March 12, 2017

Vertical of the month: Produttori di Carema 2012-1964


The most tender place in my heart is for Northern Piedmont Nebbiolo, when it comes to Italian wines. Sure, wines from Barolo and Barbaresco are often stunning and some producers can make some really attractive Chiavennasca in Lombardy, too. However, I find Nebbiolo to be at its most thrilling when tasting these small, virtually unknown appellations that can produce just astounding Nebbioli at prices so low you would never imagine! These wines are not as burly and brooding as those from Barolo or Barbaresco, but instead much lighter and noticeably higher in acidity – some almost painfully so. Some wines might show very restrained and mellow tannins, more comparable to Pinot Noir from Burgundy, whereas the others can be even as tannic as the most grippiest of Barolos! But what matters the most to me is that practically all of the producers in these appellations are so-called "classicists": new barriques, extended hang times and other modern practices have never gained much foothold – unlike in Barolo and Barbaresco – and instead wines are made more or less the same way they were made a hundred years ago. The equipments have been replaced with newer ones, but the core recipe of the wines remains unchanged.

I heard of Carema the first time about three years ago when I stumpled upon a 1964 Carema by Luigi Ferrando in a small tasting of sorts. I wanted to know more about this appellation, so the next spring, in April 2015, we visited all the producers of Carema, just to get the hang of the region. I want to point here that this wasn't much of a feat, because there are only two producers in the region: the aforementioned Luigi Ferrando and the local co-operative, Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema.

Nebbiolo wines trained in pergolas.
Carema, located in the northern part of Piedmont, is easily one of the smallest appellations in Italy. Unlike all the other Nebbiolo-regions of northern Piedmont that are located north from Barolo and Barbaresco, close to the Lombardian border to the east, Carema is a lonely little spot right at the mouth of Aosta Valley in the northwestern corner of Piedmont – closer to the French and Swiss border, at the foothills of the Alps. It is an appellation centered around the village of Carema – a place so small you can drive through it in less than a minute or two – and although virtually unknown, it is amongst some of the oldest appellations in Italy, having been created already back in 1967. Although this appellation is situated in Piedmont, it shares much more terroir character with the neighboring appellations of the valley of Aosta, instead of with any of the other Piedmontese regions. The main variety of Carema is Nebbiolo, which must compose at least 85% of the local red wines; the rest can be filled out with other local varieties. The vines are often trained in traditional pergolas, which were used historically in the region in order to maximize the sparse arable land in the Alpine hills: the wines would grow high above the ground in this wooden framework, pergola, whereas the ground itself was reserved for the cultivation of vegetables. The vineyards are planted in the hills of the Alps – the lowest of the vineyards located at 300 meters above the sea level, whereas the highest ones could reach up to 600 m a.s.l. – in terraces built of stone. Not only can these stone terraces increase the acreage of arable land, they also store up the Sun's warmth during the day to keep the vineyards warmer at night – a real benefit for the wines so up north.

It is Aosta valley up there.
Although Carema might not seem so small by the appellation's allowed land area for cultivation – some 120 ha / 300 acres – the area under cultivation is actually really small, composed of only some 16 ha / 40 acres, making it easily one of the smallest appellations in Italy. For example even the relatively small Gattinara region covers 100 ha / 250 acres! And not only is Carema still a virtually unknown wine region, it is really easy one to miss too! The main road that goes past Carema doesn't pass through the village, but instead past it, so unless one is aware where this region really is, it is too easy drive past the village never noticing it.

Not that there is much to see in Carema. It's a small village of some 800 people and only the local co-op is situated there, pretty little anything else. The appellation laws stipulate that Carema wine must be made within the wine region, so Luigi Ferrando – a winery not situated in Carema but instead in the nearby city of Ivrea – responded to this stipulation by building small vinification premises and a cellar in the village just to make the wines according to the appellation rules. For those interested, this means that to visit Ferrando one mustn't actually go to Carema, but instead to Ivrea.

Out of the 16 hectares / 40 acres, the local co-operative Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema owns a great majority at 14 ha / 35 acres through the approx. 80 members of the co-op. They produce a handful of wines, three of which are local Nebbiolo wines of Carema: the regular Carema Classico, the flagship wine Carema Riserva (known as Carema di Carema before the revision of the appellation law) and the more modern Carema Selezione Barricato. What I find really adorable is how humbly the co-op understates the aging capabilities of their wines: they say in their home pages how the wines can age well (for over 10 years) and are likely to age more. Well, having tasted several of their vintages from the past 50 years, I can easily say that the wines are capable of developing for decades and holding for more than half a century!

Here are my tasting notes on the Carema / Carema Classico wines I have tasted.

Produttori di Carema Carema Classico
DOC Carema
  • Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Carema
  • Grape(s): Nebbiolo




This is the wine that composes the backbone of the co-operative's production. The wine is 100% Nebbiolo from the hills of Carema. After having been fermented and macerated with the grape skins for 12 days, the wine is aged for 12 months in old, large botti casks, followed by another 12 months of aging in bottles before release. Due to the relatively cool climate of Carema, the wines very rarely reach higher alcohol levels of 12,5%, but instead the acidity levels are very high – normally around 5,5 to 6 g/l, but occasionally capable of reaching levels even close to 9 g/l.

Produttori di Carema Carema Classico 2012
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on: 22nd of April, 2015

Pale cranberry marmalade color that is light even by Nebbiolo standards; this is more like a dark rosé wine than something remotely red wine. It has pure, crystalline nose with that attractive, really tart edge of a cool-climate Nebbiolo. There are aromas of crunchy, tart red berries, cranberries, some smoky and slightly tarry Nebbiolo aromatics, hints of dried flowers and a whiff of rose petals. The wine is very dry, but surprisingly full-bodied and silky on the palate with moderate acidity. There are spicy flavors of sour cherry, cranberry marmalade, some crunchy red currant notes and a hint of smoke. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of tannins, but they are still obviously quite young, tightly-knit and grippy. The wine leaves a dry, astringent and persistent aftertaste of crunchy redcurrants, raspberry marmalade, ripe cranberries, some smoke, a little roasted spices and a hint of sour cherry bitterness.

This is a really attractive little Nebbiolo that somehow combines the relatively simple and easy-drinking style with a very delicate, serious and almost Burgundian character.

91/100
Summary: Maybe not the most complex effort, this still is a lot better than almost any of the Langhe Nebbiolos with its superb balance and great focus. Probably won't develop much in the cellar, but will easily keep for years if not even for several decades. Very recommended and a steal at approx. 10€ at the co-op's cellar door.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1983
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on: 10th of September, 2016

Translucent but quite dark ruby red color with a mature maroon hue. The nose seems to show some signs of oxidation – there are mature notes of dried dates, nutty tawny port, sweet raisins, pungent smokiness and some sharp, Fino Sherry-like green apple notes of acetaldehyde. Especially the nutty tawny port aroma seems to become pronounced as the wine breathes. On the palate the wine seems more enjoyable, although somewhat over-matured with flavors of raisins, dried prunes, christmas spices, raisin soup, some sharp smoky notes and a little sharp aldehydic tang of salinity. The structure is very grippy with high acidity and moderately high tannins. The finish is quite long with very aged characteristics of nutty tawny port, raisins, dried dates, some aldehydic green apple notes and a little astringent tannic grip.

Although this wine wasn't completely dead, it was pretty obvious it was way too much developed for its age. It was still quite enjoyable, although the longer it stayed in the glass, the more aged it got – and it was pretty over-aged already – so this really wasn't the kind of experience I hoped it would be.

