… through the foothills to a great selection of wines.
It has been a while since I posted last, but that is due to various other commitments, but that surely shouldn’t detract from what is about to come to the fore. We had a good sleep after a rich meal, and spent a good amount of time over a hearty breakfast, and taking our trusty mutt (Boris, you might have seen him around the blog) for a walk before we were off to our first appointment at the wonderful but staunchly modern, Luciano Sandrone!
Plenty of Silk
We arrived in good time in a slightly remote area on the outskirts of Barolo village where there seems to be… well… absolutely nothing, except for the modern and pristine winery of Azienda Agricola Luciano Sandrone. However, the winery is still to some extent a building site, but more to conduct the final manicures and pedicures on parts of the building so that people like us and other tourists don’t get sneezy from all the sawdust! By the time you read this, they will most definitely have finished and will be running on all cylinders. We were met by, Barbera Sandrone (Luciano’s daughter) who gave us a whistle-stop tour of the winery and cellars, before we tasted through all of the wines that Luciano and his younger brother Luca produce.
Sandrone produces roughly 95 thousand bottles, and uses mainly tonneau (500 litre barrels, of which some are new and some old), and there are a few barriques for the lesser wines such as Dolcetto and Barbera to soften in. We tasted just four wines here, but they were good and impressive.
2010 Barbera d’Alba; [this sees 50-55% new wood, and spends 14 months in barrel before bottling]: smoke, earth, cherry and plum, chocolate, ash, wood spice, leather, meaty and structured and perhaps a touch disjointed at this juncture. A wood finish, ink, iron and oak. This needs a bit of time to pull itself together but it has all the necessary components to mature. 58-60+?/100
2010 Nebbiolo d’Alba “Valmaggiore”; [this spends 14 months in old tonneau before resting in bottle for a year, grapes from the famous vineyard of Roero]; dense and powerful with plenty of woodspice, roses, tar and strawberry. Raspberry lingers as well. Poised and fresh with plenty of structure, however the wine has some lift and zip with delicate soft fruits , but at present the wine seems a touch dominated by wood and extract. Smoke, leather, ash and tobacco, with some dusty chocolate. Once fully integrated and pulled together, it should show well… 61-63+/100
2008 Barolo “Le Vigne”; [the traditional four vineyard blend]; perfume, nail varnish, flowers, roses, elegant and supremely soft tannins showing lovely freshness, again wood and tannin dominate the finish. Strawberry, herbs, elegant and long, this wine seems to constantly evolve showing dusty, meaty, ash and tobacco with time. The length is excellent, soft and balanced. 69-71+/100
2008 Barolo “Cannubi Boschis”; pure, elegant, creamy, silky, tar and roses, plum, strawberry, beguiling and haunting perfume with lovely herby length. Cherry, smoke and sandstone, more delicate than the other wines, but showing plenty of depth and concentrated fruit. Dusty, clay, minerals, with more precision and less imposing tannins and wonderful length. 74-77+/100
Other than the Cannubi Boschis, the wines left me slightly cold if I am completely honest. Whilst all the components were in place, and there was plenty of reason to be positive about the age-ability of the wines for my liking, they all seemed a touch dominated by tannins at this stage. However, the Cannubi Boschis had a wonderful balance and ethereal nature that hints at a long future ahead. That isn’t to say that the wines are bad; far from it… it is simply that they did not WOW me in the way that other wines have and I’m sure will do. As an early marker however, the fact that the disjointed components were in balance and simply needed to integrate to show more class, shows that both 2010 and 2008 are looking like very successful vintages in Piemonte for Barolo.
Next up we had a bit of a merry-go-round journey to find our appointment, simply to find that the producer had a sudden emergency to deal with… we thus headed down the road to conduct an impromptu tasting at what was a new producer for me, but a visit that would be enlightening in various different ways at Silvano Bomida.
Going around the Mulberry-bush.
