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.

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Cult Barolo producer Teobaldo Cappellano dies

Teobaldo Cappellano, the respected and controversial Barolo producer, has died at 65.

Cappellano – known to friends as Baldo – was an outspoken traditionalist who often joined forces with Beppe Rinaldi and the late Bartolo Mascarello. They referred to themselves as the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ for their fierce determination to defend classically crafted Barolos.

A purist who believed that the future of Barolo lay in the denomination’s traditional winemaking methods, he shunned barriques, over-extraction and excessive concentration. He also denigrated contemporary scoring systems and refused to submit his wines for rating.

The late winemaker’s complex Barolos were produced in tiny quantities. His Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco, made with grapes from ungrafted vines, was particularly sought by collectors the world over.

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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

Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies (by Paolo Tenti)

Italy’s Bartolo Mascarello – the patriarch of Barolo – died at his home in Barolo on Saturday at the age of 78.

A teenage partisan during the Second World War (he used to tell German wine lovers, ‘first you chased me, now you chase my wine’) he was dubbed ‘the Last of the Mohicans’ for his dogged refusal to let traditions die.

Deploring the shift from the traditional wooden botti to smaller, 225-litre barriques, he never accepted any method of making Barolo other than low yields, long maceration, big oak casks and minimum intervention in the cellar.

His dedication to the preservation of Barolo’s true character and above all its longevity, made him the patriarch of traditional Barolo and gained him an international cult following – with fans as diverse as the cellist and conductor Rostropovich, and the Queen of the Netherlands.

Mascarello spent most of his life tending four small vineyards in prime locations: Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rué in Barolo, and Rocche in La Morra. He favoured the old-school practice of blending from those four plots, rejecting the modern style of single vineyard crus. He always argued, ‘We don’t even have a word for cru: we have to import it from France.’

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Anti-Berlusconi label becomes collector’s item

A hand-painted Barolo label lampooning Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has become a collector’s item.

Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi
Bartolo Mascarello label: No Barrique No Berlusconi

The label scandal which erupted in Italy during last year’s elections is continuing to draw wine aficionados to Piedmont in search of the rare bottles of ‘No Barrique, No Berlusconi’ Barolo.

Tourists and collectors are flocking into the area hoping to find bottles of the wine that caused at least one shop to be raided by the military for ‘displaying political propaganda in an unauthorised space’.

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