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 were less than 10 producers of such bubblies
as of March 2009 and as of 2019 we counted 26 wineries making "Alta
||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. As a
dry wine, it can be quite an interesting bottle and it seems to do well
with a bit of age.
||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. There are a few wineries
making Freisa in a "serious" (non-fizzy) style, as the grape is
closely related to Nebbiolo. It can be tannic and so many winemakers
would leave it with some sweetness. Cascina Gilli and the GD Vajra
wineries make "serious" red wine from this grape.
||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.
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 Ruchť 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
CLICK HERE FOR
A LINK TO A MAP OF BAROLO'S VARIOUS VINEYARD SITES
DETAILED MAP OF BAROLO VINEYARD SITES
HERE TO SEE A TERRIFIC 10 MINUTE VIDEO ON BAROLO/BARBARESCO & THE LANGA
CLICK HERE FOR A
DETAILED MAP OF BARBARESCO VINEYARD SITES
Some Current Offerings:
- 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).
In 2016 early one morning we dialed up the internet news and confess to
having fallen off the chair when we read a story reporting the sale of the
Vietti winery from the family to an American family which owns the Kum
& Go convenience stores which we understand are based in the state of
We checked the calendar to see if perhaps this was some sort of April
It seems Luca Currado had been interested in possibly purchasing the
Serafino winery from the Gruppo Campari company when it was up for sale in
2015, or so. That winery is situated in the Roero region where
Vietti (and others get Arneis grapes, amongst others). It might have
been a convenient location for Vietti to vinify Arneis.
Serafino also had holdings in Barolo, so it was an attractive option, but
Vietti was aced out by the Krause family on that cellar.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Krauses come to the Vietti winery to taste
wines. Shortly after they made an offer for the winery and before
you know it, the winery was soon under American ownership.
We know Luca Currado and his wife Elena were taken by surprise on this
whole episode, but as of 2019, things are running along smoothly and we
know he's happy with being able to extend the vineyard holdings for
The sale was a major shock for many in the region, as one can imagine.
It does validate, though, what we have long known: Piemonte is a special
place for wine (and more) and as we see in Bordeaux, Burgundy and some
places in California, international investment changes the economics of
the wine business. It may promote economic growth for some, but it
does adversely impact the ability of small, family wineries to
We asked a Vietti staffer what changes have been noted with the new
ownership. We were told the business is on a more solid economic
foundation and "we don't have to watch the pennies as much as we did
Luca and Elena continue to travel around the world to promote Vietti and
unless you've read the news stories from 2016 (or this posting), you'd not
sense that the winery was anything but a traditional family-operated
So...some additional Vietti info:
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 been noted that the late 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 and 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
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. The Vietti wines were priced
normally for that period, but the Gaja wines were a bit more costly...Would
customers pay $6 or $8 for a Piemontese red wine???
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!
DINNER IN MAY of 2012 FEATURING OLD BAROLO
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.
Over the years Luca has refined his use of wood...you won't find the
Vietti wines to display much in the way of wood. In fact, he pulled
back on the use of oak with their Barbera wines to the point that the
wines didn't taste like Vietti Barbera. It seems they reacted to the
various critics who professed, at least for that moment, wines showing
more fruit and less oak. Of course, these are the same critics who
praised barrel-aged wines when the use of French oak was introduced to
We explained that those Barbera wines, without oak, were a disappointment
to those who had been buying Vietti wine over the previous
"How much wine does those wine writers purchase?" we asked.
In 2019 we found Luca seemed to have found a happy medium. We
included a couple of Vietti Barbera wines in a blind-tasting. We
wanted to see for ourselves how the wines were received by a group of
tasters (wine aficionados, but not wine industry folks). And we
wanted to taste for ourself how we perceived the wines.
A Vietti Barbera from their Scarrone vineyard was the run-away first-place
winner and the group has the entry-level "Tre Vigne" Barbera
d'Asti as the second place wine in a field of eight (with bottlings from
Bruno Giacosa, Luciano Sandrone in the flight of wines).
