Serralunga d’Alba and its Crus
There are 29 recognized crus in the Serralunga Alba zone. We can only mention some of the most famous here. Coming from Alba, on the left, on the border with the Diano dÊ¼Alba township is La Rosa, 9 hectares on asteep slope with excellent exposure, producing an elegant Barolo. Driving towards the town we come to Baudana and Cerretta, then Prapò, 7 hectares of perfect exposure that give tannic, structured wines.
Right after Prapò is a hill where the most interesting and well-known vineyards of Serralunga are found: Gabutti, Parafada, Delizia and Lazzarito. Historically, the quality of these grapes has always brought a higher than average price. Near the town center, to the west, Marenca and Margheria are both extraordinarily beautiful and in excellent positions. Nearby, the town at your back, on the right is Vigna Rionda, an historic vineyard of over 10 hectares, mostly facing south. Its wines are noted for their grand structure, sustained tannins and marked longevity. Continuing on the road to Roddino, we find Briccolina, Ornato and Falletto. Further, almost at the edge of the Serralungazone, facing Ginestra di Monforte, is Francia with almost 10 hectares. Rionda, or Giacosa and Collina Rionda, made until 1993, or Vietti and Lazzarito, Ceretto and Prapò, Brovia and Ca’ Mia, Conterno and both Cascina Francia and Monfortino.
Serralunga has compact, sandstone-based soil dating from the Helvetian epoch, high in sand, limestone, iron, phosphorus and potassium, its makeup varying widely from vineyard to vineyard. The soil of Serralunga tends to produce intense, structured wines that need more time to mature. Wines from here differ from all other Barolos, except for some from Monforte, because they are, above all, tannic, austere, and some cases even rough. “The reason for such an evident tannic presence is, I think, tied to what’s under our feet as well as what’s above,” says Gianpiero Romana, an agronomist. “The soil of Serralunga is very eroded and shallow, with a percentage of active limestone that’s much higher than elsewhere in the Barolo zone. The percentage of clay is low, that of sand is high. Nebbiolo has roots that, by their nature, need soil to explore. Here they don’t find much nourishment, and so plant vegetation is limited. If the plant has trouble finding what it needs underground, its leaves look for radiant energy above ground. The result is a very high tannin content in the grapes, with the tannins maturing slowly and gradually. That has to occur in the bottle after the right vinification and aging.”
Noted Wineries in Serralunga
Augusto Cappellano is the fifth generation of the family to produce wine from vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. His great-grandfather, Filippo, acquired substantial acreage there and, in 1870 established the azienda. At his death, his son, Giovanni, an oenologue, continued his father’s work, selling their wine to clients from Liguria through Piedmont. Giovanni’s brother, Giuseppe, was a pharmacist who created the family formula for their famous (then and again now) Barolo Chinato, the Barolo infused with a variety of “medicines”. Giovanni died in 1912 from a tropical fever contracted in Tunisia, perhaps while he was looking for vines that were not susceptible to phylloxera. Giuseppe then retired from his pharmaceutical chores to run the estate and he decided to sell his grapes to the Gancia company, one of the major wine producers in the Langhe. To continue the story, Giuseppe passed away in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Augusto’s father, Teobaldo, who was born and raised in Eritrea, returned to Serralunga to revive the azienda. He rebuilt the cantina and the image of Cappellano as well – this time much smaller in size (four hectares) but far more grand in quality. In his turn, he also produced once again the extraordinary Barolo Chinato using the ancient family recipe, all the while becoming one of the most admired and respected figures in the Barolo district. Augusto now takes the reins and will now place his special mark on the wines of this estate. We are very pleased to begin our collaboration with Augusto Cappellano.
The four hectares of vineyards owned by the Cappellano family are principally in Serralunga d’Alba and are supplemented by a small parcel in the neighboring village of Novello from which Cappellano produces his Nebiolo d’Alba. The vineyards in Serralunga are situated in the Gabutti cru which is on the western slopes of Serralunga at approximately 300 meters altitude. The land is farmed according to organic principles and the production of the wine is accomplished following the credo of “Vini Veri”: indigenous yeasts are relied upon, the use of sulfur is strictly limited, vinification is traditional (long fermentation, extended aging in large, old botte) and the wine is not filtered prior to bottling. The Barolo Chinato is produced by following the family recipe handed down generation to generation. The “medicinal” herbs and spices are ground using a stone mortar and pestle. Both the recipe and the process are family secrets.
Though most histories of the famed Giacomo Conterno estate begin with its namesake, the estate was founded by his father, Giovanni Conterno, in 1908. Giovanni placed emphasis on making premium quality Barolo only in great vintages using long fermentation and aging periods to create the best aging potential. Giovanni taught his son, Giacomo, well, and when he returned from serving in WW I, Giacomo had a vision to make a Barolo that would age for decades.
Previous to Giacomo Conterno, winemakers made and sold Barolo in cask or demijohn. It was a wine intended for early drinking. In the 1920s, Giacomo realized his vision through extending the grapes’ maceration time and aging the wine in large, old wooden botti. The estate managed to stay afloat and even prosper over the years thanks to the Italian tradition of giving Barolo as a prestigious Christmas gift; like just a few other producers, they had substantial orders from companies such as Fiat and Pirelli to feed their success. In the early ‘60s, Giacomo decided to pass the winery to his sons, Giovanni and Aldo, passing on his credo: “Only premium quality can bring prestige to the Langhe.” Giovanni and Aldo worked together until 1969, when Aldo branched off and founded his own estate, the Poderi Aldo Conterno. Giovanni brought his son, Roberto, to work with him in 1988, and Roberto took control of the estate upon his father’s passing in 2004.
Until the 1970s, Poderi Giacomo Conterno owned no vineyards; the estate made its wines from select old-vine grapes that it purchased from farmers. But as farmers increasingly began bottling their own wine, the estate felt the need to purchase its own land; in 1974, the estate purchased the densely planted 17-acre Francia vineyard, one of Piemonte’s great monopole sites. Boasting southwest exposure and sitting about 400 meters above sea level, Francia’s grapes offer deep tannins, creating ideal cellaring wines–in fact, the estate bottles its renowned Monfortino from the very best grapes grown in the same vineyard. Giacomo Conterno hews close to tradition in crafting its wines, and the estate makes its Barolos with natural yeasts, temperature controlled fermentation and a lengthy maceration; after this, the wine is aged in large Slavonian botti and aged in bottle for four years
Known for its superb long-lived wines, this estate recently narrowed its focus strictly to Nebbiolo and Barbera. Giacomo Conterno uses only the highest quality grapes from Cascina Francia in Serralunga d’Alba for their two famed Barolos: the ‘Cascina Francia’ and the legendary ‘Monfortino’ Riserva. The densely planted Francia vineyard has southwest exposure and is about 400 meters above sea level. Grapes gathered here offer deep tannins, creating ideal cellaring wines. Recently, the estate has added a third Barolo, Cerretta, from a Serralunga vineyard that it bought in 2008.
Great-grandfather Giovanni Massolino created the winery in 1896 and all the generations since have continued his work. Over the years, the family has bought the best pieces of land in Serralunga d’Alba, and now there are four important crus: Vigna Rionda (3 hectares), Margheria, Parafada and Corda della Briccolina. Single-vineyard Barolos come from the first three. “Our first purchase was in Parafada, in 1955,” says Roberto Massolino. “Then in 1959, my father exchanged two giornate, an old Piedmontese land measure, in a less desirable zone for a giornata in Vigna Rionda. Margheria was in 1978. Little by little we got to our current 26 hectares.” The style of their wine is basically traditional, above all their vinification. Maceration is long, from 15-25 days depending on the vintage year. The wine is held for 42 months in 50 hectoliter French and Slovenian barrels for Vigna Rionda, 24 months for Margheria. Parafada, up to 2007, underwent briefer maceration, under 10 days, and aged in barrique for 18 months. “We decided to change our vinification of Parafada, which now will be like our other wines. After a long period of pondering the question, we decided that since ours is an historic winery and we love a certain kind of wine, it didn’t make sense to produce something so distant from what we feel we are. We needed to choose which side we were on. We believe deeply in the potential of this cru and its capacity to express itself better through a traditional vinification.”
Luigi Pira established the estate in the 1950s and until the 1990s its business consisted of selling grapes and wine to local entrepreneurs. Then when Giampaolo and his brother Romolo came into the winery, things changed. “When my brother and I started working here,” said Giampaolo Pira, “we wanted to truly exploit the potential of our vineyards, producing and bottling ourselves. Many people came to the same conclusions in those years.” They own about ten hectares of vineyard subdivided into various crus, among the most important of which, bottled separately, are Vigna Rionda (1 hectare), Marenca (2.30 hectares), and Margheria (1.30 hectares). The estate produces about 50,000 bottles of Barolo of which half is the basic wine. “Vinification is the same for all our Barolos, with maceration lasting from 10-12 days at controller temperatures. Maceration in wood differs, taking place in large barrels for the base wine and Margheria, and in small barrels for Marenca and Vigna Rionda. You can definitely describe ours as a modern style, but without excess or extremes.”
