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PIEMONTE4 (G.D. Vajra, Borgogno, Damilano,
MORE PIEMONTESE WINES
- Some may tell
you the initials "G.D." stand for "Good Dolcetto." But
it's not only Dolcetto at this family estate that is good.
In fact, G.D. are the initials of Aldo Vaira's grand-pappy, Giuseppe
You'll notice there's a difference in the spelling of the family name and
the spelling of the winery name. Until 1918, or so, it was spelled
"Vajra." Then in the 1920s some nationalistically
political types got the letter "J" to be permissible solely when
followed by a vowel. So the spelling of the Vajra name was changed
When it came time to print labels, Aldo found a type font where the
letters "I" and "J" looked very similar, so he used
that font and restored the old spelling of the family name to his wine
The winery is situated in Vergne, a small, off-the-beaten path town that's
about a 5 minute drive up in the hills west of the town of Barolo.
The elevation influences the Nebbiolo vines, of course, and the Barolo
here can be quite good, if a bit tight and lean in its youth.
We've known the Vaira family for many years and have appreciated their vinous
efforts through a series of local importers. They started in the
early 1970s. Aldo grew up in Torino, as we understand it, and his
lovely wife Milena hails from a small town southwest of Cherasco, some 20
minutes by car west of Vergne.
They're a delightful couple...and when you taste their wines, you'll sense
they have refined palates and appreciate elegance in wine.
Now the next generation of Vairas are involved in the family business and this is a
positive sign for the future. If you meet Giuseppe, Francesca or Isi,
you will immediate sense they are as passionate about vineyards and wine
as are their parents.
Aldo seems to appreciate "classic" wines. But
he's not close-minded and is interested in experimentation. He
enjoys Riesling and so he planted some!
At a dinner in Barolo some years ago, a fellow from Barolo poured me a glass of a
"mystery red" wine as we had been discussing various types of
wines. He was sure I'd be baffled by this
wine, since it was not Dolcetto, Barbera or Nebbiolo...I took a sniff and
instantly said "Hey, this is a nice Pinot Noir."
The poor fellow
nearly fell off his chair, shocked that I could identify what was a
Piemontese Pinot Nero so quickly and with precision. The wine was,
as it turns out, made by Vajra, who was seated at a neighboring table.
I got up from the table and went over to compliment "Monsieur Vaira" for his terrific Burgundian red wine.
delighted that someone had such an appreciation for his efforts.
So...now that you know Vaira is a fan of both Pinot Noir and Riesling, you
(perhaps) understand this is a gentleman with discerning and refined
tastes. In fact, he recently told us that all Barolo winemakers
should plant Pinot Noir, simply for the experience of growing it and
vinifying Pinot..."If they can make a decent wine from Pinot
Noir," he explained, "they'll make better Barolo, too."
Both Aldo and Milena say they've learned a lot about winemaking since
they've been dabbling with Pinot Noir.
The Vairas also make a benchmark red wine from the rather unheralded
"Freisa" grape. Many producers in Piemonte who still
bother with this, tend to offer wines made along the lines of a Beaujolais
and, often, with a bit of effervescence. We order these as a starter
wine during a meal as they can beautifully "set up" a more
important wine thanks to the striking contrast.
Freisa, therefore, is usually seen by most wine drinkers as a frivolous
and rather unimportant wine. But, on the contrary, it perhaps is
of great importance, especially to producers of Barolo and
Barbaresco. You see, it turns out Freisa is genetically related to
Nebbiolo. University studies in Trentino and Torino show Freisa is
probably one of the 'parents' to Nebbiolo.
Vaira makes a substantial red wine from this grape, a far cry from the
fruity and fizzy Freisa wines. It has the curious name
"Kyé" and this is Piemontese dialect for "chi è?"
or "who's there?" (Pronounced key-ay) I've
suggested that this might be the unofficial wine of the New Orleans
Saints, since a rallying cry for Crescent City football fans is "Who
Dat?" Kyé is, essentially, "who dat?" in Piemontese.
