Tag Archives: Francia

Piedmont-Trip 2015: A 3rd visit to Roberto Conterno (G. Conterno)

It is the 28th of May this year and sun is shining this morning. As usual I meet up with Roberto Conterno’s assistant Stephanie, who except for helping him with basically everything, also works as his translator. For a more complete description of the estate and their wines please refer to a former visit here.

Suddenly, Roberto walks into the tasting room, welcomes me with a firm handshake and a big smile. You have been here before, he says. Yes, I reply. Actually, It’s my 3rd time. Have you heard the news, Roberto says? I bought a new vineyard, Roberto says filled with exitement and content! I have had my eyes on it for a very, very long time, but I was still lucky when it was offered for sale. It is the Arione vineyard just below Francia (Roberto’s monopoly bought by his father Giovanni in 1974), he says and swiftly brings out a map of Serralunga d’Alba. It is down here in a very small amphie theater with perfect south and slightly south-west exposure just inside the border of the Barolo area, he says pointing on the map in the south-east corner. I know it has great potential, because I have been investigating the terroir for quite some time. It is not well known, but I know it will produce great wines. We discuss its different exposition and I learn that Gigi Rosso is the former owner. See the maps below on the vineyard. Roberto acquired 6 ha planted area in March which is almost the whole vineyard. 3.1 ha with nebbiolo suited for Barolo, 1 ha for simpler nebbiolo d’Alba and 1 ha of barbera.


The Barolo area with famous towns in blue circles


Francia (red) and Arione (blue)

Old roots too, I ask him? Stephanie quickly translates into Italian. Yes, mostly planted in the 60’s and 80’s, so it is an advantage, but there is also a lot that needs to be replanted too so it will take a while until it is up to game. He has done this before with Cerretta that he bought in 2008 and now is a Barolo at his standard. He continues; it is actually a continuation of the Francia vineyard and it is a very beautiful area. As you know,  he says, Francia starts off facing west and slightly turns south-west in its southern part right before stepping into Arione. Altitude in Arione falls from the road 435 m downwards to 350, so it is steep. If you stand at the top by the farm house (cascina Arione), you would see that it is basically two parts leaning downwards to the middle road there on each side. Is the soil different too, I ask? It is very similar to Francia, he says. Some more sand especially in the eastern part, but exposure is what really differs it from Francia.

Last time I was here, it was a lot of reconstruction going on outside and as I mention this, Roberto says that finally things are in their places and that he is pleased with the new extended cellar space. Before making the usual and immediate left turn down the stairs to the cellars, he walks straight to a big machine in the bottling room. Let me show you another new thing, he says. Here is my new bottling machine. It is fantastic! It is an ingenious engineering piece of art.


The brand new high-tech bottling machine

The bottling machine from local company GAI does everything automatically from cleaning, de-airing, filling, corking and labelling 3,000 bottles per hour. It even screens and detects bad corks as well as checks that they are sealed properly. Halleluja. Besides making bottling easy and fast it is done with remarkable precision that no human is capable of he assures me. Everything is easily configured and controlled from a user’s panel developed by Schneider-Electric who also helps GAI with the control system. It is a misconception that I am not fond of great technology Roberto says. Being an engineer professionally, but visiting mainly for experiencing the wines, I can still agree with him that technology at this level where everything is carefully engineered with accurate precision but still with the user in mind, is always impressive.

After inspecting the bottling machine, I ask about this year’s vintage. Roberto, says that flowering is one week ahead now this last week of May and that the 1st week of June is normal. May has been quite warm with very short showering rains. Even flowering, I ask? Roberto says it is ok, not perfect, and about 40% is flowering already now.

NextDSC04135 we do the usual cellar tour. On the way down, Robert explains that because of the acquisition of Arione, he really need to make room for more production. Do you remember that my Austrian vats (The mobile wooden open top vats from Franz Stockinger in Austria used for fermentation) used to be here? Now they have been moved to a new room over here, he says while walking me to the other room pointing them out.

Shall we start with 2013 Barbera Roberto suddenly asks me and I nod positively. The 2013 vintage is a cold vintage that was saved by a warm summer, but went very cold in September until mid October and suffered from rain just two weeks before harvest that caused dilution in some parts. However, fruit was fine for those who were lucky and prepared their vines well and so far it resembles the 2005 vintage, but maybe with better tannins.


