A Parade of Barolo

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Never-tiring and¬†always inspiring, I’ve been fortunate to drink several top Barolo producers and crus in the last few months.

Cavallotto remains a favourite producer, and the estate’s two great single-vineyard bottlings – the Riserva Vignolo and the Risvera Vigna San Giuseppe, a vineyard in the larger Bricco Boschis cru (a monopole) – are some of the best in Barolo.¬† This producer has remained a classicist since 1948 when it was founded by brothers Olivio and Gildo Cavallotto. Even with a generational change right about the time of the Barolo Boys movement, the estate remains staunchly traditionalist. These are wines driven by tannin and acidity as a frame for pure fruit.

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That ability to carefully balance components that can often overwhelm allows this estate to produce profound wines even in hot vintages such as 2011 when many estates made delicious, but warm and early-drinking Barolos without the level of complexity from the more moderate vintages. Cavallotto, in contrast, probably made some of if not the best wines of the vintage in their village Castiglione Falletto, and perhaps in all of Barolo. Both of these 2011 Riservas deserve an Excellent+ rating for their near-perfect rose and tar, cherry walnut, supple, and silky Nebbiolo fruit. Of the two, the Vigna San Giuseppe is the more potent, darker fruited, and the Vignolo the more lifted. Both are made from very old vines with deep root systems that are highly resistant to drought. Both are pure art. Current vintages can be found at private stores around Vancouver for between $160-$200 + tax.

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Pietro Ratti, of Renato Ratti, fashions his Conca cru, in La Morra, in a modern, accessible style that retains the core qualities of great Nebbiolo. This means shorter macerations and fermentations, favouring pump-overs rather than punch-downs to oxygenate the wine and reduce exposure to the tannin-gifting cap. Some may see these wines as overtly modern, but recently Pietro has reduced his use of barrique, which has improved the wines, and I appreciate the early-drinking quality now that the oak tannin and espresso characteristics have been significantly dialed back. The 2013 was deserving of Excellent. $120 + tax at BCLDB. Founder Renato Ratti is, of course, famously important for creating the first vineyard map of Barolo by interviewing the grape growers at the time – a project that laid the groundwork for the modern cru system.

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GD Vajra’s hyper-clean, juicy style of nebbiolo is always elegant and often compelling. This Barolo-cru producer’s wines straddle the middle-ground between a traditionalist like Cavallotto and a modernist like Ratti. Perhaps slightly less complex than both, these nevertheless remain lovely, and earlier-drinking Barolos with great freshness and very fair pricing. I would give both of these wines – the single vineyard Bricco della Viole (which is a higher altitude, cool, site that makes elegant wines) and the multie-vineyard blended “Albe” – ratings of Very Good+ to Excellent, with the understanding that the Bricco della Viole is more complex and ageworthy, but also pricier. The Bricco della Viole is available at the BCLDB for $97 + tax.

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