December 18, 2011

Conterno Weekend Part Two - Cascina Francia Vertical

As I wrote in my previous post this tasting was done in June of 2009, but since I just started my blog, I thought it deserved to be mentioned here. It was a spectacular tasting.

Saturday evening it was time for the big Cascina Francia tasting. Apart from Stefan I had invited 5 friends, who are all very interested in wine. Four of them also participated in my Cascina Francia vertical last year. So we knew that we could be in for a very special treat, especially as this year’s tasting included more “older” wines than last year. The wines were served semi-blind as everyone knew which wines were going to be in the tasting, but the bottles were covered when served. We did not decant the wines, but they were opened three – four hours before being served.

The bottles waiting to be served

We started with a glass of Champagne. It was Charles Ellner Champagne Brut Seduction MillĂ©simĂ© 1996. It had a golden colour. It had very distinct notes of rye bread, or yeast as others put it. Other than that it displayed lemon, honey, hazelnuts and also apples. It did not have the sharp acidity, which I have found in most the 96 Champagnes I’ve had, but you could feel the acidity in the stomach. A very good Champagne. 92 points.

Then came the first course, which was hand cut carne cruda from veal tenderloin. It was a magnificent carne cruda, and even though it was not tenderloin from Piedmontese animals it was one of the best carne cruda I’ve ever had. The food went very well with the first flight of wines, which were 1996 & 1999 Cascina Francia.

1999 Barolo Cascina Francia
Initially the 99 was very tight and did not offer much on the nose. I’ve had the 99 a number of times and it is the first time that I’ve experienced it with a tight nose. After working with it in the glass for a while it started to reveal some of its underlying greatness. The nose revealed cherries, some strawberry and in general small red berries. In the mouth it is very fruit driven, almost Burgundian. It was extremely well structured, with firm tannins and had good distinct acidity. It was very primary and you sensed that this only revealed a fraction of its potential as we definitely caught this at as rather closed stage. After the dinner we tried some of the leftovers and it was quite strange with voluminous sweet cherries. I had a tiny bit left for tonight and it had improved significantly. It was still dominated by cherries but it had lost the voluminous sweetness. On other bottles rose petals have been a very characteristic element in the nose, but I did not pick it up on this bottle. After this showing, I will try to keep my hands away from my remaining bottles. 93+ points.

1996 Barolo Cascina Francia
The 96 was much more open for business and offered a very expressive nose of cherries. It appeared darker in style than the 99 and it had a monster structure underneath all the primary fruit and berries. This is really a wine which is build for the long haul. The great body and the sharp acidity will keep this wine alive for decades and I’m sure there is plenty of fruit to balance it. At other tastings I’ve preferred the 99 over the 96 but not this time. When revisited after dinner this was really singing and the people that got to taste it were stunned. A fantastic wine although it is only a baby. 94+ points.

Next course was risotto with morels, summer truffles and fried quail egg. A fairly simple yet truly amazing dish. It offered a perfect match to the next flight of wines, which consisted of 1970 & 1971 Barolo from Giacomo Conterno. I had sourced the 1970 (and the 58 Monforitno) last year via a friend’s connection in Italy. When I ordered it, it was listed as a 1970 Barbaresco, but when I received it, it was a Barolo!! Naturally I did not complain and certainly not with a price tag of “only” 65 Euros. Stefan brought the 1971 from his cellar. I had anxiously been looking forward to this flight as I had never tasted any of the wines. As it turned out, this was the single best flight of wines I’ve ever had. Both bottles were truly amazing and in my book, they were both flirting with perfection.

1970 Barolo
It had good ruby red colour and it initially revealed a touch of maderization. But after just 5 minutes in the glass, it transformed into a true beauty. The nose had a very characteristic note of menthol, but it also revealed cherries, leather, truffles, iron, iodine, blood and beef. It was amazing. In the mouth it had a very masculine personality with a big body. It still had plenty of well integrated tannins and a whipping acidity. I was completely stunned by this wine and I feel so lucky to have tried it. Wow. It did not let down at all, rather it kept getting better and better. I had the last zip tonight and it was equally stunning. It had not lost anything. A truly amazing wine. 98 points.

1971 Barolo
Colour was also ruby red and it too revealed a touch of maderization, perhaps slightly more than the 1970 did. But again it transformed into a true beauty in the glass. The nose was amazing with scents of coffee, leather, truffles, cherries and menthol. It also revealed iron, but not nearly as much as the 1970 did. It had lots of tannin and a good distinct acidity. It was also a big bodied wine, but perhaps with a slightly more elegant touch than the 1970. The finish seemed endless as the wine stayed in your mouth forever. This wine also just got better and better over the course of the evening and even tonight the last zip was unbelievable. There was much debate around the table as which wine was the better of the two. Initially I preferred the 1970 but as time went by, the elegance and balance of the 71 made my preference shift towards the 1971. But this was like splitting hairs as both were incredible. 99 points.

still the best set of wines I've ever had

Again I have to say that this was the single best flight I’ve ever had. The complexity of these two wines was stunning and the pairing with the food was just perfect.

Next up were the 1987 & 1988 Cascina Francia. Coming right after this unreal flight I feared that they would have a hard time. Again I was wrong. Both wines were singing.

