The Story of Barolo

Guest Author Nick Poletto tells us the story of Barolo…

BaroloBefore Italy, there was the House of Savoy.  The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region, which included the modern day region of Piedmont.  The House of Savoy was a monarchy made up of Dukes, Princes, Kings and Emperors.  Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in the region of Piedmont to the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II. 

It was the leadership, strength and intellect of the House of Savoy that led them to unite all of Italy and rule for 85 years.  These same attributes led this nobility to desire and drink only one wine, which was anointed as “The Wine of Kings, the King of Wines – Barolo.”

The Place: Barolo

Located in the southeastern part of the region of Piedmont, the Barolo zone extends over an area of often sharply inclined hills all facing south.  Piedmont, as the name suggests (at the foot of the mountain) is surrounded by the Alps to the west and north, the Apennines to the east linking to the Maritime Alps in the south.  The region is 43% mountains, 30% hills and 27% plains.

Even though Barolo is almost three times larger than Barbaresco, it is only 5 miles wide at its widest point.  The original five communes consisting of La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba make up 87% of total Barolo zone production.  The two communes of Barolo and Castiglione Falletto are considered the ‘heart’ and unofficial ‘classico’ areas of the zone.

Piedmont CroppedBarolo’s soil can be broken down into two types: Helvetian and Tortonian.  Tortonian soils are located mostly west of the steep slopes of the amphitheater of hills between Barolo and La Morra.  Tortonian soil has a bluish tint, is rich in magnesium and manganese, and is composed of 30% sand, 55% clay and 15% limestone.  Helvetian soils dominate in the area to the east on the rising hills of Monforte and Castiglione Falletto and across the valley at Serralung.  Helvetian soil is made up of many different types of sandstone, has a chalky beige color, and is rich in iron.   Both types of soil contain calcareous marls of marine origin.

Tortonian soils produce a more fragrant, elegant and early maturing Barolo requiring less aging, while the Helvetian soils produce stronger wines with more color, body, and tannins; requiring at least 12-15 years of aging to be at their best.

The Grape:  Nebbiolo

The Nebbiolo grape is one of Italy’s most revered varieties.  It is a very old variety with the first documented use of the name dating back to 1266.  It was of such high stature, that there was a 5 lire fine for anyone who cut down a Nebbiolo vine.  Repeat offenders had their hands cut off and in some cases were even put to death!

Nebbiolo is revered for its aromatic complexity, tannic power and exceptional aging potential.  It is a very vigorous vine which needs to be thinned with strict canopy management.  The vine is also unique in that is first 2 – 3 buds are infertile; this vine needs its space!

NebbioloThe name Nebbiolo is derived from ‘nebbia,’ the Italian word for fog.  This refers to the thick, natural bloom covering the ripe berries that look as if they are covered in a layer of fog.

The four distinct Nebbiolo clones are:

  • Nebbiolo Lampia: larger, longer bunches and reliable, balanced profile.  Most widespread.
  • Nebbiolo Michet: named after Michetta, or “bread roll” due to its shape.  Low yield, high concentration of phenolics.
  • Nebbiolo Rose: rarely found.
  • Nebbiolo Bolla: once widespread, today rarely as yields are quite high.

Nebbiolo is very unforgiving as it flowers in early April and ripens very late.  The key to success is a dry, warm September that allows the extremely late ripening Nebbiolo to develop for the late October harvest. In a normal decade growers expect to have two or three top vintages.

The Wine

While the Nebbiolo grape dates back to 1266, it is not until the 18th century that we find the first use of the word ‘Barol.’  Later, in the 1830’s, with the insistence of Giulietta Vitturnia Colbert di Maulevrier (the Marchesa), the wine of the region was named after its town of origin, “Barolo.”

The Marchesa was close friends with King Carlo Alberto and the wine Barolo was held in very high regard by all the wealthy and royalty of Piedmont.  The Marchesa owned massive Barolo Townamounts of land that encompassed Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga.  She grew her prized Nebbiolo in these towns and later hired the famous oenologist Louis Oudart from Burgundy, France.  Louis Oudart is credited with bringing a modern style of winemaking that was combined with the grape Nebbiolo to form Barolo as we know it.

With the passage of time, Barolo increased in popularity and was again reinvigorated in the early 1900’s with a new line of successful and famed Barolo winemakers, including Emilio Pietro Abbona, Cesare Borgogno, Giulio Mascarello and Battista Rinaldi.

The Barolo and Barbaresco Consortium was founded in 1908, but was not recognized by the Italian Government until 1934.  Today, the Consortium includes  Barolo,  Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Roero.  There are 500 members, made up of small and large producers.  Traditions and traditional methods of production retain their place of importance, but with a keen eye on keeping up with modern techniques and styles.

As summer wanes and the chill of autumn air takes its place, the smell of wood fire and fermenting wine dances along the small villages of Barolo.  White truffles begin to arrive, shaved over pasta emitting the most captivating smells fit for a King and matched only by the wine of Kings, the King of wines, Barolo.

Click here for the study aid:  Fast Facts About Barolo

Nick PolettoNick Poletto, CSS, CSW, DWS has an extensive wine background that includes studying abroad in both Italy and Argentina, working a harvest season at a winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, and teaching the WSET at Johnson and Wales University. Nick started his career at Kobrand as the company’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Area Sales Manager and was promoted to Kobrand’s Director of Wine and Spirit Education in January 2012.

At this year’s SWE Conference in Orlando, Nick will be representing Barolo as he goes up against Don Kinnan in their session “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans.” If you’d like to hear Don’s side, click here for the Story of Brunello.  The Clash of the Titans is scheduled for Friday, August 2nd, at 4:45 pm.  See you there!

 

Is Virginia “The Bordeaux of North America?”

Guest Author Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, dares to ask the question!

Is Virginia the “Bordeaux of North America?”

MonticelloI know that this is a bold, if not outright outrageous, question to ask about an East Coast wine region that is relatively unknown to most of the country. But before you start pelting me with your Napa Cabs and Your Washington State Merlots, hear me out!

I truly believe that some of the red blends being produced in Virginia are closer stylistically to Bordeaux than the vast majority of wines being made in California, Washington, or Oregon.

I was recently honored to be the Judging Director for the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. This was a large and prestigious wine competition, with 377 Virginia wines entered and 43 accomplished wine judges from all over the world.  If you have attended SWE Conferences before, you might know two of our superstar judges – Shields T. Hood and David Denton, both CWE’s.

At the upcoming SWE Conference in Orlando, I will be showcasing the top 12 wines from this year’s Governor’s Cup Competition, and I find it very interesting that 11 of these wines are blends of grapes you would find in Bordeaux and Southwest France.  Here is a list of the wines we will taste:

  • Cooper Vineyards – 2010 Petite Verdot Reserve
  • King Family Vineyards – 2010 Meritage
  • Lovingston Winery – 2009 Josie’s Knoll Estate Reserve (Meritage)
  • Philip Carter Winery – 2010 Cleve (Petite Verdot/Tannat)
  • Pollak Vineyards – 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery – 2010 Richland Reserve Heritage (Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat/Petite Verdot)
  • Rappahannock Cellars – 2010 Meritage
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Rendevous (Meritage)
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Lost Mountain (Meritage)
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard – 2010 Mosaic (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/
    Cabernet Franc/Petite Verdot)
  • Barboursville Vineyards’ 2009 Octagon 12th Edition (Meritage)
  • Trump Winery – 2008 Sparkling Rose (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)

Shanandoah Valley MerlotAccording to the Virginia Wine Marketing Board’s “Virginia 2012 Commercial Grape Report,” the most widely planted red grapes in the Commonwealth are Bordeaux varieties:  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, in that order.  The number 5 red wine grape is Tannat, a variety found throughout southwest France.  The only other red wine grape with much presence in Virginia is Pinot Noir…and it trails pretty far behind.  As a matter of fact, Virginia grows 20 times more Cabernet Franc and 10 times more Cabernet Sauvignon than Pinot Noir.  (Virginia is definitely NOT the Burgundy of North America.)

Fast Facts About the Virginia Wine Industry:

  • The Jamestown settlers had high hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire…so much so that in 1619 they passed a law requiring each male settler to plant and tend at least ten grapevines.
  • In 1774, Thomas Jefferson, along with Florentine Viticulturist Filippo Mazzei, established vineyards using vitis vinifera grapes on a plot of land adjoining Jefferson’s house at Monticello.  Unfortunately, they had very little success, and soon gave up their efforts altogether due to the revolutionary war.  In 1981, a new venture known as Jefferson vineyards began growing grapes and making wine on the historic site.
  • George Washington, at Mount Vernon, also attempted to grow European grape varieties.  However, every attempt to grow vinifera vines by the colonists met with failure.  Now, almost 240 years later, we know that the main culprit was Phylloxera, as well as other unknown pests and diseases in this new environment.
  • Beginning in the 1800’s, Virginia wines made from Native American grapes were very successful. So much so that, in 1873, a Virginia wine made from Norton, a native American (Vitis Aestivalis) grape variety, was named the “Best Red Wine of All Nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair.
  • At 230 wineries and counting today, Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the union after California, New York, Washington State and Oregon.
  • Virginia currently has 6 AVAs.  Click here for a list of The AVAs of Virginia .
  • The modern wine industry in Virginia has its share of interesting characters:  Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) is the proud owner of Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) bought the former Kluge Estate Winery in 2011.  Now producing wine under the name Trump Winery, one of their specialties is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Petite Verdot blend called “New World Red.”  It seems The Donald might think Virginia is “the Bordeaux of America” as well!

Jay Youmans, MW

If you have an opinion about whether or not Virginia is “The Bordeaux of North America,” would like to, or would like to try these wines and judge for yourself, be sure and join me at this year’s SWE Conference!

Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, owns the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC, www.capitalwineschool.com; and Rock Creek Wine Merchants, a sales & marketing consultancy. In addition, he is a partner in Manse Field, a Pinot Noir vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand.

Jay will be presenting his session, “Is Virginia the Bordeaux of North America?” at the 37th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Orlando on Wednesday, July 31st at 4:45 pm.

Click here for more information on the SWE Conference.

The Story of Brunello di Montalcino

Guest Author Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE tells us the story of Brunello di Montalcino

Don - BrunelloThe story of Brunello embodies man’s quest for perfection.  It begins with the discovery of a special grapevine on a steep Montalcino slope in 1842.  That vine’s subsequent propagation by its founder, Clemente Santi, resulted in the creation of the Brunello wine.

Today, Brunello is considered one of Italy’s greatest wines and a supreme example of Sangiovese at its best.  It has also become Italy’s most recognized premium wine, internationally.  With a total production of 750,000 cases (9L), 65% finds its way into the world’s finest restaurants and connoisseur wine cellars.  The United States has become the largest importer of Brunello, embracing 25% of the total production.  Brunello’s international prominence was recognized by the Wine Spectator when it was selected the “Top Wine of the Year” in 2006.

Now, the rest of the story…

The Place:   The Montalcino zone takes its name from the town, which sits high on a hill as a fortified citadel with commanding expansive views in all directions.  The zone encompasses 8,000 acres of vines, 4700 of which are dedicated to Brunello.   The name, Montalcino derives from the Latin, “Mons Ilcinnus”, or mountain of holm oak.  These oak trees grace the commune’s logo.  Vineyards, while extensive, only cover 15% of the land, with forests, pastures, and fields of grain making up the rest.  Indeed, Montalcino is like an elevated island amidst a sea of undulating wheat fields and pastures.  The scenic beauty of the place won it a coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site award in 2004.

Don -Lying some 27 miles south of Siena and 27 miles east of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Montalcino enjoys a much warmer and drier climate than its Chianti Classico neighbor to the north, and Montepulciano to the east.  This, together with diverse soils (including rocky “galestro,” limestone, marl, clay, and sand) make for growing conditions which consistently ripen its finicky Sangiovese grapes earlier the either Chianti Classico or Montepulciano.  In Montalcino, harvest is normally completed by late September, usually before the arrival of the October rains.

