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ELIO ALTARE
wpeC.jpg (12087 bytes)This fellow always seems somewhat shocked by all the praise and adulation heaped on his wines.   I recall first meeting him on a trip to Piemonte with Randall Grahm.  This photo on the right was taken on that visit many years ago!  
He was one of the first modernistas and his wines remain much in the same style as they were twenty years ago.  

There's something to be said for a vintner who has a style they prefer to produce and they don't change to suit the tastes of particular critics or consumers.  Altare is confident in the style of wines they've been making and their track record is consistent.


Altare's winery and most of its vineyards are located in the Annunziata "Frazione" as you drive up the hill from the Alba-Barolo road to the town of La Morra.  You'll see signs for Altare and his neighbors, Renato Corino and Mauro Veglio, growers who've benefited from the pioneering efforts of Signor Altare. 

The estate has grown a bit and today they make a Barolo from a parcel in Serralunga, several miles away from La Morra.  



When Elio Altare was a youngster (in the 1970s), he visited the region of Burgundy in France and this helped change his outlook on being a farmer.  For one thing, not many vignerons in Burgundy had orchards of fruit trees to tend.  They merely grew grapes, as best as they could, and made wine.  And the wines they made were matured not in big, old wooden tanks, but smaller French oak barrels.  

Returning home, he embarked on changing the family estate from one featuring hazelnuts, apples and peaches to one focusing on grapes and winemaking.  Altare took a chainsaw to the fruit trees and the old big botte (wood tanks), creating a massive amount of fire wood as well as angering his father Giovanni.  Elio saw his future involved making big changes, though his Pop was reasonable content with the status quo.

In fact, the old man disowned his renegade son.


Our first visit back in the late 1980s or early 1990s was interesting as Elio and Bonny Doon Vineyard wizard Randall Grahm compared notes on winemaking.  Altare was quite excited to bounce his ideas off Randall and he enthusiastically offered us Barbera and Nebbiolo wines to taste.  Frankly, I thought everything merely tasted of oak.  When Randall and I departed, I said the only way you could tell the wines apart was by the color, Barbera being a bit deeper in hue. 
Of course, many wine writers embraced this "new style" of wine, the oak being something which they could understand more easily than the aromas and flavors of Nebbiolo (for example).

Over the years the wines of Altare have become more refined, let's say, in terms of balance and tannin.  Though a couple of "Langhe" wines are French oak-matured, they do show some fruit to go along with all that oak.  These are Langhe Arborina (Nebbiolo) and Langhe Larigi (Barbera).   Langhe "La Villa" is a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera. 

 

 

 

 

We see a few bottles of his "normal" (ha!  Like Altare makes "normal" wines!!!) Dolcetto, Barbera and Barolo.    The Dolcetto and Barbera wines usually show some elegance and balance.  Dolcetto is properly fruity and not tannic to excess. Signor Altare has really become a wine "master" over the years, creating some exceptional wines!

These days Altare's daughter Silvia is the face of the winery.  She's a charming lady and very serious vintner, taking after her father.  She has taste for good wine and is hell-bent on making great wines.  

 

 

 

 

 


Barolo tends to be a medium-weight wine and, though oak-aged, isn't loaded with wood.   There's a supple texture to the wine....I would say that's Altare's "signature." 

Altare lost most of one good vintage as his cork supplier provided him with a batch of corks which had a very high failure rate.  This entanglement made for quite a court case, with the results being somewhat a "private matter."  All we learned was that Altare would continue to use the same firm whose corks were defective.  This would lead one to suspect the cork purveyor was not entirely at fault in the wine from that vintage (1997) having some problems.  

In November of 2002 we opened a bottle of 1985 Barolo "Vigna Arborina."  The wine was fantastic!  Still quite alive and vital, with a beautiful bouquet and great aromas.  On the palate there was still a bit of tannin which bodes well if YOU have any bottles in your stash of wines (this was my last bottle and it died a noble death!).  The point is, if the Nebbiolo has the character of a good wine, eventually whatever wood was used to mature the wine, will be integrated.
So the argument of modernista or traditionalist is not so important if we've opening older bottles of Barolo or Barbaresco.  
With sufficient bottle aging, a good Nebbiolo will display its nobility whether it saw small French oak barriques or large botte grande.



 

His 2006 is a delight.  It is certainly drinkable now, but if you can exercise a bit of restraint, you'll be handsomely rewarded.  I'd expect this vintage can be cellared for 10-15 years, certainly.   Today the wine seems to show a glimpse of what it promises.  Dark cherry notes with a bit of plum and a touch of a woodsy spice quality...It's certainly the work of a "modernista."

These days their "basic" Barolo is a blend of fruit from four towns:  La Morra, of course, and Serralunga, Barolo and Castiglione Falletto.  The vines range from about 20 to 30 years of age.   It's routinely been a very elegant and mildly woodsy expression of Nebbiolo.  

