The Barolo Breakdown, Part 4: Castiglione di Falletto
I adore Barolo’s extremes. The intensely floral wines of La Morra can be out-of-control enchanting, and the mysterious depths of Serralunga could keep me entertained for hours…if only the bottles could last that long.
But I also adore Castiglione di Falletto and for completely the opposite reason: it is balanced.
The best wines – from Rocche, of course, but not just there -- possess a regal-ness and composure that is only possible when you stray from the opposite ends of a spectrum and wander towards the happy middle.
Here, you have wines that have intense structure and aromas – of course, as this is Barolo! – but also poise. Maybe it doesn’t quite strike you as strongly on that first sip, as do wines from some other villages. But elegance is like that. Get to the end of the first glass and you will be thoroughly persuaded to pour yourself a second.
The proof is in the impressive list of top producers and vineyard sites – despite being the smallest of the five major Barolo villages.
Castiglione--What’s the deal?
Look at a map of DOC Barolo and you'll see why this is the village of balance. It is right in the middle.
Barolo’s spectrum of elegance towards structure follows a fairly simple geographic pattern: looking at a map, the spectrum flows from left to right. Therefore, it follows that more centrally located sites will fall somewhere in the middle.
But, that is only the first of two explanations. The other is diversity.
More than any other village in Barolo, Castiglione boasts a diverse range of terroirs. Even a producer working with only Castiglione fruit may end up with a more balanced wine simply from the blending of different terroirs. And this is true even from single vineyards.
A typical vineyard here, as in anywhere in the Langhe, covers a range of altitudes.
In Castiglione, the higher portions may have sandy soils that look like the Tortonian soils of Cannubi or La Morra, while the lower portions are more high-limestone Helvetian. So, even a single vineyard can produce one of those multi-site balanced Barolos that was idealized by the likes of Bartolo Mascarello or Giuseppe Rinaldi.
So where are the vineyards?
Most of Castiglione is the mirror image of La Morra: a long slope that descends to the west, its vines pointing toward La Morra’a east-facing vines across the valley. But there is a very important exception to this, with three Crus to the south of the village that are actually on the east side of Castiglione’s ridge and point the other way.
I’ll start this run-through of the vineyards with the greatest of these three Crus, and what is regarded as the greatest of all of Castiglione’s Crus:
This is the only Cru outside of La Morra to be given top honors by all three rankings covered in this nifty chart from wine-searcher. So it’s a very good Cru!
Alex Sanchez, from Brovia, who makes a great Rocche, explained to Levi Dalton in a terrific I’ll Drink to That episode that in the days when grapes were mostly bought and sold (rather than transformed by the grower into wine), their price was based on their alcohol potential: the greater the alcohol, the higher the price. The exception was Rocche, which never produced the most alcohol but always commanded a high price!
Rocche is special, and folks have known this for some time.
As is often the case, it’s not just one thing that produces Rocche’s greatness, but a combination of advantages.
- For one, it has that southeast orientation – just like the other two Crus at the top of wine-searcher’s list. South means lots of light from sunshine, and east means the sun is not too hot, as it appears in the cool mornings.
- Rocche also has sand. We are on the Helvetian side of Barolo, where limestone generally rules over sand. But a few sites have a greater presence of sand, and they tend to produce more elegant Barolo. Rocche is one of them.
- Finally, Rocche stands out for its steepness. Parts of it may be the steepest vineyards in all of Barolo. This means, of course, more sunlight pointing directly at those vines.
Other than Brovia, you get great Rocche from Oddero (although their holdings are on the tiny sliver of Rocche that is just across the communal boundary with Monforte) and Vietti. Rocche from all three producers is very desirable and if you are serious about Barolo you should be on the lookout for them.
But as I mentioned earlier, most of Castiglione’s Crus are on the west side of its ridge, facing towards La Morra. Climb to the top of Rocche, cross to the other side of the ridge, and you find yourself in….
There is more limestone here, and the grapes ripen more because of the western orientation.
The wines are more powerful.
But this is Castiglione, and there is still a fineness and poise to wines from Villero. This is a very good site.
