“Baroli Cascina Francia and Monfortino … rightly considered by most observers as among the most profound wines in the world.” – Antonio Galloni
A couple of weeks ago, twelve wine lovers sat down for a special dinner looking at a decade of Giacomo Conterno Monfortino. Whilst the wines were probably more varied than what I would have expected. The string of great bottles to me showed the great expression of Barolo that one will ever drink. The younger wines were just that: young. Give them time and they will join the great Barolo’s of our generation.
Monfortino – A Brief History by Antonio Galloni
The first known, official commercial release of Monfortino was 1924, although photos exist of earlier vintages. The first Monfortinos were made from purchased fruit sourced from top vineyards in Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba, as was the custom at the time. In the 1970s, Giovanni Conterno understood the fundamental shift taking place in Piedmont and aroundthe world; namely that the supply of high-quality grapes was shrinking as growers became bottlers, which in turn was driving land prices higher, which meant that the only way to ensure quality over the long term was to own vineyards. In 1974, the Conterno family purchased Cascina Francia, a 14-hectare plot in Serralunga.
Although cultivated predominantly with wheat at the time, vines had been planted at Cascina Francia previously. Conterno replanted with Dolcetto, Freisa, Barbera and Nebbiolo, the four main indigenous grapes of Piedmont. The spectacular 1978 vintage rewarded Giovanni Conterno with his first Monfortino from Cascina Francia, a wine that is still one of the greatest Barolos ever made.
Today, Roberto Conterno continues the rich legacy of vineyard work and winemaking established by his father Giovanni and grandfather Giacomo before him. Monfortino remains a selection of the best fruit from within Cascina Francia and is bottled only in the very best years. Winemaking is rigorously traditional. Long fermentations are followed by an unheard of seven years in cask.
Wines on the night:
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1988
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1993
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1995
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1997
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1998
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 1999
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2000
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2001
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2002
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2004
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2005
Giacomo Conterno Monfortino 2006
Raw Fillet of Beef, Artichoke, Yolk, Truffle,
Pilgrim Goose, Oca in Onto, Bread, Parmigiano, Brodo
Fried Seafood and Vegetables
RAVIOLI DEL PLIN
Veal, Sage, Butter, Truffle
PRESSED CAPE GRIM SHORT RIB
Mash Potato, Roasted Heirloom Carrots,
Pickled Mustard Seeds
TESTUN AL BAROLO
Walnut Leaves, Ligurian Bee Honey
Antonio Galloni’s notes on the wines. My impressions are in bold italics below his note and score.
The 1988 Monfortino is a real stunner. From bottle, I have never truly loved the 1988, but from magnum, well, it is another story. Fresh, translucent and vibrant on the palate, the 1988 has a classic sense of structure that borrows elements from the 1970 and 1987. Tasted again at the end of the dinner, the 1988 is in a great place now. 2014-2024 96 points
Sweet nose, starting to show hints of development. Length, length and more length. In it’s drinking window. Really bottle dependant, this is good, would assume that some bottles would look even better.
The 1993 Monfortino is one of the wines with the most sediment, but once the wine is decanted, the fruit really begins to pop. This is one of the deeper, meatier wines of the evening. There is plenty of depth and intensity in the glass if not quite the finesse or translucency of the very best years. I don’t expect to see too much upside from here, but time will tell. 2014-2023 94 points
Seamless nose, sweet fruits, classic roses and tar. Hints of gravel. Such a perfect palate, supremely balanced. So tight, so fresh and so amazing. Decades in front of it.
Another pleasant surprise, the 1995 Monfortino is just entering its early peak of maturity. The hard contours have softened and the 1995 appears to be evolving along the lines of the 1988. The 1995 can be enjoyed today, but it also will age well for another 15+ years. Tonight, it is terrific. 2015-2030 95 points
Good but not a great bottle. Slightly evolved, would drink not keep. Love the tannins of this wine. You almost have to not smell it and just drink it.
The 1997 Monfortino is served and all conversation suddenly stops as we taste the wine. Breathtaking aromatics leave the room rapt with attention. You can hear a pin drop. Just as thrilling on the palate, the 1997 is utterly captivating from the very first taste. The 1997 is exotic, full-bodied and viscerally thrilling to the core. What a wine! 2014-2027 99 points
Super tight, needs time. Minerally, tightly woven with pristine savoury fruits. This needs decades to unwind. Lovely wine.
In this flight, the 1998 Monfortino is a bit penalized. Initially I thought it was a bit oxidized and/or over-ripe, but the wine just needed time to open up. By the end of the evening the fruit is really popping in a generous, beautifully resonant expression of Monfortino. In any other setting, the 1998 would have been the wine of the night. In this tasting, it is merely exceptional. Ironically, one of the wines I thought needed the least air needed the most. 2014-2038 96+
Very good nose, rose petals, strawberries and a palate held together by minerally tannins. Lovely up front fruits matched with super fine tannins.
I have always had a big crush on the 1999 Monfortino. Here it is the combination of sensual, virtually intoxicating perfume, focused fruit and structure that stands out most of all. The 1999 is naturally quite young, especially from magnum, but it is a head-turning beauty. I remember giving the 1999 a huge score when it was first released and going long on the wine. I am glad I did. In time, the 1999 will take its rightful place among the greatest Monfortinos ever made. Actually, it already has. 2014-2039 100 points
Clean, tight and clearly superb. As close to perfection as humanly possible with Barolo. Fresh tannins, complete and complex wine.
Conterno’s 2000 Barolo Riserva Monfortino explodes from the glass with a luxurious, expansive personality that leaves me speachless. Endowed with generous ripe fruit, it is a seamless, seductive Monfortino that possesses incredible length as well as purity in a style that perfectly encapsulates the qualities of the vintage. With air, suggestions of roses, cocoa, tar and an ise emerge to complete this magnificent expression of Barolo from Serralunga. Despite its seemingly approachable personality this wine has plenty of underlying structure. I suggest tasting the wine as soon as it appears on retail shelves as it is almost certain to shut down at some point in the near future. As for the magical question: When will the wine be ready? Looking at other warm vintages, the 1985 is peaking but has plenty of life ahead of it, and the 1990 is still an infant, so my best guess is that the 2000 will start drinking well around age 20, but personally I am not sure I will have the patience to wait that long. Low yields, a long fermentation time of 4-5 weeks with no temperature control and seven years of cask aging remain the rule for Monfortino. The string of Monfortinos spanning 1996 to 2001 (and possibly 2002) must surely be a record. I can’t think of another estate in the world that has produced six consecutive vintages of this profound quality. The 2000 Monfortino ranks slightly behind the 1999 and 2001, but that may be splitting hairs at this very high level. It is another stellar effort from Giacomo Conterno. 2015-2030 97 points
So pure, fragrant, perfumed, lovely balance. Fresh, youthful, perfect. Benchmark Barolo.
The 2001 Barolo Riserva Monfortino flows from the glass with stunning depth and purity. This seamless, elegant Barolo caresses the palate with incredible persistence as layers of aromas and flavors develop in the glass. Stylistically it is very much like the 2001 Cascina Francia, only with more intensity, depth and sheer volume. Monfortino has always had power to spare, but in 2001 it is also incredibly elegant, something that previous vintages have only acquired with significant bottle age. This is a towering, majestic Monfortino that will rightfully take its place among the very finest Monfortinos ever made. 2016-2041 99 points
Again another close to perfect Barolo. Power to burn with so much beauty and purity perfectly matched with fine tannins. A great example of textbook Barolo.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the 2002 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, a wine that may very well turn into a modern-day legend. As readers may recall, 2002 was a cold, rainy year that in many parts of Barolo culminated with violent hailstorms in early September. The weather then turned picture-perfect for the rest of the growing season, but by that time most vineyards were severely damaged. The late-ripening Cascina Francia was an exception. Conterno green-harvested aggressively, which gave the fruit a chance to ripen. The late harvest produced massive, structured wines. Roberto Conterno and his father, the late Giovanni Conterno, thought 2002 was not a good vintage, bur rather a great vintage. The Conternos were so upset by the poor early press reaction to the vintage they announced they would let no one taste their 2002 Barolo, and then declared the unthinkable: they would only produce their Monfortino in 2002. As it turns out, the modern-day view of the conditions during 2002 failed to take into account that vintages were often cold and damp in the 1960s and 1970s. Conterno has fashioned an old-style, massive Monfortino that pays homage to the great wines of decades past.. I have been following this wine for a some time. It is a deeply-colored, imposing Monfortino loaded with dense dark fruit that today is held in check by a massive wall of tannins. At times the wine has reminded me of the 1971 Monfortino, at other times it has appeared to be more similar to the 1978. Either way, it is classic, old-style Barolo the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again any time soon. 2022-2052 94-97 points
Salty. Intense without the power and structure of great Monfortino’s. A good without being a great wine. A great result considering the vintage but I suspect over time, the vintage will show through more and more in this wine.
The 2004 Barolo Riserva Monfortino is as it has always been: virtually perfect. It is a staggeringly beautiful wine of heroic proportions, with all of the elements in the right place. The bouquet alone is head-spinning; but then the fruit conquers the palate with its sensual, beguiling beauty. The tannins are impeccable, polished and impossibly refined from start to finish. The 2004 Monfortino is shaping up to be one of the very finest wines ever made in Italy, or anywhere for that matter. Let me just say this: the 2004 Monfortino is the only wine at Conterno I did not spit on what turned out to be a magical afternoon. It was the last stop of the day, and I granted myself that one small indulgence. 2014-2044 100 points
I love this wine but it seems like there has been a slight change in style. A touch more modern than previous wines and without the balance that I would normally suspect.
A rich, sensual tapestry of dark plums, cherries, smoke, incense, tar and licorice emerges from the 2005 Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Exotic, rich and layered, the 2005 boasts gorgeous depth and a sensual enveloping personality. I am quite amazed at how the 2005 has developed since I last tasted it, in November 2011. The once-firm tannins have never been more elegant than they are today. That said, as good as the 2005 is, it doesn’t quite have the thrill factor of the very best vintages. 2020-2040 96 points
Showing more obvious oak than previous wines. One suspects it is due to it’s young age more than anything else. These wines are built to live for 50-60 years so this is just a glimpse at the start of it’s evolution.
I won’t be at all surprised if, given its massive structure, the 2006 Barolo Riserva Monfortino one day takes its place alongside vintages such as 1999 and 2002. A massive, full-bodied wine, the 2006 captivates all the senses with its sheer structure. At times, though, the 2006 also comes across as weightless and elusive, showing the dualism that makes great Barolo such a fascinating wine. This is a decidedly vertical Monfortino built on a huge frame of tannin. The aromas and flavors aren’t fully expressive today. Instead it is the wine’s pure density that leaves the most profound lasting impression. With that, the tasting is done, and with good reason. Where do you go from here? 2021-2056 97-100 points
Where will this wine go? I suspect into the book as one of the great Italian reds of our generation. Like the 2004 and 2005 this wine is young. At 8 years of age it looks and drinks like it has just been bottled. Ok, oak is sticking out a little like 2005 but in time I see that it will al come together and then age gracefully for many decades to come.