The Baroli of La Morra

Throughout the years, certain wines, because of their impact, have compelled me to want to explore the region and its wines further. I was so stunned by a Barolo that I planned my first trip to Italy so that I could visit the land where the wine was produced. Over the next fifteen years, I would go back to Piemonte with the intent of becoming more and more familiar with the terrain, the cuisine, the wines, and the history of the region. In Italian, Piemonte means at the foot of the mountain. The region borders with France, Switzerland, and the Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Val d’Aosta. It’s surrounded on three sides by the Alps, including the Monte Rosa and the Monviso, where the Po River rises. The region encompasses 8 provinces: Turin, Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli. 

The Barolo DOCG is situated in the northwestern part of Langhe in the province of Cuneo, on the right bank of the Tanaro River. The appellation is approximately 7 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest point. To make up for its small size, it is rather densely planted—with more than 4,447 acres under vine. According to the disciplinare, vineyards in Barolo must lie at an elevation between 550-1,800 ft, but in practice, most Nebbiolo tends to be planted mid-slope, at the lower end of the permitted altitude range in order to achieve full ripeness. The soils of Barolo (and Langhe in general) are the result of two different geological formations: the older Helvetian/Serravallian and the younger Tortonian. The soils of these formations have different characteristics, affecting the profile of the wines. For the most part, the soils of Barolo belong to the Tortonian formation. This soil is composed of calcareous marls that are more fertile and compact than Helvetian.

By law, the entire communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba are entitled to make Barolo, whereas more restricted areas surrounding the communes of Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, Novello, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi are also included within the DOCG. In actuality, however, almost 90% of the appellation surrounds five villages: La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. These five towns are the most well-known and are considered the most significant.

Our focus for our last shipment of the year is on the commune of La Morra and its producers of Barolo. No other village defines the beauty of Barolo quite like La Morra. Six kilometers of hairpin turns connect the commune of Barolo to La Morra, and with an elevation of 513 m, La Morra is the highest of the Barolo villages. Situated at the top of an imposing promontory, on one side La Morra overlooks the Po valley against the backdrop of the Alps and the Monviso. On the other side, a succession of hills, fully covered by rows and rows of grapevines similar to huge waves, forms a man-made amphitheater of beauty. The hill below looks like one big vineyard, but it is actually subdivided into several different parcels, each with their own significant story. La Morra, once a lesser known township in the Barolo production zone, has emerged over the past 30 years as a prime source of excellent Nebbiolo-based wine with a distinctive style. In an appellation whose wines were supposed to show a large amount of meat and muscle, Barolo from La Morra indicates that Barolo can also be fragrant, elegant, stylish, velvety in texture, ample but balanced, and even seductive as well. 

Traditionally, the great majority of Barolo was produced by merchants (commercianti) and was often made by blending wines from different vineyards and/or different communes. This practice had the advantage of maintaining a consistent style vintage after vintage. However, it also concealed the individuality of each vineyard site. The situation changed considerably in the 1960s and 1970s, when estate-bottling became more widespread. Consequently, single-vineyard bottlings appeared more and more often, providing increased evidence that different vineyards or zones produced wines with unique profiles, showing nuances that were specific to those sites. Barolo’s superior sites (crus) had already been acknowledged and recognized among growers and wine merchants since the 19th century—as grapes from those sites normally commanded higher prices. According to local wisdom, the best sites were known as the places where the snow melted first. The thinking was brilliantly simple: if it was warmest in those rows in winter, it would be warmest in summer as well. Given Nebbiolo’s stubborn and slow-ripening nature — paired with the area’s propensity for fog and cool autumns—these first-to-melt locations were prized real estate.

Until the 1970s, Barolo was made in a unique and traditional style. The wines were given long macerations (up to one to two months) and extended ageing (commonly four or more years) in large, neutral old Slavonian oak or chestnut casks (botti). The long maturation in wood was necessary to soften the harsh tannins extracted through the prolonged macerations, but these extended macerations also increased the risk of losing the delicate varietal character of Nebbiolo. The resulting wines were austere and tannic when young and were approachable only after considerable additional bottle ageing (sometimes decades). Revamped winemaking practices created more “modern” Barolos in the 1980s leaning towards an obvious international style. The wines were fruit-driven and approachable upon release. They boasted softer tannins, more concentration and noticeably more oak. By law, Barolo must be aged for a minimum of 38 months of which at least 18 months must be spent in oak. The riserva must be aged for 62 months with the same minimum period of oak maturation.

The food of Piemonte is as highly regarded as its wines. It’s the land of rich food, full of pungent truffles, wild mushroom risottos, Toma Cheeses, and game dishes. Barolo is simply wonderful with game birds such as quail, goose, pheasant, or duck, as well as pork chops, due to the tannin in this red wine loving rich fatty meats. The fruity and earthy flavors also make it excellent with truffles, venison, wild boar, lamb, and stewed rabbit. For cheese pairings, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Robiola, Taleggio, and Parmesan are all excellent. Opening a bottle of Barolo is a special occasion, and as such, it should accompany a grand meal, such as a stew like Osso Buco that has been slowly cooked all day.

Fratelli Revello 2013 Barolo $35

Immediately after the Second World War, the Revello family, made up of Giovanni Revello, Caterina Tezzo and their children, Ercole, Maria and Giacomo, moved from Cherasco to L’Annunziata, a hamlet of La Morra. L’Annunziata hamlet lies at the South-Easternmost point of La Morra. Home to the most prestigious vineyards in the commune, Annunziata is well recognized as a very unique parcel of La Morra. The wines from here express not only the svelte, truffled nuances typical to La Morra, but also the balance and sweet fruited lift of its neighbors.

Giovanni was a sharecropper of the local parish of San Martino. In 1967, he bought the first plot after which other plots were added to the property over the years. Giacomo had two sons Carlo and Lorenzo, and Carlo took over the management of the estate in 1987 and was joined by his brother Enzo in 1990. Carlo mainly focused on the work in the vineyards while Enzo tended to the work in the cellar (although Carlo and Enzo both work as agronomists and as oenologists). At first their vineyard holdings were 5 hectares with an average production of 25,000 bottles per year. Today, they farm 14.5 hectares with an average production of 85,000 bottles per year. The estate is certified for integrated pest management. IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms. All the operations in the vineyard are carried out by hand. The winery is equipped with 3 rotary fermenters with temperature control and two temperature-controlled vertical stainless-steel vats with automatic systems for the pumping over of the must. Ageing for most of the wines is done in French Allier oak barriques (medium-light toasting).

Starting in 2016, the two brothers decided to divide the property. Enzo kept the original homestead and cellar and maintained the same name of the estate and the original logo on the labels. This decision was made to usher in the new generation of the Revello family. Enzo’s son Simone and his daughter Elena are both working full time at the estate. Simone is an enotechnician and attended the “Scuola Enologica” of Alba. Elena, who is completing her studies in foreign languages, receives visitors, and takes care of tastings, marketing and administrative matters. The consultant agronomist is Paolo Ruaro. Luciana, Enzo’s wife, takes care of the “agriturismo” at the homestead and the holiday apartments that the family owns in the town of La Morra.

The Fratelli Ravello 2013 Barolo is made from 100% Nebbiolo planted in calcareous/clay soils. Maceration took place for 4-5 days at cool temperatures and fermentation took place in stainless-steel tanks. Ageing was in French oak barriques (20% new) for 20-24 months. The wine was then cellared in the bottle for 8 months before release. Gorgeous aromas of dark cherries and strawberries are woven together with spices and floral notes all bursting from the glass. On the palate this is silky and polished with a long, expressive finish, marked by red fruits and spices. The wine is immediately accessible and should continue to develop over the next decade and beyond.

Mauro Veglio 2013 Barolo $37

Consisting of approximately 12 ha in the communes of La Morra and Monforte d'Alba, Mauro Veglio produces 60,000 bottles annually, half of which are Barolo DOCG. With the exception of the cru Castelletto, which belongs to his father-in-law, all other parcels have been farmed by his family for generations.

Angelo Veglio, born in 1928, would pass the winters by visiting the farmhouses as a “masacrin,” or a sort of butcher on house call, particularly for the preparation of salami. During the summer, after working in the fields he would travel to the market in Canale, where he sold the few peaches his orchards produced. Angelo had a dream: leave the life of a sharecropper and dedicate himself to making wine, purchase vineyards, and bottle wine using native Langhe grapes—above all, Nebbiolo—under his name. In the 1960s, Angelo bought his first vineyard in the locality of Gattera in the frazione of Annunziata in the township of La Morra. In 1979 in Annunziata, the family acquired the farmhouse called Cascina Nuova and some of its property: four shabby walls, a hayloft, and about five hectares of vineyards, among which were the crus of Arborina and Rocche dell’Annunziata. Of Angelo’s three sons, only Mauro followed in the footsteps of his father. In 1986 at 25 years old, Mauro took over the management of the winery after his father came down with an illness to prepare them for the transition from growing grapes for the local coop to producing their own high-end wines. Reducing yields through canopy management in exchange for high quality grapes, he and his wife Daniela constructed a modern winery in 1992, where they then began producing a new wave of wines. Employing shorter macerations of two to three days, as opposed to the traditional three to four weeks, the couple also engaged temperature-controlled rotary fermentations and French barrique (20 % new) for aging. Adhering to "natural systems of cultivation and vinification", Mauro is practicing but not certified organic. He avoids use of any chemicals in the winery or vineyards--no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

With Elio Altare, the father of modern Barolo, as his mentor, Mauro favors Burgundian style wines—elegant with high acidity and integrated tannins. Maceration on the skins takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature for about 10 days before the grapes are pressed. Alcoholic fermentation is concluded in stainless steel (about 20 days), where malolactic fermentation also takes place at a controlled temperature. Towards December, the wine is transferred to small barrels of oak, 15-20% of which are new and 80% used, where they remain to age for 24 months. After decanting in stainless steel, the wine is bottled without fining or filtration.

Mauro Veglio’s DOCG Barolo utilizes fruit from the Gattera, Arborina and Castelletto Crus. The wine is a perfect portrayal of a La Morra-based modern style Barolo. It leads with perfumed red petals, mint, strawberry fruits and delicate spice and earth. The palate is superbly balanced with a silky fruit and structure complimented by spice and mineral flavors that add interest and complexity. It’s a decant and drink now wine or hold it in the cellar for another 5-8 years.

Cordero di Montezemolo 2014 Barolo “Monfalletto” $47

The Monfalletto Estate boasts a centuries-old history. A Lebanon Cedar towers atop the very summit of the Monfalletto hill. The hill is called Monfalletto, from the ancient Mons Fallettorum, which then became Mont Falet, or the Mountain of the Falletti family. The Cordero di Montezemolo family’s origin is Spanish, and they settled in Piemonte during the mid 1400s. One of the several Falletti family branches, proprietors of Monfalletto Estate and the most noteworthy noble family of the Alba area, intertwined with the Cordero di Montezemolo family when Maria Lydia, daughter of the Marchese Luigia Falletti married Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo in 1918. The couple unfortunately died prematurely but not before their only son, Paolo was born. Through the centuries the family had increased its holdings, sold them, divided them up, lost them, passed them down to heirs, and so on, but the La Morra property, however, was held continuously through 19 generations until the Countess Luigia Falletti di Rodello passed away in 1941. The property was passed down to the closest eligible heir Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, the grandson of the Countess, and father of the current owner Giovanni Cordero di Montezemolo, who together with his children Elena and Alberto still continue to personally manage the vineyards and take care of the fruit. The cellars have always been located in La Morra, in the family palace (which has remained in the family, but is now unoccupied), but the current Monfalletto cellars were constructed between 1979 and 1980. Where once there were only the farm buildings there now are the offices and the private home, restructured and enlarged from 1992 on. The property currently extends over more than 85 acres (35 hectares), for the most part grouped into one block in La Morra, the Monfalletto-Bricco Gattera cru, and the remaining part in Castiglione Falletto.

The Nebbiolo grapes are hand-harvested from a careful selection of individual Monfalletto vineyards for the 2014 Barolo “Monfalletto”. Vines are 20 to 40-years of age, with strictly southeast and southwest exposure, which allows for even maturation resulting in wine of extraordinary quality. Clayey, calcareous soil lends elegance and complexity. Magnesium and manganese oxides in the soil make for the softest tannins. Each vineyard is harvested and vinified individually. Maceration takes 4-5 days in stainless steel tanks, followed by fermentation for 10-12 days. The wine is then transferred to barrels of different sizes and types of wood and allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation until December. All the different constituents require maturation in different kinds of wood, both French and Slavonian, for a period of 18 to 22 months, followed by blending and bottling. After 1 year, the bottles are ready for release. 

The 2014 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo “Monfalletto” has intense aromas of raspberry compote, forest floor, eucalyptus, dried herbs and oak-driven spice. The wine is firm and youthful on the palate with fine-grained tannins that complement the sour cherry, licorice, herbal and mint flavors. Despite the grip on the long finish, there's a soft core of fruit at the heart of the wine. The wine will continue to improve for years, so it’s a great one to lay down for future drinking.

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