We have several Vajra wines presently.
There's a lovely, classically-styled 2019 Barbera d'Alba. The
vintage started a bit late due to wet weather, but the late summer saw hot
days and cool nights, ideal for ripening the Barbera grapes while
retaining the textbook, snappy acidity. The Vaira family has Barbera vines which were planted shortly after World War
II. These produce a wine of good intensity and character...it's not
an internationally-styled red, so you won't find oak as part of the wine's
character. It's medium-full-bodied and deep in color...lots of dark
fruit aromas and flavors and snappy acidity.
We were delighted with Vajra's 2020 Nebbiolo Langhe, as well.
There's a touch of black cherry fruit on the nose and palate...mildly
tannic and mouth-drying...this might be cellar-worthy, but we rather enjoy
it now paired with lamb or duck...
somewhat "recent" addition to the Vajra portfolio is a Moscato
d'Asti. When I first became familiar with the Vajra family, Moscato
was not part of their stable of wines.
It's a fairly recent addition and, as you might expect from a winemaker
who appreciates Riesling and Pinot Noir, there's a point of finesse to
The fragrances are reminiscent of ripe honeydew melon, citrus fruits and,
well, Muscat grapes. The wine has a nice zesty acidity to balance
its sweetness and, of course, it's fizzy and tickles the palate.
- Aldo Vajra had said he'd love to be able to make Riesling in Germany,
but since their harvest coincides with grape-picking in Piemonte, that's
not likely to happen. So he planted some Riesling getting cuttings
from both Germany and Alsace. They planted two sites with
Riesling. One is their home base Fossati vineyard which is oriented
to catch the morning sun. High elevation and sandy soils...
They other parcel is southeast of Serralunga and just a tad west of
Sinio...it's a chalky soil and the vines face North-East.
Francesca Vaira writes: "Dad was the
pioneer of Riesling in Piemonte. His intuition came about at the end of
the 70’s and materialized in 1985. This story about Riesling is
just one of the many examples which demonstrates my dad’s curiosity and
passion: extremely respectful of our territory and traditions, but open to
the world. Luckily for my brothers and me, we have also fallen in love
with this stunning variety but are, moreover, endlessly surprised by the
love our father has for his work."
- We are big fans of Riesling, too.
German. Austrian. Australian. Alsace.
Washington. New York. Michigan. California (once in a
while). Kuenhof in the Alto Adige. Germano in Serralunga
(whose Riesling comes from Cigliè south of the Barolo area).
When we've tasted (or consumed) Vajra's Riesling, dubbed Pietracine (pietra
for rocks/stones and racine for roots) we find a simple,
straightforward, perfectly okay Riesling.
And yet we have seen (on numerous occasions), the wine really blossoms in
the glass as it both warms up from refrigerator temperature and gets some
aeration. After about a half an hour in the glass, it's
different. More compelling. It draws in a Riesling fanatic (I
suspect a California Chardonnay drinker would not be particularly
impressed by this wine), revealing nuances and layers of fragrances and
flavors which were not 'visible' at the outset.
I found some vintages more Alsatian in style than Germanic, but the
2014 gave good dry (trocken) Rieslings from Germany a serious run for the
How do you say "Grosses
Gewächs" in Italian?
Or translate Austria's "Smaragd" into Italian?
We tasted the 2015 in early Fall of 2018...delicious! Nicely evolved
and a bit more precocious than previous vintages at this stage...possibly
the relative warm 2015 growing season accounts for that?
In 2019 we tasted two "old" vintages and these were both
exceptionally good and still alive!
They had opened a 1992 and a 1994.
- Yes...we're fans! And we have this wine in
the shop more for our own enjoyment, but are happy to 'share' it if others
want to discover this off-the-beaten-path bottle.
We recently received the 2020 vintage and it's a baby...quite charming and
dry, but a young pup!
some rather expensive Barolo...but Vajra recently introduced a more
affordable version and it's not a secondary sort of wine at
The wine is dubbed "Albe," the plural of the word
"Alba." Now, of course, Alba is the major city in the
Langhe region...but they call this wine "albe," or
"sunrises" because it comes from three vineyard sites.