They used to own but a few acres of vineyards back in the 1980s, but Alfredo and Luciana saw
the escalating prices for fruit and began investing in vineyards quite a
few years ago. Today they own about 40 hectares of vineyards and
rent a few others.
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. We were surprised to taste the Tre Vigne and found the wine quite
different from previous vintages.
We inquired as to why they changed and Luca said he's been told by
journalists that they prefer to find more fruit in the wine and no
We explained that these journalists don't buy Vietti wine, typically and
they are always looking for some new angle. The people who buy the
wine will be disappointed to not find the same style they've been buying
for the past decade.
Luca found our observation to be accurate and he's now using a touch of
wood again in the Barbera wines.
The Scarrone vineyard is close to the winery and produces marvelous
Barbera! The 2016 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 least costly Barolo and it's a very
good wine, not precisely "entry level" which means it's somehow
a lesser wine.
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 "entry-level Barolo" worth buying and at
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
"rosť" variety. (Alfredo used to make a wonderful Barolo
from a vineyard planted predominantly with rosť...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.
MORE VIETTI PHOTOS
- Currently available:
2017 Arneis (Roero) $23.99
- 2015 Dolcetto d'Alba $21.99
2015 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone Old Vines" SALE $79.99
2011 Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone" Sold Out
2010 Barbera d'Asti La Crena Sold Out
2013 Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne" Sold Out
- 2017 Cascinetta Moscato d'Asti $15.99
- 2008 Barolo Lazzarito Sale $154.99
2005 Barbaresco Sold Out
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
2015 Barolo "Castiglione" SALE $54.99
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 once had 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.
In April of 2018 we opened a number of well-cellared Vietti bottles.
The 1996 Brunate was remarkably tight and extremely young (still)...21+ years of
age and the wine remains tight and tannic.
The 1989 Brunate was fantastic and a perfect bottle of Barolo. You could
not ask for a better example of Nebbiolo!
A 1983 Rocche was showing its age and was a good example of older Barolo.
The 1964 Vietti was still hanging in there, but had seen better days...
- 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 divested the winery of its vineyard
contracts in Barolo in order to concentrate on
the Barbaresco wines in his "backyard." But also to be able
to make wine solely from vineyards owned by the family.
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,"
as he felt it was a pity to devote vineyard land in Barbaresco to French
nonetheless, made very good Cabernet and continues to make that, Chardonnay and Sauvignon
Blanc of world-class quality.
Having seen the use of small oak barrels in French cellars in Burgundy and
Bordeaux, as well as in California cellars, Gaja decided to bring that sort of
cooperage to his own cellar, incorporating "modern" winemaking to the
traditional world of Piemonte. At that point, most winemakers in Barolo
and Barbaresco were maturing their wines for a number of years in large wooden
Of course, typically those Nebbiolo wines had been fermented until dryness (of
course), but macerated on the grape skins for 30 to 60 days (or more). The
wines were exceptionally astringent and required lengthy aging to be
drinkable. Contrast that sort of vinification protocol with Bordeaux or
Napa where Cabernets may have been "on the skins" for a week or two
and you have a rather different wine from the start.
Gaja is a competitor and wanted his wine to be viewed as being in the same class
as those from the top domaines of Burgundy, the best chateaux in Bordeaux and,
certainly with those upstarts in California.
He changed the fortunes of his own winery, to be sure, but he also
deserves credit for prodding or pushing winemakers in his own backyard to step
up their game and produce wines which would be viewed as premium, deluxe
bottlings, not merely rustic "spaghetti red."
One of the wines which caught our attention back in the late
1970s and early 1980s was that bottle in the snapshot below that's on the left,
the 1961 Gaja Barbaresco. Gaja's 1961 Barbaresco was a phenomenal bottle
of wine and it marked the start of the "new era" at the Gaja winery as
his first official year was 1961.
