Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Nicolas-Jay: At the intersection of Burgundy expertise and Oregon fruit

Nicolas-Jay is a new producer (first vintage 2014) located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley. The enterprise brings together the grapegrowing and winemaking expertise of Burgundy's Jean-Nicolas Meo (Domaine Meo-Camuzet) and the wine enthusiasm and business acumen of Jay Boberg. The two men were scheduled to barnstorm Florida for five days to promote their wine with the first stop a seminar at Winter Park's Wine Room. arranged for me to attend this seminar. Unfortunately, Jean-Nicolas' flight was delayed, precluding his attendance at the event.

Jean-Nicolas Meo is the head of the famed Burgundy house Domaine Meo-Camuzet. Jay Boberg was a music industry executive with over 35 years of experience to include: cofounding the indie label I.R.S. Records; selling that business to Thorn/EMI in 1993; President of MCA Music Publishing; establishment of Liberation Entertainment (independent film and TV company); and Chairman of the Board of Isolation Network. These two gentlemen have been friends for over 30 years.

Boberg has been a long-time winelover and when he approached Jean-Nicolas about a potential collaboration, the pump had already been primed by a positive Pinot Noir experience for the latter at the International Pinot Noir celebration in 1991. But this alone was not enough. According to Jay, Jean-Nicolas' response to the initial overture was "We'll see." And so they set out on a journey, tasting grapes and wines from over 200 producers and growers in the region. The understanding was that if they were to do something, they would buy fruit and leverage Jean-Nicolas' winemaking skills.

Jay Boberg of Nicolas-Jay
During this exploratory phase they got word that one of the vineyards (Bishop Creek) where they had tasted was available for purchase. This did not fit with their plans but the fruit had been so impressive that they could not pass the opportunity by. And thus  a new Oregon winery was born: Nicolas-Jay.

The Bishop Creek Vineyard (shown on the map below) covers 30 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley AVA. Yamhill-Carlton experiences moderate growing conditions and its soils are coarse-grained ancient marine sedimentary soils over sandstone and siltstone.

Bishop Creek Vineyard plus other Nicolas-Jay
fruit sources (black dots). Source:
Thirteen of the 30 acres were planted to vine in 1980, nine as own-rooted Pinot Noir and the remainder as Pinot Gris. The vineyard had been planted 2000 vines/acre (high density for the area, according to Jay) on a steep slope and had been farmed organically. Since the acquisition by Nicolas-Jay, the Pinot Gris has been grafted over to Chardonnay and some additional Pinot Noir has been planted on rootstocks.

In addition to the estate fruit, Nicolas-Jay buys fruit from eight other growers sprinkled around the Valley (shown as black dots on the map above). Vines from these producers are managed to Nicolas-Jay specifications with the vineyards being organic, biodynamic, or LEED. The goal is for 2 to 2.5 tons/acre from partner estates while Bishop Creek yields 3 tons/acre.

The Nicolas-Jay goal is to make wines that have great fruit expression but are balanced with tension and richness. According to Jay, they are making wine that they like and hope that they can find enough people with similar tastes so that they can have a going concern.

In terms of winemaking, optimal harvest time is determined through exhaustive sampling and tasting beginning about three weeks prior to the estimated harvest. Grapes are harvested into cherry bins and transported to the crush pad where they are sorted, de-stemmed, and placed into tanks for cold soaking. Each block is harvested, fermented, and aged separately. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts after a 4 - 7-day cold soak. Cap management is via pumpover in the early stages of fermentation, supplemented by two to four punchdowns over the course of the fermentation process.

Solids are subjected to a bladder press with the resultant wine assigned to barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. The aging regime calls for 1/3 new oak for 15 months. The barrels are kept in low temps in the early stages in order to extend the malolactic fermentation timeframe. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

At the seminar we tasted two wines from Domaine Meo-Camuzet and two wines from Nicolas-Jay

The Meo-Camuzet 2014 Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits had a beautiful match flint nose which I normally associate with robust sulfur addition at bottling. Citrus, lime, and matchflint. A bit austere, high acidity, and unresolved oak.

We tasted 2014 and 2015 editions of the Nicolas-Jay. According to Jay, 2014 had been very hot, with no rain during the summer and it began raining during harvest. The following year's harvest started out the same way but then they got 0.5 inches of rain in mid-August. The 2014 had a faded strawberry nose and baking spices. Bright red fruit, good concentration, spice and slight tannic grip. Light bodied. The 2015 had more structure, definition and focus than the 2014. Austere. Astringency and tannin apparent. Lengthy finish. 2014 more approachable while 2015 has more aging potential.

We closed out the tasting with the Meo-Camuzet 2015 Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges aux Murgers. Strawberry nose, red fruit, coconut oil, baby powder, coal, tar. Good concentration and mouthfeel. Round. Lengthy finish.  Illustrates the challenge confronting Nicolas-Jay.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, November 5, 2017

RdV Vineyards: The crafting of a Virginia cult wine?