The Barolo from their Arborina vineyard near the winery tends to display a fairly woodsy note, as well.  It's usually about as supple on the palate as one finds in good, well-farmed Barolo.  

They make a wine from the famous Serralunga cru, Cerretta.  The vines are about 15 years of age, so they're mature and have a long life ahead.  This tends to be more tannic, as one might expect of a Serralunga-area Nebbiolo.  If you have the chance to taste their wines, side by side, you should notice the Cerretta, though it's matured similarly to their other Barolos (24 months in French oak), handles the wood differently.  It has a more tannic structure and the oak seems less prominent (or dominant) in this wine.

There's a small production of Brunate Barolo.

 

 

Their holding in Brunate range in age from 20 years on the young end of the spectrum to about 90 years.  This wine usually offers a mildly floral tone, along with some sweet oak notes.


 

 

 


We're fans of his Larigi vineyard wine...this is a barrel-aged Barbera from vineyards planted in 1948 by Nonno Giovanni.  They use roto-fermenters for the fermentation so there's plenty of 'fruit' to the wine.  
It's then matured for about a year and a half in small French oak barrels...all the wood is new, so it's got a marvelously showy, freshly woodsy fragrance and flavor.  2010 vintage...fairly big, so pairing this with grilled or roasted meats is ideal.
 

 


The 2016 Dolcetto d'Alba is simply delicious.  Very modern style, with dark color and plenty of red and black fruit notes.
No oak...and it's nicely balanced, so you need not age it.  
We prefer this sort of red wine served at cool cellar temperature, around 50 degrees.

It pairs with all sorts of dishes, from light appetizers to pastas to white or red meats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2017 Barbera d'Alba is another red featuring lots of dark fruit notes...think about a bowl of blackberries or blueberries...

It sees a few months in oak, but only a few.  And they make a wine emphasizing the dark berries without the wood being hugely prominent.

We prefer this as a young red, serving it lightly chilled.  It matches well with salumi, tomato-sauced pastas, a Delfina pizza, grilled sausages, etc.

 

 

Currently in stock: 
2006 ALTARE BAROLO  SALE $99.99
2017 ALTARE BARBERA D'ALBA $25.99
2016 ALTARE DOLCETTO D'ALBA $21.99
2010 ALTARE "LARIGI" Langhe Rosso  $99.99
2009 ALTARE BAROLO Sale $49.99
 
 




We've noted that most of the world's top winemakers are people who are familiar with wines made in other prominent wine regions.
The Altare family have a large collection of remarkable wines from Italy and beyond...
And if you look closely, you'll see some bottles of Bartolo Mascarello, one of the fiercest advocates of "traditionally-styled" wines.  Bartolo thoroughly disliked the style of young Barolo being made by Altare.


 


They have a nice cellar full of wines "aging"...


Silvia shows off an early vintage of her father's...


...And one of her Grandpa's bottles.


Grandpa built those charming little four-pack carriers.


They do have a lot of nice French oak barrels.



One of the Altare 'secrets' is the use of roto-fermenters (that big tank in the background) which many winemakers claim helps extract the maximum character from the grapes, while not producing overly-aggressive tannins.

 

 



AURELIO SETTIMO
A modest little azienda in the Barolo-area village of La Morra, the Settimo family makes very traditional wines. 

We've known Tiziana Settimo for probably more than three decades...the Settimo wines have long been on our radar screen as they are decidedly "old school" wines.

Ages ago her wines were brought in to California by a small wine distributor/importer who also grew grapes in the North Coast.  Italian wines were not his strength, though and he gave up Settimo's wines around 2009, or so.  
We would taste her wines every year and wonder why someone with an interest in traditionally-styled Barolo wouldn't step up to the plate and give these a go.

Finally a local importer signed up to import Settimo wines and he's finding a receptive audience for these.  And why not?
The quality is good and the prices are quite attractive for the consumer.

The winery was founded in 1962 and Aurelio was in charge until his death in 2007.  

Aurelio's parents settled on the property during World War II and the farm had all sorts of activities, with wine grapes as merely once facet of the business.  Domenico Settimo made and bottled a bit of wine, though it was the focus of his farming operations.  For the most part, the Settimo grapes were sold to neighboring winemakers.  Domenico passed away in the early 1960s and it was at that point that grape growing and winemaking became the focus here as Aurelio realized he had something special.

Traditionally-styled Nebbiolo wines are produced at this little cellar.  They make two bottlings of Barolo, a 'regular' and a single vineyard "Rocche" bottling.  There's a Nebbiolo Langhe and a tiny bit of Dolcetto.  They've been dabbling with making a Rose wine, too and Tiziana has made a wacky little sweet wine for her own amusement and to share with friends and family.