FLAW
Summary: As the wine wasn't showing like it should've, I'm scoring it as flawed. Although still drinkable, this wine was too oxidized to be actually worth rating.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1980
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on: 10th of September, 2016

By its appearance this wine is very similar to the vintage 1983, although with a bit deeper and darker hue. The savory nose doesn't seem to be oxidized, but somehow the aromas seem to have withered up; there are dark-toned and slightly pungent aromas of dried dark berries, some sour cherries, light notes of dried mushrooms, a little earthiness and a volatile lift of acetone. On the palate the wine feels dry, medium-bodied and focused with savory, acid-driven flavors of sour cherry bitterness, dried plums, peppery spiciness, some crowberry notes and a hint of minerality and iron. The tannins are moderate and somewhat grippy. The finish is dry and a bit thin with angular tannins and acid-driven flavors of crowberries, lingonberries, some dried blackberry notes and a hint of sour cherries.

Although the wine seemed past its prime according to its nose, it actually turned out to be quite nice – but only for a while. After only some moments of breathing, the wine seemed to sort of fall apart and die: having been in the glass for some 15-20 minutes, the nose became almost mute and the flavors dull, so most likely the wine had reached the end of its plateau of maturity.

83/100
Summary: The wine was pretty nice, but only for a little while, and even then it wasn't anything special. After the wine got some air, there wasn't much to savor. If you own bottles of this wine by some happenstance, I heartily recommend you to open them sooner than later.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1978
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on: 10th of September, 2016

Remarkably youthful appearance: the wine is almost completely opaque with its bright black cherry color. The slightly reticent nose is savory and moderately developed, but still in wonderful condition, exhibiting earthy aromas of sour cherries, loamy sous-bois, some meaty notes, a little withered flowers and a hint of volatile acetone lift. On the palate the wine feels quite light-bodied, but bright and focused with crunchy acidity and nice, light tannic bite. There are quite ripe flavors of juicy dark cherries, tart lingonberries and cranberries, some sour cherries, light rainy forest notes and a hint of crowberries. The wine finishes with a medium-long, acid-driven and somewhat bitter aftertaste with dry flavors of crowberries, some cranberries and a hint of sour cherries.

This wine is a really lovely example of the aged Nebbiolo of Carema: it seems pretty hard to catch these wines in the optimum drinking window, as they either seem to be still on their way up, or long past their prime. This wine, however, was in really wonderful phase, showing some obviously mature characteristics, yet no oxidation or anything other overmature.

94/100
Summary: In short, this is just perfectly balanced Carema Nebbiolo; light in body, yet showing great depth and complexity of fruit and enough body to make its acid-and-tannin structure feel noticeable, yet not overwhelming. Probably will keep for years, even decades, but most likely won't develop any further from this.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1974
  • Size: 0,70
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Moderately dark, somewhat translucent dark cherry color with maroon highlights. The nose feels somewhat restrained, yet pleasantly juicy with aromas of ripe sour cherry, a little dried fig and some autumnal forest floor notes with underlying hints of smoke, roasted spices and even some salty licorice; there is also the slightest touch of volatile acetone lift. On the palate the wine feels surprisingly full-bodied for a Carema, yet with lovely high acidity, giving the taste a tart edge. There are flavors of sour cherry, lingonberry, cranberry, some aged pruney character and a little sweet spice. Although the wine has moderately high tannins and bright acidity, its mouthfeel is pretty velvety due to the concentration brought by age. The wine finishes with a rather long, sharp and bone-dry aftertaste with even more pronounced acidity and bright flavors of tart dark berries, lingonberries, cranberry skins, some sweet pruney fruit and a lot of tannic grip.

This wine shows remarkable power and concentration for a Carema, being almost atypically full-bodied and tannic. Yet it is very obviously so Carema, with its sharp, acid-driven and almost austere character that is more about tart red berries than anything really fruity. Almost like a Bourgogne Grand Cru but made from Nebbiolo.

95/100
Summary: The 1974 vintage of this wine is remarkably youthful for its age and probably still on its way up, even at the age of 41 years! Very tart, sharp and acid-driven stuff but with lots of concentration and depth to back it up. Simply stunning wine, most likely the best co-op's Carema I've tasted.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1973
  • Size: 0,70
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Moderately dark, somewhat translucent dark cherry color with modest bricking. Quite reticent, dark-toned nose with light but attractive aromas of red cherry, some tart plummy notes, a little sours-bois and a hint of wizened dark berries. On the palate the wine feels medium-bodied, dry and very acid-driven, almost bracingly tart with flavors of sour cherries, dark cherries, lingonberries and some tart dark berries. There is also a sweeter undertone of developed darker fruits. The tannins are quite ample and pretty grippy, but still not overtly aggressive. The wine finishes on a long, mouth-puckeringly tart note with acid-driven flavors of lingonberries and sour cherries and a hint of mouth-drying tannins.

Taking into account how tannic and high in acid this wine is, it is remarkably smooth and velvety – it feels it has some obvious grip, but all the rough edges have been polished away by the age. Stylistically this wine feels very close to the young vintage 2012, but only concentrated with the age.

92/100
Summary: Really lovely stuff, this. Not the best Carema I've had, the fruit being so austere and acid-driven taking all the focus and not letting the more developed nuances to shine through, yet this is still enormously attractive and drinkable. It is still so tightly-knit it definitely needs some food to be paired with.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1972
  • Size: 0,70
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Developed, translucent maroon red color with a slightly tawny yellow-brown rim. Initially there's a very light, musty note of TCA and after that not much else. The wine is quite tannic and really tart with high acidity on the palate, but completely mute flavor-wise.

Probably a mild case of TCA: the wine really didn't smell or taste like corked, it was just completely dead.

FLAW

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1971
  • Size: 0,70
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Translucent, luminous Burgundy red color with some obvious developed maroon highlights. Juicy, developed nose with complex aromas of ripe red cherry, some developed red fruit notes, a light touch of acetone volatility, a floral hint of rose petals, a touch of barnyard and a whiff of potpourri. The wine is medium-bodied, quite tannic and moderately high in acidity – meaning that it is a bit less acidic than Caremas on average. The lively flavors exhibit mainly surprisingly youthful red fruit flavors of sour cherry and ripe cranberry with underlying hints of sous-bois. Overall the wine feels very balanced: there is a crisp streak of acidity, yet the wine is still very smooth and pleasant. The wine finishes on a pretty long and quite tart note of sour cherries, acidic red berries and some stony minerality – although the developed flavors kick in towards the end of the aftertaste, introducing a slightly sweeter suggestion of wizened red fruit.

Overall the 1971 vintage of Carema was surprisingly enjoyable on its own; even though it sported high acidity, true to the region's style, it was slightly lower than in Caremas on average, making the wine feel quite balanced, even on its own – which is not always the case. Someone in the tasting described the wine pretty well as a "fillet knife in velvet".

93/100
Summary: For a wine close to 45 years of age, this is remarkably youthful effort, only showing very slight signs of age. Most likely the wine has reached its plateau of maturity already some time ago, but it doesn't show any signs of giving up, so probably this can still keep for several decades more. I suppose there won't be much development, but it doesn't matter as the wine is drinking so nicely now.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1970
  • Size: 0,7
  • Tasted on: 1st of February

The wine's color is quite dark and almost completely opaque, but obviously rather developed with its orange-black hue. The nose is quite all over the place with no sense of focus; there are aromas sous-bois, chokeberry, pickles, some dried cherry, light inky notes and a hint of phenolic smokiness. Most likely the wine has gotten a little bit too much oxygen over the years, letting a possible acetobacter run amok; there aren't any vinegary notes per se, but the briney-vinegary hints of pickle suggest that way. On the palate the wine is very light-bodied with pronounced, sharp acidity and moderate, grippy tannins. The flavors here are pure – tart lingonberries, cranberries, herbal greenness and some sour cherry – but the wine feels excessively sour and quite thin. The wine finishes on a thin and tart note with flavors of lingonberries and a hint of aldehydic salinity (think of Fino Sherry).

