Un tributo a Renato Vacca, grande vignaiolo di Barbaresco

ll 14 marzo, Barbaresco ha perso uno dei suoi viticoltori più appassionati, Renato Vacca. Titolare della cantina Cantina del Pino, Vacca è stato uno dei produttori più rispettati e apprezzati della denominazione. Aveva 51 anni.

Renato Vacca produceva vini straordinari che trasmettevano le loro uniche zone di coltivazione. L’ho visitato più volte mentre scrivevo il mio libro Barolo and Barbaresco, e dopo averlo seguito nei suoi vigneti, ho imparato molto sulla coltivazione del Nebbiolo e sulle sotto-zone del Barbaresco. Gliene sarò sempre grata.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca nella sua Cantina del Pino

Diplomato alla Scuola Enologica di Alba, Vacca ha lavorato per cinque anni nelle cantine della famosa cantina cooperativa di Barbaresco, I Produttori del Barbaresco, prima di rilevare l’azienda di famiglia nel 1997. Acquisita dal suo bisnonno, la piccola tenuta era un tempo di proprietà di Domizio Cavazza , che è considerato il padre di Barbaresco e che è stato il primo direttore della Scuola.

Prendendo il nome dal pino di Cavazza piantato dopo la nascita di suo figlio, la Cantina del Pino si trova sulla famosa collina di Ovello, una delle più grandi aree vinicole della denominazione. Renato proveniva da generazioni di viticoltori e suo padre e suo zio erano tra i membri fondatori di I Produttori. Dopo essere entrato in azienda nel 1997, la Cantina del Pino ha imbottigliato i suoi primi vini.

Uno dei veri sostenitori della produzione di vini guidati dal terroir con carattere e personalità, Renato Vacca ha sempre creduto nel guidare i suoi vini, senza mai forzarli. Nei vigneti, che includono vecchie viti piantate da suo nonno, si è occupato con cura delle sue piante, evitando sostanze chimiche aggressive e fertilizzanti chimici. In cantina era uno scrupoloso non interventista. Credeva anche che il Nebbiolo non dovesse essere completamente diraspato, ma lasciava un 10-15% di raspi perfettamente maturi nel processo di fermentazione-macerazione per impartire nobili tannini che conferivano ai suoi vini un’altra dimensione.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca e Kerin O’Keefe

Uno dei viticultori più esperti di Barbaresco, Vacca aveva una profonda conoscenza delle migliori aree vinicole della denominazione e negli anni ha acquisito proprietà a Neive. Mentre Ovello è noto per la sua eleganza e fragranza, l’Albesani di Nieve è più strutturato con frutti più ricchi. Solo pochi anni fa, Vacca ha anche iniziato a realizzare anche un Gallina Barbaresco che combina magnificamente precisione, corpo e finezza.

Nonostante il suo successo, Renato Vacca è sempre stato modesto e rispettoso, con dei tratti da vero gentleman. Mancherà enormemente a tutti quelli che lo conoscevano e a tutti coloro che amavano i suoi fantastici vini.

A tribute to Barbaresco grower-producer Renato Vacca

On March 14, Barbaresco lost one of its most passionate winemakers, Renato Vacca. Owner of the boutique winery Cantina del Pino, Vacca was one of the denomination’s most respected and liked producers. He was 51.

Renato Vacca made stunning wines that conveyed their unique growing zones. I visited him several times while writing my book Barolo and Barbaresco, and after following him around his vineyards, I learned a great deal about Nebbiolo cultivation and Barbaresco’s greatest growing areas. I will always be grateful.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca and Kerin O’Keefe

A graduate of Alba’s Scuola Enologica, Vacca worked for five years in the cellars of Barbaresco’s famed cooperative cellar, I Produttori del Barbaresco before taking over his family’s firm in 1997. Acquired by his great-grandfather, the small estate was once owned by Domizio Cavazza, who is hailed as the Father of Barbaresco and who was the first director of Alba’s Royal Enological School.

