A JOURNEY THROUGH PIEDMONT IN SIX BOTTLES

The region of Piedmont, nestling in serene splendour amongst the rolling hills of northwest Italy, is indisputably one of the greatest all-time heavyweights of the world of fine wine. This is the birthplace of Barolo and Barbaresco, extraordinarily long-lived wines of immense grace and power, where the notoriously finicky Nebbiolo grape is coaxed into greatness by some of the world’s most legendary winemakers.

GAJA BARBARESCO 2016

Gaja is one of Italy’s most iconic family-owned estates, having built up a fantastic reputation since their inception in 1859; their current monochrome labels are easily recognised as a mark of the highest quality.  The estate is currently going through a huge transition as Angelo Gaja (at the helm since 1961) is reluctantly and slowly retiring and passing the business down to his three children, Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni.

I was fortunate enough to visit Gaja’s estates back in 2019 where Gaia and Giovanni hosted an event without their father for the first time, and luckily for us the 2016 vintage was ready to taste.  If this is a sign of things to come with the next generation, there is lots to look forward to; the 2016 Barbaresco wines are outstanding across the board. Perhaps this only puts more pressure on Angelo to put down his secateurs and leave the kids to it!

BORGOGNO BAROLO RISERVA 1939

Borgogno is one of the region’s oldest estates, with records dating as far back as 1761. They are famous for having the most extraordinary and extensive library collection in their cellars, and although they do not have access to the most prestigious vineyards, they do make delightful wines that are a benchmark for quality Barolo.

I simply must include Borgogno in my top wines of Piedmont after a visit to the region a few years ago.  Whilst dining with a merchant in Milan, they pulled out a very old bottle with crust all around and a barely legible label; one could just about make out that it was a Riserva from 1939.  This bottle was no longer saleable, so they brought it out for dinner for us just to see what it was like.

To our surprise, the wine was absolutely incredible. So fresh and layered on the nose, brick red in colour around the edges with a vibrant neon pink centre and no lack of power and elegance.  This goes to show how robust, structured and beautiful Barolo is.  I’ll admit it…tears of joy were streaming down my face, and it remains one of the most remarkable wines I have ever tasted in my 25-year career.  It is worth taking a punt on very old bottles from time to time, as you may discover something out of this world!

GIUSEPPE RINALDI BRUNATE 2010

Giuseppe Rinaldi was a hugely influential character in Barolo, renowned for his traditional techniques and styles, blending parcels of wines from different vineyards to achieve great balance and complexity.  Sadly, Giuseppe passed away in 2018 but in his later years was outspoken in defending the heritage of Barolo’s classic vineyards, rejecting calls for expanding the plantings of Nebbiolo into sites previously used for the lesser Barbera and Dolcetto grapes.  New laws came into place in 2010, requiring delineation of the single vineyards which posed a threat to Rinaldi’s flagship wine, the Brunate Le Coste (two separate vineyards in a blend) which could no longer be labelled as such.

Fortunately for Rinaldi, 85% of this blend was Brunate, and everything was on point for the 2010 single vineyard edition which flirts with utter perfection.  Interestingly, this is the first vintage that Giuseppe’s daughter was involved with, so the future here is clearly very bright too.  Although the wine is a few decades from reaching maturity, it remains one of the most profound young Barolo wines I have ever tasted and will no doubt be incredible given patience in the cellar.

ROAGNA CRICHET PAJE BARBARESCO 2002

Luca Roagna is one of Piedmont’s rising stars, a young but remarkably talented fifth generation winemaker who is pairing youthful exuberance with a great level of respect for the land. He carefully, painstakingly vinifies fruit from the family plots of very old vines with natural yeasts to ensure the best possible expression of terroir.  Despite his enthusiasm for tradition, Luca has been pioneering in the bottling of single vineyard sites, introducing biodynamic processes, and experimenting with new plantings to ensure Roagna winery is at the forefront of Piedmontese winemaking for many years to come.

I had the great fortune to spend a wonderful few days with Luca, tasting through his stunning wines including the flagship Crichet Paje, made from a very special, historic plot within Barbaresco’s superb Paje vineyard that has been in the family since 1953.  Despite the tough conditions in 2002 where others feared to tread, Luca was able to produce a beautiful wine that is incredibly pure, deep and powerful. This wine is a shining example of why Nebbiolo is such a highly esteemed varietal for the production of ultra-fine wine.

GIACOSA ROCCHE DEL FALLETTO 2004

2018 was not a great year for winemakers in Italy; not only were the weather conditions challenging, but the Piedmont also saw the sad passing of the legend Bruno Giacosa, a revered winemaker and rare breed in Piedmont capable of producing great wines in both Barolo and Barbaresco.  Of all his great wines, the ‘Red Label’ are the most prestigious; Riserva wines that are only produced in the finest vintages that are in incredibly high demand worldwide.

Bruno’s wines captured all the essence of great Nebbiolo, producing soaring wines that put him high up on a pedestal with Burgundy’s Henri Jayer and Rhone’s Gerard Chave as one of the greatest winemakers of all time. The red label Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2004 is undoubtedly his greatest achievement; a perfect wine that Antonio Galloni refers to as ‘divine inspiration’.  It is absolutely off the charts now but given patience, this will become so good that only Mount Olympus would be a fitting venue to open a bottle!

GIACOMO CONTERNO MONFORTINO 1978

It would be a crime to pick out the very best wines of Piedmont without mentioning Giacomo Conterno, whose flagship Monfortino is arguably the region’s greatest wine and often referred to as the ‘King of Barolo’.   The Giacomo Conterno estate was immensely significant in the evolution of the Barolo style, changing a bulk wine for early drinking into the expressive and characterful powerhouses we love today.

Giacomo introduced the prestigious, game changing Monfortino in 1934 as a nod to his home village of Monforte d’Alba, delivering a wine with vast ageing potential.  However, up until 1978, the Conterno wines were made fruit purchased from farmers. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that a wine was made from their own fruit, having purchased the Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba.  This was clearly a great move as the wine is monumental … arguably Italy’s greatest wine of all time!

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