Over the years they've refined the winemaking, reducing the amount of skin contact given to their Barolo, though Tiziana explains they typically have about 15 days of skin contact during fermentation of their Barolo.  Like many "traditional" winemakers, they view the use of new oak as robbing the wine of aging potential and changing the inherent character of "Barolo."  


As a result, you'll find only botte grande in the cellar for maturing Settimo Barolo.



wpe46.jpg (13174 bytes)
 
wpe48.jpg (5725 bytes)
The 2010 Barolo "Rocche" is a marvelous wine! 

Some 2010s are seemingly closed down and tight.  The Settimo is certainly well-structured for additional cellaring, but the wine was slightly opened when we tasted it again in March of 2017.
Since then we've tasted it several times...it's beautifully balanced and showing well so of course we've enjoyed a few bottles!


Check out the color of the wine in Tiziana's glass: it's brickish orange, the proper color for mature Barolo.



 
 


 



I had the opportunity to taste an old Barolo from Settimo in April of 2008.  I guessed it to be the 1979.  It was their 1978.  And the wine was quite impressive as it displayed the truffle-like notes of good Nebbiolo with a hint of a tarry element.  It was a world away from the "gobs of fruit" wines so popular in the New World today!

The 1999 Rocche, tasted in Spring of 2009, is blossoming beautifully...it has the truffle-like fragrances we expect in this wine.  It's medium-bodied on the palate and still mildly tannic.  I recall tasting this in its youth when it was rather peppery, but didn't find the spice notes at this stage.  Very good now and it should cellar well for another 5-10 years, well-stored.

A recent photo...maybe 2018...with an old vintage and young winemaker.
 

In the prized "Rocche" vineyard in La Morra...And you can see they don't spray weed-killers in the vineyard.



Currently available:  2010 Barolo "Rocche"  SALE $59.99
2013 BAROLO "Rocche"  $49.99
 
Photo:  The late Aurelio Settimo on the left, his cellar helper in the middle and daughter Tiziana with the bottle and big smile.
 




The 1979, tasted in 2010.



ANDREA OBERTO  and FABIO OBERTO

We've long known the wines of Andrea Oberto from La Morra.  The vineyards and cellar are located nearly 2 kilometers north of "downtown" La Morra on a road that leads to the town of Verduno.  

The Oberto family bought the property in the late 1950s and grew grapes & peaches as well as raising cattle.  Andrea Oberto, early in adulthood, was a truck driver as there were too many siblings and not enough work on the family farm.   In 1978 things changed dramatically when his father passed away.  Andrea then took over the winery and was back working in the vineyards he knew so well from his childhood.

Oberto routinely made good wines and they'd likely be better know had he been interested in promoting the wines and traveling around the world.  But he has been more content to make good wines, sell them at sensible prices and let the world find him.

We have been tasting wines from this estate regularly for many years.  The Obertos are frequently showing their wines at the annual VinItaly wine far alongside Conterno-Fantino, Domenico Clerico, Pelissero, Chiara Boschis, Elio Grasso, Malvira, Matteo Correggia and Cigliutti in a private stand.  That's a nice roster with which to be affiliated.  
Oberto's wines are right in there, quality-wise, with those highly-regarded wineries.
And yet only the most Langhe-savvy consumers would know this little property.

Oberto's son has his own winery in the same neighborhood, choosing to not work with his parents.


They have a fair quantity of small oak, but I've never thought of their wines as being woody or oaked.
As you can see, the small barrels are of seasoned (used) cooperage.


Having those large casks allows them to mature the wines slowly and they can moderate the wood.   But, as noted earlier, the wines typically show just a hint of wood, if that.


Andrea Oberto, Fabio Oberto's papa.


Mama Oberto lends a hand in the tasting room.

The property comprises something like 16 hectares today.  Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Nascetta.  They're also making a bit of Arneis from grapes grown in the Roero.  Arneis is made in both a sparkling version and a still white wine rendition.
 
They make several Barbera wines and a number of Barolo bottlings.

Fabio's wines are labeled "La Collina di Dioniso," the hill of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.  The young Oberto says he needs all the help he can get.

We currently have a marvelous Barbera d'Alba.  The wine comes from vineyards near the winery in La Morra.  The grapes are hand-harvested and brought to the cellar immediately for processing.  They do about a week of skin contact with frequent pump-overs to extract color.  It is then matured in both stainless steel tanks and small oak barrels.  We do find nice dark fruit notes here with a light bit of wood. 

It's a youthful, but immediately drinkable Barbera.  Pair it with pizza, sausages, tomato-sauced pastas, Crab Cioppino, grilled red meats, pork chops, etc.  It's a nicely versatile red and it's attractively-priced, so go experiment!

Currently in stock:  FABIO OBERTO 2016 BARBERA D'ALBA  $17.99

 

 

CIGLIUTTI

The Cigliuti name is identified as nearly synonymous with the famous vineyard site in Barbaresco called Serraboella.

The winery and its vineyards are located about 2 kilometers from the old town of Neive.

These days Claudia Cigliuti is the face of the winery, though her sister Silvia works in the family business along with Papa Renato and Mama Dina.    Renato's father and uncle and grandfather had been growing grapes in the Serraboella area and they mostly sold the fruit to others, keeping a small quantity for their own production which was for the family and a few friends.

Renato's first commercial vintage was in the 1960s and he produced all of 300 bottles.   We think 1964 was the first official vintage of bottled wine from Cigliuti's 7 or 8 hectares of vineyards.  He was enchanted by life in the vineyards and being "king" of his own little hill where he could watch the sun setting on the village of Neive nearby.

Back in the 1960s, many of his neighbors were taking jobs in "big cities" as the labor may have been easier as a factory worker than as a farmer tending the vines.  Renato preferred the vineyard life and embraced the agricultural work.  He had been part of a group of wine producers who had been represented in the American market by Marco de Grazia in the late 1980s and 1990s.  

Cigliuti had been part of that group and so he was in league with people such as Elio Altare, Luciano Sandrone, Domenico Clerico and Giorgio Rivetti.  Cigliuti was a proponent, as were most of those winemakers, of green-harvesting to reduce the quantity of grapes on the vines.  Old timers were horrified by the notion of reducing crop size, but Cigliuti, as others, felt they'd get higher quality fruit by removing some of the bunches part-way through the growing season.

He followed the examples of many of his colleagues and invested in small French oak barrels as that was quite fashionable in the 1980s and 1990s.  Some old-timers said this was a mistake and Cigliuti dabbled with small cooperage for some years but these days, they've returned to a more traditional style of Barbaresco, aging the wine in large wood botte grande.

Renato didn't expand his production over the years, content with making wine from 7 or 8 hectares of vineyards.  Besides, he had two daughters and what's the chance those females would be interested in the rigors of vineyard and cellar work?

Well, it turns out they were interested and today you'll likely see them tending the vines or working in the cellar.  

Production remains small, given they do not buy grapes and have a limited amount of vineyards.  They don't spend much time doing "wine marketing" and traveling around the world to promote their wines.  The quality of the wines is good, though, and with sensibly-priced wines, the world seems to beat a path to Serraboella and Cigliuti wines are a bit difficult to obtain.

We've typically been fans of their Serraboella bottling of Barbaresco.  These days it's a classically-styled example of good Nebbiolo. And it smells and tastes a bit particular as they don't manipulate the wine.  This is the result of their focus on the vineyards.  The juice is fermented using indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks.   They typically have about a 3 week maceration period for their Barbaresco wines.  Old, old timers would leave the skins in contact with the juice and wine for a month, or more.  Those young whippersnappers like Clerico, Altare and Sandrone shortened the length of time for skin contact and made wines which were less aggressively astringent. 

Cigliuti's protocol then calls for the Barbaresco to spend 24 to 26 months in wood to develop and to round off the harsh "edges."  

Claudia explains the Serraboella vineyard features 60 year old Nebbiolo vines, though their web site says the youngest vines in that site are 25 years of age, and the soils are a mix of chalk and limestone. It's routinely been a good bottle of wine.
We currently have the 2012 in stock...it's medium bodied with some sour cherry and red berry fruit notes.  The wine is moderately tannic and still young (of course). 

 

 

 

 

 


A tank with wine that "will be" Barbaresco once it achieves the proper amount of aging.
You'll see signs such as this in wineries all over Italy indicating the wine in that tank or barrel "will be" of some particular appellation at some point in the future.


The cellars are, as you can see, spotless.
This is one indication of a diligent vintner.


The wines are labeled as "Fratelli Cigliuti," since the wines were originally made by Renato Cigliuti's father and uncle.


They have a small "library" of older vintages.


Claudia Cigliuti.

 

Currently in stock:  CIGLIUTI 2012 BARBARESCO "Serraboella" $69.99

 

 

 

*************************************************************


CORDERO DI MONTEZEMOLO

The Cordero family hails from Spain, we're told and they settled in Piemonte about 500 to 600 years ago.   And there's a connection to a branch of the local Falletti family which has own hillside property in La Morra since the mid-1300s.  

Costanzo Falletti married Eulalia della Chiesa in the mid-1800s and they planted a cedar of Lebanon tree on the Monfalletto hill which is said to be the exact center of the Barolo region.

 

 
The last of the Falletti's had one child and she married a Cordero di Montezemolo, a family of note situated in nearby Mondovi.  The couple had one son, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo. Unfortunately the couple died when Paolo was a small kid and he was raised by his Nonna Luigia.  She died in 1941 and young Paolo inherited the family holdings at the tender age of 15.

