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

Nebbiolo is viognier cousin, conference hears

Nebbiolo, one of Italy’s most famous black grape varieties, is related to the aromatic viognier, DNA boffins have found.

Nebbiolo grapes
© Paolo Tenti | Grapes from old Nebbiolo vines in Barbaresco

The noble Piedmontese grape, which gives Barolo and Barbaresco their power and longevity, has been found to relate directly to another indigenous grape from Piedmont called freisa, which in turn is a cousin of viognier.

Genetic researchers Dr Anna Schneider from CNR of Turin and Dr José Vouillamoz of UC Davis and Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige, released surprising preliminary findings from their research into nebbiolo’s DNA composition, at a conference in northern Italy at the weekend.

Read the article: Nebbiolo is viognier cousin, conference hears