Following a vintage like 2010 is not easy. 2010 Barolos are not only of great quality, they were released to a market primed to buy something new, a market disillusioned with Bordeaux, a market looking for quality, value and character. What the wines of Piedmont offered, and continue to offer is simple: the opportunity to buy, own and drink top-class wine. Wine made by men and women as opposed to companies, wine that repays time in the cellar with considerable interest, and wines of relative rarity for relatively little money. One can buy the Barolo equivalent of grand cru Burgundy, from a top producer, for as little as four or five hundred pounds per case.
This may not last, though. Barolo is enjoying a period of considerable success and is no longer the wine that everyone had heard of but no one understood. A change of generations has empowered a new breed of winemaker and what is being produced in the region today is often leagues ahead of what was found twenty years ago. These are very, very, exciting times for Piedmont but with the uplift in both quality and demand comes the money. Vineyard prices, whilst not yet as extreme as those in Burgundy, are on the rise. Foreign investors are keen to move in: one of the larger producers told us that they had received three “knocks on the door” in the past year. In short: this is possibly one of the best times to be looking at the wines from this intriguing region.
The winemakers of Piedmont are family people: more often than not you will find three generations or more in the house. And they are an honest bunch too. It was quite clear that there was no “regional line” on the vintage and, when asked for a take on the vintage, each winemaker would invariably give a different answer. What was unanimous, though, was the endorsement of the 2011s, an endorsement that we share.
In terms of weather, the year was a hot one – though a year of relatively consistent heat, rather than a scorching Summer (June and July were cool), with some useful rainfall at the beginning of September. The harvest was in early October – a little earlier than usual, though the grapes had a long hang time as the season was a good couple of weeks ahead of schedule right from the beginning.
The vintage is not a homogeneous one in terms of style: some wines appear to be more for the longer term, whilst some are already disarmingly delicious. What did persist throughout our tasting was charm, elegance and fruit. There is sweet fruit throughout these wines, many of which bring a smile to ones face as one tastes – they really are delicious. If 2010 is the collectors’ vintage or a vintage for the cellar, then the lovely 2011s are for the table – a drinkers’ vintage and a very good one at that. Having read Antonio Galloni’s latest report there are two points that he makes that are worth noting, and where we are on exactly the same page. Firstly:
“After the epic, cellar worthy 2010s, the 2011 will give readers plenty of choices for delicious near and medium-term drinking.”
Delicious is the key here.. And secondly, albeit more commercially:
“From what I have heard so far, the market for 2011 Barolo is very quiet right now, probably the result of a near-compulsive obsession with 2010 Brunello di Montalcino and long-time buyers feeling a bit tapped out after fighting for the 2010 Barolos. That should give savvy consumers a good window of opportunity to pick up the best 2011 Barolos before anyone notices.”
We have put a great deal of work into our Piedmont portfolio and believe that this is one of the most exciting times in the region’s history. We are blessed with direct relationships with some of Barolo’s finest and endeavour to taste as much as we can in-situ. We look for quality, character and wines that offer value and pleasure. The estates that we deal with are mostly family affairs and, as we get to know them better, we get more and more of an insight into what makes Piedmont tick. The comparison with Burgundy is inevitable: small family estates, a patchwork of terroir, a delicate grape variety that delivers wines of often peerless beauty. These wines are made by men and women – families – rather than corporations and are almost invariably made with a love and respect for both the vineyard and the juice that it yields. As any wine merchant will tell you: this is one of the key precedents for exceptional wine.
Ferruccio Grimaldi now runs the estate that bears his father’s name and is doing an exceptional job. We discovered Ferruccio last year and his 2010 Barolo was one of the best-selling wines of our 2010 Barolo offer, indeed one of the top wines of the year. His 2011s are equally impressive – Ferruccio makes wines that make you want to eat and drink: even at 9.00 in the morning, thoughts of polishing off a bottle with an early lunch had to be resisted.
There are three Barolos in the line-up here: the “classic” Barolo which comes from the vineyards of Ravera and Terlo, and two single vineyard wines: Sotto Castello di Novello and Le Coste. All are very good indeed and all show just how good Ferruccio is: they have the clean and pure fruit that comes from healthy, ripe fruit and the precision that comes from getting things right in the winery. That Ferruccio remains under the radar is a bit of a bonus: not only are his wines wonderfully good, they are exceptionally well-priced.
“From two hectares in Terlo and one in Ravera. There is some weight here on the nose and a delicate, beguiling perfume. This is clean and polished and very good again. There is a great deal of fruit here – the wine has breadth – and it is rich and inviting. This is easy and forward, with lovely soft tannins and a delightful richesse. Very good indeed.”
“From a four hectare plot just underneath the castle of Novello as the name suggests. This has a sweet, powerful dark cherry nose with a little more focus than the classico. There is some punch to this, a little more intensity and a savoury/sweetness on the nose. And in the mouth it gets more serious, more grown-up. A savoury edge again: this is very “Barolo” in character and has an excellent savoury and dry finish. Proper wine, that persists on the palate. Very good again.”
“Owned by the family since the 1930s and with 60-65 year-old vines. There is weight and a little more finesse to this still. A touch of sweetness on the nose and this is very focussed – excellent tailoring, very precise. This has the power of the Castello di Novello though with more elegance. Energy. Intense. Excellent.”
Fabio Oberto was out of the country so we were greeted by the man himself – Andrea – with the help of a friendly neighbour who translated. Andrea founded the estate having inherited three hectares, which he initially farmed himself whilst continuing his lorry-driving day job.
Antonio Galloni has described the Obertos as “arguably La Morra’s most important under-the-radar growers.” We say, simply: they make some very tidy wines. Andrea is one of quite a few growers who prefer their 2011 to their 2010; he feels that 2011 has a little more structure, and that 2010’s success is down to their crowd-pleasing (and critic-pleasing) nature.
“This is blended from the fruit from three vineyards, all of which are in La Morra. There is some elegant perfume on the nose, which is restrained and delicate. Sweet and rich in the mouth, with some tannic structure in the finish. Savoury yet with a deliciously sweet Nebbiolo edge. Long, very good and classically classy.”
“From a vineyard that sits just above Cannubi as you look at it, bought by the family in 1988 (when you could still buy vineyards, adds Andrea). This has a sweeter punch on the nose and a sweet, ripe, glossy power. Roasted meat. And in the mouth this has a glossy, ripe and sweet power with a touch of well-executed barrel gloss. This has a weight to it that impresses, and will please those who like a fuller, rounder style.”
“This is one of La Morra’s finest vineyards with a sandy soil that makes for elegance above all else, and this has it: there is an immediate lift to this, and a delicacy that belies the power underneath. Ripe red fruits. This has structure, and is very much a wine for the cellar. Very, very long and highly impressive.”
“Fine, mineral and lifted again. Sweet fruit and spice on the nose. This has the weight of the Albarella and the structure of the Annunziata. There is more to come from this. Serious wine and again one for the cellar.”
We were met here by the delightful Francesca Vajra, whose father Aldo established the estate in the late 1960s; the vineyards have been in the family since the 1920s though had been let on a share-cropping basis since the Second World War.
As with all good estates, the lion’s share of the work is done in the vineyard. The winery itself is almost church-like with its stained glass windows, and is a remarkably peaceful place. The wines are traditionally made: no barriques here for the Nebbiolo, and the style: clean, pure and elegant.
“Lovely light garnet colour. Fresh and light: this is on its toes. And in the mouth this is seductive from the start. Fresh sweet fruit which then turns savoury – more serious – then finishes with a fine structure. This is fresh and approachable though serious nonetheless. Bright and energetic.”
“The name comes from the violets that spring first here. There is more weight of fruit on the nose, though this is again very clean and fresh. Pure. Punchy and fruit-driven in the mouth and again that fresh, energetic bounce. Very good.”
“More weight here and a distinct touch of violets on the nose. This follows in the mouth with more weight, and more structure still. Some muscular fruit and a great deal of structure underneath it. Not quite the clarity of the preceding wines; a touch more old-fashioned.”
In 2009 Luigi Baudana sold his Serralunga vineyards to GD Vjara. The wines are still made in the tiny cellars at Baudana: part of this is the respect for this historical and rather special estate, part of it is that the wines need to be made in Serralunga to be labelled as such.
“From two different Serralunga plots. This has pointed, lifted, precise fruit character on the nose, which needs a little air to coax it out. And the purity and lift is what dominates in the mouth. This is very, very good. Pure, focused and there is some real depth of flavour here. Very, very good.”
“The soil here is richer in marl, and this is immediately evident on the nose, which is immediately weighty. And this follows through into the mouth. Francesca says this has more character though it is the impressive weight of fruit that dominates. This doesn’t quite have the poise of the Serralunga but will appeal to fans of a heavier style of Barolo. Good again.”
“Immediately more lift here and more purity on the nose. Power. And this follows in mouth. Fresh and pure. Almost Vosne-like in its purity, lift and class. Beauxmonts…”
One of the most famous names in Barolo, the wines of Sandrone are often described as “modernist”, though a better term would probably be “exceptionally well-made”. Precision, cleanliness and attention to detail are the keys here, and they work exceptionally well. 2000 Barolo Le Vigne tasted the week previous to our visit was one of the wines of the evening in some very high company at a Robert Parker masterclass: these are wines at the highest level.
“The make up of Le Vigne has changed slightly for 2011, with fruit coming from the villages of Barolo, Serralunga, Baudana and Castiglioni Falleto. The philosophy is the same: a top class traditional Barolo made from a blend of different vineyards. This is fresh and lifted with a touch of spice on the nose followed by delicious sweet fruit in the mouth. A touch of eucalyptus. Complete, perfectly balanced and correct. Fresh and flawlessly put together.”
“This is a little more closed though there is a deep perfume here once you coax it out. Fresh and sweet in the mouth and very lovely indeed. Elegant and delicate yet with no shortage of stuffing. Very lovely – some real delicate class to this. Very, very good.”
