Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Balance of the Blend: Vietti Castiglione

What It Takes to Make the Vietti Barolo Castiglione

By Eric Guido

What does it take for a producer of Barolo to decide that it’s more important to create one great wine to please the majority of collectors, at a tremendous price, versus creating five single-vineyard Cru Barolo that they could charge 3-4 times as much for and easily sell?

Passion? Tradition? Responsibility? Love for the region and for their family?  I’m of the opinion that when it comes to Luca Currado of the Vietti winery, each of these reasons come into play.

As Luca talks about Barolo, Piedmont and all that has come before him in this region, he speaks with such love, excitement and reverence, that it becomes easy to understand why the Vietti Barolo Castiglione continues to be produced.  To this day, it is one of the greatest examples of traditional Barolo, as well as being priced remarkably fair and able to stand proud next to many of the top wines of the region.  It’s because of this that I feel compelled to be an advocate of both the wine and the winery, to make sure that people know just how much goes into producing it.  However, there’s another reason as well, and that reason is that I also feel it’s my duty to make sure that Barolo lovers really do understand the benefit of having the Barolo Castiglione in their own cellars.

The first thing to understand is that Luca is determined to make Vietti’s flagship wine the best Barolo that he can in every vintage.  And don’t fool yourself.  The flagship of this house is not the multiple 100-point-scoring Ravera, the classic Rocche with its amazingly long track record, the Lazzarito from one of the region’s “hottest” locals, or the Brunate, with its famous location and name.  No, the flagship at Vietti is the Castiglione.

In order to make Castiglione the best that it can be, Luca looks to a collection of single vineyards,  He could easily vinify and bottle each of these on their own, however, he chooses to instead blend into one Barolo, the Castiglione.  This doesn’t mean that all of the fruit is picked and added to massive tanks and barrels, like many other producers would do.  Instead, Luca chooses to raise the fruit from each of these parcels like it would one day be a single-vineyard bottling of Barolo.  Each one receives unique care and upbringing through the aging process.  It is only after the refinement in large neutral barrels that Vietti begins the blending process and completes the Castiglione.

Recently, I was granted an amazing opportunity to taste through the different vineyards that will produce the 2016 Barolo Castiglione--hold onto your seats, because 2016 is going to blow your minds.

The 2016 Barolo Vintage

Just to provide a bit of background on the year, as I’ve been tasting 2016s from barrel now for the past two years, it’s a vintage that may outperform the best of the last three decades.  The vintage doesn’t require a producer to express their own excitement over it as you taste, because from the moment you put your nose to the glass, or take that first sip, the importance of 2016 becomes apparent.  

The 2016 vintage was one of the longest growing seasons on record, with an early start in the late winter due to drier and warmer conditions than usual.  Budbreak took place in early March, yet as the season continued, it became cooler that usual, hence slowing down the maturation.  Summer brought long dry days with moderate temperatures, which was followed by a mild and dry September.  The result was that picking for Barolo began late on October 5th (in Brunate) and ended on the 25th in Ravera.  The fruit was healthy and abundant with ripe tannins and balanced acidities.  As for Luca Currado, he believes it may be the greatest collection of wines he’s ever produced, including the Castiglione.

Back to the Castiglione

As I’ve mentioned, the Castiglione is a traditional blend of vineyards. In 2016, those vineyards included Ravera (Novello), Teodoro (Serralunga), Scaronne (Castiglione), Rocchettevino (La Morra), Bricco Fiasco (Castiglione), and a mix (due to the small size of the parcels) of Mosconi and Le Coste (Monforte).  In each year, Luca will use as much or as little of these barrels that’s necessary to create the perfect blend of the Barolo Castiglione.

