Notes from my visits on December 16, 2009.
One of the coolest dinners I’ve ever had in Piemonte was at Osteria La Salita (www.lasalita.it) in Monforte d’Alba. It was October 2006. My first Barolo stop turned out to be Azienda Agricola Paolo Scavino. Elisa Scavino, who was doing the tour and tasting, invited me to have dinner with her later in the week. We met up, drove to Monforte d’Alba and went inside a cozy little place in the village. I saw no sign and had no idea where we were at the time – but she of course seemed to know everyone. There are a lot of townships in Barolo but they are all small so everyone knows everyone like we in Santa Cruz know every other person in any given place (even if we haven’t figured it out yet). Anyway, people she knew kept pouring in so we decided to join her friends for a group dinner. As it turns out a couple of them were from Conterno Fantino winery where I’d been the previous year, another from Giacomo Conterno, a couple more from Paolo Conterno, and two people from New Zealand (whom I’ve since forgotten about which is good because according to my journal, they sucked.) Their group reminded me of all my wine buddies at home (although none of us can claim any of our parents are famous Barolo producers but we’re nevertheless, just as enthusiastic). So I felt right at home. Dinner lasted over five hours, the food was magnificent, conversations were great, the guys were entertaining (especially those from Paolo Conterno), and multiple magnums were consumed (a Franciacorta I didn’t get the name of, ’98 Duval-Leroy Champagne (x2), ’04 Giacomo Conterno Barbera, ’97 Parusso Bussia Vigna Rocche Barolo, and a ’93 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino). Elisa was a fabulous hostess and this is the experience I always think of when I remember my introduction to this winery.
Conterno Fantino is another acclaimed Barolo producer, and one of my all-time favorites. The winery is perched beautifully at the top of the hill above the village of Monforte d’Alba.
I’ve made three visits there and never had a disappointment. And I think they know me by now.
Naturally these two spots were on the top of my list during this last visit. So on the same cold Wednesday back in December that we visited Roberto Voerzio and Enzo Boglietti, my companion, Roberto, and I also tasted at Paolo Scavino and Conterno Fantino.
Barbera d’Alba 2006. Affinato in Carati. Spends about 1 year in oak. Sweet strawberry jam and confection in the nose, full-bodied and fresh, finishing with a hint of licorice. (Previous versions of this have seemed overly oaky but this vintage didn’t.) ★
Bric del Fiasc Barolo 2005. In 1978 young Enrico (Elisa’s father) convinced his father (Paolo) to vinify the grapes from this vineyard separately, rather than blending them into the (normale) Barolo. In this way, the first Cru of Enrico’s wines was established. While this was my favorite back in 2006 (the 1999 vintage), it wasn’t this time (probably because the bottle was too cold) but it still exhibited a distinct mint aroma which I found in the ’99. Elisa told me at that time that mint does grow in the vineyard.
Bricco Ambrogio Barolo 2006. This one comes from the little known township of Roddi, which evidently used to be the site for the truffle hunting dog university. It’s Scavino’s newest addition to the Cru collection. It started out as any big Barolo might: licorice and smoky, meaty aromas. But this was followed by a freshness of fruit that, because again the bottle was too cold, didn’t really go anywhere. But I had faith so took a bottle of this one home. ★ ★
Carobric Barolo 1999. Deep magenta color like a Dolcetto. In the nose sweet cooked fruit with some rubber hints evolving into chocolate, maraschino cherries, clove, and then a hint of tomato and nutmeg. The palate: full of sweet red fruit and spice, continuing to be spicy with lush tannins through the finish. ★
All Paolo Scavino Baroli are aged 1 year in barrique, 1 year in large cask, and 1 year in the bottle before release.
We arrived late here, very late. But Fabio, who I actually met at the above dinner, recognized me and was happy to start our tasting. He is so energetic and enthusiastic about the wines and vineyards – it always rubs off on me. His mother, Alda, finished the tasting and she was extremely accommodating and a wealth of information. If I had only two words to describe this winery, I would choose:
Prinsipi 2008. Chardonnay. 100% stainless steel. First vintage was 2005. Bright aromas of dried grass and green apple. Very fresh and clean. ★ ☆
Bastia 2008. Chardonnay. Fermented and aged for 16 months in barrique. First vintage was 2003. Vineyard is at 550m elevation. Just bottled 6 days prior to our tasting it. This wine, while probably undergoing a little bottle-shock, was still completely enjoyable. The caramel component in the nose was balanced out by the bright acid in the mid-palate and finish. It wasn’t fat like some Chardonnays aged in a similar way. ★ ★
Bricco Bastia 2008. Dolcetto d’Alba. Same vineyard as the Chardonnay above; matured in stainless steel for 8 months. Rich raspberry with licorice and spice cake in the bouquet, finishing with fresh tannins. A very bright wine. ★ ★ ☆
Vignota 2008. Barbera d’Alba. Matured in second-use barrels for about 10 months. Ripe cherry and sweet floral spices permeate from the nose throughout the taste of this wine. It is continuous with great acid and no heavy oak overtones. ★ ★
Ginestrino 2008. Langhe Nebbiolo. Matured in second-use barrels for about 10 months. In so much as the Roberto Voerzio Langhe Nebiolo elegantly balanced non-aggressive tannins and spice, this one was concentrated of fruit and lush tannins, also balanced. Both excellent but different. ★ ★
Mon Pra 2007. Nebbiolo 45%, Barbera 45%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%. In 1992 this wine was able to achieve DOC status as a “Langhe Rosso.” The Cabernet vines are 20 years old. The three varietals are vinified separately (aged for 18 months in barrique), blended before bottling, and aged for a further 6 months together. I noticed a lot of chocolate on this, which they describe with words such as leather, coffee, barley; warm and soft. Probably I’d have gotten all that if this hadn’t been my 50th wine of the day… ★
Vigna del Gris Barolo 2005. Vineyard is about 12 years old and the harvest occurs during the first three weeks of October. At first a lot of vanilla and cedar evolving to rose and spice with bright cherries. Very tannic throughout; big and chewy. It would be infanticide to open this any time soon.
Sori Ginestra Barolo 2005. This historic vineyard is considered one of the finest for growing Nebbiolo. It faces due south and the soil is formed of deep layers of sand and clay marl with a high silt content. Harvest occurs in the first 10 days of October. Ripe berries and autumn spices give way to smooth and silky tannins. Lots to think about. Young. ★ ★ ☆
Mosconi Barolo 2005. The Mosconi vineyard is opposite Sori Ginestra and faces southeast. The vines are either 57 or 10 years old. Cherries, strawberries, mint, and herbs aromas follow through to a full body still rich in fruit but with both a mouthpuckering acidity and big tannins. A long time will pass before this one can express itself to the fullest. ★ ★
All Baroli are aged 24 months in barrique, followed by 12 months in the bottle before release.