Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Nebbiolo fanatico

Fun with Piedmont Producers (2)

Recommended Posts

CAPPELLANO

This was another cold call as each time I drove past the road sign the little voice in my head said, “Inventor of Barolo Chinato” (Dr. Cappellano, a pharmacist, invented this mysterious vino aromatico in the early 20th century. The recipe is still a secret although there are imitators.). From the side of the road through the gate, I saw a man getting out of his car who turned out to be Sig. Teobaldo Cappellano himself. I called out if I could visit and he waved me in as if he was expecting me. He looked like a painter or a writer, which turned out to be rather accurate as he is a wine artisan. He offered to speak English, which was fine as I was ready for a break from Italian. I told him I wanted to visit since his house was very important in the history of Barolo. He brushed that off and said somewhat cynically, “Where did you read that?” Then he led me inside to a very comfortable tasting room, really more like a den, filled with historical pictures of Barolo past.

Right away he got philosophical. First he told me about his regard for rating publication. If any publication rates or comments on his wines in print without permission, he sues them until they cease. Way back when, Sheldon Wasserman did not visit him until other producers encouraged him to do so. After conversation and tasting, Wasserman told him he regretted not coming earlier. Cappellano told him that was fine but asked him never to assign ratings to his wines, a request which Wasserman honored as seen in his books (actually I just noticed that he does rank the general bottles, but not the individual vintages). All of this stems from his believe that the whole rating activity is utterly absurd as there cannot possibly be an objective standard. Yes, you can measure acidity or residual sugar, but how can you put a score on how all the components are assembled? How can you score a wines beauty? A painting is not just a collection of colors, but the artist’s insight and passion as reflected in this assembly. Rather than having an objective standard – an impossibility since wine cannot be reduced to scientific measurement – it all comes down to relativistic nonsense. It is like a beauty contest with 100 girls. Any one of them would be stunning alone, yet in a group one is chosen as more stunning than the others. Why and for what? The critics like wines that are like Marilyn Monroe – nice to look at, but no one could stay married to her. Sig. Cappallano remembers when 1971 was the VOTC. Yet it was terribly hot and the wines from lesser vineyards that were cooler made better wines than the crus with the best exposure. 1971 overshadowed 1970, yet 1970 was really the better vintage. Similarly, in a lineup of 88s, 89s, and 90s, the 88s will get the lowest scores, yet they will be the first bottles to be finished. Why? People love what is gentle, not what is brassy. A great wine is not one that stuns you on the first taste. It is one that you love at the end of the bottle. And yet the critics give this wine 95 points and that one 97 points. On what measurement can that possibly be based? He believes he makes the best wines he possibly can. Why should be care if a critic likes it or not? He doesn’t believe in God (a superior being above him), so why would he possibly worry about a critic’s judgement? And yet people treat these critics like gods and their reviews like bibles.

While we were having this conversation, I was drinking the 2001 Dolcetto Gabbuti (Serralunga cru) - fine pure stuff in the local manner. How does he make it? “The stupidest way possible. I throw the grapes in a steel tank and leave them there until I like the wine.” Next was the 2001 Barbera Gabbuti. This had an odd smell for a red wine. He said it was like Sauvignon Blanc. I though grapefruit. He said, “Pee pee di gatto” (cat piss). And he said that Mauro Mascarello found the same thing in his 2001 Barbera even though his came from 6 miles away in Castiglione Falletto. So he thought perhaps it is a vintage characteristic. He said it is unique and interesting in its own natural way. It could not be repeated even if you wanted to do so. So why judge it as something wrong or inferior instead of just enjoying it for its personality? If it is bad, that is one thing. But if it is good (which it was), what more do you want? What is the point ranking it?

Now there are two kinds of wine: wines for the consumer to enjoy and wines for “jewelry collectors.” Now everyone tries to make superwines. He fears that if laboratory enology continues on its current track it will be really awful. The clamps of technical manipulation and measurement are squeezing all the soul out of the grapes. And all of this is in the name of big scores that seem to only reward concentration. He is a believer in freedom of information, and he thinks that if a winemaker decides to use “innovative methods” (barrique, roto-fermenters, cultured yeasts, enzymes, unusually short grape skin contact, etc.), they should say so on the label. Why shouldn’t the consumer know? Why wouldn’t the winemaker share it if he is proud of his results?

Sig. Cappellano said that in addition to local grapes he loves Pinot Noir, while hating “thick, black Cabernet Sauvignon.” I mentioned what has happened in Tuscany and that I’ve lost interest in the styles that many producers are pursuing. He quite agreed and said that he absolutely believed that Chianti was better in the past when white grapes were included. But now wine must be as concentrated as possible and Chianti has lost a very special characteristic.

He told me that he is a good friend with Burton Anderson and that they once drank seven bottles of Barolo between the two of them. “Barolo does not give one a headache.” I wish I were so lucky. He also said Wasserman was a great guy and he really appreciated Wasserman’s passion for Italian wines when no one else cared. Cappellano got quite a kick out of Dave Cuneo buying Wasserman’s old cellar and the various gems and toads we have shared.