Each vineyard (La Volta, Fossati and Le Coste) sees the sun for the first
time in the morning at a different moment, so there are, in a sense, three
A friend of ours, who's hardly a wine aficionado (apart from her love for
Moscato d'Asti) sent us a note saying she'd just discovered an amazing
wine while dining out at a local steak house. Not one to remember
names, she sent a photo of the bottle...and it was Vajra's Albe
Barolo. This, of course, is a bit astonishing, as most palates which
prefer sweet, low alcohol Muscat, don't usually find tannic, astringent
Barolo to be especially palatable. "But this had the most
amazing character," she wrote. "There's a spice note I've
never found and it was sensational with the grilled steak!"
So, we have the 2017 Vajra "Albe" Barolo in stock.
It's a medium-bodied, somewhat berryish Nebbiolo with nice red fruits and
light tannins (for Barolo). It's a good introduction to Barolo,
being well-made, classically-styled and it has a few more years of aging
potential. With so many bottlings of Barolo carrying $60-$100 price tags,
this one is downright reasonable!
They make a couple of Dolcetto
bottlings. The basic bottling is quite good, immediately drinkable and
charming with bright berryish fruit. It's also well-priced, another
attractive feature. They capture the conviviality of Dolcetto...it's
not a wine for cellaring, but for casual drinking with friends and a good
meal. We are presently in between vintages...
ought to mention the Vajra's foray into bottle-fermented bubbles.
It's called "VSQ" (Vino Spumante di Qualita) NS (Nostra Signora)
Della Neve (of the Snow) Extra Brut.
It's a blend of Pinot Nero and Nebbiolo, 50/50.
The grapes come from a difficult-to-cultivate little site near the town of
Roddino. This is about a 20 minute ride from the Vajra winery to
Monforte and then up towards the Alta Langa. You're near the
fabulous dining spot, "da Gemma," a place not to be missed if
you'd like a "home-cooked" Piemontese/Langhe meal.
They give the juice a bit of skin contact before the fermentation and then
the wine, once assembled to be turn into bubbly, spends more than 2 years
on the spent yeast.
This is not only a good aperitivo, it can pair nicely with a lot of
different foods over the course of a meal. It's quite dry,
We've ordered it as a starter wine while dining in 2019 at Chez Panisse in
Berkeley and our bottle was emptied much too quickly!
of much interest to most wine drinkers is a curious "aperitivo"
or "digestivo." It's called Barolo Chinato and it's a
spiced wine based on Barolo. (Remember that Piemonte has a long
tradition of "aromatized wines" such a Vermouth, so Chinato is
not much of a stretch for them.)
Many wineries used to make Barolo Chinato, but it has been a dying art.
Though lately we're seeing more Chinato wines arriving here in the U.S.
If you ask, however, you might be surprised how many producers still have
some bottles that a previous generation made. Everyone had/has a
unique recipe, but the word "Chinato" refers to
"china" or "Quinine." More dominant on the nose
and palate of these wines are cloves, cinnamon and other spices. The
Vajra's version of Barolo Chinato is mildly sweet and it does have a
slightly bitter edge to it. Some sort of chocolate dessert matches
this exotic nectar, but for some people, it's an acquired taste.
Cappellano's has been the benchmark, but we think Vajra's is now in the
same league and a really great example.
It's not inexpensive...they're using Barolo, remember, as the base and
then this remarkable array of seasonings.
Try a sip of this either on its own as a digestivo or get some fine
chocolate like our neighbors (Preston's
Candies) truffles and see what you think.
Some of the spices and such included in Vajra Barolo Chinato...