In the mid-1960s Paolo acquired a couple of hectares in the Villero cru of Castiglione Falletto and the winery makes its famed Enrico VI Barolo from that vineyard.

Currently they farm about 51 hectares of vineyards, mostly near the winery in La Morra.


 
Back in the early 1980s we had their wines in the shop and once visited the estate.  Arranging visits back then was not as easy as today.  Fax machines were a novelty and sending a fax to Italy was tricky as many offices turned off the electricity in the office when they closed for the day.  Other wineries, with a fax machine in the house, disconnected it so it would not wake them up in the middle of the night.

We can't recall how we arranged to visit, but we remember a very elegant Paolo Cordero opening the door and showing us around.  He was dressed far differently than most winemakers today:  he had on a dress shirt and wore a tie, with a sweater vest.  But the fellow was as elegant as his Barolo and it showed. He was also an early modernista, not because he used French oak for his Barolo, but because there was more fruit than normal for back in those days and the wines were less astringent and aggressive when they were young.
 

Today they have a modern cellar with numerous temperature-controlled tanks.


These days the grandkids of the late Paolo Cordero, Elena and Alberto, run the show with their father Giovanni.  Alberto did a stint as the head of the Barolo and Barbaresco consorzio.
 
The cellar is immaculate and filled with wood cooperage of various dimensions.
 
 

Reproductions of their historic labels.
 

Alberto Cordero showing off their lovely wines...
 

A photo of Paolo Cordero back in the day...

We tasted many very good wines on our recent visit to the Cordero winery.  This is not new, of course...they've routinely been making wines we find interesting and worthy of purchase.

We have the 2015 "Monfalletto" Barolo in the shop presently.

It comes from various parcels of vineyards near the winery in La Morra.  Vine age ranges from 15 years to 50.   They do a pre-fermentation maceration for maybe four or five days and then set about fermenting the juice, with the skins in contact for another 10 or 12 days.

The wine then goes into wood for its malolactic fermentation and then it stays in wood for a year and a half to two years.

We've opened a few bottles of this charming, young Barolo.  It's routinely been good and thanks to its elegant balance of fruit and tannin, we've noticed tasters routinely give it the thumbs up.

It's certainly approachable now and should age well for another decade or two.

 

Currently in stock:  2015 CORDERO DI MONTEZEMOLO "Monfalletto" BAROLO   SALE $49.99

 


 

 

 

 

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PRUNOTTO
wpe4.jpg (5915 bytes)Now under the ownership of the Antinori "empire" from Tuscany, this winery had been making good wines for many years.  The winery is located just on the outskirts of the city of Alba, a central location given they're making wines from fruit grown to the south in Barolo and the north in Asti and Barbaresco.   

To our taste, the wines are a bit superficial and perhaps lacking the 'soul' of wines produced by wineries with a bit more focus and attention to detail in the vineyard.  

As for their once grand Barolo wines these days...they're well off the pace set by good, small, artisan producers.  We're sad to see this brand turning out such standard to ordinary quality wines...you'd think, given the resources of the Antinori family, this place would have higher standards.  Or, maybe not.

Currently available: Special order



 

BOROLI
I know some critics will tell you there's "too much oak being used in making Barolo" these days.

The Boroli winery in Castiglione Falletto is one of Piemonte's "woodiest" wineries.  But that's because the outside of the facility is covered in staves from old oak barrels!

 

The Boroli family, long-time book and map industry folks, sold their publishing interests and bought some vineyards.  The family owns two vineyard sites, one north of Alba that's about 26 hectares.  Here they cultivate Dolcetto in a place ideally suited to that variety.

In the Barolo zone, they own about 10 hectares in Castiglione Falletto and it's here they have a winery where you will find tons of oak.  They purchased this property from a big negociant firm and remodeled the winery, essentially building a brand new facility which was designed by one of the four Boroli brothers (who's an architect).  The outside of the building is covered in staves from oak cooperage which they "inherited" from the previous owner.  

Their tasting room sits atop the winemaking facility and cellar.  From here you can have a wonderful look to the towns of Barolo and La Morra.

They have quite a range of cooperage, allowing them to balance the use of oak in their wines.  

 

The firm owns vineyards in two "grand" cru sites in Barolo:  One hectare of vines is located just outside the winery door in the "Villero" cru and they purchased (in 2003) a small parcel of 1.2 hectares in the Cerequio cru.   They also make a "Bussia" bottling of Barolo along with a "simple" Barolo.  In fantabulous vintages, they'll offer a Villero bottling that's held back for additional aging to obtain the "riserva" designation.

Though the business is quite young, having started in 1997, this property seems to be quite serious about making good, rather refined and elegant wines.  Silvano Boroli has a  good grasp of using modern techniques to make rather classically-styled wines.  Though I saw quite a few small French oak barriques, their wines don't show much in the way of wood.  