At a comparative tasting of 2006 Chateau Mouton, RdV Vineyards 2008, and Dominus 2007, Rutger de Vink, owner of RdV, stated "I hate to use the word 'cult' wine, but we are trying to take the wine to the next level." And this was the estate that Frank Morgan ( and I would be visiting this afternoon on our abbreviated tour of Virginia vineyards. The location of the estate is shown on the map following the picture below.

RdV location indicated on map by red marker
RdV is the brainchild of Rutger de Vink who set out to create a Virginia wine that could compete with the best wines of the world, built on the characteristics illustrated in the figure below. I will discuss each of the characteristics in turn.

Vision and Leadership
The foundational element in this "drive to cult" is Rutger de Vink. Much ink has been spilled on his history, movie-caliber good looks, etc., but I stay away from Hollywood-type themes on this blog. The things that I find fascinating are:
  1. His apprenticeship with Jim Law (Linden Vineyards) which gave him a solid grounding in the site and viticultural requirements for the production of high-quality wines;
  2. His travel to, and work in, Napa and Bordeaux to further expand his horizon;
  3. His search for, and selection of a very attractive grape-growing site in Delaplane, VA;
  4. His focus on a limited number of varieties;
  5. His focus on the type of wine that he wanted to make and the market niche that he wanted his wine to occupy;
  6. His pursuit and construction of a high-impact team that would contribute to both the realization and sale of the vision.
Location Characteristics
Based on his time at Linden Vineyards, Rutger came to understand the importance of soil composition, texture, and drainage capability in final wine quality and set out to find a plot that optimized those characteristics. He eventually settled on a 100-acre site on a steep, stony hillside in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The site, located within the borders of Delaplane, has a mix of gravel and rich, red clay soil in the topmost layer and granite in the subsoil.

The first figure below shows a core that has been drilled on the RdV property. The topmost soil layer is at the top of the leftmost tube while the extent of the core is at the bottom of the rightmost cylinder. The granite subsurface is more clearly illustrated in one section of the underground cellar (second picture following) which has been left exposed for observational purposes.

RdV soil core

Sixteen acres of the property were cleared for planting of the vineyards and were further segmented into the 11 plots shown in the figure below.

The built environment, human resources, and cultural practices are three critical legs of the the RdV viticultural stool. In terms of the built environment, RdV opted to plant Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) Cabernet Franc (40%), Merlot (12%), and Petit Verdot (8%) in its vineyard plots. The 30,000 vines planted were secured from a nursery in California and already had 2 years of growth under their belts at the time of planting in 2006. These vines were planted in a high-density format with grass between the rows to aid in moisture capture and retention.

RdV has assembled a formidable viticultural team to ensure the growth of the highest possible quality grapes in the vineyard. The Consulting Viticulturist is Jean-Philippe Roby, a Professor at Bordeaux Agro Sciences and ISVV Bordeaux University, a leading proponent of the concept of terroir, and an internationally renowned consultant in the field. Day-to-day management of the vineyard is the responsibility of of the estate's first employee, Gabriel Flores.

The estate vineyard management practices is based on sustainable viticulture.

World-Class Blending
If you are making Bordeaux-style wines, it makes sense to utilize the services of a Bordeaux-based consulting enologist to direct the blending. If, however, you want to make one of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the world, then it absolutely makes sense to utilize the services of one of the top Bordeaux enologists. And that is what RdV has done in securing the services of Eric Boissenet, blender of wines for four of the five Bordeaux First Growths. RdV is the only US-based client in the Boissenet portfolio.

The Wines
The estate's signature wine is called Lost Mountain and its 2014 blend was 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Merlot. The second label is called Rendezvous and its 2014 blend was 42% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot. For those steeped in the wines of Bordeaux, one can see a Left Bank - Right Bank divergence of these two wines.

Both of these wines are fermented in stainless steel and aged for 2 years in 100% New French oak (Troncais and Allier, medium toast). The wines are racked every 6 months during barrel aging. Wines are fined with egg whites before bottling and spend another year aging in bottle.

We tasted the 2012 and 2013 Rendezvous and the 2013 Lost Mountain. The 2013 Rendezvous showed smoke, red fruit, and baking spices on the nose. Red fruit and dark chocolate and elegance on the palate. The 2012 Rendezvous had the 2012 characteristics plus cigar, leather, licorice, and tar. Sweeter fruit and concentrated but not as focused. Great acid levels. Great finish.

The 2013 Lost Mountain showed Mahogany and baking spices with a hint of castor oil. Concentrated but not as focused as I would have liked. Creamy, fudge, chocolate on the palate. A little bit of a hole in the mid palate.

Of the two labels that I tasted that day, my preference was for the Lost Mountain.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The wines of Poderi Aldo Conterno at the Wine Watch White Truffle Dinner

I visited Poderi Aldo Conterno in Bussia in 2012 as a member of a Decanter Reader Team and was enthralled by its origin story, its holdings and practices, and its wines. The focus of our tasting on that trip was the estate's 2009 vintage. The Wine Watch White Truffle  Dinner, held at the new Wine Watch Wine Bar, offered me an opportunity to relive the tasting portion of my prior experience, this time with a focus on the 2013 vintage, and with Franco Conterno, eldest of the trio of brothers managing the estate, as the headliner, instead of Giacomo. I report on the tasting in this post.

