Franco Ziliani “bewitched” by Nebbiolo: 1982 Barolo by Franco Fiorina

VinoWire co-founder and co-editor Franco Ziliani is the author of Italy’s most popular wine blog, Vino al Vino. The post below appeared originally in Italian in May.

Ristorante da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba is one of my favorite restaurants, a place where I always feel at home (and maybe even better than at home) and I experience the flavors of a kitchen that I’d like to taste every single day, confident that I’d never get bored. The setting is magnificent, elegant but still warm. The hosts are splendid: my dear friends Silvia and Nino Rocca and his wonderful parents. The service is perfect. But the cellar… the cellar is a true Holy of the Holies.

Bottles jealously and painstakingly preserved, bottles that report vintages on their labels that date back to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Once uncorked, these bottles reveal an incredible, miraculous treasure of precious nuance and reward the guest with ineffable emotion. These bottles are hard to find elsewhere. They often sport names that the younger among us have forgotten or are entirely unaware of. Sometimes, the names are those of wineries that do not exist anymore, producers about whom very little is known, winemakers who will not appear in Google search engine results.

Nino reserved one of these names for me, a slam dunk that he surprised me with: the winery was Franco Fiorina (Alba), which enjoyed great notoriety and prestige in the 1970s and 80s, and the wine was its 1982 Barolo.

It was the 15th of May, Saturday evening, the last time I visited Nino and Silvia, who cast yet another spell on me by decanting this bottle and bringing it to me blind at my table.

I was able to find some information about this wine by asking one of the persons who contributed to the miracle contained in this bottle: Armando Cordero, now in his 80s, one of Langa’s most memorable figures and a man who was much more than just a simple enologist. He served as Franco Fiorina’s enologist and his indelible memories of the winery are invaluable.

Franco Fiorina 1982 Barolo

As told by Armando, the 1982 Barolo by Franco Fiorina was an obstinately old-school wine.

“As long as I worked there, all of Franco Fiorina’s bottlings of Barolo were made from a blend of Nebbiolo Michet grown in Serralunga — [vineyards] Baudana and Vigna Riunda [sic] — and Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, and Monforte d’Alba. A blend of grapes from different villages, in keeping with the teachings of my father, the old cellar master at Calissano until 1965.”

“The grapes were pressed with partial destemming and then fermented in glass-lined cement vats. Punching of the cap in the evenings using a pump but none of the modern contraptions used today.”

“Submerged-cap fermentation for about 15 days and aging of the new wine on its lees until Christmas, more or less… Aging for two years in cement and then in large Slavonian oak casks, very old but healthy, until we would decide to bottle the wine, after about 2 years. The wine was then bottled with out fining or filtration and the bottles were stacked on their sides until they were sold.”

“This is the story of great Barolo! What a pity that certain traditionalists have forgotten this story. But let’s not talk about that.”

So that’s the history of this wine. But what did it taste like?

A perfect, marvelous wine, with deep, seamless ruby red color, bright, full of energy, with a light, brilliant simmer of garnet, as if to quiet all those who say that Nebbiolo is colorless and needs “help” to achieve color using concentrators or “other” techniques. This wine was a shining example of how old-school Barolo, made from grapes sourced from different villages, can obtain astonishing balance, perhaps greater than that obtained from a single cru. A wine that — 28 years after its harvest — dazzles the drinker.

An intriguing, seductive nose, with continuous evolution in the wide-mouthed glassed, autumnal, with notes of chiaroscuro, half-shaded aromas, an essense of dried rose, earth, leaves and dried mushrooms. Candied hints of amaretto and cinnamon, tobacco and subtle, nuanced truffle, rhubarb, dried prune, with gamey and wild notes. Very fresh, alive, and savory.

The nose was magnificent. But on the palate… my goodness, the palate! A pure, earthy texture with seductive tannin, lively and profound acidity, but balanced and never aggressive. I was surprised by the wine’s juiciness and its sweet fruit, its indomitable energy, and its persistent, velvety flavor and minerality.

This wine was fresh, gorgeous, and aristocratic. It had an ability to speak to the drinker, as if it were expanding on your palate like a caress, like a kiss. It left me absolutely breathless, thankful and awestruck.

