Tag Archives: Barolo

Giacosa Fratelli – perfume and austerity

Giacosa Fratelli is rather different from most of the wineries we visited in our recent week in IMG_0064 Piemonte.  The winery is much bigger than most of the places we visited, a large, functional building coincidentally right next door to Bruno Giacosa, who, after Gaja, is probably the biggest name in Barbaresco.  The business is based in Neive, one of the three main communes of Barbaresco, though the firm has its best vineyards in the Barolo area. 

This tasting came about because of the success of Giacosa Fratelli’s Barolo Bussia 2005 which won a prestigious 5-star rating in a Decanter tasting late last year.  When I enquired about the wine from Coe Vintners I discovered that they have a number of other Nebbiolo based wines from the same company and a number of vintages, the perfect opportunity for a comparative tasting.  At a subsequent London event with Coe Vintners the wines tasted a little rough and not quite ready to drink but by then I had already bought the wines and all was set. 

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A fine wine supper with a group from Andover Wine Friends was a perfect  opportunity to re-evaluate the wines.  First impressions are important.  Nebbiolo, made for ageing, initially comes over as perfumed, only moderately fruity and tannic.  Janet commented that she could smell the floral and woody notes upstairs as I was decanting the bottles two IMG_5262hours before the tasting.  That pale ruby red with an orange edge even in young wines is also a bit different.  Then there is the surprise when you taste the wines. We are so used to fruit led wines that the austerity of Nebbiolo is an initial hurdle to get over, followed of course by the mouth drying finish of lively tannins.  It was always said that the growers used to drink the (fruity) Dolcetto and the (zippy) Barbera while they waited – for up to ten years – for the Nebbiolo to come around. 

And it is quite a wait.  Traditional Barolo and Barbaresco is made by long maceration of the wine skins in the must, 20-30 days or even more in some cases, followed by some years in large, relatively inert oak barrels.  The wine has to then have a year in bottles before it is released an absolute of minimum of two years (Barbaresco) or three years (Barolo) after the harvest.  So a five year old is still a young wine, perhaps a decade off its initial peak with several decades ahead of it in the best cases.  

IMG_5247 Our five wines were a good sample of styles and ages.  The first two were generic Barbaresco and Barolo, in other words wines made from grapes from anywhere with the two adjacent wine regions of those names which flank the town of Alba.  Both were from the quite tricky but ultimately decent 2005 vintage.  And both these wines were true to to type, the Barbaresco being rather more approachable and ready to drink after five years, the Barolo more structured, denser and still quite demanding.  Both have notes of Turkish delight (rose water) and red fruit on the nose.

Barolo Bussia 2005 is quite a step up and this was the wine that got the 5 star rating.  This is a single vineyard wine from the magnificent Bussia vineyard with its long, undulating, south facing slope.  The biggest difference in the finished wine is riper, fuller fruit.  The wine continues to be high in acidity and tannin but despite being bigger is more approachable because it is better balanced.

Also true to type was the difference between the two Barolo single vineyard wines. The Bussia vineyard (or at least this part of it) is in the IMG_5254 Barolo commune, while the Vigna Mandorlo is from the adjacent commune of Castiglione Falletto. They may be only a few kilometres apart and both are still in the quality wine area of Barolo but the geology has changed.  The wines of Castiglione Falletto are characteristically more structured, more demanding, longer lived. 

Barolo Vigna Mandorlo 2004 is from the excellent 2004 vintage now just starting to get into its stride.  The perfumed nose is wonderfully pronounced but the wine is much tougher, all set IMG_5275 for the long haul to vinous perfection.   The vineyard name itself, Mandorlo, is the historic name of the best, top, part of the Rivera vineyard, on the steep slope just below the picturesque town of Castiglione Falleto.  There is a perfect picture of it on the introductory page for the whole Italian section of the latest edition of the world wine atlas (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson).  Life’s not fair is it – it’s both beautiful to look at and a great wine!