The evening began with copiuos amounts of Lo Sparviere Franciacorta being poured in the bar area for attendees' pleasure. After the passage of some time, Andrew invited us to take our seats at the table set up in the southwestern corner of the bar.

All of the wines had been pre-poured and stationed at each attendee's position. Andrew introduced Franco and then turned the floor over to him. He also advised us to begin tasting the wines.

Franco gave a short presentation that was affected by the noise from the other sections of the bar. I was seated at the far end of the table and could not hear much. After I protested about the noise, Andrew walked over and asked them to tone it down (which, in fairness to them, is not what you expect to hear when you go to a bar. Andrew communicated with me by email as to how he expects to address this issue going forward.).

I began tasting the wines during Franco's presentation. First up was the 2013 Bussiador Chardonnay. I asked Franco about the 2013 vintage for this wine and he characterized it as a classic vintage for Chardonnay. It was cold with a lot of sun in the summer (great for ripeness and polyphenols, he said). There was enough water in the summer and September and October were pretty good. This produced a balanced wine with elegance.

The Chardonnay grapes are grown on 35- to 40-year old vines resident on 2.56 ha of the Chastain vineyard and, while the winery has the capacity for 30,000 bottles, they only vinify 6000 bottles.  The wine is placed in stainless steel tanks until the initiation of alcoholic fermentation when they are transferred to 100% new oak barriques for its completion and for malolactic fermentation.

A nuttiness on the nose. Beautiful feel on the palate. Walnut character and a slight salinity. Beautiful weight on the palate. Balanced and elegant with a lengthy finish. This is an absolutely beautiful representation of Chardonnay.

Two dishes book-ended Franco's presentation: A White Truffle dish done pancake style followed by a Ravioli with Herb Ricotta and Quail Egg. Both of these dishes were of extremely high quality.

The next wine tasted was the 2014 Conca Tre Pile Barbera d'Alba DOC. Grapes for this wine are sourced from Conca Tre Pile, "a hilly area in Bussia Soprano whose main vines are Barbera," said vines being a maximum of 45-years old. The wine is vinified in stainless steel and its first aging period is within those vats. It is transferred into oak casks for the final months of aging.

Red fruit on the nose with bright red fruit on the palate. An easy drinking wine with good concentration. Medium finish.

Next up was the 2013 Langhe Rosso. This is a blend of Freisa, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot sourced from various vineyards in Bussia. Like the Conca Tre Pile, this wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in a mix of stainless steel and oak casks.

Easy drinking. Bright, intense red fruit.

At this time the third dish was served, a pleasantly earthy, salty, almost-transparent Veal Carpaccio.

I next tasted the 2011 and 2013 Il Favot Langhe Nebbiolo DOC.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from 20-year-old vines from a number of vineyards in Bussia.  After hand harvesting, the crushed grapes are allowed to stay in contact with the skins in stainless steel tanks in order to increase the color and tannin levels in the finished wine. Vinification occurs in the stainless steel tanks where the wine remains for 6 months post-vinification.  The wines are transferred to 100% new oak barriques at the end of that six month period and will mature therein for another 18 months after which they are bottled.

The 2011 showed violets, tar, olives, earth and baking spices on the nose. Medium body with a definite savoriness on the palate. Medium finish  Similar characteristics on the 2013 though weightier and less developed.

Franco Conterno

The 2013 Barolo Bussia is made with grapes from 15- to 20-year-old vines drawn from a number of vineyards in Bussia. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to oak casks for aging. A bit of a plum note to accompany tar, roses and licorice. Concentrated with a great mouthfeel. Beautiful wine.

The 2012 Colonello Barolo DOCG was made from grapes grown in the highest position in the namesake vineyard.  Bright red fruit, herbs, tar, and spices on the nose. Powerful red fruit. Textured.

The Granbussia Riserva DOCG is the flagship wine of the estate.  The 4950-bottle production is made from grapes drawn from the Cicala (15%), Colonello (15%), and Romirasco (70%) vineyards. These grapes are co-fermented in wood with 60 days of skin contact and spend another 32 months maturing prior to bottling.  The wine is stored for another 12 to 18 months after bottling.  We tasted the 1999 edition of this wine.

On the nose tar, roses, herbs and an earthiness.  Started off slightly tired on the palate but took wing after some time in the glass. Powerful, richness, and tar.  Long finish.

All in all, a pretty good tasting. I had not been to a Wine Watch tasting in a long while so I was excited to revisit as well as to meet one of my New York City tasting pals there. Andrew has been doing these events for a while and, as such, he knows his customer base and the producers that pass through. I privately gave him some of my thoughts on the event and he was gracious enough to respond in a detailed fashion.