2013 Barbera Francia

1,600 polyphenols [mg/l] in here he adds which is a measurement of the amount of tannins. It should be > 1,000, so here is plenty. Most importantly, the tannins are ripe.

A very deep, fine and dark scent with fine minerals.

Really good balance already and fine texture. Dark cherries infused with rocks and chalky minerals. Fine structure and high level of balsamic acidity.


2013 Barbera Cerretta

More earthy and underbrush tone in here. Herbs, tea bush and notes of leather. Fresh. Moving to the palate, there is obviously more fruit in here and I am surprised that is so good now. Great precision already this young and quite large body too. Tannins are thicker than in Francia, but insanely ripe. Complex darker fruit, gravel and crushed stone at this stage.


2005 Barbera Francia

Roberto, insists that I taste a mature and well integrated Barbera so I clearly see where it is going. Very mature and well developed. Suddenly a big and very subtle perfume with a wide spanning nose of details.

High precision and impressive balance indeed. Drier fruit. Leather. Well integrated Barbera indeed and with super-fresh acidity. Full-bodied, generous. Underbrush, forest floor, minerals. Quite persistent too. No dilution due to the rain that some vintners suffered from this vintage, but rather good concentration.


He smiles when he notice my satisfaction with this wine. Now he gets serious and says; shall we try the 2011 Baroli? Hmm, yes, absolutely.

2011 Barolo Francia

No Monfortino was made in this year.

When I comment on that I think this is better than anticipated, especially the tannins, Roberto quickly nods and says that he absolutely agrees. He says that it has just started to close down some, but it will be opening up again in four years. Roberto says September was very warm, but it is a very approachable and good vintage.

A very, very approachable, forward and pretty nose with precision and lots of seductive flowers. On the palate, fruit is very forward, but still with great balance and high quality acidity. Tannins are still just a little edgy, but ripe and thick as usual. Roberto says that they will most likely not improve much, but they were still inside the ripening window that is they are not anywhere near green, but barely when he needed to pick to preserve the acidity and avoid excessive sugars.


2011 Barolo Cerretta

Roberto says that this is bottled in two weeks from now. I comment on that it has really gone far from the first bottling from this vineyard in 2008, when he acquired it. It was labelled as nebbiolo d’Alba until 2009, but from the 2010 vintage it is sold as Barolo. He reminds me that 2008 suffered from hail, grapes were too uneven even after hard selection and the vineyard was far from ready yet back then. It actually improved faster than he anticipated really. However it is a young vineyard with about 20 year-old vines.

Some autumn leaves emerges from the glass, morning dew, underbrush, stones,. Incredibly complex, earthy scent. Very forward with a slightly more masculine and saline perfume. On the palate, very much herbs, stone, gravel, earthy notes and much dark fruit. Interesting development I must say.



Then he suddenly and calmly says; “the monfortino” ? This is the moment, the holy grail. Fortunately, I am able to compare the wines on a table this time as well as making notes easier too.

2008 Monfortino

Insanely graceful, beautiful and elegant perfume. Rose petals, some underbrush and so incredibly complex and assembled into a true unit that turns description almost pointless. Fantastico!

On the palate, precision is masterly as always, but its balance is even more impressive. Everything is in its place with perfectly cool, fresh balsamic acidity coated in chalky and crystalline minerals. The multiple-layered fruit is super-clean, ripe and without any sweetness, but genuine fruit aromas. Do I need to say that the tannins are ripe, but probably needs a number of years for perfection.


Roberto describes how the development-cycle was in fact a week longer than in 2010. He started harvest as late as on 30th of October and he remembers that it rained the day after, but he was lucky. No dilution or issues. A very cold September when temperature got as low as zero degrees at night simply stopped the growing-cycle for several days, which had him worried. Roberto says 2008 is so unique to him that he thinks it is more interesting than the 2010. After saying so I ask him about the 2010’s development knowing that he made more Monfortino in 2010 than ever before. He says that just some days prior to my visit, the 2010 behaved strangely; tannins were not developing correctly and was backward, but then suddenly steered into a really good direction again. Yes, he will make more Monfortino this time; about 55% more he thinks it was. It will most likely be released in 2017. He smiles and goes after some more sacred wine..

