We don’t often see two whizz-bang vintages happen back-to-back (the 2009/2010 combo in Bordeaux and 2015/2016 in Tuscany come to mind) but that very abnormality has happened recently in Piedmont. We saw 2016 coming for miles: outstanding quality up and down the Italian peninsula (in most of Western Europe, truthfully), a classic, put-it-on-the-shelf-and-admire-it kind of vintage that produced exquisitely built, ageable wines, there was no doubt that these Barolos and Barbarescos would be crazy good. 2017, however, is more of a surprise: hotter than Adam Driver in a bad mood, 2017 had mixed results in the rest of Italy, stealing elegance in exchange for oomph, not always welcome in more finessed wines. As the Italian 2017s were released over the last two years, there was good reason to expect that the northern Italian Nebbiolos, always released a little later, would be flat and cooked.
But then the 2017 Barolos and Barbarescos started to be released, and reviewers and collectors alike exclaimed a very green-eggs-and-ham-like “Saaaaaaaaaay!”. There’s a little more fruit present, but not over-ripeness or cooked notes, notably because growers have had to figure out how to cope with a hot year (they’re not as surprising anymore), and they’re way better at producing elegant, classic Nebbiolo despite the added challenge. Vinous’ Antonio Galloni says “the wines challenge preconceived ideas of what wines from hot years can be”, and although he and Parker slightly favour the 2016s, James Suckling actually favours the 2017 vintage.
So, needless to say, I’ve been busy. I’ve been collecting small batches of 2016s and 2017s, and just like with Burgundy, I buy wide but not deep, so there’s often only a few bottles of each selection. Start your engines.
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Figli Luigi Oddero. Odderos have been Odderoing in Barolo since the 1800s, and were part of the first wave of producers to sell wines straight to consumers, rather than to their local church. Seeking a different path than his brother Giacomo, Luigi Oddero split with his family’s winery in 2006 to start this eponymous house, which was going great until he passed in 2010. His wife Lena and their two kids carried on his work, but without Luigi’s generational wisdom in the cellar they were lost, until Lena made the best decision possible: she hired Dante Scaglioni—a local who had worked for 25 years as the winemaker for the legendary Bruno Giacosa, and the fireworks went off. Neither firmly in the Trad nor Modern camp, Dante makes clean, precise wines using older methods (long ferments, old oak Botti). I have:
Luigi Oddero Barbaresco Rombone 2016. From a 2 ½ hectare plot of 30yr-old vines in Rombone cru in Barbaresco’s Treisa region. Great purity of fruit: rose-covered strawberries and sweet cherries, held together by a firm but kind structure. Herbal and forest floor notes linger. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 bottles available, $99.98 +tax
Luigi Oddero Barolo 2016. A gorgeous swirl of high-toned spices and deep red fruits, culled from several of the family’s holdings in various crus. Good tension between fruit and structure. Generous and fresh, a nice statement of vintage. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 bottles available, $106.98 +tax
Luigi Oddero Barolo Rocche Rivera 2008. Blast from the past from a cru in a cru – adjacent to the Rocche di Castiglione in the Scaronne cru in the commune of Castiglione Faletto, Rocche Rivera boasts the best exposure in the whole cru. Built like a racehorse, it has only just entered the don’t-bite-me window and will remain here for two decades. Mentholated cherries, crushed stones and herbs. Conservate and elegant. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 bottles available, $193.98 +tax
Pico Maccario. Long-time growers but recent winemakers (founded in 1997), Pico and Vitaliano Maccario’s first love was Barbera, but the brothers have grown their forward-looking winery in Mombaruzzo to include small releases of Nebbiolos as well. Quick ferments and modest barrel-aging in both Barrique and Botti make bold, direct wines of purpose.
Pico Maccario “Tre Roveri” Nizza 2018. The Smart Italian Party Wine. 100% Barbera from their family’s vineyard in Nizza (the only DOCG where Barbera rules the roost). Loud and proud with unapologetic heft and oaky notes of vanilla supporting the spicy dark berries. Coffee and anise dance throughout. This Barbera never got pushed around in the schoolyard. Quite untraditional and outstanding, drinks like twice the price. Tre- Bicchieri (3 glasses = top score) Gambero Rosso, 5 6-packs available, $51.98 +tax
Pico Maccario Barolo 2017. Nebbiolo mostly from the feisty commune of Serralunga d’Alba, bold and balanced with strong fruit and a surprising level of drinkability and concentration. Lavender and strawberry lead the nose, licorice and rich cherry glide from palate to finish. Well-integrated even this young, featuring high levels of Deliciosity™. Not yet rated, 3 6-packs available, $62.98 +tax
Elio Sandri. I’ve never met Elio Sandri – I’m not sure I could, as he’s known to chase wine press off his property with a rake – but based on his wines I’m guessing I could outrun him because he’s probably too traditional to wear shoes. This is the Barolo of yore, vinified by basically waiting, with months-long whole-cluster ferments, minimal extraction and ancient oak. Tiny productions from the wee Perno cru and a haphazard approach to marketing and exports (and answering the phone) have only increased his legend; far more markets want his wines than get his wines, which is why it’s nearly miraculous that I can offer the following:
Elio Sandri Barolo Perno 2016. A future epic. Earth and tobacco surround the bright cherry notes, with plum, olives and leather falling into place. A portal to the past that won’t open for another 5 years. Mint and cedar on the statuesque finish. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 3 6-packs available, $111.98 +tax
Elio Sandri Barolo Perno Riserva 2015. Roses and orange zest open the festivities, with violets and saline-tinged berries rounding out the middle and end. Unusually for a Sandri wine, this one is aaaaalmost there – it’s rounder than much of his work – but a couple more years would be ideal. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 95 points Vinous, 3 6-packs available, $123.98 +tax
Domenico Clerico. An unabashed modernist, Domenico Clerico has caught flak for his use of Barriques and Burgundian casks, but his critics forget that when he inherited his family’s plots in 1977, his approach was traditional – it was only his decades-long relationship with the few vineyards he farmed that led him to micro-focus on the unique fruit footprints of each site, seeking clean, transparent Burgundian expressions of place. These 2016 Barolos are the last ones Domenico made before his passing in 2017.
Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana 2016. From the Pajana vineyard in the Ginestra cru in Monforte d’Alba, named after an ancient path that bisects it, and planted by Domenico’s dad in 1971. Intense and concentrated with game, forest floor and blood orange underscoring the cassis and plums. Quite full, about 3 years out from paydirt. 96 points Robert Parker, 96 points James Suckling, 6 bottles available, $166.98 +tax
Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin 2016. Also in the Ginestra cru at the top of the hill, the east-facing vineyard named Ciabot Mentin (after the previous owner’s tool shed) produces a dynamic balance of grace and oomph. Densely structured but nearly in the drinking window, orange and mint give way to layers of cassis and violets – a huge body but a wonderfully elegant landing. 97+ points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $166.98 +tax
Domenico Clerico Barolo Aeroplan Servaj 2016. His father, out of admiration and concern, called free-spirited young Domenico “little airplane”, a nickname that the adult Domenico gave to this west-facing vineyard in the Baudana cru of Serralunga d’Alba. A study of how richness and energy play off of each other, with lurking ferrous notes beneath the linear cherry and garrigue. More high-toned and savoury than his other Barolos, this gorgeous beast was Domenico’s definitive statement. 97+ points Robert Parker, 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax
Produttori del Barbaresco. Although Angelo Gaja is primarily responsible for initially putting Barbaresco in people’s minds, this superlative co-operative helped put Barbaresco on the map by putting it in people’s hands. Started in the 1890s, dissolved in 1930 because, you know, Fascism, then rebirthed in the 1950s, Produttori gathered enough quality growers together to export great Barbaresco to the wine-drinking world, creating an amazing first impression and cementing the village’s status as a worthy partner to Barolo. Avoiding the stratospheric price jumps of most of their contemporaries, Produttori is nonetheless considered a benchmark of traditional Barbaresco, farming choice plots in the best crus, such as:
Produttori del Barbaresco Paje Riserva 2016. A south-west facing natural amphitheatre whose collected heat is tempered by the nearby Tanaro river. Slightly brandied cherry notes surrounded by tar and smoke, quite dense with broad shoulders, long anise-laced finish. Best in 5 years. 96 points Vinous, 95 points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 18 bottles available, $80.98 +tax
Produttori del Barbaresco Muncagota Riserva 2016. South-east facing, collecting the morning sun. Accordingly, Muncagota is more delicate on the nose (not the body, yowsers), with heightened floral aspects and characteristic mint vibes over the earth-driven iron and gravel notes. Full and bold on palate with considerable structure. 96 points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 18 bottles available, $80.98 +tax