Our final wine is a 1996 vintage of the same wine, coming up to the mid-point of its second decade.  In the last ten plus years, the wine has knit together into a seamless velvety texture and IMG_5261a richer, deeper unity in terms of flavours. You could try to describe this (balsam and liquorish from the wood ageing, fruit more in the blackberry, mulberry range), but the point is that they are no longer individual components.  The tannins and acidity are still with us but now provide structure for this remarkable wine.  This really makes the point – if it’s a well made wine to start with and from a good year, these bottles do develop into something far more than the sum of their parts.  The perfume develops, the austerity remains butIMG_5271 now as a component of something which is much more than a glass of wine – a glass with a history, a range of sensations for nose and palate, a place of course, a stimulus to the brain as much as to the senses. 



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Renato Ratti – history with a view


The winery of the historic family firm of Renato Ratti sits overlooking a magnificent sweep of vines, just on the edge of the town of La Morra.  Sig. Ratti made a significant contribution to wine making here, being first off the mark with the classification of the important single vineyards, the ‘cru’.  The winery used to be in the old abbey which is now a wine museum and it is entirely consistent with the standards shown here that the new winery has been tucked into the hillside which you can just about see on the picture above.  With the new winery, first harvest 2005, they have gone to great lengths to create something very beautiful and functional, which enhances the spectacular view rather than detracting from it. 

Close up you can see the beautiful lines of the winery and the roof  gardens which partly enhance it and partly hide it from view. IIMG_4689nside is just as impressive in terms of functionality, with a system which means that the grapes are only touched once and the various levels being used to create different temperature zones as required by the process.  By the time you get down to the private reserve, the bottles share their space with a bit of exposed earth which demonstrates the humidity level perfectly with a soft, slightly mouldy surface.

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IMG_4678A vertical tasting here would be something special!  They also do a fine line in large, celebration size bottles. 


IMG_4684 We tasted two wines, starting with Nebbiolo d’Alba, Occhetti, 2008 (€11), a typical pale ruby red, with plenty of perfume and lovely smooth tannins. The fruit is on the lighter side but nonetheless delicious.  I’m not sure about the Napoleonic soldiers’ costumes  which adorn this range of wines, but I suppose they speak of the history of the area.  

IMG_4680Altogether more serious is the Barolo Rocche 2004 (€40), Rocche being the name of the vineyard which has attracted plenty of important producers in recent years.   The wine is complex and sensual, with a multi-layered nose of mint, balsam and prominent red fruit.  It finishes at the moment with something quite edgy, with its still young tannins and acidity and good length.  This wine gets a rather grander label in gold.  

Thank you to the winery for arranging a visit at short notice and for a very good guide.  The day was the only grey one in our week, but fortunately I had taken some pictures on the previous day when the sun shone. 

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Elvio Cogno – a family winery in good health

IMG_4664 This estate was created in 1990 when Elvio Cogno decided to set up in his own name, having previously been part of an important partnership.  It is now run by Walter Fissore and his wife Nadia  (Elvio’s daughter) who showed us around this beautiful farm house (cascina) which serves as winery and home. It has great views of the town of Novello and of the surrounding countryside on all sides.  It is very unusual in that they have an undivided piece of land around the winery of 11 hectares. 

We were treated – and I mean treated – to a very generous tasting of the entire range, including a very rare white made with a local variety. 

Langhe Bianco Anas-Cetta 2009, just bottled but not yet labelled.  The grape variety, Nascetta, is yet another interesting Italian grape variety on the verge of being lost.  Here is it make a semi-aromatic white wine of real personality, stirred on the lees for 6 months, with a good structure, with both fruit and floral notes, quite exotic but would also be good with food.  Can age.  Let’s hope we hear more of Nascetta in the future.

Dolcetto Vigna Mandorlo 2008: Nadia recounts how demanding this grape is in the vineyard and the winery.  Despite always  being overshadowed by the demanding Nebbiolo and even Barbera, it has delicate thin-skinned bunches which get burned on hot sites, go mouldy if it rains and drop their grapes at the slightest provocation. In the winery it needs lots of aeration.  This example shows it at its best: lovely fruity nose, highly drinkable, not a wine of great substance but delicious.  


