS Typically a dry white wine, best when young and fresh.
Grown in the Roero region, primarily.
BARBERA Grown in many areas of Piemonte, its most famous wines are "Barbera d'Alba," "Barbera d'Asti" and "Barbera del Monferrato."  Some are young, fresh and without wood aging, while others exhibit a forest-full of wood.  It is usually a high acid, low tannin red wine.
BRACHETTO Usually made as a fizzy and somewhat sweet red wine.   "Brachetto d'Acqui" is well known.
CORTESE A modest white variety making wine such as "Gavi."
DOLCETTO A berryish, fruity red, often likened to Beaujolais.  As it's usually a wine meant for drinking in its youth, we favor those with modest tannins...some producers make mean and fiercely tannic wine from what should be a gentle, easy-going red.   There are various locations, such as Alba, Asti, Diano d'Alba, Dogliani and Ovada.
ERBALUCE A white wine made near Torino and Vercelli.  Sometimes made dry, sometimes bubbly and some make a sweet, Passito-styled wine.
FAVORITA Grown in Roero and the Langhe...makes a simple, light dry white wine.  It may be related to Liguria's Pigato and Vermentino varieties.
FREISA Typically made as a light and fizzy red wine.  Best in its youth.  Sometimes, as the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, the wine can develop some "dirty" aromas. 
GRIGNOLINO Rather pale and light in color, this is usually a sharp, acidic light-colored, spicy red wine.  
MALVASIA Often made as a light, fizzy red which has a bit of sweetness.  
MOSCATO A flowery white wine, best in its youth.  Typically low in alcohol and bottled "fizzy."  Most have the name "Moscato d'Asti."  The same grape makes the more bubbly, but less "fine" sparkling wine known as "Asti Spumante."

Growers are working to have a special designation "Canelli" on the labels.  These will, undoubtedly, be more costly.
NAS-CETTA or ANASCETTA A white grape which used to be more widely planted, today it's found in the Barolo-area town of Novello.   It's an appley and dry white and new plantings have been made, so you'll start seeing a number of new producers of this interesting dry white.

NEBBIOLOwpe11.jpg (17574 bytes)
The Three "Clones" of Nebbiolo
Notice the different leaf structure, as well as the difference in bunch shapes.
Friends used to make a Barolo from the Rose variety and this was always incredibly aromatic, but light in color and body.  There's not much Barolo or Barbaresco made today which incorporates Rose.  The Lampia and Michet have become the preferred clones.

The red grape of Piemonte, making the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo.  There are (at least) 3 clones, Lampia, Michet & Rose.   The grape takes its name from the fog or nebbia.  Like Pinot Noir, this grape is color-poor, yet it can be more fiercely tannic than a Cabernet.    "Nebbiolo d'Alba" wines come from vineyards in the Langhe which are not Barolo or Barbaresco.  The name for declassified Barolo and Barbaresco wines is "Nebbiolo delle Langhe."  Don't let some fool you by the claim that Nebbiolo d'Alba is "declassified" Barolo or Barbaresco!  Other names of Nebbiolo wines in Piemonte include Carema, Gattinara (with as much as 10% of a variety called Bonarda), Ghemme (60-85% Nebbiolo, 10-30% Vespolina and up to 15% Bonarda), Lessona (up to 25% of other varieties), while Fara, Boca and Sizzano wines are made up in part with Nebbiolo.  The grape also is known as "Spanna"  in the Novara-Vercelli hills.

PELAVERGA

This is a curious little red grape that's found in the Barolo-area town of Verduno.  The wine is dry, light to medium-bodied and has a distinctively spicy quality.  I've tasted some Friulian Schioppettino which have similar characteristics.  It's, apparently, cultivated near Torino where it goes by the name "Cari."  Who knew?

RUCHÉ

The origins of this grape, typically cultivated in the area of Castagnole Monferrato have been obscured.  Some will tell you it's indigenous to this area (near Asti), while other stories proclaim it was brought from France and nobody knows, precisely, what it is.  The red wine made from Ruché tends to have an interesting floral fragrance, though.

TIMORASSO

This is an unusual variety cultivated in south-eastern Piemonte near Tortona.  The grape is unusual in that as white grapes go, this has fairly thick skins...good for warding off rot.  It's not widely-planted, though in the past few years, there's been a slight spike in interest.

OTHER VARIETIES/etc.

 
ALBAROSSA A vine guy named Giovanni Dalmasso crossed Nebbiolo and Barbera back in 1938 to produce a variety which has the dark color of Barbera and supposedly some character of Nebbiolo.  In the second decade of the 21st century, a few producers are making interesting wines from this grape...nothing, yet, as grand as top Barbera or killer Nebbiolo.  But who knows?
MALVASIA di SCHIERANO Cultivated, for the most part, in the Asti hills of Castelnuovo Don Bosco, this grape makes a fantastically delicious, fizzy, low alcohol sweet wine along the lines of Moscato d'Asti.  Cascina Gilli is the reference point.
AVANA A very obscure grape grown in the hills of the Valle di Susa, not far from Torino, as well as in the Val Chisone.  Few people as "far away" as Barolo would have heard of this red grape.
DOUX D'HENRY Cultivated southwest of Torino in the Pinerolese area...it's said France's King Henry rode through the area in the 1600s and enjoyed the sweet wine made of this variety, hence its curious name.  Today there is a small production of dry red wine from the grape known as Doux d'Henry.
BONARDA Small plantings are still found in northern Piemonte, for the most part.  There's another grape called Croatina which sometimes goes by the name Bonarda, but it's actually not the same variety.  That's Italy for you: always confusing.
CROATINA A variety sometimes used in making the Nebbiolo-based wines of Gattinara and Ghemme, but in the Roero and San Damiano d'Asti, this variety is called Bonarda.  Confused?  Yes.

VESPOLINA

Planted in the region of Gattinara, it is currently thought to be related to Nebbiolo.  You might find it in wines of the Fara, Boca, Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia appellations.

CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO A MAP OF BAROLO'S VARIOUS VINEYARD SITES

CLICK HERE TO SEE A TERRIFIC 10 MINUTE VIDEO ON BAROLO/BARBARESCO & THE LANGA REGION

 

Some Current Offerings:

VIETTI
vietti.gif (10666 bytes)I've adopted this family as my "Piemontese famiglia" (or they've adopted me as their California relative).  

Alfredo Currado was amongst the first to bottle wines with single vineyard designations, resuscitate the "Arneis" grape variety (and make a good wine from it!), as well as offer wine with special artist labels.  He passed away in 2010, but his impact on the Piemontese wine scene will live on forever.

Located in Castiglione Falletto, they now own vineyards in the Asti area as well as in their local neighborhood.  
 
 

The late Alfredo Currado...a major pioneer in Piemontese wine.
Alfredo liked sharing bottles of old vintages and he said I should come visit more frequently as he still had a lot of venerable bottles and he needed someone to drink them with.

Alfredo Currado had married Luciana Vietti, whose father started the winery.  Alfredo's first vintage was 1961 and what a vintage it was!  We became familiar with the wines in the late 1970s and found the wines to be brighter and more interesting than most Piemontese (or Italian, for that matter) wines.

We finally visited the winery in 1982 and arranged an appointment through the local consorzio office in Alba.  Alfredo had immediately called back to the office asking if we could come the following day as he didn't speak English, but his wife did.  She was away that afternoon with their son Luca.  

"Tell him while we don't speak much Italian, but we do speak 'wine.'"  And the consorzio fellow did just that and so we went to visit.  The cellars were old, clean and traditional.  Alfredo graciously poured every wine he had for sale.  And, having run out of things to show us, asked if we would like to taste an older wine.  I didn't go there to say "no."

We went upstairs and he brought out a rare bottle of 1961 Vietti Barolo.  His mother-in-law, Nonna Pierina, joined us and later, so did his daughter, Elisabetta.   Nonna ended up taking some blossoms from a tree and frying them to serve with the wine...and daughter 'Betta was 'fried," too, since 1961 was "her" vintage and there were less than a dozen bottles remaining.  You can imagine how her blood pressure really rose when Alfredo sent us packing with another bottle of her precious 1961!

 

**********

This special bottle of 1961 was served to an appreciative audience a few years later.  Alfredo was staying with me for a few months, here in California learning English.  We hosted dinner one night, Alfredo preparing a pasta sauce and me preparing some sort of goat stew.  I knew he was apprehensive about opening this ancient bottle, since it might not still be alive, so I'd asked Luciana to call at the time when I thought we might be ready to serve this (with a cheese course).  She did and as Alfredo chatted with Italy, I opened and decanted this venerable bottle for our guests (one gentleman was a Gourmet magazine affiliate -Gerald Asher- and our late friend Shirley Sarvis wrote for various publications, including magazines and local newspapers).  The 1961 was splendid, in fact.  The empty bottle is prominently displayed, still, in my dining room.
 
**********

The winery produced all sorts of wines in those days, including the light-colored, light-bodied, high acid red called Grignolino.  One vintage they vinified some Pelaverga. Alfredo didn't mind experimenting with different local grape varieties. Over the years, they've streamlined the roster of wines and have upgraded the range of Barolo bottlings.  