This is another Cru produced by Brovia, and it is a terrific lesson in terroir to drink their Villero and Rocche side by side, as they are made in exactly the same way.
This site is adjacent to Villero, to its north, but occupies only the lower portion of the hill. This is home territory for the local producer Scavino, who has produced a single vineyard wine here since 1978 called Bric del Fiasc.
You are just across the valley floor here from the hills of Cannubi and La Morra, and their natural elegance definitely has an influence here. Garblet Sue is another name for this Cru and is used by Brovia on their labels.
A little further north is this great monopole vineyard owned by Giuseppe Mascarello. Together with Francia in Serralunga (owned by Giacomo Conterno), and Brea (owned by Brovia), this is one of the three great monopole Crus of Barolo. The terroir features chalky limestone-rich soils – comparisons with Burgundy’s Cote d’Or are pretty common -- and a southwest orientation.
As with any monopole, it is hard to separate the grower from the terroir. Monprivato produces one of Barolo’s truffleist, most aromatic wines, with a structure that is intense but understated.
Is that the Monprivato terroir, or is that the fact that Mascarello has planted there mostly the Michet clone of Nebbiolo, known for its alluring aromas? The simplest answer is that it's probably both.
Just north of Monprivato is another great monopole site, owned by yet another top traditionalist, Cavallotto. The vines in this Cru descend to the valley floor, taking you close to the dividing line between Helvetian and Tortonian soils.
While we are on the Helvetian side here and there is plenty of limestone, there are also layers of the sand that tend to bring Barolo its more aromatic side.
I find the wines here to be quite intense, both aromatically and structurally. The Cru has a sweet spot in its middle called San Giuseppe, where Cavallotto makes a special reserve bottling that deserves your attention.
Go a little further along the ridge and you get to this most northerly Cru in Castiglione, and quite a good one. It spills down from the ridge to the west, facing La Morrra. (There are also vineyards on the east side of the ridge here but they are less well known.)
Sordo has produced a good video depicting this vineyard, which gives you a great sense of how these vineyards of Castiglione are stretched out along this ridge. With its west facing slopes Parussi produces a ripe, fruity wine, but you still get that Castiglione poise exhibited in the velvet quality of the tannins.
The best examples of this Cru come from two out-of-towners who recognized the potential of the site and purchased vines just this century, Massolino and Bovio (a third out-of-towner, Conterno-Fantino, also used to make a wine from here but they lost their source.)
So, who makes the best wines?
Castiglione offers a decent number of excellent options:
One of the great names from Barolo, Vietti has been a pioneering force in Piedmont for decades, going back to the 1961 Rocche, one of the first single-vineyard designated bottles ever. The Rocche, and other single Cru wines from outside Castiglione, are among the most sought-after Barolo being made today.
Vietti also makes a Barolo normale called Castiglione, which confusingly is made mostly with fruit from Ravera, in the village of Novello, rather than Castiglione. It’s a good wine to stock up on just about every vintage. The style at Vietti is neither particularly traditional or particularly modern: a down-the-middle approach that is focused primarily on quality and terroir expression.
Shop Vietti in NYC.
Shop Vietti in SF.
Brovia is another producer famous for a range of high-quality single cru wines. All of them are made in exactly the same manner, so the differences – which are pretty obvious -- can all be attributed to terroir. The Crus include Rocche, Villero, and Fiasco (called at this estate Garblet Sue), in Castiglione, and their monopole in Serralunga called Brea (which produces the wine they call Brea – Ca’ Mia).
Like Vietti, this is a producer that is more concerned with terroir and quality rather than hewing to a traditionalist or modernist ideology, although there is more of a traditional feel here than at Vietti. Also like Vietti, they produce a brilliant normale Barolo, made mostly from must that they can’t fit into the single concrete tanks they use for each Cru.
There is a very positive combination here of quality, accessibility and fair prices, such that I find myself drinking more Barolo from Brovia than probably any other Barolo producer.
Shop Brovia in NYC.
Shop Brovia in SF.