1987 Cascina Francia
This wine was singing right out of the glass with cherries, strawberries, menthol and liquorice. It was so pure nebbiolo. In the mouth it had wonderfully soft caressing tannins and well balanced acidity. The finish was long and the wine left everyone smiling. A great wine. I think that this wine really shows how good the Conternos have been and still are as producers. This was a real off-vintage and yet they have made such an incredible wine. I had the Monfortino earlier this year and honestly this wine was not far from the quality of the Monfortino. Having said this, I think we caught this wine at its peak and I don’t see it getting any better, but I’m sure it will keep this way for a number of years. 95 points.

1988 Cascina Francia
Initially this was slightly more reserved than the 87. But after a while it opened in the glass. In the nose it revealed many of the same characteristics of the 87, but in the mouth it was much more masculine. The fruit was darker, the tannins were more aggressive and the finish was longer. Again an amazing wine and I really liked the pure expression of nebbiolo that this flight presented. One of my friends commented that this was how Mother Nature had intended nebbiolo to taste like. I have one bottle of the 88 left, and will keep this for a while as I think it will improve even more over the next few years. 95+ points.

The last flight consisted of 1985, 1989 & 1990 Cascina Francia. I met with Roberto Conterno here in Copenhagen last Monday and when I told him about our tasting, he responded that the 85 should be unbelievable. I had never before tasted the 85 with this comment from Roberto, I was very excited to tasted it.

1985 Cascina Francia
The colour of the 85 was quite dark red, but to be honest no one focused so much on the colour of this wine. No, this wine was all about the nose. It was incredibly expressive, revealing the characteristics of the warm vintage, with ripe dark fruit with an extremely seductive personality. This was sex in a bottle. The wine is at peak and I don’t see it getting any better, but then again it doesn’t need to get any better, because it was fantastic. I just sat and inhaled this wine for several minutes – it was gorgeous. After some time the ripe fruit moved a bit in the background and flowers became present and then suddenly there was an wonderful scent of truffles. In the mouth it was soft, seductive and caressing, but still pretty concentrated. The fruit was somewhat sweet, which I guess is a result of the warm vintage. It was a stunning wine with a nose which was to die for, but it did not have the structure of some of the other vintages. 96 points.

1989 Cascina Francia
When poured into the glass this wine had a very mature nose but with time this disappeared and the wine just got better and better. I drank this from a Riedel Sommelier Grand Cru Burgundy glass as I  had anticipated that it would benefit from a lot of air. Despite being 20 years old it was tight and seemed to be saying “leave me alone” from the glass. But as expected it started to open up with air. It revealed tar, liquorice and cherries in the nose. Underneath this initial layer you felt the dark red fruit which seemed to be covering a core of rusty iron. Tannins are powerful and there was a whipping acidity. The finish seemed to last forever. This is a true powerful and awesome Barolo, but it also has an elegant touch. It really requires patience, which is best illustrated by the fact that it was much better when I had the last half glass tonight. A fantastic wine, which I think is one of the best if not the best Cascina Francia ever made. 97+ points.

1990 Cascina Francia
This wine seemed to be somewhere in the middle of the 85 and the 89, as you could sense that it came from a warm vintage like the 85, but it also had a hugely structured body like the 89. The nose revealed dark ripe fruit and cherries. Late in the evening it also started to show scents of iron. In the mouth it was big and powerful with very firm tannins and a medium strong acidity. The finish was also very long. It was a fantastic wine and easily the best 1990 Cascina Francia I’ve ever had. It did not appear to be near peak yet, although I’ve read many notes suggesting this. Perhaps this bottle had been stored under perfect conditions. 95+ points.

The amazing line-up

December 15, 2011

Conterno Weekend - a pair of older Monfortinos

As I just recently started my blog I have decided to put up some notes on a few wines that I tasted over the last couple of years. One evening came to my mind immediately and it was the first time, where I tried older Monfortino. Together with my good friend Stefan, I had 1958 Monfortino and 1974 Monfortino. The Friday where we had these wines was a monumental evening and it marked the beginning of what I still refer to as THE Conterno weekend - because not only did we have these two legendary wines, the day after we were 7 guys sharing 9 vintages of Conterno Barolos.

Well, here are my notes from that Friday evening in June 2009 - the Monfortino evening.

Stefan brought a long a bottle of 1964 Barolo Riserva from E. Pira & Figli and I contributed with a bottle of Monfortino 1958 and a bottle of Monfortino 1974.

Being the most experienced with older wines, Stefan had the honour of opening the three bottles. With great patience he managed to pull out all three corks in one piece. We enjoyed the wines over the course of the evening. It was a true treat to taste these fabulous wines.

Monfortino 1958 ready to be uncorked

Giacomo Conterno, 1958 Barolo Riserva Monfortino,
The Monfortino 58 was quite light in the colour – almost like tea. It quickly gained colour and although it had slight oxidative notes it was a true treat to drink this wines. After three hours in the glass it was really singing. It displayed coffee, iron, iodine, and truffles in the nose. In the mouth you still sensed the fruit which was supported by a tremendous structure and a sharp acidity. To my surprise it still had good tannins which again contributed to the good balance. Although the acidity was sharp it was by no means too dominating. In fact I felt the wine - after it was allowed to breathe some hours - was extremely well balanced. It was highly enjoyable to drink and it was quite amazing that the wine did not fall apart over the course of the eveing. The wine seemed to stay in the mouth as the finish was very long (30+ seconds). Even when re-tasted Saturday evening it was highly enjoyable although the oxidative notes were more apparent.