Son Luca Currado and son-in-law Mario Cordero (he's married to Alfredo & Luciana's first born, Manuela) are the official owners of the winery.  Daughter Elisabetta Currado left the family business many years ago to make wine for Italian movie star Ornella Muti.  That winery has since closed.   Today she's living in Genoa with her kids and does a bit of consulting here and there.

Mario and Manuela's oldest kid, Francesco Cordero, is now working in the cellar.  Though he studied economics and not enology, I'm impressed hearing his assessments of various wines we've tasted together.  And Francesco's younger brother Lorenzo is enrolled presently at the enology school in Alba.
*****

Alfredo used to describe his winemaking as "traditional" and I recall he was allergic to having his picture taken in the company of French oak barriques. Perhaps he did not want to be viewed as making wines smelling and tasting of oak or he didn't want his old winemaker friends to think he had abandoned tradition.  

His son Luca came to California for an internship and he also spent time in Bordeaux.  With these experiences, surely, he's learned some of the intricacies of using new wood, but the winery still has substantial large, neutral cooperage for maturing its wines.  Alfredo used to say he didn't know how to properly employ small oak aging for his wines, but that Luca, with his experiences in places where small French oak was common, was more capable with barriques.  

They used to own but a few acres of vineyards, but Alfredo and Luciana saw the escalating prices for fruit and began investing in vineyards quite a few years ago.  Today they own about 32 hectares of vineyards and rent another 5.

Luca, meanwhile, is working to satisfy his enological curiosity about other grape varieties.  He gives advice on winemaking to the folks at the Tenimenti Luigi D'Alessandro in Cortona and he's been giving some tips at Querciabella in Tuscany's Chianti region.  


Alfredo Currado in 2007 is holding a bottle of an old vintage (1973) of Arneis.  
He and Luciana tell the story of asking friends at church one Sunday in 1967 to bring Arneis grapes to the winery if anybody still farmed this.  They were surprised when numerous neighbors showed up with boxes full of Arneis.  Alfredo is credited with resuscitating Arneis as a commercial wine, though some reports claim Bruno Giacosa also vinified some Arneis around the same time.  Giacosa, though, admits Alfredo beat them to the punch by a nose...



The winery produces the major wines of the Langhe, often having top Dolcetto, Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco wines.   Vietti is one of a modest number of wineries able to make both Barolo and Barbaresco in the same winery (the law requires the winery have a 'history' of making both...otherwise, you need a winery within the confines of each area to produce the respective wines).

Barbera wines have really been great from Vietti.  Winemaker Luca Currado has a great hand with these.  Their "Tre Vigne" bottling is the 'entry level' offering and we periodically have that in the shop.  The 2010 is delicious and it's attractively-priced at $17.99...

The Scarrone vineyard is close to the winery and produces marvelous Barbera!  The 2010 is an exceptional bottle of wine, having lovely berry fruit and a hint of sweet, cedary oak.  The flavors are long and velvety, more "noble" than the simple, fruity, "everyday" sort of Barbera wine.   

The Scarrone Vigna Vecchia (Old Vines--about 80+ years of age) is massive and remarkable.  It is quite limited as they make but a few bottles of this wine.  Sadly, the price has escalated but the quality is remarkable. 

La Crena is their single vineyard wine from the Asti region...it's usually been very bright in fruit and nicely oaked.  You might find it a bit more polished and supple compared to the Scarrone.  We currently have some of the 2010---a medium-full-bodied, nicely drinkable Barbera.

Barbaresco from the Masseria cru has been exceptional,  the wine showing a touch of wood underneath the intense Nebbiolo 'fruit' (a bit of earth and truffle-like notes on our last taste of this).  This wine has substantial tannins, so holding it for 5-10 more years is not out of the question.  It is fantastically complex and will continue to develop in bottle for another decade, easily.  The 2005 might be criticized for being a bit "internationally-styled," but there is no denying this is a grand bottle of wine.  It shows some wood today, but this will become less prominent as the wine ages. 
The 2001 was a fantastic bottle...if you have that, please treasure it and enjoy it with a grand meal...anytime between tonight and 2020, or so.


Barolo wines come from a variety of 'crus'.  These have been quite good for many years, though only recently getting the attention from The Critics that some of their neighbors receive.    I wish they weren't so costly, but the wines are good and Luca works diligently to improve these.  In discussing these with him, one can easily see Luca is as passionate about the wines as his father Alfredo had been.  I suspect that Luca's studies in school give him the edge on his dad in terms of being able to "tweak" the wines each vintage.  He seems very sensitive to the quality and character of the vintage as the grapes are harvested and he does what's necessary to coax the maximum character out of each wine.

