Monthly Archives: January 2014

A very balanced and complex brunello with intense crescendo

Uccelliera, which means bird cage in Italian, is an estate that has been on the rise for quite some time now in Montalcino and is headed by Andrea Cortonesi.
This wine is made of grapes from different parcels of vineyards with mainly south-east exposition in Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the very south of the Montalcino area. The soil in these steep hills varies among sandy clay, lime stone, gravel and schist as well as Galestro and Alberese, the special marls from this site, so by vinifying the parcels separately, Andrea can make the perfect combination for the vintage. A legendary estate, Poggio di Sotto, whose wine we adore, is his neighbour in this area and take advantage of the same blending of parcels. The grape juice undergoes cold soak (the Burgundish-style pre-maceration at low temperatures to extract colour and more aromas) for a few days followed by 3-4 weeks of maceration. The wine for the riserva ages for 3-4 years in a combination of Slavonian big, neutral oak and French barriques depending on the vintage. It stays in bottle for another 18 months before released to the market.

The 2004 vintage is ideal with a cooler late summer period until harvest without issues and yields were higher than usual. It was relatively easy to harvest evenly ripe grapes and rendered wines with exceptional balance/harmony, detail and complexity for those producers who employed scrupulous selection in the vineyard.

2004 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Colour is very dark red, almost black with scarlet-orange edges. Immediately after opening this wine and giving it a swirl, distinct worn leather, savoury notes and asphalt leaves the glass. Then it changes again and very pure and fresh dark fruit as well as inner, very deep perfume emerges as top notes and then the base is filled up with tar, oil paint, warm herbs, clove, very complex, slightly burned lime minerals, saline mushrooms, eucalyptus and cigar box. An extremely fresh, broad-spanning and lovely nose indeed with a lot complexity, elegance and deep inner perfume.
Then after two hour of decanting, the energetic, very grape-peel-balsamic acidity settles down and then impressively deep, pure layers of rich, opulent and very ripe black fruit gets through. In addition, the rich mid palate offers distinct anise, fresh herbs and loads of complex, burned lime minerals. It is dense, offers fantastic concentration and powerful building structure, but it is not heavy. This is a full-bodied and very persistent wine that grows into a beautiful crescendo of intense flavours and freshness in great harmony. Texture is velvety, almost silky, but with bite and tannins are chewy, ripe but gives the tongue some spur right now, so it needs to integrate just a little more.

Key words are purity, intensity, depth and balance. This is a great wine with fantastic nose that is worthy of exploring sacredly without even drinking. Ahh, what I love the delicacy of the brunello grape when it reveals its origins with this transparency and purity. Moreover, the wine is strangely seductively elegant too and Andrea obviously went easy on the oak in this vintage that only seems to lift and enhance the territorial aromas. The Uccelliera riserva of 2004 may not be in the same honest traditional division, but it is clearly not far behind the quality league where you find producers like Cerbaiona, Salvioni and Soldera. However, Andrea is pushing the modern school to the very edge here, so let’s hope he doesn’t fall over to dark side. Open 2015.


A skillful modernist with a great nose of Cannubi

Luciano Sandrone is usually referred to as a modernist, but ever since he was acknowledged by International critics back in the 90’s for his 1989 barolo, he has always been very skilled and careful with oak making sure that expression of Barolo is always conveyed and not coated by excessive oak aromas. Even though, Luciano always aimed for more approachable barolos, his maceration periods was not as extremely short as the others in the gang initiated by Elio Altare in the late 70’s. He started out with eight days and throught the years he has ended up with about twelve days. In addition, he never employed rotor fermentors, but always used open-top vats. At Sandrone, they put most of their effort into the vineyards and keep low controlled yields at 35 hl/ha and employ meticulous care of the plants; they prune hard and employ green harvest. The malo and aging was done in 500L french barriques (Tonneaux) of which 25% are new. So I guess you could say he stayed somewhere in between tradition and modernism, a middle road that many producers have ended up today. Maybe a little ahead of his time.

We were really impressed with the 2001 Cannubi-boschis and even more so with the exceptionally balanced 2004 vintage that offered so much depth, complexity and elegance from the neighbour to the famous Cannubi. The estate is headed by Luciano Sandrone and his very much younger little brother Luca who is responsible for the vineyards. Luciano’s daughter, Barbara, is responsible for customer relations, marketing and sale.
The 2009 vintage is patchy in a very warm, short-cycled year that is not favourable for nebbiolo, but harvest was easy and some producers still managed to render really good wines by waiting until tannins were ripe and more importantly employed scruples selection. It appears that Sandrone did harvest quite late, so this is promising.
The colour is beautiful, translucent garnet red middle, transparent and light-orange edges.
The base of the nose frames tobacco, cigar box, notes of tar, dry licorice-root, distinct conserved raspberries, oil paint and wood glue. Lovely top notes of dried rose petals, dry mint and fragrant fresh inner perfumes. Typical scent of the famous Cannubi site, but remarkably fresh and elegant with lovely inner perfume. In addition, tiny notes of lavender soap from the oak, but nothing that disturbs. Honestly, an overall wonderfully detailed and lovely, transparent nose.
The taste is very forward and intense with loads of opulent, ripe and almost too sweet fruit and most prominent is sourish wild strawberries. The mid palate offers distinct anise, grape juice, herbs, delicate, complex lime stone minerals and gravel. The acidity is very energetic, fresh wrapping grape-peel, balsamic notes and bitter herbs. Texture is fine sand now, but will of course improve with time into a more velvet finish in a few years. However, we lack chewy tannins and these are maybe not unripe, but not of the expected high quality level and yet a little harsh. The wine has a medium body, it is round, very well balanced with a pleasant and harmonious crescendo in the quite persistent final.
They show, again, that they are very skillful and careful with oak and render a very round, balanced wine made with finesse and the nose is really great and transparent to this famous site. However, the taste lacks some complexity and depth that we expect from this wine, so even though we enjoy it, it is a little of a disappointment from yet a good but average vintage. Open 2016.


Piedmont Trip 2013: A very Burgundish estate in Barbaresco

The Sottimano estate was founded in 1974 by Maggiore Sottimano, and is currently run by Mr. Rino Sottimano together with his son Andrea and his daughter Elena. We visit the estate in November last year and met with Elena and Rino Sottimano.

Elena and Rino Sottimano
Sottimano has to be categorised as modern in Barbaresco, but it is in a very Burgundish way meaning mainly that they are skillfully using french barriques and keeping very low controlled yields in the vineyard. The vineyards are kept organically with grass growing between the vine rows. After gentle pressing, alcoholic fermentation in steel, they move the grape juice into barriques of which 25% are new for the malo and then it ages on the lees for 18-20 months in 1-6 year old barriquesThe same applies to all the barbaresci wines. Maceration has recently been extended a little up to 24 days. They tailor their wood at the french company Francois Frères (Tonnellerie) for each vineyard, since they strongly believe that this is necessary to reach perfection in terms of elegance and still be transparent to the expression of the soil. A serious handcrafting with oak is employed aiming to avoid adding little flavours from oak to the wine. No filtering or fining is carried out. They make three barbaresci from vineyards south-west of the town of Neive: Cottà, Fausoni, Curra and since 2001 they produce one langhe nebbiolo from the young Basarin. In addition, one barbaresco is made from the Pajoré in Treiso, in the south of the Barbaresco area. It is the best vineyard from Treiso and famous in the area especially for the work of Enrico Giovannini-Moresco back in the 70’s, who was a pioneer with insane low yields in Piedmont at the time.

All in-all five barbaresci including a riserva that is a blend of a selection from grapes from Cottà and Pajoré. In addition, they produce a barbera too from Pairolero, a dolchetto from Bric del Saito and a brachetto from Mate.
Elena and Andreas in the cellar

We have previously been impressed with the freshness, roundness and elegance of Sottimano wines from the 2006 and 2008 vintages. The wines are usually relatively quiet and careful in their youth and handcrafted to perfection. The average quality level also seems to be very high, making the Sottimano wines a “safe buy”. When we ask Rino about which expression he wants in his wines he says that their focus is on finding the right balance between elegance and structure, but without being powerfully heavy. Rino quickly adds “You should want to finish the bottle” with a smile, as a way of describing it in a more obvious and simple manner.

We discuss the vintage 2010 and Elena explains that even though there was some rain causing issues close to the late harvest for some producers, mainly in Barbaresco, they were lucky here in Neive but also in Treiso. Actually, she thinks the rain was good for them, since it was quite dry at the time. She thinks it is a great vintage with its very slow ripening for nebbiolo and all their wines turned out really well. They started harvesting nebbiolo in mid October beginning with Fausoni.

Notes from our tasting 

2012 Dolcetto Bric del Saito

Color: Scarlet, light purple edges
NoseClassical dolcetto notes, cherries, red fruit, fragrant and fresh. 
TasteThe acidity is quite soft for a Dolcetto, and there is an abundance of fresh red fruit.

It is fresh, soft and full of fruit, but quite short.


2011 Barbera Pairolero

A really good year for barbera that does best in warmer years.

Color: Dark purple red with deep red purple edges.
NoseNice fruity nose which is not too sharp. Deep, both red and dark fruit, some floral notes and hints of grape and peach. Quite complex nose. 
Taste: Full bodied and round. Very energetic and with a balsamic acidity. Fresh, ripe and quite deep fruit. 