We were meant to have an appointment with Giacomo Fennochio and we had some trouble finding the place on the outskirts of Monforte d’Alba nearby to Poderi Aldo Conterno, and we could only find one man washing his car on the roads. We must have asked him directions about 4 times, and eventually arrived only to find that Giacomo was nowhere to be seen. He had to go and see to his daughter at school suddenly, but did mention that we could visit at any other time. As such, Birger, seemed to have a funny feeling that he had met the man who gave us directions at a trade tasting in Denmark… it was indeed Silvano Bomida and we were whisked into the the winery to taste through a mini-vertical of various Nebbiolo’s and experiments, that made this one of the most exciting visits of the trip, and completely out of the blue for us, the wines were quite magical.
Silvano started his winery in 1999 and like many others is a trained oenologist who has special dispensation from the University in Alba to experiment beyond the bounds of what is known. Of course, the Barolo’s are kept within the guidelines of the DOCG, but with some of the other wines, we see some interesting, and given the terroir and Silvano’s attention to detail and understanding that the wines should be pleasurable to drink, quirks in the winemaking. The main areas of experimentation is with when to crush the grapes and the results are analysed for the University courses. For example, all the wines are fermented and go straight to malolactic fermentation whilst still in contact with the skins. So as an example, he has some Barbera that has seen over 60 days of maceration, and Nebbiolo/Barolo that has seen 95 days. The general analysis is that by about 30 days you see the most colour extract, and due to slight oxidation, from 70 days onwards the colour reduces, but the nose and tannins are much cleaner. The extract becomes less of an issue the longer one macerates (for Silvano) as one can see that the difference from 70 to 80 days, is much less than the difference between 10 and 20. To keep these differences constant in his experiments, battonage occurs once a week for the duration of the maceration. Of course, for further experimentation these may change over time, but Silvano knows which one he prefers for his Baroli (over 60 days). All the wines are aged in Tonneau or Barrique, but all are very old and made from reconstituted wood. To be fair, if the winery was bigger, he would probably only use botti, but given the issues of space, one can understand the use of these smaller but much older woods.
Thus it was onto the wines, which all showed purity and complexity married to vibrant freshness.
2011 Barbera d’Alba “Conca del Grillo”; [cask sample]; meaty, soft, red and black plum, cherry, wood spice, rounded, balanced and with lively freshness, good length and plenty of intensity and concentration. Clean and effervescent. 64+/100
2011 Nebbiolo [cask sample of grapes from Barolo Bussia; by this stage it had seen four months in wood]; pretty, perfumed, roses, clay and minerals with grippy dusty tannins, quite bold in terms of flavour, with a fruity and earthy finish. Plenty of herbsm elegant and very Pinot like, some wood and light concentration showing plenty of strawberry fruit. This is showing excellent potential. 63-67+/100
2010 Barolo “Bussia”; [cask sample, this wine had seen the minimum barrel ageing to be Barolo, but being a traditionalist at heart but due to constraints not by trade, it will remain in barrel for a further 12 months]; rose, rosebush, poised and precise, less obvious vibrant fruit but with good intensity, minerals, tar, raspberry, plum, herbs, mint, balanced with excellent freshness, small classically dusty tannins, sandstone, limestone, clay and a very long finish. This is really pure, elegant, dusty and structure with a slight ashy note. A real beauty in the making. 72-75+/100
2009 Barolo “Bussia” Riserva; [cask sample, as with the 2010, this has seen the minimum required time in barrel, but will remain for the final year in barrel rather than bottle]; herbs, mint with purity and elegance but also with obvious fruit on a darker spectrum with much more structure. Herbs, roses, tarry, richer and rounder with excellent length and a lot more power, perhaps a touch less mineral and less complex, it lacks the vitality of the 2010 but it will certainly be a crowd-pleaser. 69-73+/100
2008 Barolo “Vigne dei Fantini”; [from bottle], smelly, rustic, sandstone and a round structure, round pure fruit, red fruits, minerals, salt and salinity, rosebush, with soft tannins and loveable freshness, with pure and elegant length. A very long and precise/mineral style, truffles, plum, cherry, quite wonderful. 73+/100
2007 Barolo “Bussia”; [from bottle]; milky, lactic, dust and clay, minerals, rocks, tar, coffee, more dark fruits but still with a soft elegance, gritty berried structure, strawberry and tannins, perhaps a touch shut down, good freshness, lots of strawberry purity with some funk and earthy aromas and a very pleasant finish. 70-73+?/100
2006 Barolo “Bussia Riserva”; [from bottle]; smoke, clay, tea leaf, powerfully structured and with lots of weight. Classically styled, tar, roses, wild strawberry, gritty, earthy and mineral with a long black fruit, cocoa finish. Intense and complex but not showing all its character just yet. Should be super!! 76-79+/100
The next wine is a real hotch-potch of winemaking experimentation. A blend of 60% Nebbiolo and 40% Barbera. All the grapes are harvested at the same time and blended pre-fermentation. The ferment is Carbonic and lasts for fifteen days. 15% is whole bunch, 15% is destemmed, and the rest is crushed and added as free run juice with skins. Of course, this may change as the needs of the experiment change, and the 40% new wood (i.e. old but recently reconstituted barrels) is used on this.