We have several Barolo wines in the shop.  

"Castiglione" is the entry level bottling.  It's been a reasonably good bottle of wine, though we've not carried it in recent vintages, finding other more interesting wines at a similar price.  I know Mario and Luca were quite insistent I taste the 2003 version of this wine as they'd really worked to upgrade the wine.  I was pleasantly surprised, having tasted more than a hundred 2003s and have to applaud their diligence in making a more interesting wine than they've had in previous years.  The 2006 is remarkably good, as was the 2007. There's 2010 currently in the shop, a marvelous introduction to Vietti wines.
Winemaker Luca Currado says it's because the fruit comes from good vineyard sites and it's a blend of really good wines.  They're conscious of offering at least one Barolo with a reasonable price tag and the Castiglione bottling should be on your list of "under $50 Barolo worth buying and at $49.99, it's a great introduction to young Barolo.   


The Lazzarito vineyard is across the valley and east and south of the winery in the Serralunga.  Alfredo first made wine from this cru in 1989.  Luca's version is a shade more modern, let's say, seeing time in small French oak and then finishing its maturation in Slavonian oak.  The fragrances show some of the dried rose character and a nice woodsy component.  The tannins are reasonably well-balanced, so drinking it over the next 5-15 years would be about right.

Ravera is a rather new addition to the Vietti line-up.   This comes from a vineyard south and west of the winery in the area of Novello.  This is a lovely outpost, rather due west of Monforte d'Alba.   I've mentioned several clones of Nebbiolo and this vineyard has three of them, including the aromatic and very light-in-color "rosé" variety.  (Alfredo used to make a wonderful Barolo from a vineyard planted predominantly with rosé...I always found the fragrance to be especially deep and wonderful, but most people "taste with their eyes" and the pale color caused many to be prejudiced!)   The 2000 Ravera shows lovely fruit, a hint of a floral tone and a touch of anise or licorice.  The wine is elegant and deeply flavored.  I suspect this can be cellared for 5-15 more years.

Rocche is, for me, the "classic" Barolo of the house.  It's perhaps the most "traditionally-made" Barolo, as the wine is matured exclusively in Slavonian casks, not seeing time in small French oak.   The vineyard is actually pretty close to the winery in Castiglione.  It often has some of the high-toned, almost ethereal fragrances of earth and truffles.  The 2004 should be cellared for a decade or more, though if you choose to open one in the not-too-distant-future, do decant it a few hours before service.  It's a wonderful bottle of wine.  The 2003 is more developed and is showing well presently and will continue to be a showy wine for 5-10 more years.

Villero is a special vineyard site not far from the Vietti cellar.  Alfredo always spoke highly of this vineyard and I think he was often torn between it and the Rocche cru in picking his favorite Barolo each vintage. 

Over the years, though, Vietti has offered the Villero Barolo with a special designation, Riserva, and with a specially commission artist label.  The 1982 was the first vintage and since then, Villero Riserva has been made just 8 times.  In years when they don't keep it aside, this is blended into their entry-level, Barolo "Castiglione" bottling.   
The 2004 is the most recent release.  It is a fantastic bottle of Barolo and is just starting to blossom a bit.  There are notes of red fruits and a whiff of a leathery, woodsy tone.  The wine cascades across the palate and offers layers of flavors...it's going to be a great bottle if you can wait until, say, 2015 to 2020 (and beyond).
 

Some special bottles of Barolo from Vietti and the 2006 "Villero" Riserva with a mock-up of
an artist label which will never see the light of day, thankfully.



Moscato is made by a colleague of the Currado's.  Mario's family owns some vineyards near Asti and the wine is made especially for the Vietti "Cascinetta" label.  It is always good, bright and fruity.  We even had an elderly bottle at a friend's house and the wine, at 5 years of age was still alive and kicking!  2013 is the current vintage.  Delicious.



Though not too many wine "geeks" pay attention to Dolcetto, Vietti has long been a good source.  While many producers seem to have a very high threshold for tannin, the Vietti "Dolcetto d'Alba" from the 2012 vintage is delicious!  It's balanced and intended for immediate consumption.  Best at cool cellar temp. 


