I feel as though extending this spotlight indefinitely may be the surest path to heaven. Unfortunately, it is time to move on to something new (while stacking my cellar with Nebbiolo for the future). Perhaps the best way to conclude this profile with a wine by a producer who is arguable the greatest in Piedmont and maybe even all of Italy: Giacomo Conterno.
The Conterno family was the first ever to bottle Barolo rather than selling it as jug wine. This focus became an ultimate adherence to tradition, to the point where the two sons of tradition had disagreement even within their traditionalism. Giacommo’s two sons – Aldo and Giovanni – while agreeing that short maceration and barrique aging is wrong for Nebbiolo, still yet disagreed on other methodologies. Giovanni, the stark traditionalist, only wanted to use very long macerations and aging in huge very old oak casks. Aldo, on the other hand, likes to let his fruit hang a little longer and gain more ripeness. He also tends to ferment in steel as well as old oak, to add youth and freshness to the wine.
This led to Aldo leaving the Conterno family winery and starting his own winery, which is now also considered one of the very best in Piedmont. These days, the original Conterno winery is run by Giovanni’s son Roberto, who maintains his father’s and grandfather’s extreme traditionalism.
Old and New
The Giacommo Conterno Estate now comprises a single site in Monforte d’Alba from which they make both a ‘normale’ and ‘riserva’ Barolo that are not labelled as such but rather as the Cascina Francia and Monfortino bottlings, respectively.
This Nebbiolo is actually a sign of the changes happening to Giacomo Conterno after Roberto’s take over. The wine is made from new holdings in the Ceretta vineyard in Seralunga d’Alba that were purchased in 2008. In fact, this wine is the very first to be made from that vineyard, one which gives rise to such great wines as Bruno Giacosa’s Barolo.
I found this new wine surprisingly forward and accessible for this extreme traditionalist estate. But it keeps the style of Conterno while giving those who can’t pony up the serious cash for the Barolos a glimpse of the house’s greatness.
Many people make the mistake that “traditional” Nebbiolo-based wines are somehow inaccessible or require a ‘refined’ palate. The opposite is often true, particularly amongst the best ‘traditionalists’. This Nebbiolo is a perfect example: it puts Barolos at the same price to shame with its seamless elegance, easy accessibility, purity and immediate deliciousness.
However, the wine also possesses tremendous complexity and depth, and even the heft to age for a number of years. The underlying fruit quality is extremely pure and this may be amongst the most elegant Nebbiolo’s I’ve ever tasted. The nose is all rose petals, herbs, light red cherries, and endless savory, forest floor complexity. A wine with a structure that is as one and with nothing heavy, overly austere, or off-puttingly rich. In fact, it may be the best Nebbiolo out there for the price.
$65 at Esquin Wine in Seattle
It is impossible to capture all of the nuances of terroir in Piedmont in a simple spotlight series on Nebbiolo. Rather, I attempted to show the grape’s breadth, despite its geographic restrictions, and highlight the fact that these are some of the greatest wines in the world while also costing a mere fraction of most of the world’s other “great” wines.
Nebbiolo is a paradox: a heavy, highly tannic grape that seems impenetrable at first, it becomes the source of the most haunting aromas in the world of wine. Power and finesses play easily together with great examples of Nebbiolo and they possess a level of singularity only found with Riesling and Burgundy Pinot Noir. However, Piedmont’s last 12 years have been almost uniformly superb, meaning that the sheer consistency amongst these wines is astounding – something to take advantage of while it lasts.
I am not quite sure what my next focus will be, but whatever I choose will have a hard time following behind some of the great wines I’ve tasted in this spotlight.