Barolo Breakdown, Part 7: The Other Barolo Villages
It doesn’t seem fair. There are 11 villages with land that qualifies for DOC Barolo. Five of those villages get their own blog post. Now all six of the remaining get stuck in this one!
I know, it must be tempting to skip this post and assume that all these villages are grouped together because they’re not that important. But that’s not right. One of these villages has one of the hottest, most sought after producers of today, Burlotto. Another has a very exciting producer making some very special wines, Elvio Cogno. And there are definitely other secrets to unearth, so read on!
When we left off with the major villages, we had wandered north through Serralunga and ended up at the large winery Fontanafredda. In fact, it’s around here that the back, east-facing side of the Serralunga ridge is no longer in Serralunga, the commune. Those slopes are in the tiny Barolo commune of Diano d’Alba.
There are just three Crus in Diano d’Alba, and none of them is famous. I struggle to remember them myself and always have to refer to a map (Sorrano is considered the best).
One problem is that up here the Serralunga ridge has angled northwest. As a result, its east-facing slope is more like a northeast-facing slope. This makes it pretty hard to ripen Nebbiolo, and in fact this village is more famous for its Dolcetto.
There are a couple of producers of Barolo based here, like Claudio Amaro. But they are not well known and are principally producers of Dolcetto. I have also come across older bottles (1960s and 1970s) with names like “Barolo Diano d’Alba”, including one with the name Rinaldi on the label.
You get the idea. I think it is safe to say that of all 11 Barolo villages, this one is the least important, at least for the topic at hand, which is Barolo. But do try the Dolcetto.
North of Diano d’Alba, you leave the Serralunga ridge behind, cross a valley and come to a hill that stands apart from the two vertical series of hills that make up the main body of DOC Barolo. This hill is in the Commune of Grinzane Cavour. At its top sits the village, complete with an imposing medieval castle. Vines grow on the slopes spilling down towards the east, with top sites enjoying perfect southeast exposition.
Cult producer Canonica, who for years worked only a small parcel in Paiagallo in the village of Barolo, inherited 50 year-old vines here and produces from them an extremely sought after wine bearing the name of the village. Part of the intrigue here is that the vines produce the Rose clone of Nebbiolo – which is not actually Nebbiolo but a very close relative that makes for very aromatic wine. This wine is hard to find – our own allocation of this wine is even smaller than our allocation of Cappellano’s Pie Franco!
So if you’re interested in this village, you might have more luck finding wine from Bruna Grimaldi, a decent, traditionally-minded producer. They are based actually based in the village, and while they do have holdings scattered across the DOC, they do produce one Barolo, “Camilla”, that used to be 100% from Grinzane Cavour, and now is just predominantly so. Nearby Damilano also produces a Cru Barolo here from the Cru of Raviole, which I have not tasted.
Rodda is another village way up north in the DOC but this one is more in the middle, away from the Serralunga ridge and really in a cluster of hills to the north of La Morra. It is tiny, consisting of just one Cru. But it happens to be a high quality Cru: Bricco Ambrogio.
Ambrogio has a perfect south/southeast exposure, and its soils are rich with limestone and marl. About 20 years ago most of it was acquired by Scavino, the Castiglione producer, and they retain a near-monopole. The wine they release every year from this Cru is quite good: floral and intense. Bruna Grimaldi, mentioned just above, also produces a wine here. I’ve seen reference to a couple of other producers working in Rodda but I’m not really familiar with them.
This has become such a well-loved village in recent years thanks to the meteoric rise of its top producer, Burlotto, that it is tempting to lump this in as one of six “major” villages rather than as apart from the traditional five.
Really, though, it is better to see Verduno a star player among the minors. The smallest of the majors, Castiglione, has at least a dozen top producers. Verduno has just three. All three are really good – I personally collect and drink them all – but it’s still just three.
The ridge of La Morra, as it leaves the village northward, dips down before ascending again to another hill that is not quite as high as La Morra. This is the hill of Verduno, and the village is once again perched at its top. The ridge then slants northeast, and vines appear on its slopes to the right, facing a perfect southeast. Here, you find the second greatest Cru of Verduno, Massara.
Then the ridge turns due east, and now the vines below are facing south. That is Monvigliero. They say that of all of Barolo’s other Crus, none point south quite so perfectly. But a decently high altitude, and the nearness of the Tanaro river – this far north it is only a mile away -- both ensure that the warm sunny days are balanced out with cool nights.
Geologically, Verduno is a bit of an outlier. There are geologic elements from both the Helvetian and Tortonian eras present here, and some believe that there is even a third, Verduno-specific element.
Perhaps because of this distinctive terroir, the wines of Verduno definitely taste different. They emphasize, like La Morra, aromatics rather than structure, but Verduno also presents a distinct spicy note. I also taste olives, most notably in Burlotto’s Monvigliero, though this could be because the wine is made whole cluster, which is extremely rare for Barolo.
Here are the Verduno producers to look for:
Now one of the most sought-after producers in all of Barolo, Burlotto is the clear star of Verduno. The Monvigliero is an incredibly distinctive wine, both because of its terroir and, as mentioned above, because of its whole clusters. It’s a wine that with training you can pick out in a blind tasting. Their straight Barolo is excellent and still easily findable for under $100/bottle. The Acclivi is also a blended Barolo, but from the winery’s best vines in Verduno. Finally, Burlotto wanders outside of their home village to produce a terrific Cannubi.
Castello di Verduno
This is actually a producer that splintered off from Burlotto in the early 20th century as the historic Burlotto estate was divided between three children, leaving to this one the Verduno castle itself, which they had recently purchased from the House of Savoy. They too produce Monvigliero (usually as a Riserva), as well as a Massara and a straight Barolo. Through marriage, they also acquired vines in Barbaresco, including Rabaja, and in fact about half their holdings are now located there. All the wines are actually made in Barbaresco, though they are then transported to the castle to age in the ancient cellars. This is a high quality, traditionally-minded estate, and really an excellent source.
This is yet another historic estate – going back to the 1800s – that boasts a Barolo Monvigliero in its portfolio, and as it happens they too are cousins of the Burlottos! Like I said, Verduno is a small place. Alessandria also makes a San Lorenza – from the Cru with that name located in Verduno, rather than the one in Commune of Barolo. Like the other producers above, they, too, wander outside of Verduno, in their case to produce Cru Gramolere from Monforte. This is a good producer, and I have noticed interest in them bubbling up among consumers. Raves from Antonio Galloni help, of course. This may be a producer to start looking into before they get too hot…
One last note: you’ll also find bottles of Monvigliero produced by Scavino, going back to 2007. It’s worth checking out.
Continuing our loop around the outskirts of DOC Barolo, we find a tiny sliver of land on the backside of La Morra’s hill that is across the border in the commune of Charasco. Hence, it becomes one of Barolo’s 11 villages.
Kerin O’Keefe, in her book Barolo & Barbaresco, remarks that she only bothers to mention it because it’s on the map. Until about three years ago, I would have left it at that. But then I was introduced to Umberto Fracassi Ratti Mentone (Fracassi), by their importer, Michael Foulk.
This is a producer that has operated in Charasco since modern-day Barolo was born in the 19th century, and now makes a Barolo from Charasco’s sole Cru, Mantoetto, using very traditional methods. Some of the vines are quite old, and they include the rare Rose variety (that close relative of Nebbiolo producing intensely aromatic wines). The Barolo is excellent. You can learn more about this obscure Barolo in Levi Dalton’s excellent podcast.
Completing this circuit is the village of Novello, which geologically really is just the southern extension of the village of Barolo (and is therefore the only “minor” village in the southern half of DOC Barolo). Like Verduno, there is an argument to made that this should be one of the majors.
It is only slightly smaller than Castiglione, in terms of production, churning out about 8.5% of the DOC’s wines. Like Verduno, it also has one of Barolo’s greatest sites: Ravera.
But beyond Ravera, it has no Crus regarded as special, and there is really only one noteworthy producer based here. So minor it is.
But Ravera – a sliver of which actually lies in the Commune of Barolo -- really is quite special. It wasn’t always considered tops, and doesn’t appear even once in this useful summary of classifications from wine-searcher. Parts of it are fairly cool, and it may be that only with recent global warming is the site demonstrating its greatness. But now, for example, if you were to search for all of Antonio Galloni’s reviews of 2016 Barolos, and rank them by score, Vietti’s Ravera will appear at the very top, one point ahead of the Rocche di Castiglione from the same producer.
It’s a site with quite a varied topography, so actually some bits are warmer than others, but it always produces wines of tension and power, with plenty of potential energy ready to explode with a bit of cellaring. Aside from Vietti, you get brilliant examples from Vajra and Elvio Cogno – the one top producer actually based in Novello.
Cogno, in addition to making a straight Ravera from very old vines, also produces a Riserva called Vigna Elena, made entirely from the Rose variety planted in Ravera. Finally, once again, the name Scavino appears here, as a parcel in Ravera was added to this domain in 2015.
So do I need to pay attention to these villages when buying, cellaring and drinking Barolo?
Yes you do.
And not just because of Burlotto!
Here’s what you should do:
- There is a great entry-level Barolo from these villages, and it’s Castello di Verduno. Add that to your mixed case of Barolo for drinking!
- A good Barolo cellar should have not just the obvious names – like Conterno and Mascarello – but also some lesser known jewels. There are at least three excellent candidates from these villages, ranging from the really obscure – Umberto Fracassi – to the emerging on the scene -- Fratelli Allessandria – to the almost well-known Elvio Cogno. All three produce excellent wines that are worth putting away (although honestly my experience with Fracassi is so limited, like it is for just about everyone, that you might wait to try a couple of bottles for yourself before taking that one to the bank.) I personally consider Cogno’s Vigna Elena to be an essential wine for any serious Barolo collection because it is such a special and distinct wine.
- There are two trophies worth chasing from these villages: Burlotto’s Monvigliero and Vietti’s Ravera. These are both really hard to buy at release prices, so I’ll give you my usual advice: smile at your local wine merchant! (All the top merchants in major wine cities like New York and San Francisco should get at least a few bottles of each.) In the meantime, Burlotto’s other wines from Verduno are a lot easier to buy, so grab them when you can.
- Keep an open mind and explore. Verduno was a top village in the 19th century, then it became obscure, and now it is famous again. These things change all the time. Who knows, maybe with global warming someone will show up and start making Barolo from Diano d’Alba that will blow your mind? Make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter because we’re always looking for great new finds!