MORE VIETTI PHOTOS

Currently available:
2013 Arneis (Roero)  $23.99
2012 Dolcetto d'Alba  $21.99 
2010 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone Old Vines" SALE $79.99
2010 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone" SALE $37.99
2010 Barbera d'Asti La Crena $39.99
2012 Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne"  $17.99
2013 Cascinetta Moscato d'Asti  $15.99
2003 Barolo Lazzarito Sale $99.99 
2006 Barolo Lazzarito SALE $129.99
2007 Barolo Lazzarito $134.99
2008 Barolo Lazzarito  SALE $119.99
2005 Barbaresco Sale $99.99
2007 Barolo "Rocche"  Sale $134.99
2008 Barolo "Rocche" Sale $119.99
2006 Barolo Brunate $129.99
2007 Barolo Brunate $134.99
2008 Barolo Brunate Sale $119.99
2008 Barolo "Castiglione" (List $50-$55) SALE $39.99
2010 Barolo "Castiglione" $49.99 (Case discounts, too!)
2004 Barolo "Villero Riserva"  Sale $299.99
 


We opened a 1962 "Mario Vietti" Barolo in 2005...still in decent condition and though it's not a hall-of-fame-vintage, this was quite a good bottle.

 


As the current Vietti importer has the idea that the wines such as this high-priced Barolo Riserva should be tasted using stemless "wine glasses" made out of plastic, we edited the artist label to be more appropriate for this company.


Luca Currado's Line-Up of Special Bottles for a Dinner in 2012.

LUCA'S DINNER IN MAY of 2012 FEATURING OLD BAROLO

Elena & Luca Currado's Daughter Giulia is making a name for herself...
Not many people outside the village of Castiglione Falletto know this...
She's a speedy little downhill skier and you can see some of her racing by
CLICKING HERE.
Giulia's brother Michele is also pretty speedy on the slopes and we've read reports of his winning some downhill races, too!
 

 

GAJA
wpe6.jpg (11614 bytes)Angelo Gaja is a dynamo, a mover & shaker who has brought great fame, attention and more than a little good fortune to the world of Italian wines in general and Piemonte in particular.  

The family winery, founded in the 1850s, made the usual assortment of wines.  Gaja sold their holdings in Barolo in order to concentrate on the Barbaresco wines in his "backyard."  He studied the top wines of France, importing and distributing top French wines into Italy.  He's done the same with California, bringing back not only wine, but new winemaking ideas.  

To capture attention for Barbaresco, he planted Cabernet and Chardonnay in Barbaresco.  His father thought this was a shame and the Cabernet vineyard takes the name "Darmagi" from the Piemontese dialect word for "pity."  Angelo, nonetheless, made very good Cabernet and continues to make that, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc of world-class quality.

He brought wpe7.jpg (14666 bytes)French oak to Barbaresco and has learned how to use it to season, rather than overwhelm his wines.  Gaja wines cost a fortune, but are frequently amongst the best of the region and take their place as show-pieces.  In addition to their marvelous Barbaresco, single vineyard bottlings include "Costa Russi," "Sori San Lorenzo," "Sori Tildin," "Costa Troppo" and "So Sori".    

Gaja has since purchased vineyards in the Barolo zone, along with vineyards in Tuscany.  He's got a new property in Montalcino and bought a vineyard in Bolgheri where he's, I suppose, making what I call "Sassi-Gaja."

The photo shown above is quite rare...you never see a photo of Angelo Gaja smiling, much less laughing. (Not because he's not a happy fellow, but for some reason his photographic persona always seems ultra-serious.)   I had just suggested the "Sassi-Gaja name to him when I shot this picture.
  With winemaker Guido Rivella in the cellar, the winery also turned out top Barbera, though Angelo admits he's not especially enamored with this grape. 


The cellar in Barbaresco

Old Botti in Barbaresco


Gaja's purchase of a vineyard in the Cerequio "cru" was distressing to many in Barolo.  As if it isn't bad enough (in their minds) to have so many people extolling the virtues of a "mere" Barbaresco by Gaja, now they'll have this "outsider" kicking them in the tail with his Barolo.  
I like the 2003...it's a warm vintage, of course, but the wine is nicely balanced and smells and tastes like Barolo.


Old bottles.


As if their wines weren't expensive enough, their American importer tacks on a substantial percentage, meaning you can have a chat with our mortgage broker if you'd like to acquire a bottle of Gaja's wine.  

Look on a vintage chart and you'll see the 1994 vintage is not particularly stellar.   Taste Gaja's 1994 Barbaresco and you'll have trouble believing this is a "minor" vintage.  In 1997 I paid Angelo a visit and we tasted a bunch of wines.  He said nothing about the 1994...the longer it sat in the glass, the more spectacular it became.  He said, "Well, you know this is a difficult vintage," downplaying the wine. 
"Angelo, give me a break!!" I said, "This is an excellent wine and you know it!"  He smiled saying the wine had been given the highest accolades in a major Italian wine guide and that he'd soon be raising the price!  It seems they blended in their single vineyard wines, adding considerable complexity to this wine.  This is what separates the men from the boys. 