Next, I was offered the 98 Barolo Otin Fiorin. I thought this showed a bit of vanilla, but he said both his Barbera and Barolo are made in botti. The Barolo showed some wood tannins because he cleaned out his botti right down to raw wood in 1997. He was regretful of the flavor and hoped the 99 would turn out better. And how does he make any of his wines? Without a set system, standard, or pattern. Each year he just tries to find a method suitable to the material that the vintage gives him. True to his beliefs, winemaking is an art form combined with some luck, not a collection of scientific formulas.

Much of Cappellano’s grapes come from ungrafted, pre-phyloxera vines in the Gabutti vineyard in Serralunga. His family had bought the grapes from the same man for 60 years. In 1989, the grower offered to sell the vineyard to Capellano for 100,000 Lire, and they agreed on a handshake. The man’s neighbor then offered 10%, 20%, 50% more over that price, but the man honored his handshake and didn’t take a Lira more. Regarding the Otin Fiorin Barolo, Otin is Piedmontese for a small plot of land and Fiorin was the grower’s name. The plot used to be called Otin Prete (I think) which means “priest” and since Capellano also means priest, he though all these priests would be a bit much, so he changed the name to honor the previous owner.

He gave me a back bottle label that sums up his views:

“To wine ‘guides’, humbly speaking:

In 1983 I asked the journalist Sheldon Wasserman not to publish scores for my wines. Not only did he not publish the scores; in his book, “Italy’s Noble Red Wines”, he also wrote that I had asked not to be included in ‘classifications’ in which a comparison becomes a divisive numerical term rather than expressing shared human toil. I have not changed my mind: my tiny farm producing 20,000 bottles of wine a year interests only a small number of customer-friends. I believe in freedom of information, even if the judgment is negative. I think of my hills as an anarchical arena, with no inquisitors or opposing factions, whose inner richness is stimulated by severe, thoughtful critics; I strive for a community that can still express solidarity with whoever has not been so well-rewarded by Mother nature. Wishful thinking? Allow me to dream.”

He is the fourth generation Cappellano. His son has no interest in wine making. He is the last of an historical line. Another great and unexpected visit with a vanishing local treasure.

FRATELLI ODDERO

This winery is located in the small hamlet of Sant’ Maria, just north of the slightly bigger hamlet of Annuziato in the La Morra zone. This producer officially made wine with Nebbiolo for sale as far back as 1878, though the family owned vineyards back into the 1700’s. The original Oddero brothers were Lorenzo and Luigi. Oddly enough, it is now run by Giacomo and Luigi, another generation of brothers. They are a large producer by local standards, owning 45 hectares and producing 150,000 bottles annually. However, they own a remarkable collection of the some of the best vineyards throughout the Barolo region (ex: Vigna Rionda, Mondoca di Bussia Soprana, Rocche di Castiglione, Villaro, Brunate, and others) and consistently produce high quality wines. These were all combined for one great Barolo blend until 1982 when they began making cru wines. Their Barbaresco, with grapes coming from Faset in Barbaresco and Rombone in Treiso, is still made as a blend. They also make the usual array of Langhe wines plus a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. They are trying to offer a very diverse range.

When I drove up, Luigi Oddero was obviously leaving for a business trip. As in 2000, I was give the tour by a female secretary (Vittoria). Being a large estate, they had three of them in the office. First, we checked out the museum and cellar. The cellar is quite large with probably 20 huge botti – some 60 years old and a few of new ones of French oak. They also have a small assortment of barrique (which I don’t recall being there in 2000). They never use more than 7% barrique in a Nebbiolo wine (I don’t know about Barbera, Cab Sauv., etc.). I tasted the 98 Mondoca di Bussia Soprana, which was quite delicious with a great, deep floral and liquorice nose, and full, generous palate. Vittoria said this was very similar in character to the Vigna Rionda, though I found it more gentle at this age than I would expect a Serralunga Barolo to be. Next was the 98 Rivera di Castiglione Falletto. This cru is actually a next-door neighbor of Rocche di Castiglione, but they bottle them as two cru for historical and microclimate reason. I found this one to be slightly herbaceous and noticed some vanilla. She repeated her up to 7% barrique comment. I was really surprised that such a small amount could stand out. Finally, the 99 Barbaresco was nice, clean, and characteristic. Really somewhere between a Barolo and a Nebbiolo d’Alba.

At the end, Giacomo Oddero showed up. He looked like he must be the “vine and cellar” guy to the very “business” Luigi. He was very friendly, with his “uncle” smile, and was understanding of my enthusiasm. I told him that I had drank a 1964 Oddero, which was my birth year. He replied, “Good year. You’re so young.”

