Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Langhe Hills Landscape: The Messinian Salinity Crisis and the Tertiary Piedmont Basin

My previous post treated the Tertiary Piedmont Basin succession through the Tortonian. In this post I treat the sedimentation occurring during the Messinian period.

The Tethys Ocean separated Africa and Europe during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods but was mostly eliminated as a result of the collision of the continents. Elements of this ocean survive today as the Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, and Aral Seas.
The Mediterranean Sea maintained its connection to the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans until early in the Miocene when it was reduced with the joining of the two continents along the Middle East front around 14 million years ago (mya). This joining of the two continents began a gradual change to a more arid Mediterranean climate.

The Mediterranean Sea connection to the Atlantic Ocean was maintained through various avenues (see figure below) until the closure of the Rifean Corridor in the early Messinian.

The closure of the Atlantic access precipitated a rapid environmental and climatic change driven by high evaporation rates in the Mediterranean Sea and the inability of riverine sources to replenish the water loss. This event is generally referred to as the Messinian Salinity Crisis and a rough timeline is as follows:

·       5.96 mya – Closure of the Rifean Corridor and partial dessication of the Red Sea
·       5.8 mya – Mediterranean almost dries out. Massive dessication leaves a deep, dry basin 3 to 5 km below sea level with a few hyper-saline pockets
·       5.5 mya – Less dry climatic conditions ensue resulting in more fresh water from the rivers. This fresh water progressively fills the basins and dilutes hyper-saline pockets into larger pockets of brackish water
·       5.33 mya – Zanclean flood. Strait of Gibraltar opens up, quickly filling the Mediterranean with water from the Atlantic Ocean. The end of the crisis.
As described in Progeo Piemonte (Climate variability and past environmental changes: lessons from the Messinian record of the Tertiary Piemonte Basin), “In less than a million years, deep sea sediments are replaced by shallow sea deposits, continental deposits, lacustrine sediments and eventually deep sea sediments.”
According to Nesteroff (The Sedimentary History of the Mediterranean during the Neocene), all of the Messinian deposits they encountered during their drilling explorations in the region “proved to be evaporitic species comprised of dolomitic marls interbedded with massive gypsum, anhydrite and halite.” On land, they found that, in the same period, The Tortonian blue marls were suddenly replaced by either evaporitic series or by lacustrine and continental deposits. The evaporitic deposits are primarily found in the deepest part of the sea but some fragments are found on margins that have been tectonically uplifted.
According to Progeo Piemonte, Messinian age rocks present in the Langhe describe a chronological sequence of the events associated with the Messinian Salinity Crisis:
·       Marls and Mudstones – rocks derived from deep sea sediments. These rocks record the alternation between a warm and humid climate and a cooler, less-humid one. Microfossils in the rock point to the exact moment when the Mediterranean weas cut off from the Atlantic.
·       Gypsum selenite and laminate – These minerals were formed in water with high salinity and point to an increased evaporation linked to the isolation of the Mediterranean Sea.
·       Sandstones and mudstones – Sediments deposited on the continent in low-salinity waters, rich in fossil vertebrate remains and shells of lacustrine molluscs. These remains testify to a savannah environment with temporary pools of fresh water.
·       Calcareous marl – These rocks tell the story of a re-established full connection between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. These rocks are rich in marine planktonic microfossils recording a deep (around 800 m) marine basin.
·       Erosion surface – This surface describes an event of rapid dismantling of sediments caused by compressive tectonic forces.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, September 18, 2017

Formation of the Langhe Hills landscape: The Tertiary Piedmont Basin

At the "end" of the Alpine orogeny, the area that is now the Langhe Hills did not exist in its current form; rather, it was a basin that rested beneath a remnant of the Tethys Sea. This basin -- the Tertiary Piedmont Basin (TPB) -- eventually became the repository for a sedimentary succession -- measuring 3000 sq km -- located at the junction between the southern section of the western Alps and the western termination of the northern Apennines (Mutti, et al., The Tertiary Piedmont Basin) and resting on wedges of both orogens. According to Mutti, et al., the basin rests on a segment of the wedge formed after the Alpine collosional event and was affected by the the growth of the Apennic orogenic wedge from the Oligocene on. Figure 1 below shows the TPB in relation to the major geologic structures of Northern Italy.

Figure 1. Structural sketch map of Northern Italy.
Source: Festa &Codegone, Geological Map of the 
External Ligurian Units ..., Journal of Maps 9, 2013.
The TPB is divided into three sectors -- western (Langhe). central, and eastern -- by the Celle-Sandia and Sestria-Voltaggio fault lines. The sedimentary succession, and underlying basement rocks, are present in all three sectors, as shown in Figure 2A below.

