Friday, February 1, 2019

The Balance of the Blend

What It Takes to Make the Vietti Barolo Castiglione

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 wildberry fruit with notes of purple florals, crushed stone minerality and sweet spice. On the palate, it was smooth, showing 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 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 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 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 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 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)

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 feremented 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 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)  

The Comeback Vintage: 2012 Brunello di Montalcino

Welcome to Benvenuto Brunello 2017

The first time I heard a reference to the 2012 vintage was while tasting the 2010 Brunellos at Benvenuto over two years ago. The problem was that the 2010’s were so promising upon release, that as often as we were told that the 2012 Rossos showed the tremendous potential of the vintage ahead, we simply couldn’t get past the excitement of the ‘10s. After all, this was the vintage that drew a line in the sand, and brought consumers back to Brunello after years of lackluster vintages.

Then came 2011, where the ripeness of fruit could literally be felt as it saturated the senses, and, in my case, actually made my teeth ache. We were told that this wasn’t such a bad thing and that the wines would be great for near-term consumption. Unfortunately, with the exception of only a small number of producers, 2011 remains a vintage in which I found very little to get excited about.

However, we can put that all aside, because now that the 2012 vintage is hitting our shores, Brunello lovers have something to be excited about. Before I say anything else, let’s address the number one question on everyone’s mind: are these as good as the 2010’s? Unfortunately, that’s a difficult question to answer, because there is some variability that’s starting to become much more apparent throughout the region. The fact is that the terroir of Montalcino has become very important, and many consumers (and winemakers) aren’t really ready to talk about it.

You can see a trend in Montalcino, and that’s the release of single vineyard or parcel selected bottles that come either from the more northern vineyards or from the higher elevations of southern vineyards. The reason for this is the promise that these locations show in warmer vintages, and let’s be honest, 2012 was a warm vintage. Many people are avoiding that fact, as the term “warm vintage” has become synonymous with overripe. However, that is a broad generalization for a region that spans 24,000 hectares (that’s 59,000 acres), with altitudes ranging between 120 - 650 meters above sea level.

Just to put things in perspective, when many producers were asked about 2012, a large percentage compared the vintage to 2011 from the perspective of warmth and the length of the growth cycle. However, there was one very big difference. Where 2011 saw drastic spikes of heat throughout the season, 2012 remained consistently warm, which allowed the vines to adapt. 2012 was also very dry from winter through August, with just enough precipitation in the early fall to aid in maturation, yet the extended drought still resulted in a 14% smaller harvest than 2011.

So now that the numbers are out of the way, let’s talk about the wines. The 2012’s, in general, are mid-weight wines with gorgeous aromatics and intensely concentrated fruit on the palate that is offset by fresh acidity. In most cases the tannins are unexpectedly refined, especially considering the vintage conditions, and left me with a classic expression on the finish. At their best, they are enjoyable now on their freshness, (which isn’t something you’d expect from a ripe vintage, but that 2012 has in spades) yet also structured enough to go strong in the cellar for ten to fifteen years--and possibly beyond.

The pitfalls of the vintage lay in the lower elevations and areas that experience a more Mediterranean climate. Here we need to pick and choose. Though there are a number of standouts, such as the ever-reliable Il Poggione and Uccelliera, other producers turned out a set of wines that are highly enjoyable and easily gulpable, which ultimately is not what the average Brunello buyer is looking for.

When all is said and done, 2012 is the vintage we’ve been waiting for. These wines will not take twenty years to come around, yet are serious contenders for mid-term cellaring. They will be enjoyable early because of their aromatics and youthful appeal, but will also go the long haul in the cellar. In the end, it’s a highly enjoyable vintage and a perfect comeback following the 2011’s.

On To The Tasting Notes:

Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - Upon first pour, the ‘12 Brunello was dark, imposing and monolithic; yet with time in the glass, an array of crushed cherry, sweet herbs, cedar, and moist earth tones came forward. On the palate, I found velvety textures with a fresh core of vibrant acidity adding verve, as notes of tart berry, cherry, plum and exotic spice set upon the senses. The finish was long and structured with herbal dark red fruits lasting throughout. I can imagine that five years or more will do this wine a lot good, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there. (95 points)

Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Vigna La Casa 2012 - The nose was intense and layered with fresh red berries up front, giving way to earth tones, savory herbs and minerals. On the palate, silky-broad textures coated the senses while tart red berry and zesty acidity provided lift. Hints of spice, leather and inner florals lasted on the finish, along with fine-grain tannin that promised years of development. (95 points)

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Filo di Seta 2012 - The nose was gorgeous, showing depths of black and red fruits, dark floral tones and notes of undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft, velvety textures which were contrasted by zesty acid, minerals and tart red fruits, with notes of spice and cedar. It finished long, structured and balanced with persistent red berry fruit and spice. What a difference this northwestern vineyard makes from the normale. This is a beautiful 2012 Brunello for the cellar. (94 points)

