Barolo, the king of wines and the wine of kings, seems to have always been a famous wine. The first document mentioning the Nebbiolo grape variety, of which all Barolos and Barbarescos are made, dates back to 1268. Barolo, a powerful and complex wine, is capable of great longevity, having the staying power to last decades. There are many factors that are responsible for the success of Barolo, from the grape itself, to the placement of the grape in the rolling hills of Piemonte, to the people who make it. Yet at its core, Barolo is about the land, that region that magically produces a full-bodied wine from Nebbiolo, a grape that is rich in polyphenols, yields high acidity and tannins, and a treasure trove of fruit.
In 1966 the DOC (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata) classified Barolo, and in 1980, it was elevated to a DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita), delimiting the production area for the first time since 1908. Regulations stated that Barolo must be exclusively derived from the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba, and in part of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Novello, Roddi and Verduno. What the new decree didn’t allow was labels that named the commune or subarea of origin on the label in the distinct production areas of Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba; however it did allow the mention of the cru, the single vineyards within the communes.
Since the late nineteenth century, there have been many attempts to identify the Barolo vineyards that produce the highest quality wine. In the post-war era, the late, great Italian wine critic Luigi Veronelli, who was a friend of IWM Founder Sergio Esposito, led an attempt to have the vineyards of Barolo classified according to the quality of their production. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the noted winemaker Renato Ratti, in the spirit of development and qualitative improvement of Barolo, organized extensive studies of the soils, geography and produce of vineyards and mapped out individual vineyard plots and on the crus based on their quality potential. Known as the “Ratti Map,” it showcased the historic areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, and it became the most widely used source by Ratti’s fellow winemakers and producers. An American wine writer, Burton Anderson, who has been one of the most prolific writers on the subject of Italian wines, took a stab at making sense of Barolo-Barbaresco classification of the vineyards.
Many wine professionals and wine enthusiasts have struggled to understand the crus, or vineyards, of Barolo. For the last few years Barolo wine estate proprietors, winemakers and local authorities in Piemonte have been attempting to define the names of the vineyards and boundaries not only in Barolo, but in Barbaresco as well.
In his recently released book Barolo 2001-2008. Assaggi e classificazione dei Cru, Alessandro Masnaghetti proposed a controversial classification based on the official listing of the crus and vineyards of the region. There are 166 official “Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive,” which translates into Additional Geographic Definitions. The official listing Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntivi Ufficiali has been years in the making with no clear agreement or consensus, and it doesn’t classify the vineyards; it simply provides a list. According to Walter Speller, an Italian wine expert, the Geografiche Aggiuntivi Ufficiali “is in itself hugely controversial, as the decision to include which vineyards and under which name, was left to the individual communes, or villages that make up the region.” Masnaghetti, who mapped the vineyards, and is the top authority on the subject, has created an “Unofficial Classification of Crus,” probably the most legitimate offering on the very controversial subject.
Masnaghetti’s unofficial rankings of the Barolo crus give five-star rankings to Brunate (La Morra / Barolo), Cerequio (La Morra / Barolo), Rocche di Castiglione (Castiglione Falletto / Monforte), Vignarionda (Serralunga d’Alba). However, that doesn’t really help anyone whose wines aren’t in those vineyards—and there are about seventy more vineyards—nor does it help Barolo enthusiasts understand how to buy, typify or love the wine any better.
Amidst all this confusion is a new law recently handed down from Rome, and a response to European-wide wine standards, that allows the name of only one vineyard (which has to comprise at least 85 per cent of the wine in the bottle) to be on the label—just one, or none at all
This labeling issue is a problem for producers like Giuseppe, or Beppe, Rinaldi, who is perhaps the standard bearer of traditional Barolo. Rinaldi has long released two wines, Barolo Brunate-Le Coste and Barolo Cannubi S. Lorenzo-Ravera. Because this new ruling states that Rinaldi can name only one of these crus on the label, 2009 is the final bottling of both, and Rinaldi was faced with a choice. As Jancis Robinson pointed out in the Financial Times, Rinaldi could sidestep the bi-cru ban by creating “fantasy names for their blends as, for example, Luciano Sandrone and daughter have done with their Le Vigne blend. In the Napa Valley, Brunate-Le Coste might be renamed Il Vino de Marta while Cannubi-Ravera would become Il Vino de Carlotta.” Robinson adds, “But it’s difficult to imagine a traditionalist like Beppe Rinaldi following this path.”
Ultimately, Rinaldi adapted by bottling two new wines: a Rinaldi Brunate, blended with 15 per cent Le Coste, and Barolo di Barolo, a blend of the other two crus. 2010 will be the first bottling for both. As for Barolo enthusiasts and wine experts, we’re still stuck, passionately trying to make sense of Piemonte’s swirling hills and the magical wine that comes from them—something that bureaucratic changes, however well meaning, doesn’t seem to help.
When I think of spring, I try to shed all the habits I have built up over the past season and move forward. Change is great for keeping your senses alive. Now I know that turning away a great Puligny Montrachet or Meursault may be difficult, but you can enjoy those wines all year long. However, Chablis, with its much cooler northern climate, is something special; although they can be ripe and rich, their inherent mouth-watering minerality, crisp citrus fruits, lovely hint of oyster shell and their salinity make Chablis the perfect accompaniment to a warm spring or summer day. The Chablis refreshment factor is off the chart.
The following two estates have been staples of IWM since we started our serious journey into the wines of Burgundy.