Right from the start Fontanafredda was a large estate,well over 100 hectares. Victor Emanuel II, the king of Sardinia bought it in 1858 when Piedmont was a land with many tiny subsistence-level farms. It became productive only 20 years later when his son, Emanuele Guerrieri, count of Mirafiori, decided to devote himself to growing grapes in way way that was extremely modern for its time. “That was a glorious time for Fontanafredda,” says Giovanni Minetti, who heads the estate now. “The wines were even exported. Then, when the estate passed to the next generation, Fontanafredda was sold to a bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena.” During the 20th century, the estate preserved its original atmosphere and facilities, but the last decade of the century brought about change and a significant attention to quality. Fontanafredda began to fill the role that history and its potential demanded. It now turns out 450,000 bottles, including a basic Serralunga and three crus, two in Serralunga, Vigna La Rosa from a 9- hectare vineyard and Vigna La Delizia – over 8 hectares, and one in the Barolo municipality, Vigna La Villa, over 3 hectares. “Our objective is to produce classic wines that can express the unique territory of the Langhe. So we use long maceration – the only way to typicity! and 2-3 year old barrels, so that their fragrances don’t overwhelm the characteristics of the grape.”
Romano Marengo founded Ca’ Rome’ in 1980, and though he was only 46 years old at the time, this warm, wonderful man already had three decades of professional experience in the wine world behind him. The Ca’ Rome’ philosophy starts with the name. Ca’ is short for casa, or home, and for the Marengos the winery is their home and their family.
Romano is flanked by his wife, Olimpia, and their enologist son Giuseppe, who assists him in styling the range, and daughters Paola, who is in charge of PR and Marketing, and Maria. The first impression of Ca’ Rome’, is a quiet, country-home air, made for leisure and family life. It is easy to see Romano grew his children and his wines with the same sterling discipline, the same sense of excellence and impeccable standards. Ca’ Rome’ is a home to classic red wine-making, and to the very finest quality in life, as in wines. The cornerstones of the Ca’ Rome’ philosophy are the most rigorous grape selection, state-of-the-art vinification, and attentive élevage in oak, both 25-hectoliter Slavonian barrels, and French barriques. The family’s focus on simplicity, sincerity, and kindness is exuded in everything they do, from crafting the wines to entertaining visitors at the winery.
Today Ca’ Rome’ covers 17 acres under vine, five of the acres are rented and run by the Marengos as Piedmontese vineyard space is notoriously hard to come by. The vineyards are partly located at Barbaresco, partly atSerralunga d’Alba, in Barolo territory. There are three crus: the Rabajà cru, the Rio Sordo cru, famous for Barbarescos of great finesse, and, in Barolo territory: the Serralunga cru, renowned for structure and magnitude.
BAROLO “RAPET” DOCG: This is a single-vineyard (planted in 1972 and covering 1 hectare, 2.4
acres) from the Serralunga cru, renowned for its structure. Altitude is 310-371 m. a.s.l. (1,017-1,217 feet), exposure is southerly and the clones are Nebbiolo Michet and Lampia. Density is 5,000 vines per hectare (2,023 per acre), with a very low crop yield of 1.3 kilos, 2.8 pounds, per vine. Ageing is 2 years in oak barrels and barriques, then 1 year in bottle. The resulting wine is a textbook Barolo: intense crimson color, ample, elegant bouquet showing ethereal aromas and classic dried rose petals with underlying brushwood notes, full body with perfectly balanced components, fruit, tannis and acidity in ideal synergy, and a consistent, lingering finish. Can be cellared for up to 15-25 years
My brief impressions on the Wines on the night:
Luigi Pira Barbera d’ Alba 2011: high in alcohol which stands out on the palate. Needs time to loose it’s puppy fat and even then will be an each way bet.
Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba 2011: also high in alcohol but balanced. Lovely wine, high in acid but balanced. Could drink this young or old.
Cappellano Barbera d’Alba 2000: oxidised
Cappellano Gabutti Barbera d’Alba 2009: good, touch of brett masking some of the fruit. Well balanced.
Ca’ Rome Rapet Barolo 1990: Looking good, quite broad but fruit, acid and tannins all in great nick. Still got some years left in it.
Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa Barolo 1990: Looking great, lovely wine, tannin and impressive. Awesome.
Cappellano Otin Fiorin Gabutti Barolo 1996: Beautiful nose, traditional and still quite tannic. Lovely.
Massolino Viogna Rionda Parafada Barolo 1996: Youthful, still quite closed, needs time to open up but fantastic wine.
Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia Barolo 2000: awesome, in the grove. Still a few years to go before hittings it’s prime. Will be long lived.
Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa Barolo 2000: commercial style, opposite in style to the 1990. Lacks depth and complexity.
Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia Barolo 2005: just starting to open up. More like a three year old wine than nine. Can’t wait to see it in another ten years.
Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia Barolo 2007: closed but riper fruit. Not my favourite vintage and it shows even with this magical producer.
Luigi Pira Margheria Barolo 2008: high toned, still young but not my style of Barolo.
Massolino Margheria Barolo 2008: beautiful wine, in the groove even from a young age. It needs time but will be a classic.
Cappellano Otin Fiorin Pie Rupestris 2008: just at the start of it’s journey and will develop like the 1996 Cappellano. Great wine and great producer.
Cappellano Barolo Chinato: The doctor, the original and the best. Love Chinato to finish the meal.
In the next few days I will post my full notes on a special dinner that I hosted looking solely on the wines of Serralunga d’Alba.
We headed back to 1990 and then fast forwarded to the current crop of 2008 Barolo and along the way, the wines we drank really showed why it is considered one of the greatest cru’s of Barolo.
This week I am hosting a dinner at Cru Wine Bar in Hawthorn looking at the great wines of Serralunga going back to the 1990 vintage. Each wines has been chosen to highlight what I think is so special about this cru.
And that is the thing about Barolo and Barbaresco. Each cru is celebrated for producing a unique expression of Nebbiolo whether it is Serralunga, Monforte, Asili or Montefico.
The same could not be said about Montalcino, which is dragging it’s feet and I think will miss the boat unless it officially recognizes the need for sub zones or cru’s that exist in it’s denomination. We have already seen wine writers like Kerry O’Keefe in her fantastic book ‘Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines’ talk about the need for subregions in Montalcino.
As much as I would love to host a dinner focusing on a specific sub region of Montalcino, there isn’t yet that level of understanding when it comes to sub regions of Montalcino as there is with Barolo and Barbaresco. I am sure, if there was specific sub regions recognised, consumers would have a far greater understanding of Montalcino and it’s wines. Until the time comes, I think it will be up to fellow imports and educators to somehow get the message across to consumers.
Over the last week I have drunk more bottles of Primitivo from Puglia than I have in my entire lifetime. It has made me appreciate what a fantastic variety Primitivo is. However, it also showed me that so much Primitivo is out of step with reality.
Too many producers in Puglia think the higher the price, the greater the level of toast they need on their new barriques. Just think of how much money they could save (and how much better the wines will be) if they used old oak or even cement for the maturation of their wines.
I admit, I have been seduced by the dark side. Imported a Primitivo di Manduria in Puglia at 15.5% that was seductive for the first glass. The second glass was not so enjoyable and by the third glass it had become cloying to the point of being undrinkable. The customers out there that loved over oaked Barossa Shiraz fell in love with this wine. In some ways, I was ashamed and made a mental note to myself to never import wine that I would not drink,
Except for the Primitivo di Manduria we imported once, all the other Primitivo we have imported has been either matured in old oak (Fatalone) or seen no or very little oak at all (Lucarrelli) and this is for me the future of Primitivo. In Italy, most of the Primitivo I have tried and been offered to import is the turbo charged examples that are so out of whack with what Primitivo is all about. Hopefully in the next few years this changes and we see some purer expressions of Primitivo.
For this to happen, the mind set of these producers needs to change. They need to know that oak derived flavour does not tell us anything about the wine variety they are growing and the region in which they are growing these grapes. In some ways, they need to go back to the way the parents and grandparents made wine, without the use of excessive oak. After trying so much Primitvo this week, I know they have the resources to be able to make some of the best wine in Southern Italy.
Well Pasquale and myself have just landed in Melbourne for a Special dinner focusing on Puglia at Scopri tonight.
For the last couple of days, we have been presenting the wines of Fatalone at Rootstock. Well what a blast Rootstock was, if you love and appreciate organic/natural food and wine, Rootstock is must.