This is a very good Barbera which is very generous but also offers elegance and good balance. This was definitely a positive surprise.


2011 Langhe Nebbiolo

The grapes are from the Basarin vineyard, but since the vines are quite young (15-20 years) they are not used in order to produce a Barbaresco yet. The soil in the vineyard is clay, brown and compact. The wine is stored 12 months in barriques of which 25% are new.

Color: Garnet red, light orange edges.
Nose: Perfumes, generous with raspberries and other red fruit, some herbs, marzipan, mint, rose petals and delicately fragrant. 
Taste: Fresh and cool acidity, ripe and clean red fruit, blood orange, grape, gravel. Acidity is freshly balsamic. Texture is fine sandy and tannins are relatively soft and of good quality.

This is a very approachable Nebbiolo which can be described as seductive with its freshness and fruit. As expected with relatively young vines it lacks complexity. Drink now.


2010 Barbaresco Fausoni 

The vines in the very small Fausoni vineyard is a south west-facing vineyard in Neive planted in 1970The soil here is predominantly limestone and clay, with streaks of sand.

Color: Garnet red, light-orange edges.
Nose: Very closed and quiet at the time, but there are fragrant notes in here; peons, red flowers, raspberries and also some eucalyptus. We hope it will open up and reveal more with time.
TasteExtremely fresh wine with good, but still a bit sharp, acidity. The mid palate offers boysenberries, peach, menthol, grape juice, orange peel, leather, some gravel and fine minerals. The texture is not silky yet and tannins are just a bit dry and harsh at the moment.

This is clearly now a very, very quiet, shy wine that needs more time before it opens up and get better integrated, but the quality seems good and it is complex, probably the softest wine of them all and delicately floral, so we expect it to be just a question of time… A fair guess is to wait until 2017.


2010 Barbaresco Cottá 

The vines in the Cottá vineyard is 45-55 year old. Soil contains a lot of lime stone here and some clay.

Color: Garnet light red, transparent edges.
Nose: This wine is much more open and fruity than the Fausoni. There are many layers of fruit and we also notice some glue, fragrant notes, red flowers, perfumed, some minerals and it is quite balsamic. This is stylish and complex.
Taste: Incredibly balsamic and the mid palate offers very pure darker fruit, orange peel, mint, anise, lots of limestone minerals and some tar. Clear, energetic acidity which will develop nicely. Good structure and body is slim. Fine sandy texture and tannins are chewy, but a little hard now.

This is already a good wine fresh and fresh, energetic acidity that we expect it to develop nicely over the coming years. This is a very clean, smooth wine with feather-weightless power and building structure that offers some depth and has the potential to be quite elegant with time. A little more fruitier than the others. Open 2017.


2010 Barbaresco Pajoré

The vines are 50-60 years old and it is situated at 420 meter altitude. Pajoré is the top vineyard in Treiso in the Barbaresco area and the soil contains more limestone than calcareous clay and it is very poor. We drank this bottle twice; the second time the day after it was opened, but not decanted. For the vintage that offered both an unusually prolonged, cool growing-cycle that is desirable for nebbiolo and a much rain late right before harvest this vineyard was the one that excelled this year and did not end up having tendencies of being thin, diluted.

NoseThis wine has a very seductive nose. It is fresh with a lot of cut flowers and inner perfume in here that emerges from the glass. Then it continues with exotic spicessome tar, nutmeg, wild strawberries, ethereal, even hints of tobacco, and some cherries in the background. The second day the wine added dark fruits and there where hints of black current, solvent, and it offered more depth.
Taste: Very cool, fresh and very ripe (not sweet) fruit; prominent are wild strawberries and raspberries. Moreover, the mid palate offers tar, leather, some orange, menthol, fresh herbs, very clear balsamic notes, vibrating minerals and some tobacco. Structure is a little more powerful than expected, fruit is a little intense and it is quite persistent. The texture is fine sandy and the tannins are a bit softer, rounder and maybe riper than in the Cottá but still needs some more time to settle. The complexity of the wine increased a lot the second day as well as the freshness once the saline acidity has calmed down tremendously.

It may lack some complexity now, but it is impressively balanced, offers really good concentration, high-quality tannins and its mineral-balsamic freshness is fantastic. Great wine that offers both finesse, details and structure at the same time that we expect to develop really well. Open 2016.


2009 Barbaresco Currá

We did drink this wine twice, where the second time was one day after it was opened. The vines are 45 years old. Elena tells us that this is the nose of Neive, with the herbs and eucalyptus.

