Barolo with Feeling, and other Autumnal Reds
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato
Recently I brought a bottle of Ascheri 2010 Barolo to a birthday gathering at a BYO restaurant in Toronto that features Italian/Mediterranean cuisine. It is nicely typical Barolo, and a Gold Value Medalist at our WineAlign World Wine Awards. I had checked out the restaurant’s menu and the uninspired house wine list on-line ahead of time, and figured this reasonably accessible yet still firm nebbiolo from the excellent 2010 vintage would work with whatever my immediate dinner companions might order.
Focusing more on my own pleasure, I had my mind set on a risotto. But the only risotto (when I looked more closely at the menu on arrival) was seafood. I wanted a meatier match so ordered an Italian sausage penne. Bad move. It turned out to be very robust, hot and spicy, tomato based penne, that fire-stormed the subtle nuances of the Barolo. The acidity and tannin of the nebbiolo grape waged gallant battle, but lost in the end. Other guests at the table seemed not to care; one went back to white wine.
This vignette is meant to illustrate some fundamental truths about Barolo – the famous and quintessentially Italian red that is featured on VINTAGES October 17 release. But therein lies its first problem. Notoriety has jacked the price of what – in its soul – is a sinewy peasant red. And it has jacked up expectation likewise. Where in fact it is only a slightly more structured and deeper version of many Piemontese reds that show very, very similar characteristics. And it is nothing like rich New World reds, or amarone.
I really admire Barolo, Barbaresco and other nebbiolo grape based reds from the Langhe Hills in northwest Italy. I am a pinot noir fan, and the nebbiolos from Piemonte, for me, are the pinots of Italy. (Burgundy lies at similar latitude o’er the Alps to the west). I love nosing Barolo, and therein lies its essential “tar and roses” greatness. Along with its mouth-watering acidity and almost parching tannic tension (that pinot does not have).
But for so long, too many buyers of Barolo have harboured the idea that it is a powerful, dense, bulldozer red designed to withstand any manner of culinary tsunami. Not so. And for many who fork out the big bucks for Barolo and cellar it for years, that can spell disappointment. It is in fact an elegant, age-worthy, nuanced, if masculine red. (Men can have nuance too). So save Barolo for moments when it can strut its stuff against nuanced dishes that speak of aged meats, mushrooms, truffles and forests. And it doesn’t have to be Italian in nature.
Hhmm – sounds like a menu for October in Ontario! Good timing VINTAGES. Here are our WineAlign critic’s picks from Piemonte, plus other assorted autumnal reds.
Silvio Grasso 2010 Bricco Manzoni Barolo, Piedmont ($89.95)
David Lawrason – So here is the classic! Great aromatic lift and complexity here with currant/sour cherry fruit, leather, wood smoke, truffle and earth. Great tannin structure, warmth, flavour depth and integration as well, with a core of volatility that contributes energy without distracting the flavours. Into the cellar for at least three years. It is from a .7 ha plot planted in 1968.
John Szabo – This may be the most expensive Barolo in the release, but it’s also the class. Bricco Manzoni is one of Federico Grasso’s top bottlings, and with less than a hectare in this cru, he has little to go around. Bricco Manzoni is in the commune of La Morra, in the heart of the region’s most elegant and finessed production area, like the Margaux of Bordeaux, or the Chambolle of Burgundy. This has real Barolo pedigree and depth, succulence and genuine weight, with a full package of fruit, earth, structure, length and age-ability. Best 2017-2025.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated, elegant Barolo, nervy and with youthful austerity. Enticing with notable restraint but great potential. Best to wait awhile for this distinctive beauty.
Tenuta Rocca 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a highly attractive, forward, relatively fruity Barolo in the modern style, polished and ready to drink while waiting for the more serious 2010 crus to mature. Abundant but ripe tannins washed in a big mouthful of fruit bring joy. Best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – Poise and balance aside, this is a tremendously enjoyable wine. Classic with notes of licorice, roses, tar, cherry and briny black olive. The nose will have you sold before you make it to the palate. Try to keep this one under lock and key for another 3-4 years.
Prunotto 2010 Barolo, Piedmont ($40.95)
David Lawrason – Here is living proof that not all Barolo’s are brooding monsters. This is a very pale garnet-shaded, slender and almost tender. It has a fairly generous and well-integrated nose of cranberry/redcurrant fruit nicely framed by oak vanillin, herbs and spice. A modern and effective take. Try it out on folks new to Barolo, and pinot lovers.
Sara d’Amato – This cooler vintage Barolo from Prunotto, under the auspices of the Antinori family, is a complex and expressive wine with tremendous length. With the advantage of early accessibility due to a relatively moderate tannic structure, the wine is ready to enjoy now.
Fontanafredda 2010 Serralunga d’Alba Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A smart value, well-managed, classically styled Serralunga Barolo from this storied estate, which once belonged to King Vittorio Emmanuele II of Sardinia, producing wines since 1878. It has manageable tannins, still firm and upright but balanced, and solid scaffolding all around, clearly from a great vintage. This is just about ready to start drinking (decant) or hold another half dozen years. Best 2015-2020.
J.L. Chave Sélection 2013 Mon Coeur Côtes du Rhône, Rhone Valley, France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Mon Coeurs is fairly recent “negociant” red from purchased syrah, but the great winemaking of J.L.Chave – a 16 generation legend in the Rhône – is clearly at play. This far over-delivers for a basic Côtes du Rhône. The nose is complex, generous and classic, with ripe plum/blackberry fruit, fennel, meat and lavender. Do not dither on this one – it will sell fast.
John Szabo – A spot on example of northern Rhône Côtes du Rhône (syrah), and a nice entry point into the exceptional portfolio of Jean-Louis Chave, one of the Rhône’s leading references. Classic peppery-reductive notes, fine-grained tannins, succulent acids and very good length put this into the arch-classic category. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – The Chave family has been vignerons in the Rhône for an unbelievable 16 generations and have been tremendously successful. The “Sélection” négociant series of wines is a great way to get a taste of Chave for a much more appealing price. So far, I haven’t met a Sélection I didn’t like and this is no exception. Great value.
Cathedral Cellar 2013 Petit Verdot, Western Cape, South Africa ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Petit Verdot is a hearty guts and glory red with firm acidity, tannin and often a meaty character. It’s a natural for South Africa that routinely makes reds of this style, but here in the Cape this late ripening red ripens very well indeed adding more fruit and flesh. Expect complex with blackberry, sage, graphite and some meaty notes that carry to excellent length. Lots here for $16.
Sara d’Amato – True to form, this is a deeply coloured red that delivers impact and a powerful punch of flavours. Great value here with the smoky distinctiveness of the Western Cape and unending flavours of blackberry, pepper and exotic spice. Dry with both power and elegance.
Castello di Ama 2010 San Lorenzo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95)
John Szabo – This is easily the finest Chianti Classico Gran Selezione I’ve yet tasted, a magnificent wine full of grace and finesse, elegance and refinement. “The hills and valleys surrounding the castle of Amma are the most beautiful in all of Chianti, superbly tended with fertile grain fields, olive groves and magnificent vineyards”, wrote Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Habsburg-Lorraine in an 18th-century Report. San Lorenzo is one of those magnificent vineyards, one of three cru Gran Selezione wines produced at Ama. Tannins have reached a perfect stage of evolution, and the entire wine is suffused with balance and poise. Drink or hold another decade. Best 2015-2025.
Couvent des Jacobins 2002, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux ($45.95)
Sara d’Amato – Couvent des Jacobins has one of the most impressive networks of underground tunnel cellars in the village of St. Émilion to store a drool-worthy amount of back vintages. This stellar 2002 might just make you forget about your obsession with the left bank due to its grand complexity and age-worthy character. It is not at the peak of maturity yet but close and is undeniably enjoyable at present.
Château Renard Mondesir 2009, Fronsac, Bordeaux ($26.95)
David Lawrason – Surprisingly and deliciously, this fairly weighty 2009 is just moving into prime time – still showing ripe, classic merlot plum-berry fruit with a trace of iodine I expect in Fronsac (although soils here are clay-limestone). There is a certain toughness and ruggedness here, but also a fine sense of proportion. Very good mid-term cellar starter red.
CVNE 2009 Imperial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($38.95)
David Lawrason – CVNE (Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana) is one of the great, classic producers of heavily wood influenced Riojas. This is from old vines in Rioja Alta with 85% tempranillo, graciano, mazuelo aged two years in wood and three in bottle. It is very rich, silky and profound with excellent length. Ready to roll with your next roast, or cellar for another decade.
Monasterio De Las Viñas 2006 Reserva, Cariñena, Spain ($14.95)
John Szabo – Quality, mature red for under $15? I’m in. This is lovely value, fully ready to enjoy, with plenty of dried fruit, and a dash of twigs and leaves to add complexity. Fine-grained tannins give this almost pinot-like finesse.
Adanti 2007 Sagrantino di Montefalco, Umbria, Italy ($35.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of Tuscany, Umbria produces some exceptional wines that often lack the prestige they deserve. Sangrantino is a highly specialized variety only grown in this small hilltop region of Montefalco. This version is may very well induce a wine coma so beware. Still quite youthful due to its big structure, its palate offers enticing notes of ripe cherry, fresh fig, baked pecan, smoky thyme and mineral. Keep a bottle of this on hand when you need to impress.
Lenton Brae 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($65.95)
David Lawrason – This is great cabernet, and if compared value wise to peers in Napa or Bordeaux, it is a slam dunk winner. Lenton Brae is one of the pioneering wineries in a region I believe ranks in the world’s top five for cabernet. This wine hails from estate grown old vines Wilyabrup – the heart of the matter. Great bones and structure with finely detailed flavours nicely shrink-wrapped overtop.
And that is a wrap for this edition. We are now entering prime time of deeper, wider and longer VINTAGES releases in the run up to the Holidays. We are pedalling hard to keep pace. Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you at the Wines of Chile event coming up October 27th (use our WineAlign promo code and save $10 on your ticket).
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES October 17, 2015
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