Looking forward to future tastings at, and visits to, the brand new Wine Bar.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wine Watch Wine Bar (Fort Lauderdale, FL): A welcome addition to a wine bar desert

Wine Watch is a "boutique" wine retailer located at 901 Progresso Drive in the Flagler Village section of Fort Lauderdale. The store, for me, has been characterized by a lack of external signage, a nondescript exterior, no visible/easily detectable entrance, and, once you enter, a wide range of wines from around the world scattered throughout the darkened interior on a mix of shelves, carts, boxes, etc. That being said, this is one of the few retail establishments in Florida where you can walk in and buy very old vintages off the shelf.

The store is well known for its winemaker dinners and other wine-themed events. Wine-tasting dinners, when held on site, were squeezed into a devoted area in the shop. There is no kitchen so these events were always a logistical challenge.

No more. As of June of this year, Wine Watch has opened an honest-to-goodness wine bar just down 3rd Street from the retail store.

Location of new Wine Watch Wine Bar shown in relation to the
wine shop
I was unaware of this development so when I went to last Thursday's Aldo Conterno dinner, and I got there early, I went into a bar down the street to pass the time. And, as in the case of the retail shop, there was no external signage to alert me to the fact that such an entity existed.

As it got close to the time for the dinner (and I saw no cars outside the retail shop), I called to double check as to where the event was going to be held. I was told at the wine bar across from the retail shop.

As I stepped through the door, this amazing tapestry unfolded before my eyes. Beautiful wood floor; OWC ceilings; front walls adorned with original bottle labels (many signed by producers); cork-and-bottle chandeliers; lots and lots of racks containing neatly stacked bottles; a well-appointed bar to the left front; beautifully appointed and apportioned customer spaces; and, in the distance, a full kitchen.

Wine-label festooned walls

Cork-and-bottle chandeliers

According to Andrew (Lampasone, Proprietor), the bar is open Wednesday to Saturday in the evenings and he is trying to get patrons acclimatized to that schedule. Friday night folks tend to bring great bottles from their cellar to share and Saturday is "Brown-Bag Day" for those willing to participate.

The wines on display in the shelves are available for purchase by the bottle but there is also a phenomenal by-the-glass program. For example, on the night after the dinner, they were going to be serving 1995 L'Evangile out of magnum by the glass. All BTG wines are opened fresh each day.

For our event, a long table was set up to the back left of the bar. The setup was pleasing to the eye. The one shortcoming was a lack of separation between the participants in the dinner and the other patrons. From time to time it was difficult to hear what the winemaker was saying.

I tasted three dishes from the kitchen and each was extremely good.

This is a welcome addition to a wine bar desert with the only other wine bar of substance (now heavily outclassed) in the area being Vienna Cafe and Wine Bar in Davie. I will be visiting this bar frequently.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Linden Vineyards (Linden, VA): Winemaking and wines

After treating the viticultural aspects of Linden Vineyards, I now turn to the estate's winemaking and wines. The Jim Law overarching winemaking philosophy, as I see it, is "do no harm." Jim feels strongly that wine is made in the vineyard and his minimalist winemaking approach is designed to reveal the qualities which have been bestowed to the fruit by the terroir.

The Linden Vineyard style for its white wines "center around a refreshing minerality" with the weight of the wine coming from "the vineyard (sap) rather than the winemaking (alcohol, oak, lees)." Red wines are blends of Bordeaux varieties, reflecting Jim's view that "blending produces the most balanced and interesting wines." The table below captures the architecture of the Linden Vineyard product offerings.

Table 1. Linden Vineyards Wines Architecture
Wine Type Single-Vineyard Varietal Single-Vineyard Bordeaux Blend Multi-Vineyard Varietal Multi-Vineyard Bordeaux Blend
White Hardscrabble Chardonnay

Avenius Chardonnay

Sauvignon Blanc

Boisseau Viognier





Boisseau Red Petit Verdot Claret

Hardscrabble Red

Late Harvest Petit Manseng


The holy grail in the provision of single-vineyard wines is to best display the characteristics of the terroir in which the fruit was grown. But it is Jim's view that only the highest quality fruit is capable of being terroir-expressive. Any fruit that is incapable of representing its terroir is declassified into the Claret.

The Linden Vineyard white and red winemaking processes are detailed in the charts below.

Working the sorting table

After our discussion with Jim, Frank and I returned to the Tasting Room to taste some of the winery's current releases.

The 2016 Riesling showed sweet fruit but a lack of concentration. The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon, all from the Hardscrabble Vineyard. This wine showed lime, lime rind, and tropical fruits on the nose. Bright, with some bitterness, salinity, and spiciness on the palate. Drying minerality.

The 2016 Rosé is a blend of Bordeaux varietals (35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot) from the Hardscrabble (55%), Boisseau (40%), and Avenius (5%) Vineyards. A nice mineral nose with a note of spiciness and citrus. Bright and persistent.

The 2014 Claret is a blend of Bordeaux varietals (44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot) from the Hardscrabble (70%), Boisseau (15%), and Avenius (15%) Vineyards. Red fruit with some VA and green bean. Nice, light, easy drinking wine with bright red fruit.