Named after the pine tree Cavazza planted after the birth of his son, Cantina del Pino is located on the famed Ovello hillside, one of the greatest vineyard areas in the denomination. Renato hailed from generations of grape growers, and his father and uncle were among the founding members of I Produttori. After he joined the firm in 1997, Cantina del Pino bottled its first wines.

One of the true believers in making terroir-driven wines with character and personality, Renato Vacca believed in guiding his wines, never forcing them. In the vineyards, which include old vines planted by his grand-father, he carefully tended to his vines, shunning harsh chemicals and chemical fertilizers. In the cellars, he was a scrupulous non-interventionist. He also believed that Nebbiolo should not be entirely destemmed, but allowed 10-15% of perfectly ripe stems in the fermentation-maceration process to impart noble tannins that gave his wines another dimension.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca at his Cantina del Pino estate

One of the most experienced growers in Barbaresco, Vacca had a profound knowledge of the denomination’s best vineyard areas, and over the years he acquired property in Neive. While Ovello is known for its elegance and fragrance, Vacca’s Albesani from Neive is more structured with richer fruit. Just a few years ago, Vacca also began making a Gallina Barbaresco that beautifully combines precision, body and finesse.

Despite his success, Renato Vacca was always modest and respectful, and as the Italians say, gentile. He will be missed by all knew him and by all who enjoyed his breathtaking wines.

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Bruno Giacosa è deceduto a 88 anni

Oggi il mondo del vino italiano ha perso una delle sue leggende, Bruno Giacosa, all’età di 88 anni.

© Paolo Tenti | a bottle of Barbaresco Bruno Giacosa Asili Riserva with the Asili vineyard in the background

I Barolo e Barbaresco di Bruno includono alcuni dei nomi più sacri del Piemonte, tra cui il Barolo Falletto, il Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto, il Barbaresco Asili e il Barbaresco Santo Stefano, mentre le sue bottiglie con l’etichetta rossa delle Riserve – realizzate solo nei migliori anni – sono tra i vini più ricercati al mondo.

Giacosa era un tradizionalista illuminato, che combinava un approccio largamente non interventista in cantina con idee innovative, come il cambiamento dalle tradizionali botti di Slavonia alle botti grandi di rovere francese non tostate fatte da Gamba fin dagli anni ’80, quando molti altri optavano per tostare le barriques che avrebbero mascherato le classiche sensazioni floreali, di frutti di bosco e di note balsamiche del Nebbiolo.

Ma furono le straordinarie capacità di degustazione di Bruno la chiave del suo successo. Ha lasciato la scuola a quindici anni per lavorare nell’azienda vitivinicola di suo padre, trascorrendo le sue giornate camminando tra le colline delle Langhe alla ricerca delle migliori uve, vale a dire Nebbiolo ma anche Barbera e Dolcetto. Il giovane Giacosa divenne presto noto per quello che molti descrivono come il suo palato d’oro, e avrebbe continuato a creare Barolo e Barbaresco di complessità, finezza e longevità dai vigneti più rinomati. Scoprì anche vigneti meno conosciuti che avrebbe reso famosi attraverso i suoi vini eleganti e impeccabilmente equilibrati. Il suo rispetto per le vigne e la sua comprensione del modo in cui davano ai vini personalità individuali arrivarono decenni prima del suo tempo. Le sue prime bottiglie da vigneto singolo, il Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva Speciale del 1964, il Barbaresco Asili Riserva del 1967 e il Barolo Vigna Rionda del 1967, sono stati tra le prime in Italia.

Giacosa ha influenzato diverse generazioni di viticoltori, tra cui Franco Massolino, dell’azienda Massolino a Serralunga. “Bruno Giacosa è stato uno dei primi a dimostrare agli amanti del vino di tutto il mondo l’incredibile potenziale dei nostri vigneti”, afferma Massolino.

“Era un vero ‘piemontese, con un carattere riservato e talvolta poteva sembrare, in apparenza, un pò irascibile”, afferma Aldo Vacca, amministratore delegato di Produttori del Barbaresco. “Ma era senza dubbio il più esperto conoscitore dei grandi vigneti delle Langhe, e ancora indietro negli anni ’60, Giacosa ha saputo fare alcuni dei capolavori indiscussi del mondo del vino italiano “.

