January 2, 2018

Piedmont wine tasting

By Will Hargrove

Head of Fine Wine at Corney & Barrow, Will Hargrove, shares a  2017 visit to Piedmont, and his notes on the wines of Giacomo Conterno & Giulia Negri.

The primary function of the trip was to taste with Roberto Conterno at Cantina Giacomo Conterno for the then upcoming releases. Whilst the tasting, see lower down, was the real work of the trip, one of my favourite meals of the year was with Roberto at one of the spots he knows well in the Langhe. Whether at the Cantina or at a restaurant, Roberto always provides generous wines and wonderful company, often with other members of his team (notably the charming and very helpful Stephanie) and family. This time we had dinner, the night before tasting, at Cesare in the Alta Langhe. This is not a place I knew of, though asking around in the weeks following, it is clearly something very special as became obvious rather rapidly as the food arrived.

Krug Grand Cuvee started us of in real class, a lovely bottle at a stage of evolution I really like. Krug richness but with the lovely spine of freshness – delicious.

Barbera Cascina Francia 2004 in Magnum form followed and what a joy it was. Superb nose, savoury but with sweet dark cherry fruit, some toast and a saline edge (there always is from Francia). A very lovely evolution, it got better and better with air.

Barolo Cascina Francia 1999 – This is a vintage I know pretty well and of course there was a Monfortino in 1999. The maturity is good now, to my mind it is in that nice “ready but no rush” zone. Good acidity, fruit combining with a ferrous salinity, brightness, and a good gentle grip.

Barolo La Serra 2010 from Marcarini – I know the brother, Brunate, of this wine well having been a buyer for some time. La Serra is always a little softer and more approachable and so it was here, good true nebbiolo fruit and a slightly degraded structure.

Monfortino Riserva 1993 – as if things had not been high class enough this was next up. Thick, tarry colour, deep core and quite dark. Tar and creosote come through as well as darker fruits and good acidity. A bricky decay but that acidity is there again. With time it became softer and softer (no surprise) but also redder and redder fruited (that was a bit of a surprise). Notes of balsamic followed and something which I described as “very old Speyside whisky aged in PX barrels” – a sort of dry demerara sugar, quite a wine.

The whole evening had been quite something, relaxed, great food, great wines and lovely company. Roberto kindly dropped us back at our hotel – the idiosyncratic – Le Case della Saracca – at the top of Monforte d’Alba, it is recommended. It wasn’t that many hours before we were at the Cantina for the tasting.
Roberto does all the visits here himself and, dependent on the number of wines it tends to be at least 90 minutes, all tasted from Zalto and in brilliant, quiet and cool conditions.

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Barbera Cerretta 2016 – around 4,000 bottles produced, picked 25-27th September, and tasted from Barrel. So primary and pure, with a little more body than expected, good length, and a little more tannin but good acidity. Score: 17.

Barbera Cerretta 2015 – around 5,000 bottles produced, picked 18-20th September, just bottled. Lovely rich colour but transparent. Simply beautiful nose, rich, full, opulent and succulent, bright and rich again, some stones but creamy rich fruit with good acidity. Long. Score: 17.5-18.

Barbera Francia 2016 – Tasted from barrel. Arterial, rich, stones and spice, good minerality, good tannin – moreishly so. Primary and rugged “raw” as Roberto would say. Score: 17.5.

Barbera Francia 2015 – Just bottled. Such an amazing nose, broad and rich, almost decadent, a shade of saline but more a generous in check fruit, very good, I really like this. Score: 18.

In Roberto’s words – “2013 and 2014 are both Outstanding”. He then developed this to say “2013 everyone agrees” but “for 2014 people will differ”. To be savagely simple about it – 2013 was hot then cool & 2014 cool then hot. The picking date in both instances was around the 25th October for Nebbiolo. Roberto got a new de-stemmer for use from 2014.

Barolo Cerretta 2014 – Strawberry, some herbs and pine, so very good. Bold, resin, very structured, very pure. This is special. Score: 18.

Barolo Cerretta 2013 – Translucent, strawberries, wild fruits, cool fruits, superb fruit on the nose then a big tannin but superb, this is an amazing wine, so focused. Score: 18.5.

“Monfortino” 2013 (around 27,000 bts) – Serious and earthy, but poised, rich, serious texture, tannin. Easy to tell how excited Roberto is. Score: 19.

“Monfortino” 2014 (approx 17,000 bts) – Brighter colour, more red and more youth. Muted concentration, also more savoury, more substance, more red fruit (de-stemmers worked well for Roberto). Score: 18.5.

Monfortino Riserva 2010 – bottled one year ago – This colour has everything, youth and age, red and leather. Truffles, wild herbs, fruit, leather, woodsmoke, so complete, so powerful but this is gymnast power, graceful power. Sublime savoury fruit, a very special feel. Long driven and exquisite. Score: 19.5-20.

A discussion of some of the nitty gritty followed and then, sadly, it was time to hit the road. Thank you Roberto and team!

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I managed to fit on the seat, just about!

Leaving Monforte we headed to the highest vineyard in the region – Serradenari – and a visit to one of Piedmonts rising stars Giulia Negri. The tour around the vineyard in the “Mule” was special. A chance to see all the various vineyard parts and then the amazing view over almost all of Barolo that you can see at the top of this post. We taste, for purchase, the wines once bottled so this was a chance for a little bit of pre-release tasting – always useful and explains the shorter notes.

Giulia is a lover of all wine but has, as it often the case in Piedmont, a special place for Burgundy. She loves to make a little Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Both are getting better every vintage.

Chardonnay 2016 (light toast) – Pears and melons, delicious fruit, some spritz, good balance “ripe/brine”, more complexity than previous vintages. Nice bit of lift. Good.

Chardonnay 2016 (light toast x 2)– Less obvious fruit, more texture more “Meursault” – weightier, like the idea of the blend of differently toasted barrels.

Pinot Noir 2016 (light toast x 2) – Some reduction, nice generous fruit, then a little dry core, one more year in wood to come.

Pinot Noir 2016 (Francois Freres normal barrel) – Drier still, good flesh initially but then very dry, not as good as above. Slightly over powering, may well come around.

Giulia and her three Barolos

Barolo Tartufaia 2015 – Lovely fruit (more Brunate) cherry and a little smoke, then raspberry (ripe). Lovely.

Barolo Serradenari 2015 – Tiny bit of reduction, good grip and lovely sweet core, very promising, pure.

Pinot Noir 2014 – A little tight and then spicy, roses and grippy red fruit.

Over a perfect light lunch we tasted the three Barolos – Tartufaia, Serradenari & Delizia – from 2013. All three are showing as I would hope – very fine, focused and true to their characters. Things have been on the up here for some time but with Giulia having finished her studies some time ago it is set to go up and up!

A splendid two days!

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