Ciabot Berton: Barolo from a La Morra Traditionalist

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Ciabot Berton are new entrants into British Columbia’s wine market. A recent tasting provided an opportunity to explore a range of blended and single vineyard Barolos from various recent vintages. The quality was consistently outstanding and the prices are extremely reasonable. This is a new-to-market producer I hope will become a mainstay. Collectors should take note.

Diversity within La Morra

The Oberto family behind Ciabot Berton have been in La Morra since the 13th century. Their ancestors first planted vineyards in 1876, selling their grapes at the time until starting to make Barolo in house in the 1960’s. Their first released vintage was 1961 by Luigi Oberto. In the 1990’s Luigi’s children decided to focus further and began a single-vineyard program that continues to today.

There are now six vineyards, all in La Morra. Roggeri, San Biagio, Rive, Cappallotti, Pria and Rocchettevino. However, it is the Roggeri, Rocchettevino, Bricco San Biagio and Rive vineyards that are the source of the estate’s Nebbiolo.

berton winery

Roggeri is the winery’s oldest vineyard, with vines averaging 40 years old. The vineyard is close to the town named Roggeri and lies at 300m above sea level. The soils are a deep clay. This is a vineyard that produces powerful, structured Barolo for ageing.

Rocchettevino sits at 400m above sea level and is further west than Roggeri, closer to the town of La Morra. The soils here are sandstone and clay with a small amount of sand. The combination of soils and higher altitude results in a Nebbiolo very different in structure to the Roggeri. It is a more linear wine with elegance and greater spice than the Roggeri. In my view this vineyard produces a very classic style for La Morra.

Bricco San Biagio produces highly aromatic wine as a result of its sandy soils, which are closer in character to Castiglione Falletto than typical La Morra, though the vineyard is actually the furthest away from that Cru and more northerly than the others. The vineyard makes wines of lower acidity and less colour and tannin than the above two vineyards, in a fruity and forward style.

The 0.5 hectare Rive vineyard has been in the family since 1876. It produces balanced, fruity Nebbiolo.

The four above vineyards are blended together for the estate’s flagship Barolo Ciabot Berton. There are also single vineyard bottlings the Roggeri and Rocchettevino, a delicious young-vine “La Morra” blend, and a correct, charming basic Langhe Nebbiolo.

Farming and Vinification

The focus at the winery is extremely careful farming, uniquely tailored to each vineyard. The winery generally believes that careful attention to coaxing plant physiology to what they view to be its optimal state in each site is the best path to terroir expression. Farming is mostly ‘organic’ with vegetation and grasses planted between the rows, but the estate does use copper and sulphur on the vines. Vines are massale selected.

Vinification is extremely traditional – long macerations and fermentations in concrete and then ageing in large botti. This approach has been used since Ciabot Berton made its first wine in 1961. The one exception is the use of almost entirely used French Oak for the first six months of ageing the Roggeri before it is transferred to Botti for the remaining 18 months.

The Wines

Langhe Nebbiolo 2014: 2014 started as a hotter vintage in Barolo that became a challenge to producers as a result of a drop in temperature and increased rain beginning in June. For instance, Ciabot Berton had to work 20% more hours in the vineyard and reduce production by 30% in order to meet their quality standards.

This basic Langhe Nebbiolo sees a short 5-7 day maceration in concrete before brief botti ageing. It is varietally true with ripe cherry predominating. You can’t expect the same level of complexity here are Barolo, but this is a very approachable and delicious Nebbiolo the only flaw of which is a slight lack of balance due to alcohol, thus causing the wine to lose structure and elegance.

Very Good to Very Good+

Barolo 2013: The estate’s flagship bottling in the very good 2013 vintage needs some time. The long season led to a late harvest that ended on October 25th (about 2 weeks later than typical). This produced phenolically very complex wines. This wine is a blend of fruit from middle-aged vines in the four vineyards discussed above and presents a traditional take with florals, spice, a higher acidity than North Americans are often used to and very well integrated tannin structure. It’s a wine that needs a few years in bottle to truly shine and allow its aromatics to fully open.

Very Good+ to Excellent

Barolo Rocchettevino 2012: 2012 was a difficult vintage, but this single vineyard bottling is an outstanding achievement in the vintage. The vines here are 20 years old. This is spicy and delicious wine that is extremely traditional in that it has higher acid, higher toned fruit and secondary aromatics, medium body and colour, and is balanced and elegant rather than powerful. This sees a 4-6 week ferment in concrete with indigenous yeasts and then is moved to a combination of untoasted 25 hectolitre used oak barrels and 50 hectolitre barrels. Traditionalists will swoon over this wine.

Excellent

Barolo “La Morra” 2011: This young-vine blend is true to its approach and the very accessible 2011 vintage. As such, expect a forward and juicy wine that is very open knit, expressive and understandably fruity. This is a gateway Barolo that will bring nay-sayers into the fold due to the sheer overload of charm. The ageing is reduced to 18 months in order to improve accessibility.

Very Good+ to Excellent and Highly Recommended Value
$53 hospitality and listed (soon to be at LDB stores)

Barolo Roggeri 2010: For me, the Roggeri was the wine of the tasting and is clearly the estate’s best wine, particularly in a vintage as good as 2010. It is a wine that upends expectations for La Morra in that it is extremely muscular and tightly wound, almost more like a wine from Serralunga. However, the La Morra charm shows through in the tannin quality – though the tannins are plenty, they are refined. Expect minerals, walnuts, and a dense core of fruit. This will become a stunning wine in another 10-15 years.

Made from 40 year old vines grown in the awesome 2010 vintage, which was considered one of the best in recent history. It is very classic, making elegant wines that require longer ageing. 2010 saw a longer winter with a lot of snow. The beginning of the vintage was marked by a lot of rain during flowering. This reduced berry set. However, the weather became hot in August and September, allowing the Nebbiolo to slowly ripen as well as gain a deeply powerful fruity core. Despite this heat, the wines retained a certain austerity.

Excellent to Excellent+
$76 hospitality (spec)

Ciabot Berton’s wines are imported by Amovino and can be ordered directly through them. Currently only the 2011 La Morra and 2010 Roggeri are in the market.

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