Most likely the cork has given up at some point; although the cork seemed to be OK, some oxygen might have seeped in, resulting in the pickle aromas and a hint of acetaldehyde noticeable in the finish.

FLAW
Summary: Although the wine was drinkable, it really wasn't that enjoyable, but instead pretty much lacking in balance and focus. Based on the other Carema wines of similar age, I doubt that the wine should have been like this, thus I rate this one "flawed".

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1968
  • Size: 0,7
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Luminous, moderately dark cherry red; doesn't look that old. Somewhat developed and slightly restrained nose with aromas of ripe dark cherry, earthiness, some dried fig notes, light hints of loamy sous-bois, a touch of sour cherry and a whiff of something sharp, perhaps acetaldehyde? Despite its dark-toned flavors, the wine feels light-to-medium-bodied and almost thin on the palate with very pronounced, bracing acidity. There are flavors of tart dark berries and lingonberries, some sour plums, a little leather and a hint of bitter cranberry skin. There doesn't seem to be much tannins, but the tannins themselves feel rather sharp and angular. The wine finishes with a tart, acid-driven and pretty lengthy aftertaste with flavors of sour cherries, lingonberries, some earth and a hint of leather.

While sipping this wine I started to wonder whether these wines age at all? Although there were some light suggestions what would be signs of age, this wine really didn't differ that much from a vintage that was 40 years younger! The flavors were still remarkably pure and even somewhat youthful, whereas the tannins felt almost unchanged by the years.

84/100
Summary: Although this wine was remarkably young for its age, I must admit it really didn't offer much of anything interesting. It is always an experience to taste wine close to 50 years of age, but I really don't think the wine should be awarded much extra points if it has actually failed to age – or then these wines just age on a geologic time scale and this wine was just opened too young! Go figure. There isn't much fruit to develop, so most likely any development that might happen will be rather marginal.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1966
  • Size: 0,7
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

Dark, but very translucent and luminous brick red color. Very complex, but obviously very developed and not that pleasant nose with aromas of acrid smoke, gunpowder, manure, pencil shavings, dried orange peel, some nutty oxidative notes, a little old furniture, hints of rust and a touch of candle wax. On the palate the wine feels very light-bodied, even thin, with sharp, bracing acidity and rather pronounced, angular tannins. The fruit seems to have withered away, leaving just flavors of cranberry skin, sour cherry bitterness and lichen. The finish is pretty short; sharp, yet dull. There are thin, brief and quite tart flavors of cranberries and lingonberries, nothing much else.

Most likely this is what a Carema that has lived beyond its years tastes like. The nose shows lots of developed notes – mainly quite unpleasant ones – and the palate feels like it has withered up.

FLAW
Summary: As the wine feels like it is more or less dead at this stage, I feel there's no point scoring it. There is very little flavor left, but the structure still remains pretty unchanged. Apparently these wines can develop after all in the cellar, but only fruit-wise; the structure just doesn't soften up even after 50 years! So remember this if you have a bottle of Carema and you are planning on aging it: if you don't like its tart, acid-driven structure when the wine is young, you most likely won't like it when the wine is old.

***

Produttori di Carema Carema 1964
  • Size: 0,7
  • Tasted on: 1st of February, 2016

The wine has remarkably youthful appearance; dark, translucent red with even a slightest hint of purple hue. The nose suggests that the wine has seen a bit too much oxygen before opening the bottle: in addition to aromas of sweet red cherry, plum compote and some floral notes of violets, there are sharp and pungent aldehyde notes of Oloroso Sherry, some syrupy, oxidative notes of caramel and a hint of balsamic volatility. On the palate the wine is bone-dry and light-bodied, but instead of showing really bracing acidity, the flavors are full of sharp, Fino-Sherry like aldehydic notes of salinity and green apples. The tannins seem to have resolved away. The finish is sharp, tart and quite rough with green apple notes and saline flavors of acetaldehyde.

Probably the wine's cork has started letting in oxygen at some point. The wine wasn't oxidized like some wines I've had, making it come across very nutty and obviously oxidized, but instead letting the alcohol become oxidized into aldehydes, yet not making the wine come across nutty or much caramelized.

FLAW
Summary: It is really hard to say whether the wine would've been OK if it hadn't been so aldehydic. Now it just tasted like Fino Sherry made from red wine and it was impossible to assess the wine underneath all its sharp aldehydic notes.

The lineup from one of our tastings: the vintages 1964–1974.
Overall it has been really interesting and enlightening to taste through 50 years' worth of Carema Nebbiolo wines. What my experiences drinking these has revealed is that: a) These wines are truly capable of aging at a glacial pace – often even several decades of cellaring hasn't done much; b) These wines often don't age much! They are pretty light-bodied, high in acidity and focused on tart fruit when they are young, and they aren't much more when they are old, perhaps a little more complex and earthy; c) The drinking window of these wines is erratic and moves in a span of decades: whereas one wine can be past its prime at 30 years of age, another can be still young and in need of more cellaring even at 40 years of age!

Having drunk more than 10 of these wines, I still see no clear picture what is the perfect aging regime for a Produttori Carema. However, what I can say for certain is that these wines always tend to need to be paired with some food – they are light, tart and austere with high acidity, so they can be quite forbidding on their own, but instead paired with right food they can be outright spectacular.

So if the wines really don't age that much in the cellar, is there any point in aging them? Well, yes and no. On one hand, you can drink a bottle now, not worrying how much more interesting it would've been in 5 more years, because the chances are that it wouldn't have been. On the other hand, it is always nice to have a pure, smashing Nebbiolo at hand anytime, with no need to worry whether the wine is past its peak or not – unless you are planning on keeping on to those bottles for more than half a century. So if you are looking for truly wonderful, bright, and light-bodied, terroir-driven Nebbiolo-wines, the Carema wines must be up your alley; however, if you are looking for that specific, aged Nebbiolo character of long-cellared wines, probably the other Piedmontese regions will suit you better.

Wherever your interests lie, Carema is still a region you most certainly don't want to miss out.

February 25, 2017

Morenillo

One of the most intriguing discoveries I've done during the past few years is Morenillo, which I was introduced to during a trip to the wine region of Terra Alta, Catalonia. This is a variety so unheard of that even the most recent version of Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. doesn't include it! However, I don't blame them, because currently the variety is on the brink of extinction with only some 15 ha (37 acres) in cultivation. Please note that despite the similarity in the name, Morenillo is not the same thing as Morellino, which is a synonym for Sangiovese in DOC Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany.

Morenillo is most likely a native variety from Terra Alta, where it has been cultivated for centuries. However, it fell out of favor during the 20th century, because the variety is relatively difficult to cultivate compared to the local favorites Garnatxa Negra (aka. Grenache) and Garnatxa Blanca (aka. Grenache Blanc) and normally it produces thin wines of pale color compared in comparison to the wines produced from other local red varieties. You have to remember, of course, that this was during the time when the determining quality factors of red wine were its color and concentration.

Juanjo Galcera Piñol of Celler Piñol, from the small village of Batea, Terra Alta, introduced us to this unknown variety during our visit to the winery in 2014. Historically the variety was widely cultivated, but now it is cultivated only by a handful of winegrowers – their number somewhere between 10 and 20 – and there is an even small number producers actually making Morenillo wines. Some of them use Morenillo in wine blends, whereas others make varietal wines. The reason behind the diminishing number of Morenillo producers is the local Consejo Regulador of DO Terra Alta, having decreed that Morenillo isn't only a non-recommended grape variety in the wine appellation of Terra Alta, but also an unauthorized variety as well. This means that there can't be no new plantings of Morenillo anywhere, nor has there been any for the past decades. All this is because the appellation consortium regards Morenillo an inferior variety and they try their best to keep the quality of the wine region up, emphasizing especially the high-quality white variety of the region Garnatxa Blanca.