Space is at a premium in the fermentation room so the Cogno have installed these unusual but very practical square vessels. 


Barbera d’Alba 2007: matured in the pretty neutral large botti, which preserves the wonderful fruit of Barbera while smoothing out some of the rough edges of very young wine.  Great depth of flavour of cherries and cherry stones.  Very good indeed. 

Montegrilli 2007 Langhe DOC: a slightly unusual blend of 50% Barbera and 50% Nebbiolo which are actually harvested and vinified together.  This calls for clever judgement as there can be a couple of weeks between the optimum moments for the two grape varieties, though I suppose it also has the advantage of spreading out the periods when the business of crushing grapes and making wine is at its most demanding. A successful  marriage of the fruitiness of Barbera and the potential elegance of Nebbiolo.

Barbaresco 2006: the Cogno rent some vineyards in nearby Barbaresco (Neive) to produce 3,000 bottles of this very elegant Nebbiolo. 

Barolo Cascina Nuova 2005:   the first of a series of their Barolo, very perfumed, elegant, and with a good grip. Good value too at €26.  It’s interesting to see that, as everywhere else, with good practice in the vineyard Barolo has crept up to 14˚ of alcohol.   The ‘green pruning’ whereby you reduce the number of bunches a vine is carrying means that the remaining bunches ripen fully and give the possibility of elegant and substantial wines, such as this. 


While we taste, Nadia answer my question, saying that the Piemontese word for the little stone or brick huts you seen in the vineyards is ‘ciabot’ (pron. cha-bot), a sort of glorified garden hut for tools, shelter and perhaps even a little bed for that siesta.   There must be an Italian word for them but it’s the local word which everyone uses. 

Barolo Ravera 2005, 14.5˚: Ravera is the name of the vineyard and this is the first of three cru wines, ie from single vineyards.  This has an amazing nose of mint, balsamic and floral notes, with high acidity and tannin, made to last and to develop, but perfectly drinkable now.  2005 was one of a series of good years here, as long as you were lucky and missed the hail.  Delicious and long. 

IMG_4662-1 Barolo Vigna Elena 2004: This fun label – drawn by daughter Elena when she was three – is evidence that the next generation may major in graphic design rather than wine.  But the wine is exceptional, made separately only in the best years and from a vineyard planted with Nebbiolo Rosé, a type of the classic grape.  It’s a semi-riserva, being released after five years, three of which are in large botti. It has a beautiful nose, elegant, supple and long, pulled along by a proper streak of acidity, the tannins less noticeable. Excellent; got 5* in a Decanter tasting.

and finally:

Barolo Bricco Pernice 2005: another very good Barolo, but one that needs time on account of its more obvious tannins.  Has great potential. 

Thanks to Nadia and Walter (who was just off to the meeting of the consortium, to which Sig. Ratti had just been elected as president – see later post).  These excellent wines are currently looking for a UK importer. 

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Elio Grasso: two styles of Barolo

Elio Grasso has 16 hectares in the Barolo area with spectacular views of Serralunga d’Alba.  Mind you, you almost give the ghost before you arrive because, although it is just outside of Monforte d’Alba, to get to the estate you have to go three quarters the way around a hill to be facing nearly back from whence you came.  We had just about given up thinking we were lost (ho sbagliato strada is a very useful phrase) when the sign Elio Grasso told us we were in the right place. 


Outside the winery there a horticultural curiosity:  a 120 year old ivy ‘tree’, grown up around and now completely encompassing its metal frame.  It turns out to an appropriate introduction to the amazing feat of engineering you will see within the winery.   Overall, the property is so beautiful that it is featured on the cover of the wine atlas of area, against formidable competition. However, you do need a helicopter to photograph it because of the steepness of the hillside!  This steepness led to the typical Piemontese style of training wines along the contour line of the ridges (giro appoggio) – kinder to the human beings who work the vines, but more dangerous for tractors.