Parenthetically, another old Piemontese bottle which made an impact on us was a
1967 Barbaresco from old-timer Bruno Giacosa.
Back in those days, most Italian wine was fairly simple red
"plonk." And white wine from Italy was not even on the radar as
temperature-controlled fermentation vessels were unheard of back in those
days. Being charitable, one might best describe most Italian wine as
As long as we are reminiscing, we could add to the short list of compelling
Italian wines a 1961 "Chambave Rouge" from Aosta winemaker Ezio Voyat,
some old bottles of Mastroberardino Taurasi (often compared to Piemontese reds
made of Nebbiolo) and possibly some Chianti wines. The Brunello di
Montalcino of Biondi-Santi was well-regarded back then, possibly given more
respect for being more expensive more than particularly drinkable.
The Tuscan red called Sassicaia was starting to make its mark and we fondly
recall the 1973 and 1975 vintages (if memory serves). There was also a
curious wine from the Lazio region called Fiorano which had some potential.
Back in those days, though, Piemontese vintners making Barolo and Barbaresco
also featured Dolcetto, Barbera and Grignolino wines.
In fact, a Barolo friend shared a bottle of a 1975 Nebbiolo saying his parents
could not easily sell "Barolo," so the wine was labeled simply as
Nebbiolo. More popular in those days were the Dolcetto and Barbera wines,
so his folks would give customers who were buying those wines a few bottles of
Nebbiolo just to make the wines disappear!
Gaja began to minimize those reds, focusing on the more "noble"
The family did have vineyards from which they produced Barolo. But
Gaja was slightly provincial and perhaps he was aware that the Barolesi
viewed those from Barbaresco as of lower social stature. Maybe his
competitive spirit kicked in to where as a brash youngster, he chose to
stop producing Barolo in order to focus on making Barbaresco of a quality
level which would overshadow those Barolo winemakers???
Some winemakers in Barolo were pleased, we sensed, that Gaja kept to his
own little playground, Barbaresco.
In fact, at one point the vintners voted to put into play a rule that to
make Barolo or to produce Barbaresco, the wine must be vinified within the
delimited area of those appellations. The only exceptions to this
were wineries which had a history of producing both wines. Thus,
Bruno Giacosa was able to produce both, as is the Vietti winery and a
number of others.
It turns out Gaja, despite relinquishing vineyard sources in Barolo, never
gave up the documentation which allows him to produce both noble
Some years ago he acquired a couple of prestigious sites within the Barolo
area and, he told us, these are vinified at his Barbaresco winery.
During a visit in the 1990s Angelo poured some wonderful wines for us.
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.
He also announced his acquisition of a property in the Bolgheri region out
on the Tuscan coast. It seemed he was interested in competing with
the "royal" Tuscan vintners named Antinori.
It was there that the prestigious "Sassicaia" wine was being
made from grapes on the Tenuta San Guido estate.
We immediately asked if he had come up with a name for his wine and Angelo
said he had not. Yet.
So we offered a possible name for his wine (and a few weeks later, upon
returning home, we sent him this label depicted below):
- Instead of "Tenuta San Guido," we called the estate
"Tenuta San Guido Rivella," as Gaja's Barbaresco-based winemaker
was a fellow named Rivella. Guido Rivella.
Not merely content to produce the Bordeaux-styled wine that was making a
name for the Bolgheri region, Gaja purchased a property in Tuscany's
Montalcino area. It was next door to the Soldera "Case Basse"
estate. Today he makes some very elegant Brunello wines.
Gaja, though, shrewdly admitted that perhaps Piemontese winemaking might
not translate well in Tuscany. So he sought Tuscan-based enologists
to help make wines at his new properties.
For all his magnificent achievements in winemaking (and marketing), Gaja
realizes the more you know about wine, the more there is to
In 2017 Gaja, not one to stand still, sought a new challenge. He
partnered with Alberto Graci and the two families will embark on making
wines in Sicily's Etna region.
Angelo Gaja in 2019
The cellar in Barbaresco
Old Botti in Barbaresco
Visiting in 2019, we enjoyed hearing Gaja speak about the
challenges facing winemakers with climate change and recent warm
vintages. He gave us an impressive "power point"
lecture which detailed these issues, along with touching on a few other
environmental issues. While some may view this presentation as a
"commercial" for Gaja wines, the speech was well done and explained
some things the Gaja crew is doing and things they are exploring.
