Always fun to walk down Memory Lane and bring back to life the adventures of the past. Here's a fun trip to Piemonte to remember with a smile...
Let’s first indulge in some
humble impressions from the latest wine tour to Piemonte. Last time I
was there together with my friend Sverker in January, was a wonderful
experience (as always).
Call it a Preludium, a step on our way to the Grand Finale,
but as a warm-up before the tour, another friend, Joakim, invited us to
a 1971 Barolo tasting with 10 different beautifully preserved Barolo
wines and later 10 specimens from the 1958 vintage. I will let Joakim
take on the task to share his tasting notes whenever he frees himself
from his workload but in short I can say that I found the 1971s lovely
and brimming with life while the 1958s were somewhat passed its prime,
by a great margin, although some of my fellow wine aficionados thought
otherwise at the tasting. As an appropriate Intermezzo in anticipation of the Grand Finale (Joakim’s forthcoming Barolo Evening with 35 different Barolo wines from the 1996 vintage),
we headed to Italy to indulge ourselves in some truly classic wine and
food experiences from one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions:
Sverker and I headed to
Bergamo, rented a car and drove down to Bologna to attend the wedding of
a good Italian friend. We also had time for some shopping before the
wedding and rushed to our Chief Supplier running what must be the best
wine store for Italian wines in the world. He seems to know every wine
producer in person and has a candy store of a wine cellar that I would
be most happy to be trapped in, locked on the inside, for years and
years to come. Sure, I’d be sloshed but so what? I’d be a happy camper…
We managed to obtain some bottles of the 2001 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Vigna Cinque Querce Riserva
(I’d appreciate a tasting note from anyone having tasted this –
supposedly this is an Aglianico that will hold for some time…) and a
bottle of the 2001 L’Arco, supposedly a new Amarone from Federigo
Luca (same goes for this one, any tasting notes or additional
information would be appreciated).
Isn’t it amazing? What a
different experience going to an Italian restaurant, having something
good to eat and ordering wine, compared to the appalling practice in
Sweden where wine is marked up 3-500% making it virtually impossible (or
self-destructing) ordering a wine to enjoy with your meal. Appalling.
And a dead-end road. Here, we felt it would be nice to have a small bite
to eat in the evening and sat down at a small place close to our hotel
in Bologna. A simple restaurant with 6 tables, yet with an amazing wine
list. We ordered a plate of charcuteries and had a look at the extensive
wine list, pondering if we should choose a 1990 Fontanafredda Barolo La Delizia at 33 euros or a 1996 Foradori Granato
(a pure Teroldego) at 26 euros. Elisabetta Foradori being a favourite
of ours made us decide on the Teroldego which was a perfect match to the
salami, ham and lardo. Oozing with dark fruit, Asian spices, smoke and
white pepper, it displayed a fresh wall of dark fruit together with a
lingering acidity and some very meaty aromas. At first, I thought the
acidity was a little too high for what the remaining components offered,
thus creating a slight unbalance but with air in the glass the acidity
calmed down and slowly integrated beautifully with the rich, meaty fruit
flavours. It’s like having a juicy, spicy steak in a glass. 92 points.
After finishing the meal we decided to have a glance at the wine list
again. Yes, the thing is that almost everything is for sale and you get a
discount if you take the bottle with you… Sverker bought a bottle of
the 1997 Castellina in Chianti I Sodi di San Niccolo and I
believe he paid close to 45 euros for the bottle, which was also the
price when I bought it years and years ago in Tuscany soon after its
release (and opened it recently in a 1997 Tuscany tasting – yummy
stuff!). I settled on a bottle of 1996 Giacosa Falletto di Serralunga Red Label Riserva
at 115 euros (I have decided to include the prices in this post not to
boast about what has been acquired but as an interesting comparison for
other fellow wine aficionados in different countries around the world.
Among all, I believe that many of the prices I hear from the US seem to
be quite reasonable considering the rate between the dollar and euro),
just a tad higher than what I paid for a bottle in Alba soon after it
was released some years ago. Maybe I shouldn’t complain - had this been
the situation in Sweden I would do little else than constantly eating
out and purchasing wine.
Anyway, we headed back to
Bergamo to pick up Joakim who arrived a day later and had some time to
have a look at the beautiful Old town hovering above the modern outlines
of the city. And then it was off to Piemonte, a 2½ hour drive from
Bergamo. Before arriving to our Agriturismo hotel in the middle of the
vineyards, we stopped by at an enoteca that was, to our surprise, open
on a Sunday. Having been at this big, modern place on previous occasions
without finding anything of particular interest we were quite surprised
to find out that it had by now expanded into covering much more
interesting producers from both Barolo and Barbaresco. The first thing
we noticed – and immediately grabbed – were two bottles of the 2001 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja (Red Label).
With a price tag of 85 euros I consider this a tremendous deal. We
asked for more bottles but the manager informed us that his annual
allocation was six bottles so we were quite pleased to have found the
bottles in the first place. Before heading further we also purchased
some bottles for our daily Barolo evening tastings in our hotel room
(tasting notes further down). Staying as always at Franco Molino with
the vineyards just outside the window, with spitting distance from
places like Annunziata and Cannubi, we headed to what would be our first
of three dinners out before heading home to Sweden. The restaurant lies
in Castiglione and is called Le Torri. What a wonderful atmosphere
awaiting us when driving through the darkness and mist only to park
outside the restaurant with the old, towering castle overlooking
Castiglione. I can’t help but loving these old medieval towns spread out
in the Piemontese landscape. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you
to Ristorante Le Torri (when you read it today it has new management, with Maria-Cristina moving to her own restaurant in La Morra: Mangè).
I can’t imagine a more
relaxed and welcoming place to enjoy your dinner. You can sense the warm
hospitality the minute you step inside and are shown to your seats by
Angelo, the husband of Chef Maria Cristina. Clearly three friends and
fellow wine aficionados don’t go unnoticed and soon we were asked if we
would like to visit the wine cellar before ordering the food. Would we?
What kind of question is that?! Of course we would! Stepping down the
steep stairs we come to Nirvanaland, with bottles of the finest Barolos
stacked from the floor. This overwhelming experience simply is too much
for our friend Joakim who leans towards the wall expressing a fainted
“This is too much. I can’t handle this!” And who are we to disagree?
It’s somewhat overpowering to walk among cases of Vietti, Giacomo
Conterno, Clerico, Aldo Conterno, Giacosa and the likes. One room is the
private cellar and I must confess we had some difficulties leaving that
room after seeing a bunch of Monfortino from various vintages. My
friends reading this will have to correct me if I’m wrong but I believe
it was the Monfortino from 1945, 1958, 1971, 1978, 1985, 1990, among
others… Apparently these were bottles for a special dinner later in
November, one at which even Roberto Conterno would participate. Later we
told Roberto about what we saw in that room and he just nodded and
smiled, saying that he indeed was looking forward to that dinner. Now,
if one could only know the exact date and quickly make a strategic
reservation at a table close to this party… Nevertheless, the service
was warm-hearted and impeccable, the food was excellent, as always and
so was the 2000 Guiseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato that
accompanied the food. Sweet, ripe, red fruit with lots of flowers,
licorice and that feeling of cherry pralines. A persistent and very
classy, balanced finish made this a joy to drink with the food. 92 points.
But now, ladies and gentlemen, the finale. You know, these Michelin
star restaurants, where they are appointed stars and where one star
means it’s worth a detour and three stars indicating it’s not just worth
a detour but a complete journey by its own, only to visit the
restaurant and enjoy the food, well… Consider something on the menu
worthy of a special and unique journey to Italy, only to eat this
marvellous piece of culinary miracle… The panacotta. Wow...!!! If you would ever extend the system of numerically scoring wine into panacotta territory, this would be a 100 point
experience as clear as anything could be. I urge every citizen on this
planet with a hedonistic soul to go out of your way to visit Ristorante
Le Torri just for this culinary delight. There is just absolutely
nothing like it on planet earth. Pure Hedonism. Parker would love it
here. The texture, ever so light and fluffy, like sweet summer clouds,
yet holding it all together with a laser beam of flavours. What an
Absolute Delight! I just couldn’t prevent myself. After finishing this
truly amazing dessert I called for the waiter and order another
panacotta. Isn’t that what pure hedonism is all about?
When arriving at home sweet
home we opened up a couple of Barolos in our room for a late night
tasting. Here are the tasting notes.
1999 Fontanafredda Barolo La Delizia
Not just mushrooms but those
d a r k mushrooms on a forest floor, underbrush, some notes of tobacco,
gun powder, somewhat dry on the fruit component and not concentrated
enough to merit a higher score but overall an enjoyable experience. 88 points.
1999 Oddero Barolo Vigna Rionda
A totally different
creature. Luscious, with pronounced red fruit, roses, flowers and
spices, this is a strange mixture of brute force together with a
Burgundian style of elegance, with tannins that shake your bones and
structured, densely packed and delightful finish. 90 points.
We also opened up the 2001 Lamborghini Campoleone
purchased in Bologna for 25 euros. This is a Sangiovese/Merlot blend
that immediately grabs your attention with it’s powerful fruit basket
with plum, black currant and gobs of dark chocolate. Lots of spices
here, oak, and a very meaty structure, together with a velvety texture
yet somewhat tannic finish. Loads of blackberries. Who could ever turn
down a powerful race car like this? Still, at this point it’s a “lot of
everything” so I would wait for this baby to evolve for a few years
before having another go at it. 91-92 points.
Next morning it was rise and
shine with some delicious salami, ham and cheese for breakfast before
heading to our first appointment, Giacomo Conterno, straddled high on
the slopes towards Monforte, overlooking the hills and valleys beneath.
Waiting for Roberto Conterno to show up is always a challenge as you sit
there in the room staring at bottles of Monfortino from 1926 and 1934
as well as a bottle marked “Barolo 1904”. The questions that begs to be
answered is “Who brought a corkscrew, guys?!” but then
Roberto entered and our plans had to be altered… As always, Roberto
greeted us with his usual warm smile. Can’t help this feeling but you
always feel so welcome when someone meets you with that kind of warmth.
He excused himself for not having too much time on this occasion (we
stayed for an hour) and for only serving us two wines, the 2004 Barbera
d’Alba and the 1999 Monfortino (yeah, sure, he should apologise…).
