GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Poderi Aldo Conterno comes full circle.

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 16, 2008.

Wines tasted during this visit;

2005 Bussiador Chardonnay 91pts
2005 Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile 87pts
2004 Barolo 89pts
2005 Langhe Nebbiolo Il Favot 88pts
2004 Barolo Colonello 95pts
2004 Barolo Romirasco 95pts

There are names in Piemonte that breed not only admiration but also confusion. Conterno is certainly one of them with Paolo, Giacomo, and Aldo all producing fine yet distinct wines. Of these producers I can comfortably say I knew most about Giacomo, least about Franco, and was simply under the wrong impression about Aldo.

During an earlier visit to the region I marveled at the castle under construction that is both home to, and winery for Poderi Aldo Conterno. The fantasy construction just added to the misconceptions I had about this famous estate. With first class marketing, and a distinct image, I had been under the impression that Poderi Aldo Conterno was approaching mass-market status. Their wines had undergone several shifts over the past few years, beginning with a lighter style adopted early in the 90’s, which was followed by a flirtation in the late 90’s with a decidedly more modern style.

In a philosophical shift it was decided in 1998 to change methods in both the vineyards and the cellars to produce a fresher, more fruit driven Barolo. With a few years under their belt and the wholesale shift to neutral botte for the Baroli almost complete, Aldo Conterno has returned to the top rank of Barolo Producers in what can only be called an enlightened traditional style. As part of this shift it was decided to use only Slavonian oak botte for the ageing of Barolo.

Due to the fact that several new botte were purchased in recent years people had the wrong impression that the wines had gotten oakier. Ironically the move to less oak did in fact have the opposite effect for several years. While this oak was obvious, the fact that it was from botte and Slavonian in origin has meant that it took only a few short years to integrate into the wines in question.

I came away from the meeting with young Giacomo Conterno surprised at the small scale of the operation. Not that it is small but rather that it all seems much more personal than their brand image would have one believe. The quality of the wines was also a somewhat pleasant surprise but truth be known I had tried a pair of Baroli blind earlier in the year and was so impressed with them I figured I owed it to myself to investigate further.

Of course this is a very storied family. Giacomo Conterno is arguably the most famous producer of Barolo and the grandfather of both Roberto Conterno who now runs that estate and the young Giacomo Conterno I had the pleasure of tasting with. Their respective fathers, Brothers Aldo and Giovanni, split due to philosophical differences in 1967. Aldo had spent a few years in the US during the late 50’s when seeds were planted that would eventually lead to the creation of Poderi Aldo Conterno.

In 1969 Aldo purchased the Favot farm in Monforte. He had been searching for property in Monforte since he always remembered his grandfather had said there were two great terroirs in the Langhe; Serralunga and Monforte. Since Giovanni was already working in Serralunga, Aldo opted to start anew in Monforte, and more specifically in the subzone of Bussia. As part of the agreement made during the split existing stocks of Giacomo Conterno wines were to be shared by the two brothers so all that pre 1968 Aldo Conterno wine is in fact from the Giacomo Conterno stocks. Great wines indeed.

The expansive Southwest-facing vineyard of the Favot estate is home to 3 great Barolo Cru bottlings, each with their own distinctive character, as well as the base bottling. This was until recently known as Bussia Soprana but now includes some fruit that, while part of the same vineyard, is actually located in the adjoining village of Barolo, thus the designation has changed to simply Barolo. I did not get the chance to taste the Cicala Cru on this visit as the 2004 was mostly destroyed by hail, but this usually is the most structured bottling and fairly screams Nebbiolo. This parcel of vines is predominantly Lampia blended with Michet. The ageworthyness of these wines in indisputable as attested to by a bottle of the 1978 had just a few years ago that was simply brilliant and still youthful.

The Colonello Cru on the other hand is a wine that screams of the terroir and as Giovanni says, has a Teutonic character, it is strict and focused, predominantly Michet clone. The crown jewel of the three crus is undoubtedly the Romirasco. Rarely bottled on it’s own this vineyard has historically been the heart and soul of the Granbussia Riserva bottling. Fortunately for us they are now bottling a bit of the Romirasco separately and it must be experienced for it’s exotic spice character is simply like no other Barolo. Giovanni says this speaks of Conterno with its Asian character, coy and spicy.

While Barolo is the star here there is a full range of wines worth tasting but be forewarned a much more modern approach is taken with them as is illustrated in the following notes.

Bussiador Chardonnay 2005

Both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations are done in 100% new barrique with a light+ toast level. The highest part of the Favot estate to the northeast of the property from 30 year old vines.

