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
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.
Typically a dry white wine, best when young and fresh.
Grown in the Roero region, primarily.
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.
Usually made as a fizzy and somewhat sweet red wine.
"Brachetto d'Acqui" is well known.
A modest white variety making wine such as "Gavi."
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.
A white wine made near Torino and Vercelli. Sometimes made
dry, sometimes bubbly and some make a sweet, Passito-styled wine.
Grown in Roero and the Langhe...makes a simple, light dry white
wine. It may be related to Liguria's Pigato and Vermentino varieties.
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.
Rather pale and light in color, this is usually a sharp, acidic
light-colored, spicy red wine.
Often made as a light, fizzy red which has a bit of sweetness.
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.
NEBBIOLO 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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
I've adopted this family as my "Piemontese famiglia" (or they've
adopted me as their California relative).
The Vietti name has long been prominent in Piemontese
A young enology school graduate named Alfredo Currado (who married Luciana
Vietti) had been courted by a few Alba-area wineries, but he went to work
for his wife's father's winemaking enterprise.
Alfredo had been a good student of the vine and was a very capable
enologist during a time when many of the local wines were homemade and
tasted like it.
He was a dear friend of ours and came to San Francisco to stay with us a
few months under the guise of learning English back in maybe late 1988 and
early 1989. And he did gain a bit of a command of the language, but
understood it better than he spoke it.
In those days it appeared as though Alfredo and Luciana's brilliant
daughter Elisabetta would take the reins of the winery and captain Team
Vietti. She ended up leaving Castiglione Falletto for apparently
greener pastures and her little brother Luca became team captain.
It's under his guidance that Vietti has continued to be a hugely famous
name for Piemontese wines and Luca and his wife Elena work tirelessly,
along with brother-in-law Mario Cordero (he's married to the eldest
Currado kid, veterinarian Dr. Manuela Currado-Cordero). Even Mario
& Manuela's eldest son is now working in the cellar and traveling to
promote their wines!
The late Alfredo Currado...a major pioneer in
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 is said to be the first to make a
single-vineyard designated wine, a 1961 vintage "Rocche" Barolo.
It's said Beppe Colla also bottled a '61 as a single vineyard wine. Bruno
Giacosa followed suit shortly thereafter.
Today nearly every Barolo producer makes a single vineyard bottling.
Alfredo is also credited as being "The Father of Arneis."
Luciana tells the story of Alfredo standing up in church one Sunday morning and
telling his friends an neighbors that he'd been doing a bit of research on the
grape which was often interspersed in Barolo vineyards for a couple of reasons,
possibly. One was to blend it into the harsh and astringent Nebbiolo to
temper Barolo's ferocity. Another possible reason is that it ripens before
Nebbiolo and its fruit might attract birds to it, distracting them from the more
Alfredo told the congregation that by that particular day during the 1967
vintage, the grapes should be sufficiently ripe and he wanted to be the first to
vinify a 'pure' Arneis. He urged people to bring pick the grapes after
church and bring them to the Vietti winery where he'd pay them for the grapes
and see what could be done with this curious white grape. Some even called
it "Nebbiolo Bianco." The name Arneis may come from Renesio di
Canale or Arneiso di Canale, a place name. But in Piemontese, the word
"Arneis" describes someone who's a bit of a rascal or scallywag and
who gets on people's nerves.
Well, that afternoon the small road up the hill to the tower of Castiglione and
the Vietti cellars was jammed with carts and wagons as people wanted to cash in
on the folly of Alfredo Currado.
Today Vietti remains a bit of a benchmark for the Arneis wine and we've been
fans for many years, especially since Luca took over the winemaking. He's
been able to refine this and has a good touch in keeping the wine fresh, mildly
minerally and bone dry. Today, however, there are at least 150 wineries
making Arneis! Thank you, Alfredo!
We had tasted Vietti wines in the very early 1980s...they were imported
locally by a little start-up company who also handled the equally unusual wines
of a renegade vintner named Angelo Gaja.
We first 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
"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.
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 2013 is delicious and it's attractively-priced at $17.99...
The Scarrone vineyard is close to the winery and produces marvelous
Barbera! The 2011 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
We have several Barolo wines in the shop.
"Castiglione" is the entry level bottling. It's
currently one of the best bargains in Barolo these days.
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. While it's
drinkable when it's released, we'd suggest buying a few bottles to stash
away for 5 years, or so...you'll really be pleased with what this does
with bottle aging.
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 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 2011 should be cellared for
5-10+ years, 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 2008 is more developed and is
showing well presently and will continue to be a showy wine for 5-10 more
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
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
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! 2015 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 2013
vintage is delicious! It's balanced and intended for immediate
consumption. Best at cool cellar temp.