The 2013 Petit Verdot had a smoky plum note and bright acidity but was somewhat disaggregated. The 2015 exhibited spice, darker fruit, a rich, smooth mouthfeel with good acid levels. Rich, mineral finish. Delicious.

During the course of our earlier conversation with Jim, Frank had asked which of the Linden Vineyard vintages were his favorites. For the whites, he said, 2009, 2013, and 2015 had been the best vintages. For the reds, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2016. I look forward to going back to Linden Vineyards at sometime in the future to taste some of the older vintages in order to determine how these wines handle the passage of time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Linden Vineyards (Linden, Virginia): Rebalancing for A-Class wines

I first visited Linden Vineyards about 5 or so years ago with the Lenn Thompson Taste Camp group and came away impressed with what I saw and heard. The size of the group did not allow the capture of detailed enough information so I did not report on the visit at that time.

Shortly after that visit, I had the good fortune to interview Dr. Bruce Zoecklein (at that time Professor of Enology at Virginia Tech and head of the Wine/Enology - Grape Chemistry Group; formerly Virginia State Enologist) and sought his impression of Jim Law and Linden Vineyards. Dr. Zoecklein saw Jim as having quite a unique situation vis a vis other Virginia winemakers:
  • Jim had dealt with estate fruit for over 25 years and had gained an empirical understanding of what works and what does not
  • Jim is great at making observations and banking them
  • Wine quality factors are in the vineyard and Jim is a great student of viticulture.
Coming from Dr. Zoecklein, this was very high praise indeed and further added to my resolve to revisit Linden for a more detailed data collection effort. I got my chance to do so when Frank Morgan ( arranged for us to visit to the estate on September 22nd of this year.

Linden Vineyards is situated on the outskirts of the town of Linden in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The red dot on the map below positions the estate within the context of the state and the broader region.

Red tag indicates location of Linden Vineyards
We went directly to the tasting room upon arrival and alerted staff as to our presence. The Tasting Room Attendant said that Jim was on the crush pad but had left word that he should be alerted when Frank arrived. Jim came upstairs soon after and welcomed us to the estate. After an exchange of pleasantries, Jim invited us to join him downstairs. He was in the middle of pressing some Chardonnay but could converse with us while monitoring the process.

Once on the crush pad we saw two presses being operated jointly by Shari Avenius, Linden Vineyards General Manager, and Jonathan Weber, the winemaker. We had the opportunity to observe the collegial manner in which the trio worked but there was no mistaking who had the final word.

Before addressing the Linden environment, Jim discussed making wine in the Virginia -- the wettest viticultural region in the world, as he sees it. Because of the rainfall volumes, landscape form and soil composition are major determinants of wine quality. In comparing the California and Virginia wine regions, he saw the former as having a focus on irrigation while the latter is focused on water evacuation.

Jim Law of Linden Vineyards and Frank Morgan
of Drink What You Like in an intense discussion
during our visit
Jim's guiding principles are as follows:
  • A wine's first job is to complement a meal and, as such, it should have good acidity and structure and moderate alcohol
  • Soil, site, and microclimate are more important than grape variety
  • Work hard in the vineyard to derive as much concentration as possible from the fruit
  • Non-interventionist in the cellar.
As it relates to the Linden environment, Linden Vineyards Ltd is the winery operation while Hardscrabble, Avenius, and Boisseau are the vineyard sites serving as fruit sources. Hardscrabble is the vineyard surrounding the farmstead and was the founding vineyard planted by Jim in 1985. Avenius is located 0.5 miles north of Hardscrabble and is owned by the aforementioned Shari Avenius, while Boisseau, owned by Richard Boisseau, is located 5 miles to the west in the town of Front Royal. The characteristics of these vineyards are presented in the figure below.

Looking out over one of the Hardscrabble plots from the
Six acres of Hardscrabble was initially planted in 1985 but, according to Jim, he had not planted the right grapes in the right places. As he described it, he had planted C vines on A sites and gotten B wines. He is now in the final phase of a rebalancing program aimed at addressing this initial flaw. For example, some soils are too water-retentive for Cabernet Sauvignon so they are switching to Chardonnay at those sites. The application of this rebalancing philosophy -- in relation to Bordeaux cultivars -- is shown in the chart below.

Linden Vineyards has a comprehensive set of vineyard practices which are designed to ensure that the highest quality grapes make it to the harvest. The practice architecture, and associated activities, are shown in the chart below.

I will continue this discourse in a follow-up post on winemaking and the wines of Linden Vineyards.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, October 20, 2017

The 18 greatest vineyards in the Barolo zone

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.). By taking the top-rated crus under their individual classification schemes, I have arrived at a list of the best Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barolo zone (and, hence, in the world). These 18 vineyards are shown graphically on the Barolo Zone map below and are summarized in the text following.