2010 Monfortino

The first sniff just makes me totally confident about its quality. A very beautiful, yet careful and graceful perfume filled with wonderful red flowers emerges from the glass. Ahh.. What a graceful beauty.

Incredibly pure and deeply layered red fruit and the precision and its perfect balance hallmarks the vintage, but goes beyond anything. Surprisingly, it is tremendously supple with already super-soft tannins and the acidity is just there lifting and refreshing everything. The wine trips elegantly with incredible precision and grace to the lingering finish. It is just a baby, but it will be the perfect wine!


The show is over for this time, but what a show this man can put on and it is just to start saving for Monfortinos. His wines really speaks for them selves too and I can once again confirm that the wines are world class that easily compares to the best Burgundies. As we return back to the tasting room, I shake his hand and tell him that I really appreciate his great work and thank him for his time. It doesn’t matter if some people thinks that Arione is only an average vineyard, with time Roberto will make wonders with it. I am sure.


I and Mr Roberto Conterno with Roberto’s father on the frame behind us

However, afterwards we make a fast tour to the vineyards. Unfortunately, Roberto himself couldn’t join this time due to another business meeting, but I have added some photos from my tour with Stephanie in his beautiful vineyards below.


The Francia vineyard



Stephanie and Roberto’s right-hand explains the canopy management to optimize for energy into the grapes


The Cerretta vineyard with its white clay






Both sides in Arione that lean towards the middle road. The left part is the eastern side that needs to be replanted a lot.


The right handside as seen from the top in Arione

Piedmont Trip 2013: Conterno – The great protector of tradition and terroir

The estate Giacomo Conterno is legendary in Piedmont and the estate has had a leading role in establishing Barolo on the map as one of the top wine regions in the world. However, still it is the modernist Gaja and legendary Bruno Giacosa who both are more well-known outside Piedmont. Roberto Conterno, who is the third generation vintner, were forced to take charge of the estate when his father Giovanni passed away in 2004, is a man of few words, but with power behind every statement. Since 1988, he had been working closely with his father so he was well educated for the task, but unprepared. Since the last time I was here I get the feeling that even though Roberto is proud of the family’s great wines, he apparently has a heavy legacy on his shoulders to continue on the path set up by his father and ensure its excellence. Amazingly, he appears to be doing most of the work himself, except sales and bookings. Two people in the staff seems to be working with importers and sales as well as one assistant, but there is one elderly man helping out in the vineyard too. Still it is a small team.


Roberto Conterno

The crown jewel in the estates production is the Monfortino which was first produced in 1920 by Roberto’s grandfather Giacomo shortly after returning from World War I. Actually, the estate was established in 1908 by Giovanni Conterno, grand father Giacomo’s father, but it was Giacomo, who realised his vision of making a really great Barolo for long ageing and supremacy. Monfortino was given its name to celebrate the town of Monforte d’Alba where is home to the Conterno family. At that time the grapes where bought from a selection of local farmers in the same fashion that Giacosa still does. This later changed during the 1970s when many of these growers started bottling their own wine. To solve this problem Roberto’s father acquired the complete Francia vineyard in 1974, a very steep vineyard with south-west exposition, very high altitude for freshness and soil suitable for longevity and since 1978 all grapes for the Monfortino comes from this vineyard.

The Monfortino is only produced in exceptional vintages and with the top selection of grapes.

In June 2008, the second time in the estates history, a vineyard was acquired and this time two sections in the Cerretta vineyard in Serralunga. About 2 ha of nebbiolo and 1 of barbera. Compared to Francia, it has less calcareous and more white clay. The wine from this vineyard has been sold as declassified Langhe Nebbiolo since then, but from the 2010 vintage Roberto has confirmed that the wine will be bottled as Barolo.

Suddenly, Roberto’s assistant, Stephanie, tells us that he is ready to receive us after a previous visit and we shake hands, he apologises for being a little late and we quickly move down for a tour in the cellar. Visits with Roberto is not what we would call informal and laid back, but Roberto is not the open type and apparently he has a tight schedule with multiple things to attend to all the time. Even though, Roberto obviously understands English he still keeps an assistant that translates everything back and forth. The cellar is impeccably clean as it was last time I was here for some vat tasting of the 2008’s about two years ago and there is still plenty of room down here among the big neutral, large 45-50 hl Slavonian and Austrian barrels.


The Austrian open top vats for fermentation on the skins

Roberto is especially satisfied with his wooden Austrian open vats used for maceration and alcoholic fermentation from Franz Stockinger that are both mobile and has a removable top as well if needed. Actually, he has in recent years exchanged old, used big Slavonian barrels with ones from Stockinger. The vinification process is adapted to the vintage but for the Monfortino they always use an uncontrolled fermentation at high temperature levels with open tops. The maceration period is up to about five weeks, but the exact length is dependent on the vintage and the grape juice is then stored in large oak casks for seven years or more. This produces wine with great structure, complexity and a very long life. Roberto explains that he makes the decision if he will produce a Monfortino during vinification and if it is not up to standard, he pours it into the Barolo casks. The Barolo from Francia undergoes 3-4 weeks of maceration with daily pumping over and/or submerged cap depending on vintage, temperature-controlled fermentation and shorter ageing in cask, typically four years.

Even though the open vats are great, it is in the vineyard the real magic takes place, Roberto assures us, when I ask him what is most important. Without high quality grapes, there is no quality wine no matter what vinification you use appears to be the obvious principle and we can only agree fully. Roberto keeps very high trellising system with his vines for, as he explains, get correct leaves-grapes ratio to optimise energy into the grapes and the rows are very wide to avoid shadowing. The Cerretta vineyard is very young planted in 1994, but in Francia many are much older and the youngest vines were planted in 2002. Moreover, he prunes his nebbiolo and barbera grapes differently but short to perfect ripeness and yields are controlled at about 25-30 hl/ha to achieve top quality. Grapes are harvested entirely by hand.

Back in the tasting room, Roberto offers us his two Barberas from 2011, the 2009 Barolo Cascina Francia and the sought-after 2006 Monfortino. Roberto tells us that the quality of tannins is the key for making great wine of nebbiolo and that is why he usually waits longer to harvest than many others. He explains that he is less focused on sugar levels, but chewing on the skin and seeds to determine when the tannins are ripe. “The tannins shall be ripe, not hard but chewy”, Roberto quickly adds “and the seeds shall be brown and taste wood”. And of course, this is the single most important reason he only use traditional, neutral wood, since new wood or barriques, except for adding non-terroir wood sensations, they add tannins that are not from the soil and the unique terroir of Langhe. Moreover, back in the late 1800 and first half of 20th Century, most farmers still picked very early in classic vintages with cooler temperatures, so the tannins would not be perfect ever and once the tannins had finally polymerised, the fruit had dried out long time ago. This became the vast opinion about barolos for along time as being undrinkable, harsh and dry, which never was the case with Conterno’s barolos. However, still the wines have never been made for early drinking, but to be perfected by slow ageing to be drinkable in two or three decades while stay alive and fresh for more than 50 in classic vintages. According to Roberto, all of this reached another quality level during Roberto’s father’s time at the estate.

The tasting

The line-up for our tasting

The vintage 2011 for barbera, that we are tasting today, Roberto explains, is great for this grape that does its best in warmer years and in this case it rendered more structure and complexity than usual, whereas nebbiolo gets its most classic expression in cooler years when the growing cycle is slower and the tannins may reach perfect ripeness very late, Roberto points out.

The 2009 vintage was far from ideal for nebbiolo and suffered from a too hot summer that endured into September causing precisely this undesired fast growing cycle as well as an early, patchy ripeness. However, by doing a ruthless selection in the vineyard, he rendered a really good result. The 2009 barolos were bottled in June this year and Roberto thinks that the 2009 vintage offers just a little less fruit, but more tannins compared to for example another warm year, 2007. He likes the more simpler early drinkable, but still quite impressive, 2009’s, but like 2007 it obviously did not have the classic expression of the terroir and quality for long ageing suitable for Monfortino. In the Cerretta, he thinks the vintage is even better than the more classic and in his opinion fantastic 2008. In Francia, it is the other way around and here the soil contains more minerals, whereas in the Cerretta, tannins and fruit dominate. We ask him about the somewhat unexpected coolness and freshness of the fruit in the warm 2009 vintage and his reply is that this is very much due to the altitude in Francia. In fact, the altitude reaches 420 meters above sea-level so this make sense and you can easily grasp that cool winds from the mountains at nights can build a lot of necessary fresh acidity.