However, first he asked us this ridiculous question if we would perhaps
be interested in having a look at the cellar. Now what should you
answer to a question like that? No?! On the contrary, I’d be happy to
be locked inside and carried out after sampling all the good stuff
hidden beneath in the deep cellars of Giacomo Conterno. As before, these
wonderful, beautiful, gigantic, huuumongous barrels from Slovenia and
Austria is an impressive sight as they tower high above you, making you
feel like a dwarf staring at the sky. Last time I estimated these
barrels to contain 5000 litres but this time I asked Roberto and the
correct answer is 10600 litres, big enough to decorate inside using it
as your summer cottage. Another amazing observation when visiting
Roberto’s cellar is the spotless cleanliness. Make a visit here and
compare this to any other estate and you will understand what I mean.
Utterly clean and tidy. You could literally eat your breakfast on the
shining floor. After the cellar tour we went back to the tasting room,
with us three still glancing eagerly towards the Monfortinos from 1926
and 1934. I offered Roberto to open them to compare them with the latest
vintage but Roberto, unexpectedly, refused with a warm smile. Instead
he poured the 2004 G. Conterno Barbera d’Alba. We tasted this
from barrel when we visited Roberto in January and on that occasion
compared it to the 2003 in bottle (tasting notes are found following the
link at the top of this page) so it was fun to find out how much it had
changed now that it was bottles. The answer: basically nothing. Still
this wonderful, fresh blueberry forest, with nice acidity and a mixture
of spices and sweet fruit. A focused effort that clearly shows the
potential of Barbera. I believe the grapes for this wine are sourced
from the Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga as are the two Barolos
from Conterno. And the score, well, the same as before. 93 points.
At this time we didn’t know it but in retrospective this would only be
the first of several wonderful encounters with Barbera during this trip, making my Barolo addicted friend Joakim once exclaim “Damn,
what’s all this about? I was planning only to buy home Barolo and now I
might as well have the whole suitcase full of Barbera!”. Those of
you with the stamina to read all the way to the very end of this post
will find some other marvellous Barberas along the road. Then it was
time for the 1999 G. Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. Last
time we had the 1998 and Roberto poured it from a bottle which had been
opened for a day or two which I think benefited the experience as the
wine was more opened. This time he pulled a new bottle and poured the
wine into those big bowl glasses that accentuates the already
concentrated flavours. Now, what could you say? What should you possibly
say about a wine like this? Do you remember when you were young? Oh,
come on now! We have a l l been young once even if the majority of us
are using wine tasting gatherings only as an excuse to sit down among
friends complaining about our much-too-soon-arrived infirmities of old
age. (Admit it!) Well, nevertheless, remember those days, as a
child, when you had those long walks in the forest; the sun was shining
through the canopy and you were out hunting for those delicious forest
mushrooms. And occasionally, our eyes still young and healthy, actually
spotted some among the leaves and vegetation. Remember the smell of
mushrooms? Remember the feeling if joy? Remember what youthful happiness
was all about? It’s with the same feeling, through that young child’s
eyes, you approach the 1999 Monfortino. With the same anticipation, the
same wonder and awe for what’s surrounding you as you put your big nose
above your glass. The scents explode from the glass, with ultra-fine,
racy, clean cherries, with dark, jammy fruit, roses, spices and some
licorice. The tannins are of course there but forget about everything
you have thought about tannic Barolos – these are sweeter tannins,
integrated with the fruit and only there to provide the backbone for the
wine, not to overshadow it. The finish doesn’t seem to end, literally
pumping out subtle fruit flavours; having a wine like this at a tasting
with other wines would simply not be fair to the next wine in line. You
would have to rinse your mouth with a glass of water before continuing.
Looking at my notes and remembering my impression from the tasting I see
I have given this basically the same score as the 1998 Monfortino, 98+ points. In time, well, it should be a perfect
wine with a three digit score because I can’t imagine any improvements
to this magnificent work of art. Whether this or the previous vintage is
better is splitting hairs. But what a wonderful debate and good reason
to open the two of them side by side for a comparative evaluation! I
urge people to set up these kind of tastings and invite me promptly!
This beauty is selling for around 240 euros in the Alba region. Ahh, and
all the time with Roberto sitting there by our side, observing us,
smiling. I wonder how it feels. To sit there and always know that
you are among the world’s greatest wine producers and that you have
just opened a masterpiece for others to enjoy. I guess that feeling is
enough to get you trough those cold winter days when the harvest seems
far away and a lot of tedious work in the vineyard or in the cellar is
waiting for you that day. At least it would do it for me. And if not,
I’d walk down the cellar and open a bottle on my own.
Before leaving Roberto, one
cannot but comment on the different sets of personality among the
various winemakers in Piemonte. Have you read my account from meeting
with Angelo Gaja? I believe the echoes from his voice are still bouncing
back and forth between his cellar doors, so loud and passionate was his
speech about wine in general and Barbaresco in particular. It took a
year to settle down in my mind. With Roberto, it’s completely different.
Wrong, I should say opposite. He is very soft-spoken, calm and seems to
maintain focus on his guests, listening, observing, wondering how they
perceive his wines but also with a touch of interest of the subjects
itself, you know, those humanoids holding their glasses with a firm
hand, mumbling something unidentifiable as they go oooh and aaaah while
sipping on his wonderful wines. The fun thing with this is that although
Roberto seems to be as content without speaking a single word, in his
eyes, and his posture, he seems to be as passionate and focused as any
other winemaker, even compared to Angelo Gaja. Different approach, opposite characters, same passion.
With the Mofortino still
lingering on the tongue we hardly needed turning on the car’s engine as
we rolled downhill from Conterno to our next stop, Gianfranco
Alessandria where we had a wonderful tasting conducted by Gianfranco’s
wife. We were told that Gianfranco himself was studying to be a
carpenter and had no intention of becoming a winemaker but his destiny
was obviously something else and we’re happy he focused on wine rather
than carpeting. Again, what strikes me is this incredible warm welcoming
that meets you at every (well, almost every) winery. I feel pity for
all those wine lovers around the world who enjoy the wines of Barolo but
never get to visit this beautiful region and meeting the wonderful wine
characters. We ended up tasting the complete range and here are some
impressions from the wines (as they were served).
2005 Alessandria Dolcetto d’Alba
Maceration on the skins in
temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for approximately 4 days
and then malolactic fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks, the
fruit for this wines come from the Monforte region with grape yields of
8 tons per hectare. It displays very, very dark fruit, making it hard
to believe it’s a lighter grape variety, it offers fresh, youthful,
perfumed aromas of dark fruit. Apparently it was a good Dolcetto year
according to Gianfranco’s wife, with not so cold mornings benefiting the
ripeness of the grape. 84 points.
2005 Alessandria Barbera d’Alba
Same vinification here with a
day extra day of maceration but with same yields, the Barbera was more
subdued and not as fruity as the Dolcetto, yet still with the same fresh
acidity and with more body and structure on the finish. 84 points.
2004 Alessandria Barbera d’Alba Vittoria
Named after Gianfrancos
daughter, the fruit derives from the oldest parcels of vines, some from
1945. Production is a meagre 5500 bottles and yields are held at 6.5
tons per hectare. Quite young (it was bottled in July) it displays a
wonderful cornucopia of spices, vanilla from the oak and a silky, yet
powerful structure. Ultra-dark fruit with an astonishing balance between
fruit, acidity and tannins. Despite the concentration and the freshness
of this wine it seems almost polished a somewhat oily like it would
have come from the much warmer vintage of 2003, reminding me very much
of the 2003 Barbera from Giacomo Conterno. Long, persistent finish makes
this a most impressive effort. 92 points.
2001 Alessandria Barolo San Giovanni
Malolactic fermentation and
aging is done in French barrique (50% new) for 24 months. The fruit is
taken from the lowest yielding, oldest wines, some 30-40 years old, with
a grape yield of ca 5.5 tons per hectare. This beauty was vibrating of
deep, dark fruit, displaying notes of licorice and very concentrated
scents of roses as the wine opened up in the glass. Although massive in
it’s structure, with tons of fruit and gripping tannins the overall
impression is one of a very delineated, polished and balanced wine that
will surely be wonderful to drink now and more so with some bottle age. 92+ points.
2004 Alessandria Langhe Nebbiolo
Taken from the younger vines
and with yields of 7.5 ton per hectare it’s aged in French barriques
(20% new) for 18 months. Immediately as you set your nose above the
glass licorice pops up, with added red/dark fruit. The tannins are quite
noticeable at this stage but there is a fine balance and the fruit
component feels very clean and focused. 86-87 points.
2003 Alessandria Barolo
A completely different
creature, this wine exhibits a mixture of spices and herbs, very
Burgundian and a softer tannic structure than expected from a Monforte
Nebbiolo. Obviously these very matured and harvested earlier than usual
and particular attention was given to pick the most fresh and healthy
fruit, which might explain the feeling of much cooler fruit than
expected from such a warm vintage. On the finish the tannins exhibit
slightly green notes preventing it from receiving a higher score it
should ultimately receive with some age because there is a very good
underlying balance between the components. 87 points.
2003 Alessandria Barolo San Giovanni
Again this feeling of
rumbling massive fruit, with dusty tannins, like travelling along a
dusty gravel road in Tuscany a bright summer’s day. Compared to the 2001
vintage of the San Giovanni this displays more herbs and spices
(Christmas spices?), more red fruit than dark and with a more openness
to it, making it feel more accessible. I still believe the 2001 is a
better wine. 90 points.
2003 Alessandria L’Insieme
This charity version of a
wine is a blend of 30% Barbera Vittoria, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40%
Barolo San Giovanni and it’s aged in 100% new French barriques for 18
months. For every bottle sold, 5 euros is donated into a foundation that
finances different initiatives of development. A very fruity nose
straight from the glass reveals the mixture of grapes, with generous
dark, sweetish fruit of cherries, black currant and some cassis with a
rounding vanilla tone from the barrique. Easy to like, easy to drink. 89 points.
Finally we were treated to an interesting wine, the 1996 Alessandria Barbera d'AlbaVittoria,
which was the first release of this wine. Incredibly fruity on the
nose, with ripe cherries, cassis leaves, some mushroom, a drop of
gooseberry and a wonderfully fresh, forward and lively structure all
intermixed in a long and enjoyable finish. What a delight! 91 points.
A most interesting winery
visit, especially when considering that we were not planning to visit at
all. Birger from this board kindly helped us with arranging a visit at
Clerico and gave us (apparently) the wrong phone number to call. My
friend made the call, set up the appointment and became a little
suspicious, having visited Clerico before, when they started giving him
directions as how to reach the winery. Must have been a funny
conversation, when they directed him to a point he knew could impossibly
be Clerico. After some confusion, already after having put down the
phone, we realised we just made an appointment at an unknown winery.
