In 2019, Roberto Conterno released only one Barolo, the Cerretta from Serralunga d'Alba. Arione and Vigna Francia will be put into the Riserva Monfortino for later release. Though also located in Serralunga, Cerretta shares a soil composition reminiscent of what's found across the valley in La Morra, where more elegant and less statuesque Barolos are commonly seen. The 2019 has bright red and black fruits with incredible focus, delineation, and a crystalline sense of purity that I love.
The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings. If one producer was tied to this moniker, it's undoubtedly Barolo's Roberto Conterno. From Giacomo to Giovanni to Roberto, this estate has been the standard bearer for the grandest wines in Italy—Nebbiolo from Serralunga d'Alba.
Visiting with Roberto in November 2012 offered a glimpse into the genius behind his quiet and reserved exterior. Conterno's immaculate cellar and eye for detail, specifically with cleanliness, are unlike anything I've seen in person. The methods here are traditional through and through. Still, one could point to vineyard practices as relatively modern, with a reliance on coaxing maximum ripeness from vines—I find this to be a massive element in why the dark and tannic Nebbiolo of Serralunga's terroir exudes so much charm when poured.
Purchased in 1974 by Giovanni Conterno, the flagship Francia is about the melding of power and finesse. Arione debuted in 2015, and now, with four releases under the stewardship of Roberto, we get to see even darker and more intense Serralunga terroir, where iron-tinged minerality meets lavender, orange peel, and menthol.
The 2016 vintage in Piedmont doesn't need an introduction, but the name Piero Busso might. Among the perfect vintage's success stories, Piero's Barbaresco from the Gallina cru has it all. The famous vineyard from Nieve is likely better known for Bruno Giacosa and Luca Roagna. Still, Piero's expression floored us for its immediacy yet age-worthy structure.
This Gallina is all about perfume and bright aromatics, like the best 2016s show in spades. On the palate, a thrilling concentration of red berries with mint have loads of gripping intensity, and the finish is classic Barbaresco with that more dusty minerality finely woven through, compared to Barolo's broader tannic personality.
A sense of grace and understated elegance jumps out of the glass. When we all tried our first sip in San Diego, we looked at each other and knew the obvious greatness captured in this 2016 rendition. While Piero Busso and his Gallina Barbaresco are always a match made in heaven, this exceptional vintage is drinking beautifully right now with so much upside in the cellar.
Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist following family techniques used since the early and mid-1900s. With long macerations on the skins aging in large botti, the results are powerfully deep Baroli met with precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course, Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.The Giuseppe Rinaldi wines first appeared in 1921, though, it was during Beppe's lifetime that the world's attention turned toward Piedmont—Beppe's spirit is more immortalized than the legendary wines he produced. Sadly, he passed away in 2018, but he had several years to see his daughters, Marta and Carlotta, continue to raise the bar.
I visited the Rinaldi cantina just before harvest in 2012. It was nothing short of a privilege to meet the Rinaldi family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010s still in botti. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today, and I was thrilled to work with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate.
Paolo Bea is most famous for its wildly interesting take on Montefalco's Sagrantino red grape variety, but today, I’d like to pivot to their orange wines. Paolo's son, Giampiero, was one of the first naturalists in Italy to adopt the practices of Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon (the Friulian winemakers who repopularized the ancient-old tradition of fermenting white grapes on their skins). Today, Bea’s Arboreus is considered a benchmark in the world of orange wine, and it has a fascinating backstory.
These Trebbiano Spoletino vines were planted below oak trees on the Paolo Bea estate over 120 years ago and have completely wrapped themselves around the trees (Hence the name Arboreus). Once harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes ferment on the skins for several weeks and spend a minimum of two years on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Gravner and Radikon produce the most concentrated, structured examples of orange wine you’ll come across and are undoubtedly the pinnacles in this category. I more often gravitate toward Paolo Bea's style, though. Arboreus has that same deep amber hue, golden stone fruit showing apricot and yellow plum, powerful tannins—but with an added streak of freshness that balances its other components. Note: This is a great food wine with the tannins to take one heavier foods than typical whites (Lamb kabobs and saffron rice were on my mind when we tasted this).
If you prefer your orange wines, well, less orange-y, consider Lapideus. The grape variety, soil type, and winemaking are the same as Arboreus (same skin-contact and élevage regimen). Except, these 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino vines, trained in the traditional cordon method, grow in a cooler microclimate, resulting in a leaner, more acid-driven orange wine. Paolo Bea provides a counterpoint to the argument that this style of wine can’t be terroir-driven! There are also Monastero Suore Cistercensi’s orange wines, Coenobium and Ruscum, as value-driven options. Based in Lazio, these wines are farmed and produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order, with some guidance from Giampiero.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Giampiero's interview with Sprudge Wine, which includes a photo of those stunning Arboreus vines. If you are a skin-contact fanatic, like me, Paolo Bea is a must-try, as these were the among the defining wines for what's now a booming category.
Many have sought to express this distinct terroir from the eastern slope of the volcano, but one family is most synonymous with the greatest heights it has achieved. Etna doesn't have a classification system to rank estates or vineyards like Bordeaux and Burgundy, but if there was one Grand Cru white from these volcanic slopes perched over the Mediterranean, it would surely be Benanti's Pietra Marina.
Sourced from 80-year-old vines, Pietra Marina showcases Carricante at its most structured and age-worthy. While salinity is a hallmark of this grape variety, the defining element here is a tightly wrapped core of citrus, orange peel, and almond. There's a frame and touch of austerity to Pietra Marina that shows a discipline worlds apart from the more oxidative and plush style of wine commonly found in Milo. In the end, it's the vein of minerality and grip that appropriately put this benchmark bottling on the table with top Chablis and Burgundy.
Benanti's story began in the 1800s, but it was in 1988 that the estate began to garner fame. Giuseppe re-examined and questioned every aspect of Benanti's viticulture and winemaking, challenging conventional wisdom on clones and their compatibility in each parcel. Aging in stainless steel is a crucial element in keeping this southerly white wine so fresh and crisp. But make no mistake—it's these same qualities that give Pietra Marina its backbone to age in your cellar for many years to come.