One of the true legends of Piedmont, as they have been making wines sought out the world over for decades. The flagship wine is from their monopole, Monprivato, discussed in more detail above. They also make Villero and a wine from Santo Stefano di Perno, a site just across Castiglione’s border with Monforte d’Alba.
This is a very traditional winery and there is a soulfulness to the wines that seems to supplement their power and elegance. Antonio Galloni had not been happy with recent vintages – to the puzzlement of the winery, other wine critics, and me -- only to be surprised by a delicious 2014 that he scored very highly. Maybe those earlier vintages had a touch too much soulfulness for Galloni’s preference?
Shop Giuseppe Mascarello in NYC.
Shop Giuseppe Mascarello in SF.
After the three giant names above, this winery is an important reminder that Barolo is filled with smaller, lesser-known producers making excellent wine. This producer is originally from Castiglione but they are now based in Perno, just across the border in Monforte.
They still make Barolo mostly from Castiglione, however, including a newish wine they call Barolo “Castiglione Falletto” designed to highlight the qualities of the village. It’s made from their top holdings in Villero, as well as Mariondino, a site that share’s Villero’s amphitheater but the portion of it that points a cooler northwest. It’s a very good, very serious, and very traditionally-made Barolo that remains a bargain for under $80 or so.
Shop Cascina Fontana in NYC.
Shop Cascina Fontana in SF.
Virtually everyone who writes about Cavallotto comments on how odd it is that they have remained off the radar, and I share the puzzlement.
As mentioned in the vineyard section above, this is a producer that specializes in their monopole holding in the northern sector of Castiglione, Bricco Boschis.
They are quite traditionalist, with long macerations and neutral cask aging, and in my books should be included in any list of great traditionalists like Bartolo Mascarello, Rinaldi, Conterno and the like. This is especially so of the San Giuseppe, a Riserva bottling made from the Cru’s sweet spot.
Shop Cavallotto in NYC.
Shop Cavallotto in SF.
Each village seems to have a top modernist, and in Castiglione it is Scavino -- though bear in mind that they would probably reject this label and it does seem to mean less and less as vintages pass and the Barolo wars recede into distant memory.
Despite being based in Castiglione, this is a producer who has put together a very impressive collection of top Crus from around DOC Barolo (Cannubi, Monvigliero, etc.).
Their signature wine, however, remains Bric del Fiasco, from the Fiasco vineyard in Castiglione. For a while they went too far with new barriques, but they have cut that back substantially and now reveal great elegance and fruit purity. The Scavino family admires the great wines of Burgundy, and the feeling is mutual!
Shop Scavino in NYC.
Shop Scavino in SF.
What wines should I buy?
As you can see above, for a small village, Castiglione has an awful lot of good producers! This part is therefore easy to write, as there are lots of great buying ideas. Here are my tips:
For Casual Barolo drinkers, you have two great targets here in the normale category: Vietti and Brovia. Neither wine is perfectly ready on release, so if you can hold them for just a year or two you’ll be well rewarded. Buy these wines every vintage except the worst, and maybe go for a full case when the vintages are great.
For Trophy Hunters, there are three prime targets in Castiglione: Mascarello’s Monprivato, Cavallotto’s San Giuseppe, and Vietti’s Rocche. A top Barolo cellar would have verticals of all three wines! Aside from weak vintages, hold these for as long as you can before drinking.
- For Barolo Collectors on a Budget, there are good options for you here. Mostly, I would focus on the Crus of Brovia, Scavino’s Bric del Fiasc, Falletto’s Castiglione del Falletto, Mascarello's Villero and Cavallotto's Bricco Boschis (their regular Cru Barolo). Drink most of these at around 10 years old.
Shop Barolo from Castiglione in NY.
Interested in learning more about the rest of Barolo? Read on.
The Barolo Breakdown: Part 1
Here we have an overview of everything you need to know about Barolo.
The Barolo Breakdown, Part 2: La Morra
Why is La Morra so important? What makes these wines so elegant? Who makes the best wine from La Morra?
The Barolo Breakdown, Part 3: Barolo
Why does this village bear the name Barolo? What makes Cannubi so special? Are all wines from the village of Barolo impossible to buy?
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