However, before today, I was never been able to taste each of these wines separately, all while hearing Luca’s comments on each of them.  Of course, with Ravera, I’ve had the chance to taste this when barrel-tasting with Luca.  Keep in mind that Vietti is able to fill three large, neutral botti with their production from Ravera; it’s one of their largest holdings.  From those three barrels, only one makes the cut for the single-vineyard, while the rest can go on to be added to the Castiglione.  While visiting with Luca in Piedmont, I’ve been able to taste from all three of those barrels, and I can’t tell you how hard it must be for the Vietti winery to decide which one will be the “Cru” and which will go into the blend, because they are all sublime. 

That said, one of the most eye-opening bottles on this day came from a little-known vineyard in Serralunga, named Teodoro.  It was the vibrancy of the fruit, remarkably pretty florals and exotic nature of the wine that first caught my attention.  However, what sealed the deal was Luca’s explanation of how the wine is made.  Apparently, Teodoro is one of the few vineyards in Barolo that produces fruit that benefits from whole-cluster fermentation.  This is a practice that isn’t often used in the region, simply because the character of the grape and terroir doesn’t lend well to it.  Most of us know that one of the region’s most highly regarded wines today (Burlotto Monvigliero) is made with whole-clusters.  However, that location, with its sandy soils and cool climate, is a perfect example of one terroir that does benefit from it.  Apparently, so does Teodoro, and since Luca is always willing to experiment, he found the perfect mix by leaving 60% of the stems intact.  What’s more, we were able to taste two different bottlings of Teodoro, one made “traditionally” and one left in barrel for only 18 months, which is a much older tradition from the early 20th century.  Comparing these two wines was fascinating.

Granted, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the completed 2016 Castiglione is not assembled and ready to taste, but I can tell you that I’d be happy with a Barolo made from any one of the components we tasted.  That said, with the blending prowess of Luca Currado to make the final decisions, I’m extremely excited to see what the end result will be.

The Blend Component Tasting

All wines were barrel samples that had been bottled for this event.  Also, my opinions of what each component lends to the blend are my own, and I’m sure Luca has his own thoughts on the matter.

L35 Ravera di Novello - This is a wine that I have tasted from barrel and loved each time. Here I found a dark and exotic expression, showing wild berry fruit with notes of purple florals, crushed stone minerality and sweet spice. On the palate, it was smooth, displaying pure red berry fruit in a lifted expression with saline-minerals, showing a tactile mix of acid and tannin that saturated the senses all the way through its dark fruit finish, leaving hints of balsamic spice. I see this as the core of the blend, and the soul. (94-96 points)

L44 2016 Teodoro (Serralunga) - The 2016 Teodoro was absolutely gorgeous on the nose, with an array of wild red berries, rosy florals, earth, and hints of savory herbs, as the wine continued to open in the glass, becoming more Burgundian, lifted and refined.  On the palate, I found a soft expression, with tantalizing acidity paving the way for fresh red fruits, inner florals and grippy tannins.  The finish was medium in length, resonating on red fruits and florals. The Teodoro is a relatively recent acquisition, and likely what has given the Castiglione its recent boost of aromatic complexity. (92-94 points)

L20 2016 Scarrone (Castiglione) - This is another wine that I’ve tasted in the past, and as before, one I wish that Luca would consider bottling one day on its own.  The nose was remarkably pretty, bursting with an intense expression of red fruits.  Raspberry, strawberry and cranberry seemed to all come together as a sweet dusting of spice, minerals and red florals filled the senses.  On the palate, I found silky textures, which were offset by saturating red berry and sweet spices, kept in check by a wash of grippy young tannin, which lasted throughout the long finish.  I can only imagine what this might taste like in twenty years, and I doubt I will ever find out. That said, the Castiglione would miss the addition of Scaronne, as I see this as the spice in the blend. (93-95 points)

L41 2016 Rocchettevino (La Morra) - Here I found a floral expression with rosy red berry fruit complemented by dusty sweet spice, and minerality, creating an exotic and feminine expression.  On the palate, soft, enveloping textures gave way to seductive dark, ripe red fruits with a grounding wash of brisk acidity to balance them out beautifully.  Hints of tannin emerged on the long, dark fruit finish, yet all in all, this is a wine of texture and very easy to like.  I think it goes without saying that the Rocchettevino levels out the structure, giving Castiglione its silky presence on the palate.  (91-94 points)