2010 Langhe Frales: fresh, elegant, roses, chocolate, floral, clay, lime and minerals, pure and long loveable length with hints of grit and ash, with plenty of tobacco as well. Roses, tar, black plum and really lovely. 66-68+/100
A new producer for all of us, and it really was a pleasure with plenty of class in the wines, and a distinct character to the style. Definitely something to look out for and to enjoy. Next it was to lunch before a tasting that we all looked forward to, but somehow, we were also left a touch dissappoined by… We have heard that with the new winemaking regime, things are on the up and back to the way they were. Visits in the future will show us if it is true and we shall see exactly but for now, a short snippet from Bruno Giacosa.
Walking into the Factory
In comparison to some of the producers we visit, the big boys, from whom I’ve tasted some absolutely fantastic wines in the past, are veritable factories. It is with these “big” producers where one sees the wine that spreads across the globe, and whilst we may have expectations that dampen the experience, I doubt that we can ever experience enlightenment of the new and the undiscovered, but you can always see the quality of the vines, and that the winemaking and production is sound… however, you always wander whether one can really gain true value unless that wines are transcendental! In the past you could say this would occur, but now, there are so many great producers, and where the grapes were bought in in the past (Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa), many of these key growers make their own wines now, and thus the big boys lose out, unless they have full control of the vines (Az. Agr. Falletto). Regardless, these are still excellent wines, but I wander whether they are really as good as their historical reputation demands.
There is no need to introduce the wines of Giacosa and for me I have tasted some fabulous examples with considerable bottle age. Many I know will say that the wines were too young, but many were just bottled and these should be pre-shut down, and thus show their spots… I hope I’m wrong in terms of their ageability as I’d hate for many who buys these wines to be dissappointed.
We were given our tour by the current oenologist who started in 2010 called Francesco, and we hear that the wines he has overseen since his arrival are showing wonderfully from barrel. The wines we tasted were all from the post-2006 to 2009 (for me at least) limbo period where things didn’t hit the heights that one becomes accustomed to. What is interesting about the production here however, is that the majority of the wine they produce is their Roero Arneis, accounting for 25% of production.
2011 Roero Arneis; wax, lanolin, lemon, limes, fresh and nicely balanced with lovely nutty notes and hints of butter, a hint of fur, nice poise and elegance, a touch of yeastiness, a bit of salinity, green apple, clay. Nice but perhaps a touch flacid. 54+/100
2006 Spumante Extra Brut; [this spends 4 months on the lees and is 100% Pinot Noir]; earth, soil, big fast bubbles, baby vomit, bread, yeast, slightly aggressive acidity, lots of strawberry and dark plum, nice freshness and burnt toast mousse, chalk, rotting apple, meat, bacon fat, leather, complex and appealing but somehow more intriguing that pleasurable. 60+/100
2011 Dolcetto d’Alba; bubblegum, elegant, cherry, poised, balanced but a touch cloyed despite the huge amounts of perfume; it lacks zip and acidity with black fruits, cocoa, earth and soil. The finish is pleasant and easy but the palate, and end doesn’t live up to the beguiling lifted nose. 58-61/100
2009 Barbaresco “Asili”; [Az. Agr. Falletto]; rich, sweet, roses, wild strawberry, dark cherry, deep, brooding, sweet, perfumed, soft, elegant and very easy to drink. Damsons, flowers, plum jam, sweet nose, but balanced and poised, a hint of dust and earth, truffle, minerals, herbs, loveable but it doesn’t feel vital and exciting, cassis, mure-liquer, wood polish and complexity. 63-65/100
2007 Barbaresco “Asili” Riserva; [Az. Agr. Falletto]; bonfire, smoke, flint, wild raspberry, orange peel, spice, cherry, poised and fairly ripe but with good freshness, silky, round, velvety, balanced and subtle with hints of mushroom and white truffle, again slightly sweet. Quite subdued on the finish but very very elegant. 66-69+/100
2007 Barolo “Falletto”; [Az. Agr. Falletto]; cocoa, dusty, dense and powerful, sous bois, herbs, rosemary, concentrated and complex, tobacco, tar, rosebush, wild plum, cherry, strawberry jam, delicate, subtle and submissive but remaining mouth-coating and complex, very long and in need of time to unfurl. Smoke, soil, minerals, iron and strangely Japanese pear. 72-75+/100