FRATELLI CAVALLOTTO

Established in 1855 in Castiglione Falletto. Sole owner of the large Bricco Boschis cru. I drove up the driveway to a panoramic view from the ridge. The house was surrounded by a lovely, well-tended garden. Mrs. Cavallotto, “la mama della casa,” greeted me and said that her two boys were out on business. Would I mind if someone else showed me around? So, who comes out but Gildo Cavallotto, one of the elders. Great! Why talk to the kids when you can speak with decades of experience? So, off we go. He had such a nice slow, clear manner of speaking that we actually had a conversation instead of a monologue. First, we walked around the garden a bit which is something I also quite enjoy at my house. There were a few olive trees that will bear fruit even though the Cavallottos don’t make any olive oil, lots of rosemary plants, juniper bushes, flowering vines, and even a young banana tree (He doubts it is warm enough there to bear fruit.). There were also two amazingly huge vines climbing along the deck railing. One was called “Italia Bianca” and the other was Nebbiolo. The trucks were as thick as thighs and the vines 40-50 feet long. These were just to look at and were not harvested. Much of the building was also under restoration due to old age.

We then when to look over the deck at the expansive Bricco Boschis vineyard. It is almost all SW exposure (he called it the best exposure for Nebbiolo to ripen). We spent quite awhile there with him pointing out where and why they decided to plant Barbera, Dolcetto, or Chardonnay instead of Nebbiolo. We looked a bit at the vigorous Nebbiolo shoots. They were already 18 inches long while the Barbera and Dolcetto were just a few inches. In the height of the vegetation cycle, Nebbiolo can grow a foot a day. It is the fastest, most unrestrained grower, and yet the latest to ripen. It requires both constant attention and good luck with the end of season weather. He also talked some about what a disaster 2002 was for them and how it swept through the vineyard. Bricco Boschis is bowl shaped and usually well-protected from wind, but it was not spared from the hail storm. I find it so much more interesting when producers’ cellars are located right by their vines rather than in a town center.

Next we moved on to the cellars filled with rows and rows of botti. Some were 30+ years old and some brand new and salt washed. The botti varied in size from 100 hectoliter down to one hectoliter (which would be about the volume of four barrique) to account to different harvest sizes and racking needs. The newer ones were all 25 Hl. He said that old botti used to have the rims painted red to hide blemish in the wood grain, but now producers know this is silly and unnecessary. I did spot two older barrique in the cellar, which he said were gifts and they never used them. I mentioned their new export manager Marc Degrazia and he shrugged, saying he did not know much about that “Tuscan” guy. The cellar also had some concrete tanks that they only use if they have a huge harvest. They have horizontal fermenters that look like roto-fermenters but actually only gentle turn one cycle a few times a day to mix in the cap.

Finally we moved on to the tasting room.

’01 Langhe Chardonnay – No barrique. Very fresh, almost seemed frizzante but wasn’t. A beauty. Too bad this grape isn’t allowed to stand on its own without oak more often.

’01 Dolcetto d’Alba Vigna Melera (part of Bricco Boschis) – Lovely spiciness. Aged longer than the Vigna Scot as it is larger bodied to begin with. Six months in botti.

’01 Dolcetto Vigna Scot – simpler, more floral freshness than the above Dolcetto. Only in stainless steel.

99 Barbera Vigna del Cuculo – 17 months in botti (’01 is still in botti). Licorice, sage, juniper. 14.5% alcohol (!) yet soft. Massive yet smooth. “Barbera can age for 15 years and increasing reflects the individual terrior. It becomes Barolo-like.”

’00 Nebbiolo – Bright, pale, clear red. Nice cinnamon nose.

’98 Barolo Bricco Boschis – Beautiful rich garnet color. A huge step up from the Nebbiolo. Great penetrating nose. Very grippy tannins with a slightly bitter but attractive aftertaste. The BB is a consistently overlooked wine.

’97 Barolo Bricco Boschis – Color is lighter and clearer that the 98. 14.5% from the hot year. “I can’t control the weather. Each year brings its own.” Nice and floral yet already ready. Soft tannins. Less interesting.

’96 San Giuseppe Riserva (sub-cru of BB) – Yet another big leap up again from the previous two. Deep sottobosco, leather, plums. Lip smacking aftertaste.

I got the feeling that they do not get so many visiters as we tasted wines at a very leisurely pace. Every wine was newly opened. Every time I told him that I was taking too much of his time, he said “Its nothing, I would just be relaxing around the house.” So while we tasted, we talked more about vineyards and looked at maps. Then he told me some about the winery history. They started bottling under their own label in 1958 and started making crus in 1970. In 1970, they also tried mechanizing the vineyard work with tractors, but noticed that the areas where the tractor could not reach were producing better grapes, so they returned to manual methods in 1972. During the 70s they applied a number of vineyard methods: high number of vines per acre with low number of buds per plant; stripping leaves and thinning grape clusters in July; total grass covering to maintain organic materials and beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, and naturally aerate the soil without plowing; reintroducing natural insect predators to eliminate pesticides. (And yet we are told that these methods only began in the 1990s when vineyard management was “rationalized.”). They also tried using barrique in the early 1970’s but discontinued it as they didn’t like the results. He said that it does make easy, early drinking wines, but after one glass it becomes tiresome. The wine also increasingly loses character as it ages. Barolo in barrique stops being Barolo.

Now he still keeps an eye on the vineyard workers. He has no kids though his brother has two. One works on public relations while the other manages the cellar. Will they start using barrique? “They might experiment, but who knows? They are not children anymore.” How about Langhe blends? He thinks they are an awful idea. Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo are so unique, fragrant, and expressive in their purity, why would you want to mix them and get something that is less combined than the parts alone? And are magnums and double magnums better for aging? “No, but they make great Christmas presents” (Now there is a unique opinion.).

He seemed quite content that I lingered over each wine for several minutes and had me try a few more Baroli even after I said I should go. I told him that I bought his wines in the US and would also have difficulty bringing wine home. Still, he gave me a bottle of 96 San Giuseppi Riserva saying “you can pull the cork tonight.” Then he walked me to my car and waved as I drove away. Three hours alone with old Piedmont.

SERGIO BARALE

I was really looking forward to this one as it was one of the best meetings I had in 2000. When I arrived, Sergio was still out in the vineyard, so his secretary poured me a few wines. Sergio later provided some comments.

‘02 Chardonnay – From Bussia. Not wiped out by the weather. Quite limpid straw color. Sees only 3-4 months in stainless steel “to preserve the fruit’s freshness.” It was actually quite full bodied with good mineral typicity (That’s not a word but it should be). No melted butter. Bigger, but not better than Cavallotto’s.

’01 Dolcetto Bussia – Very violet rim. Grapy, unmistakable Dolcetto nose. Refined, well-checked acidity. Nicely and punchy. Said “it takes on a slight Nebbiolo quality with time.”

’02 Dolcetto Costa di Rose – Slightly lighter color than above. Very unappealing nose. Turpentine and cat piss. Equally gross on the palate.

’01 Barbera Preda –From near Castellero, but not suited for Nebbiolo. Has SW exposure but high on the hill. Oddly, there is a Preda cru nearby but this is not where the grapes come from. Preda in this case is a fantasy name related to the hunt in Piedmont. Sergio likes his grapes very mature and this was harvested in mid-October. He said he has used newer doppio-barrique for this wine for 6-7 years with this one because it works better for color stabilization and maturation. I still found the nose and palate rather vanilla loaded. I told him honestly that I found the wine a bit oaky, and he said it would go away in six months. To prove this he opened a bottle of 2000. It was just a little bit better, but the lesson on why this method of making Barbera was better was lost on me. He also makes a Barbera Castellero made only in stainless steel which is “more simple, traditional, and acidic” Guess which one I liked better. His views on this seem to have changed as in 2000 he called the Preda a wine for “restaurants and wives.” He went on to say that each wine has its own needs. Small barrels and short maceration help the strong Barbera grape. It “would suffer if treated to longer maceration and large wood like Nebbiolo.” I didn’t tell him that I’ve had a number of wonderful Barbera that have “suffered” just in this manner.

1998 Barolo Castellero – Castellero is on the next north-south running ridge to the east of Cannubi. It is fine vineyard but gets less recognition. This is a very good wine, though it did not stand out. It was fermented for 18-20 days in open-top wooden tini, which he said were perfect vessels for the job (they did have attached temperature controls). For the first few days, the cap is pumped over every hour, then reduced to every few hours, till by the end of the maceration period it is down to 1-2 times a day. He no longer uses his huge Slavonian botti for aging, only for transferring the wine for a few days or weeks. He said “Slavonian oak is for making tables.” It is too hard, doesn’t breath enough, and leaves the wine bitter. French oak is more like the chestnut wood of the past. It is softer, more porous and makes warmer wines. “I am a traditionalist, but I am not stupid. It is a matter of intelligent wine making.” Wow, that was quite a statement. I guess I met a lot of stupid winemakers on this trip. This was a different side of him than the more humble side that I had seen before. He had to leave, so I spent a bit more time with his young winemaker Stefano, whom I had not met before.

This talk of his “more international” Barbera being better (his words, not mine), and that hard tannins were negative seemed more in line with “enlightened traditionalist” (sic) Aldo Conterno than I recall his views being in 2000. I wonder if young Stefano is a cause or effect of this or just a coincidence. I quite like Barale Barolo and will no doubt keep buying them if their prices continue to be as reasonable as they have been. But it was an odd visit. They say you can never go back…..

VIETTI

I met with Alfredo Currado and Luciana Vietti back in 2000. This visit was with their son, Luca Currado, who now appears to be charting the course. He generously spent quite a bit of time with me and two other Americans (who kept comparing things to California). Vietti is clearly a house in transition, not only between generations, but also stylistically. Luca radiates drive and determination for his wine goals. The comment of preserving tradition was made, but it is becoming harder to recognize it in the wines.

He started by discussing his philosophy of very low vineyard yields. They start the green harvest when the grapes begin to change color. Rather than shock the plant by doing this all at once thereby causing the plant to go dormant for several days, they do this thinning bit by bit throughout the grape maceration period, eventually leaving only 3 out of every 10 clusters. Sometimes they even thin each cluster, removing a grape here and a grape there. They feel that they “know” each cluster by the time the grapes are brought in to be crushed. They have two vineyard agronomists – one only for disease control, and the other for grape quality.

We spent a greatest amount of time down in their expanding cellar. Their cellar is right up against the wall of the medieval Castiglione Falletto castle foundation, and they spent quite a few years getting permission for expansion. He said this is not to expand production but just to have more workspace. The design of the new section almost has a church aura. Fermentation is done in stainless steel using a pneumonic press to push down the cap a few times a day. Occasionally, they use the submersed cap method, but only if the tannins are perfectly ripe. Luca said he does not really like the old style Baroli with green tannins that are often said to require long aging as an excuse for bitterness (although he agreed the 1978-85 vintages are drinking wonderfully now). But he also does not like the very modern Baroli that are ready to drink on release. These wines start to fall apart after just a few years. He said Barolo is a wine one “learns” as it evolves in the glass. Barolo is a “revelation” wine that will only make sense after many times of tasting it.

It looked to me that barrique has pretty much taken over the cellar space, and the smell of new wood overwhelmed my tender, little nose. For most of the wines, malolactic fermentation occurs in barrique based on cru and desired result. Done in this manner, the oak flavors are absorbed by the solids and fall to the bottom of the barrel. Then they stir these up every week or so to re-suspend and reintegrate the remaining yeast to get the good flavors from them. Based again on the goal for each wine, the wine is then either left in barrique or moved to botti. For the former, if a Barolo/Barbaresco starts to take on vanilla or wood tannins too quickly, it is also moved to botti. The use and method of barrique or botti is decided through three methods: different crus require different vinification, experimentation, and winemaker sensibility. Try as I might, I am still unable to understand how using barrique for malolactic fermentation and aging will better express terrior than using neutral stainless steel and large botti. And while he said 99% of making great wine occurs in the vineyard, I didn’t understand why the remaining 1% required so many cellar calculations.

Apparently, I was a bit overbearing on the production issue, because Luca kept coming back to his “It doesn’t matter how the wine is made” philosophy. He prefers that the consumer doesn’t focus or even care about production techniques at all as this is not what his wines are about. He only wants wines that reflect the different vineyard characteristics, not the techniques that were used to best bring out these traits. He hates when wines are labeled “aged in barrique.” He will no longer disclose any of this information – not to hide it but because it should have no influence on the consumer’s enjoyment of the wine. However, he will gladly provide it to those who actually ask for it. I kept asking; he kept saying it doesn’t really matter.

We finished up in the tasting room. While there, Luca talked a fair amount about the scores their wines have received by Parker, Wine Spectator, Gambero Rosso, and Tanzer which seemed a bit incongruous with “making wines for the consumer.” He pointed out that there was a very small gap between the scores given for their lesser wines and for their top wines, and that shrinking this gap is a continuous goal. While they produce about 210,000 bottles a year, the market annually seeks two times this much. They do not sell direct.

On 2002, he said that it had been progressing as a very good year for them, and one that would really set the top producers apart from the rest. The Scarrone vineyard for Barbera looked great. However, hail destroyed 100% of Scarrone and Brunate. Serralunga had better luck by not getting hailed on, but it was still a rainy, humid year. Total production was down 50%.

We tasted the following wines:

2001 Dolcetto Sant’Anna (central Monforte) - quite dry and a bit austere. Fruit lacking brightness. A bit too firm and structured for my taste in Dolcetto.

2000 Barbera d’Asti “La Crena” – From vines planted in 1932. Very deep, solid red with no purple or orange reflections. Blackberries, macadamia nuts, toast, and pie crust.

2001 – Scarrone Vigna Vecchia – From 85 year old vines. Just bottled. Actually less oak on the nose than the above wine. Spicy white pepper, plums, lots of wood tannins. Very concentrated in a “super” way. A bit difficult to identify as Barbera.

1998 Barolo Rocche – This is the first cru they ever made and said to be Sig. Alfredo’s favorite. Very “burnt” orange/rusty red color. Expansive perfumed floral nose. Quite tannic which hides the fruit at this point. Not a big attack but a very big mid-palate and finish. Painfully young. Needs years of bottle age to come together. Nice to see that their Rocche is still the heroic wine it has always been.

1999 Barolo Ravera – Located in Novello, this is the first vintage from the vineyard purchased in 1994. The plot is on a higher slope creating more acid. Noticeable cream cherry, vanilla nose. Oak aftertaste. Fairly approachable, but with big, drying tannins.

Rocche seems to be the most traditional of their B&B. Even the Villaro Riserva will see some percentage of barrique. The Villaro is only made in very great years. The 1996 is just being released, and it has a very cool grape cluster artist label. The first batch to hit the US sold out immediately on pre-arrival. Luca said some of the 2nd batch has been seen for sale for $300. They still receive the same amount. After 1990, the next Villaro were 96, 97, 2000, 2001. It is only made when they feel that the terrior is perfectly expressed in the grapes. In other years, it is included in their blend Barolo called Castiglione. This wine includes grapes from Fossati in Barolo, Bussia in Monforte, and Fiasco, Vignolo, and Villaro in Castiglione Falletto. I think this a very fine blended Barolo. I’ve had the 95 and 96 recently and really like both of them (great fragrance though still tannic as hell). Other Vietti wines I find to be excellent are their Arneis and Moscato d’Asti. I know that their collection of Barbera wines is considered outstanding, but I am simply unable to enjoy the very modern style.