According to, Brunate had been identified as producing "wines of special character" over 500 years ago. This 25-ha cru is an inter-commune vineyard with administrative responsibility shared between the towns of Barolo and La Morra. According to, the soil profiles and exposure on both sides of the dividing line are essentially the same but the altitudes differ, ranging from 230 m to 400 m. The soils feature marls of S. Agata fossils with good levels of sand, especially in the higher elevations.
The lower sand levels in the soil result in aromas that are less intense but feature notes of fruit and spice such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As the wine matures, the fine structure of the terroir translates into hints of tobacco, rose and liquorice. And in great vintages, the nose has notes of truffle and tar. Alkalinity and elevated calcium levels give the final wine a touch of delicate elegance ... The Barolo of Brunate can be defined as a particularly balanced wine with an ample nose and an intense structure with good alcohol levels, as well as generous tannins and body.
According to, "It is one of the most representative vineyards of the commune of La Morra and has always been considered one of the points of reference of the entire appellation." Vinous cites Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini who identified Brunate wines as "austere, yet ethereal, notes of spices, mint, licorice and balsamic are all very typical." Polaner Selections was pithy: "Brunate is one of the greatest vineyards in the Barolo region ... with wines that "... are prized for their depth, power and brilliant balance..."

Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA) describes this MGA as extending over two virtually opposing slopes with the one facing Casa Nere being better exposed and yielding the better wines of the two.The micro-climate of the MGA is excellent, protected as it is from the cold northern winds by the La Morra hills. The loose soils, primarily silt and clay, "favors the production of structured, tannic wines that are more powerful than those from Brunate" (

Cerequio vineyard looking out from Palas Cerequio.

Masnaghetti sees Cerequio as "An MGA of truly superior level, accordingly, which generally expresses a style characterized by structure and austerity but with an innate sense of power and proportion which gives this Barolo a warmer and more dynamic development on the palate compared to Brunate."

Rocche di Castiglione
Rocche di Castiglione, described by Masnaghetti as one of the most prestigious crus in all of the Barolo appellation, is located 88% in the Castiglione Falletto township and 12% in Monforte d'Alba. Its 14.36 ha (stated elsewhere in the book as 16.33 ha) has 52% devoted to vineyards (92% of vines in Castiglione Falletto and the remainder in Monforte d'Alba) and 95% of those vines growing Barolo-targeted Nebbiolo fruit. The remaining vines are targeted at Dolcetto (5%), Barbera (0.5%), and Langhe Rosso (0.5%). describes the cru thusly:
Rocche di Castiglione is one of the smallest and most renowned vineyards of the entire Barolo area. Located at an altitude of 300-350 meters above sea level, this "Cru" consists of a number of small, steep vineyard properties, and forms a long narrow strip along the side of a very steep hill with an east-southeast exposition. The lower part of this long strip of earth, which is about 1.5 km long and 60-70 meters high, sits on a cliff (rocche) that in some places drops as much as 150 meters to the Perno river at the bottom. It is characterized by large, sharp limestone blocks mixed in with the marl soil typical of the eastern side of the Barolo appellation, known as "Helvetian soils" and producing the more structured, long aging and complex wines. 
These characteristics give the wines of Rocche unique, well-defined aromas of floral and mineral compounds, softer tannins than the rest of the Helvetian zone resulting in excellent balance, and a distinctive elegance. An 'iron fist in a velvet glove."
Luca Currado, in his comments at the Galloni Rocche di Castiglione Retrospective, described Rocche wine as being like a Swiss watch in that it is very difficult to put together. First, the vineyard is steep and very difficult to work; everything has to be done by hand.  Second, vinifying Rocche is a challenging exercise. They do extended submerged cap and the tannins always take a long time to come together and then ... pop. According to Luca, you have to wait longer for the Rocche tannins to resolve than for any of his other wines.

Overlooking the Scarrone Vineyard from the Vietti winery.

Castiglione Falletto is located between Serralunga d'Alba and La Morra and its Rocche di Castiglione MGA has elements of both of these bordering communes. According to Luca, Rocche wines have the silky tannins and elegance of La Morra and the complexity, depth and power of Serralunga d'Alba.

Rocche dell'Annunziata
One of the three La Morra crus included in the top-rated-Barolo-cru categorization (the other two are Brunate and Cerequio), Rocche dell'Annunziato was part of a larger territory (Marcenasco) managed by the Benedictine monks resident in the Abbey of San Martine. According to, the vineyard appears to have grown in three distinct stages:
  • Stage 1 -- The original part of the vineyard (18.8 ha) covering the lower, south- and west-facing lands below the road to Torriglione.
  • Stage 2 -- Somewhere between 1988 and 1994, it grew to encompass the southwest-facing plots (Oberto, Mascarellos, Scavino, Accomasso) just above the aforementioned road.
  • Stage 3 -- A final push to the borgata ofoiolo (Rocche Costamagna, Erbaluna). 
The vineyard lies in a hollow between the hills of San Martini and Cerequio-Brunate and, as such, experiences the sun's rays from early morning until late in the afternoon.

The Tortonian-era soils are of a clayey-calcareous nature, chalky white on the higher slopes, and siltier lower down. According to, the soil is between 40% and 50% silt, a characteristic it holds in common with the lower vineyard of Cannubi Boschis. The stones present in the soils aid in drainage.