Always one of the most complex and utterly delicious Chablis “Village” we carry, the 2011 from Gilbert Picq screams Chablis. With no oak, this wine is all about purity and old-vine complexity. Offering near perfect acidity, the flavors of this ’11 are rich and nearly full bodied but still crisp and clean. This Chablis wraps its notes of apple, pear, and white peach in a core of lovely minerality, and it ends with a finish reminiscent of a top 1er Cru.
Having a winemaking tradition going back nearly centuries in their family, Christian Moreau and his son Fabienne are without argument among the elite growers in all Chablis. The 2011 Vaillons is a beautiful entry in Moreau’s lineup. Loaded with flavors of white peach, pear, a hint of lemon zest, telltale Chablis oyster-shell salinity and flint on the nose, this is a terrifically complex Vaillons that can accompany a variety of dishes, but it’s also simply delectable on its own. A wine the same caliber from the Cote d’Or would be $60-$70; Chablis: it’s one of the last “bargains” in white Burgundy.
As the year moves along and we move into spring and into April, my mind wanders to other places. I dream of warm weather and of the adventures that lay ahead of me throughout the rest of the year. In fact, I very recently returned from New Orleans where I not only enjoyed myself immensely, but where the architecture and similar aesthetics in parts of the city took me back to walking the street of Paris a year ago. And when I think of Paris, I cannot help but reminisce of the time I spent in Burgundy on that same trip. The people were hospitable, the food was incredible and the wine was mind-numbingly good. The first stop on this tour was the historic estate of Bouchard Pere et Fils.
A sprawling estate with turreted walls and buildings dating back to the winery’s inception in 1731, Bouchard is located in the heart of Beaune. In fact, the domaine’s walls contain many a great secret as they house cases upon cases of historic wines dating back to the mid-1800s, wines that are only to be cracked open for very special occasions. Walking across the cobblestone courtyard immediately sets the tone for your visit, if you have been lucky enough to receive an invitation as it is not always open to the public. There is much history on these grounds, but much of the winemaking today actually takes place on the outskirts of Beaune in a modern facility, and that was our next stop where we met the winemaker, Philippe Prost, who has become a pillar both at the estate and in the Burgundy community.
Over the past 280 years, the estate has acquired some of the finest terroir in the region, 130 hectares (about 325 acres), including 12 ha of Grand Cru and 74 ha of 1er Cru. More recently the estate was purchased in the ‘90s by the Henriot who exhibited a spare-no-expense attitude in returning this estate back to greatness. Each of Bouchard’s vineyard sites is specific and nurtures a personality all its own, and rare is a man as talented as Philippe Prost is his ability to guide it all. Of all the different vineyard sites, if there was one I would want you to try to introduce you to this remarkable domaine, it would most certainly be the Beaune Greves l’Enfant Jesus or, more simply, “Baby Jesus.”
We are very lucky to have three available vintages of this wine. It’s a bottling that exudes superb fruit and spice with the potential to be enjoyed for a very, very long time. Pick up the ‘09s to drink now while you lay down the ‘10s and ‘11s. I encourage you to drink this wine and feel the same way I did a year ago in one of the most beautiful wine regions of the world.
Giacomo Conterno is arguably the greatest name in Barolo, and when you taste the estate’s wines you understand why. Both Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia and Monfortino bottlings deliver Nebbiolo on an unparalleled stage. A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to drink a pristine bottle of 1955 Monfortino, which finally put his wines into perspective for me. Here are two epic wines, the aforementioned ’55 and a magnum bottling of ’06 Cascina Francia.
Hands down, this is best Barolo I have tasted in my day. The color was phenomenal; it still had a pale-ruby core that was just beginning to brick at the edge. The nose was a little funky at first, but after ten minutes of hanging out in the glass, a whole new beauty emerged. As time passed, it kept developing and developing, showing us more and more—sweet red cherry, tobacco, orange peel, leather, tar, and flowers. This wine is a treat for the eyes, palate and brain! You know a wine is good when you wake up the next morning thinking about it.
I absolutely love the 2006 Cascina francia and I look forward to tracking this bottle through its life. It’s a powerful beauty, endowed with endless finesse, power, fruit and structure. Giacomo Conterno made its Monfortino this vintage as well, paying homage to how extraordinary the vintage was at the estate. IWM has a couple of magnums left that are perfect for long-term cellaring.
Brachetto d’Acqui is a red wine that comes from Piemonte in northwest Italy. Made from the indigenous grape of the same name, Brachetto has flavors reminiscent of strawberry, with floral notes on the nose ,and a touch of effervescence. It’s the best complement to a chocolaty dessert (the strawberry on the palate makes Brachetto a perfect pair for chocolate) or to pop open for a special occasion with your significant other.
If you’re looking for something to pair with that chocolate cake, chocolate truffles, or chocolate brownies, the Ca dei Mandorli 2012 Brachetto d’Acqui is just what you’re looking for. What I love most about this wine, and what makes it special, is that unlike other dessert wines such as sauternes, recioto or eiswein, it’s not heavily textured. The light, fizzy, and creamy mouth-feel allows Brachetto to glide across the palate and heighten your senses. This Brachetto is totally fun! The bubbles are a key element in Brachetto d’Acqui, make it something less syrupy and more ethereal. Especially coming from a region renowned for its big reds like Barolo and Barbaresco, Brachetto d’Acqui offers that balance that every meal needs and brings it to a sweet, subtle yet sumptuous ending. At only $22 a bottle, this Bracchetto gives you no excuse not to enjoy this wine—and the chocolaty goodness you serve alongside it.
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