Making great wine doesn’t mean having a good year, it means making great wine year in and year out with consistency and clarity. I don’t mind if a winemaker’s hand is obvious, as long as it doesn’t obscure the essence of terroir, soil and variety.
After some thought about both the wines and how I should allocate my limited resources in stocking my cellar, I’ve drawn up my list of top producers of Barolo. The list includes some hall of famers, a few up and comers, and a few major producers who are beginning to lose a little ground.
This list is sure to disappoint many, but it’s my list of the 12 top producers of Barolo. You disagree? Let’s see what you’ve got then!
So here’s a new producer for me. I’ve tasted a grand total of one wine from Gianni, but it was a doozy. His 2008 Barolo from the Paiagallo vineyard, which overlooks the village of Barolo, was all purity and finesse. It was a singular expression of Barolo like none I’ve had before, making Canonica a producer to follow.
This is organic wine; pure and joyous in its expression of soft wild cherry fruit. It’s possible that 2008 just happened to be a particularly good year for Gianni, but I’m betting his two and a half decades of experience, in minute quantities I might add, probably also have something to do with it.
Here we have a famous producer who deserves to be in the Barolo hall of fame for the many, many exceptional wines he has produced over the years. So what is he doing at number 11? I mean he was responsible for what is arguably the greatest Barolo of all time, the 1989 Collina Rionda, right?
Yes, that’s all correct, but the wines of Giacosa have become both painfully expensive and, dare I say it, less impressive! It’s true. I think the wines of Giacosa have become quite variable, with high points in 1999 and 2005, but some low points in between. That variability coupled with their pricing policy has moved them down to the bottom of my top 12 list.
#10-E.Pira of Chiara Boschis
Okay here’s a surprise, a modernist producer! Yes, Chiara Boschis does employ some thoroughly modernist technique, the barricaia can attest to that, but the wines are pretty damn impressive. Plus I had to include one more modern producer here to show you all how unbiased I really am!
Seriously though, while I can rattle off the names of at least two other Barolo Boys whose wines I enjoy, none of the new guard produces wine that morphs into a classic expression of Barolo as well as these do.
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This is another producer in the same boat as Giacosa. I’ve always loved the wines of Vietti and they make up a large percentage of my cellar, but the wines have recently been priced out of my reach with current releases of their single vineyards routinely selling for well over $100 a bottle.
Still, the achievements of Vietti can not be ignored and nor should their very well priced Castiglione bottling, a blend of some very fine crus in their own right.
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Oddero has produced some fine wines over the years; wines that have aged well but never really pushed the winery into the public eye or the top tier of producers. There have been some real flashes of brilliance, such as the Vigna Rionda bottlings from 1989 and 1996 (an aside: their Vigna Rionda is now being produced as a 10 year reserve, expect the next release to be the 2006 in 2016) and the killer 2004 Mondoca di Bussia.
So what are they doing on this list? Well, they’ve been making better wines year after year, and the wines have become fresher, cleaner and more transparent. In short, they are building a stable of thoroughly convincing wines and the barrel samples I just tasted convinced me that they are on the cusp of their big breakthrough!
The wines of Cappellano have mostly cruised under the radar for years, though Teobaldo Cappellano did see his wines re-enter the U.S. market with resounding success before he passed away entirely too early in 2009. These were and remain rather unique wines, whether it’s the Pie Franco bottling from the family’s Gabutti vineyard that stands as a testament to determination (it’s Piedmont’s only ungrafted bottling of Barolo) or the more mainstream Rupestris, if organically farmed vines in Piedmont can be called that.
Whatever the case, these are compelling wines. They are powerful and yet elegant with a particularly happy disposition that is tough to describe in English, though the Italian simpatico, in fact molto simpatico, seems to fit quite well here.
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You didn’t think I was going to play all my cards here did you? You’ll have to wait until Monday for part two of this series, with the all-too-predictable line up to come as we enter the land of Barolo GIANTS!