Some investigations with the help of Gambero Rosso indicated we had a
date with Alessandria and not Clerico! Nothing we were particularly
sorry about after leaving this impressive estate (although it probably,
in retrospective, prevented us from visiting another grate winery –
Sottimano – but hey, this will not be the last time we visit Piemonte…).
A thanks goes to Birger nevertheless as he managed to arrange a visit with The Man Himself, Domenico Clerico,
which again doesn’t make it necessary to start the car’s engine as you
simply turn back to the road and slightly roll downhill from Monforte
until you reach the sign to turn off at Clerico.
I don’t really know how to
describe this man. Or his wines. There is so much to be said but I doubt
even all the words in the universe are sufficient to describe – and
explain – the genius and odd behaviour of this outstanding wine
producer. What I DO know is that that I have participated in two
outstanding wine tastings – both blind – with Barolo 1990 as the theme
and both have included the greatest wine producers Barolo can muster,
including the Monfortino. On the first occasion I had the 1990 Clerico Barolo Chiabot Mentin Ginestra as the winner, scoring it 97 points, just a tad before the 1990 Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva Red Label. On the second occasion I had both the 1990 Barolo Pajana and Chiabot Mentin Ginestra on the top of my list with the Pajana competing with the 1990 Sandrone Cannubi Boscis and the 1990 G. Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva as the winner, with scores at 97-98 points
(if scores are at all necessary when it comes to these levels of
sensory pleasures). Obviously Domenico makes wines that somehow hits the
right notes on my palate strings. I remember when Sverker opened a 1996 Clerico Pajana
soon after it was released and the brute force it displayed as we were
all shaking our teeth and picked them up from the floor after tasting
this young wine (94 points) or the 1996 Clerico Barolo Percristina, utterly powerful, yet sublime and majestically delicious (96 points). Not to mention the impressive 2001 Clerico Barolo Chiabot Mentin Ginestra,
with it’s frightfully dark fruit, its licorice, mint, chocolate, violet
and loads of yummy spices leading to such a massive and focused finish
you can’t help staring at the glass in awe, wondering how he does this.
Bravo! 95 points. (While the same vineyard but from the 2000
vintage was less focused and concentrated, lacking the same array of
spiciness and aromas as the 2001 version, but hey, listen to Suckling,
the warm 2000 is the Vintage of the Century in Piemonte… We should thank
him, not critisise him, at least that’s what I do when I’m strolling
the streets of Alba, still buying remaining bottles Barolo from 1999 and
2001 while the still good but less impressive 2000s are sold out,
mostly exported to the US) No surprise then that we have been trying to
visit this vinous genius several times, five in total to be honest. Once
we caught him when we just showed unannounced but having no grasp of
his somewhat odd Piemontese dialect and Domenico being busy with work;
all we managed was a quick greeting. On another occasion he was off to
Tuscany, a third attempt resulted in a simple NO, a fourth attempt rendered us yet another NO.
A friend of ours even had an appointment, but in the end it turned out
to be the secretary having to lead them through some wines instead of
Don Clerico himself. Well, this time we had an appointment,
thanks to Birger and thanks to Andrea Sottimano, but I’m sorry to say
that it turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. In fact, I didn’t
even manage to take a photo of this elusive, yet brilliant man. As we
arrived Domenico was in full working uniform, busy together with his son
and workers cleaning new barrels. As we entered we were met by (I
believe she is) his assistant and after some time Domenico came by for a
quick handshake, obviously not in mood for some lengthy talk as he
seemed to have an aching tooth to take care of. This was also the first
and last time we saw any signs of him. I thought I’d save the photo
opportunity for later but by the end of the tasting he was gone,
probably happy to escape those wine paparazzis and having time for what I
believe he loves more than anything else in this world – focusing on
work, work and more work. Honestly, he seems to have a fanatical
obsession with work and I can’t for a moment imagine this man actually
being at a wine tasting show trying to socialise and market his wine as
my suspicion is on the inside he suffers immensely when not being
dressed in his blue working clothes. In a sense it fits him, being this
elusive man that’s so difficult if not impossible to catch. The dilemma
is that even IF you would get hold of him, without some magical
translating protocole android like C3PO, it would still be difficult to discuss the virtues of wine with him.
Nevertheless, wine we got and here are some impressions from the bottles opened by his assistant.
2005 Clerico Dolcetto d’Alba
Having had the Dolcetto from
Alessandria not long ago this came out as a much darker and more
structured Dolcetto, quite dense actually considering the grape. It
spends 5-6 months in used barrique which is felt in the somewhat spicy
finish. The tannic structure is quite surprising. Maybe it felt a little
“too much” at this young stage. 84 points.
2004 Clerico Barbera d’Alba
A step up in power and
structure, both nose and palate express black cherries, some tar, fresh
acidity and oak (aged in 50% new barrique, remaining in used barriques).
The mid palate is quite structured, with noticeable tannins and a very
pronounced nix of lingonberry and blueberries. 87 points.
2004 Clerico Langhe Arte
Nowadays this is a mix of
90% Nebbiolo and 10% Barbera, both from young vines less than 15 years
old but once started a as a mix of 90% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera and 5%
Cabernet Sauvignon. Looks like it’s true that the 2004 vintage has
produced some good backbone material for important wines as this Arte
displays muffled, powerful dark fruit, on the palate a very fresh
sensation, cool fruit, roses, some mint and a scents as if someone was
tickling your nose with the leaves from cassis. It spends 18 months on
80-90% new barrique and overall it has a seductive and impressive
structure all through the focused finish. 90 points.
2002 Clerico Barolo
Apparently a blend from
whatever good fruit Domenico could find among his vineyards, it
immediately speaks with a more sturdy voice, with some quite vegetative
notes on the tannins a somewhat unclean and modest fruit. Nice overall
structure and spiciness but all in all a good example that despite the
most precise work, you cannot alter the raw material nature has given
you. 86 points.
1999 Clerico Barolo Chiabot Mentin Ginestra
Thankfully the wine above
was not the last impression before we left Domenico’s house. The 1999
Chiabot Mentin Ginestra was opened and oh-my-my, back home again, where
the sun shines, the flowers grow and where happiness abound,
Nirvanaland. Cherries, cherries and why not have a bunch of more
cherries, slightly dip some of them into liqueur to find that wonderful
massive praline texture, clean, wonderful fruit and the tannins…whoa…this
is what tannins should taste like, a little sweet, polished, edible
tannins, still with brute force but starting to integrate beautifully
with the powerful fruit. The endless finish demands no words among the
three friends sitting at Clerico’s table enjoying his wines. Silence
abounds. There is joy in the air. This is what Barolo is all about. 95 points.
NOW I remember why I can’t stay away from this guy. Well-well, maybe
next year we will get an appointment AND have the honor of actually
sitting side by side Domenico while tasting his wines. Anyone out there
wishing to combine our efforts and join me next year?
Hear-hear, would you believe
it or not but perfect timing left us yet again with the option of just
pulling back on the road and slowly roll downhill towards our next
appointment at Giuseppe Mascarello. I have some difficulties describing
the strong disappointment with this visit. All I know is that Antonio
Galloni won’t be as pleased (and probably surprised) given the accolades
he has given this estate in his Piedmont Report. We really had a
well-planned appointment, made it a week in advance, came right on time
and…well, at first no one answered. We waited and waited, as did a truck
delivering goods to the estate. When entering we were greeted by a
woman and truth be told I haven’t the slightest idea of who she was. The
wife, an assistant, the neighbour, I don’t know. We were motioned to a
small tasting room where the full range of bottles were already lined
up, all of them with the dates of opening and you could immediately tell
that some of them had been open for quite some time. Well,
nevertheless, this was a visit we had anticipated with great eager,
especially after having had that wonderful 2000 Monprivato at Ristorante
Le Torri and after buying the 1999 Monprivato in Alba during our
previous visit. We were looking forward to have a talk to the winemaker
or at least some knowledgeable representative, discuss vinification, the
character of their particular style of wine, their view on different
vintages, talk about the use of barrique and so on. Well, after waiting
what felt like fifteen minutes in the tasting room the lady suddenly
appeared, mumbled something about the first wine in all haste, poured
the glasses and vanished. It was the 2004 G Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba Santo Stefano di Perno.
Bushes of cassis on the nose, a little tame on the palate a somewhat
dirty fruit component with a pronounced taste of beetroot. It was opened
Oct 16th while the date of today’s visit was Oct 23rd. I certainly know
that Nebbiolo can evolve beautifully for a week in the glass, if it’s a
Monfortino, but I doubt that the Dolcetto from G Mascarello really
benefited from this. If at all rated, this would merit a score in the
low 70s. Additional wines opened were:
2003 G Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo San Rocco
I’m sorry but I don’t know
what this is. Like licking a wet, black rubber glove. Now, I’m not into
fetish things but if I were I have a pretty good sense of what it might
be like. Impossible to rate as it was absolutely appalling. NR
2003 G Mascarello Freisa Toetto
Well… straight, forward, uncomplicated, very flirty with raw, pure, light fruit. 82 points. Nice but not nearly the same class as the Freisa from G.D. Vajra.
Oh, let me introduce a pause
here. Maybe you picture us three in the tasting room with this woman
pouring the glasses while discussing the wines. Well, no. We waited and
waited for what felt like half an hour and finally we just couldn’t wait
any further and started pouring the wines ourselves. Once in a while
she would rush back, say something for a few seconds and then rush out
again. Apparently they were shifting some things around outside the
cellar. Don’t exactly know her role in this as she wasn’t doing it
herself but she felt it necessary to oversee the operation as she didn’t
seem to trust the truck driver. Nonetheless, it meant we were left on
our own without any explanation about the wines. Surely things like this
can happen and I hope you don’t feel I have rated the wines based on
our poor impression of the visit per se but what was actually found in
the glass which – unfortunately – left a poor impression as well, at
least for some of the samples.
With her disappearing yet again we continued pouring wines ourselves.
2004 G Mascarello Dolcetto Bricco (from Castiglione)
Hum, a green, grassy feeling
on the nose with those exaggerated notes of beetroot again on the
palate and violet candy. No-no. Maybe I don’t understand Dolcetto but
this isn’t something for my palate. 78 points.
2004 G Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo San Rocco
Much better than the strange
2003 version. Nice, clear, red fruit, cherries and roses.
