Tom Hyland’s notes on 2005 Barolo

VinoWire contributor Tom Hyland recently returned from Italy where he attended the 2009 Alba Wine Exhibition. The following are some of his notes on the 2005 vintage of Barolo. Check out Tom’s post on things he likes about Italy.

After sampling more than 150 Barolos from the 2005 vintage, it is clear that this is a successful vintage, though not a great one as with 2004. This may hurt the sales of these wines as they are released in the upcoming months, but consumers can find some wonderful wines if they choose the right producers.

It is hardly a surprise that the “Brunate” bottling from Marcarini in La Serra is a great success, the red cherry and cedar aromas combined with subtle oak and excellent depth of fruit make this traditional bottling a standout. Also from Brunate, the Oddero bottling is one of their finest with notes of orange peel and truffles (Maria Cristina Oddero, pictured left, photo by Tom Hyland). Also from La Morra, look for the “Gattera” from Gianfranco Bovio, the “Conca” from Mauro Molino and the “Rocche dell’Annunziata” from Rocche Costamagna.

Unfortunately the wines overall from La Morra are a bit inconsistent, this was not a powerful vintage, so perhaps this is to be expected. But too often the La Morra 2005 Barolos were a bit lacking in fruit and a bit overoaked. Thankfully, there are enough very good examples — as those listed above — to keep La Morra fans happy.

The most consistent offerings from 2005 originated from Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. As these are communes with thin soils that yiedl firm tannins, these are the best bets for this year. Look for the “Parafada” and “Margheria” from Massolino, the “Colarej” from Gemma, the “La Rosa” from Fontanafredda and the “Leon” from Cascina Luisin. One of my favorite wines of all the 2005 Barolos I tasted was the “Gabutti” from Giovanni Sordo in Serralunga. Offering notes of cedar, red cherry and red roses and fnishing wiht silky tannins, this is a wine of great finesse. It will not live as long as that wine from 2001 or 2004, but this is a classic Barolo!

Marked decline for sale of Italian wine in the U.S.

According to a report posted yesterday by, Italy lost its top spot in exports to the U.S. in the first quarter 2009, with less expensive wines from Australia taking the lead. Despite marked growth in U.S. wine imports (an increase of 13%, according the authors of the report), Italy saw a decline in its U.S. exports as well as a 14% drop in gross sales, with a 7% drop in average price per liter of wine. The news, however, is not all bad: in the first quarter of 2009, sparkling Italian wine experienced growth of 18% in terms of both volume and average price.

Franco Ziliani on Alba Wines 2009: Langa producers have relaxed use of new oak

VinoWire creator and editor Franco Ziliani recently blind-tasted more than 300 new releases by Langa and Roero producers at Alba Wine Exhibition.

At least one trend emerged at the recent Alba Wine Exhibition tasting. From the tireless traditionalists like the undersigned to the democratic omnivores who love both the new wave and the ancient, to the supporters of innovation, everyone agreed that there were fewer extreme, paradoxical, excessive wines marked by the intolerable and unfathomable prevalence of new wood, despite a few unflaggingly oaked wines and a few others (perhaps those included in the crowded band of producers absent from the tasting).

A more mature and informed use of barriques was clearly evident. The barrels used were perhaps not always new (the economic crisis has also slowed the purchase of new barrels), and often third- and fourth-passage casks. The selection of wood seemed to have been toasted in a more relaxed fashion and even producers whom you would have thought lifetime modernists have embraced the healthy and increasingly popular habit of using larger casks, including tonneau and especially botti that can hold between 15 and 30 hectoliters (made from Slavonian and French oak). This is due to the fact that there is a growing number of consumers who prefer wines that smell like Nebbiolo and not like the forests of the Massif Central. A growing number of wines showed more balance, drinkability, and a marked Nebbiolesque character that you wouldn’t have found in the past, even if you looked with a microscope.

Even though the differences between true traditionalists and the equally steadfast believers in innovation remain, the divide has begun to shrink and the differences have begun to mellow slightly. This state of things reveals that producers have begun to pay heed to the elements that should have always played a starring role in their wines: the land, the terroir, the vineyard with all of its “attributes,” not to mention careful vineyard management, elements that make all the différence.

—Franco Ziliani

“Production of great red wines of Tuscany in sharp decline” according to report

In a report posted this week at I Numeri del Vino (Wine Statistics), overall production of fine red wine in Tuscany has experienced marked decline in 2007, even though Rosso di Montalcino and Bolgheri saw considerable growth.

    The production of DOC/DOCG wines in Tuscany in 2007 was 1.57 million hectoliters, a reduction of 2.5% compared to 2006. This was recorded against a decline of 6% of the areas from 33,468 to 31,543 hectares. Some of the victims of this decline were Chianti (-2% to 15179ha), Chianti Classico (-9% to 5883 hectares), but also the Brunello di Montalcino (-21% to 1334 hectares). It follows a framework where the production of great red wines of Tuscany is in sharp decline, with the only exception of Rosso di Montalcino (+47% in 2007) and Bolgheri (+29%). The production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti was flat, while a -31% was reported by Sant’Antimo, -19% by Brunello and -14% by Morellino di Scansano.