Whilst, one can not deny the quality of winemaking and the quality of the soils that Giacosa has access to, one could say that there was certainly dissappointment in the air after this tasting. I can only hope that with the new oenologist and with seamingly an end to the tensions post 2006, we will see a return to true form from this great estate, but for me, I’d be backfilling with pre-2006 wines, at least until the 2010 vintage comes online for the Barolos and Barbarescos. Next we would climb into the hills to visit a staunch modernist and pioneer of the modern winemaking movement in Piemonte, Azienda Agricola Fratelli Cigliuti.
Back into the Hills.
Cigliuti are based up on the steeper hills that surround the town of Neive where Bruno Giacosa is based. The estate dates back to the early part of the century when Renato’s father and brothers grew grapes and sold them in bulk. Upon taking over in the early 60s, Renato started bottling the wines himself and followed a more modernist path, that is to some extent (I’d say they are modern but verging towards the middle ground) followed by Renato’s daughters Claudia and Silvia today.
The family own 1.5 hectares of vines in Bricco di Neive, and 5 hectares in Serraboella. They grow Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. Renato was a green harvest pioneer, and the estate barrel their wines in tonneau, barrique and botti, with the generic wines and Barbera tending to spend more time in barrique and the single vineyard wines seeing botti and tonneau. The maceration (in a rotary fermentor) and fermentation times are where the modernism really kicks in, with the Dolcetto seeing 5 days, Barbera seeing 8 to 12 days, and the Nebbiolo spending 12 to 18 days in contact with the skins. The estate produces roughly 30,000 bottles.
2009 Barbera d’Alba “Campass”; [50% of the wine sees new barrique, and the vines come from a subsection fo Serraboella called Campass]; perfume, purity, clay, limestone and minerals, cherry, chocolate, dark and red plum, fruit pastil, concentration, clean and elegant with just the slightest lick of wood spice on the palate but still balanced and very nearly fully integrated. Soft and long with a finish of herbs, mint, smoke and tobacco. Really super but obviously modern. 67-70+/100
2010 Langhe Nebbiolo; [10 months in oak, from young vines in Bricco di Neive]; perfumed, elegant, roses, raspberry, truffle, tar, flowers, strawberry, cherry, soft and elegant, delicate, balanced with hints of leather, pure, saline, pebbles, dusty tannins, bold but soft structure with nice freshness, and a herbs, mint, fire and chilli spice finish. A really serious wine. 68+/100
2008 Barbaresco “Vigna Erte”; [26 months in oak, from 11 year old vines in Bricco di Neive]; smoke, leather, tar, truffle, soft and round, elegant and poised with good freshness, roses, rosewater, herbs, raw tobacco leaf, nice length but a touch simple and overtly flamboyant, spice and elegance but a showy teeneager, dusty and poised but it has just a tad too much youthful exhuberance (for want of a better word). 65-67+/100
2008 Barbaresco “Serraboella”; [from 25 to 55 year old vines of chalky soils]; round, complex, perfumed and restrained, beguiling, plum, cherry, tar, rosebush, bramble and raspberry, herbs, mint and lots of freshness. Deep and complex, powerful and silky but with subtlety and restraint with hints of white truffle. This is really wonderful. 71-74+/100
The wines here are unashamedly modern and there is no way, from the rotary fermentor to the silky nature of the wines, that you could call them traditional, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t superb wines. The problem I have is; will they improve and become more complex and haunting with age? We tried a bottle of 1998 Barbaresco “Serraboella”; [opened on the Tuesday before our Friday visit to allow it to open]; smoke, bonfire, must, sous bois, stewed plum, roasted coffee, but with strawberry, roses, tea leaf, roasted herbs, still with some structure and poise, but perhaps a touch simple, flint, burnt matches… it will age further, but I doubt it will get better than this. 69-71/100 and it made me think that perhaps these are wines that will show most of their character when fairly young. That however, is not necessarily a bad thing, and although our next visit was laid back, we were to view another group of early drinkers, but made in a more traditional style at Fratelli Grasso.