The range of wines is solid, but I'm mostly enchanted by their Villero bottling of Barolo.  I found the 1999 to be quite good and the 2001 is also remarkably fine.  In a tasting of 2003 Barolo wines, I gave both the Villero and Cerequio bottlings "starred" ratings, finding the Cerequio to be one of the top wines of the entire tasting (more than 200 Barolo samples!).

The 2001 Villero is very fine.  The vintage is quite good and the wine shows some woodsy tones, having notes of forest floor and a hint of cherryish fruit.  The tannins are balanced and the wine is very good now, with aging potential through 2015, or so.


Currently in stock:  2001 Boroli "Barolo" Villero Sold Out

 



LUIGI COPPO
The Coppo name is an important one in Piemonte these days.  The winery dates back to 1892 when Piero Coppo founded the establishment.

His son Luigi got things really going after World War II and the Coppo name was well-regarded for sparkling and sweet wines, though they made the typical range of reds (Barbera, Freisa and Grignolino).  Luigi's sons run the place these days and they've really done their homework to make the Coppo name one that's recognized around the world.

The winery may owe its foundation to the Muscat grape.  They're situated in the town of Canelli, rather close to the town of Asti.

Today you will find some really remarkable wines made by the Coppo brothers.

I recall some years ago being visited by our friend Paolo Coppo and he was interested in showing us a wine made from a curious grape variety.  It was called "Chardonnay."  We tasted the wine and did not find it to be particularly exceptional.   On a visit to Piemonte in 2007, I tasted a Coppo Chardonnay and I was floored!  It was exceptionally good and stylish...a serious challenge to top California estates and French white Burgundy domaines.   On my return, I purchased a bottle of this from the local importer.  It was a 2002 vintage (in 2007) and the wine was rather tired and over the hill.  Too bad.  Stay tuned, though, because I'm eager to find this sort of wine from Coppo to have in the shop.

We usually have their delicious, sweet, fizzy red dessert wine made of Brachetto.  It's from the area of Acqui not too far from Asti.  The wine is low in alcohol and has a marvelous fragrance of ripe, red berries.  Served chilled with a mix of summer fruits, this is magnificent.

In the realm of "serious" quality wine, Coppo makes a benchmark bottling of Barbera.  It's called Pomorosso and it's amazingly good.  This is a wine which can be served in place of a "cult" bottling of Napa Cabernet, for example.  The juice and skins remain in contact for a fairly lengthy time to pick up color and flavor.  New French oak cooperage is employed for maturing the wine and you'll find delightful red fruit aromas and cedary, vanillin oak tones.  It's full-bodied and rich on the palate...a full-throttle bottle!!!  The wine costs and arm and a leg, but it's one of those rare, costly wines that's worth what they ask for it.

The 2015 vintage Pomorosso is very pretty.  Dark in color, it's showing a fragrance of berries, sweet oak, cherries, vanillin and a touch of espresso, but less oaky than the wines of a few years earlier.  This vintage shows a slightly riper fruit note than the past couple of bottlings.  
It's deep and full on the palate.  Pair it with savory Italian fare...polenta & sausages, rosemary-seasoned lamb, grilled duck with a cherry sauce...you get the idea.  It's very pretty now and probably can be held a few more years, but it's too attractive to keep for the long-term.


Paolo Coppo...Mister Pomorosso.

 
 


Bottles of Pomorosso ready to pack into shipping boxes and send off around the world.

 

Currently in stock:  2006 COPPO BRACHETTO D'ACQUI Sold Out and they are no longer producing Brachetto!

2015 COPPO Barbera d'Asti "POMOROSSO"  SALE $49.99

We can order Coppo's other wines, if you like.
Drop me a note...

 



MOCCAGATTA

The Minuto family owns this well-known property in the Barbaresco region.  It's been in the family for many years and today is run by brothers Sergio and Francesco Minuto.  

Though these fellows are now "old timers," they make a rather modern style of wine.  

Wines come from vineyards owned by the Minuto family or leased and farmed by them.  Barbaresco is the highlight here, though they do make a small bit of Chardonnay and Dolcetto.  There are three bottlings of Barbaresco, Cole, Basarin and Bric Balin.  I've found the wines to be quite pretty and sweetly-oaked.  In this sense they are not precisely traditional or classically styled.  Basarin might be the most elegant, with Cole being a bit shy and quiet to start.  Bric Balin often has a tad more 'power' than the other two.  

We have their 2012 Bric Balin in stock presently.
It's showing beautifully presently (June 2018) and should continue to blossom over the next six to ten years, maybe even longer.
There's a mildly woodsy note here and some licorice-like notes and a bit of cherryish fruit.




