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tisdag 13 maj 2014

Barolo, Barolo, Barolo...and some Barbaresco!

Another fun and memorable trip. :-)

The first and foremost overall impression is that 2001 seems to be a stellar vintage in Piemonte. One for the Hall of Fame. I have but a brief career in the wine loving business, soon to approach only its 10 year anniversary but I must admit that I have never tasted a Piemonte vintage in its youth that has exhibited such a delight and immediate drinking pleasure as well as future promise. Interestingly, I have yet to meet one single wine producer or in fact any individual related to the wine business in the region, that claims the 2000 vintage is better that 2001. Sure, they are both good vintages, each with its own distinction and characteristics but the general view, at least locally among the producers and wine retailers is that 2001 is the vintage with the highest "potential", followed by 1999 and then 2000. In that context it was interesting to see James Suckling yet again pounding the same drum about the 2000 vintage. I believe he's dead wrong but that's only my personal palate. Looking towards the future I can suggest that you should skip 2002 altogether, that 2003 seems to be good for Barbera but with considerable trouble for Nebbiolo while 2004 seems to be yet another "annata importante" as they say over there. It's never a "good vintage" but an "important vintage". I haven't tasted any 2004s so my comments derive only from all the happy smiles by wine producers when speaking about the vintage. No matter to whom you speak they seem to be very happy with the 2004 vintage. 2005 on the other hand, seems to be only average because of rain before harvest.
Giacomo Conterno

While in Piemonte I had the pleasure to dine at Osteria Veglio in Annunziata and tasted the 2003 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia. Full of blueberries, ripe fatness, and jammy fruit style as suspected from the warm 2003 vintage. A sense of asphalt (somebody constructing a road nearby?) Definetely a 90+ point wine in my book. I also had the pleasure to try the 2004 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia which Roberto Conterno generously provided from barrel. It was a completely different creature. Still a sense of jam-packed fruit but much cleaner and with greater freshness and more spices - and blueberry forest! Easily a 90+ point wine to me but at this stage I prefer the more voluptious Barbera from 2003. Which by the way is a real bargain in my book at 17 Euros at the stores of Alba and only a few Euros more when enjoyed at the restaurant.


