On my second day of touring Piedmont, it was time to get to the Barolo area. Barolo can be quite confusing, initially, but at a basic level, the distinctions are as follows. There are modernists and traditionalists. I found this emphasized a little less this time, but in principal, traditionalists have long fermentation periods, 20 days plus, and they mature the Nebbiolo in large, mostly Slovenian casks. Modernists have short fermentation periods, 6 to 12 days, and mature the wine in French barriques. These latter wines are more easily approachable, whereas the tradionalist wines need many years to soften the tannins. The other distinction is soil. In the Northern part, in particular around La Morra, the soil is quite sandy, and the wines aromatic and perfumed as a result. In the Southern part, most pronounced in Serralunga, the soils are clay, and the wines bigger, darker, and more brooding.
I am spending this day in the Northern part. First visit is to Elio Altare. He lead the revolution of the modernists in the 1980s and is today one of the superstars of the region. I tasted first the 2009 Larigi Langhe Barbera, which was quite intense (strawberry fruit, oak and structure - 92 points) and the 2008 La Villa Langhe, a 60% Barbera, 40% Nebbiolo blend - elegant, 93 points. Then came the 2006 Barolo Regular. This is a typical Altare Barolo: quite aromatic and floral, not huge, elegant with dry tannins and a long finish (95 points). The 2005 Barolo Cerretta is not your typical Altare wine. It comes from Serralunga, from marna, clay and limestone soils, and it shows. This wine is quite masculine, with leather and meat overtones. The tannins are long and strong, but quite rounded. I found this to be an excellent wine (96 points). I also tasted the 2008 L'Insieme, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Nebbiolo and others. This wine tastes of blackcurrant and is quite spicy, overall a more international flavour profile. It is fashioned for a charity project Altare supports together with a number of producers from the area (92 points). Overall, the wines were distinctive, very clean and polished and of outstanding quality.
The second winery was Vietti. You cannot really assign Vietti to a particular area. This family winery has expanded a lot and now claims to have access to 15 out of the 20 grand cru vineyards of Barolo. I had visited this winery previously, and based on that experience had high expectations. I left disappointed. The 2011 Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne was quite masculine, acidic and rough (88 points). The 2010 Barbera d'Alba Scarrone was quite the opposite, female, floral and aromatic (90 points). The 2010 Nebbiolo Perbacco was equally floral, with a slightly flat mouthfeel and a dry finish (90 points). The first Barolo was the 2009 Barolo Castiglione. This is the blended Barolo, from five different vineyards across the region. It suffered similarly from a somewhat flat mouthfeel, although it was a bigger wine than the previous Nebbiolo. By comparison, this wine was not as elegant as Altare (91 points). The 2009 Barolo Lazzarito is the single vineyard wine from Serralunga. It is a big wine, as expected, with strong tannins and a dry finish (92 points). I left with the impression that the individual wines receive perhaps less care than in prior years and that the pressure of higher volume production without increases in staff showed.
The last winery of the day was Mauro Molino in La Morra. This winery is a quiet achiever. The brochures are less glossy, but the wines get better all the time. The 2012 Barbera d'Alba tastes of dark cherry, is fresh, round and easy drinking (90 points).The 2010 Barbera d'Alba Vigna Gattere, from 40 year old vines, is more concentrated, with noticeable oak, good length and silky tannins - a great Barbera (93 points). The 2009 Barolo classic, a blended wine with 70% La Morra and 30% Monforte fruit and matured in large French casks, is concentrated, yet elegant with good length (93 points). I then tasted the three single-vineyard Barolos, from different years. The 2009 Barolo Gallinotto, matured in 50% new and 50% old barriques, tastes of red cherry and spice. The tannins are soft and silky. This is a very attractive wine (94 points). The 2008 Barolo Vigna Gancia shows the aromatic flavours typical for La Morra. It has great length and a structure made to last (95 points). The 2006 Barolo Vigna Conca, perhaps the flagship wine, is grown in a lower part of the valley. As a result, the conditions are warmer, the wine is full bodied and concentrated. The tannins are dry, but surprisingly soft (94 points). I just felt it was just edged out by the Gancia on this occasion. I was very impressed with these wines. They also provide (relatively) good value for money.