E. Pira & Figli, 1964 Barolo Riserva
The wine was beautifully fresh and vibrant. Provenance was simply excellent. Colour was ruby red and it had an extremely distinct nose of menthol. In fact it was so distinct that it reminded me of a wine Stefan brought to a tasting last year. None of us could remember which wine he had brought back then, but I went through my photos and found that it was a 1967 Barolo by E. Pira. In the mouth you also sensed the menthol, but it had cherry, red berries and it was incredibly fresh. It had good firm tannins and a vibrant acidity. The finish was also long. Although it was much fresher than the Monfortino 58, it perhaps did not have the same complexity. But it was a very, very good wine. When re-tasted Saturday evening the menthol was still present but not nearly as distinct, and the wine seemed to be in even better balance. Thank you Stefan.

Giacomo Conterno, 1974 Barolo Riserva Monfortino
This bottle did not have the best fill level (top shoulder) and the capsule was not perfect either. I therefore did not have the highest expectations. But boy was I wrong. The wine was not suffering at all. It was dark red and to begin with the nose was very tight. But it quickly blossomed in the glass. The nose became extremely complex with menthol, smoked meat and leather. In the mouth it is great. Wow I’m impressed! It has a very bright acidity, but it gets plenty of counter balance from the fruit. It has sweet cherries and flowers, but still I think it has a very austere personality. The tannins are firm, but very well integrated and the wine is in wonderful balance. I re-tasted it both Saturday and Sunday and the last glass was stunning. More than 48 hours after opening this bottle it has not let down one bit. On the contrary it has improved. The acidity and tannins are not as dominating, which allows the fruit to play a more present role. A great, great wine. It was both heads and shoulders above any other 74 Barolos I’ve had previously.

December 11, 2011

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco 2007

I decided to open this baby Friday evening. It was my only bottle of this, but after reading a bit about it on Antonio Galloni's forum I thought I would give it a try. As it was a last minute decision it was not given any pre-drinking treatment - so a pop and pour.

In the glass the color was ruby red with a core which was somewhat darker. In the nose I felt that it was initially dominated by alcohol, however after some time in the glass this seemed to evaporate. It then displayed dark cherries, licorice and a slight touch of mint or menthol - all very classic nebbiolo scents. When I tasted it I initially felt it was very loyal to the vintage, with loads of overripe fruit and again slightly alcoholic and in general a bit out of balance. Luckily with time in the glass this feeling of disharmony dissappeared and more classic notes of nebbiolo surfaced. The dark and sweet cherries were there and so was the menthol. In terms of structure the wine was relatively feminine and the few tannins that were there were soft and sweet - so very true to the vintage. I enjoyed half of the the wine over the course of the evening and then left the rest for the day after. It clearly improved with air and it was even slightly better the following day as this touch of alcohol was completely gone. In general it was a wine that was made in a very polished style, and I must admit that I found it to lack a bit of personality. Anyway it was a very nice wine, which was charming with its warmth and it was very approachable due to the lack of a big brooding tannc structure. I'm not sure it is a wine that will keep for many years, but it definitely is worth a try and I like the fact that it was so true to its vintage.

December 08, 2011

Battle of Two Ripe Vintages

On Wednesday evening, I was with three friends at Enomania in Copenhagen. I had hoped to do a sample of two different Barolos from 2007, but we ended up with a Barolo 2007 and a Burgundy 2009. Well, actually we tasted also one sip of another 2009 Burgundy.

First wine of the evening - too opulent for my taste
First up was a bottle from Burgundy. We chose to try something from the much hyped vintage: 2009. Unfortunately this hype has lead to a drastic increase in price, but that's another story... Well, back to the wine - we chose a 2009 Domaine Dujac Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru "Aux Combottes". As we ordered this wine while we were at the restaurant it was not given any specific pre-serving treatment, instead it was poured into a decanter, from which it was served. The color was quite dark red, but this information is not 100% accurate as the light at the restaurant naturally is not completely bright. In the nose it displayed very dark fruit - really black and ripe cherries as well as some blackcurrant. In the mouth I found it slightly out of balance. Initially when entering the mouth it was very opulent and an explosion of super ripe fruit - almost overwhelming. The finish was very abrupt and I seriously missed some acidity to help balance the (over)ripe fruit. With time in the glass it did however improve quite a bit, but to me it was still too ripe in the fruit. It almost felt like you could chew the wine. I must say that I was somewhat disappointed with this wine, especially after having tasted earlier vintages of it, including 1999 which was incredible.

Yes, I know I have been on a bit of an Altare trip lately - but what a trip!
After the Dujac we had a bottle from my beloved Elio Altare. It was 2007 Barolo Barolo Brunate :-) Yes, I know I have been a bit narrow minded lately with all these Altare wines, but I'm just in the mood for these wines now. I adore their elegance and their perfect balance. This one was no exception. On the nose I found a lot of menthol and dark fruit - cherries and plums. In the mouth it was opulent but not nearly as opulent as the Dujac and although it had sweet fruit it was by no means chewy as the Aux Combottes. The tannins were soft, round and sweet, which is very characteristic for this vintage in Langhe. I have found other Barolos and Barbarescos from this vintage a bit clumsy and dull, but this one possessed freshness and a purity that I loved. It had a very long finish with quite good acidity on the contrary to the Dujac. It kept improving over the evening and I felt very happy to have chosen this bottle from the wine list.

After another great experience with the Brunate from Altare, it is sad to think that this year (2011) is supposed to be the last vintage for Altare's Barolo Brunate. The reason is that Mario Marengo, from whom Elio gets the grapes, has said that he is no longer interested in doing the usual swap for Arborina grapes. In a way I can understand, because it must be tough to see that Elio constantly outperforms him, but still I wish Marengo would change his mind, because I think Elio's Barolo Brunate is an iconic Barolo that deserves to be made also in the future.

Well, as indicated in the beginning, we also tasted a sip of another bottle from Burgundy. Damiano came with the glass without telling us what it was, and I'm a little proud to say that I very fast nailed it as Rousseau 2009 :-) I don't drink a lot of Burgundy, but Armand Rousseau is one of my absolute favorite producers from that region, and this was his 2009 Chambertin Grand Cru. It is not fair to write a big report on this wine as I only had a little sip, but I had enough to sense that it was a completely different animal than the Dujac. It was still with ripe fruit, but a very different selection of fruits - much more light red berries, and then it had this scent of animal or staples that I always find in Rousseau wines. It also had freshness and an elegance I didn't find in the Dujac and I felt it was able to balance the ripeness of the fruit. It was a very good sip indeed. Thank you Damiano!

We finished with a sip of this beauty

So, returning to the headline of this post, "Battle of Two Ripe Vintages", I must say I clearly felt that 2007 Barolo won against 2009 Burgundy. The Rousseau seemed to have handled the heat of 2009 in Burgundy much better than the Dujac's Aux Combottes, which seemed almost a little cooked. In general, I have not been a big fan of the 2007 vintage in Langhe, as I find the wines lack the tannic structure that I like, but in this case the Brunate made up for it via its freshness and overall balance.

The two ripe vintages

Below are pictures of Damiano's amazing food. If you haven't been to Enomania yet, it is a mistake - no, it is a BIG mistake! I can't recommend the place strongly enough. Damiano prepares simple yet fantastic food and he is very passionate and knowledgable about his wines.

Risotto with halibut saltimbocca - delicious

Ravioli filled with braised veal cheeks - rich and good
The meat was tender as butter and the white truffles didn't hurt...

December 06, 2011

Altare Tasting Follow-up

After the tasting I asked Silvia about the strange inscription on the 1971 Barolo Riserva Speciale. She didn't know why it said "per Carol Marie Antoinette" on the label, but she promised me to do some research.

1971 Barolo Riserva Speciale "per Carol Marie Antoinette"
Well, tonight Silvia replied that she had solved the mystery. It turns out that in 1971 a man from Torino had a girl. He named her Carol Marie Antoinette and where other fathers buy a doll or some Lego for their newborn, he decided to buy her Barolo. Yes, he must have been a VERY wise man!! He contacted Silvia's grandfather, Giovanni, and asked if could make a special label for his daughter. Giovanni did and it was one of those bottles that we enjoyed on the 18th of November 40 years after the harvest. Anyway, you might wonder how we managed to drink one of these special bottles. This little girl grew up and found out that she didn't like wine, so she contacted the winery, which was now run by Elio, and asked if they wanted to buy back the bottles. Elio decided to do so and that's how the wine ended up at an Altare tasting in Copenhagen 40 years after the grapes were harvested.

What can I say.... First of all thanks to Silvia for following up on the story. Secondly, why didn't my father think like this wise man from Torino :-( and thirdly I'm so happy that this woman, who is now 40 years old, doesn't like wine, because this 1971 Barolo Riserva Speciale was AMAZING and I enjoyed every drop of it!!