Opened at cellar temperature this had fairly explosive and complex aromatics. Starting off slowly with a touch of banana and sandy soil notes this quickly adds a touch of incense, candle wax, some obvious toast notes and lightly candied pineapple. With air this gets progressively spicier with candied ginger notes and pie spice tones then top notes of apple blossoms/small yellow apples emerge. Very bright acids at first yield impressive concentration and while this is 14.9% alcohol it doesn’t feel hot and is well balanced. Richly flavored with complexity that matches the nose, layered with toasty notes accenting dried fruit tones followed by slatey, almost salty minerality. Giovanni comments that this is the terroir of Barolo after all. Finishes with good length and a touch of tannin. The wood is obvious but well integrated as is the mouth-watering acidity that leads to a finale of slightly salty butterscotch. Certainly an atypical Chardonnay but this is very interesting and well made. 91pts

Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile 2005

Aged 12-15 months in 100% New Barriques The aromatics are intense here with immediate cigar box notes of feral, earthy tones. The fruit has a subtle foxy edge to the red plum/baked plum fruit but there is a spike of dark wood spice and ample tones of vanilla and baking spices. Bright acids right up front are refreshing and accentuate the red plum and bright wild berry fruit on the mid-palate. Elegant and balanced with a touch of minerality that balances the fruit and drives the cleansing acids of the finish. Just a touch of tannin becomes obvious on the finish with its jolly rancher cherry and watermelon tones ending on a touch of vanilla and cigar box. A nice Barbera with tons of ripe acids keeping everything lively and fresh but weighed down just a touch by the wood. 87pts

Barolo 2004

This replaces the old Bussia Soprana bottling as with this vintage the fruit is now 80% Bussia and 20% from the commune of Barolo though they are contiguous parts of the same vineyard. The Barolo fruit used to go into the Favot but the vines have matured and are now producing juice worthy of being called Barolo. This macerates for 2-3 weeks in stainless before ageing for 2 years in Botte of Slavonian oak.

A bit heavy on the nose with syrupy fruit, driven by soil tones with a touch of oyster shell then a hint of caper berry, turning a bit spicy with a touch of white pepper, not very giving aromatically. In the mouth this enters a bit block with gritty tannins and a nice traditional if tough feel. The tannins certainly need more time to integrate but the balance is good and the wine puts on weight with air revealing dark, chewy cherry fruit with medicinal herb tones and a touch of fudgy caramellato. The midpalate gains a bit of spice with notes of coriander, beetroot, and strawberry seeds adding complexity and brightening the red fruits. The finish is cut short by the rather imposing tannins which are a touch drying and allows the finale to be dominated by slight menthol tones and emerging minerality. A very solid Barolo Normale that looks to be an excellent candidate for improvement in the cellar. 89pts

Langhe Nebbiolo Il Favot 2005

Younger vines, up to 15-20 years of age, go into this 100% Nebbiolo wine that is aged for 18 months in 100% new barrique.

This opens with intense and characteristic aromas of Nebbiolo, a touch of tamarind then floral top notes, slightly dried cherry fruit, and a hint of menthol but also has obvious wood tones of spice, toast and vanilla, which are balanced. The acidity pops out on entry followed by well managed tannins in a medium bodied package that offers up dark fruit with a touch of peachy overtones some herbal freshness and layers of medicinal spice and aromatic roots. With air the Nebbiolo tannins pop on the mid-palate offering more focus and mouthgrab that leads to a clean, fresh finish, which shows the fruit sweetening a bit. 88pts

Barolo Colonello 2004

A 2 week maceration is followed by several months in stainless before being aged 28 to 30 months in Slavonian oak botte.

A touch of drying grass greats the nose then is followed by very precise emerging notes of sea grass and menthol. The tight dark fruit emerge slowly and remain reticent in the glass but the menthol and mineral tones gain in impact. The mouth feel here is fantastic, cool and poised, power without much weight this feels facetted and chiseled and much like the nose remains tight though it does offer up glimpses of fresh fruit, earthy wild cherry and a touch of subtle pomegranate that is intriguing. The mineral cut on the long finish is refreshing and incipient vitamin/mineral notes are refreshing. While this is very tight a previous bottles was spectacular with classic fruit, sottobosco, and truffle notes that blew me away. Based on the two notes I suggest putting this away for years. 2014-2030 95pts.

Barolo Romirasco 2004

A 2 week maceration is followed by several months in stainless before being aged 28 to 30 months in Slavonian oak botte.

Unlike the stern Colonello this is flamboyant with intense floral tones, layered sappy fruits, sweet, gentle spice tones and a touch of espresso foam. In the mouth this is downright suave with very fine tannins and a broad mouth feel that remains remarkably delicate. Spicy red fruits are complimented my tones of maduro tobacco, iron driven earthy tones and intense top notes of aromatic grasses, minerals and exotic spice tones. The wild cherry fruit is intense on the palate and turns darker on the backend leading to the finish with it’s unfolding layers of subtle tea, middle eastern spice notes and almost a touch of curry. This really has lovely clarity and amazing transparency with wonderfully ripe tannins. A bit outside the norm for Barolo with it’s spicy exotic character but completely compelling. 2010-2024 95pts


Reply by Eric Guido, Oct 16, 2008.

Wow, these are some really great tasting notes.

With the Romirasco, would you say that it captures any of the profiles of the Granbussia. Your notes do sound like there are some similarities to the 2000 Granbussia I've tasted recently. I'm really interested to see how much the rest of the blend in Granbussia changes the Romirasco fruit.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 17, 2008.

Thanks Eric,

The 04 Romirasco is so spiced and complex that it really stands apart from the Gran Bussia bottling. I can't say one is fundamentally better than another but I can say that the Romirasco has a unique profile utterly different from any other Barolo of the vintage.

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