I dug through every book I could find to read and study the histories of producer after producer to better understand what I truly loved about the “king of wines and the wine of kings”.
Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Teobaldo Cappellano, and Giacomo Conterno became my mantra when dwelling upon that recipe that made Barolo great.
However, over time, something began to happen. It didn’t just happen to me. I noticed it throughout the entire community of Barolo collectors, enthusiasts, and even the most admired critics. Barolo was changing, and the word “traditional” was beginning to lose its meaning.
Hear me out, and erase any thoughts that this lover of traditional Barolo has had a change of heart. That’s not what this is about. Not at all. Today’s blog is about positive change and what is being called “progressive winemaking” in Piedmont.
We see a balanced green harvest.
We see a movement toward organic practices.
We witness producers seeking physiological ripeness.
We see spotless cellars and new, yet neutral, large barrels.
And we see a new Barolo, which is quite different from the wines of 30 years ago, which impresses the lovers of both the traditional and modern styles.
It’s a very exciting time to be a Barolo lover.
Having flown comfortably under the radar for decades, Azelia is now one of the top estates in the region. The reason for this was a misunderstanding from the wine buying public; in thinking that this was a “modern” Barolo producer. Those who loved the over-extracted and oaked versions of Barolo found Azelia to be too lifted and finessed for their tastes. Meanwhile, fans of the traditional school picked up on the hints of oak in their youth, and they immediately disregarded the wines, without giving them the time and platform to properly express themselves.
Years ago, Antonio Galloni of Vinous began to look back at vintages of Barolo for ten- and fifteen-year retrospectives, and one producer that was suddenly scoring at the top of the pyramid was Azelia. This wasn’t a change of tastes as much as it was an opening of minds. In fact, I witnessed it myself two years ago at a blind tasting of 1996 Barolo. A group of die-hard lovers of traditional Barolo were all blown away when the unveiling showed a ’96 Azelia Bricco Fiasco as the group’s third-place wine out of twelve.
Luigi took to the modern movement with a skeptical approach, realizing that green harvesting was a useful practice but also quickly shunning the use of chemical fertilizers, preferring instead to only use periodic applications of manure (every four years). He also saw the potential of other vineyards within the region, especially in Serralunga, where the family now produces single-vineyard wines from Margheria, San Rocco and Voghera.
If you don’t believe me, then grab a mature bottle and see for yourself. In my opinion, Azelia is one of the next superstars of the Barolo region. They are still under the radar for the most part, but I doubt that can last much longer.
If their 25% new oak aged Bricco Fiasco or San Rocco still scares you, then try the Barolo normale, Margheria or Riserva Bricco Voghera, which all complete their aging in large casks. Either way, you owe it to yourself to check out Azelia, one of the leaders of progressive winemaking in Piedmont today.
Below are some of my most recent tasting notes of Azelia Barolo. Enjoy.
1999 Azelia Barolo San Rocco – Without taking any official tasting note, this was a dark beauty of a wine that is firmly in its drinking window. The nose was full of dark fruits, minerals, florals and earth. On the palate, it was remarkably vibrant with a pulse of acidity pumping mineral-laden dark fruits across the senses. It finished long with a slight sweet tannin, yet there's really no reason to wait when considering this wine. That said, I'm sure it will drink well for many years to come. (94 points)
2004 Azelai Barolo – The 2004 Azelia makes the case of blending for balance. The nose was dark with rich black cherry, earthy floral tones and savory spice. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by grippy tannin, crushed tart cherry, minerals and earth. Youthful tannin coated the palate throughout the finish with lingering minerality. (91 points)
2011 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco – The wonderfully aromatic nose displayed dark red fruits and floral tones with sweet spice and lifting minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by sweet tannin with notes of black cherry, plum, sweet herbs and inner floral tones. It finished on a note of dried cherry and lingering fine tannins. (94 points)
2011 Azelia Barolo San Rocco – The San Rocco was intense and dark on the nose with rich black cherry, savory spices, sweet-dark floral tones and leather. On the palate, this was all about balanced intensity, as a mix of silky textures were contrasted by sweet tannin and brisk acidity; yet a core of concentrated fruit prevailed with strawberry, cherry and plum. Sweet tannin lingered on the finish. (95 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido