Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spotlight on Conterno: One of Piedmont's Finest

Concerning wine, Italy is an incredibly diverse place with twenty regions and over 500 indigenous grape varieties. Despite this diversity, it is widely recognized that two regions reign supreme over all others: Tuscany and Piedmont. In Tuscany, Sangiovese is the grape of choice and is the predominant variety in wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano. Nebbiolo is the most important grape variety in Piedmont where makes wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.

One finest producers of Nebbiolo is Conterno, and his "Cerretta" Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 is fantastic introduction to both the grape and the winery. Originally established in 1908 as a wine bar by Giovanni Conterno, the business also crafted wines from select purchased grapes. It was probably in 1920 that the flagship Riserva Barolo, Monfortino, was bottled and sold and with it the legend of Conterno was born.

As described by the importer of its Barolos, "The Conterno style of Barolo is ultra-traditional, with a long maceration followed by extended aging in large, old oak casks for anywhere from four to ten years prior to bottling."  It is this careful handling of the grapes and reverence for the fruit that allows for such the wines to display purity and elegance.

In 1934 Giovanni Conterno passed away and his son Giacomo (the winery's namesake) took over the property.  Giacomo had two sons, another Giovanni and Aldo, and they were given control of the business in 1961. The brothers fought and went their own ways (in what seems to be an Italian tradition) in 1969 with Giovianni retaining a portion of the estate, while his younger brother Aldo went on to make a name for himself crafting more modern style Barolos.

The winery is currently run by Giovanni's grandson, Roberto (after Giovanni's passing in 2003). In 2008 he purchased land in Serralunga's prized Cerretta vineyard, and this Nebbiolo is one of the first Conterno wines to be produced from this vineyard. In time, it will almost certainly be used to produce Barolo, but for the time being it is turning out some of the best Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont has to offer.

Giacomo Conterno has long been recognized by the world's wine authorities, like Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker as a flag-bearer for Nebbiolo and Piedmont, but that still leaves the questions: what is the wine like? In a profile of Conterno, New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov said that, "The Barolos of Giacomo Conterno are among the most beautiful wines in the world: gorgeously pure and packed with flavors that feel almost three-dimensional. Despite the intensity, the texture is sheer, almost delicate, like silken threads that can suspend bridges. And yet, with wines like this, the flavors and aromas are really only the start…" The "Cerretta" Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 is a wine that taps such incredible style, depth and grace at about half of the price of one of Conterno's Barolos.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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