For the last three years it has been a real privilege to travel out to Piedmont and taste with Roberto Conterno of Cantina Giacomo Conterno, in many ways my favourite estate in the world of wine, not that one needs to have a favourite. I look forward to it like a child does Christmas. The fact that some of the wines see large neutral botti for 4 to 7 years means you often get to taste the same wine again and compare notes. The wines below in italics are those that are next to hit the market, the others will follow in the next year or two.
So the Barbera's first:
Barbera Cerretta 2012 (barrel), the age of the Barbera vines in Cerretta is approximately 20 years, this is the vineyard that Roberto took over part-way through the 2008 growing season. Crimson with saturated colour then purple and black fruits on the nose, expressive. Almost blackcurrant meets damson. Purity and clarity of flavour, not overly "big"with a little gentle spice and good medium weight. 17/20.
Barbera Cascina Francia 2012 (barrel) the Barbera in Cascina Francia was planted in 1974 with a little more in 2001 when the Cantina decided to stop production of Dolcetto and Freisa. This always has a darker colour and darker more intense fruit type than Cerretta. More blackcurrant but less sweet, more savoury as always. There is a lovely creamy texture but at the same time a far more tannic structure than Cerretta. A very good, drier but long, finish with a little saline edge, again medium in weight. 17.5/20
Barbera Cerretta 2011 Deep colour, strong and persistent to the rim, inky but fresh, excitingly lifted, full on but not at all over the top, very ripe tannins, the fruit I would say in 70% black and 30% red. The very best Cerretta Barbera yet, feminine, fresh and forceful. 18/20. 2014-2019
Barbera Cascina Francia 2011 A mighty wine and simply put the best young Barbera I have ever tasted. Arterial and full of colour, fruit almost prune like, juicy fresh prunes with acidity (if they exist), blackcurrant and mineral, hot stones, and a definite saline edge so typical of Cascina Francia. Serious, structured and with a potentially massive drinking window. Stunning. 18.5/20. 2015-2021++
The two 2011's are incredible wines, some of the reasoning is that the flowering in the growing season had been early and then mid-August was very hot so the harvest was early. Roberto likened them to 2007 but with more acidity.
It was now time to move from Barbera to Nebbiolo:
Barolo Cerretta 2011 (barrel) My notebook starts - Strawberry, strawberry then raspberry on the nose - there is such amazing precision. A little like Volnay on steroids. Tannins are evident and will soften before bottling next year. Needs time, very promising. 17-18/20. 2020-2030.
Barolo Cascina Francia 2011 (barrel) Fresh and redder than Cascina often is but still deeper and darker than Cerretta, lots of fruit, showing big tannins that are persistent but ripe and ease their way off the palate. Proper. 18-18+/20. 2021-2032.
Barolo Cascina Francia 2009 There is no Monfortino in 2009 and the barrel that would have been Monfortino was blended into this wine about 4 months ago, with bottling been done very recently. The decision not to release Monfortino was purely because the barrel, whilst the best, was not different enough in character and quality. As Roberto puts it, you drink the Barolo but chew Monfortino. The wine itself is mightily impressive. Pale almost auburn in colour, beautiful soft red fruits on the nose, such finesse and elegance, a little savoury edge to the palate, structured and very fine. 18.5/20. 2019-2031+.
Barolo Cascina Francia 2010 (barrel) Deeper than the 2009 in colour, a little spice on the attack almost pepper. A difficult wine to describe but incredibly complete. Both red and black fruit that had weight but is currently under the tannin. Incredible potential. 18.5-19/20. 2019-2033+.
Barolo Cerretta 2010 (barrel) Sweet red fruits coat the mouth, red cherry and strawberry, very promising and you can plainly see Roberto is very very excited about the developments in Cerretta.18/20. 2018-2030+.
Monfortino 2008 (barrel) Roberto is so excited about this wine. He describes it as unique, the reason being that in September 2008 there was a sudden drop in temperature to nearly zero and the vines seemed to stop and then things got going again. The picking was then a week later. Roberto may well give this Monfortino six years in barrel rather than the normal seven. The nose is profoundly complex, bovril and beef stock with masses of red fruit, all of which is a little degraded, in an good way. Leather, menthol and even a little liquorice. A fascinating wine all round. 18.5-19/20. 2017-2040.
Monfortino 2006 Lovely red dashed mahogany in colour. Iodine and fresh red fruit as well as prunes and bruised fruit, so much complexity, savoury but so so lively and fresh, stunning. The wine manages to be refreshing and light-footed as well as deep and profound. 19.5-20/20. 2016-2040.
The tasting lasted nearly two hours without feeling much more than 45 minutes, always a good sign, so it was time to drop bags off at the hotel and then dinner. Roberto kindly picked us up and we went of to Trattoria della Posta of Massolino Gianfranco in Monforte d'Alba for a delicious dinner with many of the local treats; Carne Crudo, Vitello Tonnato and many more. Almost every topic under the sun seemed to get covered including, surprisingly, cricket. We started with a bottle we took along, Corton-Charlemagne 2009, Bonneau du Martray, which was showing well, a little reductive but with lovely ripe fruit and very subservient use of oak. The two Barolo's were Barolo Bussia Riserva 1978, A.Prunotto which Roberto picked off the list and Monfortino 1987. The former was mature but from a cracking vintage, meaty and savoury but not overly old, very good. The Monfortino was from a most difficult vintage when few great wines were made but Monfortino was all in and picked before the rain came. The wine was lovely now, bruised, brown fruit with sweetness, medium weight, refined and complex, good acidity and perfect now!
It was a simply brilliant day which left me even more obsessed with Piedmont than I was before, if that is possible.