Currently in stock: 2019 VAJRA BARBERA D'ALBA
VSQ N.S. Della Neve Extra Brut Bubbly $39.99
2009 KYE' Langhe FREISA $49.99
2020 VAJRA LANGHE NEBBIOLO $27.99
2017 VAJRA DOLCETTO D'ALBA Sold Out
VAJRA MOSCATO D'ASTI $20.99
2020 VAJRA Langhe RIESLING "Pètracine" Sale $44.99
VAJRA BAROLO CHINATO $67.99 (750ml)
2017 VAJRA BAROLO "Albe" SALE $41.99
2016 VAJRA BAROLO "Bricco delle Viole" $99.99
Aldo Vaira...a Piemontese Visionary
A visit with Francesca who brought the entire portfolio.
DINNER WITH GIUSEPPE VAIRA
2014 DINNER WITH GIUSEPPE
- If you wish to be let in on the best-kept secret in the Langa region,
If you only can buy wines from the most highly-touted, prestigious and
famous wineries, go have a look elsewhere.
Mario Fontana is the 6th generation of the Fontana family to be a
winemaker. As I understand, he broke away from another part of the
Fontana family and has a small cellar in the little area of Perno, just a
little bit north of Monforte d'Alba.
The vineyards are situated in several locations: right
near the winery in Perno, a bit north of Serralunga in the zone of Sinio and
there's a small patch in the La Morra area.
Oh, by the way: he's related to the Mascarello family...Bartolo's
daughter Terri is his cousin.
And he's a fan of Mascarello's wines, as you might expect.
Mario's grandpa was born in 1903 and he was a guiding light. Saverio
Fontana thought Piemonte should focus on wine, especially Barolo, though in his
days, most farms were comprised of numerous crops and livestock. Wine was
a mere part of the work.
By the time he was a young teenager, Mario was on the tractor and working in the
vineyards. Grandpa had learned how to make wine from his father and
grandfather and Saverio was a wise and learned man. He told Mario that
"...your wine is never the best. You can always improve and make it
We first brought in Mario's 2003 Barolo. What enchanted us about the wine
was its traditional character, good quality and honest price. By the way,
some critics will tell you 2003 is not a good vintage. As in every year,
there are always good wine made by good winemakers. The jokers are the
ones who need a perfect vintage to make good wine and these years are then
pronounced as exceptional. If the slackers made good wine, it must be a
And the wine is along the lines of Mascarello's Barolo, but with its own
character and personality. Mario, like Mascarello, blends vineyard sites
to create Cascina Fontana Barolo. Grapes from Villero and Valletti
(Castiglione Falletto) are blended with Gallinotto (La Morra). Actually,
each site is vinified separately and then Mario makes a master blend and this is
aged in large wood tanks.
We're impressed to note that he's sensitive to vintage variation (some
winemakers work with a written-in-stone recipe) and the wine spends a particular
amount of time in wood to mature. Then it may go into stainless steel to
"age" or develop a bit more. From there it goes into bottle.
Mario's 2007, a year highly-touted by many critics as exceptional (yes, some
good wines, but for a Barolo purist, it's an odd vintage) was released before
We had some 1998 Cascina Fontana. This comes from a vintage we'd
by-passed in favor of 1996s and 1999s. Yet now that the 1998s have had
time to develop, it turns out to be a really nice vintage. Many critics
gave too much praise to 1997 and not enough to 1998. When we are in
Piemonte, we look for 1998s these days on wine lists. The prices are often
quite attractive and the wines are just hitting their peak. And Fontana's
is delightful. Classic, notes of leather, earth and a bit of truffle...it
does have a modest level of tannin, but paired with food, it softens up nicely.
These wines are precisely what one looks for in Barolo. At least if you're crazy
for Barolo. If you only appreciate Australian Shiraz or Napa Cabernet,
this wine may cause you to wonder what all the fuss is about.
MARIO'S THOUGHTS ON BAROLO
My Barolo is like my grandfather, like those
men from another age – the ones who never wanted anyone to know easily
what they were thinking. This wine is just the same: it does not ever
reveal itself easily or cheaply. You have to discover it, slowly and
thoughtfully. The appreciation and discovery of Barolo is not something
that should ever be fast: you must have time, patience and experience.