We had a chance to taste a bit of 'history.'  Signor Minuto opened a bottle of 1971 Barbaresco and, at 26 years of age, this was a lovely bottle of wine!



Franco Minuto...he passed away in September of 2019...

Currently in stock:  2012 MOCCAGATTA Barbaresco "BRIC BALIN"  (List $60)  SALE $44.99


Signor Minuto shows off their barrique cellar.

 

 

 

PIO CESARE

The Pio Cesare winery is certainly an historic one, with its namesake as one of the first producers of "fine" wine in the Langhe.

The history dates back to the year 1881 when Pio Cesare started this little venture.  Today it's run by Pio Boffa, the great grandson of Pio Cesare.  Pio, by the way, was the family name and Cesare was the old boy's first name, yet today most folks would think it was the other way 'round.

One day I brought a dear old friend over to the home of another dear old friend.  The two winemakers had great respect for each other and they'd both been producing good wines for several decades.  They hadn't seen each other in a few years and so a bottle of the host's Barolo was quickly opened and the two old geezers started chatting about the good old days.

I enjoyed listening to these two codgers reminiscing about their salad days and conditions in Piemonte "way back when."  One of them mentioned the name "Pio Cesare."  I was curious to hear his opinion...

"Pio Cesare was a great intenditore (expert) of Barolo and Barbaresco.  We'd bring our wagons of fruit to the Alba market and Cesare would make the rounds.  He always was able to select the very best grapes and we were happy if he bought ours.  It was a badge of honor."

Well, today the winery has grown considerably and they cultivate more than 50 hectares of vineyards.  They have holdings in Barbaresco and around the Barolo region, along with vineyards in other parts of the Langhe.

I've gotten to know Pio Boffa a little bit over the past couple of years and view him as a bit of a modernist.  His wines are good ambassadors for the Langhe, as is Boffa (he travels quite a bit).

 

The current wines of Pio Cesare tend to be really nicely fruity and moderately oaky.  They are a good introduction to Barolo and Barbaresco for drinkers of "New World" wines.  You won't find these to be rustic in any way, for example and the use of wood is recognizable.  The wines tend to be nicely structured and balanced to be drinkable at an early age.  

The cellars are modern and well-kept.


Pio pours some wine at a dinner in the Roero region of the Langhe in 2008.


We had some bottles of a 1996 Barbaresco "Il Bricco."   This comes from a single vineyard of this name that's located in the town of Treiso.  "Bricco" is a Piemontese word for the crest of the hill or hilltop.  Pio Cesare only offers this wine in top vintages.  The 1996 harvest was, easily, a "top" vintage.  The wine is very fine now and still has a lot of life to it.  



We had some magnums of the 2004 Barolo.  This is the sort of modern wine which you might not immediately recognize as "Barolo" in its youth.  The wine shows a berry and cedar quality which may remind you of some Napa Cabernets or French Bordeaux more than Nebbiolo, but that's, in part, the fingerprints of Pio Boffa on the wine.  We suspect, with a decade in the bottle, the wine will blossom into something more Italian, but with the fresh exposure to French oak, this shows a cedary quality up front.

The 2009 Barolo marks a return to a more traditionally-styled wine...I noticed a change in their wines with the 2007s...much less 'sweet' oak.  The 2009 is nicely structured so you can drink it in its youth, but there will be additional development with bottle age.  

Other Pio Cesare wines are available by special order.  Just let me know what you'd like and we'll make the inquiry.

Currently in stock:  1996 PIO CESARE "Barbaresco" Il Bricco  Sold Out

2004 PIO CESARE BAROLO Sold Out
2009 PIO CESARE BAROLO  Sale $69.99 (750ml)

 


RENATO RATTI
Pietro Ratti has taken over the reins of this esteemed property from his late father and the wines are better than ever.  

Renato  was quite an ambassador for the wines of the Barolo area, making a map of the region and highlighting what he felt were the top "vineyard sites" or "crus." Visit more than a handful of cellars in the Langhe and you'll, no doubt, find Renato Ratti's map of the area posted.  We see this bit of 'art' work everywhere in the Barolo region.

 The winery is in the La Morra zip code and Ratti produces very good and very typical wines from this region.   Though he's quite a progressive and modern fellow, Ratti has a sense of tradition and makes wines which are in a classic style, but you'll sense and "air" of modernity here.  This is a cellar rooted in tradition, but aware of modern conveniences such as electricity and such.

Years ago, as we discussed the notion of deeply-colored Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  Signor Ratti explained that he and his father (especially) tried every sort of winemaking technique to enhance the color of these Nebbiolo-based wines.  "If you see a wine darker in color than this," Pietro explained, "it's probably a wine that's not entirely Nebbiolo."