So as this house stands at a crossroad of styles, I too find myself with crossed feelings. I really like some of their wines, really dislike others, and worry about further moves to “express terrior” with new oak. I felt that Luca had not succeeded in avoiding a noticeable new oak element in some of the wines. Indeed, when I left I had more of a lingering taste of vanilla than of terrior. But I have no doubts about Luca’s sincere intensions and ability to continue to build Vietti’s reputation in the marketplace.

GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO (MAURO AND MARIA TERESA)

One cannot think of this producer without also thinking of his “grande cru” Monprivato Barolo. While he also makes excellent Baroli from Villaro (Castiglione Falleto), Santo Stefano di Perno (a frazione of Monforte d’Alba), and Bricco (neighbor to Monprivato in Castiglione Falletto), Monprivato is his masterpiece. The 82 Monprivato ranks as one of the greatest Barolo I’ve had the privilege of tasting. I had not visited this excellent producer before so I anticipated this appointment with great excitement. I got no response to the doorbell, but Sig. Mauro drove up a few minutes later (though not for me per se). He has a startling intensity about him: Is he a Jesuit priest? A 19th century school master? Abe Lincoln reincarnated? He said something about getting his wife. This turned out to be no disappointment at all as she knew every detail of the winery with an enthusiasm that pointed to being intimately involved. Mauro stayed with us for a few minutes, explaining with some maps his new project for a Barolo riserva at Monprivato. Then left at a determined pace, and Signora Maria Teresa said he had to go do some tractor work in Santo Stefano di Perno.

Signora Maria Teresa and I continued to discuss the family wines. The house is currently being run by fourth generation Mauro Mascarello. She said they now make wines much as their grandfather and father did, who got it right the first time around. The Baroli see 30+ days maceration. Monprivato sees three years in wood, while the Riserva sees four. Then they see one and two years in the bottle respectively. Grandfather Maurizio (1861-1922) only made a straight Barolo from his land, plus grapes bought from Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba, but never from La Morra or Barolo as he saw them as inferior in character. Father Giuseppe (1897-1983) also only made this Barolo. Sig. Mauro started making cru Monprivato in 1970. Their current market offerings are the 97 Monprivato (most producers are now releasing their 99s) and the 95 Riserva (which is held for at least six years).

Have they considered using barrique? Never. It ruins the character of the wine and makes it taste like it came from anywhere. Nebbiolo’s perfume and taste are so exceptional, how could one want to manipulate it? With barrique wines, the first glass might be drinkable, but by the second glass, your nose hurts, your mouth is tired, and you feel queasy in your stomach. With pure Barolo, your nose and mouth are delighted and you can slowly drink a whole bottle and still feel wonderful and fresh (I tested this theory and she is absolutely right).

In 2002, they only lost about 10% to hail (and this being right between Vietti’s Scarrone and Cavallotto’s Bricco Boschis which both got crushed). But it was still a brutish year, raining all through the spring, summer, and fall. The Dolcetto and Barbera became covered with mold, never ripened, and none were produced. About 30% of the Nebbiolo matured to good enough quality to produce as cru (unlike 92 and 94 where all the crus were blended into a Barolo normale).

There is an interesting history regarding their azienda in Monchiero (a town outside of the Barolo region near Dogliani). When Giuseppe bought his tiny parcel of Monprivato in 1921, he did not want to make it smaller by building a house and cellar. So he purchased a building at Monchiero built in the 1700’s that was used for storing ice through the summer in its deep, thick-walled caverns. The Mascarellos still remain in the same building. With its huge, vaulted, brick ceilings, it is perfect for wine production and storage, with only a slight temperature change between extreme summer and winter. Outside the house is a narrow, shallow arm of the Tanero River that is at the bottom of perhaps a seven meter wall. In 1994, it flooded so high that barrels of wine and equipment floated away right out of the cellar. There is no recorded history of a similar flood. They pretty much had to start from scratch, but they see no point in moving due to such a bazaar flood

Since taking over, Sig. Mauro has steadily worked to buy up all of Monprivato, starting in 1985 when he bought a parcel from the highly respected producer Sobrero, who retired without an heir, and only competing the consolidation in the early 90’s with the last piece being purchased from Brovia. Monprivato itself extends for 6.13 hectares and has the potential to produce almost 42,000 bottles, but they always limit this to between 14,000 and 24,000. The planting is 30% Michet, 45% Lampia, and 25% Rose (a clone which is very rarely found any more due to “shortcomings” and accounts for both the wonderful perfume and pale color I’ve noted in past bottles of Monprivato.).