Gaja, ever a visionary, showed us some vineyards they're planted at
higher-than-normal elevations as a test to deal with climate change and warmer
"Will these vineyards produce great wines? We don't know yet."
Like so many Italians, Gaja speaks eloquently with exceptional command of
gesticulations and English.
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 stopped labeling the
vaunted, much sought-after single-vineyard wines as "Barbaresco." They
"merely" Gaja! So you had simple, declassified wines sold as
"Langhe Rosso" as well as the top quality wines of the region being sold under this
And the wines are typically 95% Nebbiolo with 5% Barbera adding a bit of heft to
the wine as we understood things, though we've read some reports that Angelo was
using as much as 15% Barbera in those spendy single-vineyard wines.
The new generation at Gaja, though, decided to return to making those
single-vineyard bottlings purely of Nebbiolo and returning the name
"Barbaresco" to the labels. That announcement came in 2016.
The Gaja vineyard holdings amount to something like 100 hectares in
Piemonte. They have vineyards in Barbaresco and the commune of
Treiso nearby. We understand they used to buy grapes in Barolo ages ago,
but when Angelo came on board he had the idea they could make better wine if
they farmed their own vineyards. Buying grapes was a challenge if you're
looking for the best quality fruit, as typical farmers want to grow the maximum
quantity permitted and convincing them to do differently was difficult.
In 1988 Gaja purchased a 70 acre property in Barolo's Serralunga region where
well-structured wine can be made. They farm about 30 acres of
Nebbiolo there and it's the source of their "Sperrs" bottling of
Nebbiolo Langhe. They now label this as Barolo, omitting the Barbera that
had been part of the wine. From 1988 until 1995 it was Barolo. As of the
2013 vintage, it is once again labeled as Barolo.
In 1995 a property in the Cerequio cru in La Morra was available and Gaja
snapped that up and that's the source of their "Conteisa"
Nebbiolo. Conteisa as the site had been hotly contested...is
Cerequio in La Morra or is it in Barolo? Again, today the wine carries the
Barolo appellation as of the 2013 vintage.
(We recall an old bottle of a Cerequio Barolo which was a ringer for a good
Pinot Noir from France's Burgundy region...)
Their "Dagromis" Barolo is a blend of Nebbiolo wines from Serralunga
and La Morra. It spends less time in small oak and more time in large wood
than the two fancy bottlings from Barolo. The wine is typically made from
lots which didn't make the cut into the Conteisa or Sperrs bottlings, as well as
being produced from younger vineyards.
Angelo Gaja has prepared a "climate change" presentation.
They've been working to reduce their carbon footprint in the vineyards and
In 1995 they stopped using chemical fertilizers...compost or humus is now
"We can make our soils more rich of life in this way." Gaja explains.
He looked to import red worms from California to further the composting and soil
enhancements. Angelo told us some of the team members, we think in one of
their Tuscan vineyards, were opposed to importing worms from California.
"I then buy red worms in Russia and now we produce a huge volume of
In 2009 they began working with consultants to make some adaptations for climate
He was a bit hesitant to hire typical vineyard management consultants, thinking
they would suggest protocols they suggest to all their clients. Maybe these are
not the right people?
So they brought in environmentally-conscious experts who work with other
agricultural crops in order to have a fresh perspective.
"You know, now it can be hot into October where this was not the case years
ago. The warmer climate causes higher sugar levels in the grapes.
And many critics advocate for greater concentration in the wines saying this
equates to higher quality."
To adapt to the different climate conditions they're working to prevent soil
erosion...we "feed the soils," Gaja explains. "We want to
encourage biodiversity in the vineyards. After harvest we're planting
barley, for example, finding this absorbs a measure of heat from the soil.
We use straw as this can create a blanket and protects the humidity of the
soils. Broad beans help with nitrogen production, while rye provides lots
of cellulose which is good for the micro-organisms in the soil.
Mustard...the flowers attract insects while Vetch does the same and
prevents erosion. Phacelia attracts bees. By increasing the
biodiversity of the land, we think this is healthier for our vines."