Based on the Morenillo wines I've tasted I've realized how wrong the consortium is.

When Juanjo introduced us to Morenillo, he likened it to Pinot Noir. This is because both of these varieties have thin skins, resulting in wines with relatively pale, translucent color, and high acidity is typical for both of the varieties – only that Morenillo has adapted to survive in the warmer climate of Terra Alta* and thus is capable of retaining high acidity even in quite hot weather. The Morenillo plant itself is often pretty big: the trunks grow large, the trunks are long, the leaves are big and the grapes are often big with pretty small skin:juice ratio.

*Even though Terra Alta is bordering the hot wine region of Priorat, notable for its massive and concentrated red wines, it is not as hot a place as you might imagine. The wines of Terra Alta are often lighter and more delicate due to the high altitude of the region – after all, the name means "high land" – of 400 meters above sea level on average, keeping the climate relatively mild (and this is why Terra Alta's bright, sophisticated, crystalline and often remarkably high-acid Garnatxa Blancas are held in such high esteem!)

From what I have gathered based on my experiences, there are two main styles of Morenillo wines:
  • The lighter ones are made with fruit sourced from younger vineyards. These are often very Burgundian or even (Cru) Beaujolais in character, with pale color, high acidity and lovely freshness.
  • The more concentrated ones are made with fruit sourced very old, even vineyards. As new Morenillo plantings are scarce, most of the Morenillo vineyards are very old. However, it takes decades, even close to 100 years before the vines begin to bear fruit that is so small and concentrated that the resulting wines are very deep and feel a lot weightier than their lightier counterparts.

Now here are all the Morenillo wines I've had to this date:

Celler Piñol Finca Morenillo 2011
DO Terra Alta
  • Celler Piñol
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (100%)
  • Price: 29,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: September 25th, 2014



Celler Piñol is a family winery that has been operating in the village of Batea, Terra Alta, since 1945 and is also the winery where we working for some time during the harvest 2014. As Celler Piñol is probably the biggest winery producing Morenillo wines, Finca Morenillo is most likely the wine the people (who have heard of Morenillo) know. The wine is made with grapes from organically cultivated 75 yo vines and aged for 15 months in 500 liter French oak casks. Annual production is about 3,000 bottles.

Dark, almost completely opaque garnet color shows much more concentration than what is typical for the variety.

The wine has very open and aromatic nose with fragrant floral nuances veering towards violets and rich blackberry-driven fruit aromas, with elegant hints of fresh dark fruits and a touch of wild strawberry in the background.

On the palate the wine is medium-to-moderately full-bodied with lively acidity and lovely brightness. The wine feels moderately concentrated – probably due to the intense fruit produced by the old vines – but still very balanced and far from being heavy or ponderous. There are juicy, vibrant flavors of rich dark berries, some plummy fruit, a little tart cranberry character and a hint of leather. The mouthfeel is velvety smooth due to the rather modest, ripe and pretty mellow tannins.

The finish is long, nuanced and delicate with layered aromas of ripe blackberries, sour plums, some violet floral hints, a touch of vanilla and a light volatile lift towards the end. The alcohol lends a little warmth towards the finish.

This wine is really lovely stuff – it is by far the most elegant and delicate expression of Terra Alta in Celler Piñol's premium range. For a Morenillo, however, this Finca Morenillo is very dark-toned, concentrated and robust an example; normally Morenillo wines show much less concentration and extraction, are paler in color and higher in acidity.

91/100
Summary: Although not my favorite Morenillo, with its bit too ripe fruit flavors and somewhat too obvious oak character, Finca Morenillo is still one of the best examples of Terra Alta winemaking and definitely one of the best wines in Celler Piñol range, if not the best. At 29€ the wine is priced according to its quality, making it somewhat of a "cult wine" of Terra Alta. I can imagine the wine will age nicely in the cellar, especially if it loses some of its baby fat with the years.

***

Lafou El Sender 2012
DO Terra Alta
  • Lafou Celler
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Grenache (60%), Syrah (20-25%), Morenillo (15-20%)
  • Price: 8,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: September 28th, 2014



Lafou Celler is from Batea, Terra Alta, just like Celler Piñol, and also one of the very few producers making a varietal Morenillo. I haven't had the Morenillo wine from this relatively new winery (founded in 2007), so here's a tasting note on a wine with a small portion of Morenillo instead.

Dark, slightly translucent cherry color.

Juicy, succulent nose full of fruit-forward aromas of ripe strawberries, dark cherries, cherry marmalade and some brambly raspberry.

The wine is juicy, fruit-forward and medium-bodied on the palate with succulent and spicy but somewhat one-dimensional flavors of ripe strawberry, some sweet oak spice and a hint of plummy dark fruit. The wine is rather low in acidity, but has moderately firm, ripe tannins.

The finish is juicy and quite long with nuanced flavors of cherry, roasted spice, some coffee notes, a little bitterness and a touch of sweet raspberry juice.

87/100
Summary: El Sender is a fruity, enjoyable and quite balanced blended wine typical of the region, where the small addition of Morenillo adds nice brightness and a little sense of crunchy red fruit. The wine is, however, a bit simple, easy and pretty straightforward and lacking a little in the structure department. With higher acidity and grippier tannins the wine might come across more serious and intense. Might hold on for some years in the cellar, but is not in need of further cellaring. OK QPR at 8,90€.

***

Vins del Tros Morenillo Àmfora 2013
DO Terra Alta
  • Vins del Tros
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (100%)
  • Price: 12,20€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: September 27th, 2014



Vins del Tros is a winery founded in 2009 with an aim to produce terroir-driven wines that are very typical for the Terra Alta region. Their winemaking philosophy is pretty much based on minimal intervention. This is a 100% Morenillo fermented with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks and aged for 5 months in 450 liter terracotta amphorae. Total production 3,102 bottles.

The wine has translucent dark cherry color with a hint of youthful purple to it.

Youthful, pure and aromatic nose full of crunchy red berries like wild strawberries, ripe raspberries, tart cranberries and sweet redcurrants with a light, herbal undertone of blackcurrant.

The wine is youthful, refreshing and medium-bodied on the palate with velvety texture, bright acidity and modest, fine-grained tannins. There are pure and fresh flavors of wild strawberry, cherry, crunchy red fruits like raspberries and redcurrants with some earthy spice, a hint of bitterness and a touch of slatey minerality. Wonderful focus and balanced structure.

Long, fresh and clean finish with flavors of cranberries, bilberries, stony minerality, some wild strawberries and a hint of herbal bitterness.

Overall we have here a wonderful, pure, bright and easy-drinking example of Morenillo. Truly a lovely and attractive little wine that drinks wonderfully on its own, but shows great potential as a versatile food wine.

92/100
Summary: Stylistically this is very close to a well-made Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais. Incredibly moreish stuff with tremendous drinkability. Most likely this is best enjoyed young, when the wine is full of youthful vigor. Simply exceptional value at 12,20€.

***

Vins del Tros Morenillo Lo Morenillo 2011
DO Terra Alta
  • Vins del Tros
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (100%)
  • Price: 23,45€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: October 25th, 2015



This is a wine made from the grapes of century-old Morenillo vines, the oldest vines owned by Vins del Tros. The wine is fermented and aged partly in old barrels, partly in amphorae and bottled unfiltered and unfined. Annual production of 1,140 bottles.

In the glass the wine has dense, opaque and concentrated blackcurrant color with a hint of haziness from the sediment.

It has incredibly rich, charming and expressive nose that is just deliciously juicy and clean; there are aromas of pure, juicy red grapes, prunes and fresh blackcurrants with nuances of balsamico volatility and animality in the background.

