Someone pinch me, my visit to Giacomo Conterno

Ok I am not the type of girl who asks for jewelry or a designer name bags for Christmas, although its not a bad thought.  However if you are going to spend money on me I much rather it be in wine.  And thus every year my only Christmas wish is some bottles of Giacomo Conterno Barolo to be waiting for me under the tree.  Honestly my favorite wine shop who knows me so well, order it specially for my Christmas gift because they know my husband will be there like every year to buy for me to place under the tree. These bottles mind you only come out on very rare occasions, and if I have the possibility to drink them myself we can safely say I won’t waste a drop.  For many years Giacomo Conterno has been one if not the one, my most favorite producer. I fell in love with Nebbiolo when I tasted one of their Barolo Cascina Francia.

So after much courage to meet the man responsible for such amazing (for me) life changing wines, I piggybacked on a visit to Conterno with some friends, who were very gracious to support by almost embarrassing awe. We arrive to a beautiful modern looking structure, where we were greeted with wonderful hospitality and asked to make ourselves comfortable in their waiting room. We were escorted to this cubical like room with huge windows and a wonderful panoramic view, where there were plenty of couches and comfortable seats to be had. We sat there waiting anxiously sipping some some sparking water before being invited into the cellar.

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I have never been so nervous in my life, I don’t know I guess its like meeting your favorite rock star, or movie star.  I felt star struck, I am such a geek. The secretary Stephanie was very professional and sweet.  She took us to their tasting room where we before going into the cellar she had explained to us about their vineyards and some of the history of the estate.  Giacomo Conterno’s first vineyard purchase was a large piece in the vineyard Cascina Francia, a vineyard located in Serralunga d’Alba. This vineyard is prime Realestate, great Southern facing exposure and about 400 meters above sea level making this area perfect for Nebbiolo grapes. In Serralunga d’Alba you have the oldest soil structure of the Barolo area. Where the hills from Treiso, to Castagnole Falletto/Serralunga d’Alba hills and then down to the Langhe Dogliese, reach a ripe old age of over 14 million years coming from the Serrafallian age.  This was the first point of land when the Padano Sea was moving out to later become the Mediterranean Sea. This land formation is made mostly out of Lequio which is seen as alternating layers of sand, sandstone and marl.  As a matter of fact we were talking about the Francia soil being a red sand and a brownish marl, this helps to give the Nebbiolo its complexity and muscle.

They recently have had the opportunity to purchase a few hectare in a vineyard very close to the Francia vineyard, called Cerretta. They purchased this vineyard in 2008 and at the beginning have only made Barbera d’Alba and Langhe Nebbiolo, with the hopes to make a Barolo when the time is right.  Roberto said that at the beginning when they first started to work the land, it takes a few years until you can see the difference in hand on the vines.  Its not that the grapes were of poor quality and they certainly could make a stunning Barolo but like many new things it takes some time to break in.  So for the first few years only a Langhe Nebbiolo would be made from this vineyard.  Now you are able to find on the market a Barolo as well from the Cerretta vineyard.  What I like about the Cerrettais it has so much elegance and red fruit and a sweeter Nebbiolo tannin where the Francia has all the muscle and power.

We had the chance to taste out of barrel and tasted Barbera d’Alba from Ceretta and Francia 2016, amazing, stunning vintage.  Barbera loves the heat and in ’16 it was a hot and dry vintage so these two Barbera were just big juicy and very giving. The Barolo we tasted was also from tank and was 2013, a rocking vintage especially for the Nebbiolo. It was a nice summer, warm and sunny days with cool nights and we got rain when it was time so for the Nebbiolo had a great hang time.  Today the 2013’s great structure both powerful with supplant tannins, we did find out that the whole lot of the Francia for the first time will all be made into Monfortino!  Monfortino is their Riserva so this wine will spend a few extra years in the large oak barrels before being released. I guess I am going to have to be very good that year for santa will have to stock up on Monfortino 2013 :)

I brought up the question about organic farming, this seems like a good topic because it is a buzz word for just about everyone.  I was pleasantly surprised by Roberto’s answer, he simply said “apart from my family here at the winery two things are the most important. One is the vineyards and the second are my clients.  The vineyards are the most important thing for my wines, if I don’t bring in the best quality grapes I am not going to get the best results. I do not want to follow a trend to make organic wines if I cannot be completely in control of what is going on in the vineyards, I want to be more than organic or natural.  What we do here is we work the land as we see is best, then when the grapes have finished fermentation and are ready to be transferred into barrels we do an analysis of the wine to see if there are any residues left, every test comes back with zero. By not having any residuals means that there is nothing in the wine.  This is exactly what we want. This test we do is for no one but ourselves to see that what we are using are good for the vines and leaves no residue. This brings me up to another fact, that we will begin to test other products for the vineyards. Products so natural that you can literally drink this stuff. We are working with a team of scientists, as well as some of the professors from the enological schools here in Italy to study these products to see if this will be the future.  You see we are not organic, we are at the next level.”

I cannot say enough that the dedication and passion for precision and perfection were found in every aspect of the cellar.  They produce about 30,000 bottles and every single one of them was personally looked after and taken care of as though there were an only child.  The winery was completely spotless and not one thing was out of place. Not one stain of wine on the floor and the presentation and tasting were nothing but a wonderful explanation of all the hard work that goes into a great bottle of wine. Thank you.

Tocca te Silvia Altare di Cantina Elio Altare

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Elio Altare 2006 Barolo Classico and the Barolo 2009 Cerretta

Elio Altare is a radical. He woke up one day with an idea to change the name and idea of Barolo once and for all, and well, he did. Barolo used to be known well it used to be not so well known or not known at all in the 1950’s, 60’s, until the mid to late 70’s early 80’s. Elio understood that there was something special about the Nebbiolo grape and something could be wonderful coming out of the Barolo wines. He one day packed up his bags and headed off in his (what is today) vintage Fiat 500, that was not in the best condition at the time.   His direction was France, Burgundy. After a long trip Elio finally arrives at a winery that he was familiar with. Elio parks next to the bright red Porsche and proceeds to the door to ask to have a tasting. A gentleman answers with a suitcase in hand, “Can I help you?” He asks. Elio “I would like to know if I could come to have a tour of the winery?” The reply from the Burundian winemaker was “we are closed, it’s Friday afternoon and I have my Porsche parked outside ready to go to Nice where I plan to spend the weekend on my boat. “ After hearing this Elio was devastated, but also made him think if this winemaker can have a Porsche and a boat why can’t I?

After this trip he headed home to clean things up a bit. His idea was to modernize the winery to use barrique barrels instead of large botti. To ferment in stainless steel instead of wooden fermenters. To have the winery be sterile and not a mix of a chicken coop, tractor garage and ageing room.  In the middle of the night he would head out to the vineyards where he would for the first time in this area begin to cut off certain bunches of grapes to ensure that the ones hanging would ripen better and have more concentration. This today is called green harvest and is practiced in almost every winery. He would talk about his ideas to his friends and classmates and from this started a gang of modernists called today the Barolo Boys.

Since the year 2000 Elio’s daughter Silvia has been looking after the winery. I think today she has gained full responsibility of the winery as he has a few other projects he has been looking after. I think that Silvia has some big shoes to fill, and I think that she is doing a great job. She is charming, charismatic, and full of passion and excitement for what she is producing. If you are in the area or if she is in your area you should really go to visit her and chat a bit.

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I recently had the chance to work beside Silvia at a tasting in Trieste. It is funny because working in a winery really the only time we get to see our neighbors is when we attend tasting events. So I tasted her line up, the 2011 Barolo I have to tell you a lot of the 11’s are drinking great now and this was one of them. Fresh, fruity, elegant, with soft ripe tannins, this bottle would not last long in my house.

The 2009 Barolo Cerretta, this is coming from a vineyard located in Serralunga d’Alba. An area known to make stronger wines, on this wine I got a lot of darker fruits, tobacco, and even truffles. The tannins were well intergraded and they had a bit more presence than the 2011. Which is good because I like a lot the tannins I have tasted in the 2009’s, they are a bit more nervous.

Lastly was the Barolo 2006 Classico, which is a blend of three communes in Barolo. This one rocked the house and could have been my overall favorite from the whole tasting! This 2006 showed very young for being 10 years, it had all the classic Nebbiolo nuances, the red cherries, dried rose pedals, leather, tar, and almond oil. The tannins are soft and elegant and displays great this important classic vintage.

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