This, too, is part of what makes Barolo so fascinating, what makes it unique and inimitable. And it is how Langa bewitches us…

—Franco Ziliani

Not just great Pinot Nero: a fantastic Riesling from the Oltrepò Pavese

The Oltrepò Pavese, land of Bonarda and Cruasé, land of Pinot Noir vinified as still and sparkling white wines, land of Buttafuoco and Classese, and many other wines. But the Oltrepò Pavese is also part of the relatively narrow map of Italian wine zones where Riesling can be produced (and, obviously, I’m talking about Rhine Riesling, called Riesling Renano in Italian, and not Riesling Italico) and indeed is bottled with incontestably excellent results.

With this splendid village of Mairano di Casteggio as its backdrop, the wines produced by the Fracce winery are an impeccable example of this. In fact, I’d hazard to say that Le Fracce is one of the best producers — if not the best producer — in the appellation.

At Le Fracce, the winemaker is not content with simply producing a superb Pinot Nero and two other red wines — Bohemi and Cirgà — which represent two of the greatest expressions of Lombardy’s and the Oltrepò Pavese’s red wines (made with Barbera, Croatina, and Pinot Nero). No, the winemaker at Le Fracce also makes a wine that speaks for itself, a top-level white wine, which delivers grand nobility and elegance.

A truly special wine: Oltrepò Pavese Riesling Renano “Landò” (“Landò” is a proprietary name that first appeared on the label for the first time in 2001, an homage to Count Fernando Bussolera, owner of the property and proud patron of a collection of 18th-century landau carriages). The winery has worked for more than 20 years to produce this monovarietal expression of the German grape. The estate has 3 hectares planted to Riesling, from rootstock carefully selected from Alsatian clones. The soils are calcareous and calcareous clay, with western exposure, at 250-350 meters a.s.l., all lying in the township of Mairano di Casteggio. The first plantings were made in 1986. More vines were planted in San Biagio di Casteggio in 1994. The two growing sites reveal distinctly different characteristics, with varied ripening, and they give the wine a complexity that makes it stand apart from other Italian-grown Rieslings and a truly surprising aging potential.

—Franco Ziliani

Italian wine industry legend Giorgio Grai turns 80 today

“One of the greatest and most extraordinary people in the world of wine,” wrote VinoWire contributor Franco Ziliani in a heartfelt tribute to the beloved and revered maestro of the Italian wine world, “the greatest nose and the greatest palate I’ve ever met, Giorgio Grai turns 80 today.”

With his wines, wrote Franco in a profile devoted to Grai and published on the Italian Sommelier Association website, “Giorgio Grai has taught a tide of persons (myself included) the importance of the central concepts of wine — balance, drinkability, and elegance — by maintaining them as its indisputable and timeless cornerstones.

In 2000, New York Times wine writer Frank Prial wrote of Grai, quoting colleague Sheldon Wasserman:

    Giorgio Grai is one of the legendary winemakers of Italy but is almost unknown in this country. The late Sheldon Wassermann, who wrote extensively about Mr. Grai in ”Italy’s Noble Red Wines” (Macmillan, 1991), once said: ”Giorgio is only interested in making the wine. Selling it interests him not at all.”

    Rather like an appellate court judge, Giorgio Grai is rarely involved in the early stages of winemaking. He has never owned vineyards, but he does make wine, for many different cantine, or wineries. For his own label he prefers to buy finished wines and blend them. He is from the Alto Adige in the far north of Italy, but he makes wine in Tuscany, the Piedmont and as far south as Apulia.

    His cabernet sauvignon is considered by many Italians to be the best produced in that country. It is full-bodied with classic black-currant flavors, but its elegance and long finish are neither Bordeaux-like nor Italian. It is an exceptional wine, and most unusual.

Wolfgang Weber: Two Sides to Every Tasting

Blogger Wolfgang Weber is currently working on a number of entries on Italian wine to be included in the forthcoming wine encyclopedia, Opus Vino (DK, October, 2010).

Nebbiolo Prima, the reconstituted annual anteprima event formerly known as the Alba Wines Exhibition, is easily one of the most engaging Italian wine tastings that I’ve attended. It’s also certainly the most gruesome: four days, 75-85 new nebbiolo wines each day, and only three or so hours in a single sitting to taste them all. Still, it’s a fantastic opportunity to taste most of the new releases from the following appellations: Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo. And as an invited (and hosted*) journalist, I got to taste everything blind, broken out by vintage and commune.

I’m still typing up my notes, so it’s a little premature to comment on individual wines. Actually, typed notes or no, I think it’s impossible to offer accurate impressions of the 330 or so wines tasted at Nebbiolo Prima. To be sure, I had some favorites — wines that, to me at least, gave a balanced impression of how nebbiolo performs in a particular zone, whether the Roero, Nieve, or Castiglione Falletto.

Large, comprehensive tastings like Nebbiolo Prima, however, do have their advantages, namely providing an opportunity to play generalist and look for underlying trends or profiles within communes and, most importantly, within the vintage.

So speaking generally, I came away from this tasting uninspired by many of the ’07s from the Roero (a region that I tend to like under normal circumstances) and frustrated by the bulk (literally and figuratively, but not all) of ’07 Barbarescos, especially those from Treiso which, marked as they were by jammy tannins and high alcohols, didn’t seem to handle the warm, dry conditions of 2007.

(Above: Two sides to every tasting, and every rental car. I had rented a new – and adorable – Fiat 500 to make getting around much easier. Unfortunately a tight alleyway and an obscured bench in the medieval town of Serralunga decided to make things a little more difficult. Thankfully, a quick thinking winemaker reattached the bumper with tape.)

Barolo 2006 was a different matter. And at least to judge from my experiences during both Nebbiolo Prima and during visits with several producers both before, during and after the event, 2006 is looking like it will be a very good, possibly classic, vintage for Barolo, especially among producers in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo/Novello, Monforte, Serralunga and Verduno. La Morra was the odd man out here, with too many wines that felt pushed in the cellar, whether through overworked tannins or excessive oak flavors.

Which brings up another point about 2006, and perhaps why I think this vintage shows real promise for Barolo: it’s a tough year to hide behind. In other words, it’s not a year in which warm, ideal ripening conditions can hide bad winemaking, nor is it a year in which the more obviously modern and international styles tended to show their best. If you dig brighter acidity, earthy, firm tannins and purity of expression over technique, then 2006 Barolo is your thing.

A few more posts, including some producer visits in Liguria and Valtellina in addition to Piedmont, to follow…

NB: I had the great pleasure of spending a good amount of time tasting (and eating) with David McDuff, who has also posted informed observations about Nebbiolo Prima. Definitely worth a visit.

*As noted before, but worth pointing out again, I was an invited journalist at Nebbiolo Prima, and have the organizers to thank for logistical support, airfare, some meals, etc. The rental car, in all its taped, bashed-up glory, was my own responsibility.

—Wolgang Weber

On 2007 Roero and Barbaresco

VinoWire contributor David McDuff authors one of the most popular food and wine blogs in the U.S., McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail.

As I was saying yesterday, the large scale, focused format of the blind tastings at Nebbiolo Prima provided some definite insights into the qualities of vintage — with 2007 being the primary focus in Roero and Barbaresco — and of the broad sense of terroir associated with the various communes/municipalities of production.

Day one was devoted entirely to Nebbioli from the Roero as well as from the Alba, Treiso and Barbaresco municipalities within the Barbaresco production zone. We tasted sixteen wines from the 2007 vintage in Roero and fourteen 2006 Roero Riservas, followed by forty-eight Barbaresco from 2007 and five 2005 Barbaresco Riservas.

The second day of the event was split between Barbaresco and Barolo. We’ll get to the Barolo on another day. This time it was all about Neive, with thirty-two Barbaresco “normale” from the 2007 vintage and three Riserva bottlings hailing from 2005 lined up on the big tasting table.

Getting straight to the fine details, here’s the short list of wines that grabbed me.

Roero (commune):

  • Roero, Cornarea 2007 (Canale) – spicy, ripe, integrated
  • Roero “Bric Valdiana,” Giovanni Almondo 2007 (Montà) – high-toned, minty, muscular
  • Roero “Bricco Medica,” Cascina Val del Prete 2007 (Priocca) – ripe yet solid vintage expression
  • Roero Riserva “S. Francesco,” Lorenzo Negro 2006 (Monteu Roero) – judicious wood; forward, pretty fruit

Of the wines that inspired me on the first day of blind tasting at Nebbiolo Prima, Giovanni and Domenico Almondo‘s Roero “Bric Valdiana” was the only one that I’d already been a regular admirer of in the past — unblinded and at home, albeit in earlier vintages.

Barbaresco (commune):

  • Barbaresco “Vallegrande,” Fratelli Grasso 2007 (Treiso) – dark but well done
  • Barbaresco “Tre Stelle,” Cascina delle Rose 2007 (Barbaresco) – classic, delicate, floral
  • Barbaresco “Campo Quadro,” Punset 2007 (Neive) – burly but complete, balanced

The 2007 Barbaresco “Tre Stelle” from Cascina delle Rose was a real stand-out for me, while the “Campo Quadro” from Punset pleasantly surprised.

