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

US love affair with Italy

Why the US can’t get enough of Italian wine.

Food and wine have always been important for Italian Americans, and today many star US chefs are of Italian descent. This love for Italian food has helped drive the popularity of Italian wine.

Even though an increased focus on food and wine pairing is a major force behind Italian wine sales in America, some experts attribute the sustained success of Italian wine here to a tailor-made style that caters specifically to the ’American Palate‘, a term which has become synonymous with highly oaked, overly dense, sweet and powerful wines.

Surprisingly accepted as a reality for years by many in the media and by wine producers themselves, the concept behind the American Palate – that a single style can capture the taste buds of an entire nation – is generating sharp debate, if not a downright backlash, as evolving consumer preferences are turning away from this heavy-handed style.

Read the article: US love affair with Italy

A Rosso by any other name

Rosso di Montalcino used to be a light, simple quaffer, not a rich powerhouse like its big brother, Brunello. So why are so many Rossos now being made in this stronger style, asks Kerin O’Keefe.

Monstrous tannins, alcohol levels reaching 14.5% and made exclusively with 100% Sangiovese? Only one wine should fit this description: Brunello di Montalcino.
But Rosso di Montalcino, often called Brunello’s fratellino (baby brother), and created as the denomination’s second wine to be consumed young, often shares many of the qualities once reserved for the hilltop town’s most illustrious bottling. While sibling rivalry is nothing new in the Italian wine world, it is perhaps the first time the term applies to two wines made with the same grape from the same denomination. So why are so many Rossos now powerhouses, with
almost Brunello-like structures?

Read the article: A Rosso by any other name

Brunello: 2005 now, 2004 Later

The tail-end of the vintage was a washout, leading some to write it off. Yet many smaller estates have made impressive Brunellos in 2005, says Kerin O’Keefe– perfect as we wait to open the magnificent riserva 04s…

One of the biggest problems facing producers of the recently released Brunello 2005s is that the vintage is sandwiched between the superb Brunello 2004s and the already much-hyped 2006s, scheduled for release next year. While 2004 is a classic vintage, thanks to perfect climatic conditions that yielded structured, harmonious wines with serious cellaring potential, 2005 was an unstable year in most of Montalcino’s growing zone, with a cool summer that culminated in heavy rains at harvest time.

There are, however, some surprisingly good Brunellos from
the vintage, and those estates – mostly small – that were able to
pick entirely before torrential rains arrived, like Costanti, made
some of the best 2005s. Many of the larger houses, on the other
hand, were not able to finish harvesting before the rain, so had
a mixed quality crop.

The 2005 vintage underlines the need for official subzones
in Montalcino. While many Brunellos hailing from estates just
north and south of the town are delicate, with earthy, floral
aromas, Brunellos from Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the southeast
have bigger structures (though grape selection was still crucial).
The higher areas of Sant’Angelo in Colle in the far south also
yielded some very good wines, such as Il Poggione’s.

Read the article: Brunello: 2005 now, 2004 Later

Chianti Classico divorce papers come through

The Chianti Classico Consorzio has confirmed that after 78 years of distancing itself from the Chianti denomination, the divorce is now final.

The Chianti Classico zone, the original central growing area for Chianti, was first delimited in 1716 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

It was relegated to mere subzone status in 1932 when the government divided the much expanded Chianti area into subzones.

Since then Chianti Classico, which produces among the best wines in Italy, has fought to distance itself from Chianti, winning its first battle for independence in 1996 when it became its own autonomous denomination.

A new ministerial decree goes even further, and bans any vineyards in the Classico zone from being used for Chianti or Chianti Superiore production.

Read the article: Chianti Classico divorce papers come through

Brunello: no change in the rules, producers vote

Brunello di Montalcino producers have voted by a landslide to leave the wine 100% Sangiovese.

In yesterday’s highly publicised assembly to decide the fate of the beleaguered wine, 96% voted to leave Brunello as it is.

‘Only 4% of producers voted to change the production code,’ a triumphant Franco Biondi Santi told decanter.com.

Biondi Santi was one of the most active defenders of the wine’s traditional production code and over the past few months helped rally the support of the majority of Brunello makers.

Read the article: Brunello: no change in the rules, producers vote

Brunello on the brink

An overhyped 2003 vintage, a fraud scandal, and the threat of a US ban has left Brunello in crisis. Could subregions be the answer, asks Kerin O’Keefe.

No one will forget the scalding summer of 2003, among the hottest and driest ever recorded in Europe. Many consumers, however, will want to forget the wines from this vintage; Italy was hit hard and most wines reflect the difficult conditions.

Brunello di Montalcino subzones
© Decanter | Montalcino subzones

For now, subzones remain unofficial, but more and more producers are writing back-label info or the name of the hamlet on the front label. Although some subzones are considered superior to others, ultimately, any such view depends on what you want. Brunellos that will develop layers of complexity with age hail from the original growing area just southeast of Montalcino, while Sant’Angelo is a good source of fruit forward, muscular Brunellos. For a combination of elegance and power, look for Castelnuovo d’Abate, and for Brunellos with exquisite bouquets and refinement, buy from north Montalcino. While unofficial, the following zonal breakdown should provide a useful guide…
Read the article: Brunello on the brink