The wines from this MGA are noted for body (less noticeable than in the cases of Brunate and Cerequio), elegance (more concrete and less ethereal than is the case for Rocche di Castiglione), and complexity (Masnaghetti). Further, they are graceful and richly scented (Carlo Petrini, A Wine Atlas of the Langhe)

For Antonio Galloni, Rocche dell'Annunziata
... yields Barolos of finesse. Rocche dell'Annunziata is known for its striking, floral perfume (violets, roses), sweet spices, dark red fruit and silky tannins. These are gracious, feminine Barolos that tend to open up relatively early, but also age with grace. Rocche dell'Annunziata showcases the refined side of Barolo.
    Monprivato is an "exceptionally fine vineyard on the long strip of hillside that descends from the village of Castglione Falletto to the houses of Garbelletto" (Petrini). It is "doubtlessly one of the most prestigious of the MGAs ..." (Masnaghetti).

    Monprivato is an historic vineyard, as shown by land registry archives dating to 1666. It is primarily farmed by Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli, with a small portion held by Giovanni Sordo. The crus southwest exposure, and lack of surrounding obstacles, ensures all-day access to the sun's rays.

    According to, the soil is a "clayey-silty marl with good structure, a high content of active limestone, and a well-proportioned supply of micro-elements." This soil is similar to soils of the other great vineyards on the western side of Castiglione Falletto (Petrini).

    Monprivato wines are well-structured but also offer  "elegance and intense aromas" (Petrini). Masnaghetti notes that Monprivato wines are sometimes similar to the wines of Rocche and sometimes similar to the "balanced austerity" of Villero and have delivered a long series of frequently memorable vintages.
    The soil composition and vineyard's south-westerly exposure at midday provides the Barolo wine with excellent body, a subtle bouquet, delicate tar, a lingering aftertaste, an unmistakably clear elegance, and the ability to evolve in a very positive way over time.
    A favored plot within the monopole was planted with the best clones of Michét and, in 1988, the estate began making a wine called Ca' d'Morrisio from this parcel. Both the Ca' d'Morrisio and the Monprivato cru are only made in the very best years.

    Even though Villero is only located "a few dozen meters" from the vineyards at Rocche di Castiglione, it has a very different soil type ( Villero's
    ... soil is tough and more compact than the Rocche because it has a higher amount of clay with limestones. The presence of clay silicates helps it retain water ... Rocche is looser and poor in nutrients.
    Both Masnaghetti and Petrini concur with this characterization. In addition, Masnaghetti sees the Villero soil as, at times, deeper and more fertile than the soils of Monprivato.

    Villero is one of the "most divided up" of the Castiglione Falletto MGAs as well as being one of the most homogenous in terms of aspect (Masnaghetti). With the exception of the lowest and highest parts of the slope -- west-facing -- the vineyard has a southwest exposure. Masnaghetti identifies the upper middle parts of the slope as being most favorably positioned while the lower portions are best suited for non-Nebbiolo reds and white grapes.

    The wines from Villero grapes are a little less elegant, with more structure, alcohol, and tannins than wines from Rocche (Petrini). Masnaghetti also describes the wines in this comparative manner seeing it as having more structure and less finesse than the wines of Monprivato. Oddero finds the wines of Villero to be rounder and juicier, with warm tones and dark fruit notes" as compared to Rocche wines which are "longer, more vertical in structure, and have more marked minerality."

    According to Selected Estates, "the presence of loam and brown clay in the soil makes Villero stand out as one of the most profound, dark-fruited crus of Barolo, with characteristic aromas of black plum, anise seeds, withered rose petals, and rhubarb."

    Previously known as Cascina Francia, this cru was renamed Francia as part of the MGA naming process. This vineyard was purchased by the Conterno family in 1974.

    The soil is a calcareous limestone and, combined with the southwest exposure of the vineyards, yields high-quality grapes (Petrini).

    One of the southernmost of the Serralunga crus, it has relatively recently been planted to Nebbiolo. Previously it was dominated by Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barbera.

    The wines are rich in tannins and require 7 to 8 years in the cellar to reveal their true potential. According to Masnagheti, the cru yields wines that are "truly classic, rigorous but not hard, solid but not excessively concentrated." The wines have a high degree of salinity (

    Monfortino is made from the best grapes in the greatest year and that search begins in the vineyard with selection and vinification of "proto-Monfortino" and Francia wines.

    Vignarionda is a round-shaped (hence the name), gently sloping (300 to 350 m) vineyard located in the Serralunga d'Alba subzone.
    If you ask a resident of Serralunga to name the town's three finest vineyards, one of the trio is sure to be Vigna Rionda. It is an historic vineyard. The quality of its grapes has been celebrated for hundreds of years and the greatest names in Langhe winemaking have for many years made special efforts to acquire grapes from Vigna Rionda (Petrini).
    The vineyard's location ensures access to sunshine for most of the day while also using the Castelleto hills for protection from excessive winds.