L39 2016 Mosconi and Le Coste (Monforte) - The nose was dark and woodsy, showing a mix of sweet herbal and floral tones, offset by woodland berries and hints of moist earth.  On the palate, I found silky textures, yet restrained by a web of complex tannin with mineral underpinnings, as dark red fruits fought to make an appearance.  The finish was medium in length, showing the wine’s power and drying its dark red fruits.  This is certainly the backbone of Castiglione, and it is sure to lend the structure necessary to mature. (90-93 points)

L43 2016 Bricco Fiasco (Castiglione) - The nose was dark and rich, with a mix of brown spices, crushed red berries, and earthy minerality, yet with time, it became prettier, more floral and gained a note of sweet spice.  On the palate, I found a feminine expression, with silky, lifted textures giving way to mineral-encased, crunchy black fruits, echos of dark florals and spice.  The finish was long, as fine tannin mounted, slowly drying the wine’s fruit and leaving an expression of power.  I find this to be the iron fist that comfortably fits into the Castiglione’s velvet glove.  Gorgeous. (93-95 points)

** Addition after tasting the final bottled 2016 Castiglione Barolo on 5-12-2019 **

2016 Vietti Barolo Castiglione - The nose on the 2016 Castiglione is stunningly dark and alluring, as it draws me closer to the glass. Here I'm finding notes of crushed strawberry, with wild herbs, orange-spiced tea, smoke, licorice, and hints of white pepper. Its silky textures flood the senses with a mix of ripe red and blue fruits along with sweet herb tones, which are complimented by zesty acids and saturating minerality. Yet through it all, fine tannins slowly mount with each sip, leading to a structured finale, as mineral-infused sweet cherry resonates amidst hints of tobacco and cedary spice. (94 points)

On a side note, and a bit of a treat

As Luca had explained, the Teodoro vineyard is one of the few locations within Barolo where the harvested Nebbiolo benefits from whole-cluster fermentation.  He also went on the explain that what we all consider traditional only depends on how far back into history that we are looking, and that he is often looking further back to consider everything that came before.  Thinking along these lines, Luca looked to a time before the first World War, a time when your average Barolo producer would only have one large barrel in their cellar, which was used to collect all of their fruit, ferment it, and age it.  What this meant is that with the next harvest, the barrel would have to be emptied so that they could use it for the next harvest--meaning that Barolo of the early 20th century was only aged 12 months before being bottled.

As time went on and the region began to recover from the second World War, producers began to add more barrels to their cellars when possible, but at the time, the region was still quite poor.  It was during this period that the aging of Barolo in barrel moved from 12 to 18 months.  With this in mind, and while tasting his whole-cluster fermented Teodoro, Luca decided that he would experiment by aging part of his Teodoro fruit for only 18 months, to see if it would benefit the wine.  Luca’s thought is that, one day, we may see more Barolo aged for less time in wood.  Sort of a “what was old is new again” approach.  Luckily for all of us at this tasting, he brought a sample.

L1861 2016 Teodoro (Whole-cluster 60%, aged in Neutral barrels 18 months)
- The nose was remarkably pretty and spicy, showing intense layers of sweet herbs, rosy florals, and crushed stone minerality, before giving way to dark red berry tones with hints of pepper, dried orange peel and hints of new leather.  On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a vibrant wave of acidity, as zesty red berry fruits with floral and peppery underpinnings washed across the senses, leaving hints of tannin and spice in their wake.  The finish was long with a twang of acid tapering off to reveal dried red fruits and hints of fine tannin.  This is something like I’ve never tasted before from Barolo, and it’s an expression of Nebbiolo that I would absolutely seek out if available on the market. (92-94 points)


Maps borrowed from Barolo MGA by Alessandro Masnaghetti