In the mouth the wine follows the aromas of the nose with its intense, pure and super-juicy flavors of ripe dark fruits, plum juice, bitter spiciness, some wild florals and a hint of honey. It has dry, concentrated and savory overall appearance with high-ish acidity and moderate tannins.

Ripe and pure finish with flavors of bitter spice, plum juice, florality and hints of volatile rusticity – and a slightest hint of alcohol heat (14,5%). Very long, pure, honest and complex aftertaste.

Boy oh boy this was good! More than good! Just incredibly pure, charming and juicy stuff – it is so much like its younger sibling, Àmfora Morenillo, but with a lot more oomph and concentration!

94/100
Summary: Not only is this perhaps the greatest Morenillo I've had, this is also one of the greatest modern Spanish red I've ever drunk. I'd love to see how this stuff ages, but it's very hard to cellar a wine like this, because this is so incredibly delicious and thus has incredibly high evaporation rate – my glass just emptied itself in mere seconds after it was filled, every time! An excellent buy at 23,45€.

***

Bàrbara Forés El Templari 2012
DO Terra Alta
  • Celler Bàrbara Forés
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (70%), Grenache (30%)
  • Tasted on: October 25th, 2014




Celler Bàrbara Forés is a winery that has produced wine since the late 19th century in Gandesa, Terra Alta, and is currently spearheaded by Carme Ferrer and her husband Manuel Sanmartín. They cultivate 22 ha of vineyards organically and they are one of the wineries trying their best to revive larger interest in Morenillo. However, curiously, their Morenillo wine, El Templari, isn't a 100% varietal Morenillo, but instead a Morenillo-dominant blended wine with some Garnatxa Negra (aka Grenache) in the mix.

Morenillo is fermented and macerated for 35 days in stainless steel whereas Grenache is fermented and macerated for 28 days in stainless steel. After the fermentation is complete, the wines are transferred to French Allier oak barriques, where they remain for 13–14 months before blending and bottling.

Dark, translucent color.

The wine exhibits a bit reticent nose dominated by sweet strawberry notes of Grenache with some alcohol and hints of oak spice.

It is quite full-bodied and sweet on the palate with relatively low acidity, resulting in a slightly flat and flabby mouthfeel. There are really ripe and rich flavors of strawberry, bitter spices, some fresh red berries and a hint of chocolate oak spice. The fine tannins are rather mellow and gentle and alcohol shows a little.

The finish is rich, juicy and a bit warm with flavors of strawberry, some oak spice and a hint of plums.

I was really curious to check out this new, Morenillo-dominant wine, but in this case the moderately small proportion of Garnacha seemed to dominate the blend with the oak influence overwhelming the rest of the Morenillo character. Normally Morenillos that I have tasted have been quite light, delicate and bright, but this was more about richness and sweet, ripe fruit – the wine actually tasted like a normal, average Grenache wine, with very little unique character.

85/100
I was a bit disappointed with El Templari. Probably the wine suffered from being served a bit above the optimum drinking temperature, making the acidity appear lower, fruit sweeter and alcohol more prominent, but it really felt that even in optimum drinking conditions it would have been an underachiever for a Morenillo wine. I guess I should return to this, but serve it cooler. This time the wine just didn't manage to impress.

***

Bàrbara Forés El Templari 2014
DO Terra Alta
  • Celler Bàrbara Forés
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Catalonia, Terra Alta
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (70%), Grenache (30%)
  • Price: 13,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: July 16th, 2016



Well, as the vintage 2012 of El Templari felt such an underachiever, I decided to give it another go. A few years later I returned to the vintage 2014, which should be similar in style – a Morenillo-dominant blended wine.

The wine's appearance is a bit lighter than that of 2012's, with translucent and rather pale cranberry red color, turning almost clear towards the rim.

The nose is pretty nuanced and bright, but also rather reticent and restrained, even. However, the nose exhibits more savory than sweet red tones with aromas of cranberries, some crowberries, faint wild notes and faint nuances of sweeter, ripe raspberry. The alcohol (13,5%) and the oak character seem to be well integrated.

On the palate the wine feels pretty full-bodied and moderate at most in the acid department, although showing a bit more freshness and brightness than the 2012 vintage. There are ripe but attractive and lively flavors of sweet dark berries, red cherries, some wild strawberries, a little dark-toned oak spice and a hint of rough, stony minerality. The tannins are still pretty mellow and keep out of the way unless you go looking for a fight.

The wine finishes with a medium-long, dark-toned and pretty pure aftertaste that is mostly about ripe fruit, not oak character. There are juicy and lively flavors of sweet red berries, some dark forest fruits and a little bitter spiciness with a hint of aromatic oak spiciness towards the end of the aftertaste.

Well, after the rather nondescript vintage 2012, it really did good to return to this wine again with another vintage! The 2014 vintage of El Templari felt brighter and more pure with more emphasis on the fruit than on the oak department. Still, I wouldn't say El Templari shows much competition against the best Morenillo wines on the market – this wine is a simple, unpretentious, easy-drinking red with very little to set it apart from a multitude of other Catalan reds.

88/100
Summary: Apparently Morenillo is so delicate it gets pretty easily overwhelmed under more powerful varieties. Both times I've tasted El Templari it felt I was drinking a Garnacha wine – even though Garnacha was only a minor component there composing only approximately 30% of the blend. I guess if you want to make a good Morenillo, you should treat it as the delicate variety it is, not something that needs "bigger" varieties to bolster up its "weaknesses".

***

Bodega Marañones Darío 2015
DO Madrid
  • Bodega Marañones
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Madrid
  • Grape(s): Morenillo (100%)
  • Price: 15,40€ / 0,75
  • Tasted: February 17th, 2017



Before I heard about Bodega Marañones' Darío I thought Morenillo was a variety found exclusively in Terra Alta, but lo and behold, somehow they've got some Morenillo in Madrid as well! I have no idea how and why Morenillo ended up in Madrid, or whether this Morenillo is even the same variety than the one in Terra Alta. But take note that this isn't just a recent thing – this Darío is made with grapes sourced from a vineyard 60 years old! Anyhow, this is definitely the only Morenillo wine I've seen coming from outside Terra Alta – at least for now.

The bottle itself doesn't declare it is made from Morenillo, only variedades locales; furthermore, the home pages of Bodega Marañones don't even recognize Darío's existence! It's all the other sources that claim this is a Morenillo, and I guess I just have to take their word for it. The vineyard in question is situated on granite soil and the resulting wine is aged for 9-10 months in very old (more than 10 years of age) oak barrels of 500-700 liters. The total production is 2,500 bottles.

The wine is dark cherry-colored and quite translucent.

The fragrant nose is utterly beautiful and attractive with pronounced aromas of crushed lingonberries, supported by more delicate notes of cranberries, raspberries, some dusty earth and a hint of animal. The nose actually has a strong sense of Pinosity, really, with a slightly wild undercurrent.

True to the nose, the wine is very light-bodied, fresh and super-crunchy on the palate with bright, lively flavors of raspberries, cranberries, redcurrants, some sour cherry and a hint of sour plums. Some lighter nuances of earthy spices and something wild linger in the background. Overall the wine shows remarkable focus and purity of flavor; if this was served to me blind, I'd go automatically for a Loire or Jura Pinot Noir, nothing Spanish! There isn't much in the way of tannins, yet the wine shows nice little grip and even a slight sense of astringency, just to emphasize the tart and savory red fruit flavors.

The finish is somewhat more bitter than the midpalate with quite pronounced sour cherry character, complemented by savory nuances of ripe dark-skinned berries, some slightly leafy green notes, a little plummy fruit and hints of animal and leather. The aftertaste that remains on the tongue is really long with pronounced lingonberry tartness and slightly grippy tannins.