Click here
to read the original post and to view the impressive graphs created especially for the report. The editors of VinoWire found the last chart, covering each appellation (you might be surprised how many there actually are, and how few are available abroad), particularly fascinating.

Bettino Ricasoli, 87, descendant of the Iron Baron and leading Chianti producer, dies

According to an obituary published yesterday by the Corriere Fiorentino, Bettino Ricasoli, 87, the great-great-grandson of “Iron Baron” Bettino Ricasoli and steward of one of the leading families of Chianti Classico, has died.

Although he never published a “formula” or “recipe” for Chianti (as many erroneously claim), Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) reshaped the history of Chianti and Tuscan winemaking in the 19th century when he famously declared that Sangiovese (or Sangioveto, as the Tuscan clone of Sangiovese was known then) was the ideal grape for the production of fine wine there. In an often cited but rarely revisited 1872 letter to Professor Cesare Studiati of Pisa (see below), Ricasoli described the process of study that led to the replanting of his Castello di Brolio estate in Gaiole in Chianti (one of the core townships of Chianti Classico).

    Bettino Ricasoli “the Iron Baron” to Cesare Studiati
    September 26, 1872

    As early as 1840, I began experimenting with every grape variety. I cultivated each one in significant quantities on my Brolio estate. Our goal was to test the quality and taste of the wines produced from each grape.

    Following this comparative study, I restricted the number of grapes at Brolio and began growing Sangioveto, Canaiolo, and Malvasia almost exclusively. In 1867, I decided once again to make wine using these three grapes. I made a relatively large vat of each one and then I blended the three in another vat using exact proportions.

    In March of last year, the experiment was finished and I was satisfied with the results. The wines were subsequently shipped.

    Later I verified the results of the early experiments: the Sangioveto gave the wine its primary aroma (something I aim for in particular) and a certain vigor in taste; the Canaiolo gave it a sweetness that balanced the harshness of the former but did not take away from the aroma, even though it has an aroma of its own; the Malvasia, a grape that can be excluded for wines intended for aging, tends to dilute the resulting wine created by the former two, it increases the flavor but also makes the wine lighter and thus more suitable for daily consumption.

    Translation by VinoWire

The Iron Baron, as he was known for his stern demeanor, was one of the architects of Italian Unification and was Italy’s second (1861-62) and seventh (1866-67) prime minister.

His great-great-grandson Bettino is survived by son Francesco Ricasoli, the current CEO of the Ricasoli brands.

Dispatch from Alba

VinoWire contributor Tom Hyland shares a first impression from Alba Wine Exhibition 2009. Tom is the author of Reflections on Wine.

Initial Thoughts on 2005 Barolo

“So what are your first thoughts on the 2005 Barolos?” I was asked by Danilo Drocco, winmaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba, in the heart of the Barolo zone. Drocco was certainly interested in my response, as he told me he had read some less than enthralling comments about the wines (interesting as they have not been released as of yet) and feared that the wines might not sell well in the U.S. (financial crisis or not). He also thought that after the glorious Barolos from 2004, this new vintage would not compare favorably.

Well after blind tasting the first 35 or so yesterday, I can report that the Barolos from 2005 are very good and in some cases excellent with a few outstanding bottlings. The wines as a whole are more subdued than those from 2004, but this is hardly a lightweight vintage, such as 2000.

Standouts among the 2005 so far include the “Cannubi” bottling from Sergio Barale, Giorgio Scarzello’s “Sarmassa” and the regular Famiglia Anselma bottling, a blend of grapes from Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba and Barolo. Each of these wines have classic aromas of cedar and cherries with the Barale also having a hint of tar and the Scarzello boasting notes of balsamic. These are elegant wines with good depth of fruit and very fine acidity and should be at peak in 12-15 years.

The classics — ones that define the vintage — include those from Bartolo Mascarello, the “Brunate” from Francesco Rinaldi and the Prunotto bottling, a blend of grapes from Monforte d’Alba, Barolo and Castiglione Falletto. These three are outstanding wines, the Rinaldi offering beautifully defined acidity and a long, long finish while the Mascarello has remarkably spicy aromas and a beautifully defined finish with silky tannins and lively acidity. The Prunotto is classy with its orange peel and cedar aromas and excellent depth of fruit.

I will taste more Barolos today and tomorrow from other communes. So far, so good and I’m definitely looking forward to more Barolos from 2005, which may turn out to surpise many of us with its balance and elegance.

Alba Wine Exhibition

How sweet it is to be shipwrecked in this sea of Nebbiolo.

—from the Pindaric “The Infinite,” by Pseudo Leopardi (attributed)

Fifty fortunate wine writers and luminaries have descended upon Alba for 4 days of tasting at the Alba Wine Exhibition, held each year in the Langa Hills of Piedmont. This year, participants will taste roughly — and roughly they will taste — 300 wines, including soon-to-be-released bottlings of Nebbiolo: 2006 Barbaresco and Roero (as well as 2005 and 2004 Roero Riserva) and 2005 Barolo (as well as 2003 Barolo riserva).

VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani and contributor Tom Hyland are among the “hostages” this week who will taste 60-70 wines per day. Tastings begin at 9 a.m. daily and end at 1:30 p.m. when participants adjourn for a much needed repast, “in order to combat the accumulation of tannins on our palates,” says Franco ruefully.