Gaja brought in some bee hives, though a local beekeeper was a bit skeptical
of this notion. But it turns out this is working nicely in their quest for
biodiversity and the apiculturist now admits this was a good idea, after
all. They currently have 80 active beehives.
The vineyard crew, Gaja explains, works earlier in the morning to avoid issues
with the bees.
"We planted 280 cypress trees in Tuscany. Now we have lots of small
birds and the trees provide sanctuary for these from larger predatory
birds. We don't yet know all the results of having these little birds, but
we hope it works to improve the vineyards and, ultimately, the quality of the
grapes. We need to reach a point of resilience. We hope the vines
become more self-resilient, but we don't yet know where we are yet."
Now Gaja is happy to have his three children working in the family
business. "But I'm not interested in retiring," he told
us. He's a spry 79 years old (in 2019)
Recounting today's landscape in the local wine industry, Gaja claimed there are
about 800 wineries in the Lange region.
"There are many artisanal cellars. Yes, we are larger, but we have to
be artisans, too."
His Nonna Clotilde was a big role model for Gaja. She encouraged
him to be an artisan when he was eight or nine years of age.
"Artisans think differently," she told him. "They don't
follow market trends. Yes, sometimes they fail, but sometimes they
This translates to:
So Gaja tells us "Yes, maybe we are different, but we don't view ourselves
as better or superior."
But they are well aware they cast a long shadow...
They make some single vineyard Barbaresco bottlings. We've seen various bits of
misinformation about these sites. For example, the excellent VINO ITALIANO
book by Joe Bastianich and our friend David Lynch claims all three of Gaja's cru
Barbaresco bottlings come from one particular locale, the Secondine cru.
So we asked Gaja.
Sorž San Lorenzo has been made since the 1967 vintage. A sorž is a
south-facing vineyard and San Lorenzo is the patron saint of Alba. The
Gaja family purchased the site from the local church back in 1964.
It's a vineyard just south of Barbaresco and it is located within the confines
of the Secondine cru.
(The Vino Italiano book incorrectly says all three cru wines are from the
The vineyard is about 3.38 hectares in size and is about 250 meters above sea
level. This wine requires patience (and money). It tends to produce
the most structured wine of Gaja's cru bottlings. The vines, as of 2019,
average about 55 years of age.
Sorž Tildžn and Costa Russi are from the Roncagliette cru.
Sorž Tildžn is slightly larger than Sorž San Lorenzo. "Tildžn"
was the nickname of Clotilde, Angelo Gaja's grandmother. They bought it in
1967 and produced a single vineyard bottling with the 1970 vintage.
The vineyard sits at approximately 260 meters above sea level and in 2019 the
vines average age is 50 years. Gaja considers this the most perfumed of
the three crus.
Costa Russi...costa is a sun-facing site and Russi is the name of
the old sharecropper who worked this vineyard for many years. The Gaja
family purchased the property in 1967 but did not produce a single vineyard
bottling until the 1978 vintage. It's a 4.35 hectare vineyard and is 230
meters in elevation just below the Sorž Tildžn vineyard site with more
magnesium in the soils than the other vineyard sites. It's typically the
earliest cru bottling to develop in most vintages.
They do not produce the single vineyard wines every
In 2012, for example, fruit from the various cru sites was incorporated into the
regular bottling of Barbaresco.
The cru wines typically have a skin contact maceration period of 2 to 4 weeks
depending upon the vintage conditions. These routinely are matured for a
year in barrique and a year in botte. They typically employ
maybe one-third new oak for the barrique aging of the wines.
Cooperage comes from several preferred barrel builders. French oak
comes from the Italian cooperage of Gamba.
Slavonian oak is coopered by Garbellotto.
Austrian cooperage is made by the currently famous and fashionable Stockinger.
(Stockinger's web site might not be currently posted.)
The 1997 Barbaresco
has been 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 2015 Barbaresco is the current release. It typically is sourced from
14 vineyard sites in Barbaresco and Treiso. It is more showy in its youth
than the single vineyard wines which are intended for cellaring.