Straight-forward with no questions asked. 86-87 points.
1997 G Mascarello Status
Don’t ask… Apparently a
blend of 70% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera and 5% Freisa it displays vivid
layers of raspberry jam, some heat on the nose and palate, rather simple
in it’s mid-palate but still nice although a relatively short finish. 83 points.
2000 G Mascarello Barolo Villero
I’m sorry, but it would be
unfair trying to analyse this bottle as it has been opened for a while
and left a slightly oxidised feel to the wine. What you can discern are some red fruit, mainly wild strawberry and raspberry. Let’s not rate this one. NR
2003 G Mascarello Barbera Scudetto
Wow…black, not red, fruit,
loads of spices… A promising beginning, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry to say
this but then also a scent of yeast, like the bubbles from a beer, then
some root vegetable and finally, to top it off, band-aid. Lot’s of it.
Must have been a major injury somewhere to account for all that
band-aid. Hum…I’m struggling here…maybe 75 points?
2001 G Mascarello Barolo Villero
Yes! Finally a wine we could
appreciate! Clean red fruit, more of raspberries (not just the fruit,
but the candy as well) and wild strawberries, then add some spices, make
the fruit rather soft and a bit sweet in it’s structure, very feminine
and Burgundian, make the tannins somewhat polished and you’ve got
yourself a nice expression of Barolo. 90 points. Now, with wines like this, what are they doing with the rest of their wines??
1999 G Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
Okay, apparently they do
know how to make wine at this estate. Same red, sweet fruit as in the
Villero but with more power and focus. Again those scents of wild
strawberries, but with a more pronounced structure. Somewhat greenish on
the tannins in the persistent finish, enough to make the score a tad
lower than initially deserved but not enough to prevent this wine from
being a real enjoyment. 91 points.
As you can understand, we
were somewhat puzzled by this winery visit considering all the previous
experience we have from this region (and from others around the world).
Of course we understand that some days don’t keep accordingly to plan,
not even for a winemaker, but in retrospective we would have preferred
to rather receive a No on our inquiry about a visit or a postponing,
because in this way, both lost, none won.
Time for dinner again and
this time I will – unfortunately – not offer you a favourable report
like the one from brilliant Ristoranti Le Torri. In fact, let’s say that
the next restaurant were lucky I’m not a professional wine critic who
was assigned to that particular restaurant on this evening because then
it would have made things quite difficult in the future. The choice for
our second dinner in Piemonte fell on La Libera in the centre of
Alba. This is the same place we had a wonderful dinner in January and
where we washed down the tallarin and veal with the excellent 2000 Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva Red Label.
This time, however, it was a disaster from the very beginning to the
end… I have promised my two accompanying friends Sverker and Joakim to
at least mention that their meals were tasting quite good and mine was
as well, except for a rather gloomy, non-tasting primi piatti. Well,
that was the positive report. The rest leaves much to be desired. This
restaurant suffers from several problems. One is the undermanned staff.
They have too few waiters for a restaurant this size and with a full
house, they just cannot keep up with the demand. We waited outrageously
long for every dish to arrive, up to a point where you had nearly
forgotten you had the primi piatti and was waiting for the secondi. In
fact, you had even forgot you ate something at all, so long was the
waiting. Next problem is the training of the staff. There were two quite
lovely girls attending the room we sat in, and another girl we
recognised from the last dinner, but although sweet (and young) they
seemed basically be there to pick up the plates and that’s it. Being a
waiter is not just putting on a white shirt and woala – you are a
professional waiter. You could sit there for ages trying to get an eye
contact with these poor girls who were certainly doing the best they
could and are not to blame, but honestly it felt like the chef just
scrambled together some friends of their children and asked if they
could wait this particular night. That might be okay at a family joint
in some no-name place but this is supposed to be a restaurant with high
ambitions, if I’m not mistaken. Very well, at least we would enjoy a
good wine while slowly aging as we had to wait for the chef to grow the
grain who would utterly become the tallerin and chase the cow to produce
the veal (that was unfortunately the feeling). Having a look at the
wine list we ordered the 2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto. The
waiter opened the bottle, poured the glasses and left the bottle
standing on the table. At this moment I noticed that the bottle they had
opened was in fact not the Barolo Falletto but the normale which of course had “Falletto” written on it as this is the place of origin. Nevertheless it was the normale.
We called the waiter and having seen the level of knowledge before we
anticipated little understanding as to what these wines were in the
first place. And sure enough, the poor young girl who attended us looked
like a big question mark and said that it was written Falletto on the
bottle. Knowing that this would be an awkward situation for her and that
continued discussions would be futile (We are the Borg! Resistance is futile!)
we asked her to get the head waitress. And sure enough, when she came
along and locked at the bottle, she said the same thing. Being men with
resources we pulled out a copy of Antonio Galloni’s Piedmont Report
and showed her that there is, in fact, indeed a difference and that she
better return to the kitchen and talk to the chef, the manager or
whoever might be fluent in the vinous language because we would not pay
the price of the single vineyard Falletto when we are drinking the
normale. While waiting for yet another approach from the restaurant
staff (as you notice, there were quite a lot of periods of waiting – I
wish I had brought a book, like War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy) we
asked ourselves what to do with the wine they had actually opened. We
tried it and it was…beautiful. Here comes the fun stuff – the waiter
returned, apologised and said that the bottle she had opened was indeed
the normale. They had simply ran out of the Falletto so they
replaced it with a normale instead, was the explanation… Hum, what would
you say to a thing like that? First of all, had it not been a trio of
complete wine nerds like us, no one would have noticed and they would in
fact have ripped off their customers. Secondly, we decided not to make
it worse and accepted the wine but asked for the wine list again to
accompany the first wine with an additional wine. The choice fell on the
2001 Grimaldi Barolo Le Coste. This time, the waitress came out
to show us the bottle before opening it, which was good considering
their track record. Then she disappeared with the bottle. More waiting.
After some time another waiter came in with the same bottle, to show us
and we all nodded yes-yes, that’s the bottle, , silently shouting in our
minds “Now please OPEN it before we dry up here!!”. Waiter No 2
disappeared with our bottle and after yet another waiting session a
third person came out and showed us the bottle – again. At this time I
would have felt ready to just overpower the waiter, wrestle her down on
the floor, relieve her of the poor bottle which by now must have become
totally confused being driven around the restaurant like that, and then
quickly pop the cork and drink as much as possible before they would
re-conquer the bottle and run away with it a fourth time. This time,
however, the wine was poured and at last we can continue with something
more pleasant – tasting notes!
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo
Even a Barolo at this level
shows why Bruno Giacosa seems to play in a league on his own. A
wonderful, silky, perfectly balanced wine, with smooth, pure, focused,
feminine fruit of red cherries, roses, a tad of licorice, minerals,
light touch of spices and a elegant, complex finish. Impossible not to
like, already at this stage. 92-93 points. As always, I’m amazed
how open and approachable almost every Barolo from the 2001 vintage has
been compared to previous vintages. I can remember that any vintage
between 1996 and 2000 has produced Barolos with such delicacy yet with
so much power and complexity. Frankly, based upon all the wines I have
been fortunate to taste during these years, what I’m trying to say here
is that I believe, that for Barolo the 2001 is the greatest vintage from
the legendary 1996-2001 period in Piemonte. Period.
2001 Grimaldi Barolo Le Coste
Ha! This was fun to taste! I
can very well understand why James Suckling likes this wine so much.
Have you ever tasted the candy called Skipper’s Licorice Pipe? Well,
here it is, but in liquid form. Outrageously luxuriant, fruity, open for
business, succulent, possibly somewhat alcoholic and the very
antithesis of the sensual Giacosa, this is more of a blunt, drunk sailor
after celebrating a night onshore. It’s like a modern New World Barolo.
To me, it’s simply matter of style. Either you like this particular
style or you prefer the more classic approach. Luckily for me, I like
both. 92 points. This is a massive wine and I liked it more than
my to friends. Couldn’t keep away from a magnum in Alba, purchased at 65
Unfortunately the narrative
tale from La Libera is not yet finished. To top off the meal we decided
to order their panacotta, still fresh with memories from last night’s
experience when we were in panacotta heaven at Ristorante Le Torri. I’d
really like to give the restaurant a better verdict as I feel these poor
guys had a rough evening but with three rather positive chaps around
the table agreeing that this was panacotta at its worst, I can’t deliver
anything but yet another negative observation. One comment was that
this is like buying a frozen, premanifactured panacotta in the
supermarket and quickly warm it up to at least melt the surrounding ice.
Another comment was that “what makes me go to a very fine restaurant is
that they are capable of doing something better than I can in my own
kitchen”. Well, not this time. This was a pitiful sight and the taste
was flabby, uninspiring and simply no good. I’m amazed a reputable
restaurant with high ambitions would even consider having a thing like
this put on customers’ plates and let them leave the restaurant with this
as their last impression. It felt like the final nail in the coffin but
it wasn’t. Since the restaurant offers you to buy wines from the wine
list to take it with you, we decided to buy two bottles of a Giacosa we
hadn’t had for dinner. Sure enough, we got the bottles, after what must
have been half an hour with us already debating if we should just pay
the bill, get up, and leave. To conclude the experience from La Libera –
lucky them I don’t have to provide a rating and that I don’t work for a
national food magazine…
Upon returning to our hotel
room (which doesn’t make the Franco Molino Agriturismo full justice, as
it’s like staying on a farm with the vineyards right outside the window;
if you look straight up you see La Morra) we opened a few bottles we
had purchased earlier. One was a bottle we bought in Bologna.
2000 Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese Superiora Riserva
This is a super-charged
Sangiovese from Romagna apparently celebrating great success in Gambero
Rosso. Wow... At least it wasn’t just a matter of personal style
preference because all three of us agreed on basically the same tasting
notes. Extremely unpleasant. And I’m not really talking about any cork
or any other identifiable defects. This is like raw, crushed green
stems, horrendously over-extracted and, honestly, basically undrinkable.
Like being flogged by someone’s old, smelly socks while biting into a
rubber sole to stand the pain. No rating could possibly do justice to
this liquid. Please stay away from it or you will have the negative
surprise of a lifetime.
2001 Franco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubio
Oooh, the Old Style Barolo,
with muted scents on the nose, dry tannins, a somewhat dirty metallic
note within the fruit, quite harsh, unyielding, angular, very
traditional, old style this begs for aging to open up and softening its
tannins. However, I’m not a believer in a wine not showing great
complexity as young will suddenly display an explosion of positive
characters when old, so I have limited hope for this creature. 84 points.