Produttori del Barbaresco Rio Sordo Riserva 2016. A long hill with south-west exposure, known for softer structures and hidden power. A burst of licorice and eucalypt over a medium body of plums and salinity. 96 points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 18 bottles available, $80.98 +tax
Michele Chiarlo. For four generations, the Chiarlos have been delicious pragmatists, farming all over the Langhe, never putting all their chips on one village or one grape, and focusing on balanced, terroir-correct, ultimately drinkable wines. Even in off-vintages (which these are not), they excel in putting a wine in your glass that will perfectly show the grape and region with no caveats (and no bells or whistles). We have:
Michele Chiarlo “Palas” Barolo 2016. A multi-commune cuvée, with fruit from Monforte, Verduno, and La Morra. A drinker’s Barolo, with soft(ish) integrated tannins supporting the balsamic strawberry and vanilla notes. Not super pigmented but quite powerful, my colleagues and I tasted this blind and put it closer to $100 – wonderful value, exclusive to Everything Wine. 94 points James Suckling, 6 cases available, Reg price $59.99, Sale Price $54.99 +tax
Michele Chiarlo “Cipressi” Nizza 2018. 100% Barbera from Chiarlo’s La Court estate in Nizza, using only the sunniest parcels. Sweet spices lift the fresh raspberry and blackberry compote over a full-bodied bed of violets. Less acidic than most Nizza, a soft landing with more lingering cinnamon and nutmeg. Not yet rated, 18 bottles available, $39.99 +tax
GAJA. Angelo Gaja, besides revolutionizing and modernizing what was once an unknown, backwards wine village, put Barbaresco into world-wine-consciousness by sheer force of personality. Now semi-retired, the estate is run by his daughter Gaia (never thought of it before, but I’m grateful that my parents didn’t name me Jordan Giordan), but the family strengths live on in the wine and personality (Gaia is no fading flower). Global shipping awesomeness prevented me from grabbing more, but I’m grateful to have:
GAJA “DaGromis” Barolo 2016. Back in 1995, Gaja acquired the vineyards adjacent to their Sperss and Contesia sites from the Gromis family (DaGromis literally means “at home with the Gromisses”), and they vinify each vineyard separately before ultimately blending them into this deeply rich cuvée with fresh overtones. Aged in Barriques for 2 ½ years, the nose shows intense orange and red grapefruit over cassis, crushed rocks and cinnamon. Racy and powerful. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $169.98 +tax
Giacomo Fenocchio. When Claudio Fenocchio took over winemaking duties after his dad passed in 1989, he was the fifth Fenocchio to make wine in the Barolo commune of Monforte d’Alba, but the first to scale back his methods to adopt a non-interventionist approach (as much as one can in a colder climate), seeking to return to pre-industrial expressions of his ancient crus. He farms organically and favours long, spontaneous ferments, aging only in large, Slavonian casks, producing Barolos of precise terroir and purpose. The New York Times rated Fenocchio second place in a tasting of 2010 Barolos – coming behind only Elio Altare and ahead of Elio Grasso, Massolino, and Vietti, and his wines sell out quickly. I’m stoked to have:
Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo Villero 2017. Hints of mint, white pepper and sandalwood float over the classic traditional Barolo notes of blood orange and morello cherry. A subterranean note of asphalt lurks with lavender on the finish. Ideal in 3 years. 97 points James Suckling, 2 6-packs available, $102.98 +tax
Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo Bussia Riserva “90 di” 2015. Way cool, Barolo á la Druid. Fruit from the family’s holdings in the mighty Bussia cru is left to ferment with ambient yeasts after crush and then… nothing. They do nothing. Claudio leaves the juice alone for 90 days, no pump-overs, no punching the cap, just the ancient act of allowing the skins to fully influence the ensuing wine. Fruit leather and game notes hold the black cherry and juniper just above the earthy tannins, this is a complex Nebbiolo that, although inscrutable now, will grow into a layered, gorgeous Barolo. 6 bottles available, $163.98 +tax
Musso. Although there was a Musso mayor of Barbaresco in the early 1600s, the family didn’t get into the wine game until 1929 when Sebastiano Musso started the winery that his father could only dream of – just in time to see the world economy crash and Fascism take hold. Wheeee!! Inch by inch the Mussos grew the operation until in 1966 the village got its DOC status and their wine saw export. Today Valter Musso and his sons tend to the estate, crossing traditional and modern methods to build big, beautiful Barbarescos like these:
Musso Barbaresco Pora 2017. A full-throated expression of the Pora Cru, near the village of Barbaresco. Blue flowers and raspberries open to a full, generous brew of cinnamon, vanilla and cherry. Still youthful and tannic, but the fruit weight nearly balances. Not yet rated, 12 bottles available, $69.98 +tax
Musso Barbaresco Pora Riserva 2015. Large and in charge. Mentholated espresso beans dance with drunken cherries holding orange peels like a whip. A strong argument to be made for this 2015 already being in the window. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 94 points Wine Spectator, $89.98 +tax