The Cavallottos were one of the first in Barolo to bottle their own wines in the late 1940s. Barolo has changed a great deal since, not least through the revolution and counter-revolution of winemaking styles, though very little has changed at Cavallotto. The work is done in the vineyard, which has been naturally-farmed since 1975: intervention in the winery is minimal and the wines are “brought up” rather than made. The results are exceptional and, moreover, these are wines that age impeccably. Giuseppe Cavallotto, an extremely generous host, opened some exceptional bottles for us: the excellent 2010 Barolo Bricco Boschis, and a quite brilliant trio of outstanding vintages: 2008, 2006 and 2004 Barolo Bricco Boschis Riserva San Giuseppe. These are wines that will keep for decades.
“Very punchy and powerful on the nose. A touch of graphite, and some sweet fruit. Purity again, and that distinct Cavallotto breeding – it’s slightly Latour-esque in that this is a wine that knows how good it is. Aristocratic. All with an elegant polish. This is delicate and delicious, balanced and correct. Very good.”
Enzo Brezza’s wines are house favourites at F+R. The house style is one of precision and restraint, and the wines have a tightly-wound character that never fails to impress. Ethereal is the word that frequently comes to mind when tasting at Brezza. These are intellectual, poised, wines that will repay time in the cellar. Enzo likes the 2011 vintage and feels that it has more structure, and more breadth, than 2010.
“Lovely intense and very “Brezza” nose. This is very pretty indeed and the intensity of the nose follows in the mouth. There is some energy here. There is depth and an impressive tannic backbone. This is rather serious for a “village” Barolo.”
“Castellero lies over the road from Cannubi, on the other side of the Alba road. Brezza’s is the reference point for this vineyard. This is poised, lifted and very precise. There is a great deal of intensity here and this follows in the mouth with delicious pure fruit. This is very Brezza in that it is very, very tightly-wound. Very impressive.”
“This is a little closed today but is clean, lifted and there is that tell-tale Cannubi fruit on the nose. This follows in the mouth with a definite silky edge. Tightly-wound again and the finish is delightfully savoury. There is a lot of weight here. A big wine. Very good.”
“There is even more lift, and even more purity here. This is very, very intense, and this follows in the mouth with cool pure Nebbiolo fruit. On its tip-toes. The soil here is clay and one senses the weight here yet it seems almost suspended by the minerality. Very impressive.”
“A cool and minty nose here, with – apologies for the repetition – purity and clean lift. The mouth is sweet with a distinct saline edge to it. Intense, and quite exceptional. Very much a wine for the cellar.”
We first visited Fabio Alessandria’s cellars in 2012 and it is a very special place. Fabio’s great-grandfather more or less put Barolo on the map in the late 19th century and this is a place of considerable history. The winemaking here is traditional, though the grand oak barrels are interestingly French, rather than Slovenian. The 2011s are exceptionally good.
Lovely garnet colour. Some power here on the nose with a herbal, balsamic edge. Spice. There is lots here. Pure, lifted and savoury in the mouth. Completely unforced. Delicate. This is good. This is very drinkable and very “foodie”. Savoury and ripe and very good wine.”
This is slightly darker, with more intensity on the nose though a similar profile to the Barolo: ripe and savoury. And more intensity, purity and lift in the mouth. A great deal here but this is not at all forced. A gently tannic finish. Really very good. Pure.”
“This is from five different plots. Brighter – lovely colour – than the Acclivi. A very floral and fruity nose. An almost “fresh candy” character. And very delicate and pure and feminine in the mouth, with a touch of savouriness in the finish, which rises like music. This is very idiosyncratic: this is partly down to the vineyard and partly down to the whole-cluster fermentation. Excellent.”
“Darker than the Monvigliero, though still a bright and clear garnet. There is some weight and depth and the perfume is intense. There is lots here and it’s very good: lovely sweet Cannubi fruit in the mouth, with a gentle tannic structure behind the fruit. The tannin subsides and the fruit persists: a very good sign. Very Cannubi. Excellent.”
This is a selection of what we tasted, and provides a picture of a vintage that – there is no denying it – comes after one of the most talked about, and most commercially successful vintages in Barolo’s history.
We did, of course, ask each winemaker what they thought of 2011. The answers were almost always different when discussing the character of the vintage – this is largely down to the vagaries of Barolo’s fascinating terroir and somewhat down to winemaking style – though all answers were enthusiastic, with a significant number preferring their 2011s to the more flashy, more long-term (in most cases) 2010s.
Barbera Sandrone came up with the most memorable description: “intrigante”. This literally translated as “intriguing”, though there is more nuance implied: 2011 Barolos are elegant, fruit driven, delicate and pure. And, next to their 2010 counterparts, they have a subtlety and a lightness of touch that is, in many cases, disarmingly seductive. I confess to a little trepidation as we boarded the flight to Milan, though we returned more than pleasantly surprised: these are very good and in many cases quite beautiful wines.
If you’d like to speak to us about 2011 Barolo, please get in touch.
Director of Fine Wine