That Langhe Feeling...

That Langhe Feeling... Filippo Bartolotta on Decanter Magazine - May 2006Two decades after inaugurating his new cellar, Paolo Scavino held a vertical tasting of his Barolos from 1985 to the present. It was a unique opportunity to assess the ageing potential of this elegant wine.The twenty-four wines showcased Baroloeuros longevity, intense aromatics, freshness and silk-and-cashmere tannins, also highlighting the considerable contrasts among production zones. These are evident even in the younger vintages regardless of the winemaking technique used (traditionalist or modernist euro the main differences are maceration times and the use of wood)*.According to Scavino, Marc De Graziaeuros project to select new Barolos in the early 1980s was a major change of direction. Today, De Grazia is one of Italyeuros best-known wine brokers. euroWith Marceuro, Scavino says, eurowe accepted the challenge of the worldeuros great wines, improving our own in the process. Before then, Barolos used to cost less than Dolcettos!euroAfter 1985, a hat-trick of outstanding vintages boosted Baroloeuros fortunes, elevating it to the ranks of the worldeuros finest wines.But what impact do production zones and techniques have on Baroloeuros longevity? How do these new-generation Barolos shape up after two decades against the best of the traditional wines? How will more recent vintages perform?The lack of an official Burgundy-style cru system means that comparisons are difficult but broadly speaking the main production areas are the municipalities of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte and Serralunga. They account for about 90% of total production from the eleven municipalities in the DOCG zone.On the well-drained sandy soils in the west, at La Morra (NW) and Barolo (SW), wines tend to be lighter, rounder and silkier, with luscious forest fruit flavour and a Pinot-like barnyardiness. In contrast, the heavier clayey soils of Serralunga (NE) and Monforte (NW) can yield beefier wines with masses of black fruit, an austere earthiness and greater ageing potential.Castiglione Falletto, situated in middle of the group, tends to combine the intense perfumes of the western Barolos with the structure of wines from the east.In early September, I returned to the Langhe to check my impressions from Scavinoeuros 20th-anniversary tasting.After a 40-minute drive along twisting roads, we drew into the deserted hilltop village of Monticello for a dinner at the Conti Roero restaurant with over a dozen Barolo makers returning from a busy dayeuros harvesting. In the softly lit dining room, the heady aroma of fresh wild mushrooms filled the air.By the time the antipasto euro a raw porcini salad euro arrived, the Barolo ageing debate was already crackling. The Brunate euro96 from Marengo JandB(*****now-2020) calmed things down with its weight and generosity, worthy of a memorable vintage from a leading cru.I asked Marengo whether, as they say, the softer, earlier-drinking modern Barolos pay a price in shorter cellar potential. My confrontational query provoked replies from several of those present. euroWines today are much better than those made a few years ago! Our work in the vineyard and cellar is quite extraordinary!euro Domenico Clerico observed euroif you want a great Barolo that will mature over the years, you need 600 hourseuro work per hectare, ripe, healthy fruit from vines at least 15 years old and superb terraineuro. Clerico, who is not so much a modernist as an outstanding experimenter, noted eurothe world is beginning to appreciate Barolo they way we do, but much remains to be done if young growers are going to believe in iteuro. He pointed at Serena Saffirio, who in 2000 euro at age 20 euro gave her once-famous family estate a new lease of life.Magically, the table fell silent as we finished our tajarin pasta in duck sauce. Heads bowed over glasses of Josetta Saffirioeuros euro85 Barolo from Castiglione Falletto -Wine Square (*****now-2015). I made notes on the concentrated, pervasive sweet prunes and dried roses, the caressing tannic weave and the lingering, ever-shifting finish, watching all the producers smile proudly at how wonderfully it has matured.Their satisfaction reflects another important point: Barolo can be enjoyed on its own, but if you match it with good food, its marked acidity and close-knit tannins are a perfect foil for many dishes. Barolo is a dependable, superior food wine.I asked Chiara Boschis, who obtained the soft, spicy Barolo Cannubi 2003 (****2007-2018) (Enotria) from one of the top crus, whether all this passionate involvement from producers is normal. euroWithout encouragement and advice from those two (she indicates Clerico and Savino), I wouldneurot be making Barolo todayeuro. Nowadays, thereeuros a diverse but very close-knit, cross-generational social fabric that creates a special atmosphere. Iteuros that Langhe feeling, a strong cultural identity you can sense everywhere. There is the same rare combination of belonging and international culture that you find in some great Barolos.But if you are keen to purchase, watch out for mediocre wines hiding behind Baroloeuros reputation as a superlative cellaring wine. In many cases, these wines will be past their peak, their tannins dry and their fruit sweetness gone. Like many other famous zones, Barolo has rather too many unexceptional wines hanging onto its coat tails. euroIf the market wants six million bottles, then iteuros better to release five, not teneuro, opines Roberto Conterno.Yet sift through the premium artisan wines euro about 20% of the total euro and you will inevitably find Nebbiolo masterpieces that offer unrivalled pleasure and longevity, whether their makers are traditionalists or modernists (the price tag will be 15-45, give or take a few cult bottles).True, the two styles are clearly distinguishable in the glass in the first 8-10 years of maturation. The traditional version is lighter, more closed and elegantly restrained on the palate while modern Barolos are darker, more expressive and concentrated, with rounder tannins from day one. But in recent years, converging winemaking techniques have smoothed away some of the differences.Modernists now use longer macerations, and often larger ovals, while traditionalists are still using large wood but, as Bruna Giacosa says, euromacerations are briefer even for us traditionalists and today our wines are readier to drinkeuro. Her smooth and mineral 2003 Rocche del Falletto (****) is actually ready to drink!My impression is that as Barolo ages, grape and provenance gain the upper hand over winemaking techniques. The wine acquires a superb balance of power and elegance, extreme freshness, silky tannins and an endless variety of alluring aromatics.For Borgogno, a living archive of Barolo history, the two points of view are merging. euroThere are no more blinkered traditionalists and the innovators realise they may have being overdoing the woodeuro. Savouring some of his past vintages, I noted that the euro52 (***) (Caves de Pirenes) is still fresh-tasting with a subtle orange peel and papaya bouquet, the euro67 (****) is sweeter and more concentrated and the leaner euro74 (****) is packed with superb fig, leather and rhubarb. There is no better way to appreciate the Nebbiolo grape. For older vintages, bank on high-calibre traditionalists like Borgogno, Cavallotto, Giacomo Conterno, Giacosa, Rinaldi or Mascarello, who speaks highly of how his 1970 is drinking.The 1980s produced outstanding wines in euro82s such as the still minerally young coffee and prune-led Cannubi Boschis in Barolo from Sandrone (****now-2012) (Fields Morris and Verdin) and euro85s like Saffirio and the forest fruit and jasmine euro88 La Rocca e La Pira (***now) from Roagna. But there is no gainsaying the 1989 vintage, which for me was particularly successful at Castiglione del Falletto and has at least another decade to go. Scavinoeuros slick, crafted Bric del Fiasc (*****) (JandB), the intensely fragrant Monoprivato from Mascarello (****) (Wine Trader) and Giacosaeuros elegant Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva (*****) (John Armitt) are fine examples of Baroloeuros length and aristocratic power.The monumental 1990 vintage, still closed and with at least another twenty years ahead of it, delivered elegant, deep wines like the earthy, extract-rich Pajana from Clerico at Monforte (****) (JandB) and the tight but refined tannins of the 1990 Monfortino from Conterno (****) (Reaburn Fine Wines).The somewhat chequered vintages of the early 1990s occasionally reserve pleasant surprises, as is often the case with lesser years from great producers.Then in 1996, Barolo had another fantastic growing year that yielded austere, wines reminiscent of 1990, still very young.At a head-to-head tasting of superb euro96 Barolos in the scenic La Ciau del Tornavento restaurant, Altareeuros Arborina (*****now-2025) (JandB) from La Morra, which was totally closed when uncorked, eventually unfolded in all its magnificence in time for the roast quail stuffed with aromatic herbs.Still with 1996, the concentrated black fruits, earthiness and leather of the Azelia San Rocco Serralunga selection (*****now-2030) (JandB) went beautifully with agnolotti del plin (beef-filled pasta envelopes) while the caressing tannins and pervasive acidity of the euro88 were a perfect foil for calfeuros cheek served with a sweet mostarda onion relish at Il Centro in Priocca deuroAlba, a beacon of Piedmontese cooking with a cellar full of great vintages at interesting prices.After 1996, there is a series of excellent vintages to choose from.The forgotten euro99s offer a concentrated Conca by Fratelli Revello (*****now-2020) (JandB) from La Morra, or a near-perfect Monfortino Conterno (*****award 2009-2029) (Reaburn Fine Wines) from Serralunga.The extremely highly rated 2000s are generous and velvety, including the deep Bricco Boschis Riserva S. Giuseppe from Cavallotto (****now-2025) (GoedhuisandCo Ltd) from Castiglione Falletto and Rivettieuros seductively modern firm-textured and spicy Vors Vigneto Camp (****2007-2025) (Wine Treasury) from Grinzane Cavour.Nearly all the 2001s I tasted last year were stylish, classic wines; this year they are showing energy, equilibrium and superb ageing potential.Excessive rain in 2002 limited production, and the few, very floral Barolos available are ready for the corkscrew. We could mention the vibrant interpretation from Viberti (***now-2012) or the heftier, longer-lived Sor Ginestra Conterno Fantino (****2008-2018) (Enotria Wine Cellar) from Monforte.There is greater choice from the warm, tannin-led 2003s. These range from the sweet, intriguing tannicity of Voerzio to the attractive minerality of Paolo Conterno, by way of Clericoeuros contrast of austerity and spice or the unusually soft, expressive Cascina Francia from Conterno.Treat yourself to these last two vintages as you wait for the fantastic balance, power and consistency of 2004 and the more upfront expressivity of 2005euros balanced tannins, such as Vigneto Conca from Mauro Molino.Baroloeuros outstanding longevity is proven, both in traditional versions that age for forty years or longer and the more approachable modernist wines, still capable of maturing comfortably into their third decade.Given the breadth of reliable vintages and a hard core of supremely competent producers, my advice is to make cellar space for Barolo and let a little of that Langhe feeling into your homes.*If you want to find out more about this hotly debated issue, see Stephen Brookeuros thorough account in the 2006 Decanter Magazine Italy insert.
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