Sebbene Giacosa fosse ben noto per la sua personalità un pò burbera, ho avuto la fortuna di vedere un altro lato di lui, prima e dopo il suo ictus del 2006. Un uomo di poche parole, quando era rilassato nella sua cantina mentre assaggiava, scherzava spesso con sua figlia Bruna, e il suo viso si illuminava di un sorriso disarmante ogni volta che parlava dei suoi vigneti preferiti, Asili e Falletto.

© Paolo Tenti | Bruno Giacosa

Ed è così che ricorderò Bruno Giacosa.

The Beauty of Barbaresco

One of Italy’s greatest wines is finally getting the attention it deserves. We take you through the vintages, the communes and the bottles you need to buy.

© Paolo Tenti | The town of Barbaresco

Made with 100% native grape Nebbiolo, you’ve probably heard that Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines. Yet for many years, it’s also been Italy’s most famous unknown red: even though fine wine lovers had heard of it, until recently, many passed it up for Barolo, its larger, more renowned neighbor (also made entirely with Nebbiolo). But thanks to a new generation of winemakers embracing more natural farming methods that have led to even higher quality, and the denomination’s unique micro-climate that encourages freshness and balance even in the hottest vintages, wine lovers are discovering that Barbaresco is a world-class wine in its own right. And the recent, widespread fascination with Nebbiolo and Piedmont has further helped shine a light on the denomination.

Read the article: The Beauty of Barbaresco

Italy’s Most Collectible Wines

Thanks to a string of outstanding vintages over the last two decades, Italy’s most celebrated wine regions are on a roll.

Even though years like 1964, 1971 and 1978 are legendary in Piedmont, and 1955, 1970 and 1975 evoke similar feelings in Tuscany, stellar vintages used to be few and far between. But toward the late 1990s, things began to change. Better vineyard management — better clones, lower yields and gentler/fewer chemical treatments — coupled with drier, warmer growing seasons throughout the peninsula have regularly produced wines that can age gracefully for decades.

Producers point out that until the mid-1990s, they used to have two, occasionally three, outstanding vintages every decade. The other years were mediocre, if not downright dismal. Now, it’s the opposite. Each of the last few decades have boasted seven or eight very good to outstanding vintages.

Here’s a summary of Italy’s most collectible wines, and some of the greatest vintages of the past two decades.

Read the article: Italy’s Most Collectible Wines

Barolo e Barbaresco, il re e la regina dei vini italiani raccontati da Kerin O’Keefe (di Roberto Giuliani)

Kerin conosce molto bene il vino italiano, lo ha ampiamente dimostrato con precedenti pubblicazioni come “Franco Biondi Santi. Il Gentleman del Brunello” (Veronelli Editore, 2004) da lei tradotto l’anno successivo e per il quale ha ricevuto il “Gourmand Wine Books Award”, e “Brunello di Montalcino” (UC Press, 2012), ma soprattutto con i numerosissimi articoli dedicati alle aziende, ai vini, ai territori del Bel Paese su riviste prestigiose come The World Of Fine Wine e Decanter. Da maggio 2013 è Italian Editor della rivista Wine Enthusiast.

© Roberto Giuliani

Barolo and Barbaresco è un gran bel volume, oltre 300 pagine, corredate di bellissime foto rigorosamente in bianco e nero a firma Paolo Tenti, che illustrano la storia e le caratteristiche dei territori dove nascono questi due grandi vini a base nebbiolo. Il cuore del libro, ovviamente, è rappresentato dall’incontro con i principali produttori delle due denominazioni, accompagnato dalle degustazioni di diverse annate dei loro vini.

