• Catching Fire: 2018 G.D. Vajra Barolo

    Catching Fire: 2018 G.D. Vajra Barolo

    G.D. Vajra has been on fire. In the case of Vajra's contemporaries, like Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi, their wines are nearly impossible to source (That being said, a small portion of 2018 Rinaldi Baroli just landed). The Vajra wines stand at a perfect intersection between the two styles. Aldo Vaira has called the estate "the most modern of the traditionalists and the most traditional of the modernists."

    Bricco delle Viole is among the great insider wines of Barolo. Planted in 1949, the name refers to the abundance of violets (viole) that appear here each spring and the ridge (bricco) where the vineyard lies. The soil is composed of a Tortonian mix of limestone and clay. Because the porous and rocky soil here does not hold very much heat, harvest often takes place two weeks after other vineyards in Barolo.

    Aldo and Milena Vaira bottled their first vintage in 1978 from vineyards planted by Aldo's father in 1948. Vajra's vineyards sit at the highest elevation in the commune of Barolo. From the start, they were heavily influenced by their neighbors, Bartolo Mascarello and Beppe Rinaldi, down the hill.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Cortese with Teeth: La Ghibellina

    Cortese with Teeth: La Ghibellina

    Situated 50 miles east of Piedmont, Gavi is home to the Cortese grape, known for its Chablis-like minerality and, in most cases, its mass-produced, innocuous character. There's nothing wrong with wines that bring pleasure from their more refreshing, gulp-able traits. I hadn't had an aha moment with Gavi where my eyes lit up, but that changed when introduced to La Ghibellina.

    La Ghibellina's 20 hectares of vines sit on a bedrock of limestone tucked between the Po River Valley and the Ligurian Apennines mountain range. These elements play a vital role in the wine, resulting in gripping salinity that's rare for Cortese. Here, Cortese's white flower and citrus finish with terrific crushed rock and oyster shell notes, and this exuberant disposition is an amplified version of the norm in Gavi.

    The couple behind the estate, Alberto and Marina Ghibellina, come from very different backgrounds. Alberto was a water polo player who medaled at the Olympics, and Marina was an art history student. Their passion for wine and Marina's family's roots in the region landed them at this property. The first vintage was in 2000, and from the start, they've been fortunate to work with celebrated enologist Beppe Caviola.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • The Main Event: Vietti Cru Baroli

    The Main Event: Vietti Cru Baroli

    Vietti's Luca Currado works tirelessly to continually improve the quality of his wines and Barolo's reputation as a whole, and the 2018 vintage proved no different. Antonio Galloni wrote in his 2018 Barolo report how this was "the most erratic, frustratingly inconsistent Barolo vintage" that he has encountered in his career. Still, Vietti's Baroli were standouts from the region, and the 2018 Castiglione, Lazzarito, and Ravera earned glowing reviews, as you'll see below.

    Aside from being a banner year in Piedmont, 2013 cemented a shift in Currado's philosophy—now, the Baroli lineup is nearly exclusively aged in large format botti as opposed to small French barrique. (The Ravera was the first bottling to undergo this change in 2010, and the powerful Villero was the last in the range to do so in 2013).

    Many consider Vietti to have one foot in the traditional camp and one foot in the modern camp. In addition to aging in botti, the Baroli see long skin macerations (a requisite for the traditional category). If one aspect leans modern, it's their vineyard work, which is about keeping yields low and doing everything in their power by natural means to push ripeness higher.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Barolo's Royal Family: 1967-2019 Giuseppe Rinaldi

    Barolo's Royal Family: 1967-2019 Giuseppe Rinaldi

    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.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Barbaresco Benchmark: 2018 Produttori del Barbaresco

    Barbaresco Benchmark: 2018 Produttori del Barbaresco

    There's no winery in Piedmont, or perhaps the world, which exemplifies the spirit of collective contribution quite like Produttori del Barbaresco. While the single-vineyard Barbarescos garner much of the fame, the blended Barbaresco has proven to be one of the world's great values in cellar-worthy wine.

    51 growers are behind the production here, covering nine great single-vineyard Barbarescos: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo. These prized Barbarescos are only produced when each one meets the highest standards, truly reflecting this band of brothers. Should one vineyard not make the cut, then no single-vineyard wines are produced that year.

    The Langhe Nebbiolo is the entry-level wine offering immediate accessibility, and the straight Barbaresco is made each year comprised of grapes within the DOCG zone. For me, the latter is the benchmark bottling of the region, offering a value that consistently delivers well above its price point. The rigorous standards are as strong as ever.

    Headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba, Domizio Cavazza, first created the cooperative in 1894, pulling together nine vineyard owners and bottling their wines in his castle. Before then, their grapes had been sold off to Barolo producers or labeled "Nebbiolo di Barbaresco." The Cantine Sociali closed in the 1930s due to the economic restrictions of fascism. Then, in 1958, Barbaresco's priest regathered nineteen growers, knowing the only chance at prosperity was to form as one, and the Produttori del Barbaresco as we know it was founded.

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    Posted by Max Kogod