As a whole, this is an immensely attractive, tasty and delicate red wine that is nothing what you would expect from a wine coming from Madrid! As a huge fan of well-made Pinot Noir and other red wines showing same kind of poise and verve, this wine shows huge appeal to me. Along with Lo Morenillo by Vins del Tros, this is definitely the best Morenillo on the market currently.

94/100
Summary: Whereas Lo Morenillo shows a lot more concentrated and brooding character with tremendous focus and balance, this wine is only about elegance and sophistication. Definitely one of the most Burgundian red wines I've had from Spain. Although drinking really wonderfully now, I wouldn't be surprised if this wine would age as gracefully as the best Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. Simply astounding value at 15,40€.

***

To me, Morenillo is an undiscovered treasure of Spanish wine, capable of producing tremendously attractive wines of some real character and wonderful drinkability. The thing of utmost importance is that the Consejo Regulador of DO Terra Alta would start promoting the variety, instead of talking the growers out of cultivating it! Of course I understand they want to promote their Garnatxa Blanca, which is definitely their trump card and a variety cultivated there for ages, but if they also have this red variety of remarkable character that no other region else has (well, apart from Madrid, it seems), I can't understand for the life of me why they wouldn't want to take advantage of it!

Lucky for us, there are still some producers who are intent on making wines of real local color out of Morenillo and I really do hope that they will keep on doing them in the future. With this blog post I hope to raise some awareness of this virtually unknown and almost extinct variety; this way we can signal the producers that there is demand for this unique variety and that they are doing the right thing.

Fortunately, as both light and delicate wines and wines made out of unheard-of indigenous varieties are currently popular, the wine trends seem to be on Morenillo's side for once. Let's hope it stays that way.

February 18, 2017

Vertical of the month: Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2007–1970

When speaking about terroir, Burgundy is without a question The Place: here the vineyards are mapped with stupefying detail by their potential to produce wines of extraordinary quality, based on their soil, climatic conditions and gradient of the slope. Nowhere else in the world have the different vineyards been so meticulously mapped and qualified by their capability in producing grapes of the highest quality. However, there are a handful of places in the world where the terroir's potential is acknowledged not only in regional, but also at more specific vineyard level: in Germany especially in Mosel, but also to some extent in other German regions as well, are famous vineyards that are known to produce better fruit than the others; Alsace adopted a Grand Cru system for their best vineyards in 1975; also some other French wine regions, like Northern Rhône and Loire have a small number of unique vineyards that are recognized even at the appellation level – most prominent ones being the monopoles of Château Grillet in Rhône and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in Savennières, Loire. However, I argue that Barolo and Barbaresco are those two regions that would be in most urgent need of Burgundian level overhaul of their classification due to their geographical complexity.

In the 20th century the wine regions of Barolo and Barbaresco gained widespread recognition and currently are considered to be in the top echelon of both Italy's and the whole world's wine regions. Both of these regions have specific vineyards – the so-called Barolo Crus and Barbaresco Crus – where the effect of terroir is more pronounced and the grapes from these vineyards (especially Nebbiolo, the noble grape of the region capable of expressing the terroir noticeably) can produce wines of distinction and high quality. However, these regional Crus are not recognized at the appellation level nor is there even any widespread agreement on which vineyards are better than the others. This is despite the fact that many wine professionals agree how some vineyards just are not up to the level of the others, even though most of the Cru vineyards can produce distinctive wines – something not unlike the distinction between the Premier Crus and Grands Crus of Burgundy.

One of the biggest problems is that in Barolo and Barbaresco the vineyards can often span an entire face of a hill, from the top to the bottom; this is in stark contrast to Burgundy, where the Grand Cru level vineyards are normally situated mid-slope, often surrounded by Premier Cru vineyards towards the upper and lower parts of the hill and the hilltop and valley floor vineyards belonging only to the regional appellation. This means that in Barolo or Barbaresco some vineyards can produce spectacular wines from one specific part, but not from the others. A more detailed study of the vineyards with vineyard designations according to their quality could remedy this, but I understand why there are also producers vehemently against this: you might now have holdings in prestigious vineyards, but if this kind of study concluded that your specific part of vineyard wouldn't be eligible for a status equal to "Grand Cru" or "Premier Cru" (or whatever terms they might come up with), the value of your holdings could plummet considerably overnight. This kind of re-evaluation of the local terroir would undoubtedly benefit the consumer, but for a local producer this kind of vineyard research could be a serious gamble.

When talking about Barolo Crus, one can't leave Renato Ratti (1935–1988) unmentioned. This pioneering winemaker from Barolo's La Morra set out in the 70's and 80's to map the vineyards of Barolo. Not only did he map out the historic viticultural sub-regions and the Cru-level vineyards of Barolo, but also highlighted those relatively few vineyards (Brunate, Cannubi, Cerequio, Gabutti-Parafada, Lazzarito, Marenca-Rivette, Monprivato, Rocche dell'Annunziata, Rocche di Castiglione, Villero) he considered to be of the highest quality; the Grands Crus of Barolo, if you may. This "Cru map" of Barolo was vital to local producers in pointing out the most important regions of the region and it is still used extensively even today. Later on many have elaborated Ratti's map further, highlighting many more vineyards and other regions with several people trying to come up with their own "top tier of the best vineyards" – yet with noticeably little consensus on which vineyards truly are the best.

As a step toward officializing the Barolo Crus, the Barolo Consorzio introduced as late as in 2010 their own system of designating the sub-regions of Barolo as menzioni geografiche aggiuntive, or MEGA. However, with close to 200 different vineyards or village designations without any system for designating the possible differences in quality, this system might in the end be more confusing than beneficial for the consumer.

Then, back to Renato Ratti. In addition to creating the aforementioned first "Cru map" of Barolo, he also created one of the world's first single-vineyard Barolos, Marcenasco, already back in 1965. He set out to create a Barolo that would showcase the elegance and purity of Nebbiolo, yet with such longevity he believed only the grapes sourced from the Marcenasco sub-region could produce. By producing a remarkable Barolo of true distinction from a specific vineyard, many producers followed in suit, and now Barolo wines made from grapes sourced exclusively from a single, designated vineyard have become a staple of the region's wines. Apart for the youngest Marcenasco (vintage 2007), the following wines were enjoyed in a vertical tasting almost exactly two years ago and they showcase perfectly the remarkable longevity of Ratti's Marcenasco.

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco
DOCG Barolo
  • Renato Ratti
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Barolo
  • Grape(s): Nebbiolo (100%)




Introduced with the vintage 1965, this is one of the original single-vineyard Barolos, although not the very first one (as Vietti's Barolo Rocche di Castiglione and Prunotto's Barolo Bussia were already made from the vintage 1961). Originally Barolo Marcenasco was a single-vineyard Barolo made from a vineyard located in the historic Marcenasco sub-region, next to the hamlet of La Morra. However, after Ratti increased his holdings in this sub-region during the 1970's, including plots in the famed vineyards of Rocche dell'Annunziata and Conda dell'Abbazia, the wine was no longer a single-vineyard Barolo, but instead an "imaginary Cru", made from the best grapes harvested from several different vineyards in the Marcenasco sub-region, yet still considered as a Cru Barolo.

In 1969, Ratti's nephew, Massimo Martinelli, joined the winery and they perfected the vinification of Marcenasco. As opposed to the zeitgeist, when maceration times were long and aging regimes even longer (in an attempt to tone down the harsh tannins resulting from the prolonged maceration times) in Barolo, Marcenasco's fermentation was hastened, maceration time cut shorter and pre-release bottle aging was favored over long oak aging. Currently the maceration time of the wine is about 7–10 days, which is very short compared to the traditional maceration period that could last well over a month. After having completed the maceration and fermentation, the wine is first aged for 24 months in oak casks of 2500 and 5000 liters and finally for at least another 24 months more in bottles before release.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2007
  • Tasted on: 17th of February, 2017

A very warm vintage that begun with a mild and dry winter, followed by an atypically warm spring. The second half of the year was hottest for the past two centuries, resulting in one of the earliest harvests in the region. Some regions suffered from the hot weather resulting in grapes that were picked too early to keep them from becoming overripe, but the best (aka coolest) Barolo sites fared tremendously well, letting the grapes reach optimum physiological ripeness and develop their flavors fully. At Renato Ratti winery the vintage is considered as annata eccenzionale ("exceptional vintage"), resulting in wines of remarkable complexity, concentration and longevity.