Nada Fiorenzo. The Nada story is more like a cycle. Since Carlo Nada started the business by selling garage-brewed Nebbiolo to local restaurants, every subsequent Nada son swore off the wine biz and sought fame an fortune in nearby Torino, only to be disenchanted by the big city and return home to fall in love with the land anew. It’s like watching 3 Hallmark movies back to back. The Nada style is pragmatic, using long, wild ferments but employing a mixed media of barrels for aging (although 4th Gen Danilo Nada has been slowly steering away from Barriques). First time in BC, I have:
Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco Rombone 2016. The Rombone cru is the first site the Nada family ever vinified; they know that terroir like my kids know the Skip the Dishes site. An éclair of kirsch, fennel and herbs greets the nose, gliding towards a mid-weight, quite velvety palate. The acidity on the close speaks louder than the tannins right now, everything else is a go but I’d like to drink this in 2025. 96 points Vinous, 95 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $112.98
Tenute Guardasole. This is where Nebbiolo goes skiing. Boasting the highest vines in Alta Piemonte, the subalpine town of Boca experiences drastic swings from day to night, and the steep slopes make it tough to farm here, which explains all the abandoned vineyards around the village (decades ago when Piemontese wine was dirt cheap, producers favoured moderate, flatter sites that could be farmed mechanically to save money). Marco Bui of Tenute Guardasole is one of a handful of winemakers who have begun rehabilitating those ancient vineyards, making gorgeous high-altitude reds like this:
Guardasole Boca 2016. A burst of friendly energy. Dried flowers, tar and white pepper all surrounding the Tesseract. Clean, transparent and feisty, 80% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina, medium bodied and laser focused. The finish is still a bit feral, give this one 3 years at least. 95 points Vinous, 6 bottles available, $84.98 +tax
Poderi Marcarini. 6 generations strong, the Marcarini family is still doing what they do best: overserving me because their wines are so deceptively gulpable. Honest, contemporary Barolos are their calling card, “intervening” just enough to let the vineyard character shine through, using quick ferments but large casks that preserve purity of fruit. I have:
Marcarini Barolo del Comune di La Morra 2017. New skin for the old ceremony. Only its third year on the market, this is a co-ferment of several crus with Tortonian soils within the La Morra commune. Gloriously floral and perfumed, with light cherry and forest floor serving a tangy body, full of orange peel and star anise. 95 points James Suckling, 10 bottles available, $66.99 +tax
Marcarini Barolo La Serra 2017. From the rugged, southwest facing La Serra cru in Serralunga d’Alba. Strawberries rolled in ash with black tea and ferrous notes. A very serious customer. Linear in shape with great intensity and mineral components from front to back, built to withstand a plane crash, needs 4+ years. 97 points James Suckling, 5 bottles available, $84.99 +tax
Francesco Rinaldi & Figli. The Rinaldi name in wine dates back to the 1870s, and in 1922, like many houses in Piedmont (and Burgundy), the family splintered into separate wineries: Giuseppe and Francesco. More traditional than a sharpened stick, current cellar master Luciano Rinaldi employs month-long ferments and exclusively large, old Slavonian casks. These wines became available in BC for the first time this year.
Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2016. Straddling the border of the Barolo and La Morra communes, the Brunate cru hides a lot of magnesium and potassium amongst its reams of limestone, building complex phenolic concentrations in this dark and dense Nebbiolo. All manner of green herbs trip up the rosewater, raspberry and cinnamon on the nose, with pomegranate and smoke in faint hints. Layered and in no hurry, medium bodied, almost in balance (the acidity is a little hey-how-ya-doin’ right now). 94 points Vinous, 6 bottles available, $111.98 +tax
Francesco Rinaldi Barolo 2007. From La Morra, Barolo and Castiglione Faletto communes. A spicy thread from front to back, black tea and worn wood are a platform for dried red fruits and dried blackberry, medium-bodied, intact finish – this could still go another decade without breaking a sweat. 6 bottles available, $197.98 +tax
Poderi Colla. The first family to include cru names on a Barolo bottle in 1961, the Colla family – now headed by Tino Colla, practices mostly traditional winemaking, with a few modern tweaks for clarity of terroir. Tino is known for organizing a stratified harvest, with different altitudes being picked on widely different days, and then added to the ferment as they come in over several weeks – approximating the approach that Barolo houses had to use decades ago when there wasn’t enough money to pay pickers to get all the grapes at once. This allows the tannins from the first grapes to polymerize (bind to form solids) as the others are added, softening the profile a tad. I have:
Poderi Colla Barbaresco Roncaglie 2016. Intense but not heavy, in fact it’s light enough to dance around the rhubarb, truffle and mint notes before dropping on the palate with a kaboom. Roncaglie is an amphitheatre-esque, south-facing steep hill that will likely go up in price and prestige once Vietti starts releasing the Barbarescos from their recently purchased plot there. Deliciously long finish, great value (for now). 95 points Vinous, 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 8 bottles available, $80.98 +tax
Cappellano. One of Barolo’s most renowned (and feared) traditionalists, Augusto Cappellano carries on his father Theobaldo’s commitment to terroir expression and minimal cellar interference, as well as his father’s tendency to shoo away wine reviewers who might possibly assign a numbered score to his wines. His wines reward patience, and they sleep like dragons.