2001 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Enrico VI
This is the estate lying
beneath the beautiful, ancient Lebanese Cedar tree overlooking
Monfalletto vineyard. Clearly modern style winemaking here as a light
scent of vanilla is quite obvious in the beginning, continuing with
rich, dark fruity notes of ripe cherries, some chocolate and roses.
Refined tannins although somewhat dry at this stage and overall not the
same impressive balance between the components as, say, the Giacosa.
Nevertheless a most agreeable Nebbiolo. 89 points.
New day! Rise and shine
to…not the rain and more rain we hade been seeing yesterday but instead
sun, sun and more sun! It’s amazing how the feeling of a landscape
changes with different weather. Before everything looked grey and gloomy
and you would have a hard time trying to convince people that this is
one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Now, in the rays of
a warming sun from a blue sky…magnificent!
Our first stop took us back
to the place of the perfectly scored panacotta, the best in the world,
at Ristorante Le Torri in Castiglione. The neighbour house happens to be
the home of Vietti. What an absolutely delightful view they have from
their veranda! Undulating hills of vineyards as far as you can see. We
were met by Luciana Vietti who graciously took her time with us while
showing us around the estate, explaining the history, having us look at
the cellar and even the old medieval cellar where old bottles from God
knows when were still laying around. I can’t think of a better guide for
Vietti than Luciana herself!
Strangely enough Vietti has
always been the bottle of Barolo I have always wanted to buy, told
myself to buy bet never managed to buy for whatever reason. Until
earlier this year when I bought the 2001 Vietti Barolo Rocche and
popped the cork together with some Barolo aficionados of mine (among
them my two travel companions Sverker and Joakim). In contrast to the
modern Lazzarito, Rocche is their traditional Barolo where old casks
rather than new barriques are used. It displayed wonderful aromas of
dark cherries, sweet fruit and a mix of tobacco and spices. The palate
seemed to literally vibrate of subdued fruit. Powerful, concentrated,
with noticeable chewy tannins and that wonderfully balanced mixture of
licorice, roses, some mushrooms and loads of various spices, so typical
for a first class Barolo. I gave it 94 points on that occasion
and I must admit that if felt a little frustrating having tried such a
wonderful example of what magic a truly first-class Barolo can achieve,
with the added comment that this will evolve beautifully in the future,
yet having no other bottle to spare for that promising future. The 2001s
are sooo seductive already in their youth and I must once again stress
that I have never experienced this from previous vintages of Barolo, not
even from the warmer and thus arguably more accessible 1997s and 2000s.
The 2001 vintage really IS something very special indeed. Well, apart
from being sad that I had no other bottle of Vietti I was still happy
about the occasion because that’s what drinking wine should be all about
– enjoying it in the company of good friends who equally enjoy a glass
of a very special wine; in this case the 2001 Vietti Barolo Rocche.
Time for some tasting in the
cosy tasting room. I must admit one thing. I haven’t done any reading
or research on the Vietti family and their wines, other than having seen
their bottles every time I have passed Piemonte. When we were about to
commence the tasting an older man entered and observed us with that
special, eager look of interest. I have seen it before. Not the man but
that special twinkle in the eyes always revealing the same thing – a man
of passion and of the same kind, a fellow wine aficionado. Apparently
he suffered from a stroke a few years ago and hade great difficulties
moving and he didn’t say a word. I assumed it would not be possible to
communicate with him but as Luciana was running around looking for some
extra glasses the old man nevertheless managed to move over to the set
of bottles, picked up one of them with his healthy hand, turned to us
and start pouring while slowly commenting the wine. Although being
physically limited the passion and love for wine is obviously still
burning in his heart. After a while we understood that we were in the
presence of greatness, as this was Alfredo Currado himself,
Luciana’s husband and one of the stars of Barolo. Alfredo was one of the
pioneers who first started to select and vinify grapes from single
vineyards in the 1950s such as Brunate Rocche and Villero. As Luciana
said: “To make a great wine you need a great heart”. Bah!! I just cannot help to express – loudly and enthusiastically – the sheer joy
of actually sitting down with a great winemaker in his own home,
drinking and discussing his wines. It adds to your knowledge, it adds to
the magical experience and it simply a pilgrimage experience that
should be a part of every wine aficionado in the world. At least once.
Today, the winery is run by
Alfredo’s son Luca Currado (who stopped by briefly) and his brother in
law Mario Cordero, who manages the marketing and business relations.
With Alfredo as our guide, with added help from Luciana, we sampled
through the impressive array of Vietti wines.
2005 Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba Tre Vigne
Very dark, surprisingly
compact for a Dolcetto, sweet fruit but also high acidity makes this
wine exactly into what it is supposed to be, a straight-forward and
easily drinkable wine for any occasion. 83 points.
2004 Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne
A step up in quality, the
Barbera from this important year displays almost a bloody steak, with
powerful fruit, a mix of blackberries and blueberries and high acidity.
Freshness from the very first sip. Nice. 87 points.
2004 Vietti Barbera Scarrone
I still remember Joakim’s comment… “Damn! What IS this?! I was going to buy Barolo only from this trip and then they have Barberas like this!” This
might be one of the best Barberas I have ever tasted, competing with
those wonderful Braida Ai Suma from 1997 and 1998. This one offers dark
chocolate both on nose and palate, with black, ripe cherries, a much
broader, expansive, rounder acidity perfectly accompanying the massive
fruit, a very silky texture yet being dense and powerful. It wraps it
all up with flavourful finish with great persistence. Powerful yet fresh
in the mouth making you come back for more. Impossible not to love.
Bravo! 94 points.
2003 Vietti Barbera d’Asti La Crema
I promise you – salami on
the nose. Not just one sausage but a whole plate of charkuteries,
rubber, but don’t get me wrong here – good-tasting rubber compared to G
Mascarello, even more expansive, sweet and ripe fruit here and perhaps a
little more approachable than the Scarrone. Again very impressing with
an enjoyable complexity and a very structured and focused finish. 93 points.
2004 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco
Generous, fruity with very
clean fruit flavours, not overly complex but still very easy to enjoy.
Nice finish with rounded tannins. 88 points.
2003 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria
Compared to the Perbacco
this is a larger wine, with sweeter fruit, lots of perfumed notes of
ripe fruit, more towards the red than dark fruit spectrum. Strange, how
do you describe that it’s very expansive on the palate, powerful, yet, a
very feminine wine? It has those ticklish, polished “micro-tannins”
(like small champagne bubbles of tannins) when combined offers raw power
that holds a steady grip in your mouth. Begs for more. Again, very
impressing and a joy to drink. 93 points.
2003 Vietti Barolo Brunate
Generous, voluptuous, sweet
fruit, with licorice and a little more finely tuned in its structure
than the Masseria. I really like the polished, sweet fruit and the
spicy, complex finish. 90-91 points.
2003 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito
Round. And soft. My first
two words scribbled down in my tasting note book. Soft fruit, rounded
tannins from noticeable barrique aging, violet, and perfumed like a Fonseca Vintage Port (Roy Hersh would love this Barolo – by the way, when will meet and share a good glass of Port??). Softness yet powerful concentration – that’s when you know
you have a great wine in your glass. Balancing the components in such a
delicate matter is no easy task. Love the broadening finish with it’s
succulent tannins. 92-93 points.
2003 Vietti Barolo Rocche
Concentrated, red fruit,
dark berries with ripe cherries. All in all much darker fruit than the
Lazzarito. And a much more brute force in the tannins. Luciana told us
it was Alfredo’s first single vineyard Barolo, first time in 1961. This
one is muscular, somewhat different from the more sensual Lazzarito yet
equally compelling. 92-93 points.
With the superb 2001s and
the surprisingly good 2003 I can only imagine how beautiful the Barolos
and Barbarescos from Vietti will be in such an Annata Importante as 2004
(in Piemonte it’s always an “important” vintage, never “good”
vintage). Already the stunning Barbera indicates it will be a vintage to
follow from this remarkable estate.
Many thanks to the Vietti
family for such a wonderful visit. We left their home with a smile on
our faces. From now on we will always feel a special connection whenever
we hold a bottle of Vietti and share it among our friends while
remembering the wonderful visit Anno 2006 at Vietty family in
Castiglione. And, as it turned out, we had a chance to drink and make a
toast in tribute to Alfredo Currado already that same night. Cheers!
Downhill again and then up,
up, up, passing La Morra and down on the other side to arrive at our
next appointment, Roberto Voerzio. Oh boy, does he have a breathtaking
view towards the valleys beneath and the snow-capped mountain range in
the horizon! No wonder Roberto turns out wines like he does with a view
like this greeting him every morning when he wakes up…
So how does one describe
this visit? How does one describe a sensational eye-opener of a
discovery? How does one indeed describe a s e n s a t i o n a l
winery visit? Ladies and gentlemen, fellow wine aficionados, members of
this bulletin board, let me announce that I have seen the light. You
know, one of those rare moments when you discover something new, perhaps
a complete new wine region that has been a white spot on your vinous
map before, or the first time you taste a new grape and realise that “Yeeeha, this is good stuff!”
(like when I first discovered Teroldego by the virtues of Foradori’s
Granato), or… when you in a wine region you already love, from a grape
you already know and cherish, discover a new winemaker that has been
beneath your radar for several years, or when you steal that first kiss
from a beautiful girl… Okay, I sense I’m getting a little carried away
here, so lets stick to wine.
Meeting with Roberto Voerzio
was a revelation. I have met many passionate winemakers in my life but I
wonder if not Roberto is at the very top of the line when it comes to
passion, together with some other extremely passionate aficionados I
consider the best winemakers in the entire world. This is winemaking to
the very extreme. Roberto showed us pictures from various vineyards,
from the harvest, the grapes and oh boy is he pushing the limits in
several aspects. I would like to have a meeting between Helmut Dönnhoff and
Roberto to discuss terroir. They would nod in agreement on every issue
as they are firm believers in terroir and the sense of place. Since
Roberto explained that the wines are made the exactly the same way in
the cellar and since he uses the same practices while applying his
extreme philosophy in the vineyards, the variation is…terroir. In fact,
he even invited us to a grape tasting next time around, where he would
take us from vineyard to vineyard, allowing us to taste how different
the very grapes taste like from the various vineyards. I’m on! Can’t
wait until the next harvesting season…
And the extremes of vineyard
work… I believe he once started with a kilo of grapes per plant,
divided among four bunches of grapes. After 2003 he decreased it to 700
grams and is now experimenting with 500 grams of grapes per plant.
