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.
Next 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.
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..
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