2013 Dolcetto d'Alba $21.99
2010 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone Old Vines" SALE $79.99
2011 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone" SALE $37.99
2010 Barbera d'Asti La Crena $44.99
2013 Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne" $17.99
2015 Cascinetta Moscato d'Asti $15.99
2008 Barolo Lazzarito Sale $154.99
2005 Barbaresco Sale $99.99
2011 Barolo "Rocche" Sale $139.99
2008 Barolo "Rocche" Sale $154.99
2007 Barolo Brunate $159.99
2008 Barolo Brunate Sale $154.99
2011 Barolo Brunate Sale $139.99
2010 Barolo "Castiglione" $49.99 (last
bottles) 2011 Barolo "Castiglione" SALE $49.99
2004 Barolo "Villero Riserva" Sale $359.99
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.
Elena & Luca Currado's Daughter Giulia is making a name for
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
Giulia's brother Michele is also pretty speedy on the slopes and we've
read reports of his winning some downhill races, too!
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.
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 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
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 liked the 2003...it's a warm vintage, of course, but the wine is nicely
balanced and smells and tastes like Barolo.
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
And the wines are typically 95% Nebbiolo with 5% Barbera adding a bit of heft to
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
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.
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...
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
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.
Domenico hails from Monforte in the southern part of the Barolo appellation.He'd been a waiter at the great Monforte d'Alba restaurant, Felicin.He'd tried his hand at selling olive oil.And then when his father's health was problematic, he returned home andtook care of the modest family farm.In the process, he purchased a small parcel of Nebbiolo vineyardsand made a bit of Barolo.What began with a few rows of vines has now escalated to about 21
The first vintage was something like 1979.By the mid-1990s, the Clerico name was prominent in the world of
Italian wines.His winery was viewed in the same league as Luciano Sandrone and Elio
Altare, two other notable "upstarts."In fact, all three wineries were in the export portfolio of the famous
Marco De Grazia, who was a major ambassador for these "new kids on the
block."De Grazia helped bring these "modernista" Barolo wines to the
Franco-centric wine world.
With some fluctuations in grape prices, Clerico (as did other sharp
winemakers), realized he needed to actually own vineyards.Otherwise he'd be paying whatever the market was demanding and, likely,
be dealing with fruit from various vineyards instead of making wine from the
same parcels, vintage after vintage.In the process of scouting for vineyards, Clerico picked up vineyards
in what he calls "Ciabot Mentin."He added to that some years later and now he's got a fairly large
winemaking facility on the road from Monforte d'Alba to the town of Barolo.
During our last visit to the winery we learned of Domenico leasing a vineyard
from an old-timer with the provision that Clerico take care of the faming.Of course, as do most quality-oriented growers, reducing the crop level
to obtain (hopefully) greater concentration and intensity.Apparently the land owner, who always farmed for the maximum yield in
the vineyard, became incensed when he saw Clerico's vineyard crew performing a
"green harvest" (snipping off bunches of fruit well before the
normal harvest season) in the name of quality winemaking.The old feller ran and got his shotgun in order to protect his precious
The vineyard crew ran for cover and, eventually, cooler heads prevailed.
vintages were aged in old German beer casks made of Slavonian oak.Over the years his wood-aging program has changed, going from all new
French oak to less than half new barrels.Today, according to Clerico's web site, the typical wood treatment is
80% new barrels.
We have seen that many young Barolo wines aged in new wood tend to show the
barrel's influence when the wines are first brought to market.Some of the various critics find the wines to be very appealing with
all the oak prominently on display and many of these wines garnered high
scores.All well and good for the producers such as Clerico when they're
selling these young offerings.
But we have found that if the wines have enough "stuffing," as they
age in the bottle, the wood becomes less pronounced and the wines tend to
resemble the more traditionally-styled Barolo wines from so-called "old
Clerico's wines have never really had the highest level of oak we've
encountered in the Langhe region.The wood influence tends to be present in the wines for about a decade,
typically, and then the wines evolve into elegant, nicely polished Barolo
which have a tannin profile that's less aggressive, let's say, thanmany.
In our experience, mature bottles of Clerico Barolo tend to have some complex
red fruit elements and a mildly floral aspect to them.We've also found the wines to shed a measure of astringency with
cellaring.Not all Barolo wines develop what we might call a silky or smooth
quality after a decade, or so, in the bottle.Some can be fairly fierce, in fact.Clerico seems to have a nice touch with creating wines of elegance.
Though his wines are regarded by many as "collectibles," Clerico
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."
2001 Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra $85.99
1997 "ARTE" $55.99
2004 Barolo "Pajana" SALE $99.99
Domenico Clerico and some Americano...
To work here it's not necessary to be crazy...but it helps a lot.
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.
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.
his late brother Giovanni split their father's winery, the brand name of Giacomo Conterno being
in Giovanni's son's (Roberto) possession.