Once inside the building, the winery simply sits behind the tasting room, most of it completely hidden from view.  As we were to meet elsewhere, there are two cellars, one which can be heated so that the malolactic fermentation can take place.  Grasso is very emphatic that in his wines the malo will take place in inert stainless steelIMG_4637  containers, to avoid any extraction from wood vessels.  The new cellar is a vast U-shaped tunnel which goes deep into the hillside, at one point 48 metres underground.  Needless to say, this is a steady temperature, perfect for maturing wines in wood or in bottles.   Although our hosts were emphatic that they could only care properly for the amount of vineyard they already have, one couldn’t help noticing that there was a great potential for expansion, perhaps in another generation. 

We tasted the four wines ready to be released, including their three great Barolo, but not the Chardonnay which wasn’t ready.  The Grasso are great hosts.  I casually admired the new edition of the atlas of the Langhe area (Slow Food Editore 2000, 2008) and could only just prevent Marina giving me both the Italian and the English versions. 

Barbera d’Alba Vigna Martino, 2007: 15 months in barriques; dense fruit, great ‘salty’ attack (decided that sapidity is not really a word), excellent. Said to age for 10-15 years.  Barbera is rapidly coming up on the shoulder of Nebbiolo as a great wine, often at 1/3rd of the price.

Barolo Gavanini Chiniera 2006: the Nebbiolo grapes from which this choice wine  is made are grown on chalky, sandy, soil from which the aim is to make wines with finesse.  It spends two years in large Slavonian oak barrels (botti).  In other words, it’s a traditional Barolo.  The nose is all spices and nutmeg, already a balanced wine with persistent if quite refined tannins and acidity. There is a marked contrast with its stable mate also from the same year:

IMG_4641IMG_4649  Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Matè 2006: the soil here is a mix of chalk and clay, leading to more muscular wines.  Matured in botti as above.  It already has fine aromas of red fruits and some flowers but is much tauter, more structure in the mouth.  Needs time.   

Barolo Rüncot riserva 2004: made in only the best years, this riserva is a more modern creature, being matured in the smaller French barriques, again after the malolactic fermentation is completed.  It also spends up to two years in bottles before release.  The nose is more prominent, spicy again, cloves in particular, good fruit, very rounded and supple in the mouth.  Despite its six years, it’s still very young.  It’s very instructive to taste the two different styles (and three different vineyards) side by side. 

IMG_4652 Wines available at Mille Gusti and at Lay & Wheeler in the UK.  Many thanks to the Grasso for their enterprise and warm welcome.

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Landing in Piemonte

Arriving in a famous wine area for the first time is wonderfully exciting.  As you drive from the airport (in this case Turin), you pass through the neighbouring countryside which is flat as a pancake, if lying between the snow-covered Alps and the ‘ridges’ which give the Langhe its name.  As you approach your destination you begin to see famous wine names on the road signs – Barolo, La Morra and many more, which of course are first and foremost the names of villages.  Despite having now done it many times, it’s amazing to see the names of one’s favourite drink on the map or on road signs!

On the outskirts of the smallish town of Alba, you drive past the factory which produces its most famous product – Ferrero Rocher. So this is hazelnut and chocolate heaven as well as a town perfectly situated between Piemonte’s red wine appellations – Barolo and Barbaresco.  A simple lunch at the Vincaffe is an introduction to the fact that Piemonte is one of Italy’s gastronomic centres – fantastic mixed antipasti of raw beef, veal with a slightly tangy sauce and and a chicken and nut (of course) salad, followed by soup of peasant proportion or gnocchi – time to lie down and surrender.

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Wine by the glass offers immediate interest.  If you ignore the famous names for the moment you can try the local grape varieties – Arneis for white (quite famous), but als0 white La Favorita  and in the reds, Freisa.  The last named, by Pellisero, has very ripe fruit, low acid and tannin and dense, herbaceous, fruit, nearer to prune than plum.  Delicious and could only really come from here.  In the evening we drank one of the staple reds of the region, Barbera.  Its has a good light ruby colour, medium in weight, beautifully balanced in terms of acidity and tannin, far too drinkable.  A bottle disappears in no time.  It’s great value too – this example which hasn’t been a oak barrel, so the lovely fruit is what you get, is €14 in a restaurant.  (Giovanni Sordo, Barbera d’Alba, 2008).  No doubt there will be plenty of time for the mushrooms, pasta and in another season, truffles for which the place is renowned, but that’s a great start. 

