Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Locanda nel Borgo Antico with Roberto Conterno

Last Thursday morning whilst still a little tired from the wonderful Clos de Tart dinner, Adam (MD), Alison (Buyer) and myself met up at Gatwick for the flight to Torino. To say I was a little excited about this trip would be understatement of the year, I am something of a Barolo obsessive. Having arrived to me met by a muggy 26degrees we folded ourselves into the fiat 500 and set of for Monforte d’Alba. Despite the heavy traffic we were in Monforte at our hotel – Le Case della Saracca (http://www.saracca.com/) which I strongly recommend – with just enough time to freshen up before meeting up with Roberto and his assistant Francesca. We shared a bottle of a Piedmont Sparkler, Valentino 2006, 70% Chardonnay 30% Pinot Noir and very good it was.

After this we all jumped into Roberto’s car and headed to a nearby restaurant than Roberto had chosen - Locanda nel Borgo Antico (http://www.locandanelborgo.com/) . It was terrific, attentive service, great food and a nice atmosphere with plenty of space, oh and a stunning view - look it out if you are in the area. We had seen Roberto sneak a bottle out of the boot of the car but it was not to be revealed till later. We had two Barolos to start things off. Roberto chose to show us two different styles, I must say at this stage that it is very rare for a producer anywhere in the wine world to show another producers wines and much as we knew we would finish the evening with a wine of Roberto’s it was very interesting.

The first wine was Barolo Monprivato 2006 from Guiseppe Mascarello, like Roberto’s wine this is a very traditional style and from one single vineyard. There was a little, and not unpleasant, “stink” that went quickly, this was followed by a really lovely almost Volnay-like red fruit elegance, very smart wine, this will developed well. I loved the very traditional style. Roberto suggested that their 2005 was very good indeed. Wine two could not have been more different - Barolo Cicala 2005 from Roberts uncle, Aldo Conterno. Much darker and more saturated of colour, rich, dense and dark, not so much my style if I am honest but good, lots of fruit and a touch of coffee and linseed notes. This changed through the meal more than wine 1. The combination was fascinating to look at, small and taste. The Vitello Tonnato I had with these two was superb!

By now Roberto had revealed what the last wine was but at the same time suggested that we had a wine that was between the first pair and the last wine in terms of age. It was a recommendation from the sommelier, the wine in queston was Barolo La Ginestra 1982 from Paolo Conterno (no relation), very traditional in style, a typical aged Barolo, just the sort of think I love a bovril and sherry scenario on the nose, a lovely brick colour, really really nice, balanced. Next up was the highlight Barolo Riserva 1971 from Giacomo Conterno and therefore Roberto – the term Riserva was dropped from 1985 onwards as it was only a legal requirement back then. The sommelier was so excited by this bottle and served it at the perfect, cool as for red Burgundy, temperature. It was holding an amazing colour, youthful and fresh, very complete, glorious, slight maturity “funk”, seamless, nearly too balanced, a wine you could never grow bored off and an early candidate for my mature wine of the year award (don’t worry this is only a hypothetical award!) The four wines a set were brilliant and fascinating and show that one should just try these wines, they are not the tannic monsters that they are sometimes portrayed as.

Through the evening many questions were asked and topics discussed, I’ve summarised some of these

Roberto on…

Decanting? Yes with wines that have been in bottle for 2 or more years and don’t be afraid of 2-3 hours or more, Barolo is not afraid of air. A phrase I remember was “in Barolo oxidation brings sweetness”.

Tasting others producers wines?
Yes, but in private and always blind and never for the sake of criticising them, purely as a way of looking at what people and doing and what they are producing.

Buying land in Barolo?
Would love to but so rarely does a good vineyard or site come up.

All the Conterno’s in Barolo…there are many as the name Conterno is not rare in Italy, the only relation is between Roberto’s estate (Giacomo Conterno) and that of his Uncle Aldo.

The Challenges of making Barbera and Nebbiolo…the Barbera does not like rain but is fine with almost any amount of heat and is earlier to harvest.The Nebbiolo is not a fan of excessive heat but is ok with rain and ripens late, sometimes very late.

Why the Monfortino bottle is different to the other wines? Purely as a way of Roberto’s grandfather knowing which was which in the cellar. In past times the wines would all have been kept “naked”.

If he had to make sine elsewhere then where? Burgundy, “I am a massive Pinot Noir fan” and if not Tuscany but working with Brunello (Sangiovese) rather than a modern style…Soldera got a mention.

The Great older vintages? 1958 one of the greatest then going further back 1955 and 1947. I mentioned 1964 which he likes but prefers 1967.

It was a brilliant evening…as this is already quite long…I couldn’t help myself I will cover the following days tasting and vineyard visit separately…

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Flying Dragon...

Just by a chance comment on twitter with @LeeCrymble - I was saying that Ormes de Pez was a fair price but that I tended to buy Phelan Segur and/or Lafon Rochet in that category (good value drinking St.Estephe) - it came to light that Phelan Segur translates as "Flying Dragon". As a result may this will be the next Chateau to "fly" if you'll pardon the pun?

People often wonder which chateau will next "do a Lafite, Carruades, Duhart", Beychevelle has done likewise to a lesser degree (and the 2010 has this miute some out at £650ish). I would have majorly mixed feelings if it does take off. On the one hand I love the wine (I have some in my cellar and my son's) and I like the people. On the other I am not a massive fan of "investment" distorting the market. I have done quite a few tastings of Phelan over the years and recently did a run at the chateau of 2001 to 2010, particularly liking 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009(which was a relief as I sold a lot of it) and 2010 (also a relief as it the next one out and having sold a chunk of vineyard to Montrose between 2009 & 2010 there might have been a worry). I also feel the strong, striking image (which I love but not everyone does) is a potential help to it taking off.

So will this dragon fly? Only time will tell but if it does the sub £300 a case price tag will be long gone.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A few links and resources for any fellow Barolo obsessives

I've been meaning to do this for a while and now that my son doesn't have mini rugby on a sunday morning for a while and there is some time I thought I would put it together. It is not at all comprehensive but I will try to add to it over time. Any suggestions (non-commercial please) I can add please send them through...most of these ae just things I have found from my own research.


- Really worth exploring and with a great index to producers sites. One word of warning this is dedicated to "old skool" Barolo and so is not a good place for the modern producers. I am a believer that the old skool (although the notion of new vs old is outdated now) is the way forward but this is a matter of opinion: www.barol.org.uk - some great photos too!

- For ubergeekdom and labels from G.Conterno, B.Macarello and Giacosa http://www.finewinegeek.com/

- For general chat with some very knowledgeable people who will help answer questions: http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/forumdisplay.php?f=40

- General Italian but definitely featuring Piedmont http://www.vinissima.net/

- General Barbaresco information http://www.enotecadelbarbaresco.it/

- General Albeisa info www.albeisa.org/welcome_eng.lasso

- For some great dinner tasting write-ups - http://theviptable.blogspot.com/2011/04/1995-barolo-retrospective.html

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barolo


- For a good general map with general wine characters too:

- For the ultimate geeks maps www.enogea.it/Enogea/Home.html great and very useful too.

- A specific map I was pointed towards


There are a lot on www.JamesSuckling.com it is a subscription site, good for the more modern producers in general.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Barolo at Zucca with friends...

Last Tuesday I hosted a Giacomo Conterno dinner at my favourite (and brilliant value) restaurant Zucca (www.zuccalondon.com). Lots of people will have been but if you haven't then go. Great wine list, value and range, as long as you like Italian wines! I had arranged this dinner for a few reasons; I love the place, I love the Conterno wines (and wanted to show why), I wanted to see a few customers all at once and ask them to bring a friend (for which read potential customer) and lastly I see myself as a bit of an evangelist for Piedmont and Barolo in particular.

There are 7 producers in Piedmont that I aim to buy every year and these are (in rough priority order): Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, G.Rinaldi, F.Rinaldi, Brovia (esp. Villero), Marcarini (esp Brunate) and from Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco (great list of these at Zucca). These are all traditional in their approach, which reflects my preference for this style of Barolo (and wine in general) and the preferred style of my Barolo "Mentor".

Right, so on to the evening in question. All the wines had been double decanted out of the bottle and back in at about 1pm that day. After a couple of bottles of Prosecco and with everyone calmly assembled we embarked on the food. A three part starter of Tuna “crudo”, San Daniele & Mozzarella Trapanese (this is brilliant, Mozzarella with almonds, tomatoes etc). I will admit here that I am no guru on food and wine matching, I follow a few rules but basically wines I like seem to work with food I like. The two wines we had were Roberto's (Conterno, Giacomo's grandson, the headman and winemaker at Cantina Giacomo Conterno) Barbera: Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia 2008 (from magnum, I love magnums!) and Barbera d'Alba Cerreta 2008. Brief background here. The Cascina Francia vineyard was bought in 1974 and from 1978 to 2008 (when Roberto bought Cerreta halfway through the vintage) was responsible for all the estates production (Barbera, Barolo Cascina Francia and Barolo Monfortino) before 1974 the estate used to buy in grapes. So the wines, as I expected the Cascina Francia showed a more savoury serious edge and a greater depth, this is a wine that will age in my opinion in a similar time frame to southern Rhone reds, it is great now but will attain more complexity over the next 3-7 years and beyond. The Cerreta over which Roberto had little experience in the vineyard was softer, more ready (the bottle vs magnum will have exaggerated this too), more feminine and with redder fruits. In general the Cerreta was preferred now but ultimately for me the Cascina Francia will eclipse the Cerreta in 2-3 years. Both great but different which after all is what it is about?

Next up was Ravioli of asparagus & ricotta with in some ways the most interesting wine of the night, Langhe Nebbiolo Cerreta 2008, this wine from the same vineyard as the second Barbera could easily have been released as a Barolo but with Roberto, being the perfectionist he is, it was never going to be released as such so in the same way as a Burgundian might release any wine as Bourgogne Rouge this was released as Langhe Nebbiolo. In time I am sure it will be Barolo but when is not yet clear (I hope to find out in 2 weeks when I visit). As it was released as a Langhe it was bottled and therefore released after just 2 years (like the Barbera) rather after 4-5 years as for a Barolo. The colour was pale, Nebbiolo is big on structure but a thin skinned variety more like Pinot Noir than most, and the nose was so pretty and red fruited with a really fragrant, refined edge to it. A real crowd pleaser but in a non-frivolous way. If this ends up being the only time it is a non Barolo then it'll be a collectors piece, either way it is a wonderful wine. The Ravoli was superbly fresh and lifted.

I suppose you could say things got serious now, food wise I was very impressed with the Lamb breast, cannellini, spinach & salsa verde which was fresh but with a good amount of fat (I am a firm "fat is flavour" believer) and a great sounding board for the wines. These were two vintages - 2005 & 2006 - of Barolo Cascina Francia. This is essentially the main wine of the estate. The Barolo Monfortino is sometimes made from the top selection of this vineyard in some years. From 2000 onwards it was made in 2000, 2001, 2002 (controversially but wonderfully), 2004, 2005(?), 2006(?), not 2007, after that not yet known. Roberto firmly believes Monfortino does not "work" in the vintages with heat spikes like 2003 or 2007.

The Cascina Francia is a wonderful vineyard of 14 hectares with 9 planted with Nebbiolo. There is arguably no stronger link between a producer and a vineyard in Piedmont, think monopole like La Tache for Domaine de la Romanee Conti for example. These two wines were very different, purely because the vintages are so different. The 2005 was comfortably the more open wine showing well all ready, I think over time this will be proved as one of those wines that is good young and old and doesn't go into its shell too much in between. A really good wine to decant on a friday morning and sample over a weekend to get the idea of Barolo. The 2006 is a classical, dense wine with refined but big structure and the long-haul. This is for the classists out there (if I am sounding biased I have bought a lot, in my terms, of 2006 Baroli). The comparison was fascinating and the wines opened up more and more in glass. I was delighted with how they showed.

I think some of the misconceptions of Barolo (and this spreads to the other wines of Piedmont as happens with human nature wanting to simplify things) is that the wines are massive, dense and "need" time. In many cases the Baroli and Barbaresci do reward patience and take time to be at their optimal but they are wonderful in youth, the comparison with Burgundy and Pinot Noir is far more accurate than anything else. I would suggest people experiment there are many wonderful producers and all sorts of levels.

I haven't really mentioned much about the conversation but it roared like a rampant fire to make it a memorable evening, before we knew it 7pm had become 11pm. A wonderful evening. If you are interested in something similar? Let me know.