Keeping it in the family
Fratelli Grasso are run by two bothers, with a laid back attitude and a general ease about what they do and how they do it. Luigi and Alfredo make wines using fairly long macerations and a mixture of old barrique and botti. The wines are delicate but have rich textured fruit and there is plenty of elegance and structure to these ethereally perfumed wines. They produce fifty thousand bottles on average every vintage.
2011 Langhe Chardonnay; fur, animal and buttery, good balance and elegance, classic, rich and long. 62/100
2006 Langhe Chardonnay barrique; [the ferment and barrel ageing occur in barrique, from the Settembrino vineyard], smoke, wax and lanolin. Lifted and perfumed, bread, yeast, lemon, crisp, poised and complex. 71/100
2011 Dolcetto d’Alba; [this wine only sees stainless steel]; plum, chocolate, cocoa, with poise and precision and the mildest hint of complexity. Nice length, rich and with an impressive power underlying the whole wine. 69-71/100
2009 Barbera d’Alba “Matine”; plum, strawberry, very fruit driven, poised but whilst very soft and easy, there is decent complexity here. Herbs, dark plum, cherry and a very long finish of minerals and wet rocks. 66+/100
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo; tar, roses, smoke and a touch of banana, plum, rosebush, wild raspberry and plenty of structure. Fruit driven, classic but at the same time easy and long. 66+/100
2007 Barbaresco “San Stunet”; smoke, tar, roses, rosebush, truffle nose, the palate is slightly subdued, structured and classic, deep, showing lots of cassis, it is really mouthcoating, and very long with a hidden depth and complexity. 68+/100
2007 Barbaresco “Bricco Spessa”; truffle, mushroom and sandstone. Much more complex and more poise here, with plenty of flowers, and a perfume of roses, tar, truffles and density, however there is a lot of elegance as well. Herbs, plum, soft, balanced and depp with a long cocoa and mineral finish. 70+/100
2005 Barbaresco “Sori Valgrande”; sous bois, herbs, wild strawberry, roses, decaying leaves, herbs, spice, tobacco, mint and a good structure. Very very classic, perfumed and dusty. 69+/100
2000 Barbaresco “Sori Valgrande”; roses, tar, tarmac, raspberry and plum, fully resolved, elegant, perfumed and plenty of truffle, white mushroom and wild strawberry, nicely poised with good elegance and a light resolved texture, balance, meaty, leather, tobacco,leaves, dried herbs and a very long finish. 70/100
The wines here are elegant and perfumed, and there is plenty of beauty within them. They will never be the most complex wines, and they are not the most ageworthy; a magnum of 1996 Sori Valgrande drunk recently was fully mature, and has nowhere to go, (it was a brilliant bottle of wine). However, the wines show a charactar and have a laid back feel to them. Very much mirroring their makers attitude and laid back approach. The scores are vaguely similar to those wines that one has seen from me, but the quality isn’t as high. However, they are genuinely cheap wines, and gain points because they certainly punch well above their weight… for the quality, complexity and drinkability, I think it is hard to find a better producer in the whole of the Langhe. Next it was off to Trattoria Risorgimento for our escape to what is the official declaration of the new Barbaresco vintage, Barbaresco a Tavola.