Leggi qui: Barolo e Barbaresco, il re e la regina dei vini italiani raccontati da Kerin O’Keefe

A measured, informative and very readable tour of Barolandia (by Nicolas Belfrage)

O’Keefe is a Bostonian wine journalist and author (published books include Franco Biondi Santi: The Gentleman of Brunello and Brunello di Montalcino) residing in Lugano, Switzerland (and therefore within easy driving-distance of Alba) with her husband, Paolo Tenti. She is responsible for numerous articles in magazines like this one and Decanter and is presently working for the American publication Wine Enthusiast as well.

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

A number of her articles have been on the subject of Barolo and/or Barbaresco, and she has spent years tasting the stuff (a happy fate, you might think; but that would be to underestimate the palate-coating, tannin-accumulating effect of Nebbiolo, which can turn the prospect of a 100+ lineup of individually excellent Barolo samples into a living nightmare). So, she is eminently qualified for the authorship of such a tome…

…Indeed, it’s a very useful tome to have to hand: measured, informative and very readable. I thoroughly recommend it.

Read the full review here: A measured, informative and very readable tour of Barololandia Review of Kerin O’Keefe Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Nicolas Belfrage MW in The World of Fine Wine (49) 2015

Barolo and Barbaresco: A Conversation with Kerin O’Keefe (by Evan Dawson)

The best wine writers are willing to offend if it means telling the truth. That’s easier said than done. When a writer publishes an article or a book that is likely to offend the producers that he or she covers, that can make future work more difficult. Doors close. Phone calls or emails are not returned.

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Fortunately for us, Kerin O’Keefe is willing to offend if she has to. That’s not her mission. As the Italian Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, she has delineated her values. If producers don’t agree, she doesn’t allow that to alter her writing.

Her 2012 book Brunello di Montalcino staked out clear lines in the growing debate over a region’s sense of place. Her newest book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, offers a similarly valuable perspective on a wine region’s evolution.

Read more here: http://palatepress.com/2015/06/wine/barolo-and-barbaresco-a-conversation-with-kerin-okeefe/

Barolo and Barbaresco: the King and Queen of Italian wine (by Charles S. Taylor)

I would have welcomed O’Keefe’s profiles when I started my Barolo Odyssey.

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Her accurate profiles of producers I know make me want to explore producers profiled that I have not encountered. The strength of this book is that it gives a detailed coherent account of the present and immediate past of Barolo and Barbaresco. This is a complicated story that O’Keefe has researched very effectively as a professional journalist. …This is a well-told, unique story of two of the greatest of wines anywhere.

Read more here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09571264.2015.1009016, Journal of Wine Research. 26 (1): 66–68.

Books of the year 2014: Drink, from wine to gin (by Henry Jeffreys)

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe (University of California Press, £25) had me reaching for words such as “definitive” and even “magisterial”. Don’t let those rather pompous words put you off – it’s a good read, too.

Read the review: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/books-of-the-year-2014-drink-from-wine-to-gin-9903443.html

A New Book on Barolo & Barbaresco … plus a Related Item (by Tom Maresca)

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

The University of California Press has just published Kerin O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wines (346 pp, maps, photos, index: $39.95). I’ve been wanting to announce this ever since, over a year ago, I read the manuscript for the Press and enthusiastically recommended publication: To my mind, this is the most important book on these two great wines yet published.

Read more here: https://ubriaco.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/a-new-book-on-barolo-barbaresco-plus-a-related-item/

A bounty of books about wine and spirits

The great wines of Italy’s Piedmont have become important enough that it’s surprising a book like Kerin O’Keefe’s “Barolo and Barbaresco” (UC Press; 360 pages; $39.95) hasn’t appeared before.

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Kerin O’Keefe, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine

But O’Keefe, Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, delivers an essential resource, with an invaluable level of both narrative and detail.

O’Keefe covers most major producers and a good number of minor ones, and offers some long-needed organization of the Langhe’s geography — important, given that Barolo is an area due for serious scholarship on its terroir.

Read the review: A bounty of books about wine and spirits

A Great, New Book on Barolo and Barbaresco (by Ed McCarthy)

O’Keefe began writing about Italian wine full-time in 2002, writing some excellent articles in Decanter, a British wine magazine; she continued writing for Decanter until 2013.  She also has written for The World of Fine Wine–the Rolls-Royce of all wine magazines.  In April, 2013, Kerin accepted a new position as Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Italian Wine Editor.

cover of Barolo and Barbaresco book
Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Barolo and Barbaresco is Kerin O’Keefe’s third wine book.  Her first book, Franco Biondi Santi:  The Gentleman of Brunello, was published in 2005.  Kerin followed that with Brunello:  Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, in 2012.  Both books were critically acclaimed.

O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco is written in three parts:  Part One covers the history of both wines, and the origin of Nebbiolo.  Part Two, the longest section, profiles 43 Barolo producers.  Part Three covers 29 Barbaresco producers.  In these two parts, producers are listed by the village in which their wineries are located.  The Appendix is highlighted by a Vintage Guide to Barolo and Barbaresco, starting with1945, and going up to 2010–the current vintage of Barolo available as of 2014.  O’Keefe employs a “star” rating–one to five stars–to rank the vintages.

O’Keefe’s book is a tour de force, a magnificent, comprehensive tome that required loads of research.  I am happy that she possessed the ability and passion to take on this herculean undertaking.  I think that every Barolo and Barbaresco wine lover will benefit from reading her Barolo and Barbaresco.

Read the review: http://www.winereviewonline.com/Ed_McCarthy__on_O_Keefe_Barolo_Barbaresco.cfm

Sip and turn a page (by Eric Asimov)

Among the world’s great wine regions, the Piedmont in northwestern Italy, home of Barolo and Barbaresco, has lagged far behind in focused English language appraisals. Kerin O’Keefe’s “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” (University of California Press, $39.95) goes a long way to fill the void. O’Keefe, an American wine critic who lives in Italy, offers a comprehensive look at the history, geography, geology and issues faced in the Piedmont, and opinionated profiles of the producers she feels are the best and most important.

O’Keefe, who wrote a similar guide to Brunello di Montalcino in 2012, is thorough and authoritative. She is a critic in the best sense of the word, not shy with her opinions, which she offers without polemics or bluster. This book is not for novices; readers are expected to have an understanding of how wine is farmed and produced. But for those who have delved into Barolo and Barbaresco and want to know more about where the wines are made, the people who make them and the differences in terroirs, this book is inspiring and essential.

Read the review: http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20141217/sip-and-turn-a-page-with-these-books

Bruno Giacosa: Pioneering Precision in Piedmont

No discussion of Barolo and Barbaresco would be complete without mention of Bruno Giacosa, one of Italy’s most esteemed producers. Paolo Tenti reports on “the genius of Neive.”

He’s the producer who inspired a generation of winemakers. A pioneer in introducing single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco. And a man who’s not afraid to say no to a vintage if he thinks the grapes are not good enough.

© Paolo Tenti | Bruno Giacosa

Born into the family wine firm, Bruno Giacosa started his career at the tender age of 15 as a grape buyer, sourcing fruit for his father and grandfather, and then for many of Barolo’s large houses. In 1960, he started his own company and soon became famous for both his golden palate and his ability to recognize the best vineyards in the Langhe.

Thanks to his vast hands-on experience with growers – and his years spent seeking out the best grapes – he was among the first producers in the area to bottle single-vineyard wines. They included the now legendary Barolo Collina Rionda.

Read the full  article: Bruno Giacosa

Visiting Piedmont on a Budget

The stars of Italy’s Piedmont region are Barolo, Barbaresco and white truffles, but it’s possible to get an authentic taste of the region without taking out a second mortgage.

Castello di Barolo
© Paolo Tenti | Castello di Barolo

Every year, more tourists flock to Italy’s northwest in search of the latest Barolos and Barbarescos—two of the country’s most famous and expensive wines—and to enjoy the area’s upscale dining, especially in the fall when rare white truffles make an appearance.

Alba and the nearby Langhe hills are the undisputed epicenter of Piedmont’s fine wine and dining scene, boasting 12 Michelin-starred restaurants within a 10-mile radius. 

And judging by the boom of recently opened luxury hotels, spas and golf resorts, the Langhe certainly seems to cater to an upscale clientele. 

Fortunately, there’s another side to these hallowed hills. For visitors who don’t want to break the bank, the region also offers simple country hotels in the vineyards and informal restaurants that specialize in local cuisine. 

Best of all for wine lovers, Piedmont’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco producers also make delicious, affordable wines that can be served with a variety of dishes and offer sheer drinkability—Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. 

These wines are growing in popularity, and with an increasing number of labels imported to the U.S., they offer a little taste of Piedmont here at home. 

Read the article: Visiting Piedmont on a Budget

Barolo 2009 and Riserva 2007

This year’s annual Nebbiolo Prima tastings in Alba showcased Barbaresco 2010, Barolo 2009, and the denominations’ Riservas – 2008 and 2007 respectively. A selection of Roero 2010 and Riserva 2009 were also displayed.

Clearly the media, representing the top publications from key international markets from around the world, were most interested in Barbaresco 2010, and – even more so – Barolo 2009.

The Barbarescos showed well overall, and 2010 – distinguished by a cool, wet summer followed by a warm, dry September that allowed nebbiolo a long ripening season – is living up to its reputation of being a classic vintage with the structure for laying down and mellowing.

The 2009 Barolos are a different story altogether. They represent a mixed bag of qualities and styles that depend not only the individual villages and vineyard areas, but also on the ability of the growers and winemakers to handle the difficult climatic conditions. Of all the recent vintages, 2009 is going to pose the most serious challenges for Barolo lovers – due to the irregular performance even among the usually most reliable estates.

Read the article: Barolo 2009 Riserva 2007

Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Gaia Gaja oversees the day-to-day running of her family’s prestigious 154-year old estate in Piedmont.

Gaia Gaja
© Paolo Tenti | Gaia Gaja

Are you adjusting your winemaking practices because of climate change?

Absolutely. But more than in the cellar, the real changes are being made in the vineyards. If in the 1970s and 1980s, vineyard management was geared towards achieving better ripening and eliminating humidity from the vineyards, we’re now doing just the opposite. So, we no longer top off the leaf canopy to help the sun ripen the grapes.

Twenty years ago, we planted grass between the rows to absorb water, and we cut it constantly to stimulate new growth. Now, we leave the grass but never cut it. We let it die, then press it down so that it covers the soil to keep it cool and moist. Since 2003, we’ve also been identifying those clones on our estate that perform best in dry, hot vintages. It’s a long process but we’re starting to see interesting results that should help us in the future.

Who or what inspired you to make wine?

Both my grandfather and my father. My grandfather, because he believed wholeheartedly in Barbaresco at a time when almost no one else did, and my father because of his great courage to make daring changes that revolutionized vineyard management and winemaking.

Has your winemaking style changed over time? If so, how?

The style itself has not really changed, but each vintage is approached differently in order to make the best wines possible. Changes are subtle but include adapting maceration times and how long the wines age in oak, for example. Also, my father used to make all the decisions on his own, but now we have a team; together we make all the strategic decisions after careful tastings.

Read the article: Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Angelo Rocca (1948–2012): Barbaresco’s free thinker

The adventurous producer of some of Piedmont’s most acclaimed wines, Angelo Rocca was also a much-loved and respected figure in the region, says Kerin O’Keefe.

© Paolo Tenti | Monica, Angelo and Daniela Rocca

Celebrated Barbaresco producer Angelo Rocca, of the family firm Albino Rocca, died on October 8, 2012, in a plane crash.

Angelo Rocca’s small yellow plane had become a fixture in the skies above his home village of Barbaresco, and friends say he was a passionate pilot who also enjoyed cars and motorbikes.

Read the article: Angelo Rocca (1948–2012): Barbaresco’s free thinker

Bruno Giacosa

This eminent Barolo producer has been around the block more than once since starting in wine 68 years ago. Kerin O’Keefe pays the great man a visit and hears how he has overcome the formidable challenges of recent years, including illness and the firing and re-hiring of his winemaker.

At first glance, things appear remarkably unchanged at Bruno Giacosa’s winery during my recent visit. It is almost as if the daunting challenges that the legendary Barolo and Barbaresco producer has faced over the past five years had never happened. Giacosa, one of Langhe’s trailblazing winemakers and an undisputed expert on the area’s top sites, showed off the latest vintages and discussed the past, present and future of this iconic estate alongside daughter Bruna and winemaker Dante Scaglione.

Giacosa, now 82, began his illustrious career at the age of 14, when he started working for his father’s grape-buying and winemaking estate. The young Giacosa soon gained renown for what many describe as his golden palate, and he went on to create Barolos and Barbarescos of extraordinary complexity from renowned vineyards, while discovering lesser-known sites that he would later make famous. Today, Giacosa’s acclaimed bottlings read like a wish list for wine connoisseurs, and include some of the most hallowed names in Piedmont, such as Falletto and Le Rocche del Falletto in Barolo, and Asili and Santo Stefano in Barbaresco. His red-label Riserva bottlings – made only in the best years – are among the most sought after wines in the world.

Giacosa was one of the first Italian winemakers to fully understand the importance of Langhe’s vineyards and, in 1967, he began bottling the famous hillside vineyard yields separately. Thanks to decades of experience as one of Langhe’s foremost grape buyers and winemakers, Giacosa decided years ahead of time which properties hewanted to own. The main object of his desire? Falletto. Located in the venerable village of Serralunga, perhaps the most prestigious of all the Barolo villages, Falletto has perfect southwest exposure that allows the grapes to mature slowly but fully, while its calcareous soil adds complexity and structure. ‘I’d been buying grapes from Falletto since 1967 and had always wanted to buy it,’ says Giacosa. ‘In 1982, I finally realised my dream.’ In 1996, he went on to acquire a parcel of land on the top of the notable Asili hillside in Barbaresco. Today he admits that this is the vineyard closest to his heart. ‘No other vineyard in Langhe yields a bouquet as elegant, or possesses such finesse and balance as Asili,’ says the veteran, who attributes the vineyard’s performance to its sandy, almost silty soil, full southern exposure and high altitude.

Read the article: Bruno Giacosa

Gaja Barbaresco over four decades: 1961-2003

Angelo Gaja, one of Italy’s most charismatic and successful  winemakers, is credited not only with drawing Barbaresco out of obscurity but with triggering the quality revolution that pulled the country’s wine scene out of the doldrums. Yet while aficionados and pundits automatically associate Gaja with Italy’s modern winemaking movement and sleek single-vineyard bottlings, the great aging potential of his wines should also be remembered.

© Paolo Tenti | Barbaresco 1961-2003 Gaja
© Paolo Tenti | Barbaresco 1961-2003 Gaja

Tasting through four decades of Gaja’s Barbaresco at an informal private tasting held for this author by Angelo and his daughter Gaia on January 12, 2007, at their cellars in Barbaresco was a chance to experience Italy’s quality metamorphosis at first hand. Changes and improvements in viticulture and vinification were subtle but unmistakable, while Gaja’s hallmark elegance was evident in every bottling, like a family resemblance.

© Paolo Tenti | Barbaresco 1961 1964 1967 Gaja
© Paolo Tenti | Barbaresco 1961-1964-1967 Gaja

While Gaja’s fans applaud his world-class wines, cynics often claim that his modern winemaking methods have changed the tipicità of his Nebbiolo. Yet these same critics often fail to note that Gaja persists with more traditional techniques whenever he thinks them worthwhile. He is among the few top producers in Italy who still resist selected yeasts for the alcoholic fermentation, except in very difficult years when, as a last resort, he will add a small amount of nutrients to feed the native yeasts. Gaja’s use of barriques has also come under fire by advocates of traditional Nebbiolo. But it should be pointed out that all his Nebbiolo wines are aged one year in barriques of various ages and one year in giant, perfectly maintained Slavonian casks that are, on average, 100 years old, so the new-wood sensations are minimal.

Read the article: Gaja Barbaresco over four decades: 1961-2003