Road Warrior: Vietti on Tour

LucaCurrado_MarioCordero.jpgLuca looks tired. At times his eyes wander off and many a suppressed yawn tries to pass his lips. Yet, each time a new person steps before him to ask a question he has heard hundreds of times before he lights up and answers with enthusiasm and charm. He comes back to life for each individual because what he makes means something special to him and he wants them to know.

This Luca is none other than Luca Currado, renowned winemaker for the famed Azienda Agricola Vietti located in Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Barolo region, Italy’s crown jewel of wine. The name of Vietti is one of this regions most important names as Luca’s father, Alfredo Currado (son-in-law of founder Mario Vietti) played an integral part of making Barolo what it is today as he was the first to bottle single vineyard wines and started the trend that made the white wine Arneis one of Piemonte’s most successful wines. Luca, along with brother-in-law Mario Cordero have taken their father’s success to even higher levels firmly establishing the Vietti label as one of the Langhe’s premier brands.

Luca looks tired for good reason. He has just finished an exhausting harvest and has immediately hit the road to promote his wines throughout the United States and then, after a day or two at home, he’s off to Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is just one of the three trips Luca makes to the USA every year. Yet, with this brutal schedule he is still able to treat every question from every consumer as important - no matter how many times he has heard it. Why is he doing this? The Vietti name is well established in all the world’s markets and they will easily sell the modest amount of wine they produce from their 70 acres of vines. Just watching Luca answers the question. He is on the road yet again because selling the wine is not enough. Luca wants people to understand what they are drinking and why it tastes the way it does. Luca pushes himself back on the road because he believes in their wines. The same passion he puts into growing the grapes and making the wines goes into selling the wines. He wants them to know why they like his wines.

Finally the “Barolo Wars” of the nineties are fading away as producers step back from the excesses of experimentation and emulation to combine the best knowledge of modern enology and viticulture with the distinctive methods and vineyards that made Barolo great to begin with.  The Vietti wines are some of the best examples of this modern, yet more thoughtful and sensitive style. You cannot categorize the Vietti wines as either “modernist” nor “traditionalist” as they combine the best parts of both schools and don’t approach the excesses of the extreme modernists. Luca’s father Alfredo would probably not be pleased to see the barriques in their winery and these are not his fathers wines, but what they do have in common is dedication to excellence - something they both have achieved.

The following wines were tasted on Luca’s recent visits to Liner and Elsen Wine Merchants and Alba Osteria, both in Portland Oregon.

  • Barbera d’Aba, Tre Vigne, 2004 - Brilliantly fresh and clean with deeply concentrated black raspberry fruit. Very lively and mouthwatering with a wonderfully zesty bittersweet finish. ($22)
  • Barbera d’Alba, Scaronne 2004 - If there is a more complex barbera out there than Scaronne I’d be hard pressed to name it. A big wine, but not simply chunky big like Spinetta. Dramatic and intense while still maintaining that punchy barbera verve. Densely colored and expansive from start to the never-ending finish. Wait a few years for this one to grow up. ($43)
  • Barbera d’Asti, La Crena, 2001 - Deep, earthy and brooding with almost a nebbiolo like firmness. A big (not heavy) wine that has no business with a pasta, but would be more at home with a big aged prime steak. Great complexity, with layers of earth and porcini over rich wild black cherry fruit.
  • Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2004 - Bargain hunters pay attention. Here is real nebbiolo character for under 20 bucks. Fresh, bright fruit flavors soon give way to classic leather and dried rose characteristics that can only belong to nebbiolo. Forward by nebbiolo standards and more than drinkable now, I’d still age this another year or so to really squeeze all the complexity you can out of it. A great starting place if you’re new to Barolo and an everyday treat for hard core Barolo nuts. ($20)
  • Barolo, Castiglione, 2000 - Brilliant , classic dark garnet color. Warm and floral on the nose with only sweet touches of tobacco and tar. Round and forward (by Barolo standards remember!) and already drinkable if matched with rich foods. One of the more focused wines you’ll taste from the warm 2000 vintage. The Castiglione selection is still only aged in the large traditional barrels, but exhibits some of the same rounded tannins many modern-style producers hope for. If you have not tasted a Barolo before this is an excellent introduction and a good buy. ($40)
  • Barolo, Rocche, 1998 - A classical beauty with a brilliant translucent garnet color and aromas that won’t let your nose leave the glass. Lean and mean and fantastic - perfectly combining the unique intertwined dance of bitterness, bite, grace, delicacy, power and sweetness that makes for great Barolo. I would wait a few more years as someday this will blow you away. ($90)
  • Barolo, Rocche, 1999 - If you have any chance to buy this wine do so because this is great Barolo. Take all the best parts of the 1998 and turn up the volume and you get this wonderful wine. Far more concentrated than the 98 it still retains the same balance and elegant structure. Nowhere near ready to drink, it’s still closed and brooding. Wait at least five more years and you’ll have a truly fine bottle of Barolo. ( $90)
  • Barolo 2003 new single vineyard releases: Rocche, Brunate, and Lazzarito (all $116) - One sip of these baby blockbusters sends your palate into sensory overload. Huge and round, as you would expect from the burning hot 2003 vintage, Vietti has still put together a group of wines that retain balance - albeit a very rich, powerful balance. It is important to note that while these wines see barriques, they only age in small barrels for six months and spend the majority of their time in traditional large Slovenian oak casks before bottling. Certainly not yet ready to drink unless you happen to be serving well-aged wild boar tonight, with moderate aging - say about 8 years or so - these should be some excellent wines.  In fact they’ll be just right for drinking while your still waiting for your 2001’s and 1999’s to grow up. The tannins in all of these wines are very substantial right now, but are really quite round, soft and integrated for Baroli this young.  As you would expect, the Rocche is the most graceful and fresh of this trio, showing good structure and the wonderful bright floral character that this vineyard always seems to show. The Brunate is a huge mouthful of Barolo that expands and overwhelms the palate with its depth and richness. As usual, in spite of its girth, the Brunate is charming with an almost forward appeal. The Lazzarito will almost take the enamel off your teeth with its biting, powerful tannins and deep bittersweet fruit laden with tobacco and tar. Incredibly intense and powerful, this is a wine you should not go near for years to come as it has plenty of aging to do. I’d say eight years is the minimum for this high-strung monster. If you want drama this is your wine. My vote out of these three would go to the Rocche, but it’s too early to make that call. Tasting them together is a great look at the different characteristics of these vineyards.

(pictured above Luca Currado and Mario Cordero)