That’s not to say that Italy made bad wine -- well, that’s not to say that Italy made appreciably more bad wine than anyone else, at least. What was missing was the ability to convince the world that their wines were the Ferraris, Guccis, and Ferragamos of their kind. Actually, the Ferragamos got into the wine business and, not surprisingly, did a pretty fine job of getting their wine noticed.
Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Monfortino is an iconic wine. Not only is it one of the oldest producer-bottled Barolos, but it’s also often the best in any given vintage. In fact, as far as I am concerned, it has been the best in any vintage I’ve tried. It’s only made in the best vintages, about 45 vintages since it was first bottled around 1920.
I love Monfortino, but the only problem with it is that it is one of Italy’s most expensive wines. Current release vintages range between $250 and $400 a bottle, and vintages at peak sell for upwards of $1,000 a bottle! What’s a wine lover to do?
If you are looking for a traditional Barolo from Serralunga, look no further. The one wine that grabbed my attention more than any other on my trip to Piedmont in 2009 was Teobaldo Cappellano’s 2004 Barolo Rupestris.
This is a rich, deep expression of Barolo, packed with fruit, but capable of complexity that very few wines achieve, with Monfortino being an obvious exception here. These are traditional wines, so they can be a little reticent in their youth but do blossom with time in the bottle. They need about half the time a typical vintage of Monfortino does to reach its peak, and sell for about a quarter the price of current release vintages of Monfortino. $75/btl
While Burlotto's Monvigliero is a complete different style of Barolo to Monfortino -- being much more feminine than the rugged Monfortino -- it is almost as iconic. It’s one of the few Barolos to undergo a vinification as traditional as Monfortino’s.
In Monvigliero’s case it’s iconic of the poorly known vineyard of the same name that expresses a unique terroir bound to the soil of Verduno, where the vineyard and Burlotto winery are located.
The best part though is that Burlotto’s Monvigliero matures a decade before Monfortino, and sells for about one-seventh the price of Monfortino! $50/btl
Gianfranco Soldera Brunello Riserva
Brunello has been racked by scandal and an identity crisis for years. Some producers said, “Screw the identity of Brunello” early on and went their own way, crafting wines that speak as much about the grape (Sangiovese) and the soil as they do about the producer.
Gianfranco Soldera is one such producer. His Brunellos have emerged as the most coveted wines coming from this rather crowded appellation, and one of the few Brunellos that has a strong secondary and auction market. These are wines that are very traditionally made, with vines selected from the corners of Italy’s Sangiovese vineyards, all yielding a remarkably fresh, age-worthy, and complex example of Brunello Di Montalcino… with prices starting at around $300 a bottle!
Poggio di Sotto
Poggio di Sotto is a minor cult in its own right. These are also traditionally made wines that showcase the potential of Sangiovese, cutting no corners and using methods that incorporate some of the best advances of the 20th century, yet with roots in the soil and hands of the earliest producers of Brunello.
The results speak for themselves: killer wines, but they don’t come cheap -- just cheaper than Soldera’s. Figure about $100 a bottle for the Brunello, but the big secret in Montalcino is how damn good the Rossos can be. Poggio di Sotto doesn’t come cheap, especially for a Rosso, but at about $50 or a little less it’s worth it.
One step down the ladder brings me to Conti Costanti, my fallback favorite Brunello producer. The wines are still traditional, though they can lack some of the purity of Poggio di Sotto’s wines and the overall impact of Soldera’s. Nonetheless, they are still wonderful expressions of Brunello: elegant, rich, and layered with a firm tannic structure. Just classic, if $75 or so a bottle. For about half that you can enjoy Conti Costanti’s Rosso di Montalcino.