In tasting the 2006 when it first arrived, we saw a wine of great potential. It's
already special. But if you have the patience Mario mentions
(above), you will have a remarkable bottle of wine.
On a recent visit to Piemonte, I told Fontana I would let him know if I
tasted anything more impressive during a week of intense tastings.
After a couple of days, I sent him a note saying I'd not found
anything. At the conclusion of my visit, I saw him and said I had,
finally, found a wine which was perhaps at that moment, more
profound: A magnum of 1974 Barbaresco from the Produttori del
"Okay," he said. "I don't feel badly." as he
grinned, happy to have another admirer in the Cascina Fontana Barolo Fan
The 2008 is showing marvelously. This is a
beautifully elegant rendition. I find it to be very good and even showing
nicely at a remarkably early stage. The wine seems to have some backbone
and structure for aging, though it's not as unyielding as some young bottles of
Barolo. With some young Nebbiolo wines, you simply have to let them
develop for a decade before even considering touching them. Fontana's 2008
is approachable young and will make for a memorable bottle if
The 2009 is remarkably good. We also like the 2010, but it's still tight
and really needs until 2020 before opening it. The 2009 is somewhat more
open and is likely to develop more quickly.
The 2013 is beautifully-structured and quite
handsomely cellar-worthy. It's got plenty of acidity and tannin to match
its fruit intensity.
We had a bottle in early 2018 and the wine is showing beautifully, but still a
bit tight, of course.
It's a wine to drink in a few years and to hold for a decade or two.
The 2016 is the "current" vintage here...
Currently in stock:
2013 CASCINA FONTANA BAROLO $64.99
2016 CASCINA FONTANA BAROLO $74.99
In the old cellar.
A real Barolo Meister tasting young Barolo.
Tasting in the new cellar.
Snow in 2014...the view to the vineyards at Cascina Fontana.
Mario pours wine for Bay Area wine Legend John Rittmaster
The 2002 vintage in the Langhe was quite problematic.
Some wineries chose to not bottle any Barolo from that harvest.
Yet Giacomo Conterno proudly produced its Monfortino Barolo from 2002, claiming
their vineyards were not damaged by the September hail storm that damaged
Critics advised consumers to avoid the wines from 2002.
Here's the assessment by The Wine Spectator:
Mario Fontana brought a bottle of his 2002 and this turned out to be quite a
In fact, he was surprised to see the color of the wine has become more intense
(!) over the years, as it started out with lighter intensity and a brickish hue.
As you can see in the photo above, the wine has good color and doesn't appear
especially old or feeble.
Here's another photo from that same visit (lunch, by the way, at La
Repubblica di Perno, a real jewel of a dining spot near the Cascina
Fontana cellar in
Mario opened a 1975 Nebbiolo which he said was essentially Barolo.
"Back in those days the wines that were in demand were Dolcetto and
Barbera. Nobody was much interested in buying Barolo so the wine was often
labeled as simple Nebbiolo. When customers came to the winery and bought
Dolcetto and Barbera, they would often be given, free, some bottles of Nebbiolo
or Barolo, just to get rid of the wine."
The world has changed, hasn't it?
GIACOMO BORGOGNO & FIGLI
Boschis family had owned this historic winery right in beautiful
The Borgogno family traces its root back to the 1700s, maybe even
farther. They're still proud of their wine being served at a dinner
celebrating the unification of Italy back in 1861 and then, again, to a
visiting Russian czar in the 1880s.
The winery passed to the niece and nephew of Cesare Borgogno in 1968 and
the Boschis family continues to run the place today, though we understand
they sold the winery, vineyards and its inventory of old vintages to a
fellow who's made his millions in electronics and who now has a gourmet
grocery store in Milano and Torino. The Boschis brothers are now, we
understand, no longer involved here.
The wines are certainly "old school" here. I've had the
pleasure of tasting numerous old vintages of Borgogno Barolos and they age
nicely, though the old bottles are reportedly topped up with younger
wine...still, nice to touch old history...