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Zind-Humbrecht at Coe Vintners

Being an orderly sort of soul, in general I much prefer to go to a themed tasting, rather than a broad sweep across regions.  Comparison is a very powerful tool but I would rather limit the field and try to learn a bit more about an area or grower in depth.   Occasionally you get the best of both worlds, as happened at a recent Coe Vintners tasting, which took place at Home House, a private club in Portland Square.  Billed as a fine wine tasting, it certainly lived up to that with quality wines from Champagne and Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, a few Italians and Spaniards and even the occasional Australian.  But the star of the show was undoubtedly Olivier Humbrecht of whom more anon. 

In the general tasting some tables really stood out: 

Sumptuous Champagne from Pannier and from Dampierre.  I particularly enjoyed 1999 Pannier Egerie and the corresponding non-vintage Rosé.  The latter has a lovely raspberry and strawberry nose, balanced fruit and refreshment, delicious.  The 1999 has good freshness alongside some interesting, mushroomy tones, a nice weight in the mouth  I was less enamoured of the Pannier Blanc de Noir, ie made as white wine from the juice of black grapes. It was certainly distinctive with yeasty, even doughy smells to the fore.  Dampierre was also excellent, especially the Family Reserve Grand Cru, 2000: toasty, hazelnuts, good fruit and very long.  Altogether much better value than the Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes, white of 1998 (still tasted rather closed) and the rosé of 2002.  Of course if someone else has the wines in their cellar and the patience, that might be another matter entirely …

I also tried the Barolo and Barbaresco from Giacosa Fratelli, not least because I had bought a mixed case of these for a forthcoming tasting.  Overall conclusion was that they really need time to get out of their rather rustic youth (the two basic wines) though the 2005 Barolo Bussia has already has some perfume to offer.   A tasting in 2014-20 anyone?  This was even more the case with promising red Burgundy, eg PC Clos de Thorey Monopole, Nuit St Georges, 2006 from Antonin Rodet – I could taste the youthful acidity hours later!  But in ten years time it will be wonderful. 

No need for delayed gratification, however, with the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, though they too will develop with age.  Olivier Humbrecht was showing a great range of wines, 13 in all.  I concentrated on the ones that were new to me, especially from the Clos Windsbuhl vineyard.  The firm’s comment is:

“The Clos Windsbuhl is, with the Rangen vineyard, the least precocious site that we cultivate on the estate. The higher altitude, the old rocky calcareous soil, its location near the forest all participate to create a slow ripening process. Often criticized in the past for this characteristic, we think that on the contrary, it helps the grapes to keep a structure based on acidity and not alcohol, and also that the vines have more time to ripen the grape physiologically.

Humbrecht explained further that the vineyard is around 300 metres above sea level, 100m higher and so cooler than most, and that it has a mixed history.  Before they bought it, the older owners had worked for quality (only really good vineyards had names historically in Alsace) but then there was neglect, overplanting, overproduction in recent times.  Having acquired it on the basis of its ancient reputation, they have grubbed up the new vines but kept the old ones. 

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2007: made with the fruit of the old vines, this is an amazing combination of crisp fruit and structure in the mouth. Wow! 

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl Vendanges Tardive 2005 – rich, dense, even tending to oily texture from late picked picked grapes, medium sweet but with good acidity, absolutely delicious. 

Another vineyard featured was the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, very steep (to the point that it has to be ploughed using a winch) and South facing.  In addition to the two Pinot Gris I missed in the excitement (2005, 2001), there was:

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2007, a superb complex nose of honey, nuts and something herby/herbaceous, rounded in the mouth, melons, ripe fruit in general, even pineapple, with a refreshing finish.  Excellent. 

I finished the Zind-Humbrecht table with Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles 2005, a wine with well over 100 grams of residual sugar per litre – a huge, sweet sticky, but with great marmaladely flavours and counterbalancing acidity, and great persistence. 


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