Blending Traditional and Modern Practices in Piedmont

Today’s Story: Luciano Sandrone

Luciano Sandrone is a highly regarded producer in Piedmont, Italy, established by Luciano in 1978. Luciano was passionate for winemaking at a young age, exploring viticulture as young as 14 or 15 years old and ultimately working as a cellar hand at Marchesi di Barolo. In 1977, Luciano depleted his savings and purchased his famed Cannubi Boschis vineyard. Starting with his first vintage in 1978, Luciano crafted all of his wines at home and started in his parents’ garage so he could learn and hone his style and talents over time. When his wines started receiving high critical acclaim for the 1989 and 1990 vintages, Luciano started to think of building a winery which was completed in 1998 and first used for the 1999 vintage. Luciano today produces wines from Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, with his most famous and prized bottling being the Cannubi Boschis Barolo.

Sandrone’s viticulture and winemaking styles are often characterized by straddling traditional and modern techniques. Sandrone farms about 27 hectares (67 acres) of vineyards, of which roughly 75% are owned and the balance is leased out under long-term contracts. They practice green harvesting with an incredible focus on training, pruning, and harvesting to limit yields and enhance quality of their fruit. Winemaking is where the blending of traditional and modern practices occurs most notably, as all wines ferment with native yeasts but typically see shorter maceration times than tradition dictates. During the maturation process, Sandrone also utilizes some new oak in 500 liter French barrels and ages his wines for slightly shorter periods which also blends the lines between traditional and modern. These wines are often much more approachable in their youth due to this blending of practices, though they retain the same structure and characteristics to provide for long aging potential as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Barbera d’Alba

100% Barbera; 14% ABV

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba is deep ruby in color and opaque. I decanted this for about 45 minutes, which the wine needs at this stage. The aromas are of medium intensity, with a rather gorgeous nose showcasing black plum, crushed blackberry, black cherry, anise, violet, scorched earth, sandalwood, and cracked black pepper. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of juicy blackberry, blueberry, cherry sauce, plum, dried green herbs, truffle, and mild peppery spice. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very enjoyable Barbera that should only improve with a couple more years in bottle.

Price: $37 (though there’s a wide range of pricing depending on location). This is a very solid value to step into Piedmont with, particularly if you haven’t explored the region or the Barbera variety yet. It’s showing very solid complexity at this stage and is a high-quality offering from a great producer.

Traditional Dolcetto From a Piedmontese Legend

Today’s Story: Cantina Bartolo Mascarello

Cantina Bartolo Mascarello is a highly regarded wine producer located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, and they are known for their traditionally-made Barolo. Though the Mascarello family traces their viticultural roots back to the 19th century, they typically sold grapes to the larger houses and did not bottle their own wines until Giulio Mascarello established his own cellar in 1918 after returning from World War I. Giulio learned winemaking from his father Bartolomeo, who was previously the cellar master at the Cantina Sociale di Barolo, and it was a rare feat at the time for Giulio to bottle his own wines. He did, however, sell a majority of his wines in demijohns as well to start.

By the 1930s, Giulio was purchasing prime vineyards in the crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Rué for blending into his signature single Barolo bottling. Giulio’s son Bartolo, for whom the estate is named after today, joined his father in 1945 after World War II and the two worked alongside one another until Giulio’s death in 1981. Though many producers during the 1960s and 1970s started bottling single cru Barolo, Bartolo remained steadfast to traditions in only bottling a blending of his vineyard sites. His reputation as a staunch traditionalist grew even more during the 1980s and 1990s, as critics and consumers forged an assault on traditional Barolo by favoring the bigger, bolder, and barrique-aged wines. Bartolo never wavered in his traditions, and passed this spirit onto his daughter Maria Teresa Mascarello who runs the estate today.