The wines are a bit slow to develop, typically, and so they don't get the
recognition of some of their more modern and more flashy neighbors.
We recently received some 1996 Barolo, a classic wine from a classic,
hall-of-fame caliber vintage. I remember tasting this years ago and
didn't find it as compelling as others. Today, now having about 15+
years of bottle aging, the wine is a textbook example of Barolo. A good
taster would not mistake this for any other wine from anywhere else on the
planet. The 1996 shows the leathery, earthy, almost truffle-like
fragrances of good Barolo. It's well-structured and tannic.
You'll still find the wine to have a 'bite' to it, but it's very drinkable
now with food and should age well for, at least, another 10 years,
There are some more recent wines, too. The 1998 is blossoming
handsomely and is an over-looked vintage. The 1999 still has its
'grip' on the palate and needs good food to show it off. The 2000
comes from a much-hyped vintage and it's good, but not quite in the same
league as the others. The 2001 is stellar, but still young and a
We saw the importer had some 1995 in the warehouse...very good and
beautifully developed...pretty much at its peak. And it's
If you've never experienced a "vertical' tasting, come pick out some
bottles of different years and put them on your dinner table, each with
its own glass. Then you can contrast and compare....
The older vintages are a delight...
Currently in stock: 1996 BORGOGNO BAROLO
1958 BORGOGNO BAROLO Sold Out
1961 BORGOGNO BAROLO $299.99
1995 BORGOGNO BAROLO $119.99
2001 BORGOGNO BAROLO $129.99
Tasted in March of 2010, the 1961 Barolo was still alive and kickin'!
It was beautifully leathery and mildly smoky/tarry. There was a nice
bit of tannin and it blossomed in the glass over the 40 to 60 minutes we
spent lingering over our main courses...
Americans are quite familiar with the name Francesco Rinaldi...they think
it's a brand of spaghetti sauce and, in fact, they are correct.
But this Francesco Rinaldi is more famous for some lovely, understated
Piemontese wines and they are not in the business of processing tomatoes
Their sauce is quite different and it's often quite good, though the
Rinaldi name these days carries less cachet than it did, say, 30 or 40
Part of the "problem," if you want to call it that, is that the
current generation of Rinaldis is a bit shy and reserved...they don't go
on world tours, beating the streets, meeting the geeks and holding
winemaker dinners around the world on a regular basis. They
seem to quietly go about their business of tending their vineyards, making
wines and waiting for the world to beat a path to their door.
And over the years, there was a giant stylistic change on the part of
dozens of wineries in the region, as people dabbled with blending other
grapes into Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as aging those possibly
majestic wines in brand new French oak, fundamentally changing the
character of the wines.
Rinaldi's biggest change, perhaps, was in no longer keeping some Barolo in
34 and 50-something liter demijohns and bottling these when the wines were
ten, or more, years of age.
The more things changed on the outside world, the more Rinaldi has stayed
the same, for the most part.
The Rinaldi wine company was, at one point in time, eons ago, partners
with Barolo's Barale family, another bunch of old-fashioned
stalwarts. As a side note, I believe the Barale clan still
keeps some Barolo in those old damigiane before bottling, so in
this regard, perhaps the Rinaldis are modernistas! Anyway, in 1900
the place was "Barale & Rinaldi," but it 1920 the two
families went their separate ways.
Paola Rinaldi in the cellar at Francesco Rinaldi winery in Barolo.
I believe, if memory serves, the family had another cellar or
warehouse, at least, in the city of Alba.
They own approximately 11 hectares of vineyards and buy additional grapes.
Some vineyards are situated in Barolo, La Morra and Castiglione Falletto.
Some vineyards are rented on a long-term basis and these , if I understood
correctly, are in Novello. The family also produces a bit of Gavi (a white
wine) from well outside the Barolo area as their winemaker lives in that part of
Piemonte. Additionally, they produce a bit of Grignolino, a grape that's
fallen out of favor in the Nebbiolo-dominated appellations in Piemonte.