Imagine the concentration in those grapes when the sun’s energy is to be
allocated among the few remaining grapes. No wonder his wines taste
like they do. However, one would think that they would simply be
over-extracted but that’s the beauty of Voerzio’s wines – they have
enormous power and concentration yet they are balanced and taste like,
well, they need to be tasted for you to believe me. Utter perfection,
profound deep flavours of fruit, silky tannins, a prolonged succulent
finish. He seems to be flirting with perfection for every wine he makes.
I know, I know, the prices are high and that’s what has kept me away
but now I really do understand when Roberto’s says he’s fully aware of
the prices at restaurants and retail but that he aspires to make wines
that will give you such an experience you feel the money invested have
been worth it. I can’t put words to explain the utter feeling of joy
when discussing wine with this perfectionist of a winemaker. Not just
because of his extreme practice in the vineyard but for his sheer
passion and that wonderful twinkle in his eyes. Roberto reminds me of Hans-Leo Christoffel
from Mosel. Gray hair for sure, but in reality it’s just a young,
witty, disobedient boy inside looking out through those passionate eyes.
After a long discussion
about winemaking in his office we followed Roberto into his cellar and I
had honestly no particular expectations of what we could be offered to
taste and how much time he might give to our disposal. Hopefully he
would have the time to at least let us taste one or two of his wines, I
“Would you like to taste the 2004 Barolo Cerequio from cask?”,
he said with an eagerness, making me for a moment forget that HE was
the winemaker who was standing there with three young, eager, wine
lovers full of expecations and not the opposite. Yes we would! Eagerly
putting our glasses forward as Roberto sampled the precious wine for the
cask and poured. Oh, I felt like a little boy again. What joy!
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio
Wonderful notes of deeply
red roses, a basket of spices and cherries dipped in liqueur, even with a
hint of ripe plum and chocolate. Astonishing, seductive balance, with
ultra-velvety tannins, everything in its right place. Impressive, subtle
yet powerful finish. 96+ points.
With the glasses in our
hands and us still smacking our lips with delight of tasting such a
beautiful wine he continued talking about his philosophy as a winemaker,
in his belief about as little intervention as possible in the vineyard
and the cellar, and after a while you could again see that boyish
passion in his eyes when he eagerly wondered: “Would you by any chance like to taste also the Capalot from cask?” Now what kind of question is that!? I bluntly said “No, because we don’t have time and would rather go back to the hotel watching television instead of trying your wines”,
an answer he didn’t quite believe in as he walked to another cask with a
big smile on his face and poured the precious red liquid into our
eagerly awaiting glasses.
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Vecchie Vite dei Capalot e delle Brunate Riserva
Mother of God! Even darker,
more powerful than the Cerequio. Absolutely full-bodied it offers
tremendous layers of black, sweet fruit, with tons of succulent spices.
Licorice and minerals and such ripeness yet utterly pure and powerful
fruit you shake your head in disbelief. Again those silky tannins and a
powerful finish making you lick out every drop of wine from your glass. 97 points.
Again what a joy it was to
stand there together with Roberto discussing the wine, the particular
site, his philosophy and also his history, how he came to begin making
wine, his thoughts on winemaking, how he chose the sites and how he
struggled to obtain the vineyards he now owns. All while tasting the
very result of all his labour and extreme vineyard practices. I wonder
how much time he has, I thought, being prepared to wrap it all up and
leave. “Wait a minute! Would you like to taste the Barolo from Annunziata?” I stopped in the middle of my step, turned around and the eagerness in the eyes of all of us couldn’t be mistaken.
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata/Torriglione
A pure delight. Powerful yet
more feminine and seductive than the Capalot, still with a massive
dark, sweet fruit component, mixed with some tobacco, mushrooms,
licorice and flowers. Outstanding richness with layers upon layers of
flavours yet so utterly balanced you cannot grasp how Roberto does a
wine like this. A joy to drink. Bravo! 96+ points.
Okay, this is just too much, too good to be true, shouldn’t we leave now, guys? Nope, not if Roberto would have his way. “Hey guys, would you be interested in trying a sample from the new vineyard?” he asked, while already on his way to that barrel. Who were we to decline such an offer??
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Case Neri/Fossati
Oh dear… Dark as the
night, pitch black fruit, then an explosion of tar, spices, chocolate,
roses licorice, mushrooms and the purest, sweetest most balanced fruit
of ripe cherries you could possibly imagine. Wonderful harmony, utter
perfection of balance between silky yet powerful tannins and fruit.
Complete harmony on the finish. Apparently this is Roberto’s new Barolo
which will be bottled as a riserva but not released before 10 years of
age. "This is a perfect wine, a 100 points", my friend Joakim exclaimed.
I believe he was a little too overenthusiastic. 99 points.
Looking over at Joakim I
didn’t need any comments from him any more. His glowing eyes said it
all; this was pure perfection in his eyes, and this fellow wine friend
of mine has been tasting a lot of Barolos in his life… What a grand finale to this amazing visit, I though. “Hey, gentlemen you seem to appreciate good wine, would you like to taste the Brunate as well?”
By now it made no sense even trying to answer his questions as he was
already on his way to the next barrel. Oh boy, do I have great photos
from this visit! As a photographer I will however ask Roberto for
permission to show them before I make them available publicly.
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
Again that sweet luscious
ultra-pure, ripe fruit, this one even with broader and somewhat richer
than the Annunziata. Not better, just different and equally compelling.
Very much mint and licorice in this one, mixed with that wonderful dark
chocolate-infused fruit and loads of spices and those velvety, elegant
tannins. Yummy! 96 points.
Can you see the picture in
front of you? Each time us eagerly gathering around Roberto, stretching
out our glasses to receive the magic liquid and then standing there
talking, laughing and discussion with Roberto about the wine in
particular and winemaking in general. “Oh Dear God, please don’t wake
me up from this dream! I know there is a grey reality out there
somewhere waiting for me but at least for now, let me stay inside of
this magic dream.” (A silent prayer while standing there enjoying life to the fullest extreme in Roberto’s cellar)
“Hey guys, what about La Serra, would you like to taste it as well??” He’s obviously a comedian. Bring forth the Barolo!
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo La Serra
Again different but
necessarily much better or less compelling as his other offerings. More
backward than the others, with a dark wall oozing with fruit. It seems
to have layers upon layers of spices with a clear mineral component, as
well as a hint of tobacco and smoke, tar and more pronounced tannins.
Powerful finish; this baby obviously needs time. 95+ points.
Yes, you’ve guessed it by now. Robertos voice again: “Hey guys, are you tired or would you like to taste another wine?” Bringeth to me!!
2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Sarmassa di Barolo
Silence... Complete silence.
Then a glance at Joakim. Yes, I notice that his eyes betray him. He has
that look again. A perfect wine. Totally seamless with everything you
could possibly strive for in a wine; the harmony, the balance, the noble
tannins in perfect dialogue with the fruit components. A tremendous
depth of dark cherries and red raspberries, with layers upon layers with
new sensations of various fruit, loads of spices, add some licorice,
put some of those mushrooms, wait, I need more fruit – here it is – then
polish everything into velvet, add some minerals, some more sweet,
ripe, fresh fruit, than push everything into a never-ending laser beam.
This is a profound wine, a monster in velvet paper, a massively powerful
yet fragile ballerina that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief.
Outrageously good. This is perfection. I agree with Joakim.100 points.
Bravo! But this is dangerous activities by Roberto. Should the Pleasure
Police get their way, Roberto would be the first on their arrest list.
Okay, that it. Time for our next appointment. Let’s go, guys…we have to leave for the next appointment. “Hey, my friends, wait a minute, would you like to taste another wine?”
2005 Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Riserva Pozzo dell’Annunziata
Not black but inky black,
like someone would be asking for a ink pencil. Massive layers of
pitch-black jammy fruit, dark cherries in melted chocolate, two buckets
of spices, some pepper, minerals and note of vanilla from the oak. I
know it all sounds like a thick, massive, sweet Aussie Shiraz but
believe me, this is utter balance between all components and the finish
is cool, fresh and utterly powerful. 95 points.
Finally, after several
hours, we made to above ground again, concluding this utterly amazing
and wonderful visit with some photo sessions and with Roberto giving us a
signed bottle of the 2001 Barolo Cerequio as a farewell gift.
Roberto Voerzio. My man. Amen.
Claiming that the visit at
the estate of Bartolo Mascarello was a little different from that of
Roberto Verzio is somewhat of an understatement, to say the least. This
is legendary soil, where the old Master Bartolo “No Barrique! No Berlosconi”
Mascarello lived his life and made such profound, traditional styled
Barolos. We turned up at the time of our scheduled appointment and were
met with a quite surprised look from Maria Theresa Mascarello who didn’t
seem to have the day rigidly planned, as it were. There were already a
group of people there and although we managed to get a tour of the
cellar and take some quick photos the visit was entirely chaotic with
Maria Theresa trying to explain about her wines while the door bell kept
ringing and her assistant letting more and more people in, scheduled
appointment or not. After a while we were looking at each other and at
our watches, searching for a way to escape the utter circus as politely
as we could and the perfect moment arrived when even more visitors
arrived so that there were not even enough space around the big table.
That was our escape pod. It would have been most interesting to sit down
with Maria Theresa to discuss both her fathers legacy and her thoughts
on current and future operations, about winemaking, about her plans and
thoughts, her worries and joys, and her passion, because if there was
one thing that characterised her, it was her obvious passion as well as
her inner energy. I’m confident that she will continue to run the estate
considering her passionate character, however, she will need to stay
focused as it can’t be an easy challenge to continue the legacy from her
Before we managed to “escape” we also tried some wines. Here are the results from the Swedish Jury:
2005 B Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba
Feels very, very young, like
it was bottled the same day. Violet colour and, in fact, violets on the
palate, not too complex, and with fresh acidity. The finish is a little
shorter than I would have liked. 80 points.
2004 B Mascarello Barbera d’Alba
Again the feeling of an
extremely young or should I say unevolved wine. Feels like being bottled
if not today then yesterday. Dark, succulent fruit but with a peculiar
citric component in the fresh acidity. Nice length but not overly
impressive. 85 points.