A few years ago, by the way, the members of the Barolo and Barbaresco consortium voted to not allow the addition of a small percentage of "other" varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon is an "other variety") in wines of DOCG-status.  Some viewed this vote as an "anti-Gaja" referendum.  So, Angelo will not be labeling the vaunted, much sought-after single-vineyard wines as "Barbaresco."  They will be "merely" Gaja!  So you now have simple, declassified wines sold as "Langhe Rosso" as well as the top wine of the region being sold under this "small" denominazione. 
And the wines are typically 95% Nebbiolo with 5% Barbera adding a bit of heft to the wine.

One other bit of insider info, as long as we're dishing up some dirt:  some years ago the growers voted to not allow (can you guess who?) a producer without a "history" of making Barolo or Barbaresco outside of the zone of cultivation to call his or her wine by those famed designations.  A number of producers in Barolo, for example, buy grapes in Barbaresco and produce that famous wine.  Since Gaja sold his family's holdings in Barolo back in the 1960s, he could not produce Barolo by purchasing fruit.  
They'd neatly ham-strung Signor Gaja, or so they thought.

He's one-upped them by buying vineyards and wineries in Barolo, so the little game of cat and mouse (or, in Gaja's instance, lion and mouse) continues.  


The 1997 Barbaresco is an amazing wine.  In a blind-tasting of 1997s we found this to be extraordinary (like a Gaja wine wouldn't be!).  The wine has the intensity of a really concentrated Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The fruit character is incredibly intense, the wine having a fair bit of wood to go with all that "black fruit".  The tannin level is also much in the same neighborhood as Cabernet, so if you want to drink one of these in the near future, plan on having something such as a Prime Rib Roast or Rack of Lamb.  The cellaring time on this wine might be as long as 10-25 more years!  

The 2010 vintage is lovely.  It's impressive in its youth and destined to blossom further with cellaring.  The wine has good structure and you can get a nice whiff of the oak presently.  This will recede as the wine ages and develops.  Patience will be rewarded, though Gaja manages to achieve a measure of balance in the wine, so you can certainly drink it now.  But allowing it a few years to develop would be ideal.

Currently available:
1997 Barbaresco SALE $249.99

1996 Sori San Lorenzo $339.99
1996 Sori Tildin  Sale $339.99
1996 Costa Troppo $339.99
2010 Barbaresco (list $288)  SALE $229.99


We can special order their stupidly-priced Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnays and Cabernet for you...
 








CLERICO
wpeF.jpg (4933 bytes)We've known this colorful and charismatic, yet shy, character for many years. He's a tremendous winemaker, carefully cultivating fruit for his estate-bottled wines. Located in Monforte, his wines are limited in availability and sought-after by European wine drinkers.  Clerico is passionate about quality.

We visited one time, years ago,  and he asked us to taste and evaluate the wines.  Speaking in Piemontese dialect he said something akin to our "Don't bull-shit me...tell me how you find the wines."  I recall, too, that we were tasting a so-called 'small' vintage and the wines were magnificent.  I might point out that it is in lesser vintages that the men are separated from the boys.  Clerico stands tall.


He's made a proprietary red called "Arte," allowing him to legally make a "Barolo" fortified with Barbera and French oak. He makes a couple of traditional, nicely balanced Barolo wines, as well as Barbera and Dolcetto. We are fortunate to see a few bottles annually. Domenico Clerico wears his fame modestly. He is "Mister Arte" to us
.  


Clerico's 1995 Barolo was a terrific performer in our September 1999 Barolo tasting, showing grace, elegance and unusual balance.   The 2001 is equally graceful, if not more so.  It has tremendous structure and will make for a grand "old" wine if you can save it for several more years.  A decade, or so, actually.


Though his wines are regarded by many as "collectibles," Clerico still views them as a beverage. 

He explained in his own inimitable way that the best wines are those which have been consumed.  "That means they've been bought and paid for and enjoyed with a good meal," he told us.  "Il migliore vino e un vino pisciatta." he said.


Currently available:
2001 Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra $85.99
1997 "ARTE"  $55.99
2004 Barolo "Pajana"  SALE $99.99
 
 

 
 

To work here it's not necessary to be crazy...but it helps a lot.
 





Domenico and one of his crazy admirers in 2013.



 


ALDO CONTERNO
The Italian roads wind around the Langhe hills in a pattern as orderly as strands of spaghetti on a plate and Aldo Conterno's winery sits on a particularly curvy spot north of  the village of Monforte d'Alba. 