Ever heard of Montaldo Scarampi? That's where the vineyard is located that
produces Rinaldi's marvelous Grignolino and it's about a 40 minute drive these
days (15 or 20 years ago this would have taken maybe twice as long by car) from
The Grignolino grape is weak in color, but makes up for it with crisp, snappy,
sometimes shrill acidity. In an era when many people are looking for inky
dark wines, high alcohol, robust, full-throttle, ripe fruit to the point of
making wines resembling some sort of chocolate confection, Grignolino is a wine
meant for a very small percentage of wine drinkers. And we like
Rinaldi's....it's light, acidic, crisp and pairs handsomely with fatty salumi or
a serving of fried calamari or shrimp.
Rinaldi ferments the wine for 15 days, or so, on the skins and still this yields
a wine with very light cherry red color...it's a tad darker than some Rose
wines, but not by much. And it's bone dry and shows snap-snap-snappy
Paola Rinaldi is amused that the US market is so enchanted with
their Grignolino d'Asti. It's a good example of this grape variety,
largely abandoned by most Barolo and Barbaresco producers. It's a lighter
bodied red with plenty of acidity, so it's a good partner for starters such as a
nice plate of salumi. We suggest serving it a cool cellar temp, lightly
But the family makes lovely Barolo and Barbaresco, along with some Dolcetto and
a bit of Barbera.
Barolo comes in "normale" which is a blend of vineyard sites including
some from the Sarmassa cru, some from Rocche dell'Annunziata in La Morra, a bit
of Cannubbio from Barolo, a bit from a site in Castiglione Falletto and a couple
of other parcels. It's usually a pretty nice wine but because they don't
make much of a fuss to toot their own horn, this is usually given short shrift
by critics and collectors.
Rinaldi makes a couple of site-specific Barolo wines..."Cannubbio"
(that's how they spell it...it's an old spelling and many locals had long
considered this hill one of the best places in the Barolo zone as it combined
the soil types of soils...The Tortonian of the western part of Barolo and
Helvetian from the east. Rinaldi's wine is not a wine for 'tastings' or
competitions. It's one of those that some people will dismiss for being
"too light," while others prize the wine for the fact that it is
beautifully subtle. This is a classic case of "your mileage will
vary." But it's easy to understand why their wines, tasted young, are
not often cited...they take years to develop and in an era when folks are
impatient, this is difficult wine for most folks to appreciate.
The Le Brunate Barolo comes from a site which was called Cascina Brunata in the
old days if I recall correctly...this tends to have a bit more body than their
Cannubbio bottling and it's a tad more approachable early on, though still
really is best with 10-20 years of age on it. We have some
2010...delightful wine! It's very fine now, despite it being young and it
can go one or two+ decades.
The Barolo wines at Rinaldi get the old-fashioned, long skin contact treatment
and the wines go into old botte grande for maturation.
Anyway, this is a producer who's over-shadowed by many of its neighbors, though
at one time Rinaldi cast a shadow over them...the wines have not really changed,
but there are many more really good producers in the Langhe these days compared
to 30 or 40 years ago, for one thing.
If you run in to older vintages of Francesco Rinaldi Barolo's, give them a
Currently in stock: 2016 FRANCESCO RINALDI
GRIGNOLINO D'ASTI $18.99
2010 FRANCESCO RINALDI BAROLO "Brunate" $74.99
|In the tasting room at Rinaldi, there are old photos
and books of invoices, chronicling sales of wine dating back to the
early 1900s. There are hotels with restaurants that bought
Rinaldi's wines and these sales required paperwork. I
suggested to Paola that maybe we should call one or two of these
places to inquire about a "past due" bill from, say, 1906!
She was amused by that notion, but didn't think it would be a good
- The Damilano
name is an old one in the Langhe, but it's a fairly recent
"arrival" to today's Barolo scene.
The owners have had a hand in this place since the 1890s, but have made a
fortune in the bottled water business. Happily they're not
turning wine into water, but are making some very good Barolo wines.