The Montalcino Zone resembles a square formed by 3 perimeter rivers: the Ombrone on the north and west, the Asso on the east, and the Orcia on the south.  It rises from the perimeter to a crest at the Poggio Civitella (2168 ft), a short distance south of the town, Montacino.  There are presently four notable wine production areas.

  • Just southeast of the town, the highest vineyards in the zone are located on steep terrain at an elevation of 1,300-1,600 feet.  The site’s cool conditions favor slow ripening, producing wines that are more austerely structured, but are very age-worthy.  Biond Santi’s “Il Greppo” estate is located here.
  • Northeast of the town, on lower slopes, near Montosoli and Canalicchio, the terroir allows the wines to show fuller, riper qualities to complement their structure.
  • Don - Brunello MapFurther north, toward the perimeter of the zone and at slightly lower elevations, the soil contains mainly clay with deposits of marl and sandy limestone.  Areas such as Altesino and Catiglione del Bosco produce a more forward style of Brunello in this area.
  • Recent plantings in the southwest corner of the zone, near Sant’Angelo in Colle, Argiano, Pian della Mura, and Camigliano, have produced impressive wines with balance and structure.  Here, sandy clay soils are often mixed with limestone and “galestro” at the higher sites.  This area is closest to the sea and has a warmer microclimate.

The Grape: The name Brunello, meaning “the brown one,” came from the description of the Sangiovese Grosso grapes at harvest time – a dark colored, dusky brown berry.  Brunello was the local name given to this type of Sangiovese Grosso, originally identified in 1842 by Clemente Santi.  Today, the term is officially reserved for the name of the wine.  Sangiovese grown in Montalcino has comparatively thicker skins, compared with grapes grown in other regions, and excellent anthocyanins. Both of these factors contribute to Brunello’s deep tannic structure and rich hue.

Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted single grape variety.  It comprises 67% of the Tuscan vineyard acreage and is the main grape in 25 DOC(G)’s of Toscana. Sangiovese is an ancient grape, believed to have resulted from a spontaneous crossing during the Etruscan period.  Recent DNA evidence reflects its parentage as a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo.

However, there is significant diversity within the grape variety.  Sangiovese tends to be genetically unstable and very adaptable; thus, many clones exist.  Banfi Vineyards has documented over 600 versions of Sangiovese on their estate alone!  Currently, as a result of extensive clonal research trials, the best clones are being propagated.  Most estates are using multiple clones in order to add better balance and more complexity to their wines.

Don - SangioveseThe Wine:   Brunello di Montalcino projects an image of majesty and mystery that heightens its allure.  This aura was cultivated by the Biondi Santi family.  For 100 years, they were the only producers of the wine.  The Biondi Santi estate “Il Greppo,” where Brunello was born, has been called Italy’s first “grand cru”.

However, the wine remained somewhat of an Italian secret until the 1960’s, when word began to spread about the tastings of the extraordinary Biondi Santi vintages of 1888 and 1891.  Soon, the wine world turned its attention to this special place and its remarkable wine.  The Biondi Santi family, led by Franco and his son Jacopo, carry the flag and continue to produce age-worthy Brunello at the family estate.

A growers’ consortium was established in 1967, and has become one of Italy’s most effective with 98% of today’s 208 producers being members.  The consortium has guided a smooth growth in production, while advancing quality standards.

There is, however, growing internal controversy.  Some “modernist” producers would like to shorten the 4-year aging requirement prior to release of the wine.  Some also argue for the right to use small amounts of non-Sangiovese grapes.  These changes are opposed by the “traditionalist” producers who have successfully, thus far, resisted these changes; aside from agreeing to reduce the required time in oak from 4 years to two years.

The Future: The path to wine stardom for Brunello has been like a “shooting star.”  The influx of quality investment over the past 50 years continues and serves to accelerate and reinforce its meteoric rise to prominence.  There are no “industrial” producers among its wine estates.  Although there have been a few bumps in the road, the prospect for continued success is excellent.

Click here for the study aid:  Brunello Fast Facts

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years.  In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education.  As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.   Don is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators and currently serves on the organization’s Executive Committee.

A frequent top-rated presenter at the Annual SWE Conference, he will be co-presenting “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans” on Friday, August 2nd at this year’s Conference in Orlando.