A new cellar has been completed, built into the hillside and providing a measure of natural cooling.  From their vantage point in La Morra you can see a panorama from Alba (and beyond) to the Serralunga valley, Castiglione Falletto and south to Barolo and Monforte.


The cellar has impressive stainless steel, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks.  


The wood-aging cellar features French oak barriques, but also large wood to that their wines don't taste like 2-by-4's.

 
Ratti has had a series of national US importers.
We recall telling Pietro the importer he had (ages ago) had inflated the prices of the wines, we could not, in good conscience, offer them in the shop.

He had seen his modestly-priced wines were quite expensive and he eventually found another importer which was owned by a French winemaking family.
The prices became more honest and we were delighted to have his wines in the shop.  They sold well, in fact.

After a few years with that company, he terminated his relationship with them and signed up to be imported by the Gallo company called "Lux."  This is supposed to be a portfolio of deluxe wineries featuring fancy wines.
We do not know what sort of success they will have.
The Ratti wines have been with Lux for about two & a half years at this writing and we have never seen a sales rep to show any of the wineries in the Lux portfolio.

The decision to not work with Gallo's new acquisitions was made easier after we contacted a sales manager for Gallo regarding a California wine they now have.  

We would have continued working with a particular Cabernet which we ordered each week from their distributor rep.  But it seems there's a hard and fast percentage of sales of that wine in restaurant and retail accounts.
We were told they'd keep us in mind for future releases, but the current one, available to certain stores but not to us, is being doled out with care.  Despite being a customer of this winery since its inaugural vintage, we are no longer worthy of having their wine in our shop.

The day we were informed of this we made our daily visit to a local grocery store and near the entrance we noticed this $60 bottle of Cabernet was on display near a floor-stack of fresh mangos and one pound bags of jelly beans!

That is the state of the current wine market...

...and until Pietro has a more comfortable importer, we will not have the Ratti wines in the shop.

If you are in need of Renato Ratti wines, we can certainly special order them for you.



As for their wines:

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 Ratti makes a dynamite red called "Villa Pattono," a blend this vintage of Barbera from near Asti, along with Cabernet and Merlot.  Matured entirely in new French oak....this is a "Super-Piemontese" red, competing quite easily with those wines known as "Super Tuscans." Unlike many Tuscan wines, this arrived here for a price which the wine easily justified.

We opened a bottle of 1995 in the Spring of 2006.  I happened to stash a bottle and found it while rummaging around the back room.  It was a nice "old" wine.  
Mature?  Certainly.  
Complex?  To a degree.
Was it worth saving for so many years?  Probably not.  The Villa Pattono wines made today are probably best enjoyed when the wood is sort of fresh and cedary.

This had been a good seller for us, but as the importers have not been able to find customers for it, Villa Pattono is no longer imported.









"Marcenasco" is a name you will find on the Barolo of Ratti.  They have three bottlings, usually.  One is the "simple" Marcenasco.  The other two are the "Conca di Marcenasco" and the "Rocche di Marcenasco" wines.  


I liked the 2003 Barolo called "Conca di Marcenasco."  This wine is a bit unusual, reminding me of Barolo-Meets-Northern-Rhone-Syrah.  There was an unusual character to the wine that is reminiscent of some Cote-Rotie or Cornas wines when it was released in 2007.  We tasted this as it matured and it developed into classic Barolo...the spice notes are a bit subdued and the leathery Nebbiolo is starting to shine.

The 2004s are delightful and showy.  They came out of the gate with style and good quality...and now they're evolving into handsome, mature wines.

We have some bottles of various older vintages (2004, 2006 and some 2008s) and the wines are quite good.

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In May of 2008, Pietro shared several  magnums of wines, two of them Barolo wines from unheralded vintages.


A 1987 Barolo, a 1993 Rocche Barolo and their 1997 Nebbiolo d'Alba were shared by Pietro Ratti at a spectacular table in the Langhe.


The 1987 Barolo was the last vintage vinified by Pietro's father, Renato Ratti.  It was still quite alive and it blossomed nicely over the course of an hour, or so.  It was paired with oven-roasted kid goat.


 
Currently in stock:  
2008 Barolo "Marcenasco" (list $52) SALE $69.99
2008 Barolo "Rocche" (List $115)  SALE $119.99
2006 Barolo "Marcenasco" SALE $79.99
2004 Barolo "Conca"  SALE $99.99




Now I understand why they make a wine called "Conca."


A magnum of 1987...the last vintage vinified by Renato Ratti before he passed away.
Tasted in 2008, this was a lovely wine...still showing a lot of vitality and nicely complex!


Pietro Ratti in the Fall of 2009.  
We took him to dinner in San Francisco and the 'surprise'
bottle of wine we had was his father's 1967 Barolo.
This was exceptional...still alive and complex, with leathery and tarry notes.

 



 

A FEW PHOTOS OF PIEMONTE

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