My favourite producer trip every year will not surprise anyone anyone who knows me. It is the one where we go to see and taste with Roberto Conterno at Cantina Giacomo Conterno in Piedmont.
This year I have been there twice within a month for tastings, which is a rare treat.
Often we arrive and taste before dinner but this time we had dinner first, with Roberto and his assistant Stephanie. Before heading to the restaurant we met at Casa della Saracca in Monforte d’Alba, a spot I have got to know well. If you are in the region and want somewhere really unique to stay or a great place for an aperitif or relaxed evening then this is the place – it has something of a cult following amongst the producers of the region.
We started with a bottle of Champagne, Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition non-vintage. I really like this and have had it since; good levels of nutty biscuity-ness but not at the expense of drive and acidity, it really is like (lazy analogy coming up…) ‘sparkling Meursault’.
We then jumped in the car for dinner at La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso, which I’d never been to before but have since revisited – I feel it may be somewhere I return as often as possible… It is a great spot with the biggest and best wine cellar I have ever seen: tens of thousands of bottles with particular strength in Italy (of course), champagne and Burgundy.
In the cellar it was time for aperitivo number 2 – Bollinger RD 2002 – this was not showing all that well, a little flat on flavour and overly evolved, further re-enforced by my personal taste for bottle-aged champagnes rather than late releases.
The Giacosa needed lots of time in decanter as well as in glass, to open out but did so in time to reveal a lovely balance. Initially it had been a little reduced and also a little ‘high’ or farmyardy. The Cavallotto was more immediately open and ready for business but in a cool, red fruited yet mineral way. A really lovely wine with a long but focussed future, impressive indeed.
It was a lovely dinner in a lovely spot, brilliant to hear from Roberto about the recent purchase of the Arione vineyard and also the almost completed developments at the winery.
9.30 next morning and there we were at the winery ready to taste. Before moving onto the wines I must just say that the attention to detail in every facet of the winemaking and bottling processes here is incredible from the in-house treatment of the corks and printing to the new just about to arrive bottling line. And so to the wines:
Barbera Francia 2013
40yr old vines now and there is always more minerality and salinity here. The 2013 vintage is a cooler one more like 2010 or 2008. This was delicious if still serious, dark fruit but grit as well.
Barbera Cerretta 2013
20yr old vines. Juicier and more open fruit, red as well as crimson, almost damson-like. The expression is superb and the amount of fruit just joyous.
Barolo Francia 2011
The barrell that would have been Monfortino* was added about a month ago.The wine has lovely red fruit precision but again as with the Barbera there is a saline and stones backbone, this is soft now but will grow and tighten, amazing juice. As with Burgundy just forget about whether vintage are stellar or not, find producers you like and buy the wines!
* I asked Roberto which of the of the recent ‘non-Monfortino’ years – 2011, 2009 and 2007 – was the closest to being a Monfortino and he said 2011 then 2007 and lastly 2009.
Barolo Cerretta 2011
The differences between this and the Barolo Francia are like those between the Barberas, and possibly explains ‘terroir’ better than any tasting I know. This Cerretta has more obvious and slightly darker fruit but a little less tannin as well, this is just such a flattering wine right now. Exciting.
Monfortino from barrel is one of the most exciting tastings anyone can experience in my view. The fact that I get to taste the same wine on 2 or 3 occasions from barrel is just brilliant. The 2008 is quite something. The extraordinary dimension to this wine is quite possibly due to the fact that in 2008 there was a phase in September when the temperatures dropped to almost zero and this Roberto feels has added a certain something by tightening and sweetening things.
A wine with quite incredible complexity of aroma, at the same time fresh and red fruited but also degraded and sweet in a leathery fashion, very precise and linear, this is bottled now. Exciting and so different from 2006 or 2010. May be more like 2004 in fact.
A wine that is a legend before bottling, the archetypal Barolo both fine and massive, both feminine in purity and masculine in bredth and power. Sublime. Extreme patience will be required once bottled but from the barrell just fabulous. A simply brilliant end to an always superb tasting.
Having done this brillaint tasting and said our goodbyes at Giacomo Conterno we drove off to La Morra to see a smaller and stylistically different producer – Giulia Negri – who we have just started working with.
There is Barolo here as well as Barbera, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Giulia is ambitious, young and a lover of Burgundy as well as Piedmont.
The estate is amongst the Serradenari Cru which is the highest in the whole region. Giulia also has some rented holdings in Brunate.
The top Barolo is called Tartufaia (the truffle-hunter, named after the estate’s enthusiastic dog) and is a blend of both Serradinari and Brunate. This works well together as the 2009 shows.
I will do a fuller write up of notes in an upcoming blog but Giulia is one to watch with a real drive and desire to succeed, you’d be brave to bet against serious things happening here.