The winery used to be a rather small cellar and as the years have gone by, Conterno and family have added to the winery, piece by piece.  This branch of the Conterno family has relatives in San Mateo and Aldo, in fact, had come to the U.S. in the 1950s and found himself in the American military, having been drafted!  This explains his rather good command of American English.

Three sons are now involved in the operation and they've convinced Mom and Dad to make Chardonnay (which they've done amazingly well in some vintages!), along with French oak-matured Barbera and Nebbiolo wines.  

Aldo and his late brother Giovanni split their father's winery, the brand name of Giacomo Conterno being in Giovanni's son's (Roberto) possession.  
wpe5.jpg (19450 bytes)
Aldo Conterno's wines are uniformly good, always being amongst the best of Piemonte.
 

The photo was taken of Conterno's 1997 vintage "Nebbiolo" (they cannot call it "Barolo" until the wine is a certain age) being "pumped-over" during its fermentation
 
 
 


wpe14.jpg (4620 bytes)Conterno makes several Barolo wines.  The "basic" wine is Bussia Soprana.  The winery, by the way, is in the small area called "Bussia."

Cicala is a single vineyard amounting to just less than three acres.  The name cicala means "cricket."  It's in Bussia Soprana and the vines are approximately 50 years old.

Romirasco is another name to be found on Conterno's labels.  This is also in Bussia Soprana and the vineyards are about 50 years old.

Colonello is a 35 to 40 year old Nebbiolo vineyard.  

In the very top vintages they'll bottle a few cases of "Gran Bussia" Barolo, a wine scarcer than a ten mile stretch of straight roadway in Italy.   When you have a bottle of wine such as this, you can better appreciate why some people rave about Barolo.



Though they have a cellar full of French oak barriques, they still have traditional tanks for maturing Barolo.

Here's a photo from "the old days":

1958 and 1955 Barolo was still available in the 1960s.

 

Currently available:  1995 Barbera d'Alba "Conca Tre Pile" Sold Out
1986 Barolo "Bussia Soprana" $179.99
1995 Barolo "Gran Bussia" $199.99
2001 Barolo "Bussia" Sold Out

 


 


GIACOMO CONTERNO
Giovanni Conterno and his brother Aldo parted company a number of years ago, a dispute occurring as to the best methods of making their wines.  Aldo moved a kilometer or so north and Giovanni remained just off the central part of Monforte d'Alba (near the splendid restaurant "da Felicin").  A modern building was constructed for his wines, an unusually spacious cellar.

We'd known Giovanni and his son Roberto for many years.  On our first visit in either 1982 or 1984 (the memory isn't quite as precise as it used to be!) we were privileged to taste out of "barrel" (a large wooden vat, actually) Conterno's 1970 vintage Barolo called "Monfortino."  We laughed about being "old enough" to taste some 1970 wine prior to bottling! 
 


The late Giovanni Conterno.

Conterno is much like Bartolo Mascarello in preserving the "traditional" style of Barolo.  However, his winery is more modern and he's had a telephone for years!  (Mascarello resisted getting a phone installed in the house...his daughter Terri insisted!)  

Conterno, though, is not totally stuck in the past.  His son Roberto was interested in Chardonnay.  They made a vintage or two.  "Most expensive wine we've ever made." Giovanni explained.  "You see, we have only made red wines and we'd never owned a filter.  We had to buy an expensive filter to clarify and stabilize the Chardonnay.  So, it's the most costly wine we've put in bottle!"
I think this little experiment ran its course and Roberto is over the Chardonnay "bug."

Grapes for Conterno's wines come from the nearby Serralunga Valley.  They used to buy fruit from growers.  In 1974 they purchased the "Cascina Francia" property, a 37 acre parcel planted with Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Freisa.  The "normal" bottling of Barolo is "Cascina Francia."  In some vintages Conterno will designate a portion of the Barolo as "Monfortino" and it receives additional wood aging.  He doesn't leave the wines in wood quite as long as that 1970 vintage, though.  The current vintage of Monfortino is 2004.  It costs a ridiculous sum and we periodically have a bottle or two available.   
There's a 2002 vintage, too, despite the year being dismissed by just about every wine writer on the planet.
Roberto waited until 2012 to release this, hoping by then, they'll have forgotten the vintage was so difficult.
Yet, as they picked the fruit and were making the wine, Roberto saw they had good quality and his father said it reminded him of previous grand years...and so a 2002 Monfortino will be bottled and offered to the market.  I tasted it in tank several times and felt it was a "good" wine, but not as grand a vintage as they've made in other recently declared years.