And now for the great, wondrous, sublime, indescribable, and generally mind-blowing, heart-throbbing, tear-inducing, life-passing-before-my-eyes Ca’ d’ Morissio Monprivato Riserva. This is a Mascarello project that goes way back to 1921 when Grandfather Maurizio (Morissio in Piemontese) bought his tiny plot of Monprivato. In this he planted his selection of the Michet variety of Nebbiolo. In 1959 and 1963, Father Giuseppe replanted, selecting the best of these vines for his Michet stock that had been adapting specifically to this vineyard (Nebbiolo is very prone to evolving to diverse vineyard conditions [and herein lies one of the losses of laboratory clonal selection]). Mauro started his own plant selections from these in 1983, ripped out the vines from an excellent plot of Monprivato in 1985 (actually the old Sobrero site), tilled the land for the next few years down to four meters depth, and brought long-eroded soil from the bottom of the slope back up to the top (in the process finding many marine fossils). He replanted it all with his finalized Michet clonal selection in 1988 and vinified his first vintage in 1993. So this wine is made from the best plants of a Nebbiolo clone that his been specifically adapting to the Monprivato vineyard for the last 80 years. Signora Maria Teresa said Maura did virtually the entire project himself, from clone selection to labor. Despite its youth, they already found that it was more elegant and perfumed that the rest of Monprivato.

Since I had asked about this Ca’ d’Morissio Riserva in particular, she put a bottle of the 1995 on the table (this being the current release). We had yet to taste anything yet (after well over an hour), and she pointed to a whole row of their open bottles from their portfolio that had been opened since 4/6 (it was 4/29!), predating VinItaly. I guess they hadn’t had any visitors for a while. We tasted only the 95 Riserva and both concluded that it had started to oxydize (surprise!). This current bottling has a production of 1708 bottles, 250 of which will make it to New York. I asked about the price, and it did reflect their believe that it was truly two times as good as the “regular” Monprivato (Gulp! EU100! No doubt a calculation of wine’ quality, its investment, and its rarity). Since this bottle was clearly in distress, she went and got another one. Given the production volume, this was probably even more remarkable than if G. Conterno offered to open a new Monfortino or A. Conterno offered a Gran Bussia. I swelled with honor. This wine was yet another “otherworldly beyond linguistic descriptive capacity” wine. Better than the Bartolo Mascarello and other gems? Quite possibly so if such relativism is necessary. Such an explosively, clean nose – baby roses, bittersweet puppy love, pure oxygen, unpolluted azure sky, hanging-your-head-out-the-window-of-the-car-as-your-dad-took-you-to-see-the-Great Outdoors, some fleeting thing you wish you had never lost and hope you can find again. Do you know what I mean? Perhaps, perhaps not. I know this is only wine but I can’t help myself. And the palate? Sigh…and she said it will not obtain its revealed potential for at least ten years (Mauro said it should be able to last for 30 years easily. The Mascarellos seemed to share my enthusiasm for well-aged wines). I sank into a state of blissful melancholy. With my entire universe contracting into a glass and the impending terror of paradise lost looming over me, I asked, “M-m-may I buy a bottle? Are there any left?” My eyes became misty and my heart seemed to lunged into my throat. While the price was horrid (though no more than a cru Giacosa and less than a Conterno Monfortino), I was in no means chasing a label. I was grasping at something of exquisite beauty and rarity (And this only the 95! Dare I imagine what the 96 will be like? Shivering and trembling.). Yes, they still had some, but only the two packs come in wooden boxes. Before I could tell myself, “I-must-control-myself” I had said “I’ll take two!!!!” But I quickly followed this ejaculation with “But they are for my four-year old!” (which isn’t so far fetched as it sounds). She replied without surprise or hesitation, “That shouldn’t be a problem, but make sure you get a taste when he opens one.” We tasted this 95 Riserva three times over the next hour. It kept getting better and better. She agreed but said, “It will be much better tomorrow.” I’d been there 2.5 hours and felt it only appropriate to leave, being followed by the ever sincere and oft heard “please come visit again.”

Being on my most excellent adventure, what better thing to do than head off with my maps and go locate Monprivato and the specific Ca’ d’ Morrisio section (Sometime vineyards are marked, but usually they are not.)? I eventually did find it and stood there for a while in a state of transient completeness with my self-assigned center of the universe. As I was driving away, I looked up and saw Sig. Mauro driving toward me down the one lane path in his green range rover. We stopped, and when I told him I was looking at Monprivato, he became genuinely delighted and we looked at map a bit more (from Wine Atlas of the Langhe), and he pointed out various inaccuracies while pointing to the slopes. He had to go, but smiled and told me how happy he was that I enjoyed my visit. I left buzzing in an electric state of wine eccentricity. And as I drove off searching for nearby Rocche and Villaro, I wondered if I would next see Bacchus himself.

MARCARINI

I’ll say from the start that Manuel Marchetti is one of my favorite people in the region and both of my visits have been extremely enjoyable. He is always generous with his time, very informative, and speaks great English. I wish I could hang out with him often.