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 2012 - The nose was gorgeous with dark red fruits, plum, sweet florals, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky, deep textures which seemed to coat all of the senses, giving way to dried red berries, earth, leather tones and fine tannin. It finished structured, yet with a sweet tannin that was still coated in dark red fruit. (94 points)

Il Poggione (Propriet√° Franceschi) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was gorgeous with perfumed floral tones up front, giving way to notes of ripe strawberry, cranberry, dried spices and undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by vibrant acidity and fine tannin, as inner florals, earth and berry tones soothed the senses. It finished long on dried berries, hints of spice and young tannin, promising many years of development. This was simply a pleasure to taste, and it is deceptively enjoyable today--as the best is yet to come. (94 points)

Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was classic, displaying crushed strawberry, dusty florals, earth, leather and hints of cinnamon spice. On the palate, I found silky textures hosting notes of tart red berry, exotic spice, minerals, zesty acidity, and ending in a web of fine tannin. The finish was long and refined with a classic structure and persistent red fruits. This wine should have many, many years of development in store for us. (93 points)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne 2012 - The nose was deep and intense with luscious, ripe blackberry fruit tones backed by notes of sweet herbs and dusty florals. On the palate, I found an almost-juicy persona with vibrant yet silky textures showcasing black and red berries with savory mineral tones. It finished long and textural on sweet spice and cherry liquor. (93 points)

Capanna Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose showed soaring dark red fruits and floral tones with hints of spice and damp earth. On the palate, I found velvety textures with smooth tannins, crushed strawberry, plum and sweet inner floral tones. The finish was long, showing dark fruits and fine tannin that coated the senses. (93 points)

Castelgiocondo (Marchesi de' Frescobaldi) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was dark with masses of sweet and spicy black cherry, chocolate and floral tones. On the palate, i found soft textures backed by intensely concentrated dark red fruits, spice and hints of mocha. Even through the richness in this glass, a wave vibrant acidity provided freshness, which lasted throughout the finish. This may not be my personal preference for Brunello, but it’s a solid performer for those looking for an extroverted style. (92 points)

Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose showed perfumed red berry fruit and floral tones with hints of dusty spice and wax. On the palate, I found silky, refined textures offset by saturating dark red fruits and fine tannin. Persistent red fruits continued to resonate on the finish, nearly masking the refined tannin that coated the senses. (92 points)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was dark and earthy with notes of crushed strawberry, exotic spices and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures on a medium-bodied frame with tart, dark red fruits and lifting inner floral tones. Its fine tannins made themselves known throughout the finish, along with a lasting impression of concentrated wild berry fruit. (92 points)

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - Here I found a lifted mix of red berry fruit, plum, and dark chocolate. On the palate, silky textures were made vibrant though zesty acidity with spicy red fruits and hints of leather. It finished medium-long on dried strawberry and hints of herbs. Not too shabby. (92 points)

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - On the nose, I found perfumed florals, dark cherry, and hints of moist soil. Silky textures flooded the senses on a medium-bodied frame with notes of tart cherry and hints of herbs, yet there was a pleasing richness here that surprised me. The finish displayed medium length and fresh red fruits. (91 points)

Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose displayed a perfumed bouquet with notes of tart red berry and minerals. On the palate, I found medium-bodied textures with dark red fruits ushered in by acid-driven silky textures. Hints of earth and spice lingered on the finish. (91 points)

Voliero Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was remarkably pretty and refined, displaying tart red berries, spice and dusty earth. On the palate, I found an intensely fruited burst of energy that leveled out into silky, balanced textures with a core of crystalline minerality and spice. The finish was long, with light tannins coating the senses and notes of dried cherry lingering long. (91 points)

Tenuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino "P. 56" 2012 - he nose showed pretty red florals with dusty spice, minerals and hints of candied cherry. On the palate, I found soft textures offsetting persistent red berry fruits, dark earth and savory minerality. It finished on bitter cherry, spice and hints of fine-grained tannins. (91 points)

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose displayed floral perfumes with notes of tart berry and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found dark, concentrated red fruits with grainy intensity and a core of savory minerals. It finished long on persistent red fruits and dry tannin. (90 points)

Tenuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose displayed a mix of plum, cherry and cranberry, before giving way to woodsy earth tones and spice. On the palate, I found tart red fruits on a medium-bodied frame with a core of minerality which settled on the back palate. The finish shorter than expected, seeming almost hollow, with hints of bitter red fruits lingering. (89 points)

Pian Delle Vigne (Antinori) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 - The nose was dark, imposing and intense with spicy candied red fruit and notes of plum. On the palate, I found weighty textures with sweet and sour cherry and spice, yet one-dimensional. The finish was long with bitter dark red fruits. (88 points)