Roberto recently purchased another vineyard site in Serralunga, this parcel being in the cru called Cerretta.  The first harvest will not be sold as Barolo and Conterno has changed the viticultural practices at this site to make wine he considers worthy of the family name.

I asked him about this and got him to discuss the use of "fertilizer" in the vineyard.  He became quite serious and concerned, wanting us to understand he did not cultivate using chemicals. 
So I asked if they'd buy manure for the vineyard.
"Yes."
And then I wanted to know if they'd buy local manure or, perhaps, from a company in Tuscany.
Roberto and his administrative assistant Erica were perplexed, not seeing the fastball I was about to toss in their direction.
"Well, I understand there's a lot of good bullshit in Tuscany," I said, "so I was curious if you'd buy local shit or import some from somewhere else."

Everyone cracked up and finally Conterno realized he'd been set up in the interest of a comedic prank.
 


We do have some 2004 "Cascina Francia," a decidedly "old school" Barolo.  No compromises towards French oak aging.  No "fortifying" the Barolo with a dose of Barbera.  It's certainly not a wine for the average consumer.  The 2004 vintage is highly regarded in the Langhe region as the wine has good structure and will live for decades!    If you choose a bottle of this, please open it a few hours before service and allow it to aerate in a wide-mouthed decanter.  Serving it with some substantial food isn't a bad idea, either.
 


The Monfortino is much like a very rare postage stamp, a collectible of sorts.  Whether or not it's worth its lofty price is subject for debate.  In any case, we have a bottle of the 1999, a very fine vintage.  The 2001 needs a decade to start to blossom.

 

The next winemaker at Conterno...


Currently in stock:  2004 Cascina Francia Barolo  SALE $164.99
1996 Cascina Francia Barolo Sale $219.99

2006 Barbera d'Alba $49.99
2007 Barbera d'Alba $52.99


In late 2008 we opened a bottle of 1971 Barolo given to us by Giovanni in the late 1990s, I think.
What a spectacular Barolo!  
This wine was in perfect condition and was the wine of the night in a line-up of wonderful bottles.
The fragrance was remarkable...truly haunting and the balance on the palate was sensational.

 
 




If your wines tasted as good as Roberto Conterno's,
you'd be smiling, too.


Erica, formerly Roberto's administrative assistant, is a bit shy about being photographed.

 

 

 
GIMME SOME GHEMME!

ANTICHI VIGNETI di CANTALUPO

The Arlunno family has been cultivating vineyards in the Ghemme area for many generations, though this "antichi" winery is not terribly old.  It was built in 1977s, designed by the Arlunno brother who's an architect.
    
Alberto Arlunno is the main man, assisted by famous consulting winemaker Donato Lanati.


They have about 33 hectares of vineyards and are a major name for the somewhat famous wine called Ghemme.  The town of Ghemme is known as a city of wine, but also a city of honey.

It's rather in the northern part of Piemonte, quite a ways from the famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines of the Langhe region.  




Ghemme must be at least 75% Nebbiolo, which is known in the region as "Spanna."  One can blend Vespolina and/or Uva Rara into the Ghemme wines, but the Arlunno family prefers to have a 100% Nebbiolo wine.  


The 1999 vintage, currently in stock, is an excellent example of this rather traditionally-styled Nebbiolo.  We find some of the floral notes of Nebbiolo in this wine, with a hint of a resiny tone.  It was matured for about 20 months in large wood casks.  You'll find a modest tannic "bite" to the wine on the palate. However, serving it with some savory stewed or braised meat really softens the wine and gives it a wonderful appeal.  Big wine glasses really allow the wine to blossom in the glass.

Currently in stock:  2004 Ghemme SALE $49.99




IOPPA
Here we have been, several years without Ghemme wines in the shop and suddenly we have two different producers available.

This is because I'd just as soon not have wine of a particular appellation if the wines are not of interesting quality or interesting quality and fair price.

Ioppa is a new producer for us.  And Giampiero & Giorgio Ioppa's wine is quite different from the Ghemme listed above.


 


The Ioppa brothers.

 

They have about 12 hectares, but not all is planted with Nebbiolo.  Some 30% is Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara.  

Their Ghemme is blended with 20% Vespolina and it's matured for 8 months in French oak after spending a year in more traditional cooperage.  The wine shows a more cedary, woodsy character than the Cantalupo Ghemme, for example.   We have the excellent 2001 vintage in the shop presently.   It's a lovely red for grilled or roasted red meats.  Drinkable now, we expect this to continue to grow and soften in bottle for another 5-10+ years.


Currently in stock:  2001 Ioppa Ghemme $34.99
 

 

 

 

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