Aldo Conterno was and will continue to be a contemporary legend in Barolo. His passing in 2012 left a void in Piedmont that reverberates to this day across the Langhe. He was, and is, the Lion of Barolo.
Without question, Barolo is one of the greatest red wines in the world. What began in the early 19th Century as a sweet wine, quickly evolved into a powerful dry red wine that the Royal House of Savoy came to call “The wine of Kings and the King of wines”. By the late 19th Century, the cataloging of specific vineyards was underway and by 1980 Barolo was awarded DOCG status by the Italian government and along with Barbaresco and Brunello were among the first Italian wine regions to acheive this designation.
The Barolo zone is located about 6 miles southwest of the town of Alba and includes the five communes of Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. It is here where the majority of Barolo is produced.
The zone can be loosely divided into two valleys. The Serralunga Valley includes the communes of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba. With soils high in sand, limestone and minerals, Barolo from Serralunga tend to be austere and powerful and require significant aging to develop desired tertiary aromas and flavors.
The Central Valley includes the communes of Barolo and La Morra. With soils higher in clay content than Serralunga, this region tends to produce wines that are more perfumed and velvety in texture. Additionally, Barolo from La Morra are typically less tannic and full bodied than those from Serralunga and will generally be approachable at a much younger age.
Today we’re looking at one of Aldo Conterno’s greatest Cru Barolo, from the Cicala vineyard pictured above. This is one of the last vintages where Aldo has significant influence over the winemaking. In the mid to late 90’s although he remained involved, his three sons began taking over the operations of the winery. A few years ago I met and tasted with Franco Conterno and he reminded me of a story his Father told regarding the potential addition of other grape varieties into Barolo. Aldo said, “Barolo doesn’t need that! We are lucky to have the land that gives this wine, why would we change it? Why make a wine anyone could make anywhere else?” As Aldo left the room his son laughed. “He’s a lion. He was born in August you know. He’s a Leo.”
The 1995 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala hails from a single vineyard whose vines are approaching 45 years of age. We decanted the wine for 60 minutes before dinner to remove a substantial sediment and allow the aromas to develop. The color is a dark, youthful ruby red with garnet highlights and very little visual evidence that it is 22 years old.
On the nose, the aromas are classically presented. Dark chocolate covered cherry, porcini mushroom, road tar and flowers lead into soft wood and fennel seed notes. Rather complex. On the palate, the wine is mellow and refined; almost to the point of appearing medium bodied. It’s not the bruiser I remember, but much more elegant. Flavors of dried cherry, tangerine, porcini, cured meat and fennel are easy to discern. The tannins are fully resolved and the wine’s acidity keeps this fresh. I made traditional Vitello Saltimbocca in the style learned from Chef Max Mariola and the pairing was sublime. My last bottle and sad to see it go. If you’ve got them, drink them now. As lovely as this was, I’m not sure it’s got many laps left. 91 points. Purchased on release for about $50. Current vintages are about $90. Find this wine.
Stay tuned for more coverage of Barolo as winter approaches and porcini find their way to the table.