Barbaresco Riserva (commune):

  • Barbaresco Riserva “Nervo Vigna Giaia,” Piazzo Armando 2005 (Treiso) – fine structure, elegant
  • Barbaresco Riserva “Serraboella,” Massimo Rivetti 2005 (Neive) – prettiest nose of the day

Not a bad little list, one that offered up some nice discoveries for me. When you look at what it took to cull it, though, those are some pretty slim pickings.

I didn’t invite you here to put you through basic arithmetic exercises, so I’ll crunch the numbers for you. That list represents a meager selection of nine wines out of the 118 tasted. It looks even starker when you break it down. Four out of thirty wines in Roero; actually, that’s not all that bad. But that leaves only five wines from Barbaresco out of 88 wines tasted. And only three of those five were from 2007, which was the main vintage we were invited to Alba to taste, at least in terms of Roero and Barbaresco.

The translation? The 2007 vintage was presented to us, in day one’s opening presentation by Enzo Brezza, current president of the Albeisa producer’s consortium, as a year that started with a mild winter and early budding, followed by a dry, hot growing season and a relatively early harvest. Not as extreme as 2003 but still a hot, dry year that produced higher alcohol levels and lower acidity than typical.

In the Roero, generally speaking, I didn’t find the difficulties of the vintage to be a tremendous issue. Most of the 2007’s I tasted were fruitier, slightly more alcoholic and, indeed, lower in acid and more softly structured than their 2006 counterparts. But overall, the wines fared reasonably well, as reflected in my findings with our sample population.

My general experience in Barbaresco, however, is that 2007 proved, as shown in the large number of wines tasted, to be quite a difficult vintage.

Over and over again, particularly in Treiso and Barbaresco, I encountered wines that displayed very ripe, flamboyant fruit along with sweet, herbal and weedy aromatics and flavors. My impression was that sugar content had surged to levels that required harvesting before the other aspects of the grapes had a chance to catch up and create any possibility of completion and harmony. When asked of my experiences, at our dinners or during winery visits, I shared this interpretation with several producers, none of whom came right out and agreed but none of whom said much if anything to dispel the idea, either. What I did hear repeatedly, from producers throughout the various regions, is that 2007 was a great vintage for Barbera (a variety that is more naturally inclined to thrive in such climatic conditions).

Moving ahead to day two and the wines of the Neive commune of Barbaresco, I can’t say that I found the big picture any more to my liking. Though the sweet-and-sour signature I’d found in so many of the wines from Treiso and, to a slightly lesser extent, Barbaresco wasn’t quite as obvious, there was a much higher prevalence of over-extraction, heavy oak treatment and high alcohol. Again and again, words like “jammy,” “bourbon,” “sweet,” “overripe” and “forced” appear in my notes.

I’ll be curious to see how the mainstream press reacts to the 2007 vintage in Barbaresco, as I expect it stands a good chance of being well-received in a manner similar to other ripe, hot vintages in recent history, such as 1997, 2000 and 2003. For me, based at least on our rapid-fire albeit extensive tasting, 2007 will be a vintage where knowing your producer and selecting with care will be of utmost importance.

Fast-forwarding a year, it should also prove interesting to see how the same vintage characteristics affected the wines of Barolo. In the shorter term, stay tuned for my thoughts on the 2006 vintage in Barolo.

—David McDuff

Are tallies from Montalcino May 18 vote indicator of who will be consortium’s next president?

While many Montalcino observers and actors on the ground have pointed to Ezio Rivella as the front-runner in the election for the 15-member advisory council president, some believe the results of the body’s general election represent a better indicator of who leads the race. Today, VinoWire obtained the public results of the May 18th election, in which more than 250 association members had the opportunity to vote. Results of the presidential ballot are expected Thursday.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini, who has often been mentioned as one of the leading candidates and has received public endorsements from high-profile producers, received the greatest number of votes.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 115 votes
Giancarlo Pacenti 104 votes
Marco Cortonesi 92 votes
Francesco Ripaccioli 90 votes
Fabrizio Bindocci 89 votes
Rudy Buratti 81 votes
Andrea Cortonesi 77 votes
Fabio Ratto 76 votes
Elia Palazzesi 72 votes
Carlo Arturo Lisini Baldi 68 votes
Guido Orzalesi 67 votes
Ezio Rivella 67 votes
Bernardo Losappio 65 votes
Ermanno Morlacchetti 62 votes
Maurizio Lambardi 59 votes