Nose: Wood glue, ethereal notes, dry raspberries, quite ripe strawberries, mint, nutmeg, subtle herbs, some smoke, water-on-stone, ethereal. Very complex, broad-spanning and fresh nose!
Taste: Super-balsamic acidity that wraps cool and fresh fruit, orange, some tobacco and white pepper. Medium bodied with quite intense flavors and many deep layers of fruit. Texture is sandy now and tannins are firm, but obviously of very good quality and they have silk potential. Almost full-bodied, great concentration and offers some building power to the quite long final.

The second day, we tasted the same bottle and it had opened up more and actually the depth and complexity had improved a lot. This was our favourite wine in the Sottimano line-up, especially because of the overall combination of complexity, depth, richness and freshness. It may be that the vintage was more ready too of course, since 2009 is a warm, early approachable vintage. Obviously the bigger, deeper and more structured wine in the line-up. We guess opening this in 2015, even though the vintage suggests an early drinking window.



Sottimano continues to deliver elegant wines that are as always a bit quiet and very delicate in the beginning, but with personality. The base level is impressively high which is a good sign of a quality producer. They are very skillful with small oak barrels in a very good way and steer clear of producing wines where oak is dominating and in stead render wines that are round, elegant and are transparently expressing the characteristics of Barbaresco. In addition, we had the chance to experience the 2010 vintage that appears so unusually balanced in most parts of langhe, where the rain was not an issue.

The last mohican of traditionally made Barolos

© Terroir wine bar, New York
Bartolo Mascarello, who left us in 2005, was the guerrilla warfare rebel or as he used to call himself, “the last of the mohicans”, when it came to protecting traditional methods that render honest wines without making any comprises to any international markets. He is most famous for having the special designed label “No barrique, no Berlusconi” on his bottles making it absolutely clear that he hated barriques and was not the least in favour of Berlusconi’s politics. Two great evils in his world. A stubborn man of old school barolos that opposed any unnatural addition to wine making or adaptions in tough vintages. A truly honest estate that with pride celebrates the unique and great expression of the nebbiolo grape from Barolo. Yes, we are absolutely true fans.

Moreover, on Manhattan there is a wine bar that sells t-shirts with a red framing of him that resembles Che Guevara, see the figure. In addition, Bartolo refused to make single vineyard wines when required by the market back in the late 70’s, since he strongly believed that since no vineyard is great every year, blending renders the best and most consistent possible barolo every vintage. Their barolo is a blend of grapes originating from the vineyards; Rocche dell’Annunziata, Cannubi-San Lorenzo and Rue.

Today Bartolo’s daughter Maria-Theresa heads the estate with the help of enologist Alessandro Bovio and everything continues in the same great fashion according to her father’s principles as it always has which means that they still use cement vats for fermentation without any temperature control, traditionally long maceration with sub-merged caps and age their wines only in neutral, big barrels (botte). When we visited them a few years ago, we understood that no old equipment and tools are replaced if unnecessary, but I think the key is that everything is kept clean in the cellar and focus is on the vineyards with quite a hands-off approach in the cellar.

The 2006 vintage is classic and was quite warm during first part of summer, but luckily in late August and September a cooler period emerged that offered the preferable slower ripening for nebbiolo. It is very much on the heavier side with great concentration, powerful structure and with a lot of promising energetic acidity as well as aromatics. It certainly needs considerable time to settle and peak.

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2006

Make sure to air this wine for at least three-four hours in a decanter, but follow the wine if you can. The immediate nose puts me in a very fresh and balsamic herbs garden. The typical seductive fragrant roses follows, but here they are very seductive and intense, and of course tar. Moreover, the base offers saline mushrooms, dry oil paint, some glue, licorice, leather jacket, very intense, vibrant minerals, distinct conserved raspberry and complex, fresh fruit of which blackberry is the most prominent. The nose is so complex, seductively fresh and deep that you just want to sit and discover it further for a while.

After giving it 3.5 hours of airing in a decanter, the today somewhat gnarly and energetic acidity calms down tremendously and then you can taste really pure and deep layers of fruit. Furthermore, the mid palate offers grape-peel, shale, dry licorice-root, fennel and very balsamic herbs. Texture is fine sandy, unexpectedly almost silky, and the quality of the tannins are ripe and pleasantly chewy. Concentration is impressive, structure is weightlessly of medium power, body is on the slim side and it is very persistent. The only tiny remark is the little austere tone in the end, but I think this is will go away with time. And again, Mascarello makes it clear that harsh, hard tannins should never be associated with traditionally made barolos. In fact, they are very approachable already at this stage. I am pretty sure that they harvested relatively early this year and still rendered these very ripe tannins, but could explain the approachability somewhat.

After a really impressive and complex nose, the overall impression is that this is a fantastically detailed and balanced wine even though it is still a baby, offering depth and purity of fruit with a rare concentration and elegance. Open 2017.