Figure 2: A - Deposits in the basin (Source: The Tertiary Piedmont
Basin, Mufti, et al); B - Age ranges in the Stages of the Miocene
 (Source: Wikipedia); C - Composition and depths of Oligocene
and Miocene deposits (Source: Mufti, et al)

The western sector basement rocks are Brianconnais units -- slices of European crust with a low-grade metamorphic imprint.

The central sector basement rock is of the Voltri Group, slices of oceanic suites composed of ophiolites (small pieces of oceanic crust that have been attached to the continent) and their sedimentary cover metamorphosed at high-pressure - low-temperature. This structure is generally credited with halting the eastern thrust of the Alps. The Sestri-Voltaggio line is the eastern boundary of the Voltri Group.

The eastern sector basement is comprised of Ligurian units, slices of oceanic suites composed of ophiolites and their sedimentary cover metamorphosed at low- to very-low-grade conditions.

Sedimentary Succession: Mid-Oligocene to Miocene
The TPB sedimentary succession began in the mid-Oligocene and continued through the Miocene. Figure 2A shows the population of sedimentations by geographic era while Figure 2C shows the types and extent of sedimentation exclusive of the Messinian period. The deposits through the Tortonian are predominantly terrigenous in natute -- that is, originating from land -- and are primarily sandstones and mudstones. At its deepest points the succession records a thickness of 6000 m (Mutti, et al.).

As the soils of note in the Barolo Zone derivs mainly from upper layers of the succession, we will confine the discourse in this post to those layers. Mutti, et al., suggest that the depositional settings evolved as follows:
  • Western sector troughs infilled with mixed terrigenous systems delta-fed from the Western Alps (Cortemalia and Lequio Units)
  • A shallow-marine domain, primarily consisting of southerly fed delta systems (Cessole and Serravelle Units) developed in the central and eastern sectors of the basin
  • A progressive uplift of the eastern and central sectors leading to the final infill of the basin with widespread southerly derived deltaic strata (Serravelle Unit)
  • During the Tortonian, these deltaic sediments experience a sudden regional drowning resulting in the deposition of progressively deeper-water and finer-grained strata (Sant'Agata Fossili Marl) and, eventually, chaotic deposits, indicating a tectonically steepened slope environment
  • These finer-grained slope strata encase re-sedimented coarse-grained and channelized bodies (Vargo Units) which are overlain by mudstones that grade upward to euxinic (black carbon-rich) shales
  • The latter are overlain by Messinian evaporites (not shown in Figure 2C and to be discussed in a later post)
The closure of the Straits of Gibraltar led to the Messinian Unconformity signaling the end of the Oligocene-to-Miocene succession. I will cover the Messinian Salinity Crisis in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tradition in Barolo: A visit to the Bartolo Mascarello cellar

The furniture and photographs of famous intellectuals, musicians, and artists adorning shelves laden with books were the same. Even the tiny sign embedded in the building's exterior near the door was the same. Although Bartolo Mascarello was no longer physically there, his presence was palpable as his petite daughter and only heir sat at the same desk where he had hand painted unique, prized wine bottle labels. In that small room where her father had welcomed clients for decades, Maria Teresa Mascarello opened the door for me onto her private life, if only a little.
So reads the opening paragraph of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love, the seminal work on the wine family women of Piemeonte. And those were the words that rang in my ears as I prepared to enter into that room for my first visit ever to the estate.

I met Maria Teresa for the first time in June of 2016 at the Piemonte launch of Labor of Love.

Maria Teresa Mascarello and the author
at the June 2016 launch of Labor of Love
That was a special moment for me as I had participated in a Galloni retrospective (1958 - 2010) of the estate's wines just a little over a month earlier. At that meeting I had expressed my desire to visit the estate and she had responded with her card and the assurance that I would be welcome. I took her up on that promise during my mid-May-2017 trip to Piemonte. And now we were here.

My primary contact during the setup of the trip was Alan Emil Manley and this is who I asked for when we arrived. We were early so Maria Teresa's secretary sat us at the tasting table to await his arrival. On his arrival he indicated that Maria Teresa would be joining us shortly but he would be getting us started in the meantime.