Gaja makes wines without compromise. They are always looking to produce
superior wine and they don't make concessions based upon saving a few dollars in
For the past 30 years it was not possible for consumers or
tourists to visit the Gaja winery and to taste their wines.
Now you can pay for the opportunity to visit and taste, but you are obliged to
make a donation to one of their selected charities.
HERE to see how that works.
- Currently available:
1997 Barbaresco SALE $299.99
2011 Barbaresco SALE $249.99
2013 Barbaresco $219.99
2015 Barbaresco $239.99
2012 Barbaresco 1/2 bottle $149.99
2013 Barolo "Dagromis" Sale $79.99
The Gaja family...Rosanna, Giovanni, Gaia, Lucia and Angelo
Our late, long-time friend, Domenico Clerico
known this colorful and charismatic, yet shy, character for many years. He was
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 was passionate about
He was always a youngster, no matter how old he was. Clerico had
youthful energy when we first met him and he retained that vivacious quality
in his later years.
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 hailed 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 and
took care of the modest family farm.
In the process, he purchased a small parcel of Nebbiolo vineyards
and 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
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
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 the built 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 we're told the typical percentage of new cooperage is around 20%.
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
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, than
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
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
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 ť un vino pisciatta."
We currently have the 2013 Barolo called Ciabot Mentin. The wine is
first aged in small French oak before being
into larger Slavonian oak casks. It offers notes of red fruits
such as raspberry and dark cherry with a faintly sweet fragrance, possibly
due to some wood.
2013 Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra $99.99
1997 "ARTE" $55.99 (last
2004 Barolo "Pajana" SOLD OUT
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 2013 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. 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 45-50 years old.
Romirasco is another name
to be found on Conterno's labels. This is also in Bussia Soprana and
the vineyards are about 50-55 years old.
Colonnello is a 45 to 50 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.
We currently (Summer of 2017) have some bottles of the 2012
The vineyard is predominantly Michet, but there are some scattered Lampia
vines, as well.
It's a seriously good bottle of young Barolo.
There are old school elements (30 days of skin contact, quite a traditional
vinification) and there are new school traits (they mature this in 500 liter
Slavonian oak puncheons) as the wine shows a fair bit of a woodsy, cedary
It's an impressive bottle now, in its youth, but it has the acidity, tannin
and fruit to be cellared for 10 to 25+ years.
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:
1986 Barolo "Bussia Soprana" $179.99 (last bottles)
1995 Barolo "Gran Bussia" $299.99
2012 Barolo "Colonnello" Sale $129.99
2013 BARBERA D'ALBA "Conca Tre Pile" Sold Out
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 2010.
It costs a ridiculous sum and the importer no longer offers this rare
Just as well, since the wine costs something like $1500 to $2000 a bottle.
They made 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 did 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
As the wines have become so expensive, they are more like a collector's
item instead of a meal-time beverage.
Conterno purchased a winery in the Alto Piemonte. The Nervi winery made
Gattinara wines. The winery was purchased by some Norwegian people
who claimed to be passionate wine lovers. They sold the winery after
6 or 7 years and it was purchased by Roberto Conterno. Perhaps
Conterno will be able to make wines along the lines of those his dear old
dad made, as Gattinara is rarely as high octane as the wines being
produced these days in Barolo.
The next winemaker at Conterno...
- Currently in stock: 2004 Cascina Francia Barolo SALE Sold
1996 Cascina Francia Barolo Sale $449.99
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
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 TurnŤ 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, some years ago, of the 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 showed 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.
We currently have the 2015 Barolo "classico" in the shop.
It comes from a one and half hectare parcel in La Morra that was planted in
1984. The fermentation takes maybe 10 days and then is then racked in
small oak barrels. The cooperage is older so it doesn't impart much in
the way of wood to the wine. There is a fine red fruit character to
the wine with hints of raspberry and cherry. Add to that a slight
underbrush sort of character. The tannin level is modest, making it
drinkable now if you can decant it an hour or two ahead of service.
The wine will likely be able to cellar well into the early 2030s.
It's well-priced, too.
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: 2015 SILVIO GRASSO
BAROLO SALE $31.99
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.
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