2001 B Mascarello Barolo
This is something completely
different. A blend from Mascarello’s holdings in Cannubi, San Lorenzo,
Torriglione and Rue, the grapes are vinified together. The quality
shines through from the get go. This is red, not dark fruit, sweetish
fruit, yes, Burgundian red fruit would be the best description. A
wonderfully styled and balanced fruit component with wild strawberries
both on nose and palate, some mint and a jammy in character with a
persistent and a complex spicy finish. Very tasty and polished into a
style that is very accessible already now and keeps you going back for
more. 91+ points.
Not viewing this as the most perfect of winery visits I consoled myself the next day in Alba by purchasing a magnum of the 1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.
I have been looking at this bottle for a year now and finally I grabbed
it. By the way, I have entered a phase in my wine life where I seem to
be stuck on magnums. Me needs them, me wants them, they are precious and
they are miiiine! Tell me, is this just a temporary affliction or
should I consider it permanent? Is there any known cure?
By the way, before I leave
Maria Theresa with the ever increasing group of people around the table
listening to her passionate voice I can’t help mentioning a beautiful
display of the hand-painted labels Bartolo used on some of his Barolo
bottles and most emotional of all, a series of pictures portraying
Bartolo at ever increasing age towards the very end where you see a very
old man but with the same passion and laughter in his eyes as from the
pictures taken at a young age. He will be missed. But forever remembered
through his wines. I will always think about the 1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, tasted at one of Joakim’s famous Barolo evenings, and smile. A monumental wine.
E PIRA (CHIARA BOSCHIS)
Going from Bartolo
Mascarello to the house of Chiara Boscis and the E. Pira winery takes
not such a great effort as you might imagine. Basically you have to pull
your body the 40 steps from door to door so not being too slow you
might well do it within the margin of a full minute… Having been the one
who called all wineries and being a “Man of Ordnung!” and a
subscriber to perfect planning, I guess Joakim, with the rather chaotic
experiences from both G and B Mascarello in mind, was kind of hardened
by the fact that when we rang the door bell of Chiara’s home, no one
answered at first, only to have a Chiara with her hair wildly pointing
in all directions looking down at us from her balcony, very surprised. "An appointment? Now??"
I couldn’t help laughing because somehow it reminds me about that
Seinfeld episode when Jerry has made a reservation for a rent-a-car and
it turns out they don’t have it and Jerry starts to question the point
in making a reservation in the first place. “The crucial part about a reservation is holding it. That’s what a reservation is all about. Taking a reservation is simple enough, that everyone can do, but holding it is the essence.” Not
to worry, although not fully prepared for our invasion, Chiara excused
herself coming right out of the shower and asked if she could just have a
minute to dry her hair and then she would be down to greet us.
Beginning a post in such a
tabloid fashion of course demands a satisfactory explanation and I
really owe it to you. You see, we had a certain anticipation for this
winery visit in particular. It turned out that then when Joakim called
Chiara she asked something about us not minding to share the appointment
with two Americans – or would we rather prefer another time so that the
two appointments didn’t collide? By the way, the two Americans were Mr and Mrs Parker from Maryland. At the time of calling we didn’t know that, only that there would be two persons from “Parker”
so we figured that maybe she meant two persons from the Wine Advocate.
Hum, maybe Antonio Galloni with an assistant was out running between the
estates gathering tasting notes for a forthcoming issue of the WA…?
That could be fun! We had the same thing before visiting Roberto
Conterno and discussing the time for our appointment and Roberto
hesitated a little when we asked about a specific time because he had
these two Americans coming at that time. Hm… What are the odds? Add the
circumstances together and you conclude that there must be some
WA-folks roaming the scenery. And sure enough, after being let inside by
Chiara and waiting for some minutes while she was drying her hair, the
bell door rang again and there they were, Mr and Mrs Parker from
Maryland. Quite a surprise I must add, because I surely didn’t expect
them to show up like that. We sat down at the table, poured some wine
and discussed wine in general. It turns out Parker doesn’t favour
Californian wine that much. Too expensive and rather too alcoholic and
expansive o the palate compared to the wonderful, classic wines of
Europe. This might come as a big surprise to many but I assure you, I’m
not making this up. These were the words directly from Mr Parker.
Of course, Mr and Mrs Parker from Maryland turned out not to be the Mr Parker that I admire, Uncle Bob,
our host, and the person who is mostly to blame for my growing interest
in wine, but rather…well, Mr and Mr Parker from Maryland. Oh sure, they
had met Robert Parker occasionally and knew who he was, but as I said,
they were not that impressed by Californian wines. Tell me, what are the
odds?? I couldn’t help laughing when thinking about this absurd
situation. We politely asked the couple if they by any chance sensed
they received somewhat strange reactions from wineries in Piemonte when
they called and wanted to make an appointment for “Mr and Mrs Parker
from Maryland” and they admitted that on some occasions they were met by
quite surprised winemakers… I bet! I’d love to have that name and being
a resident of Maryland… With that as a weapon I’d call every famous
winemaker on this planet to make personal appointments. And I would
start with Clerico (not sure that he would respond anyway), then continue with Bruno Giacosa only to quickly lift the phone and call Henri Bonneau.
Anyway, once we had
established that the Parkers were not the Parkers we had hoped for,
Chiara greeted us again and took us for a quick cellar tour which was
kind of an odd experience at first because as we entered into what
looked like a living room with furniture, we had to pass several
barrique stack after each other on the floor ("Oh yes, I’m doing the malolactic here”).
That was a first for me! Usually people have cellars for these kind of
things… And so does Chiara, but not as big as I have seen at other
places. An amazing thing with her is that she basically does everything
in the cellar herself. No staff of assistants and workers. She’s the one
operating all the machines and for some of the winemaking decisions she
also has the help from her brother who works at Borgogno. If this
sounds a little too good to be true I promise you that you would
understand if you met with Chiara. I believe that the greatest torture
for her would be if she would have to sit or stand still for a full
minute. I can’t even imagine such a picture – she needs to be on
the move constantly. It was a joy to see the passion, the energy, the
eagerness and the wonderful warmth in her eyes. Hm, I can’t help
thinking how a meeting between Laurence Feraud of Pegau in
Chateauneuf du Pape and Chiara Boscis would look like. Two passionate
women with that burning energy…wow. I will propose them to make a wine
together one day. The resulting wine can’t be anything other than
I sense there is too much thoughts about women here…! What about the wines?
2005 E Pira Dolcetto d’Alba
Primary fruit of
lingonberry, with piercing acidity, way too much for my taste and here
endeth my analysis since I cannot rate a wine with such a dominating
2004 E Pira Barbera d’Alba
A youngster this is, with
purple colour, high acidity in this one as well but backed up by dark
and very clean and fresh fruit of blackberries and blueberries. Nice mix
of spices but somehow not the balance between the structure, acidity
and fruit to merit a higher score. 86 points.
2002 Cuvee Chiara Boscis
This year, given the
troubled vintage, Chiara produced a single Barolo blend she calls “Cuvee
Chiara”. She was quite pleased to see it favourably rated in one of the
Italian wine guides that had just arrived. Very rich and coarse feeling
on the palate, with mushroom and fruit that doesn’t seem as pure and
focused as her single Barolos but nevertheless with some good structure
and a nice finish. 86 points.
2001 E Pira Via Nuovo
A completely different
creature. Focused, pure fruit, like a laser beam, then the forest floor
and the mushrooms with a good grip from the tannins holding the package
together. Everything I love in a good Barolo. The finish has that nice
balance between being powerful and fresh at the same time. Me like. 91 points.
2003 E Pira Barolo Cannubi
Slightly different from the
Cannubi, with a more perfumed nose of flowers and spices. Love the feel
of licorice intermixed with ripe fruit. The oak is much more noticeable
here and the finish is one of both minerals, spices and gripping
tannins. 91+ points.
While sitting down with
Chiara, Mr and Mrs Parker were constantly talking about how much has
changed since their last visit to the region nine years ago, especially
that little cosy restaurant the liked so much, where they had to walk
through the kitchen to have a seat in the dining room. Well, some things
have changed because that restaurant is the current Trattoria La Posta
which happened to the place for our third and last dinner in Piemonte.
Having seen this impressive establishment I can understand why the
Parkers were in such an awe about how a small restaurant can change into
such a first class operation.
I have several observations
about this wonderful dining experience. First of all that the food is
very good. I ordered the classic Piemonte menu and was treated to one
delicious dish after the other. Second, I really DO approve of
the staff. Enough said. Third, when we visited Piemonte, the third week
in October, white truffles aren’t really at their best. What you should
do is to wait for the truffles much later in the season. I remember
Sverker so vividly describing how the scents of truffles spread through
the whole dining room when he dined here a year ago but when thinking of
it we saw people eating truffles both at Le Torri and La Libera without
really feeling any scents of truffles despite sitting at a nearby
table. We had originally decided to conclude our dinner experience with a
truffle menu but when again seeing the waiter at the nearest table
slicing and slicing big chunks of truffles on the guests’ plates without
us really feeling all that much, we decided not to splurge but rather
wait for another occasion when they are at their best. Fourth, they have
a very impressive wine list and the staff looked very trained and
professional when they were presenting and pouring the wine. At other
tables, that is. We had a waitress who couldn’t really grasp the complex
problem of us ordering not one bottle of wine, but two bottles of
wines… Quite amusing, I must say. But before dwelling into my
observation that “food people” never seem to get wine, let’s concentrate
on the liquid part of our dinner. We had a look at the most impressive
wine list and decided for a perfect combination of a traditionalist and
modernist, the 2001 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia and the 2001 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.
Having rated the latter wine a perfect 100 points on a previous
occasion, Joakim was quite eager and asked if this will be the third
perfect wine he will taste during the same day, something for the book
of records. Unfortunately, it turned out that they were out of the
Sandrone and offered us the 2001 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne
instead. We declined and after a look at the wine list again decided to
make a tribute to one of the impressive personalities we had met during
our visit, Alfredo Currado, so we ordered a 2001 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito. Both wines were truly impressive and accompanied the Piemontese food wonderfully.
2001 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito
I’m afraid Galloni has underrated this wine. Either that or the ambience and the sheer joy over our trip
added a few points to the rating. This is a full-bodied, massive wine
that makes no excuses before exploding in the mouth with minerals, ripe,
dark-dark fruit of mixed berries, ripe cherries (like pralines) and
loads of spices. Big, luscious, succulent with tannins that displays
power yet with a velvety elegance. The finish
is…insert-a-smile-here…absolutely delicious, persistent, focused,
lingering on the plate. Impressive stuff. 95 points.