Bartolo Mascarello was founded by Guilio Mascarello -- grandfather of Maria Teresa -- on January 1, 1920. Both Guilio and his father Bartolomeo were associated with the local grower cooperative but, using a 10,000-lire loan from a cousin, a loan underwritten by his father, Guilio left the coop to launch his own cantina. The business expanded in the 1930s with the acquisition of vineyard plots in Cannubi, San Lorenzo, and Rué. It was during this early period that the estate's guiding principles were enshrined in its practices (A Wine Atlas of the Langhe):
  • Wines made from grapes from a number of vineyards in order to drive consistent quality
  • No vineyard selections
Guilio's son Bartolo joined his father in the business after the end of WWII. Guilio died in 1981 at the age of 86 and Bartolo took over the running of the estate. In Bartolo's days, Mascarello blended vineyards, fermented the grapes together, and allowed the resulting wine to mature slowly. Bartolo died on March 12, 2005 and management passed to his daughter Maria Teresa.

In his preliminary remarks at the previously mentioned Mascarello tasting, Antonio Galloni stated that he expected the first flight -- themed "ready to drink" and including the 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2005 vintages -- to clearly exhibit the generational shift from Bartolo Mascarello to his daughter Maria Theresa. During her tenure, the aging time has been shortened, the winery (and the wine) has been cleaner, and they now have the equipment to do proper de-stemming. Maria Theresa got rid of the old barrels, she procured a modern de-stemmer, and the grapes are ripening such that it is easier to separate the Nebbiolo stem from the grape.

By this time Maria Teresa had arrived and she warmly greeted us. Given our lack of the Italian language, it was agreed that Alan would continue the discourse and cantina tour and Maria Teresa would re-join us when we returned to the tasting room.

Today the estate owns 5 ha of vineyards (distributed over four MGAs) and produces between 32,000 and 35,000 bottles of wine, 50% of which is Barolo. The characteristics of the MGAs in which the Mascarello plots are located are shown in the figure below. The characteristics of the individual plots are shown in the figure following.

The estate, according to Alan, is traditional in both its farming and cellar practices. They try to grow balanced fruit rather than going for "super" concentration. Nebbiolo is a vigorous vine and, as such, requires focused canopy and yield management regimes. In the case of canopy management, its utility as a tool in the battle against the effects of global warming also has to be taken into consideration. The vineyard architecture and cultural practices are illustrated below.

As we discussed the elements of the cellar, we walked through areas exhibiting very old bottles of wine as well as examples of Bartolo's well-developed and highly regarded wine labels.

Maria had written an article for Tong Magazine a few years ago in which she described the vineyard and cellar work required to make Barolo in the Mascarello style. I have summarized her writing on the cellar work in the figure below.

The goal, according to Alan, is to make a truly harmonious Barolo. And that task begins with the harvest date: we wait for the skins to tell us when to harvest. Further, there is a strict selection of the grapes that make it into the wine. That selection begins in the vineyard, where imperfect fruit is left on the ground, and continues with a second selection at the sorting table in the cellar.

Fruit from the four plots are mixed in the fermentation vats in a process called "asseblaggio." As the harvest time differs from vineyard to vineyard, recently brought in fruit is added to the mix that is already resident. According to Alan, "the ratios change from year to year as nature gives us different quantities from year to year. What the land gives us becomes our wine. We do not adjust the proportions to keep a constant ratio. For example, in 2012 we had hail only in Rué, and half the fruit was damaged and left on the ground. We simply had less of the Rué fruit in the mix that vintage ..."

The fermentation tanks are fiberglass-lined concrete tanks from the 1940s. The Slavonian oak barrels used in the aging process are changed out every 40 to 50 years. The aging regimes are as follows: Dolcetto and Freisa, 1 year; Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo, 2 years; and Barolo, 3 years.

At the conclusion of the cellar tour we returned to the tasting room to sample the wines. We started with a Barbera 2014. This had been a difficult year with lots of rain. The weather cleared in the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October. The best wines of this vintage are excellent. Rose petal, spice, and rusticity on the nose. Good acidity and power.

Alan in the tasting room

Next up was the 2012 Barolo, This is a vintage, according to Alan, that they consider "shy" -- it requires a bit of coaxing. That year was never too hot, never too cool. They had hail in Rué and that is the vineyard that provides structure. Strawberries, honeyed nose, dried flowers, green herbs, sweet talcum powder. Delivers on palate. Fine-grained tannins. Lenghty finish.

Maria Teresa in the tasting room

The final wine tasted was the 2013 Barolo. This was a cool, classic vintage. After 21 days of maceration they terminated skin contact. Alan expects this wine to begin closing down temporarily sometime in the near future. Strawberries and roses. Honeyed nose with a hint of balsamic. Concentrated yet balanced. Lengthy finish. A wine to be aged and for the ages.

Alan and Maria Teresa

As we were going through the wines, Maria Teresa re-iterated the importance of her father's influence in everything that is done on the estate today. This adherence to his teachings is done both to honor him and because it continues to result in excellent wines that appeal to her customers.

Alan was a fount of information and a pleasure to be around if you like diving into the innards of a vat. We truly enjoyed this trip and would like to thank Maria Teresa and Alan for the hospitality and insights.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Monvigliero, the "Grand Cru" of Barolo's Verduno commune

In my most recent post I wrote about my visit to Comm. B. G. Burlotto and its iconic single-vineyard wine sourced from the Monvigliero cru. This cru is widely held to be the best in Verduno and one of the best in the entire Barolo zone (see, for example, Vittore Alessandria in his Vinous video on the Monvigliero vineyard and Gian Battista Alessandria in his video interview with BBR). In his scheme, Galloni rates this vineyard as Outstanding while Masnaghetti rates it as Three Stars. Renato Ratti did not mention this vineyard in scheme.

As shown in the figure immediately below, Verduno (to the north of the red borderline) is the northernmost of the Barolo sub-zones. Monvigliero is one of its most northern vineyards. Monvigliero is shown at the top of the first map (orange-brown color) and is highlighted within the red border in the satellite map following.

Verduno commune with Monvigliero cru at top center
(orange-brown color).

Rough (red) outline of Monvigliero cru

The River Tanaro runs through the commune and, according to Fabio Alessandria of Comm. G. B. Butlotto,  affects its microclimate. The vineyard is south-facing and has full access to the sun's rays all day. In addition, the soils are white. This combination results in summer warmth but this is mitigated by a cooling breeze that flows along the river valley during the nights. This breeze contributes to a significant diurnal temperature variation, a variation that is important for the characteristics of the wine: perfect maturity of fine, gentle tannins. (IDTT 246, Levi Dalton interview of Fabio). The Monvigliero vineyard is a beneficiary of these conditions.

The characteristics of this cru are shown in the figure below.

Source: Masnaghetti's Barolo MGA

The soil, according to, is primarily light-colored limestone mixed with chalky veins. According to Fabio (Vinous video on Monvigliero), the soil is traditional Sant'Agata marls with a mix of 40% silt, 30% limestone, and 30% sand. These white limestone soils drain well and ally with the micro-climate to give considerable finesse to the wines.

The producers plying their trade in the cru are shown below. Known vineyard sizes are Fratelli Alessandria (1.30 ha over three plots), Scavino (0.8340 ha), and Bel Colle (1.35 ha).

Wine Characteristics
According to Fabio, Verduno wines provide perfume, elegance, and finesse, especially from Monvigliero, which is considered the most feminine vineyard in the Barolo area. In the interview with Levi Dalton (IDTT wine 246), Fabio described the Monvigliero as being "lighter and more airy than other Barolos". In my interview with him Fabio described the wines from this cru as having a different quality of tannin in the mouth, a deepness, and a complexity of texture. The Monvigliero, according to Fabio, "exalts brightness and freshness."

Vittore Alessandria sees Monvigliero as producing "Barolo wine that is very fragranced and delicate with a balanced body and with soft tannins." This is "an extremely long-lasting wine which preserves these characteristics through time."

In my tasting of the 2012 Monvigliero at the Burlotto cantina, I described the wine thusly: "The Monvigliero had an almost see-through color; cinnamon, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, green herbs, and black olives on the nose; and stems on the palate. Fruit concentration balanced by acid levels. Pure. Will have a long, fruitful life."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, August 28, 2017

Comm. G.B. Burlotto (Verduno, Piemonte) rising: A visit to the estate

Late last year, six bottles of 2012 Burlotto Monvigliero showed up in my shipment from Morrell. I had not had the wine before but bought it on my Rep's recommendation. It was young by my Barolo drinking standards but I opened a bottle to try and was pleasantly surprised in the way that it brought Burgundy to mind.

At this year's La Festa del Barolo, we had occasion to taste this wine at the Saturday morning seminar and my bud Ron Siegel was so blown away that he immediately embarked on an online search. He found a single source and immediately bought the case that this vendor had in stock.

My third encounter with this wine was during a visit to Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina opposite the Pitti Palace in Florence. I saw it on the shelf and ordered it. I had a lengthy conversation with the owner regarding this wine and he was kind enough to have me sample an older vintage as well as some other wines that he felt were akin to this. All these experiences fed a strong urge to visit this producer during my upcoming trip to Piemonte. And, thanks to the folks at Vinous, I did.

The Comm. G. B. Burlotto cantina is located in Verduno, the northernmost of the Barolo villages and, after a lunch at Osteria Veglio in Annunziata -- fortified with a Jacques Selosse Initial and a 2010 Ettore Germano Barolo Lazzarito -- we wended our way up to that side of the zone.

There is not a wealth of parking around the cantina but I was eventually able to stash the car in a conscience-mitigating spot. We walked back to the cantina where we were welcomed by Fabio Alessandria, the estate's winemaker.

Exterior of the Burlotto cantina. Photo credit: Ron Siegel
Bev in the Burlotto doorway. Photo credit: Ron Siegel

Fabio and Bev
Fabio suggested that we start with a tour of the cellars during which he would tell us the story of the estate. Burlotto, he said, was founded by Ignacio Burlotto and his nephew -- Giovanni Battista (G.B.) Burlotto -- was the winemaker from that time until his death in 1927. G.B. had a storied career as a winemaker and elevated the stature of both the estate and the town of Verduno as a result:
  • He was a pioneer in the sale of Barolo wine in bottles rather than in casks or demijohns as was the order of the day.
  • He was the official supplier of wines to the Royal House of savoy.
  • He was the official supplier of wine to the Duke of Abruzzo's Arctic expedition.
  • He was focused on wine quality and won many a gold medal as a result.
In the years following G.B.'s death, the farm lost its luster; as did Verduno. But both have come to the fore once again, in the case of Burlotto, thanks in large part to the winemaking and marketing efforts of Fabio Alessandria, the great-great-grandson of Giovanni. Fabio produced his first vintage at the estate in 1994.

Burlotto farms, according to Fabio, between 15 and 16 ha of land, 12 to 13 ha of which are in Verduno and 0,7 ha of which is in Cannubi Valletta. The figure below show the sources of fruit for the estate's wines.

As shown in the figure (and mentioned previously), Verduno is the northernmost of the Barolo sub-zones and Monvigliero, its most famous cru, is one of its most northern vineyards. The River Tanaro runs through the cru and affects its microclimate as the warmth of the summer is mitigated by a cooling breeze that flows along its valley during the nights. This breeze contributes to a significant diurnal temperature variation, a variation that is important for the characteristics of the wine: perfect maturity of fine, gentle tannins. (IDTT 246, Levi Dalton interview of Fabio). According to Fabio, Verduno wines provide perfume, elegance, and finesse.

Fabio's father has primary responsibility for the vineyard and manages it with respect for the local traditions (grassy vines, long-pruned canes, limited plowing, etc.). Fabio revealed in the interview, however, that they are experimenting with some forms of Guyot in order to combat vine diseases such as Esca.

The cantina has a number of different wine-production schemas. As regards the Barolos, four are produced: two single-vineyards (Monvigliero and Cannubi) and two cuvees (Acclivi and a Barolo normale).

The grapes for the Monvigliero are drawn from a 2-ha, limestone-rich, south-facing plot whose vines are, on avearge, 45 years old. The grapes are not de-stemmed. They are gently foot-trod (allowing extraction of tannins without the green tannins and aromas that would result from rough handling of the stems) and fermented in open-top fermenters with indigenous yeasts. The grapes are macerated on the skins for 40 to 60 days, depending on vintage, with a submerged cap.

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

The skins are gently pressed vat-side upon completion of the maceration process and the first-press juice is added to the wine. The free-run and first-press wine are transferred to large wooden caks (33 to 60 Hl) for malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is long and slow as no attempt is made to help it along.

The Monvigliero is aged for an average of 24 months with as little racking as possible being done over the course of the process. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered and allowed further aging in bottle before being released to the market.

Other Barolos
The Cannubi Barolo is made from grapes sourced from the Cannubi Valletta vineyard. The Barolo normale is made from grapes grown on young vines in Verduno. The Acclivi Barolo is a blend of grapes from the Neirane, Monvigliero, and Rocche dell"Olmo vineyards in Verduno. For these wines, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed and placed into open-top fermenters with indigenous yeasts. Cap management is a mix of pumping over and punchdown. The Acclivi has the mantle of a Riserva in that it uses the best grapes from the best part of the vineyard as source material. However, it does not have the cellar aging time to qualify for the traditional Riserva nomenclature (IDTT 246).

Other Reds
The Dolcetto, Barbera, and Pelaverga undergo malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks immediately after fermentation.

Sauvignon Blanc
Fabio's parents planted Sauvignon Blanc vines in 1986 as an experiment. Two Sauvignon Blanc wines are currently made: one drawn from all parts of the vineyard (in pursuit of complexity) -- and acacia-barrel fermented and aged -- while the other is made from young vines and is aged in stainless steel tanks. Fabio finds the acacia barrels to be more tight-grained than barriques and, as such, (i) reduces oxygen ingress and (ii) infuses the wine with less barrel-sourced material. Using acacia serves up texture without the oak taste. The first Sauvignon Blanc vintage for the estate was 1992.

Tasting the Wines
The first wine tasted was the 2016 Langhe Sauvignon Blanc Viridis. The wine showed citrus, flint, spice acacia flowers, and white flowers on the nose. Lime juice and salinity on the palate. A US-style Sauvignon Blanc.

The Rosato is a made from a blend of 10% Barbera, 35% Nebbiolo, and 55% Pelavarga held in contact with the skins for 1.5 days. Strawberries, lime, and lime rind on the nose; rose petals, salinity, and spice on the palate.

The 2015 Verduno Pelaverga showed strawberries, peppers, green herbs on the nose. Strawberries and red peppers along with Carricante-level salinity on the palate. Long, hot finish. Fabio feels that the 2011 and 2012 vintages of the wine should be drunk now while the 2010 and 2013 should be cellared.

We tasted 2015 versions of both the Classic Barbera and the Barbera Selection Aves. The former is aged in big barrels and is redolent with blue fruit which is apparent on the palate along with a salinity which has threaded through the wines tasted so far. Approachable. The Aves is aged in smaller barrels and shows more concentration and depth than its compatriot. Red fruit, more concentrated fruit, and a spiciness. Tar and salinity.

We tasted 2013 versions of the Acclivi, Monvigliero, and Cannubi Barolos. The Acclivi showed tar, roses, blackpepper, cherry-strawberry, and sweet fruit on the nose. Restrained. Burgundian. Menthol on palate. Perfectly balanced. Gentle tannin structure. Elegant.

The Monvigliero had an almost see-through color, Cinnamon, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, green herbs, and black olives. Stems on the palate. Fruit concentration balanced by acid levels. Pure. Will have a long, fruitful life.

The Cannubi showed violets, minerals, herbs, and iodine on the nose. Fresher than the Monvigliero. Red fruits and lengthy finish. Most structured of the three Barolos.

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

In a Q and A with Union Square Wines, Fabio was asked "What sets your wines apart from other Barolo producers?" In response he said, "It's difficult to find a bad Barolo, but I prefer the more elegant, traditional style of Barolo. For us, the Verduno Village is well-known for the elegance and finesse of the wine, especially from Monvigliero, which is considered the most feminine vineyard in the Barolo area. We, in the family, think that while power is important, we don't want to lose the finesse, the drinkability of the wine. We want to retain the aromaticity of the Cannubi, for example."

In the interview with Levi Dalton (IDTT wine 246), Fabio described the Monvigluero Barolo as being "lighter and more airy than other Barolos," the result of a combination of the soil and the maceration regime. In comparing and contrasting the Cannubi and Monvigliero wines, Fabio saw the Cannubi as "kind of elegant" with a different texture, bigger taste, and a more austere finish than the Monvigliero. The Cannubi also has more power and tannic pressure than does the Monvigliero. The Monvigliero has a different quality of tannin in the mouth, a deepness, and a complexity of texture. The Monvigliero, according to Fabio, "exalts brightness and freshness."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Top-Rated Barolo crus -- Tranche #4: Brea, Falletto, Ginestra, and Ornato

Three of the foremost Barolo vineyard experts -- Renato Ratti, Alessandro Masnaghetti, and Antonio Galloni -- have each taken a shot at classifying the crus in the Barolo zone (I have shared the frameworks of the individual schemes in a prior post.). In this series I am providing an account of the top-rated crus as identified by these experts. In the first post, I presented the crus where there was full agreement among these experts. At least two of the experts had to have identified the cru as top-level for it to be covered in the second post. In the third post I covered the top-level crus identified as such solely by Renato Ratti. In this post I discuss the crus classified as top-level individually by Galloni (Brea, Falletto, and Ginestra) and Masnaghetti (Ornato).

The crus covered in this post are presented graphically in the figure below.

Only one of the top-level vineyards covered in this series that is not represented in A Wine Atlas of the Langhe. Also called Ca'Mia and, according to Masnaghetti, had had some repute in past times but had fallen out of favor until resurrected by the Brovias in the 1990s. Masnaghetti describes the wines as having classic and austere elegance.

This cru is synonymous with the name Bruno Giacosa, one of the most heralded of the Barolo and Barbaresco producers. When the cru and winemaking are combined, the results are Barolos that are austere, balanced, and in possession of an "unimitable classicism."

Giacosa made his wines with purchased fruit until he bought the "majestic" Falletto vineyard in 1982. This vineyard, it is widely agreed, became the source of his greatest Barolos. (In a personal communication, Ken Vastola ( states that "... many long-time Giacosa fans would still rank his best wines from Rionda (e.g., the 1989 Riserva) above even his best Fallettos. Though perhaps in time, the 2001 or 2004 will reach the heights of the 89 Rionda.")

The Giacosa formula for great vineyards is (i) high hill country positioning, (ii) south to southwest sun exposure, and (iii) amphitheatre-like vineyards; Falletto fits this profile almost perfectly.

The Giacosa wines from this vineyard are labeled Falletto (white label) and Rocche del Falletto (from four south-facing plots on the upper slopes of the vineyard.

The map below shows the Cru Ginestra divided into four subzones (indicated by names in capital letters): Ginestra, Gavarini, Grassi, and Pajana.

Ginestra cru, sub-crus (all caps), and vineyards
In discussing this cru, Masnaghetti focuses on the ridge of the Ginestra subzone. A tongue of hillside, he says, "as majestic as it is elegant and from which, over the past thirty years, have issued forth some of the wines which have made the story of the Barolo appellation."

The other subzones, according to Masnaghetti, "have always enjoyed their own separate identity" and "their historic and viticultural value, particularly in the case of Gavarini, should have assured them of an official delimitation of their own." This separateness is illustrated in A Wine Atlas of the Langhe wherein Petrini treats each of these subzones as individual crus.

This zone is almost exclusively owned by the Grasso family and is the source of the grapes for the estate's Gavarini Chinieri wine. This vineyard is 3 ha (7.41 acres) in size, convex, has good ventilation, and its soil is comprised of clay, limestone, and eroded sandstone. At a recent tasting at the estate, I found that the 2013 Barolo Gavarini Chinieri had a beautiful sandalwood nose with sweet florality, rose petals, nut, spice, and tar. On the palate, tar and earthy red fruits. Medium weight.

Like the Chinieri vineyard, Runcot is located within the Gavarini sub-cru. This 18-ha (44.48-acre) vineyard was replanted in 1989 - 1990 at 4500 vines/ha with the first vintage produced in 1997. This wine is only produced in great vintages. 

In the years when Runcot is not produced, the fruit is declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo. The Langhe Nebbiolo is vinified in stainless steel and is sold in the spring following vinification. The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo was floral with sweet strawberry, cherries and tar on the palate. Aggressive tannins. Pure Nebbiolo.

The plots with favorable exposition cluster around the center of the cru (Masnaghetti). The soil is more compact and less sandy, especially in the lower parts of the vineyard.

As described by Masnaghetti:
The highest part has given us Ciabot Mentin Ginestra, powerful, and, at times, brooding and somber while in the lower parts we find, respectively, the elegant Casa Maté and Sori Ginestra, a type of ideal blend of the two previously cited wines. In the final part, characterized by a deep indentation, we find the vineyards of the Barolo of Paolo Conterno and of Conterno Fantino's Vigna del Gris, more classic and fresher the first, more rugged the second.

Casa Maté is located within an amphitheatre, is south-facing, ripens earlier, and has clay and limestone soils. We tasted a number of vintages of this single-vineyard wine during our visit to the estate: 2013, 2007, and 2004. The 2013 showed spice, tar, baking spices, and an earthiness. Depth and structure. Great mouthfeel. The 2007 showed obvious development. Tar, waxiness, honeyed fruit, mint, eucalyptus, herbs, florality, and curry. Tar on the palate along with a long, caressing finish. The 2004 also showed curry and tar on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Beautifully balanced.

This subzone is located at the forking of the Ginestra ridge. Its Barolo, made famous by Clerico, is forceful but less-complex than the Barolos of Ginestra (Petrini).

With the exception of two small plots farmed by Palladino, the Ornato cru is owned by Pio Cesare. According to Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA), the cru is characterized by "steep slopes, excellent soils, and a full southern exposure." The 6.59-ha (16.28-acre) cru is planted only to Nebbiolo on soils that are mainly limestone and clay with a small portion of sandstone (Pio Cesare). The Ornato Barolo produced by Pio Cesare is sourced from three plots in the vineyard.

Wine Characteristics
Pio Cesare stipulates that the wines of the cru have big structure and tannins as well as long aging potential. The fruit from the Ornato vineyard is "exceptionally ripe and constantly produces bright, robust, focused wines with incredible complexity and length" (Rogers and Company).

Carlo Petrini (A Wine Atlas of the Langhe): "Barolo Ornato is known for its intense aromas, which over time acquire a distinct noge of tar. Their structure is unmistakably that of a wine from Serralunga, which means that they have excellent aging prospects."

Masnaghetti observes that the wines "express power, fleshiness, and -- after a certain aging period -- a good dose of elegance as well."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Elio Grasso (Barolo, Piemonte): Serious wines from an esthetically pleasing estate

The Elio Grasso estate reeks of fine art. From the fine lines of the estate, surrounded, as it is, by the immaculately laid out and manicured vineyards (as seen on the cover of A Wine Atlas of the Langhe and visible in real time from the terrace bar at Il Boscareto across the valley); to the equally immaculate lawn fronting the main building and the aerodynamic robot mini-tractor mowing as it plys its way across; to the sculpted tree fronting the building; to the well-appointed tasting room/reception center/office encountered as you enter the building; to the tunnel cellar that circles behind the tasting room; and the barrels that reside therein. Beautiful. And oh, by the way, they also grow grapes and make wine here.

We were welcomed to the estate by Roberto Bordignon and, after a spell gawking at the external aspects of the estate's beauty, were led into the offices. From there we walked back into the cellar located through the door from the office.

The estate is located in the Ginestra cru of Monforte d'Alba. The first map below shows the cru, within the context of the Barolo zone, while the second map shows the cru, its sub-crus, and the related vineyards.

Ginestra cru, sub-crus (all caps), and vineyards
As we walked through the cellar, Roberto chose to present the estate in relation to its wines. I will adhere to that construct in this post.

According to Roberto, the estate regularly produces two single-vineyard wines: Ginestra Casa Maté and Gavarini Chinieri. Both of these vineyards are 3 ha (7.41 acres) in size. Casa Maté is at a lower altitude than Chinieri, is located within an ampitheatre, is south-facing, ripens earlier, and has clay and limestone soils. Gavarini Chinieri is convex, has good ventilation, and the soil is comprised of clay, limestone, and eroded sandstone.

The grapes for these wines are vinified on the lower level and then pumped upstairs to the aging cellar (I would like to point out that many modern cellars are moving to gravity-flow operation in order to provide a "gentler, less interventionist approach to winemaking."). The wines are aged for 2 to 2.5 years in untoasted Slavonian oak casks. After bottling, the wines are aged for an additional 6 months prior to release to the market. Fifteen thousand bottles of each of these wines are produced annually.

Like the Chinieri vineyard, Runcot is located within the Gavarini sub-cru. This 18-ha (44.48-acre) vineyard was replanted in 1989 - 1990 at 4500 vines/ha with the first vintage produced in 1997. This wine is only produced in great vintages. The grapes are macerated for 45 days with pump overs and some batonnage in the early days. Annual production of this wine is 9000 bottles.

In the years when Runcot is not produced, the fruit is declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo. The Langhe Nebbiolo is vinified in stainless steel and is sold in the spring following vinification.

The Barbera is made from grapes sourced from the 13-ha (32.12-acre) Vigna Martoni. This wine is aged for 15 months in 60% new barriques. They are stored in the tunnel which maintains a constant humidity of 64 - 65%. Annual production of this wine is 100,000 - 110,000 bottles.

The winery also makes a Chardonnay, the first vintage of which was produced in 1990.

After our walk, we tasted some wines.

Roberto indicated that 2016 was an incredible vintage with great balance between alcohol, tannin, acidity, and fruit. The last time he had seen a vintage like this was back in 2004. The 2016 Dolcetto d'Alba was a light, easy, immediately enjoyable wine. Bright red and blue fruit. Unconcentrated. The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo was floral with sweet strawberry, cherries and tar on the palate. Aggressive tannins. Pure Nebbiolo.

The 2014 Barbera was floral with sawdust, sandalwood, and baking spices. Integration of fruit and barrel spices on nose. Mid-palate issues and flavor dilution.

The 2013 Barolo Gavarini Chinieri had a beautiful sandalwood nose with sweet florality, rose petals, nut, spice, and tar. On the palate, tar and earthy red fruits. Medium weight on palate.

We next did a number of vintages of the Casa Maté: 2013, 2007, and 2004. The 2013 showed spice, tar, baking spices, and an earthiness. Depth and structure. Great mouthfeel. The 2007 showed obvious development. Tar, waxiness, honeyed fruit, mint, eucalyptus, herbs, florality, and curry. Tar on the palate along with a long, caressing finish. The 2004 also showed curry and tar on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Beautifully balanced.

Al in all a wonderful visit. Robert was wonderful and the time flew by. Serious wines from an esthetically pleasing estate.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme