In Barolo, a dividing line of style and philosophy is still firmly planted between the modernist and the traditionalist. And then there's Giovanni Canonica. Although his approach is rooted in traditional methods in the cellar, the wines produced at this tiny estate are truly singular expressions of Nebbiolo. Upon first pour it's clear the aromatic profile, supple tannins, and ultra-pure fruit sits very much outside the box of what's the norm in Piedmont.

With less than 2 hectares under vine, Canonica Baroli are known for their elusiveness as much as for their transparency and outrageously vivid perfume. I'm very happy today to finally have sufficient quantity to offer a 3-vintage vertical of the Paiagallo single vineyard Barolo, as well as the Grinzane Cavour, a Keyser Söze-esque mystery within Barolo cuvées.

Canonica's vines sit at 400 meters, above the town of Barolo. This western commune within the greater Barolo region shows the more ethereal side of Nebbiolo vs. examples from eastern communes like Monforte and Serralunga. The younger Tortonian soils of Barolo, comprised of higher percentages of sand and clay, differ drastically from the eastern valley's Helvetian soils rich in sandstone. The lighter and more velvety qualities of the former is illustrated perfectly in Canonica's wines.

Barolo neighbors, Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi also have a vineyard-first mentality, employ long macerations in the cellar, and age in large Slavonian botti. But, Canonica's style is one that takes cues from these legendary figures and heightens the pitch of the black cherry fruit while doubling down on the florality. If Nebbiolo's calling card is tar and roses, then Canonica seems intent on displaying the rose descriptor with high definition focus. 

The first time I tasted Paiagallo (after swirling and sniffing for an eternity), what jumped out was that the customarily tannic Nebbiolo varietal was shown with a much softer and elegant tone. Vinification may be staunchly traditional in nature, but this higher altitude site puts forth a Barolo that is more defined by its grace and open-inviting nature than by monolithic structure.

Menthol, sage, cinnamon, and tobacco are all fair tasting notes to gush over, but this is, above all, an unadulterated fruit-forward expression of Barolo. And the sweetness of Nebbiolo is only realized through methodical organic viticulture, rather than via modern winemaking gadgets or new oak influence.

Piedmont authority, Antonio Galloni of Vinous always drives Barolo down to its essence:

"Giovanni Canonica works out of a tiny, cramped cellar in the heart of Barolo. Canonica's Barolos reflect artisan values that are increasingly rare in Piedmont. The production is tiny and sells out immediately. Readers who can find these traditionally made wines should not hesitate, as they are full of character and well worth the effort of tracking down."

2011 Canonica Barolo Paiagallo

$139 per bottle.

2012 Canonica Barolo Paiagallo
$139 per bottle.

2013 Canonica Barolo Paiagallo
$139 per bottle.

2013 Canonica Barolo Grinzane Cavour (Pre-Arrival)
$229 per bottle.
From the rare "Rose" clone. 50+yr-old vines in the Grinzane Cavour commune.