Some years ago there was a bit of turmoil here, when some family members
were in favor of cashing out and selling the vineyards and winery, while
others fought to preserve the business.
Leading that effort was Guido Damilano and today he's at the helm of this
estate along with his sister and a couple of cousins. The winery
focus is on Barolo and they own a modest chunk of the famed Cannubi
vineyard and, in 2008, leased a substantial parcel previously sold to a
neighboring winery. Now the Damilano crew has more than half the
Cannubi site at its disposal!
There's nothing fancy about the winemaking. It's fairly traditional,
although you will find some small French oak barriques in the
Guido Damilano shows off the latest vintage of Barolo.
- We have several Damilano wines in the shop.
The 2004 Cannubi is particularly good. It ought to be, given the
vintage and vineyard. Damilano matures the wine in small French oak,
yet the wine retains its character of Nebbiolo and Barolo
"Cannubi." I suspect the "Cannubi" character
will become even more pronounced as the oak recedes and the wine continues
to develop. It's too young to open now, but well-stored, this should
be a terrific wine for drinking between, say, 2012 and 2020.
There's the "Liste" cru in magnum format. This is a small
parcel which, like Cannubi, is also located within the confines of the
town of Barolo. It's a shade less majestic, let's say, than the
Cannubi bottling, but still is going to be a grand bottle, especially in
magnum format. We bought a few magnums at a very attractive
Damilano also is one of perhaps two or three dozen producers to make
"Barolo Chinato." This is a curious potation which
features Barolo as the base wine. Remember, Piemonte is/was a major
center for the aromatized wine known as "Vermouth." But
imagine making a similar beverage using Nebbiolo from the most regal of
appellations and then infusing it with your own secret recipe of herbs and
spices. Quinine (china in Italian) is first and foremost, but
each firm has its own special blend. Damilano's has a nice vanillin
tone and it's appropriately sweet, yet still has a slight tannic 'bite' to
- So...Damilano is presently a name on the rise. It's not yet as
prestigious as some of its neighbors, but the quality of the wines is
quite good and it's a reliable brand at this stage.
Currently in stock: 2004 DAMILANO Barolo
DAMILANO "Barolo Chinato" (reg. $75) SALE $49.99 (375ml)
An old photo taken years ago of newly-planted vineyards on the
Vajra estate with the famous "Monviso" peak in the background on a
rare clear day.
This small winery is operated by the Taliano family. They started in 1969
and the property has grown over the years.
we first met them, they had about 15 hectares of vineyards supplying the winery.
Today, there are more than 23 hectares being farmed by the Taliano family.
Photo: Roberto Taliano explaining the Montaribaldi vineyard and
the southern exposure of the hillside.
Papa Giuseppe Taliano is proud of the work being done by sons
Roberto and Luciano.
We visited the estate in 2019 and things have changed...
We have said the two brothers are "I Taliani."
Ages ago we saw lots of small oak barrels.
These days there's a nice mix of cooperage to allow them to make balanced wines
more along the lines of traditionally-styled bottlings.
Photos: (Above) The stacks of barrels in the Montaribaldi
(Left): Luciano Taliano opens a number of good bottles.
(Below): Dad seems to enjoy the various wines being made by his sons.
entry level Barbaresco is called Palazzina.
We have the 2015 in stock and it's well-priced, too.
The Palazzina vineyard was planted in 1985. It's located in the the town
of Neive. The wine is matured in wood for about two years. It goes
into seasoned barriques and larger wood vats.
It's a good example of Barbaresco and the 2015 is drinkable now, but can be
cellared for maybe a decade, or so, to allow it to really develop handsomely.
We have the 1997 Barbaresco in the shop--opened a bottle in
December of 2009 and was pleasantly surprised...this has developed beautifully
and yet it's still tannic and can be cellared for another decade, or so.
Well, we need to open another bottle soon!
Currently in stock: 1997 MONTARIBALDI
2015 MONTARIBALDI BARBARESCO "Palazzina" SALE $29.99
A view from Montaribaldi looking at the tower of Barbaresco in the distance.