One of the best happenings in the world of wine that has taken place during my lifetime is that wine lovers have discovered the wonders of Barolo and Barbaresco--as well as Brunello di Montalcino. When I first became serious about wine, only two red wines dominated the market: Bordeaux and Burgundy. A small group of white wine lovers appreciated fine Rieslings of Germany (as well as white Burgundy), and dessert wine buffs loved Vintage Port, but that was it.
When I first traveled to Italy’s Piedmont region some 30+ years ago, I was astounded by the wines (and food) of this region, and became an immediate convert--not only of Barolo and Barbaresco, but also of the region’s other, less renowned wines, such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. (To this day, my favorite wine regions remain Piedmont and Champagne.)
As I think back, the two factors that were most responsible for the acclaim that Piedmontese wines now receive were the growth of the number of wine writers who started publicizing the wines, and the mission of one man, the colorful, indefatigable Angelo Gaja, who personally put Barbaresco on the wine map. Of course, Piedmontese wines did improve in quality, but only after the spotlight of the wine world focused on them. I am happy because Piedmontese winemakers who barely eked out a decent living before their wines were discovered are now receiving fair prices for their wines.
Today, the most renowned winemakers--such as Barolo’s Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Giuseppe Mascarello, Bruno Giacosa (his Barolo and Barbaresco), Aldo Conterno, and Barbaresco’s Angelo Gaja--now are priced comparable to the best-known Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. And thanks to a recently released book, Kerin O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco (University of California Press, 2014), we now have access to the names of many lesser-known producers in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions, almost all of whom are imported into the United States.
Kerin O’Keefe, a native of Boston, has been living in Italy and Switzerland for over 20 years, and is a special fan of Piedmontese wines. She knows the wines as well or better than most wine writers; Kerin told me that she lives just a two-hour drive away from Piedmont, which she frequently visits.
O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco has three Parts: Part One gives an overall view of the region, including its wine history; Part Two recommends Kerin’s favorite Barolos, and Part Three her favorite Barbarescos. Both Parts Two and Three include many wines that have clearly been under the radar in the U.S. Part Three is especially important, because Barbaresco, only one-third the size of Barolo, has received such little attention in writing up until now.
I have selected some of my favorite under-the-radar Barolos and Barbarescos from O’Keefe’s book (I do not cover well-known producers here) and I give a short profile of the wines. Many of the wines listed sell for under $50.
It doesn’t hurt that Kerin O’Keefe and I share similar views on Barolo and Barbaresco: We both prefer traditionally styled Barolos and Barbarescos (that is, well-structured wines, not too fruity or highly extracted, and not aged excessively in new oak barrels). The wines are in no particular order; the location of the producers’ vineyards is listed in parentheses:
Elvio Cogno (Novello): Novello is small, little-known village in the region, just south of the town of Barolo. Elvio Cogno should be more well known; he was co-founder and winemaker of Marcarini Winery before he founded his own winery in 1991. Cogno uses grapes from Novello’s best vineyard, Ravera, for his very traditional Barolos. Wines are aged only in large, older casks. (Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera, 2006; 2008, $45-$60.)
Cavallotto (Castiglione Falletto): This village is one of the most acclaimed in the region, and Cavallotto is one of its best Barolo producers. One may wonder why Cavallotto is not better-known; serious followers of Barolo know these traditional wines, but Cavallotto has never received the attention it deserves. Brothers Olivio and Gildo Cavallotto began bottling their own Barolos in 1948 from their superb vineyard, Bricco Boschis. The Cavallottos were among the first in the region to practice organic farming, from their very old vines, averaging 50 years in age. (Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis, 2006; 2008; 2010, $44-$55.)
Cappellano (Serralunga d’Alba): Serralunga d’Alba is noted for producing the most powerful, austere Barolos in the region. No winery I list here is more underrated than Cappellano--which has a cult status among a small following of serious Barolistas. It is a small winery that has gone out of its way to not be commercialized (similar to the renowned Bartolo Mascarello winery). Cappellano has always avoided writers or wine magazines that use numerical ratings, and sends no free samples to anyone. Teobaldo Cappellano, who passed away in 2009, finally opened his winery up to visitors about ten years ago. Cappellano Barolos are strictly traditional, including some made from ungrafted vines. I have been following Barolo for a long time, but I discovered Cappellano just less than 10 years ago. I love Cappellano Barolos. In quality, they rank with the best producers in the region. Some of their vines are 70 years old or more. The Barolo made from ungrafted vines is called “Piè Franco,” and is a special favorite of O’Keefe and me. It is powerful, austere, beautifully scented and very long lasting. (Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris 2008, $70 -$80; Piè Franco 2007; 2008; 2009, $145-$175.)
Marcarini (La Morra): La Morra is the largest village in the Barolo region, and is known for its elegant, less tannic Barolos, often with aromas of white truffles, which grow in the region. Although quite a large number of Barolos from La Morra are made in a more modern style, Marcarini ‘s Barolos are classical and very traditional. Its Barolos are aged in 40-year old large casks. Marcarini’s two Barolos come from “Brunate” and “La Serra” vineyards; La Serra’s Barolos are the more robust of the two. Both are beautifully scented, and require aging. In other words, they are not typical La Morra Barolos. Excellent values! (Marcarini Barolo, Brunate or La Serra 2008; 2010, $40-$45.)
Attilio Ghisolfi (Monforte d’Alba): It was a tasting I recently had of Ghisolfi’s three Barolos, all of which I enjoyed, that prompted me to write this column. Attilio Ghisolfi’s wines are exceptional, classically traditional--and yet I had barely heard of Ghisolfi before I tasted them a few weeks ago. Gianmarco Ghisolfi began bottling his Barolos in 1988, although his family had been making wine for three generations. His vineyards are located in the Visette district of Bussia--the most well-known vineyard area in Monforte d’Alba. Ghisolfi’s largest production Barolo is his Bussia (about $45); his Bussia Visette is made from older vines ($57-$60); in great vintages, GhIsolfi produces his Riserva Fantini from his Visette vineyards’ oldest vines, up to 65 years in age (about $80). The good news is that Ghisolfi’s wines are well-represented in U.S. shops, even though the winery is relatively small. The Riserva Fantini is the most difficult to find. Ghisolfi also makes an outstanding, very traditional Barbera d’Alba ($15-$20). (Ghisolfi Barolo Bussia 2006; 2007; 2008; 2009, $45.)
Principiano (Serralunga d’Alba): Although Ferdinando Principiano’s winery is in Monforte d’Alba, his vineyards are in Serralunga d’Alba (exactly the same situation as the great Giacomo Conterno; in fact, Principiano’s single-vineyard Boscareto is next to Conterno’s Cascina Francia vineyard). The difference is that the little-known Principiano Barolo sells for $35, while Giacomo Conterno’s Barolos are well over $100. Principiano is an advocate of natural wine, one of the very few in Barolo. All of his Barolos are aged in old Slavonian casks. Principiano uses no herbicides, and uses only wild yeasts to make his wines. Principiano’s largest production Barolo, his Serralunga d’Alba, is lovely, with the delightful Nebbiolo aromas of tar, roses, etc. (I’m drinking a glass of his 2010, as an inspiration, while writing this column.) It is fairly light-bodied for a Serralunga Barolo. Principiano’s single-vineyard Barolos, the Boscareto and Ravera, sell for $60, a very fair price considering their quality; the Ravera is made from 80 year-old vines!. (Principiano Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2010, $35.)
Burlotto (Verduno): The tiny village of Verduno is just north of La Morra. It is the home of Burlotto, one of Barolo’s oldest wineries (founded in 1850 by Barolo pioneer Giovan Batista Burlotto). And it is the home of Monvigliero, a famed Barolo vineyard. Burlotto bought his own vineyards and was bottling his own wines by the late 1800’s--two practices unheard of at that time. Verduno Barolos, like La Morra’s, are approachable sooner than other Barolos, but also possess the structure for lengthy aging. Today, Burlotto produces a standard Barolo for $40-$45, but the one to buy is Burlotto’s single-vineyard Barolo, Vigneto Monvigliero, only $5 more ($45-$50), surely one of the greatest buys in Barolo today. It has the fine aromas, structure and finesse one looks for in great Barolos. (Burlotto Barolo Vigneto Monvigliero 2008; 2009, $45-$50.)