Bartolo Mascarello is a relatively small producer of Barolo, owning and farming 5 hectares of vineyards which results in about 1,250 cases of Barolo and an additional 1,250 cases of their other bottlings (Barbera, Dolcetto, and Langhe Nebbiolo) produced each vintage. Maria Teresa maintains holdings in the Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Rué crus of the Barolo commune, as well as the Rocche di Annunziata cru in the commune of La Morra. All sites are farmed by hand without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and harvest is accomplished by hand as well. The Barolo goes through alcoholic fermentation in old cement vats without temperature control using indigenous yeasts, sees 30-50 day maceration, and then ages in large untoasted Slavonian oak botti for generally three years. Once the wine is bottled, it sits for one year prior to release. In addition to the very traditionally-made Barolo, Maria Teresa produces small amounts of Barbera, Dolcetto, and Langhe Nebbiolo as well.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba

100% Dolcetto; 13.5% ABV

The 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba is medium purple in color with ruby hues. Medium intensity on the nose, offering up aromas of blackberry, black plum, blueberry, violet, leather, black pepper, and mocha. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, tobacco, black pepper, charred green herbs, and cocoa. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $45 (I paid $35). I admittedly don’t drink really any Dolcetto, though from what I’ve read this seems like a very nice wine for the $35 I paid for it. I can tell the traditional winemaking and attention to detail are there, and this is simply a beautifully perfumed and easy-drinking wine.

The “Grand Cru” of Barolo

Today’s Story: Damilano

Damilano is a family owned and operated wine estate located in Piedmont, Italy and they are known for their Cru Barolo bottlings from the Cannubi, Brunate, Cerequio, and Liste vineyards. The Damilano family traces their winemaking roots to the year 1890 when Giuseppe Borgogno, the great-grandfather of today’s owners, began making wines from the family vineyards. It wasn’t until 1935, however, that Damilano got its name and “official” start under Giuseppe’s son-in-law Giacomo Damilano. Giacomo worked to improve the quality of his family’s wines, ultimately passing the estate to his children and then his grandchildren Guido, Mario, and Paolo Damilano who run the estate today.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Barolo Cannubi

100% Nebbiolo; 15% ABV

The 2008 Barolo Cannubi is opaque deep garnet in color. Given an hour or two to open up, the nose showcases classic aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, anise, red rose, tobacco, truffle, basil, scorched earth, and oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get equally classic notes of black cherry, plum, baked strawberry, cola, black licorice, pipe tobacco, oregano, and mineral. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, grippy and dusty medium (+) tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $85. There is a lot of good here and I think the price is justified, but this is lacking in complexity and depth to really blow me away. Though the alcohol is not overbearing, at 15% you can tell it is there and this comes across as a more modern expression than I would like. It has all the great Barolo notes to it, but there are bottlings more my style around the $50-60 mark.

Legendary Barolo in a Great Spot Now

Today’s Story: Bruno Giacosa

I previously wrote about Bruno Giacosa back in April when I reviewed the delightful and refreshing 2017 Roero Arneis. Though I have a bottle or two of Giacosa Barolo hiding, I have not tried it until today when a good friend of mine shared a bottle of the 1996 vintage.

Bruno Giacosa was one of the most respected and legendary winemakers not only in Piedmont, Italy where he crafted some of the most highly regarded and traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco, but throughout Italy and the world. At age 13, Bruno helped his father and grandfather in the cellar of their Langhe winery and joined the family business full-time two years later. Though Bruno never studied to become an enologist, his appreciation of traditionally made Barolo and Barbaresco spawned from this time with his family and instilled in him some of the most important practices he followed for his entire career until his death at the age of 88 in early 2018.

Bruno was quite adept at selecting parcels and fruit for his wines, and always emphasized intentionally small grape yields, limiting treatments in the vineyards, traditional vinification methods, and allowing the wines to honestly display the terroir and typicity through minimal intervention. Historically, Bruno crafted his wines with fruit sourced/purchased from some of the greatest crus of Barolo and Barbaresco and it wasn’t until the early 1980s he purchased his own vineyards as estate-bottling rose in prominence. In 1982, Bruno purchased the Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba vineyard which became the source of arguably his greatest Barolos ever made, followed in near significance by his purchase of the Asili and Rabajá plots in Barbaresco in 1996. Today, the Bruno Giacosa estate is in the capable hands of his daughter Bruna alongside his longtime enologist Dante Scaglione and they continue Bruno’s winemaking philosophies while respecting traditional techniques.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

The 1996 Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba is translucent medium to deep garnet in color. We decanted this for probably 3-4 hours and I think this is in a great drinking window. The nose showcases classic aromas of black cherry, cranberry, rose petal, musty cellar, forest floor, Alba truffle, anise, tar, thyme, and slate. I actually prefer the palate on this wine, however, which displays notes of baked strawberry, black raspberry, rose, black licorice, truffle, sous bois, damp green herbs, and chocolate. This is medium-bodied with lively high acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $530 (shared by a good friend). As you might guess, this is a pretty impossible price level for me to discuss the value proposition. While “not a good value,” this is a special and ethereal wine that hopefully you get to taste.

Three Rising Stars in Barolo

Today’s Story: Trediberri

Trediberri is a relatively new wine estate established by father and son Federico and Nicola Oberto alongside their friend Vladimiro Rambaldi in 2007. That year, the trio purchased 5 hectares of vineyards in the hamlet of Berri in the westernmost area of La Morra in Piedmont, Italy. Federico has wine in his blood, having been cellar master at Renato Ratti from 1970 to 2005. His son Nicola, on the other hand, left a career in finance to return home to La Morra and pursue his true passion of wine, having wished he studied winemaking during college instead. Last but not least, Vladimiro is a banker by trade but he shares a passion for wine and La Morra while guiding the financial interests of Trediberri. Together the three are Trediberri, which translates to “the three from Berri.”

In addition to their original 5 hectares of vines, Trediberri owns and farms 2.8 hectares between Rocche dell’Annunziata and Torriglione and they rent 3 hectares of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo in Vicoforte. The portfolio is largely focused on Barolo (Nebbiolo), but they do produce Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc on top of the rented Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (for Langhe Nebbiolo). All of the Trediberri vineyards are certified organic, and the winemaking philosophy focuses on finding balance and a true, transparent sense of place. To this end, winemaking is more traditional in style and the team prefers vinifying in cement tanks with long maceration, aging in large oak botti, and minimal SO2 additions. To learn more, particularly about each vineyard site, check out the Trediberri website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

The 2016 Barolo is deep garnet in color and slightly translucent. I know this is major infanticide, but I bought an extra bottle to review at this very young age while the remaining ones rest for 5-10+ years. This justifiably required a lengthy decanting, totaling 6-7 hours for me and I drank the bottle over the following 3 hours or so. Though certainly tight, the nose emits aromas of tart cherry, black raspberry, cranberry, rose petal, dried earth, tar, savory green herbs, and oak. The palate took all night to open up, eventually revealing notes of sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, licorice, violet and rose, pipe tobacco, charred earth, rocky mineral, and a hint of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. A classic Barolo that is both elegant and powerful with beautiful concentration and length.

Price: $50. This Barolo has an outstanding QPR and the Trediberri name lives up to all the hype I’ve read about them. While barely getting into an approachable window with a lot of air, this is a well-structured and gorgeous wine built for the cellar. You will thank yourself down the line if you stock up today.

Who Says Barbera Has to Be a Lesser Wine?

Today’s Story: Braida

Braida is a family winery established in 1961 by Giacomo Bologna in the province in Asti in Piedmont, Italy. Though Piedmont is dominated by Nebbiolo and famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco, a large percentage of vineyard land is planted to the Barbera variety which, largely until Giacomo, was known to produce a cheap, highly acidic table wine. A staunch enthusiast for wine, his town of Rocchetta Tanaro, and the Barbera variety, Giacomo set about to rattle Piedmont by showcasing the untapped potential of Barbera simply by improving viticultural methods and aging the wines in small, French oak barriques. During the 1980s, Giacomo proved his point with great acclaim for his Bricco dell’Uccellone (1982), Bricco della Bigotta (1985), and Ai Suma (1989). These wines in turn demonstrate the immense promise, ageability, and complexity of Barbera done right and Giacomo will forever be appreciated by the wine world for his passion. Though Giacomo very sadly passed away prematurely on Christmas Day in 1990, his widow Anna and their children Raffaella and Giuseppe continue his legacy with unwavering dedication to his principles, their home, and the “fruit” of their labor.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone Barbera d’Asti

100% Barbera; 16% ABV

The 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone is opaque deep ruby in color with nearly black/deep purple hues in the bowl. I decanted this for 3 hours or so and drank it over the following hour, with the nose opening to showcase blackberry, black plum, tart red cherry, anise, dried green herbs, bitter chocolate, crushed rock, and oak. While not overbearing, there is slight heat as well that should integrate with age. Moving onto the palate, this gorgeous Barbera displays notes of plum, blackberry, sour dark cherry, tomato paste, cigar box, scorched earth, oregano, black pepper, and charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. Most may very well see this as a very expensive Barbera, and they would not be wrong because Barbera is overshadowed by the Nebbiolo (Barolo and Barbaresco) of Piedmont. However, this is a wine to prove a point – that Barbera can be high quality, complex, and beautiful. The price here is justified in my opinion, though I do find myself partial to their 2015 Bricco della Bigotta I drank for about the same price.

Young but Delicious Single Cru Barbaresco at a Great Value

Today’s Story: Produttori del Barbaresco

I previously wrote about Produttori del Barbaresco, one of my favorite Barbaresco producers for wine that won’t break the bank, when I reviewed the 2016 Barbaresco. To recap:

Produttori del Barbaresco was established in 1958 when, during widespread poverty of the 1950s, a priest in the village of Barbaresco gathered 19 small Nebbiolo growers to pool their resources/fruit and produce wine together to survive. For the first three vintages, the group made their wine in the church basement until they built a winery across the town square where Produttori del Barbaresco is still located. Today, the Produttori consists of 51 members and controls over 100 hectares of vineyards planted entirely to Nebbiolo to craft only Barbaresco D.O.C.G. and a more approachable Nebbiolo Langhe. Though each family is in complete control of their land, when it is time to come together in the cellar the wines are made using traditional methods including 18-21 day primary fermentation and aging in botti for up to three years. In exceptional vintages, the Produttori produces 9 single-vineyard Barbaresco wines from the remarkable Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo crus. The cooperative’s total annual output is roughly 45,000 cases of which 50% are Barbaresco, 30% are single-cru, and 20% are Nebbiolo Langhe.

Produttori del Barbaresco vineyards range from 600-1,300 feet above sea level on steep hills and consist largely of clay and limestone marl with veins of sand. The land varies greatly due not only to its size and varying microclimates, but also in terms of various crus such as how Ovello, Montefico, and Montestefano having higher clay content. The distinct personalities of the fruit from each cru blend together into the final wine to beautifully marry some of Barbaresco’s greatest vineyards in an unusual and honest representation of the terroir. To learn more about the individual crus and browse a gallery of the vineyards, check out the Produttori website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Barbaresco Rio Sordo Riserva

100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Rio Sordo Riserva is translucent medium garnet in appearance. I let this decant for 3 hours and drank it over the following 2, which it certainly needed. On the nose, I get aromas of ripe red cherry, cranberry, raspberry, rose, mildly sweet tobacco, dried rocky earth, and mint. On the palate, the wine showcases notes of dark cherry, spiced plum, licorice, tobacco, eucalyptus, crushed rock minerality, and spice. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tightly-knit tannins, and a long finish. Give this another 5 years of cellaring.

Price: $65. For single cru Barbaresco, this is a great value. While enjoyable after a good deal of air, this wine is perfect for cellaring and will only improve. If you’d like a less expensive entry into Produttori del Barbaresco, try the Barbaresco D.O.C.G. for around $40 and still exceptional value.

Legendary Aged Barolo Just Past Its Prime

Today’s Story: Giacomo Borgogno & Figli

Borgogno is one of the most legendary, time-tested producers in Piedmont, producing Barolo since their founding by Bartolomeo Borgogno in 1761. Though the estate always produced quality wines, it was Cesare Borgogno who launched the estate to new heights when he took over in 1920 by exporting the wines to Argentina, Europe, and the United States. Cesare also initiated the practice of keeping half of the Barolo Riserva production in their cellars for 20 years before release. When Cesare passed away in 1968, the estate went to his granddaughter Ida and her future husband Franco Boschis with the couple joined by their children Cesare and Giorgio in 1984. In 2008, the Farinetti family acquired the winery and remains set on maintaining the rich traditional practices of the Borgogno and Boschis families to this day.

Today, Borgogno consists of roughly 38 hectares with 8 hectares made up of woodlands and 31 hectares planted to vine. Roughly 60% of the vineyards are planted to Nebbiolo, with the balance planted to Dolcetto, Barbera, and Freisa aside from 2 hectares of Riesling and 3 hectares of Timorasso. The estate also owns vines in the famous Barolo Crus of Liste, Cannubi, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Fossati, and San Pietro delle Viole. In 2015 and 2016, Borgogno commenced a shift to organic viticulture and does not use any chemical fertilizers or herbicides in the vineyards. The traditional methods of winemaking remain in place, with wines experiencing long spontaneous fermentation in concrete tanks without selected yeasts and long aging in large Slavonian oak barrels.

Today’s Wine: 1961 Barolo Riserva

100% Nebbiolo; 13.5% ABV

The 1961 Barolo Riserva is translucent and pale tawny in color clinging onto pale garnet in the bowl of the glass. The nose is decidedly tertiary, with aromas of earthy mushroom, musty cellar, dried tobacco, black tea leaf, smoked game, and tar leading the way with incredibly faint dried rose petal, cherry, and dusty raspberry in the backdrop. On the palate, the wine displays notes of forest floor, dried underbrush, truffle, leather, black cherry, fig, rose, anise, and faint cinnamon. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium finish. While still showcasing textbook aged Barolo characteristics, this is certainly past its prime and I would’ve loved to try this 5 years ago.

Price: $200. This is a bottle for a fun tasting experience, but while it is drinking decently well for the age I do not think it’s worth the price paid because this is past its prime. Pair with veal and truffles, pheasant, or delicate mild cheeses.

Textbook Aged Barolo From a Monumental Vintage

Today’s Story: Piero Testore

Unfortunately, today’s producer is another that, no matter how hard I try, does not appear to have a searchable history. I once again found accords of a select few enjoying the wines of Piero Testore, which according to CellarTracker consist of 1967 and 1974 vintages of Barolo. I’m sure there is more out there somewhere, so if anyone knows about the history of Piero Testore please let me know!

Today’s Wine: 1967 Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 13% ABV

The 1967 Barolo is pale tawny in color holding onto pale ruby in the bowl of the glass. This certainly needed some time to breathe and really started to show well after 4 hours decanting. On the nose, I get dominating aromas of forest floor, earthy mushroom, and musty cellar before a beautiful bouquet of stewed cherry, dried rose, anise, dried herbs, tea leaves, tar, and cinnamon. On the palate, this displays notes of dried cherry, stemmy raspberry, dried-out licorice, dried rose, mild tobacco, truffle, sous bois, and light peppery spice. Beautifully aged, this Barolo is medium-bodied with medium acidity, integrated medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: I paid $60, though I’m not sure what the market value of this is/should be. I’m certainly glad I took the chance on this bottle because once it opened up, it was not only fun but incredibly enjoyable. It doesn’t hurt that the 1967 vintage for Piedmont is one of the excellent, milestone vintages. Pair this with filet mignon, veal, or white Alba truffles.

Perfectly Aged Barbaresco

Today’s Story: Cav. L. Brero & C.

I could not, for the life of me, find any information about Brero. I could, however, find accounts of others enjoying their wines; but no family/winery history or if they are still producing wine (I would put my money on “no”). If you can tell me anything about Brero, please do! If not, enjoy the tasting notes of their 1978 Barbaresco below.

Today’s Wine: 1978 Barbaresco

100% Nebbiolo; 13.3% ABV

The 1978 Barbaresco is moderately transparent and pale garnet in color heading toward pale tawny. The nose is dominated by tertiary notes like forest floor, earthy mushroom, damp cellar, and tar but after a little over an hour in the decanter blossoms to showcase aromas of delicate dried red rose, cherry, dried raspberry, a pinch of cinnamon, black tea, and tobacco. On the palate, which is vibrantly alive, the wine displays sweet red cherry, dried raspberry, savory green herbs, red and purple florals, tobacco, forest floor, truffle, stemmy underbrush, and white peppery spice. This is medium-bodied with still lively medium (+) acidity, integrated but dusty medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. There is still remarkable structure in this wine but I would drink it now.

Price: I paid $80, who knows what it’s worth! This was an immaculate bottle and provided a very fun drinking experience. Pair this with veal, pheasant, or filet mignon with truffles.