Cappellano “Otin Fiorin” Pie Rupestris 2016. This will cellar like wines 4 times its price. Quite Burgundian in nature, there are subtle hints of dried fruit, herbs and spices, but the finish is disjointed and spiky. Collectors will be highly rewarded for keeping this at least 10 years, but right now it drinks like a misunderstanding. Once integrated, the 2016 Rupestris will match power with delicacy and drink like a halo, this will be a remarkable Barolo. 6 bottles available, $151.98 +tax
Azienda Agricola Azelia di Luigi Scavino. This famously innovative house celebrated its centennial with the release of their 2016s, which threatens to compromise their best-kept-secret-under-the-radar status. Organically farmed and using a pragmatic blend of old/new methods, The Scavino family (Luigi and his son Lorenzo) sources fruit from some of the regions best crus:
Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco 2016. The first cru owned by the Scavino family, Bricco Fiasco (hill shaped like a flask, or fiasco) sits in the Castiglione Faletto commune, and the Azelia vines were planted by Luigi’s grandfather in 1940. Brilliant blue fruit with chalk and cassis notes, a medium-full body and a gorgeously floral finish. Aaaalllmost in the drinking window, 2 more years should do the trick. 96 points Wine Spectator, 96 points Robert Parker, 4 bottles available, $169.99
Cesare Bussolo. When he’s not working with cult Barolo producer Roberto Voerzio, Cesare Bussolo quietly makes a few cases of wine under his own label. Did I say quietly? No chance of that now, as Cesare’s wines have blown up in Europe with long waiting lists, and they make their first appearance in BC this year. Like his mentor Roberto, everything is done on a super small scale with ambient yeasts and small barrels. I can offer:
Cesare Bussolo Barolo del Comune di La Morra 2017. Compact, vibrant fruit on the nose: cherries, roses, sage – this is built like a 1er Cru Volnay, medium-bodied and long. Elegant and super-fine tannins, everything is arguably in balance now, but there’s no doubt that it’ll improve in 4-5 years. Not submitted for review, 6 bottles available, $156.98 +tax
Poderi Aldo Conterno. The Modernist Who Wouldn’t Be. When Aldo, the second son of Barolo legend Giacomo Conterno, came of age, he did what many young Italians did: he got as far away from Italy as possible. Seeing that a post-prohibition Napa Valley was ascendant, Aldo emigrated to the US to start a winery with a few uncles when – oopsy! – he was drafted into the Korean war, where he served two years before an honorable discharge. Finding himself back in Barolo wondering what happened, he joined his brother Giovanni at his ailing father’s estate, and was soon fighting with his family about how they made wine. Inspired by the modern moves that Angelo Gaja was making in Barbaresco (although let’s be real: a “Modern” technique in 1961 Langhe was cleaning your cellar a bit), Aldo struck out on his own to become the blasphemous “Modernist” of the family. But was he? He only really tweaked his family’s ancestral methods, his stuff was – and still is, after his 2021 passing and his sons in charge – pretty old school, as well as gorgeous and iconic. I have:
Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala 2012. From 50-yr-old vines, this 2012 from the Cicala vineyard in the Bussia cru (in Monforte d’Alba commune – these really are Russian dolls) is just entering the zone. Leather is starting to move into the nose of nutmeg and mint, with ferrous tobacco notes and cherry holding strong. Lots of yums. 95 points James Suckling, 6 bottles available, $289.98 +tax
NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS
What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you.
Pelissero “The Long Now” (Nebbiolo/Barbera) 2015. 95 points Vinous, 12 bottles available, $65.98 +tax
La Ca’ Nova Barbaresco Montefico Vigna Bric Mentina 2017. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 18 bottles available, $67.98 +tax
La Ca’ Nova Barbaresco Montestefano 2017. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 18 bottles available, $67.98 +tax
Coming Soon: Bordeaux and Rhone offers!!