About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2008 Barolo

The Nebbiolo grape of Piedmont is one of my favorite red wine grapes.  I find it to be uncommonly elegant and delicious, especially when made by masters of traditional wine making.  Two weeks ago, over the course of less than 48 hours, I had the opportunity to taste 20 of these wines, mostly from the 2008 vintage. The vintage, which was marked by a later than normal harvest due to weather conditions, produced gorgeous wines.  Those that I have tasted to date are medium-bodied, elegant, possess ripe fruit, complexity and have at least 15+ years of aging potential.

Dinner with Franco Conterno

On a Thursday evening about 30 Barolo lovers convened at Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany to enjoy some of the wines from Poderi Aldo Conterno.  Aldo Conterno passed away in May of last year but the estate and wine making were left in the very capable hands of sons Franco, Stefano and Giacomo who continue to craft their wines in their father’s philosophy.  Franco was in town for the “La Festa Del Barolo” tasting on Saturday (more on this in a moment), so my good friend Tony, who has become good friends with Franco, orchestrated the event at Il Capriccio.

Once again the cuisine of Tony & Natale Grande shared center stage with the wines.  Appetizers consisted of Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta; Veal Meatballs with Raisens and Pignoli Nuts; Zucchini Frittelle (hands down my favorite); Shrimp in Salsa Americana and Bread Sticks with Prosciutto San Daniele.

As we settled into our seats to enjoy our appetizers we were poured 2009 Aldo Conterno Conca Tre Pile Barbera.  While I like of Barbera, this one aged in new Barrique for a year, did not appeal to me.  The wood overpowered the fruit and there was no finish to speak of.  $38.

2009 Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo Delle Langhe Rosso, which is made from Freisa 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Merlot 10%, complimented a delicious Piedmontese Beef Carpaccio with Truffle infusion. Also aged in Barrique, but in one-year-old oak, this was quite nice.  It possessed nicely balanced fruit with a soft, round palate.  Well worth the $30 price tag.

Trofie w/ Rabbit Ragu
With our homemade Trofie pasta with Rabbit Ragu we enjoyed 2008 Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello.  The 2008 vintage in Barolo was outstanding, producing wines of elegance.  More about the vintage a bit later on in this post.  This bottle, from grapes harvested from the Colonnello vineyard in Bussia and aged for 28 months in large Slovanian oak casks, was delicious and a beautiful expression of the terroir of Piedmont. There is terrific pedigree here and a few years of patience while this wine matures in the cellar will be handsomely rewarded. Even though it is still young, it had a wonderful expression of ripe fruit, with layers of richness and complexity.  $125

Our main course was the traditional Piedmontese dish, Barolo in Brasato.  I call it Italian pot roast.  Here the beef is slow braised in Barolo wine, sliced and served with the Barolo braising liquid.  It is simply divine.  A hearty dish like this cries for a wine that will not only pair well with the beef, but enhance it.  Such a wine was the 2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia, the estate’s top bottling.  It is only made in vintages in which all three of the Conterno Cru vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results. The wine was pure velvet on the palate with great structure, layers of complexity and balance.  It finished with a profound elegance. It is drinking well now, and should continue to do so for another 15 to 25 years.  $350.

2008 Aldo Conterno Barolo, the estate’s entry level Barolo, accompanied our cheese course of Gorgonzola Dolce with Walnuts and Fig Marmalade served with Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Made from grapes from all of the Bussia vineyards, this drank beautifully even at this young age. Very traditional earthy bouquet with balanced, pure fruit and an elegant finish.  $60

Panna Cotta Piemontese and espresso completed a grand evening.

La Festa del Barolo

Approximately 36 hours after the Conterno tasting, along with friends Emil and Jack, I attended the La Festa del Barolo tasting of 2008 Baroli at Del Posto Ristorante, NYC. The event was orchestrated and emceed by acclaimed wine critic and reviewer Antonio Galloni and his lovely wife Marzia.  15 of Barolo’s top producers were on hand to speak about and sample their 2008 vintage. As I mentioned earlier, 2008 is a vintage that produced gorgeous and elegant wines, very reminiscent, in my opinion, of the elegance of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy.

Antonio began the tasting with 3 Baroli from the Cannubi vineyard area of Barolo.  There appears to be about 20 producers that make wine from this vineyard area.  We tasted, side-by-side, E. Pira Barolo Cannubi ($70), Borgogno Barolo Canunubi ($70) and Luciano Sandrone Barolo Canunubi Boschis ($110).  Each wine was a wonderful expression of the elegance of the vintage. The Borgogno however stuck out for me.  This was a classic, traditionally made Barolo with earthy undertones and elegance. This pleasantly surprised me, as I have never been a fan of this producer.  I have always found their wines inconsistent with very little to get excited about.  What then happened?  I’ll tell you.  The Farinetti family purchased the estate in 2008 and Andrea Farinetti the 22-year-old son of Oscar took over the wine-making duties.  Thus 2008 is his first vintage.  If this is a sign of things to come, we can expect great wines from this once so-so producer.

The remaining wines were, in order:

2008 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio.  Voerzio’s winemaking style combines modern and traditional methods that produce big and powerful wines that, in my opinion, lack the finesse of traditionally made Barolo.  The 2008 seems to be softer than other vintages I have had, but still not in my wheelhouse, especially at around $175 a bottle.

2008 Elvio Cogno Barolo Bricco Pernice.  This was a new Barolo for me, but one that I hope to have again in the future.  Lighter and more elegant than the Voerzio this was a delicious old world Barolo that had terrific focused fruit, a soft, velvety palate and wonderful finish.  Less than 10,000 bottles are made annually.  $100.

2008 G.D Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole.  Another first for me and another old world beauty that is now on my radar.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is located on the highest part of the commune of Barolo. Only the oldest vines are used for this wine.  The wine is aged from 42 to 48 months in large Slovanian oak before being bottled.  Like the Cogno, this was elegant and has the acidity and structure for years of aging potential.  At about $70 a bottle, this is worth considering adding to your cellar.

2008 Vietti Barolo Rocche.  The Rocche vineyard of Castiglione Falletto is one of the top vineyards in the Barolo region.  It has a reputation for big Barolo and tends to need more time in the bottle.  As in Burgundy the best vineyards are all sub-divided into small plots with fragmented ownership.  Vietti is one of the top producers making wines from this plot.  The 2008 possessed great structure and finesse with lovely focused fruit and a lengthy and velvety finish.  $135.

2008 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Bric del Fiasc.  I am not a fan of Scavino wines as I find his wines to be very modern in style with oak playing too big a role.  This offering, which according to Antonio, is his 30th anniversary bottling of the wine, did little to change my opinion.  $120.

2008 Conterno -Fantino Barolo Sori Ginestra.  This producer embraces modern wine making, employing rotary fermenters and small barrique to craft the wines.  This wine had good complexity and structure, but the pronounced presence of oak distracted from the elegant essence of the Nebbiolo grape.  $90.

2008 Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate.  I found this a bit oaky, but with lots of finesse, structure and pedigree.  This clearly needs 5+ years of cellar time to evolve and then it should be superb. $90.

2008 Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco.  This was a classic Barolo with lots of terroir, complexity and balance. The “Romirasco” vineyard is about 50-55 years old and its vines are replanted from time to time.  The wine is racked several times before transfer to large Slavonia oak casks where it is aged and refined for 30 months.  The 2008 is still a baby, but promises to be a tour-de-force in another 5 years or so.  $175.

2008 Pio Cesare Barolo Bricco Ornato.  Considering that this wine sees 70% new Barrique for 3 years, the oak was not as pronounced as I have experienced in previous vintages.  It possessed an earthy bouquet, with fruit reminiscent of classically styled Barolos.  $100.

2008 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Simply gorgeous!  This is one of my favorite Barolo producers and one of the greatest producers of old world Barolo in Italy.  While still very young, the wine had multiple layers of complexity and pristinely balanced fruit, with a seductive and elegant finish.  This is a must for Barolo collectors.  $135.

2008 Brovia Barolo Ca’ Mia.  This small, old world producer only makes a total of 60,000 bottles of wine annually, which comprises his entire portfolio of seven wines.  This cru vineyard wine was a superb old world Barolo that brought a smile to my lips and warmed my soul as I sipped it. Still very much an infant, cellar time will be amply rewarded.  At about $70 a bottle.

The final Barolo was from the spectacular 2007 vintage.  It was the 2007 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe.  I am a huge fan of the round and focused wines Cavalloto consistently produces, and this was certainly no exception.  The wine exhibited layers of fruit and complexity, an elegant palate and a lengthy and seductive finish.  $95.

My hats of to Antonio for a sensational assemblage of top Barolo producers.


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