Aldo Conterno's wines are uniformly good, always being
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
currently have their 2011 vintage of Barbera d'Alba...It's called Conca Tre Pile
and is from a site fairly close to the winery in the Bussia area. Some of
the vines are 40-something years old...
The wine spends maybe 8 to 10 days on the skins during the fermentation...then
into stainless steel to help clarify the wine and then they rack it into
entirely new barrels.
The wine, despite the hefty percentage of new oak, actually displays the dark
berry and plum notes of ripe Barbera with the wood seeming to come up
underneath...it's snappy and crisp, but fairly robust and ready to drink.
This Barbera is exceptional with grilled meats.
makes several Barolo wines. The "basic" wine is Bussia
Soprana. The winery, by the way, is in the small area called
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
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.
1986 Barolo "Bussia Soprana" $179.99
1995 Barolo "Gran Bussia" $299.99
2001 Barolo "Bussia" Sold Out
2011 BARBERA D'ALBA "Conca Tre Pile" $35.99
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
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
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
So I asked if they'd buy manure for the vineyard.
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
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
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 $199.99
1996 Cascina Francia Barolo Sale $269.99
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
The fragrance was remarkable...truly haunting and the balance on the palate was
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
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
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
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
Currently in stock: 2004 Ghemme SALE $49.99
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
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 Sold Out
The name Grasso is somewhat common in Piemonte and
you'll find it on a few brands of Langhe wines.
Probably the most famous is the wine of Elio Grasso in Monforte, but there's
another good producer named Grasso, this one in La Morra.Silvio Grasso is the name of the winery and it's actually in the
Annunziata area of town, if you want to call it that.The home estate is called Bricco Luciani and it's close to the
Alba-Barolo road and low on the hill from that road up to the actual town of
This Grasso only began bottling and selling wine in the mid-1980s.Alessio Federico took over from his Pop, Silvio, and now is joined by
his 20-something sons Paolo and Silvio.Along with their Mom, Marilena, the quartet are turning out some good
They have 5 hectares of their own vineyards and rent another 6, or so.
We've long admired the wines from this producer but it's really only fairly
recently that we've had the wines in the shop.They make 6 different Barolo wines, a pair of Barbera bottlings and
Dolcetto, Nebbiolo Langhe and a blended red with Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cabernet
Grasso became part of the portfolio of Marco de Grazia, a fellow who helped
change the style of Barolo by encouraging winemakers to make softer, more
easily accessible wines by shortening the maceration time on the grape skins
during fermentation.He also
advocated the use of French oak barrels for many of his wineries and Grasso
embraced that suggestion, as well.
But while most of the Silvio Grasso wines see French oak, they've been
making one called Turnè which gets the old-time 40 days on the skins and
then is matured in larger Slavonian oak cooperage instead of small French
One interesting stylistic feature at this winery is the various Barolo wines
have different oak treatments.Ciabot
Manzoni and Bricco Luciani are matured in brand new French oak and these
show a lot of wood when they first reach the market.If you cellar these, though, the wines evolve nicely and eventually
turn into good, fairly classic Barolo.
We enjoyed a bottle of a 10+ year old Ciabot Manzoni Barolo from the 2004
vintage and the wine had a marvelous nose...there was a suggestion of wood,
but it was far different from the just-released 2011 bottling which displays
more wood than you can shake a stick at.
Vigna Plicotti is a Barolo from La Morra that is matured in second-use
barrels, while Giachini sees second and third use barriques."Pi Vigne" is done in older French oak.
The importer had a stash of 2003 Barolo "classico" and we
purchased a bottle to see how this wine had developed.In fact, it was a great example of nicely matured, old-school Barolo!The Piemontese describe some Barolo wines as being "tarry."The Piemontese word is "goudron."And the 2003 certainly shows that element.You'll either love its funky, quirky character or hate it.Despite it being more than a decade old, the wine still has a fair
bit of tannin.
We've paired it with red meats and enjoyed it immensely.After one customer said they'd hated the wine, we put it on the
dinner table with a wild mushroom risotto and served it to some wine
industry friends who all swooned and loved it.
So, clearly:Your mileage may
vary on this one. It's offered at an attractive and old-time price, so you
might consider trying a bottle and see what you think.
We have some of their 2008 vintage Giachini in stock.It's from a half-hectare vineyard in La Morra and was matured in
seasoned French oak.The tannin
level is moderate and this, ideally, should have another 5-10 years of
Currently in stock: 2003 SILVIO GRASSO
BAROLO Sale $29.99
2008 SILVIO GRASSO BAROLO "Giachini" Sale: $54.99
Paired with Veal on a bed of Polenta, the 2004 Barolo Ciabot Manzoni was
exceptional. At 10+ years of age, this was a very handsome bottle of
wine. I was a bit surprised to find the wine to be as open and
developed as it was...very fine.