Roagna (Barbaresco): Roagna is one of the older, well-established wineries in Barbaresco, and yet its name is not familiar to many wine lovers--typical of the lack of attention this region receives. Roagna practices very natural, organic farming, and produces about six different Barbarescos, many of which are single-vineyard wines, from vineyards averaging 55 to 60 years in age; the wines are all aged in large Slavonian casks. Roagna’s most well-known vineyard is Pajé. Roagna’s Barbarescos are intensely flavored, fragrant, and complex, and they age very well. (Roagna Barbaresco Pajé 2008, $60-$70.)
Cantina del Pino (Barbaresco): Cantina del Pino is another small winery in Barbaresco, owned by Renato Vacca (cousin of Aldo Vacca, winemaker of Produttori del Barbaresco) with a long history, and makes fine, inexpensive wines that are definitely under the radar. I stumbled upon Cantina del Pino in a small wine shop, and was impressed with the quality of these Barbarescos, especially considering their reasonable cost. Some of the vineyards Vacca uses are nearly 70 years old. Cantina del Pino produces lovely, traditional Barbarescos. (Cantina del Pino Barbaresco 2008; 2009; 2010, $33-$38.)
De Forville (Barbaresco): The De Forville winery is in the heart of the town of Barbaresco, right next to Gaja’s winery. The Anfossi family has been making Barbarescos here since 1860. Today, brothers Paolo and Valter Anfossi, who are the family’s fifth generation, produce terroir-driven Barbarescos from some of the area’s best vineyards. Plus the wines are reasonably priced. De Forville’s philosophy is to interfere as little as possible with their wines, which are aged in large Slavonian casks. (De Forville Barbaresco 2010; 2011, $29-$33.)
Castello d Neive (Neive): The imposing Castello di Neive, which sits in the heart of the town of Neive, has been owned by the Stupino family since 1964. In addition to having the Gallina and Basarin vineyards, the Stupinos own arguably Barbaresco’s most renowned vineyard, Santo Stefano, made famous by Bruno Giacosa’s stupendous Barbarescos produced from this vineyard. Kerin O’Keefe reports that Castello di Neive’s wines have improved tremendously in the past five to six vintages. Castello di Neive’s blended vineyard 2009 and 2010 Barbaresco sells for as little as $30-$33, but for a bit more, try the winery’s best Barbaresco, Santo Stefano, a great value at $38 to $50. (Castello di Neive Barbaresco Santo Stefano 2008; 2009; 2010, $38-$50.)
Rizzi (Treiso): The Dellapiana family is quite new to making Barbaresco, having founded Rizzi winery in Treiso--the least known of the three villages in the Barbaresco region--in 1974. All of its wines are made from its own estate vineyards, and are aged in large Slavonian casks. O’Keefe refers to Rizzi as “one of the rising stars” in Barbaresco. In addition to its standard Barbaresco, Rizzi produces three single-vineyard Barbarescos, all in the traditional style. (Rizzi Barbaresco 2008; 2010, $30-$35.)
Poderi Colla (San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, Alba): A very small part of the Barbaresco region, just 6%, is called San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. It was once a part of the commune of Treiso, but is now actually inside the zone of the city of Alba. Here we find Poderi Colla’s winery. It is owned by the Colla brothers, the renowned Beppe Colla and his younger brother Tino, as well as Beppe’s daughter, Federica. Beppe Colla purchased Prunotto Winery in Alba in 1956, and made it one of Barolo’s great wineries. Prunotto was later acquired by the Antinori family in 1990. The Collas later bought their current winery. Beppe is now 84, but still consults at Poderi Colla. Along with Bruno Giacosa, Beppe Colla is one of the last of the old guard, with tremendous knowledge of the Langhe vineyards. Tino Colla and Federica Colla run the winery. Poderi Colla makes both Barolo and Barbaresco in the traditional style. Colla’s Barolos are quite renowned, but its Barbarescos less so. Colla’s best Barbaresco comes from the Roncaglie vineyard. (Poderi Colla Barbaresco Roncaglie 2006; 2007, $45.)
Note that Barbaresco is generally priced quite a bit lower than its more famous cousin, Barolo (with a few exceptions, such as the Barbarescos of Gaja, Bruno Giacosa, and Ceretto). For example, Poderi Colla’s Barolos are priced about $15 to $20 higher than its Barbarescos. The easy conclusion is that Barbarescos are the better values. But you can still find good values among the lesser-known Barolos, as my list indicates. Great Barolos and Barbarescos don’t have to be super-expensive, as long as you steer clear of the famous names.