    According to
    Like all soil in Serralunga, its origins date back to the Serravallian Age (sometimes called Helvetian), characterized by Lequio soil, or layers of grey marl alternating with sandstone, formed by siliceous sands that are more or less cemented between the marl layers, and calcium carbonate, iron carbonate, and inorganic residuals of vegetable and mineral organisms. Vignarionda's soil is rich in microelements like potassium, boron, manganese, and magnesium. Its active limestone content is quite high -- at 13.58%, it is the highest in the entire Barolo zone.
    The wines from the cru are "fairly tannic ... with outstanding structure and excellent aging potential" (Petrini). Masnaghetti sees the wines as "austere, severe, and sometimes unyielding, whether they be made from from the grapes of the historical nucleus ... or those grown in the western-facing sector."

    Cannubi is a long, gradually sloping hill which extends northeast from the village of Barolo and is contained in its entirety within the namesake commune. According to the Marchesi di Barolo website, Cannubi hill is protected from storms and extreme weather by higher neighboring hills. Both Damilano and Marchesi di Barolo point to the uniqueness of the hill in that it sits at the convergence of the aforementioned Helvetian and Tortonian soil zones resulting in "grey-blue marls rich in magnesium and manganese carbonate that, on the surface, thanks to the air and the weathering, turn into grey-white marls" (Marchesi di Barolo).

    Chiara Boschis' Pira e Figli was the first Cannubi estate to convert to organic farming, gaining its certification in 2014 (Labor of Love). But she was not content with practicing this only in her vineyard. She became an evangelist on Cannubi such that today fully 99% of the producers on the hill are organic.

    "We are not exaggerating when we say that Gabutti is the starting point of a long ribbon of vineyards along the side of the most prestigious hill in the municipality of Serralunga, and one of the most outstanding in the entire Barolo DOCG zone." (Petrini).

    The south-facing aspect, steep slope, and protection from the wind combine to render this MGA a prime location for the growth of Nebbiolo grapes. Soils are of the Lequio Formation with loose calcareous clay marls from the Langhian stage of the Miocene epoch.

    Masnaghetti sees the beating heart of the MGA as the area between Parafada and Cascina Marianot where the southern exposure compensates for the relative lack of luminosity. The style of wines from that area range from "the rugged and rather classical tannic impact of of the Cappellano wines to the rougher Barolo of Franco Boasso, whereas the eastern side of the cru offers the flowing and floral style of Giovanni Sordo's Gabutti."

    This vineyard is more uniform in its exposure than Gabutti or Lazzarito and can be seen as a bridge between those two MGAs (Masnaghetti). The Delizia plot, primarily owned by Fontanafredda, produces very high-quality wines from its "fairly shallow white clay and limestone marl" soils (Petrini).

    The wines from Parafada are "less voluminous than Lazzarito and more refined than Gabutti" and are endowed with the vigor and presence on palate and nose that is the hallmark of a first-order wine (Masnaghetti).

    A large vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba whose name can probably be traced back to an ancient hospital for Black Plague victims on the property. According to Masnaghetti, the vineyard can be divided into two parts:
    • Eastern slope -- smaller in size and less well known
    • Western slope -- can be further divided into the La Delizia and Lazzarito amphitheaters
    Masnaghetti also references a < 2 ha plot lower down on the slope called Lazzairasco, an area with favorable south to southeast exposure and with excellent quality potential. Santa Caterina, on the southern boundary, like Lazzairasco, was absorbed by Lazzarito in 1990 during the township-mapping process.

    A significant portion of the vineyard is owned by Fontanafredda but Ettore Germano and Vietti also farm plots there. Sergio Germano (Ettore Germano) and Luca Currado (Vietti) were both interviewed about the vineyard on a Vinous video. Sergio sees the main characteristics of the vineyard as the elegance and finesse that it imparts to the wine. The wine is strong with lean-textured tannins and a lengthy finish. The soil has a high limestone concentration but also has some beach-like sand which gives a "slim texture" to the wine.

    The pronounced amphitheater of the Marenca vineyard provides the vines with excellent exposure to sunlight. The soil is a calcareous clay.

    There is only one labeled wine originating from the vineyard -- produced by Luigi Pira -- but it is of high quality "with a structure which is among the deepest and most complex of the entire township" (Masnaghetti).

    The vineyard sits at the foot of the inhabited area of Serralunga d'Alba and is immediately recognizable by the vine rows running vertically up the hillside rather than horizontally across the hill, as is the case for neighboring  vineyards.

    According to Petrini, Rivette has always been regarded as an excellent location for growing Nebbiolo. The soil is a loosely packed marl and limestone mix and the quality of the grape are "beyond dispute." Petrini's description of the MGA is a little at odds with that of Masnaghetti's who states that, with the exception of a few small plots owned by Pira and Massolino, the remainder of the vineyard -- owned by Gaja -- is used for white grape production.

    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 one of his greatest Barolos.

    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, 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.

    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: "Barolo Ornato is known for its intense aromas, which over time acquire a distinct note 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."

    I conclude with a compilation of the key characteristics of each of the mentioned vineyards arranged by degree of agreement among the three experts.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme