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Vietti Baroli - 1999

Vietti Baroli

Deciding between the Vietti single vineyard Barolo wines is like choosing between listening to Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday sing Body and Soul: they may be different, but you can't lose.

The wines of Vietti continue to defy easy characterization. The current fashion is to drop Barolo and Barbaresco producers into one of two slots: modern or traditional, but the wines of Vietti are neither modern nor traditional - they are Luca Currado in style. The wines of Vietti are the perfect example of how winemaking has evolved in Piemonte and each wine in the Vietti portfolio is an excellent wine worthy of your attention.

Winemaker Luca Currado represents the fourth generation of his family at Vietti and brings with him that feeling of history. Luca's father, Alfredo, was one of the first in Barolo to bottle single vineyard wines. Like a jazz singer sees a song, Currado sees the grapes from his vineyards as something to be interpreted, but with respect to the original creation - of the songwriter or the vineyard. To him the tools of the winemaking trade are vehicles for bringing the flavors of the vineyard to the bottle and not an end in themselves. During a tour of the Vietti winery you see all the bells and whistles of modern Italian winemaking: roto-fermenters and barriques, but they are alongside all the traditional tools of the Langhe: large Slovenian oak botte and open-top fermenters that allow the cap to be punched down by hand (well a mechanized version of it anyway). For Currado the tools of winemaking are to be carefully selected and used in the correct situation. On the controversial roto-fermenters he observed, "I don't like them and they are not something for great vineyards or vintages with a natural concentration of flavor. For grapes with concentrated flavors they extract too much and the wines start to taste artificial, but for grapes from lesser vineyards or years that are lacking in flavor they can improve the wine."

In fact, Currado will be removing detailed winemaking data from his new fact sheets as he feels it prejudices tasters before they actually taste the wine. "You don't ask Charlie Trotter (the famous Chicago chef) to provide you with the recipe before you taste his food," noted Currado.

"When it comes to winemaking both Elio Altare (an ultra-modern producer based in La Morra) and Bartolo Mascarello (an ultra-traditional producer based in Barolo) are probably both right considering their respective terroir," says Currado. "You need to make wine in the style the vineyards give you."

Nothing speaks better for Currado's philosophy than his wines. Tasting his single vineyard Baroli is a revelation as they are all aged in slightly different ways, but all arrive at the same point in that each speaks clearly of the vineyards and villages where they were born. In none of the wines do the winemaking techniques used overshadow the character of the wines. By selecting techniques with the vineyards and vintage in mind instead of following a set recipe Currado has created a group of outstanding and diverse wines. I strongly encourage Barolo/Barbaresco buyers to seek out the incredible 1999 vintage, which is still available in many markets and at lower prices than the super-hyped 2000 vintage releases. All three of these wines are equally highly recommended - just like Ella and Billie.

Raccolta selection: 1999 Vietti Barolo: Brunate, Rocche and Lazzarito (all $75)

1999 Brunate (La Morra): Brilliant scarlet/garnet, translucent. Expansive sweet plum and ripe cherry aromas blend with the pronounced tar characteristic of the Brunate vineyard. The mouthfeel is expansive and generous and filled with tar and black licorice over bittersweet black cherry flavors and luscious ripe raspberry notes. The tannins are well integrated, but substantial.

1999 Rocche (Castiglione Falletto): Brilliant scarlet/garnet, translucent. Elegant and delicate on the nose with spiced plum and expansive floral aromas. Very structured and lean on the palate with flavors that continually grow, evolve and expand. The dark fruit flavors are filled with spices and a delicate tar and leather note. The finish is still closed, but the promising floral hints under the firm tannins show great promise for the future.

1999 Lazzarito (Serralunga d'Alba): Brilliant ruby/garnet, translucent. Dense and concentrated on the nose which is full of smoked plums and black pepper. A big, brooding nebbiolo on the palate with intense tar and black pepper flavors riding on the massive sweet dark fruit with almost a cassis touch. The finish is long, powerful and tannic and the strong tar and black pepper flavors linger for many minutes.