Barolo


Moonrise over La Morra from the deck of Osteria Veglio...

Beautiful as Barbaresco and its wines were, Barolo might have been even more beautiful! While not a large area as compared with an appellation like Bordeaux, it is considerably larger than Barbaresco. There are 11 villages, compared with 3 primary ones in Barbaresco, but of those 11 villages, 5 are prominent--producing ~90% of the region's wine and all of the most important single vineyard wines. For those keeping track, they are Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba. And there may be a little more diversity in Barolo in terroirs...in soils and microclimates. The wines of Barolo and La Morra are sometimes described as being a bit more elegant and feminine...those of the other three villages as more structured and masculine. But like most broad generalizations, there are plenty of exceptions.

We began our visit at Vietti. There was a bit of a breakdown somewhere in communications about the time of our visit but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While we were waiting, we had an opportunity to chat with Luciana Vietti Currado. She married Alfredo Currado about 60 years ago--together they led Vietti to prominence, among other things, producing some of the first single vineyard wines in Barolo. We really enjoyed the visit.

Our next Barolo stop was G.D. Vajra. Like many estates in the region, there is a history of many generations growing grapes but it was Aldo Vajra about 50 years ago who decided to build a winery and produce their own wines. As we saw at almost every winery we visited, it is a family business. But at Vajra, that takes on extra meaning. It's clear the Vajra family love what they do and love each other--it's a very close family. Aldo is still very much involved--and we enjoyed meeting him. And his wife, Milena is also quite involved--she has hosted several of our friends who remember it enthusiastically. But increasingly, it's the next generation coming to the fore. Sons Guiseppe and Isidoro and daughter Francesca play prominent roles in growing, making and marketing the wines. And there's a joy to the way they do it that's contagious.

The wines were excellent. We didn't taste the full portfolio--it's large. But we did taste the wines I was most interested in...the barberas and the barolos. All really good. They're wines I'll seek out. The excellent wines combined with the warmth of the family made for a memorable visit.

Next up was Azelia--the Scavino estate in Castiglione Falletto. Ah...but which Scavino? An interesting fact about Barolo is that there are a number of estates owned by people with the same last name. Sometimes it's coincidence, sometimes it's family (with the Conternos, it's some of both!). Azelia is the property of Luigi Scavino--cousin of the owners of the Paolo Scavino estate. The two families share the excellent Bricco Fiasco vineyard. Luigi's son and heir-apparent, Lorenzo, was our host. About ten years out of wine school, Lorenzo is now a confident professional. The estate was interesting--the family originally farmed across the spectrum...animals and food crops as well as grapes. Only gradually did they evolve toward a complete focus on wine...slowly adapting the farm buildings as they went. That history is still visible.

Their wines were superb. We tasted the full range of nebbiolos, from basic to Barolo blend to single vineyard bottlings to the 2009 Riserva. That Riserva was one of the wines of the trip--beautifully balanced. Even though it's ten years old, because it spent five years in cask and five years in bottle before release, it has just hit the market relatively recently. A little bit of that made it's way to DC--and it's now mine!

Our last winery stop in Barolo was at Aldo Conterno. Conterno is a noble name in Barolo. Not all are related--but Aldo is the son of the revered Giacomo Conterno. Aldo's background is interesting. He grew up working with his dad...but was an adventurous lad. In the 1950s he moved to California, where a relative was trying to start a wine business. Aldo was going to help...but ran into several challenges. He didn't speak English. And he somehow ran afoul of the immigration authorities. His solution--he enlisted in the US Army He finished his enlistment with a decent command of the language and a clear bill from Immigration. In time, he returned to Piemonte and his father's business...but still with that adventurous spirit. In 1969, he bought a nearby farm in the Bussia district of Monforte. Aldo Conterno now has ~60 acres--including some of the area's best plots and has become one of Barolo's most respected producers.

Aldo passed away earlier this decade--the estate is now run by his three sons. We were hosted by one of those--Giacomo (named for his grandfather). It was a memorable visit. Let's just say there were no entry level wines! We began with the Bussiador--a beautiful Chardonnay. Then the three single cru Barolos. Of course, as military men, we had a special affinity for the Colonello (the historic vineyard named more than a century ago for a colonel). Each of them was outstanding. But the 2006 Granbussia Riserva stole the show. Giacomo decanted it while we tasted the others...then served the entire decanter. It was spectacular! Rich, structured, energetic, balanced and harmonious...all at the same time! It was a great way to wind up our time in Barolo.

And we ate well in Barolo. All the meals were good, but the most memorable was dinner at Osteria Veglio in La Morra. We sat on a deck cantilevered over a steep slope at the top of the ridgeline, looking out at moonrise over the valley. It was spectacular. And dinner was just as spectacular. We had so many great dishes on our trip--but perhaps our consensus favorite was the housemade ravioli at Veglio, stuffed with venison, sauced with butter and sage and topped with a generous serving of black truffles. Paired with a mature Barolo from La Morra's wonderful Brunate vineyard...it was heaven! Barolo was a special place to visit.

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