Exploring some of the wine world's most rewarding vineyards in a most rewarding vintage
Following an unprecedented run of excellent vintages, Barolo and Barbaresco country has become one of the wine world's most rewarding places to explore. So in October 2017 Shaun Kiernan, our Fine Wine Manager, and I found ourselves back again for another crowded week.
The main purpose of this trip was to visit and taste with existing and potential suppliers and to have a first proper look at the promising 2016 vintage. It was an added bonus to witness the 2017 crop still being harvested at some of the cantinas we visited.
Barolo and Burgundy
The parallels with Burgundy have become more marked as the different qualities and styles of individual growers and vineyards have become more important. In the old days there were fewer bottlers and more blending so these nuances were lost in the mix. It's thrilling now to really get to know each grower's individual take on their patch of vines.
G B Burlotto in the village of Verduno
GB Burlotto - a great start to the trip
We began in the north with Fabio Alessandria of G B Burlotto, whose wines, characterised by their beautiful bouquet and precise flavours, have recently been getting the acclaim they deserve. We were able to watch his remarkable foot-trodden Monvigliero Barolo 2017 bubbling away in open vats. His village of Verduno is home to local speciality, a red made from the rare pelaverga grape, particularly fragrant in 2016, as are his barbera, dolcetto, freisa and Langhe nebbiolo, so we buy the lot for offering to members at a later date.
The Langhe DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) is the name of the regional classification usually used for those wines made from grapes outside of Piedmont's classic varieties. Nebbiolo is of course one of the classics and the grape behind both Barolo and Barbaresco, but the regional DOC gives growers the opportunity to declassify these into what could described as 'second wines' to these two greats.
Ciabot Burton in La Morra
Up the road in La Morra, the highest town in Barolo and its most extensive commune, we caught sister and brother Paola and Marco Oberto at the end of their harvest. The 2017 summer has been extremely hot and very dry and it was their earliest ever harvest for dolcetto.
Dusty vineyards overlooking Serralunga
We have been buying their wonderful Barolo from the east-facing Roggeri vineyard over many vintages and currently listing their award-winning 2012 vintage under our Exhibition label. In the evening sun from their cellars you can see all the villages, Barolo, Roddi, Grinzano, Monforte, Serralunga and Diano in the hills beyond. A magical reward at the close of their hard day in the vines. They have made a great 2014 because of lots of hard work in the vineyard, and the full ripe 2015 and beautifully balanced 2016 promise great things for 2019 and 2020 when they will be ready for bottling.
Older sister Paola and brother Marco Oberto harvesting the 2017 grapes and showing off their ripeness!
Caught in action: Paola and Marco showing off their grapes
Marco demonstrates 'pumping over' the fermenting fruit to get the best out of the brew
Castello di Verduno in Verduno
Sebastian Payne MW gets stuck in to Monvigliero 2017 with Fabio Alessandria
Commendatore G B Burlotto, a Barolo pioneer had two daughters. One married an Alessandria and produced Fabio who runs the G B Burlotto winery. The other married Franco Bianco, whose family had land in Barbaresco and the Biancos are proprietors of Castello di Verduno, the cellar, hotel and restaurant at the top of the Verduno village where there is another spectacular view of the Piedmont vineyards. Their Barbaresco 2015 has the delightful raspberry bouquet and charming characteristic of this name.
Curto in the heart of La Morra
Back to La Morra to see the delightful Nadia Curto, who has a small estate of only three hectares in the village of Annunziata. Since she took over fully from her 81-year-old father, who made very old-school wine, (though we still see him on his tractor) she has in our view transformed the estate's quality. We buy her fresh, joyous, unfiltered barbera, as smiling as its producer and excellent well-priced Barolo Arborina, a vineyard she shares with her uncle, Elio Altare.
Nadia Curto is quite the giggler and makes wines that are equally joyous
Down to Dogliani
Next stop is down south to the town of Dogliani, so famous for its dolcetto that it has decided unhelpfully to remove the name of the grape from its labels. It is the base of a much grander operation of 61 hectares (14 of those Barolo) run by dynamic Matteo Sardagna, descended from Luigi Einaudi, Italy's first democratically elected president (the composer, Ludovico Einaudi is Matteo's cousin).
Dynamic Matteo Sardagna (left) has made Luigi Einaudi a producer to follow & is hard to capture standing still!
2016 Dogliani - a brilliant vintage here
Their Dogliani 2016 is the equal of, if not even more delicious than their 2015, a Wine Champion last year. But I am again extremely impressed by their Barolos, Terlo Costa Grimaldi and Cannubi 2014 and the exciting news that they have added to their estate by buying land in the Bussia and Monvigliero sub-zones of Barolo. Luigi Einaudi has indeed become a producer to follow.
Silvano Bolmida in Monforte d'Alba
Silvano Bolmida in Monforte d'Alba
We then go to see Silvano Bolmida whose small estate supplied us with our first wonderful Exhibition Barolo. Badly needing cash to build a bigger cellar at the bottom of his vineyard (you can imagine the studies, excavations to sink 70 piles to stabilise the land and planning permissions that one has to surmount before this happens), he has been giving The Wine Society an excellent deal for wine of such quality. His 2014 and 2013 Exhibition Barolos will be offered later this year Silvano never stops trying to improve his vineyard care and his winemaking, explaining how he now fines his barbera with beans, how he no longer uses sulphur or copper in the vineyard, replacing them with algae which increases peroxide and stops rot in wet years and essential oil from oranges.
So many shared names in Barolo
Giorgio Conterno as pleased as punch with the 2017 vintage
Another parallel with Burgundy is the way certain family names crop up again and again, Conterno being one of these. We see Giorgio Conterno who has been running the Paolo Conterno winery on the east side of Monforte d'Alba, facing Serralunga since 1990. He owns an important part of the great Ginestra vineyard whose remarkable soil produces wine with wonderful original aromas and crystalline purity. We manage to buy a bit more of the fabulous 2013 we offered last year.
Where to go next?
> Friends old and new in Barolo & Barbaresco
> Return to trip overview