I'll come back to Roberto Conterno as this was the second stop during my stay in Piemonte in January this year. Together with my best friend I had an initial appointment at Gaja in the beautiful little town of Barbaresco. There was some confusion as we entered since there seemed to be a group of people visiting at the same time and when they were instructed to follow a representative of the winery we followed but were quickly motioned to stay behind and wait in a separate room looking like a cellar with a long, long table set and prepared with glasses for three persons at one end. While we were waiting I was taking some photos of the old Gaja bottles displayed on a shelf as a man entered and slightly obstructed my view. I turned back and thought I'd kindly ask him to move away as to get enough distance between the bottles and my camera but when I looked up I realised there was no time for more pictures. It was Don Angelo Gaja himself. Now, I don't know how to fully describe the forthcoming three hours but let me say that this winery visit turned out to be one of the most surprising as well as enjoyable I have had the fortune to experience. Apparently the set table was prepared for Angelo, myself and my friend so without further due we sat down to what I thought was a friendly chat with Angelo. Well... Those who have met him are probably laughing out loud now (knowing what will come) but believe me when I say that I wasn't at all prepared for what was waiting around the corner. Having only seen Gaja on photos in wine magazines I have pictured him as a modest, quiet man in posh suits. Not quite so... This brilliant wine-maker shares the same kind of burning passion for wine as all the other masters I have had the fortune to meet, with the only difference that his passion is articulated so much more vividly and loudly. The first time I nervously looked at the time was after what might been an hour and a half of intense discussion on wine, when Angelo in the middle of a sentence stopped himself and asked if we by any chance had more time to which we of course nodded YES! (while secretly worrying how to make it in time for today's second appointment, which was Giacomo Conterno). What a wonderful thing to worry about! I only wish I had more of these kind of dilemmas... It was amazing to see Angelo in action. The word passion doesn't do justice to him. He's articulate, he's intense, he literally screams out his passion. At one point he was standing up behind his chair, jumping upp and down and shouting out his opinions so passionately and loudly that the echo was bouncing back and forth in the small cellar with such intensity making you almost believe there was an earth quake around the corner. I LOVE this kind of passion! What seemed to trigger Mr Gaja the most was the notion by many wine critics that his generic Barbaresco was anything less that his vineyard designated Barbarescos. He explained that the generic Barbaresco is the backbone of Gaja with no less attention to detail than the single crus and he wanted people to understand that it is not "just" the Barbaresco but a wonderful wine on its own, sourced from the best parcels. Angelo also showed us a summary of, I believe, several different magazines and reviews of 2001 Barbarescos which all had the same result - the number 1 rated Barbaresco was Gaja. Well, what can I say? I haven't tasted all the others on those lists but Angelo opened a 2001 Barbaresco and I can only confirm that his pride of this wine is well-founded. The first thing that comes to your mind is balance. It seems to possess a complete harmony between nose, palate and structure. The nose offers wonderful aromas of spices, roses, licorice and cherries, repeated on the palate. Difficult to describe but harmony or balance with many layers of flavors is the best description I can offer. Utterly fresh and enjoyable, I rated it 94 points. Very much well-deserved. It offered such an immediate gratification already now. It's amazing in a way, because I later tasted Gaja's single vineyard crus and although I rate them higher because I felt even more concentration or structure in them (which equals higher points in my scroing) but the question is if it isn't the generic Barbaresco that gives the most drinking pleasure, the more HEDONISTIC experience. It kind of sings to you in a wonderful tone. If I had never experience hedonism before and wanted to know all about it, this particular bottle would be my choice of preference. God knows how this will evolve - my experience of Gaja is too limited. Then he opened the 2001 Barolo Sperss. Interestingly, this was much denser than the Barbaresco, with "more" to it of every flavor but not as balanced and frankly I rated it somewhat below the Barbaresco, 92-93 points. It has those wonderful flavors of the usual suspects: licorice, roses, sweet fruit, and that walking-in-the-forest-scent that later often turns into those lovely mushroom flavors in older Barolo. Angelo wasn't satisfied with only these offerings so he went searching for another bottle and opened an additional vintage of Sperss just as a comparison. The 1990 Barolo Sperss. Wow, I really like this wine. So typically Barolo with it's secondary dryer fruit and mushroom nuances. It's just a matter of taste, what you prefer at this particular moment and although I loved the 1990 I preferred the fresher 2001. Thinking about it, sooo many 2001s from a whole array of Piemonte producers have had this utter freshness while maintaining all those layers upon layers of aromas that you would suspect emerge only with more bottle age, so if you're into Piemonte, Mr Parker, I recommend you stock up with as many as your wallet can handle. Angelo was also anxious to show us his Chardonnay, so he opened the 1987 and 1997 Chardonnay Gaja & Rey. I have only tasted the 1997 once and wasn't that impressed. Sure, it was a nice Chardonnay but an expensive one for all I know and I only had a half-bottle. As Angelo poured the wines we eagerly swirled the glass and were prepared to taste but then he suddenly stopped us in our motion and said "No-no, you have to WAIT for at least half an hour!". Puzzled we asked why and were told that the wine will evolve immensely in the glass. However, indeed we tasted a sip or two after all and the impression is one of a quite fresh and minerally Chardonnay, even the 1987. Almost like a Chablis Grand Cru. Fresh, minerality, but with a subdued concentration of creamy fruit. Then came the surprise. The 1997 remained basically the same, with a little more added weight and more fruit, but the 1987 had completely changed into another creature. This one suddenly brimmed with butter scotch, with nuts, butter cream and ooozes of tropical fruit. What a wonderful wine! Hadn't it been for Angelo's recommendation, I would have taken a sip and finished the glass or bottle within the first half hour and probably never experience the transformation. Isn't it exactly THIS that makes wine so fascinating? You never know what will happen in the glass. Wine's a living thing, it breads, it evolves in the glass, it provides pleasure but not the SAME pleasure depending on time of opening, time of airing, time of storage and so on. I can't help myself from thinking of "Maya" in Sideways and her explanation on why she got into wine. Can't stop thinking of Maya (Virginia Madsen) either, when I come to think about it... But that's a whole different story. If anyone knows is she's available, please let me know. Oh, sorry, I seemed to have lost focus here, forgive me. Nevertheless, The Gaja experience was absolutely fascinating. This man is the very definition of true passion. I always admire honest passion straight from the heart and it is difficult to imagine a clearer expression of this love. After almost three hours Angelo excused himself and said that he had other things to attend to but before he insisted he we receive two copies of the book portraying the history of Barbaresco and it's wines ("The Vines of San Lorenzo - The making of a great wine in the new tradition" by Edward Steinberg). Incidentally it was the very same book my friend and I had looked at in a book store in Barbaresco just before the visit. Gosh, I wish my life had more moments like this...

Oh, by the way, I was lucky to taste through the whole 2001 Gaja range at my work just days ago. The 2001 Gaja Sperss seemed identical to when I tasted it with Angelo in January. Perhaps even a little more depth than I can remember and I would rate this 93 points if numerical values need to be used. The 2001 Gaja Conteisa was more polished, more herbs, more flowers, more feminine. Really silky and similar to the wonderful harmony of the 2001 Barbaresco. I'd give it 92-93 points. The 2001 Gaja Costa Russi is a step up the ladder in concentration. Funny, but to begin at the end of my review I come to think about my impatience with this wine as I had to wait and wait for the taste to disappear in my mouth to allow me turning to the next bottle. The "problem" was the same with the remaining bottles. Amazingly, like the generic Barbaresco, the Costa Russi feel ready for business - now. A lot of red cherries, spices, roses and that Men At Work - "careful, we're-paving-the-road-now-asphalt". A solid 94-pointer. The 2001 Gaja Sorì Tildin was similar yet different. Does that make any sense? It's seems to be more concentrated and structured than the Costa Russi, yet more velvety and balanced. Hum... A larger finish even than the previous wine and with that wonderful spiciness, I'd say this is at least a solid 95-96 point wine. Probably more with time, I guess. I have only tasted Sorì Tilden once before and it was the 1990. Seemed like a baby when I had it 3-4 years ago. This one is approachable already now but will probably evolve considerably. Lastly, the 2001 Gaja San Lorenzo, well... Wow! Again. I'm trying to remember and think of a way to describe it. Definately more massive than the Costa Russi. Layers upon layers of cherries, more dark than red fruit, spices, herbs, asphalt, licorice and a impressive structure. Not as approachable as Sorì Tildin but definitely a 95+ point wine. Unfortunately, Mr Parker, I don't know if I can recommend them as a purchase, as they will be prohibited expensive. I'd recommend you to go for the 2001 Gaja Barbaresco, offering by far the most bang for the buck and a true hedonistic experience in itself. Surely you of all people will know how to recognise true hedonism. :-)

Giacomo Conterno

Back to Piemonte! Luckily we managed to step on the brakes to skid into Giacomo Conterno's property just in time for our next appointment. I still recall the time when we were stuck in the cellar at von Schubert and couldn't call Manfred Prüm to announce that we wouldn't make it in time.

(Explanation:  I was visiting Mosel with my best friend and we had been trying to get an appointment at the ever reluctant Herr Dr Manfred Prüm. While visiting Hans-Leo at Christoffel Erben we met another fellow wine lover who had stayed in the valley for three weeks, constantly calling Manfred Prüm, begging him for an appointment, to no avail... So when we finally received a green light to visit, we were of course delighted. However, we had just one stop prior to our Prüm visit and that was von Schubert. Carl-Fernindinad himself (and his dog) met us at the beautiful estate and soon we were on our way through the underground catacombs. Not only did he give as a complete tour and generously shared with us his thoughts and ideas of wine making but above all he generously opened bottles from various Prädikats, vineyards and vintages like there was no tomorrow. You know what they say, time pass by quickly when you're having fun. We looked at our watches, then at each other, trying to discern from the other's look what to do. The answer was obvious when we heard that familiar "plopp" as von Schubert was opening yet another bottle - we just couldn't leave. We were staying! And since we were underground, we couldn't pick up the cellular phone to give Prüm an advance warning. After what seemed like hours we finally emerged above ground again, bought some bottles (I especially enjoyed the 1999 Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese and Auslese) and then called Manfred Prüm on the phone. He was basically speechless when we cheerfully announced that we just couldn't make it today (as was quite obvious to him at this point, two hours after our appointment) but said that it's okay, because we could pop in tomorrow instead. There was complete silence... And then someone grasping for air, as he stammered out - Are YOU the same people who HAD an appointment and chose not to turn up!!?? "Yes!", we happily announced. I don't know how or why, but somehow we made it to Prüm next day and were allowed to buy some bottles, to the mercy of Herr Doktor Manfred Prüm.)

I think Roberto would have been equally surprised if we had called him and just laconically said that he should forget all about it. Same passion as Angelo, but in a more calm and collected manner, Roberto Conterno took us through his impressive cellar. Wow, I just love these gigantic, humongous barrels from Slovenia (my country of birth); I believe they contain 5 hectoliters. And when you walk between these skyscrapers and read the notes written with chalk - Monfortino... Cascina Francia... Wow! Isn't it amazing, by the way, that perhaps the most traditional of all the Barolo producers, Roberto Conterno keeps the cleanest cellar I have ever seen? You could literally drink wine from its floors. It's utterly clean and tidy. Roberto asked us if we, before we proceed to the tasting room, would care to sample some Barbera d'Alba from 2004. Well, how are you supposed to reply to a question like that? I pretended to hesitate for a while, ponder for a moment, and then said, "well, maybe, if we must", which resulted in a big laugh from Roberto. Obviously he's aware that when he asks people if they would like to sample his wine from cask he makes an offer people can't refuse, to quote Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in the Godfather. Well, Mr Parker, I have already given you my review of Giacomo Conterno's Barbera elsewhere as well as purchasing recommendations so I'll jump to the two Barolos we tasted together with Roberto, the 2001 Barolo Cascina Francia and the 1998 Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Both were sensational. I found myself not even wanting to taste the wines as my nose was stuck to the glass trying to follow the different layers of aromas emerging from the glass. The 2001 Barolo Cascina Francia literally pumps out the flavors. How could you ever drink a wine like this when all you want is to stay there with your big nose and enjoy the scents oozing up from the glass? On the palate it reveals everything I come to expect from a good Nebbiolo. Roses and more roses. Well, throw in some additional roses to that as well. And then some spices, cherries, licorice, even that type of subtle mint-licorice. So powerful and concentrated yet so softly balanced. Everything Pinot Noir and Burgundy aspires to but fail to reach... Points? Well, could we just settle for "a very fine and good wine indeed"? If not, then a solid 95+ point wine. It makes no sense to label it as 96 or 97 points or whatever at this stage. It's a beauty, period. If you like this type of Barolo, Bob, then it's a must buy. Unfortunately, for people's wallet, the 1998 Barolo Riserva Monfortino is even darker and more powerful. Deep, dark fruit with everything that Cascina Francia offers but add some more concentration, make the fruit a little darker and add a finish that simply refuses to go away. I remember Roberto's facial expression when he saw us drinking the Monfortino - he was smiling. A satisfied smile, and a confident at that - he KNOWS he produces first class magic in a glass. Wow, must that be a great feeling or not!? That there is never a doubt, you simply KNOW that you have created a masterpiece. This is pure hedonism and much easier to rate as it clearly leaves the somewhat diffuse "95+" level and places itself in the higher territory approaching somewhere near those elusive three digits. I'd say this is a 97-98 point wine, without hesitation. Roberto, smiling, asked if we'd like to pour ourselves some more Monfortino before we go. We looked at each other and probably asked the other the same question through telepathy - Who's driving!??

Bruno Giacosa

Speaking of enjoying wine at local restaurants, we had dinner at a lovely little restaurant (a name which eludes me for the moment) in the center of Alba where we ordered a bottle of 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Asili for a little over 100 Euros at the restaurant. Now, THIS is good shit! Imagine everything Burgundy aspires to but never seems to achiev (I'm in it again, all DRC admirers, roll the dices!). Balance, harmony, concentration yet utter lightness. This was an absolute delight to enjoy over dinner. I know I'm repeating myself here, but blame the Nebbiolo, not me, because it has all the usual characteristics of roses, roses and more roses, or more flowers, I should say. My friend Sverker pointed out minerals as well, and that lovely cool, light yet concentrated red fruit, with spices and forest floor scents and that wonderful grace. Remember Seinfeld? Jackie Onassis had grace. Grace is something you have, or have not. Grace cannot be acquired (directed at Elaine during the job interview). It's pumping out its flavors and as with all truly great wine you almost hesitate to drink it since you're stuck with your big, fat nose (mine is) into the glass, enjoying all the wonderful aromas. If nothing else is, THIS is pure hedonism, Bob! I recommend you scoop up as many bottles as you can find. Unfortunately I didn't find any bottles in the wine stores so this is the only bottle I will probably ever try. The numerical rating must be high for this one. Not perfect but not far from it. Let's deduct two points because the dinner company across the small table was merely my good old friend Sverker (sorry, old pal), and not Serena Williams. So make it 98 points. I wonder what a bottle of this would cost in the US?

Luigi Pira

Another mandatory stop along our Barolo route, both last summer and now during winter, was of course one of the rising superstars in the region, Luigi Pira. Gosh, I'm I happy so few people are aware of this stellar wine producer. Interestingly, he even has 1999s to sell and definitely 2001s while the less impressive 2000s are gone, all scooped up by Americans (thanks for the help, Suckling!). Well, Bob, I don't need to tell you of all people about this producer since you are the very one who pointed us to this extraordinary value. I can't help but laugh when I consider the fact that I'm drinking one of the world's greatest Barolo (or wine, for that matter), paying 30-35 Euros for it, while people are running after bottles for hundreds and hundreds of dollars because they happen to live with the misfortune of being hooked to a particular expensive brand, or even because of Label Lust. Giampaulo exhibits the usual characteristics of a Barolo winemaker, quiet, humble and with a happy grin on his face when he notices our impression of his wonderful Barolo-wines. When we sat down with Gaja, I joked with Angelo that his Barolo Sperss is quite good, yet not the best from the Marenca vineyard, since Luigi Pira crafts better wine out of that particular slope. Angelo just laughed but said with a serious face that frankly, Luigi Pira is one of the best. When I told Giampaulo about this he was very modest and didn't want to believe me, despite my friend's reassurance that it was absolutely true. Of what I can remember I really liked the 2003 Barbera d'Alba Rocche du Tarpun, with violet, licorice and that fatty, dense feeling that so many 2003 Barberas possess - which I like. We tasted through all Pira's 2001 Nebbiolo-based wines. Can't say that I remember much if the Langhe Nebbiolo but even the regular 2001 Barolo was a joy to taste. Perhaps hovering around or just below the 90 point mark. The 2001 Barolo Margheria was all spices and luscious fruit and what I remember surprised me the most was that despite its concentration it was so accessible already now. I would rate this wine around 91-92 points depending on the mood of the day. During our summer visit the 2001 Barolo Marenca (same vineyard as Gaja Barolo Sperss) outshined the others. Perfumed and more dark than red fruit comes to my mind, with (again) roses, licorice and tons of spices. Again one of those wines you hesitate to drink because it has such wonderful aromas that you'd like to stay with. It's concentrated, with a good grip and feels so fresh in your mouth - maybe it's just me but I have always felt that every new Barolo I have tasted has felt like it needed 6-7 years to come around but every 2001 seem to be ready for business now. Clearly a wine that parks itself, well-deservedly so, at the mid-90s points. To be honest, the 2001 Barolo Vigna Rionda felt even darker and more concentrated but I agree on Sverker's analysis that last summer it felt more tight than the Marenca but when retasting it a little more than a month ago I must say that it's on par with the Marenca. Feels like a V8 engine buzzing in the background. I love the long, persistent finish. It's only a matter of personal taste if you consider it being even better than the Marenca but if this will continue to add weight with more age then, well, as I said, it's a personal taste.


A favorite visit is Revello, probably because of patriotic ties with one of the Revello brothers (Carlo) being married to a Swedish girl. I must admit that although I somehow feel that the Nebbiolo-based wines from Luigi Pira are "better" in a sense that I feel they have an extra gear when needed, I wonder if Revello isn't the "revelation" of the year for me and the winery I'm most impressed with if taking into account price/performance ratio. I just LOVE their whole range of Barolos! Even the basic Barolo is a beauty. Bob, I will base my opinions based on my tasting through the complete range at the winery and from the bottles opened and enjoyed here in Sweden but I can tell you that since Daniel Thomases has given up the task of working for the WA, I can tell you that I have later seen reviews on Revello from both Antonio Galloni and James Suckling. Galloni seems to hover around the 90-point mark for most of the wines while Suckling is jumping up to the 95-mark. I must confess that I'm more stuck in the middle, with occasional samples leaning more towards James than Antonio. The basic 2001 Revello Barolo is just a joy to drink now. No questions asked - just enjoy it as solid wine around the 90-point mark with a price few can beat. And by the way, that's the very MAIN impression I get from tasting every single Barolo from the 2001 - they seem to be so absolutely juicy, fruity and delicious already now, while still having a backbone that promises an exceptional future. Frankly, I believe 2001 will surpass at least all vintages 1997-2000 and possibly 1996 as well and it seems as if I'm not the only one with this prediction. What's so nice with Revello is that you can set up a wonderful tasting from just one producer since they have so many vineyards. The 2001s from Revello seems particularly fresh and balanced already now, almost like an aged Burgundy but with more power and layers of aromas. The 2001 Revello Barolo Gattera, as I remember it, was more structured and closed than the regular Barolo, with fruit more resembling red, than dark red fruit (more plum, than blackberries and black cherries). 90-91 points in my book. The 2001 Revello Barolo Giachini was an absolute delight. Very fruity and perfumed with dark licorice and chocolate. And vanilla from the oak. I would give it a solid 93 points. Had the fortune to buy both the 2001 and 1999 for future comparison - and try as well, as Enzo generously opened up every bottle we pointed at on the list. The 2001 Revello Barolo Rocche d'Annunziata is produced in very small quantities, something like a 1000 bottles only. It seems more structured, more perfumed and not as fruity as the Giachini, but with more spices, herbs and roses. More a classic than modern Barolo. I especially remember the long, succulent finish. Difficult to place a numerical value on this one but clearly at least on par with the Giachini. My favorite of the lot was the 2001 Revello Barolo Conca. Wow! Not for the traditionalists as the oak is clearly present but it's integrated so well because of dominating fruit. This is like a New World Barolo if such would ever exist. One could argue if the sheer density of this one is the same as complexity or simply a simpler but fruitier wine. I for one liked the layers of dark fruit. I would give it 94 points. Interestingly, the terroir follows the vintages as the 1999 Conca exhibits the same fruity, succulent characteristics.

Again I must say that it's such a revelation to visit wineries in Piemonte, or should I say Italy or even Europe. You knock on the door, which is also a home, not and official reception at a major winery, and not to a man or woman in a suit but a farmer. With boots and a tractor. Many times when we have arrived and just taken a chance by making a surprise visit without any prior appointment, relatives have called on the cellular to the winemaker who's been sitting on a tractor somewhere or working in the vineyard. You literally come home to a farmer, not a business man. Not like so many New World places where, unfortunately, there seems to be a trend toward an official "Cellar Door", most of the time with employees that, well, work there as any other regular desk job and not always because they have a great passion for - or knowledge - of wine. I'm not saying this is bad - rather I would say that I'm astonished that there is still this possibility to actually come home to a world famous producer, shake his hand and sit down for a sip before he gets back into the vineyard and continues his work. How do they have time? From my perspective, as a consumer and wine afficionado, I'm immensely grateful to be able to visit like this, taking up their time, drinking their wine and having the possibility to discuss the product directly with the artist. However, my most common experience is that THEY, the world famous winemakers, have been happy that YOU, the consumer, the wine lover, have taken your time and actually looked them up and made the effort to visit. I have seen this on numerous occasions, time after time again. And not from some unknown, obscure wine estates, but from persons like Helmut Dönnhoff, Wilhelm & Oliver Haag, Willi & Christoph Schaefer, Johannes Selbach, Christoph Tyrell, Nik Weis (of St Urbains-Hof), Tim Fröhlich, Werner Schönleber, Laurence Feraud (of Pegau), Troy Kalleske, Paulo di Marchi (of Isole e Olena), Massimo d'Alessandro, Maurizia di Napoli Rampolla, Enzo & Carlo Revello, Enrico & Enrica Scavino, Giampaulo Pira, Elio Altare, Mauro & Daniela Veglio, Aldo Vajra and Roberto Conterno, as well as the folks at Mocagatta, Paitin, Corino, Conterno-Fantino, Sandrone, Tua Rita and Le Pupille to name a few that I have experienced first-hand. They have all thanked US for coming, for taking our time, for taking interest in their wine and for sharing a common passion. To me it's mind-boggling that this true, honest atmosphere still exist. I mean, I would like to thank THEM for taking their time, not having to face the vice-versa situation...! I'm sure that you, Bob, are accustomed that the doors are opened widely wherever you come but what astounds me is that even regular, private wine afficionados are treated in the same generous way.


We also tried to visit Clerico. For the 5th time, to no avail... He was off to Tuscany but we didn't have an appointment (we've had friends with an appointment, still without succeeding in meeting this elusive genius, Domenico Clerico). I've had numerous blind wine tastings of Barolo where the same damn familiar while label on the bottle has stared back at me as the WOTN when the curtain has fallen - Clercio. One day I hope to make a surprise attack and meet him when he's at home. For one of the restaurant meals we ordered a bottle of the 2000 Clerico Barolo Chiabot Mentin Ginestra. A solid wine, with pleasant perfume and red fruit, nice balance and somewhat subdued fruit. Not a blockbuster but a very pleasant 90-point wine. Later, after returning back to Stockholm, Magnus (of joint 2002 DRC fame on this board together with yours truly) generously opened a bottle of 2001 Clerico Barolo Chiabot Mentin Ginestra and this is a totally different creature. Cool, cool dark, dark fruit, perfumed and with a wonderful balance and a tremendous finish. This is all spices and minerals. So fresh, so concentrated, so balanced. This is a pure beauty. I had it blind and still remember my comment when I starred at the glass - "This is good stuff". That usually means 95+ points and so it is. To be modest. This will probably evolve beautifully but wow...what a joy to drink it already here and now! How can it be so accessible and provide such a pleasure already now? Could anyone help me with that question, please? I didn't feel the same with newly released Barolos from 2000 or 1999 or 1998.

V.D. Vajra

V.D. Vajra is always a pleasure to visit whether it's Aldo himself or his wife Milena that greets you. We stopped by there this January just to thank them for a wonderful visit previously last summer, when Milena took us through the whole range at Vajra. I must confess that I'm a sucker for their Moscato. It's so flowery and fresh and posses a creamy texture. I would say that Paulo Saracco is my first hand choice for Moscato d'Asti, followed by Spinetta and Vajra. The wine I liked the most was not surprisingly the 1999 Barolo Bricco delle Viole. A more femininte type of Barolo, with dry fruit, cherries, herbs, and an elegant structure with a long finish. I rate it 91-92 points. Less impressive was the 2000 Barolo delle Viole but I should add that I seriously overdosed on the Moscato prior to tasting it. People who like different grape varieties should check out their Freisa Langhe Kyè made by the Freisa grape. Apparently a grape that doesn't normally produce great wine, Aldo seems to not agree and makes a pleasant, fruity wine for immediate pleasure that I would rate close to the 85-point mark. I also tasted the 2003 Langhe Bianco Riesling, a dry, yet fruity Riesling with minerality similar to a Wachau Riesling. This is more to my friend's liking who enjoys dry Riesling. I liked it for what it is and would argue that it would be interesting to have this one among some dry Riesling from Germany, Austria and Alsace in a blind shoot out. I think it would stand its ground among far more famous Riesling labels.


Yet another wonderful visit where Luciano's daughter took us around for a complete tour. Here, I will focus on two wines only, the 2001 Barolo Cannubi Boscis and the 2001 Barolo Le Vigne. The 2001 Barolo Le Vigne, mixed from several vineyards is of the more sturdy, classic Barolo. It possesses structure, minerality and dark fruit with a persistent finish yet so utterly elegant already at this stage. 93 points. However, let me turn to the sibling wine, the 2001 Barolo Cannubi Boscis. Oh My God! THIS is great fermented grape juice! Immediately on the nose you are allerted to the fact that this is one of "those" wines. You simply KNOW you have a 95+ points wine when you can't drag your nose from the glass. Licorice! Which I happen to love, then mint, roses, spices, dark, pitch-black cherries - it'z oooooozing of fruit and has such a wonderful elegance and grace on the palate while being tyrbo-charged in its massive concentration. A long, long finish and only time will tell how much high this will fly. Currently extremely enjoyable and available, I would give it 96+ points while stressing that "+" mark behind the number. This is a true beauty. Giacosa, Gaja, Clerico and Conterno - watch out!


A visit to Piemonte without a visit to Scavino is, as everybody in the wine world knows, impossible. Let's leave it at that without further elaboration. I have had the pleasure to visit Scavino several times, each time guided by the ever enthusiastic and shining Enrica Scavino. Ever wondered why Piemonte has so much sunshine? Well.. Oki, back to the wines. On this occasion we actually didn't have an appointment and my intention was just to knock on the door to see if Enrica was at home to hand her a CD disc with some pictures from previous visits in the region as thanks for all those generous winery visits. Yes, she was at home and had that same kind of warm, shining smile despite having recently injured her leg while skiing (so those meeting Enrica on that Wine Experience Tour arranged by the Wine Spectator in the US - please be polite and offer her a seat!). We were, of course, not allowed to just hand over the CD disc and then leave, without tasting some wine. What was so thrilling with this visit was that it was the first time I met with Enrico Scavino, depsite numerous prior visits to the estate. Again, like Angelo Gaja, like Roberto Conterno, you get to understand where the wine comes from, where the passion originates, when you meet the winemaker in question. And with Enrico you get a sense of a warm, kind and generous uncle as he stands there and opens some bottles of his own creation. Having tasted Scavino's 2001s both last summer and now on this visit and again some days ago I have quite a vivid impression about the wines. But first of all I must wave the flag for their 2001 Barbera d'Alba. Elegant but still jammy with dark fruits and spices it's a yummy drink now, today, here, open it! A pleasure to drink and a solid 90 points wine. The 2001 are all spectacular in my book. The 2001 Barolo Cannubi is all about perfume and spices, with a feminine touch of herbs, flowers cherries and an overall elegance. Always a joy to drink. 93 points. One might think that I would automatically praise the more expensive 1999 Barolo Riserva Rocche dell'Annunziata to the skies but in fact, this one is the to me the "least impressive" of the lot. It exhibits red, perfumed fruits, with cherries and raspberries but also a greater tannic structure and a fruit component that seems more subdued and poised for the long run. The concentrated, massive finish points to a bright future. 92+ points. My fellow Nebbiolo afficionado Joakim (from this board) argued, when I said I was more impressed by the 2001, that he clearly remembers how the 1990 Barolo Riserva Rocche dell'Annunziata tasted when young and that many complained it felt very structured and powerful but the he had tasted it later on several occasions saying it has turned into a balanced and wonderful expression of Barolo - making him wish he had bought more bottles when he had the chance (The 1990 was released at about 40 Euros in Sweden). I believe him! The 2001 Barolo Bricc del Fiasc is superb! I remember Joakim's comment when we had it side by side to Gaja's Barbarescos and Barolo, saying that "Hey, this is of the same quality!" and I agree with him. It's a massive Barolo, dense, concentrated, packed with layers of flavors and yet again you can't help yourself from lingering with your nose over the glass without tasting (a typical indication of a 95+ points wine). Dark fruit, ripe, minty and a sweet cherry feeling with almost blackberries on the palate, stuffed with spices, licorice and a massive finish. You can't escape the tannins. Wow! 95+ points with an upside potential. But, as with all 2001s - would you believe it? - so utterly fresh and vivid right here, right now. A hedonistic experience! Scavino at it's best. The 2001 Barolo Carobric isn't as impressive but not far behind its sibling. Still dense but maybe not as elegantly massive as the Fiasc, with softer structure and similar fruit components, maybe more red than dark fruit. And a wonderful, long finish. At this stage I hold this one as more impressive than the Cannubi and rate it 93-94 points. Basically they are on on the same quality level but it's a matter of personal taste which you like the most. Of course... we weren't allowed to leave without a gift as thanks for taking our time to visit (when I would gladly have polished their shoes out of gratefulness for visiting them!) so Enrico pulled out an unlabeled bottle of their not yet released new Barolo which is their first wine from the new vineyard at Roddi, Bricco Ambrogio.

Well, I'm approaching the end of the road here. I'd like to continue by giving you some more accounts from interesting visits to Paitin, Moccagatta and Conterno Fantino but it's getting late in the afternoon here and I must rush to work. Please look at these personal observations as a WA Issue # 163 with "Special Supplement: Miran's Personal Piemonte Report". Consider it free of charge now that Daniel Thomases has vanished from the scene.

Bob, I must confess that you have played an important role in the growth of my wine interest, not only because of your extensive knowledge about this favorite wine region of mine but also for the passionate way of writing about wines you singled out as overachievers. It was difficult not to seek out the wines in question after your eloquent reviews but above all - it sparkled interest in the region and a fueled a desire to seek out information on my own, to expand my own knowledge, to read the works of more critics and authors, and to visit Piemonte in person. You ARE missed among the Italian nebbiolinos out there, as well as the lovers of Tuscany. I know it's futile but Bob, please come back...

Here endeth my story. Thank you for reading!

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