December 03, 2011

...and on the 8th day God created Langhe

Since I started my blog just a few days ago, I thought I would post my impressions from my recent trip to Langhe, although now almost a month has passed since I got back. It was really a special trip and it was interesting to get a better insight to the 2007 vintage, which I had not tasted that much of prior to the trip. It is by no means a bad vintage - not at all! However, I must admit that for my palate it lacks the structure and the massive tannins of a more "classic" vintage. I also noted that most of the producers I visited talked very positively about 2007, but at the same time they said it would not be a long lived vintage. Some also mentioned that this was a very good "restaurant vintage" - meaning that it could be enjoyed young. Many also said it would serve as a good introduction to people who didn't really understand Barolo and Barbaresco. On the other hand, when producers were talking about 2006 they all said it was an absolutely incredible vintage, and some also spoke about 2005 being a completely overlooked vintage. I only tasted two 2005 Baroli on my trip - both Altare ("Normale" and Cerretta) and they were both very good. Anyway - it will be fun to follow these vintages develop over time. I'm sure we will have a lot of good debates on this matter...
Vineyards dressed in fall colors (view from Colla tasting room)
I arrived in Langhe slightly tired after a long drive from Copenhagen. I arrived just in time to check in at the wonderful agristurismo Le Viole in Vergne, before heading on to Poderi Colla for the first tasting of the trip. It was my first visit at Poderi Colla in the hills just outside Alba. Beautiful place and very nice and humble people. After a short tour of the winery and some talks about politics we went to the tasting room with Federica Colla. In the tasting room the legendary Beppe Colla was tasting with some friends. A real treat to meet this legendary piemontese winemaker, who at age 81 still seemed in pretty good shape. We tasted a number of their different wines including: 2008 Pietro Colla Spumante, 2010 Riesling, 2010 Campo Romano, 2009 Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2006 Barbaresco Roncaglie, 2006 Barolo Bussia, 2007 Barolo Bussia, 1996 Barbaresco Roncaglie

Living legend, Beppe Colla, tasting with his friends

I don’t have a ton of experience with the wines of Poderi Colla, but I was positively surprised. The Riesling had a very good and dry finish that I liked very much. The winemaking of the Campo Romano (100% Pinot Noir) had changed after Pietro Colla has taken over more responsibility. It is no longer aged in barrique but in big casks and it was very very good – possibly the best pinot I have ever tasted from Italy. And It was the best QPR of the trip. The best wine of the tasting was however, the 2006 Barolo Bussia. What a wine – such concentration and power yet still elegant. The tannin structure is also amazing. Definitely one to put in the cellar – and keep it there for a long time. The 2007 Barolo Bussia was not that good, but they also suffered a lot of hail in Bussia. The 96 Barbaresco Roncaglie was a bit too “mature” compared to what I would have expected, but it was a pleasure to taste.

I'm ready to dig into my beloved hand cut carne cruda @ La Libera

In the evening we had dinner at La Libera with Federica Colla. We enjoyed the food of La Libera and Federica had brought two wines we missed out on at the tasting earlier: 2009 Barbera d’Alba Costa Bruna and 2007 Bricco del Drago – both were good wines that were highly enjoyable. The food however, was nothing special - I had slightly higher hopes for my first visit at La Libera. But I think the chef had left, so they were struggling a bit.

Friday morning we had an appointment at Marchesi di Gresy. Unfortunately Jeff was not there to welcome us, as he was in the US. However, we had a very good tasting in the company of Marina.

Marina talking about the wines of Marchesi di Gresy

We started out with Di Gresy Chardonnay 2009 and 2000. The 2009 was too young and a bit too oaky for me, however the 2000 was really fascinating. Especially a very distinct scent of white truffles kept putting a smile on my face. We also had Villa Martis 2008, Merlot Da Solo 2008 and Barbera d’Asti Monte Colombo 2007 before heading to the nebbiolo. None of these wines were really my style. No faults just not my style. Next up was 2007 Barbaresco Martinenga. To me it was a very smooth drinking wine without a lot of structure. It is made in a “sexy” style and I’m sure some people will really love this. However, I like my nebbiolo a bit more structured and with tannins. Then on to the 2007 Barbaresco Camp Gros, which was so light and elegant in the glass. There was clearly more structure and tannins than in the 07 Martinenga, yet the tannins were very round and IMO it lacked some structure (IMHO a general “problem” of the 07 vintage). The next wine, 2006 Barbaresco Gaiun, was a completely different animal – much bigger body and a completely different tannic structure. To me this vintage comparison just underlined how much I prefer the 06 to 07 – even in Barbaresco. The 06 Gaiun is the fines young Gaiun I have tried. At the end a real gem was opened for us: 1996 Barbaresco Camp Gros. It simply blew the other wines away. In the glass it showed some orange bricking but still a deep red core. It had a gorgeous structure and balance and in the nose distinct notes of menthol and herbs could be found. It was of course still young, but I adored it – a very complex wine. A fantastic way to end the visit. In general I must say that I become more and more happy for the Barbaresci of di Gresy. As I have stated in other posts, I think they are overlooked when talking about the best wines of Barbareco DOCG. I know that the two top bottling are not cheap, but they are really great, and I love the balance of the wines.

La Cantinetta - I love the food, but check out the wine storage...

From Barbaresco we drove to Barolo to have our “mandatory” lunch a La Cantinetta. We had 7 different antipasti – including carne cruda, an amazing vitello tonnato and of course the trade mark ravioli with and egg inside. To accompany these delicious dishes served by Maurilio and his staff we had a bottle of 2009 Giuseppe Rinaldi Langhe Nebbiolo.

This is another absolutely beautiful expression of nebbiolo. It is made solely from the Ravera vineyard in Barolo. La Cantinetta is a lovely place for lunch, however their wine storage is absolutely awful. So if you go there, you have to pick very young wines.

Monforte d'Alba seen from Conterno winery
After lunch we had an appointment with il Re del Barolo, Roberto Conterno J We were greated by a slightly sad sight as several of the old casks are standing outside the winery. This is of course not because Roberto is changing the winemaking technique, but simply a result of some of the barrels were starting to fall apart, and therefore obviously needed to be replaced.

Old botti resting outside the winery

Roberto showed us around the cellar and we saw some of the replacements – casks from Austria. As fermentation was still undergoing, we did not taste anything from cask.

Talking with Roberto in his cellar

However in the tasting room we had first the 2009 Barbera Cascina Francia, which without competition was the best barbera we had during our trip. I absolutely loved it – it reminded me a bit of the 2004 version, but maybe even better… Then we had the 2007 Barolo Cascina Francia. In 2007 Roberto chose not to make any Monfortino as he thought the quality of the wine was not "worthy" of being Monfortino as it lacked structure. However, he told us that the cask he had for Monfortino 2007 was the best of the 2007 casks, but the difference was not big enough to justify a separate Monfortino bottling and he chose to blend it with the Cascina Francia.

Roberto gently pooring the old nebbiolo

The 2007 Cascina Francia was very dark and powerful and IMHO a much more structured 2007 compared to what we tasted other places. It is a very deep Barolo with lots of dark brooding fruit, and it is certainly one that I would not be worried about “forgetting” in the cellar. Next wine was the 2004 Monfortino, which I had looked so much forward to trying. It was so silky and elegant in so perfect balance. Unbelievable!! Having said that, I must say that I prefer the big structure of the 2002 Monfortino. But they are just two very different expressions of nebbiolo – perfect in their own way.

Tasting with Roberto Conterno

At the end we opened a bottle of 1987 Barolo Cascina Francia that I had brought from my cellar here in Copenhagen. I know it seems odd to bring a bottle of Cascina Francia to Roberto, but last time I visited him, I told him of a tasting of Cascina Francia, where I was amazed by the 1987. He then said that it had been years since he tasted the 87 Francia, so I promised him to bring one next time I visited him. It was of course with some tension and nervousness that I watched Roberto uncork it – hopefully it wouldn’t be poorly stored or corked… Luckily it wasn’t. It was mindblowing and the nose was simply put, to die for. I was so impressed by its purity and elegance. Luckily so was Roberto. He was one big smile and had a very precise comment: it is perfect – basta!

Roberto opening my 1987 Barolo Cascina Francia
Standing on top of the "Holy Grail" - Cascina Francia

For dinner we went for white truffles at Tra Arte e Querce in Monchiero. Ezio is a truffle hunter and his wife Clelia is the chef – need I say more…;-)

Our hosts, Clelia & Ezio

Well it is a very rustic place and the food is good, but not great – however the truffles are quite special, although this year’s truffles could not match the truffles of last year. We were in total 8 people for dinner as my girlfriend came with four of her best friends. A great Danish/Italian evening.

Enjoying life...

We had quite a bit of wine – all of which were brought from home. We started out with a white wine made on the Timorasso grape. I believe it was Il Giallo di Costa from Ricci – I think a 2008 or 2009. It was quite particular and I really liked it. We then had a glass of Barbaresco Riserva Pora 1997 from Produttori del Barbaresco.

White truffles found by Ezio

Carne cruda and white truffle - a divine combination

Unfortunately it was a victim of poor storage, so nothing special to report on this one. We then had 2007 Barolo Cascina Francia from Magnum. It was beautiful and with food it was even better than the one we tasted with Roberto a few hours earlier.

We then had two outstanding bottles of Marchesi di Gresy Camp Gros: the 1996 and the 1989. The 96 was purchased at the winery in the morning and the 89 came from my cellar. The 96 is still a baby and the 89 is just starting to show what a great wine it is. What a joy to taste these two wines side by side.

Ezio generously shaving white truffle

Next day we went to Alba to see the market. On the way we did a bit of a detour going through Serralunga, where we stopped and walked a bit in Cascina Francia. There were still a few clusters of grapes hanging here and there, and we tasted a few of them. They were so sweet it was unbelievable – nice treat to try. In Alba we quickly got fed up with the chaos of the market and headed for Enoclub for a quick lunch. The weather allowed us to sit outside in the sun. After a long wait we were finally served. I had a lovely carne cruda along with a bottle of Menabrea Birra – a nice change from all the nebbiolo.
Maria Teresa speaking passionately about her wines

In the afternoon we had an appointment with Maria Teresa of Bartolo Mascarello. It was a very busy Saturday afternoon at the winery, but we were fortunate to have the privilege of having Maria Teresa showing us the cellar and even sitting down for more than an hour tasting the recent vintages with us.

The cellar of Maria Teresa Mascarello

We had 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba, 2009 Barbera d’Alba San Lorenzo, 2009 Freisa and 2007 Barolo. The 2007 Barolo was beautiful, elegant and well balanced. It is a typical 2007 in the sense that it is so easy to love and it is definitely very easy drinking. Maria Teresa told us that it is a wine for consumption and not for long term storage. I understand what she means, but I think she is a bit too humble. I was also very pleased with the other wines we tried. They are very true to the grape, in the sense that when tasting, you have no doubt what you do taste. She makes very small quantities of these wines and they can be difficult to get a hold of. Personally I have been a big fan of her barbera since the 2004 vintage, where I tried it for the first time. It was a very special visit, where talked a lot about wine and a lot about politics.

Mascarello line-up incl. the famed "No Barrique No Berlusconi"

In the evening we had dinner at Marsupino. We were treated with spectacular food and ditto wines. We started out with a bottle of 2006 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste, which is to die for. It is simply amazing. Such perfect combination of fruit and structure. I’m so happy that I have quite a few of this wine in the cellar, because it will go down as one of the absolutely best Barolos from 2006. Wow.

Erica and me enjoying Marsupino

To follow up on this wine, we needed to bring out one of the big guns, so we had a bottle of 1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino and it was of course young, but it was unbelievably great. It was so complex and it seemed to just show a fraction of what it will one day unveil.

Monfortino 1996 - perfection in a bottle...
My friends ordered one more bottle which in a way was a waste, as it was clear that nothing could compete with the perfection of the 96 Monfortino. Anyway a bottle of 1996 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia was opened and while it was a very good bottle of wine it was not in the same league as the 06 Brunate Le Coste and not even close to the 96 Monfortino. It was also more mature than the Monfortino, but of course an excellent bottle of wine. Needless to say that we left the restaurant in a very good mood.

Tasting with Guido Porro in his cellar

Sunday morning we had a visit with Guido Porro of Serralunga d’Alba. I tasted Guido Porro for the first time with the 2004 vintage. It was Greg dal Piaz who drew my attention to this little artisan producer – thanks for that Greg. He makes two Barolos from two different plots on the Lazzarito Vineyard in Serralunga – a) Barolo Lazzairasco (app. 10.000 bottles produced) and b) Barolo Vigna Santa Caterina (app. 4.000 bottles produced). His winery is located at the very top of the Lazzarito Vineyard with a stunning view towards Castiglione Falletto. He is very traditional in his winemaking methods and he possesses vines in some important places. We tasted the whole range of his wines: Dolcetto 2010 (5000 bottles produced) was very clean and elegant with good acidity. It only sees cement and steel and no wood. Barbera 2010 (5000 bottles produced) was in a different stage, as it had just been bottled. It sees cement followed by a few months in old Slavonian botte. Next we tried the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo. He produced his first Langhe Nebbiolo in 2009, where he made 1000 bottles. In 2010 he had doubled the number of bottles produced to 2000. The grapes come from plants right next to Gaja’s Sperss vineyard in Serralunga. I really liked this wine. It was very pure and elegant with lots of red fruit, yet with a massive underlying structure and my mouth was coated by the tannins – lovely!

View from Guido Porro towards Serralunga d'Alba

Last we tried his two 2007 Barolos. First up was Barolo Vigna Santa Caterina which was very silky and elegant without a huge structure. Very pleasant and relatively easy drinking. The Barolo Lazzairasco was a different darker expression. It comes from 50 year old vines and maybe because of this it had managed to keep some coolness to it – despite the vintage. It possessed much more structure and was a truly great 2007 Barolo. The incredibly humble Guido Porro sensed that we were very pleased with his wines and we offered to come with him to his small cellar and taste from cask. An offer we of course couldn’t refuse J We had both Barolos in 2008 and in 2009. I especially liked the 2009s as they seemed more open and clean. It will be interesting to follow this producer over the coming years. Especially due to the fact that he was one of three producers who inherited part of Canale’s legendary plot on Vigna Rionda.

100 year old plant from Canale's part of Vigna Rionda

Guido told us that the vineyard was in a terrible condition when they took it over. Many of the plants were dead and many were more than 100 years old. So they were forced to work a lot in the vineyard and they had chosen to replant the entire plot. Guido said he expected to produce the first vintage of Barolo Vigna Rionda in 2017 or 2018.

After the visit we went to Centro Storico in Serralunga. Alessio served some simple but absolutely wonderful food for us - including a cake for dessert that made it to top of my dessert charts - and we enjoyed a stunning bottle of Barolo Monprivato 2006 and a bottle of 2009 Barbera d’Alba Cerretta from Giacomo Conterno. My girlfriend and I clearly preferred the 2009 Barbera from Cascina Francia but my two Danish friends were of the opposite opinion… After this my two Danish friends headed for Malpensa Airport, but luckily my girlfriend and I had the chance to spend a couple of more days in Langhe.

Goodbye lunch outside Centro Storico in Serralunga
 Sunday evening was spent with very good friends in Monforte. It was a cozy evening, and luckily without too much wine...

Sandro and little Princess Chiara (don't worry it was only dolcetto...)

Monday morning I had a much awaited tasting with Silvia at Elio Altare. Along with the visit to Roberto Conterno it is always the highlight of my trip to Langhe. And as things turned out this was no exception. Unfortunately my girlfriend had to work, so she couldn’t join me.

I met the legendary Elio when I got out of the car, but it was Silvia, who was showing me around. She took me to the cellar and we tried the 2009 Barolo from steel. It was so open and fruity, but with good structure. Next we tried the 2009 Barolo Arborina from steel. It was more closed and needed some air before it started showing its potential. It was somewhat deeper and more concentrated and more structured than the Barolo, but judged on how they showed on the day, I actually preferred the Barolo. After this Silvia showed me the great honor of letting me try from cask their new prestige project: 2010 Barolo Arborina – 100% hand de-stemmed. I had of course heard about the project, but I must admit I didn’t think it could make such a big difference. Boy was I wrong!! On the nose it was so sexy and elegant, that you would think you were smelling a pinot noir from Burgundy. In the mouth of course the nebbiolo showed its presence. But it was so incredibly pure and elegant that I can’t compare it to anything I have ever tried. It was just drop dead gorgeous. There won’t be many of these bottles as there were only 6 barriques of this wine. After this sensational wine, we tried the 2009 Barolo Brunate from steel. Silvia told me that this year (2011) would be the last year where they would produce a Barolo Brunate. The reason being that Mario Marengo had chosen to put an end to their swapping of Arborina grapes for Brunate grapes. It is a pity, because I have always loved the Brunate from Altare. Well, luckily based on the tasting of the 2009 Brunate, we still have some wonderful experiences waiting ahead of us. It was an adorable wine. Last Silvia took me to a tank with the 2011 hand de-stemmed Arborina. It was so primary and really fruit juice, but I felt so lucky to taste it. Thank you Silvia!
Cellar of Elio Altare
In the tasting room I was first served Barolo 2005, 2006 and 2007. It was very interesting to taste these three vintages side by side. I clearly preferred the 2006. In general when comparing vintages, 2006 is to me the perfect vintage – a beautiful marriage between a relatively warm vintage and a socalled classical vintage - massively structured but always balanced by the intense fruit. The 2005 is more feminine yet cooler in its expression, and the 2007 is the sexy woman that unfortunately shows a bit too much skin and a bit too much make-up for my taste – she is easy to fall in love with, but she won’t stay that long (maybe some conservative "neb-heads" would even consider her slightly slutty?)… After this vintage study I was served the first vintage of Altare’s new Serralunga Barolo: 2005 Barolo Cerretta. I tried it a year and a half ago, where I liked it a lot, but this time it was stunning. Much more structure and tannins than what you normally get from the La Morra Barolos. It was really beautiful. Finally Silvia’s mother came by and she wanted me to have the 2008 Langhe Arborina. It is made on 100% new oak, but it was very well integrated and I was quite impressed. I was so impressed with the wines that I was served by Silvia, and I cannot thank her enough for making the visit so special for me. Afterwards we had lunch at Duvert in Cherasco – simple but very nice. We shared a 2010 dolcetto from Domenico Clerico.

Vineyards outside Barolo

In the afternoon my girlfriend had finished her work and we could go together to Giuseppe Rinaldi. We were greeted be a very tired Giuseppe and afterwards his wife and his daughter, Martha, showed us the cellar. I have visited him before and it is quite a special experience to see the cellar. Things are messy and dark, very different from the perfect cleanliness at for example Roberto Conterno’s cellar. In fact I think Roberto Conterno’s cellar is more clean than the room where you have surgery at a Danish hospital J Well, back to Giuseppe Rinaldi – it was hectic as there were other visitors but Martha and her mom were very nice. We saw the big open vat where the the Brunate is macerated – it is more than 100 years old, and they still use it. Rinaldi’s nebbiolo was completely sold out, so we tried the barbera 2010, which was gorgeous, with clean fruit and a lot of acidity. Afterwards we tried Ravera 2008 from cask and Brunate 2008 likewise from cask. I can just say: look forward to 2008 J

Tasting with Roberto Conterno at More & Machine
In the evening we had dinner with some very good friends who live in Monforte. And afterwards we were invited by Roberto Conterno to meet for a drink at More & Machine in La Morra. Roberto had heard that we had had a cooked bottle of 2001 Barolo Cascina Francia, so he wanted to show us how good it could be. He therefore brought one from his own cellar, and it was spectacular. What a wine, superb balance and structure, but I must admit that it was more mature than I had expected. Mature is not the correct term, as it was naturally far from being mature, but it was really drinking well already now. Roberto then offered us the 1998 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis San Giuseppe, which showed extremely well. I have sometimes found 98 Barolos a bit dull and fat, but this one was singing immediately. After some discussions on the wine and from where on the vineyard the San Giuseppe part is, we had a bottle of 2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera. It was very forward and very fruit driven and while very pleasant to drink I must admit that I felt it was a bit too one dimensional. Last wine of the evening was Ferdinando Principiano 2007 Barolo Ravera. According to Roberto and some of the people from More & Machine who had joined us by now, Ravera was one of the vineyards that did the best in 2007, as it was not as exposed to the heat and the sun. Personally I don’t have experience to comment on that, but I must say that this bottle was very good and IMHO better than the Rinaldi. It was not as warm in its expression and I really liked it.
Serralunga d'Alba dressed in fog
What a way to end this fabulous stay in Langhe. Every time I go I'm impressed with the beauty of the land and this was no exception as vineyards were dressed in fall colors and it was just so incredibly beautiful. Also the openness of the people never fail to impress me. In particular the way you are greeted and received by the producers is amazing. Most of these producers are world class winemakers and yet they open their wineries to amatures like myself. For most of the winemakers, the wineries are even their private homes, which just make things even more special. I hope to be able to come down there on a regular basis, and I sure hope that I one day can find a way to live there on a more permanent basis, because to me Langhe is really Heaven on Earth.