2011 Barbera d’Alba Cerretta

The colour is very dark, crimson with light-light orange edges.

The nose is fresh, pure dark fruit; mainly dark cherries and plum. Some herbs and minerals.

The mid palate offers creamy, quite deep layers of black fruit (cherries, plum and blue berries), smoke, herbs, spices and complex minerals. Incredible concentration, the structure is quite big for a Barbera and it’s fat, rich and intense. Texture is fine sandy and tannins are thick and chewy. Acidity is energetic and needs to calm down further for a few years.

Right now this vineyard is a little more about earthy notes and loads of minerals, but we think in some years the vines will most likely produce more fruit. It is already an impressively deep, pure and overall balanced wine considering how young the vineyard is. Open 2015-2020.


2011 Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia

The colour is dark garnet red with light-purple edges.

Immediately deep, elegant perfumes and dried rose petals emerges from the glass. Incredibly fresh and ripe fruit. Very balsamic notes and some solvent and autumn leaves.

The palate offers deep, complex and very fresh layers of ripe black fruit. There is some shale here too, crushed stone and balsamic notes. A very energetic and very balsamic-fresh acidity. Quite weightlessly powerful but with slim structure and a lot of fine tuned, complex saline lime stone minerals. A slimmer, more fresh, a more balanced and much different expression of the two Barberas, that is really conveying the unique terroir of the Cascina Francia vineyard. Impressive depth, concentration and balance. Simply a fantastic Barbera. Open 2014-2025.


2009 Barolo Cascina Francia

The colour is dark ruby red with transparent edges.

Very deep, very fragrant, quite feminine, perfumes and dried rose petals emerges from the glass. Incredibly fresh and ripe fruit follows. Very balsamic and there are some complex autumn scents.

The mid palate offers impressively deep, complex and super-fresh layers of cool, very ripe and pure fruit; typically raspberry, cherries and wild strawberries. There is some shale here too, crushed stone, tiny grape-peel, some tar, dry licorice-root, mint and balsamic notes. A very fresh, balsamic acidity that is already quite integrated. Texture is fine sandy, almost silky already and tannins are thick and pleasingly chewy. Weightlessly powerful and with slim structure and a lot of fine tuned, complex little saline lime stone. A very approachable Barolo with a lot of complex aromas and great cool, fresh and ripe fruit indeed. This is a wine of impressive depth, concentration and balance as well as being incredibly persistent and very elegant at the same time. This year, all the grapes went into the barolo, since no Monfortino was made. Open 2017-2035.


2006 Barolo Monfortino

The colour is dark ruby red with orange edges.

Very deep, very fragrant top notes, feminine, perfumes and dried rose petals comes out of the glass. Incredibly fresh and ripe fruit. Very balsamic too and complex autumn scents at the base.

The mid palate offers impressively complex, super-fresh, breath-taking depth of cool, fresh and very ripe fruit. In addition, there is shale, some licorice-root, very balsamic, tiny notes of grape-peel, gravel, notes of tobacco and distinct minerals. The little saline, balsamic acidity is already well integrated with the tannins that are polished, ripe and chewy. From a vintage that is very powerful and tannic, it was a surprise how soft and polished they are already.

With this wine, everything gets up a notch and you grab for descriptive words like purity, insane balance, complexity, unbelievable depth and sheer elegance. Wow! What an iconic wine. It is all in here, the combination of power and elegance as well as the deep, complex aromas to be explored and all so effortlessly balanced into wonderful harmony. A surprisingly very approachable Barolo this young when considering the vintage, but it will most likely peak much later. Open 2020-2050.



Well we already knew that people around the world worship this estate’s wines and especially the Monfortino, but after this tasting and meeting with Roberto, we can confirm that we are more convinced now of the estate’s importance and quality level where the wines ranges from fantastic to extraordinary. The 2006 Monfortino was the best wine we tried during our week long visit in Piedmont.

We did expect depth and complexity in the wines but in addition we where impressed especially by the cool freshness and impeccable balance the wines offered. And there is the 2010 barolos to be released next year too and we can hardly wait. It is obvious that this estate makes top quality wines that with pride celebrates the greatness of Barolo, “the wine of kings”, whose unique territorial expression is best conveyed by its delicate, noble grape nebbiolo.

We will certainly be back.

Andreas, Roberto and Frederik