We started off in his cellar discussing production techniques and philosophies. He said with great vineyards, you can make great wines whether traditional or modern. With lesser vineyards, it is impossible to make good traditional wines as they are based only on terrior and the lower quality is reflected in the wine itself. However, you can do this with modern wines because you can “create” the wine in the cellar. Now, of course, it is fashionable to talk about terrior, just like it has become fashionable to advocate tradition. Five years ago “tradition” was a dirty word and a label that many producers feared. There are many good modern producers, but they are no longer making what he considers Barolo and their wines don’t reflect terrior. All the really good vineyards have already been owned and passed down for generations. Occasionally, someone gets lucky and can buy one. But for a new producer starting out, he must settle for lesser areas and this will further encourage him to force more out the wine. He said there is also lots of Cabernet planted locally and plenty of producers are slipping it into their Barolo. Sometimes you can smell it and it is the only way they could be getting such dark color out of Nebbiolo. But the color makes the critics happy and they get the big points. Sometimes he gets high scores too, but he would not change anything one way or another. He has never had a critic come to his winery, except by WS when they were about to give him 95 points for his 96 Brunate. They really only did an “inspection” to make sure they weren’t making a mistake.

He said some producers are finally starting to pull back from the worse excesses of modern production. Ceretto is a very modern producer, but they are starting to change their Brunate, lessening the new oak and ceasing to use roto-fermenters.

Sig. Marchetti said he has considered modernizing before, but is increasing convinced of the correctness of his methods. He is the beneficiary of the past work of others. He gets the great, mature vineyards that were planted and cared for by others before him. He has an obligation to protect this terrior. For one to replant a vineyard, it can’t be done until mid-life when one has proper experience. Then the vines must grow over time to reflect the specific vineyard characteristics. They will then be ready for one’s children to reap.

Sometimes he is told that he sells his wines too cheap (NB: Marcarini’s Barolo are some of the best deals on the market). But he doesn’t make wine for collectors. Barolo is already an expensive wine, and he wants the average wine consumer to feel that his Barolo is still attainable. If the price is reasonable, the wine sells well – its good for him and for the consumer. He said his wines are often the first to sell out in restaurants. (Side note: I had a half-bottle of his 96 Brunate during a dinner there. In that format, it is really starting to develop into something special.)

He makes a Nebbiolo called La Sarin (“Little La Serra”) which comes from La Serra and a bit of an area outside of Barbaresco. The whole of La Serra and Brunate were lost to the hail in 2002, so the Nebbiolo is only from the other zone. His Barbera is aged half in mostly used doppio-barrique and other half in small botti. The small barrels are to assist the Barbera just a bit with its lows tannins. Otherwise, the wine seems too acidic. Barbera actually does not have excessive acidity, but it has that appearance because its low tannins don’t balance it out. The wine does still pick up a bit of wood flavor, but this is a sacrifice he feels he must make.

His Baroli are fermented for five days and macerated on the skins for an average of another 25 days. Many producers are now skipping the maceration period altogether, and even remove the cap of skins before fermentation is completed. Of course they must then use barrique to get any tannins. He used to do pump-overs and manually break up the cap. Starting in 1999, he began a system that creates a fine mist over the wine cap 24 hours a day. This still gives him firm, robust tannins but they are sweet, leaving the green ones behind. His botti are generally about 30 years old, and he recently had them restored – the metal bands replaced, new seals put on the entrance port, the metal hardware replaced. He also did a very thorough cleaning, but not a stripping down to raw wood as some occasionally do. He prefers the more austere tannins from hard Slavonian oak than the sweet, softer tannins from more porous French oak.

Regard vintages: 1995 was a bit vegetal as the grapes didn’t mature until very late. 1996 was excellent though with high acidity. By the way, having a tough year often leads to a following very good year because yields are naturally reduced (perhaps hope for 2003?). 1997 was so hot that he didn’t even green harvest to avoid excessive sugar concentration. Even so, high alcohol was a real problem. 1998 was very good with softer tannins. 1999 is excellent and perhaps the best of all, being more balanced than 1996. 2001 should also turn out to be great. 2002 was a complete disaster. He lost all of Brunate and La Serra so is producing no Barolo. The hail was so bad that he could not even have sold the grapes. Even without the hail, it was cloudy all year long and the grapes had no chance of maturing. He is holding some of his 1998s in reserve so he has something to put on the market in 2006 in lieu of the 2002s. Not a bad idea at all as the wines will have 8 years age on them.

We tasted the 99 La Serra and the 99 Brunate from newly opened bottles. These were fiercely tannic and wound up. It was hard to get anything out of them at this stage. Then we tried the same wines from bottles opened for two days. These were far more accessible on the nose, with the La Serra showing sage, rosemary, and raspberries, and the Brunate leaning more towards licorice, tar, and black coffee. I had not tasted any other wines from Brunate thus far, but it seemed somehow weightier, deeper, more brooding than other Baroli from La Morra and Barolo. He confirmed that sometimes Brunate has a bit of Serralunga character.

We finally ended up tasting some Moscato d’Asti, which was being bottled just then. He started making this in 1996. Here is where he really makes use of technology. Tanks bring the wine down to around freezing temperature so that it can be bottled without getting all foamy. Then it is filtered to remove any remaining bacteria or yeast that could lead to further fermentation in the bottle. We tasted a glass of the wine before and after being filtered. The filtered wine did seem slightly less full and had lost some color, but it still would make a great breakfast wine.

TO BE CONTINUED

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...