A ripe old mix
Before I get into the wines that we tasted (all blind), I will say a few words about the 2009 vintage in Barbaresco. The vintage was a warm to hot one like 2007 and the wines show plenty of fresh fruit and richness, however unlike 2007 (where everything we tasted had been fruit forward but also contained a structure that means the wines were beautifully balanced) there was a distinct lack of real depth and structure in these 2009 creations. Very few were balanced and appealing in the way that many could have been. My gripe with 2008 to some extent still stands, although only with Barbaresco where the wines were variable and disjointed. Their saving grace is that the components are there in the best wines and need to pull themselves together, although that white peach/banana note is still present in a good many of the wines. With 2009 the lack of structure makes me think that the wines will (except the very best) become a touch flabby and dull. There isn’t enough zip to make me think that the differences in quality at this stage will even themselves out… once again, who is to say! The food here was good, and classically hearty. Never showy, it was very much homecooking in style.
Carlo Giacosa; Barbaresco; earthy, round and delicate, very easy, earthy and mineral length, with some nice depth. 60/100
Francone, Neive;ripe, poised, delicate and subtle and shy, long but not jumping out at you, smoke and herbs. 59/100
La Ganghija; Treiso; dusty, deep, dark, woody and tannic, a bit of a monster despite pleasant length. 57/100
Fattoria San Giulano, Neive; soft, round, powerful, dusty, herby, plum, cassis and a touch disjointed. 58+?/100
Socre, Barbaresco; modern, vanilla, bold but delicate, subdued and quite sappy. 59/100
Giuseppe Negro, Neive; perfume, tar, rose, elegant and subtle but long with fruit and minerals. 68/100
Cantina del Pino, Barbaresco; earth, truffle, strawberry, rounded and delicate, herbs but unfortunately a touch short. 61/100
Fratelli Grasso, Treiso; smoke, minerals, perfume, elegant, pure, strawberries, structured and dusty, ashy length. 63/100
Luigi Giordano, Barbaresco; pure, fresh, elegant, subtle, restrained and appealing. Perhaps too reserved but a lovely wine with classic poise. 69+/100
Cascina Occellini, Treiso; rich, round, powerful, nice freshness, dusty tannins, herbs, elegance, complex, long and beguiling. 67+/100
Prunotto, Barbaresco; grilled meat, herbs, balanced with tar and roses palate, long, deep and complex. 70+/100
Michele Chiarlo, Barbaresco; smoke, ash, round, ripe fruit, herbs, leaves, wild strawberry and very impressive. 68+/100
Cascina Longoria, Neive; strawberry, leaves, herbs, dusty and soft structure. Decent but quite short. 60/100
Adriano, Neive; delicate, perfumed, strawberry, dust, ash, roses, spicey and persistant. 68+/100
Cascina Morassino, Barbaresco; round, ripe and a touch sappy and spicy. Decent but there is some volatile acidity here. 57/100
Mauro Bussi, Treiso; soft, tropical, strawberry, limestone, restrained, gritty and salty, quite disjointed. 58/100
Musso, Barbaresco; spicy, powerful, plum, wood and spice, disjointed and dominated by wood. 48/100
Piazzo, San Rocco; crisp, poised, a touch ashy and spicy, perfume, roses but very difficult to drink right now, it should age really well. 66-70+/100
La Berchialla, Barbaresco; round fruit, roses, cherry, strawberry, bold but somehow dull. Nice length but not exciting. 55/100
Giorgio Pelissero, Treiso; roasted herbs, strawberry, tar, roses, bold, sweet, dusty tannin, structured, bit and in need of a lot of time. 63++/100
All these wines were tasted blind, and looking back at notes from 2007 (my 20 point scores ranged from 14 to 20; i.e. everything was good to great), 2008 (11 to 18; some excellent but some not so, but with potential to improve), 2009 (with a range of 11 to 18.5) had more good wines in total than 2008 at this stage, which is probably due to the fruitier style and the fact that those with structure where quite complete, whereas in 2008 they were more disjointed but could pull together. This is not to say that some wines may not pull around, but given that everyone was discussing a similar style of vintage to 2007, and the best are very much comparable, it was decidedly underwhelming, but then Barbaresco does generally seem to be more variable than either Barolo and Roero (where the 08s are superb), and so there is certainly a quality and style to the vintage. Once again, time will tell if these wines will outlive my opinions or not.
Also please note, that these scores are for wines that are either just bottled or were still in barrel, so the scores are in context of comparison rather than a sense of overall quality.
It was then off to bed, as we had three visits on Saturday and then a long drive back to Beaune the next day!
Until next time.