2001 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia
Wow! What an immense
drinking pleasure. More red than dark fruit from this stunning example
of a first-class wine. Imagine all those wonderful components you are
always looking for in that perfect Barolo: roses, licorice, violet,
Asian spices, mushroom, forest floor and that ripe, sweet red fruit of
wild strawberries and raspberries all mixed into a perfect, balanced
liquid that oozes of sensuality. More medium-bodied than full bodied but
oh so utterly powerful and focused, The elegance and harmony in the
long, long finish is nothing less than astonishing. Bravo! 97 points.
Back to the issue of food
people not understanding wine. One thing that eludes me is this very
observation, that most people I have met who are absolute brilliant with
food, rarely know much about wine. It seems like a curse, as if you
would be punished having an talent for one of the components by not
having the other. I have seen numerous restaurants with great
reputations but with wine list that make you shake your head in wonder,
asking yourself if they had a monkey throwing darts on a wine list when
they chose their wines. In this case, Trattoria La Posta didn’t fail
with the wine list, but the waiter was obviously totally unfamiliar to
the notion that you could actually divide two bottles of wine between
three fellow wine aficionados. They presented and opened the Cascina
Francia and then nothing happened. After some time we kindly asked if
they had forgot the other bottle (Lazzarito).
- “Oh, you want the other bottle too?”
- “Well, yes please, if you don’t mind as we would like to enjoy it together with our meal”, was our response.
Away she went only to
produce the bottle of Vietti and putting it on a table some ten meters
away from us. Big question marks of course among me and my friends. So
after some additional time we kindly asked if we by any chance could
have the bottle at our table instead of having it stand over there. “Oh, you won’t it now?”
she said with an honest surprise in her face. So she walked away,
grabbed the bottle and put in our table. Not pouring the wine, and then
she disappeared. We would of course not wait but proceeded pouring the
wine ourselves and when she came back ten minutes later with us enjoying
the comparative notes of the two different yet equally delicious wines,
she again gave us a surprised “Oh!?” looking down at the bottle and noticing we had already started pouring it. This question never seems to stop amazing me. What is it with people working with food that makes them into such novices when it comes to wine??
Another peculiar observation
from this fine establishment was that it was…warm. And I’m not talking
about a little cosy warmth in the midst of a cold autumn. I talking warm
here, as in hot. I certainly know that it’s a great tradition of
sweating it out in a sauna in Finland, but this is Piemonte... I
stripped myself of clothes the best I could without being naked, to
prevent myself sitting there sweating while eating and we also asked the
waiter to open one of the windows at least to allow a minuscule flow of
fresh air into the dining room, although it didn’t help much. In fact,
to save the wines from being impossible to enjoy, we asked for an ice
bucket, not for any champagne but to save our red wines. Is it just me
or shouldn’t a well-reputed restaurant with high ambitions have a
minimum of planning when it comes to wine and heat in their locale?
Anyway, these were more like things of amusement that made us laugh and
smile while trying to save the wines the best we could. All in all it
was a wonderful dinner and a ditto evening.
Next morning we started with
a winery visit I had very much been looking forward to. I give the
visit "98 points". I also give the house in which Cappellano lives in
"95 points" and above all, I give Teobaldo Cappellano’s arrival a
perfect "100 points"! That’s for arriving in his big jeep (while we were
waiting outside his house), climbing outside, stretching out his
towering body with a big cigar in his mouth and then squeezing the still
burning cigar between the windshield wiper and window of the car – “in order not to forget it when I leave”,
he explained, before motioning us toward the entrance. I hope it didn’t
look to funny as I picked up my jaw and put it back in place and
stopped staring with amazement. What a FUN way to start a winery visit!
Teobaldo’s family have been
producing wine in the Barolo zone since 1870. His holding lie in the
Gabutti vineyard, located in Serralunga d’Alba and farmed biodynamically
(probably without official certification, considering Tebaldo’s views
on authorities trying to dictate the rules and regulations of a winery).
Gabutti has long been considered one of the greatest crus of the entire
Barolo DOCG, known for Barolos of great power and longevity. As the
Wine Atlas of Langhe points out: “Gabutti is the starting point of a
long ribbon of vineyards along the side of the most prestigious hill of
Serralunga, and one of the most outstanding in the entire Barolo DOCG
zone”. Though the name Gabutti doesn’t appear on any of the wines’
labels (in protest to the appellation’s expansion to inferior sites),
the named Otin Fiorin does appear in honour of a farmer who tended the
vineyard for much of his life. Teobaldo Cappellano makes two different
Barolos: Pie Rupestris Barolo from vines grafted on American rootstocks in 1946, and Pie Franco Barolo from ungrafted younger vines planted in the 1980s with the Michet clone of Nebbiolo, a practice unheard of in the zone.
Do you get the sense that
this is a somewhat different wine producer. Ahhh, yes he is and I salute
this difference to the mainstream. What a wonderful character! It’s a
pure joy sitting down discussing with Teobaldo. Not just about wine. I
believe we handled more about politics, taxes, governments, women,
traditions, food and the joy of life before we even mentioned a word
about his wines. Oh, and about the winemaking, this is an artist, a man
of tradition and firm believer that the soil is something more than just
a place to grow grapes on. Cappellano expresses a firm belief that
preserving the surrounding ecosystem is essential for producing balanced
wine in harmony with its environment. Fermentation is done in cement
vats and stainless steel containers and only natural yeasts are use.
Subsequent aging is done in large botti. It was such fun to discuss with
Teobaldo the practice in the vineyard. It’s about doing nothing.
Nothing. “While the other winemakers talk about doing nothing”
(meaning as little intervention as possible, both in the vineyard and
the cellar, allowing the vineyard terroir speak for itself – my
interpretation), he said, “they really do something whereas when I say I’m doing noting I MEAN nothing!” He does some minimal work in the vineyard, but overall it’s about doing nothing and let the vineyards speak for itself.
Cant help to think about
that outrageously funny episode when Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza
are about to pitch their idea for a new show to the NBC executives and
they come up with a show about nothing.
RUSSELL: So, what have you two come up with?
JERRY: Well, we've thought about this in a variety of ways. But the basic idea is I will play myself-
GEORGE: (Interrupting) May I?
JERRY: Go ahead.
GEORGE: I think I can sum up the show for you with one word: NOTHING.
GEORGE: (Smiling) Nothing.
RUSSELL: (Unimpressed) What does that mean?
GEORGE: The show is about nothing.
JERRY: (To George) Well, it's not about nothing.
GEORGE: (To Jerry) No, it's about nothing.
JERRY: Well, maybe in philosophy. But, even nothing is something.
About the reference to
ratings above, as has been mentioned by Antonio Galloni, Teobaldo
Cappellano asks everyone to refrain from numerically rate his wines and
since I have the uttermost respect for this intelligent and most sincere
man, more of a philosopher and poet than a winemaker according to
himself, I will oblige yet describe my impression of the wines tasted.
By the way, we were happy that he had any bottles to taste at all. With
only 3 ha and a production of 17000 bottles, including the famous Barolo Chinato,
which is a Barolo spiced with tree bark, herbs and Good knows what more
to create something that could best be described as cough medicine (I
didn’t try Cappellano’s Chinato, only that of G.D. Vajra), Teobaldo’s
wines are difficult to find. The Pie Franco has a production of only
1500 bottles. The 2001 vintage of the Pie Franco was not available for
tasting because of the scarcity (so I’m happy I bought a magnum) but we
did have the pleasure to taste the 2003 vintage of Pie Franco from cask.
Here are my impressions:
2001 Cappellano Barbera d’Alba
Utterly clean, balanced,
pure fruit with a soft acidity (compared to the very high-pitched
acidity found in so many other Barberas) with red, mild, currant.
2003 Cappellano Barbera Vecche Vigne
What a strange little
creature. On the nose and also on the palate you notice a slight feeling
of blackcurrant leaves and a hint of gooseberries, then an immediate
attack of succulent, meaty fruit with loads of spices and a persistent,
focused finish. Ahhh…
2001 Cappellano Barolo Otin Fiorin Rupestris-Per Nebioli
Yummy… Everything a Burgundy
Pinot Noir ever wanted to be but failed. What a lovely fruit mix of
redcurrants, light, fruit of wild strawberries, you know, those smaller
versions tasting more towards raspberries and than strawberries. The
fruit flavours are utterly pure and polished, intermixed with spices and
flowers (roses) and backed up by polished tannins. Much rounder and
softer than the Pie Franco Barolo. A joy to drink.
2003 Cappellano Barolo Otin Fiorin Rupestris-Per Nebioli
From cask. Everything found
in the 2001 vintage but with much darker fruit, in fact, with lots of
blueberries and a much more pronounced peppery note among the cornucopia
2003 Cappellano Barolo Otin Fiorin Pie Franco-Michet
What a wonderful wine!
Blueberries, lingonberries, dark cherries, all perfectly balanced.
Nothing stands as everything seems perfectly integrated with the
mid-palate – the fruit, the structure, the tannins, the sweetness.
Wonderful structure, with tar and minerals components interplaying with
all those fresh fruit components. A long, long, lingering finish makes
you feel it’s am pity you can’t rate this wine publicly… This is
A big hug ended this
marvellous visit and again we were leaving a winery visit with a big
smile. Teobaldo, I hope to come back on the next visit!
There was time left and we
had planned also to visit Sottimano and quickly stop by to say hello to
the brothers at Luigi Pira but we were delayed in alba and finally
decided not to take any chances with the traffic, which in retrospective
was a lucky strike as we got completely stuck when passing Milano on
our way to the airport at Bergamo, making it in the last minute. One
more winery visit and we would have missed our flight to Stockholm. Yes,
home sweet home, but damn, it’s getting increasingly cold here in this
country. Roy Hersh, where is a good, old-fashioned warming Port when you need one?
Well folks, here endeth my
account of our little excursion to Nebbiololand. All in all a magical
tour with the only setback that we weren’t able to visit the estate of
Bruno Giacosa, who kindly declined a visit in the month of October, we
were told. Nevertheless, we had a great time enjoying ourselves like
only true wine aficionados can.
Comments are of course
appreciated. Especially if you have similar or opposite impressions of
the wines I have been tasting – and care to discuss them. Thanks for
reading and hope to see you soon again when I post my impressions from
the profound 2005 vintage in Germany. That report, however, is a
much more extensive post than this little narrative tale from Piemonte
so it will take some time compiling all the tasting notes and personal
accounts from yet another wonderful wine tour.