The wine's concentrated, almost opaque dark cherry color has a slightly developed maroon hue. The rather nose is incredibly rich, complex and profound with rather pronounced sweet oak character of cola, chocolate and cocoa nibs, but enough fruit to offset the oak with juicy aromas of ripe dark cherry, some floral rose petal notes, some smoke and a hint of sweet volatile acidity. Unlike the sweet nose, the wine is a lot drier on the palate with full body and very ample, but also very ripe and slowly gripping tannins. There are rich flavors of dark cherry, sour cherry, sweet oak spice, some sweet tar notes, a little cola and chocolate, a floral hint of roses and a touch of sweet volatile lift towards the aftertaste. The acidity is rpetty high, which is really vital for a wine showing such concentration. The finish is very rich, ripe and concentrated with pretty lengthy and rather oak-driven flavors of tar, sweet oak spice, dark plummy fruit, a little dark cherry and a hint of volatility.

Overall Marcenasco 2007 seems very big, rich and impressive wine, but its oak characteristics still seem too pronounced – 10 years of age have done pretty little to the oak, so most likely it will need at least 10–15 more years to integrate the wood character better with the fruit. But even though I am not a fan of oak-driven wines, I found this wine surprisingly enjoyable and satisfying, all due to its impressive structure and that wonderful harmony between the body, the acidity and the tannins.

92/100
Summary: I have never understood why some people are so eager to describe wines "masculine" or "feminine", but if one were to use this kind of sexist terminology, I can imagine this wine would be a stereotypical example of a "masculine" Nebbiolo: big, rich, concentrated and rather oak-heavy with muscular tannins and imposing presence. Although the wine feels rather modern with its polished new oak sheen, it still shows that good Barolo structure beneath its glossy surface. I can imagine this wine will turn out to be tremendous with enough age (at least 10 more years), but currently it's quite a bit too heavily oaked for my taste. Still, the high quality of the wine is obvious even under all that new wood.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1989
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

A superb vintage regarded as annata grande ("great vintage") in Marcenasco by the Ratti winery. Considered as one of the classic Barolo vintages of the past few decades, although often overshadowed by the exceptional and noticeably warmer vintage 1990 that followed.

Pale, translucent cherry red color that is already slightly bricking with a deep orange hue. Quite dry, savory and rather restrained nose with complex aromas of red cherry, tart cranberry, some dusty earth, a little leather, hints of sweet rosy floral nuances and a touch of something slightly animal. Although the nose lacks a bit power, it really doesn't lack depth. On the palate the wine is full-bodied with rather soft acidity and quite modest, even a bit mellow tannins. The flavors are quite dry, although revealing attractive ripe red cherry notes and some tarry earthiness, supported by understated nuances of leather, stony minerality, some rather bitter spiciness and a touch of very sweet strawberry. The finish is very gentle and more sweeter than the midpalate with very complex of cherry marmalade, Asian spices, ripe strawberry, some smoke and tar and a hint of bitterness. The tannins give a slight tug to the aftertaste.

No wonder 1989 is considered as a fantastic vintage of Barolo: this wine showcased all the characteristics of an aged Barolo with remarkable fruit concentration – although the wine showed some signs of age, it would've been very easy to guess it as a lot younger vintage, if served blind!

93/100
Summary: As the wine was more about developed, sweet fruit and remarkable complexity than about stern, tightly-knit structure, this wine was definitely a treat on its own, but much less so with food – it lacks the brightness to cut through. Bear this mind, if you happen to come across this wine. Even though I love the sharp acidity and grippy tannins of Nebbiolo this wine didn't really showcase, it was still nothing short of fantastic to me.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1985
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

Overall this hot year is not considered as one of the region's better vintages, as both the yields and alcohol levels were high, 1985 was considered as annata eccezionale ("exceptional vintage") by Renato Ratti, producing wines of remarkable character, structure, length and intensity in Marcenasco.

The wine's color is translucent but quite dark cherry red with slightly maroon hue towards the rim. The nose betrays slight hints of oxidative characters like raisin and stewed fruit, yet it also shows lots of life and nicely aged notes of red cherry, dried dates, sweet floral aromatics, a little almond and a hint of strawberry jam. The wine is quite rich and full-bodied on the palate, but even though the overall flavors suggest quite a lot of sweetness, overall the wine still feels quite dry, spicy and savory. There are flavors of cherry and even cherry marmalade, powerful exotic spice character, some raisin and a hint of dried dates. The structure is really impressive due to the high acidity and very firm tannins that still show quite some grip after 30 years. The wine finishes with a really long, complex and developed aftertaste of exotic spices, dried red berries, sour cherry, syrupy molasses, some nuttiness and faint mushroomy tones. The tannins give the aftertaste good, somewhat astringent grip.

The vintage 1985 hasn't stood up to the test of time as nicely as many of the other vintages tasted here, but it still drinks very nicely, eventually turning out to be a lot nicer than what the somewhat over-developed notes initially suggested.

92/100
Summary: This is definitely a lot more impressive wine on the palate than what the nose led to expect. The wine shows remarkable acid and tannin structure, so even though this is a 30-year old wine, it's still more of a food wine than a smooth and silky meditation wine. Very lovely effort, but somewhat overshadowed by the two surrounding vintages.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1983
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

A vintage Renato Ratti considered (only) as an annata buona, "a good vintage", for Marcenasco, whereas it is otherwise considered as quite a weak vintage in Barolo, due to cool spring, uneven weather during the early summer and high humidity throughout the growing season, resulting in high occurrences of rot. The wines aren't normally considered as ageworthy due to their modest acidity and tannin levels.

Translucent, but quite dark cherry color with somewhat developed, maroon hue and rather obvious bricking towards the rim. The nose is really fragrant, surprisingly sweet and immensely attractive with deep, rich and floral aromas of roses, cherry marmalade, beautiful and elegant volatile lift, a little smoke and lovely, developed fruit aromas of raisin, caramel and plum marmalade. The nose has even a slightly sticky quality to it, giving it almost a red Beerenauslese-kind of character. On the palate the wine feels full-bodied and velvety with quite intense flavors of sweet spices, dried cherries, leather, sweet plummy fruit, some tangy sour cherry and a hint of raisin. Despite the modest vintage the wine shows good, balanced acidity and ample, but quite ripe and mellow tannins. The finish is long, complex and delicate with a kaleidoscope of developed flavors: cherry juice, prunes, bitter sour cherry, tart cranberry, some earthy tones, a little exotic spices, a hint of raisin and a touch of mushroomy character.

Despite not being a vintage that'll set no hopes up, Marcenasco 1983 manages to seriously impress. I mean really. Wow. Incredible complexity, depth and harmony. Although the age has concentrated the fruit so that it starts to veer into that quite sweet, dried fruit territory, that sweetness is wonderfully offset by the wine's balanced structure.

95/100
Summary: One of the best Marcenascos I've had, easily. The wine is drinking really nicely right now with its completely resolved tannins and although the wine will probably keep still for some good years, the developed dried fruit character is starting to signal that it should be drunk preferably sooner than later. Infinitely attractive effort and really a positive surprise from a generally poorly regarded vintage.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1979
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

An above average vintage: the spring had some frosts and the late summer and early autumn light rains, but overall the weather was quite warm and pretty easy for the growers. The biggest problem was rainy October, diluting especially the later-harvested wines (ie. the majority of Nebbiolo). The best wines from this vintage were harvested early enough before the rains fell. According to Renato Ratti, 1979 was an annata ottima ("optimum (very good) vintage") – a bit better than just "good", but nothing really stunning. 1979 Marcenascos should show both elegance and intensity.

The wine has a translucent and rather pale red color with a luminous Campari hue. The nose isn't that expressive, but instead very elegant and attractive with nuanced aromas of dried cherry, orange peel, some oxidative nutty notes – even borderline hints of bread – and dusty earth with a slightly funky animal undertone. On the palate the wine feels full-bodied, smooth and rich with rather modest acidity and ripe, mellow tannins. The flavors are starting to veer into that rather sweet, aged fruit territory, revealing interweaving nuances of red berry marmalade, dried figs, some sweet spiciness and hints of sour cherry bitterness. Just like the nose, also the flavors are quite subtle and mellow, lacking the youthful intensity. The finish is quite soft and round as well, yet lengthy enough, with flavors velvety, slightly sweet flavors of cherry marmalade, allspice, some leather and a hint of dried figs.

Compared to some of the other vintages tasted in this vertical, the 1979 vintage was obviously lighter and more delicate in flavor, yet showing really lovely, aged complexity.

91/100
Summary: I guess this is the kind of vintage some people would love to describe as "feminine" – it is more delicate and mellow than many of the other vintages tasted. Although the wine shows lovely balance and captivating flavors, it is reaching the far end of its peak and probably will fall apart – probably sooner than later. As the structure has resolved itself to the point of feeling very soft and round, this wine is obviously one to be enjoyed on itself, not with any dishes requiring wines of great structure.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1974
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

After a late spring, 1974 was a quite optimal vintage for the winegrowers, with warm, steady weather allowing the grapes to mature easily throughout the region. On average the wines showed less acidity than normal with ripe, rich fruit and firm tannins. Renato Ratti agreed that 1974 was also an annata ottima ("very good vintage") for the Marcenasco wines. The grapes for Marcenasco 1974 were sourced exclusively from the Cru vineyard Rocche dell'Annunziata.

Despite the wine's cherry red color is quite dark-hued, it is also remarkably translucent and almost watery clear towards the rim. The nose shows quite powerful, funky and dirty aromas suggesting that the wine might have seen a bit too much oxygen over the years; there are intense and quite naughty aromas of animal rusticity, moist soil, root vegetables, some mushroomy notes, a little bit of rainy forest and a hint of dried salt-cured meat. On the palate the continues down the funk road with robust and also somewhat sweet flavors of cherries, dried figs, pronounced bitterness, some Mediterranean spices and a little smoky earth. The wine has full body and quite stern and grippy structure with good acidity and very ample, although somewhat resolved tannins. Overall the wine seems slightly musty and it takes a slightly volatile turn to "wild" aromas with air. The finish is very bitter and acid-driven with robust tannic grip and long, rough flavors of sour cherries, loamy soil, some toasted spices, light animal notes and a hint of old furniture.

Despite the good vintage, 1974 Marcenasco failed to impress. Most likely it's more about bottle variation than how the vintage should be drinking right now, so the score is not really representative of the vintage, but only this bottle.

86/100
Summary: Probably marred by some oxidation, this wine wasn't that impressive as the best vintages. You could easily taste the power, the concentration and the tightly knit tannic structure, but the funky and even somewhat unpleasant off notes distracted so much that the experience was actually rather modest.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1971
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

Usually 1971 is considered to be the vintage of the decade: both cold winter lasting long into spring and intermittent spring hails reduced the yields noticeably, whereas long, hot summer and dry, warm autumn ripened the remaining Nebbiolo grapes easily to perfect ripeness. Renato Ratti also considered 1971 to be annata eccezionale, an "exceptional vintage", for Marcenasco, resulting in incredibly perfumed and harmonious wines. The grapes for Marcenasco 1971 were sourced exclusively from the Cru vineyard Rocche dell'Annunziata.

Quite dark and ever so slightly hazy maroon-hued cherry color with lovely copper highlights and the appearance turning from orange to almost completely limpid towards the rim. Incredibly attractive nose with stunning depth and complexity; there are developed, perfumed aromas of leather, dried figs, wizened cherries, mocha, some oxidative sweet syrup notes and a little roasted nut character with a hint of Middle Eastern spice market. On the palate the wine is lively, full-bodied and incredibly rich with intense flavors of surprising power; there are notes of sweet red cherries, ripe red fruits, some exotic spices, a little leather and a hint of dried dark fruit. The structure is remarkable with both bright acidity and still quite firm and grippy tannins. The remarkably long finish is surprisingly lively and even youthful with complex, developed flavors of sweet red cherries, dark-toned fruit, sour cherry bitterness, some cranberry-driven tart red berries, a little exotic spices and a hint of peppery spice.

This is simply stunning stuff. 1971 Marcenasco is easily one of the greatest old Baroli I've had, offering a dumbfounding mélange of flavors both developed and remarkably youthful. Even at over 40 years of age, the wine seems that it hasn't reached its plateau of maturity, but instead it is still going up.

97/100
Summary: Obviously 1971 was capable of producing wines for the long haul in Barbaresco. Based on how this bottle was drinking, this fella is not going anywhere anytime soon. Definitely a wine you'll want to get your hands on – an archetype of a well-made Nebbiolo that has aged just like they should.

***

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 1970
  • Tasted on: 12th of February, 2015

Another stunning vintage that was very similar to the following year. However, 1970 is often overshadowed by 1971, which produced more opulent and structured wines. According to Renato Ratti, this was an annata grande ("great vintage") – the best kind of vintage there is, bar the few exceptional years you might have once every decade or two. The grapes for Marcenasco 1970 were sourced exclusively from the Cru vineyard Rocche dell'Annunziata.

By the appearance this 1970 is very similar to the 1971 next to it, only with very slightly paler hue; with its maroon highlights this looks like caramel-colored water with a reddish hue. The nose betrays some signs of oxidation, meaning that this specific wine isn't in optimal condition – if Marcenasco 1971 was so stunning, Marcenasco 1970 shouldn't be like a polar opposite to it. The nose is quite subdued and there are rather sharp and savory aromas of raisin, dried figs, sweet Tawny port, some dark-roasted coffee and hints of withered flowers. On the palate the wine feels full-bodied with grainy, resolved tannins and moderate acidity. The very developed, complex flavors reveal oxidative notes of dark syrup, sour cherry, dried dates, exotic spices, some raisin and a hint of nuttiness. The taste oxidizes quite quickly, becoming more dull and stylistically closer to tawny port with air. The finish is quite restrained and rather short with dépassé flavors of withered cherry, black tea, stony minerality, some roasted nuts and a hint of Oloroso Sherry tang.

Unfortunately this wine couldn't match the expectations; Marcenasco 1970 should be still going strong, but unfortunately after more than 40 years, bottle variations are an unfortunate fact. Obviously either the wine had been cellared in poor conditions at some point or the cork had started to let oxygen through, because although the wine wasn't completely dead and spoiled, it was obviously past its peak, lacking the fruit it still should show.

88/100
Summary: Although this wine has seen better days, it was still somewhat alive and pretty drinkable. If drunk without any other Baroli to compare to, it would have been easily a very enjoyable wine, but now, with stunning Marcenasco 1971 in a glass next to it, this wine failed to move me in any meaningful way. I'd still love to revisit the wine in the hopes of having a better bottle, because I've heard several times that Marcenasco 1970 is still drinking wonderfully – some people even say that they prefer this vintage over the 1971!

The wines: Marcenascos 1970–1989 with Rocche 1996.