I have been searching so long for the ultimate Barolo – the one that makes you tremble on your knees – and I’ve found it on a gloomy, foggy day, with a massive hangover to work off and the shadow of a new lockdown on the horizon.
On a morning that defining awful is reductive, I went to visit the Giovanni Rosso winery in Serralunga d’Alba. I had already tasted the wines last year, and they blew my mind. I expected the visit to be great, but not THAT great. The Barolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale Rosso 2016 is almost ineffable – it’s by far one of the deepest and most complete wines I have ever tasted.
Like a meteor, Alberto, Giovanni Rosso’s cellarman, swept me away with his quick wit and quickly made me forget all my worries. He told me that he has been working at the winery for three years and already feels part of the family. We retrace together the history of the Rosso family from World War II to the new course after the handover from Giovanni, who passed away about ten years ago, to his son Davide, the rockstar vintner who, in a few years, brought the winery to the Olympus of Barolo.
We visited the area that housed the concrete vats for fermentation and, tasted two “atti a divenire Barolo” wines from the 2020 vintage. I was amazed by the outstanding that they already showed at this stage. I think they would find a place in the market if they were bottled right away and sold as Noveau without carbonic maceration.
We entered the barrel room, and I immediately noticed something strange: among the Garbellotto barrels stands a neo-renaissance painting with a view of Serralunga in the middle. Having already seen some paintings in the small room at the entrance, I asked Alberto if the Rosso family were art lovers. He replied: “No, but there is an interesting story behind this painting”. We started tastings wines from the barrel: first Serra, the most approachable Cru, then Cerretta, the “femme fatale”, and only at the end, the Vigna Rionda Ester Canale Rosso.
” During Second World War the family was forced to sell their plot in the Vigna Rionda vineyard in order not to starve. In the 1950s, a cousin of theirs, Tommaso Canale, bought it back and kept it until his death. Davide’s mother, Ester Canale, made a vow to the madonna in hopes of getting that vineyard back, and when they finally inherited it, she commissioned this painting to a Tuscan painter. The face of the Madonna is Ester Canale’s, the figure on the left is a family friend, and Davide is the putto on the right.”
The life of Tommaso Canale could have easily been the plot for a novel by Piedmontese writer Giuseppe Fenoglio – he was a shy, grumpy, and stingy peasant who talked very little and sold most of the wine in bulk. It is said that he died of cold and that the wine he made from Vigna Rionda wine would express the monstrous potential of the plot despite being vinified very roughly. ” Tommaso sold part of the grapes from his century-old vineyards to Giacosa, who used them to produce Collina Rionda.” One of the very few bottles left of Giacosa’s Collina Rionda sold for 981 dollars in an auction last year.
I will not dwell too much on the technical part because my mind was too full to assimilate notions on yeasts, toasted woods, rootstocks. What I can say, however, is that only copper and sulfur are used in the vineyard and that the wine ages in large French and Slavonian barrels. Clearly enough, filtrations are banned and sulfites… well you can imagine!
I went up to the chic little room with paintings that recall Botero, Modigliani, Monet, and I sat down in front of a formidable lineup that also included three unexpected goodies. The first two were the wines that Davide produces on Mount Etna. “We were the first producers from Langa to invest in Etna. We bought three hectares of vineyard on the northern slopes of the volcano planted to Carricante and Nerello Mascalese. Etna Bianco is particularly important for us because it is the only white wine we make. Here in the Langhe, we do not grow any white varieties”. Davide also imports Champagne Le Mesnil. “All of a sudden this cooperative, which is the most important in Mesnil-Sur-Oger, lost its Italian importer, and Davide took advantage of the situation to start a new business.”
I took a break outdoors halfway through the tasting and saw a man in a white shirt and jeans darting across the square. By just glancing at his rock-star-like gait and self-confident expression I understood that he must have been Davide Rosso, the prodigy of the Vigna Rionda. He shook my hands and apologized because he was in a hurry and couldn’t spend more time with me. I appreciated the frankness of his manner: no fake smiles, just a lot of charisma. “It’s not easy to relate to him – explained Alberto – but he’s a great guy. We agree on almost everything!”.
Langhe Nebbiolo Vigna Rionda 2018 (da botte)
“We decided to make this Langhe Nebbiolo from the replanted vines and the Barolo from the century-old ones. It’s expensive by Langhe Nebbiolo standards, but I think it’s fantastic.” At this youthful stage, the little brother of the monsters shows a bright ruby color and offers subtle aromas of fresh must, raspberry and rosehip. On the palate, it is suave, pulpy with lots of plum and yellow peach on the forefront, and taut on the citrus-inflected finish.
Barolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale Rosso 2018 (da botte)
Sampled from the Garbellotto cask, in the middle of the journey that will take it to the bottle, the ’18 Ester Canale Rosso is shy, backward. Subtle aromas of mint and violet pastille emerge with airing. The palate is bright and mineral-driven with hints of both red and black fruit. The tannins are powerful, the finish long and refined.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2017
This is an oustanding entry-level Langhe Nebbiolo. Aromas of star anise and underbrush mingle with floral tones on the “petit Barolo” nose. Hints of blood orange and cassis frame a remarkably fragrant and focus mouthfeel. Grapes are sourced from parcels that lie outside of the DOCG.
It comes from various plots in different villages and exhibits a synthetic profile: neither too austere nor too open-knit. This classic Barolo unveils animal tones, hints of blackcurrants and balsamic herbs, a touch of potpourri. Muscular tannins backbone the blackberry and cherry flavors, and loosen up in the earthy, musky finish. Perfect for medium-term drinking.
Barolo del Comune di Serralunga 2016
Blends from lesser know crus such Broglio and Meriame, where the Rosso hold such small plots that it would make little sense to bottle the wines separately. As always the case with Serralunga, this wine expresses darker, deeper aromas of tobacco and leather, tart black fruit, blue flowers. It is lean and bloody, austere but not aggressive. The tannins are powerful but well integrated. Hints of ripe blackberries and violets domesticate the savory, razor-sharp finish. I would keep it aside for the moment.
Barolo Serra 2016
The closest Cru to the winery – were it not for the fog, I could see it from the tasting room. It starts off in fifth gear, promptly releasing fascinating aromas of raspberry and dried rose, licorice, graphite and sandalwood essence. It is harmonious and relaxed, supported by crunchy tannins that are well incorporated into the body. It closes with deep, repeating notes of anise and pencil lead. Forgetting it in the cellar is all well and good, but I would dare drinking it right now with a fatty ox steak.
Barolo Cerretta 2016
So much for those who make Barolos that taste all the same – the passage from Serra to Cerretta is striking. For Alberto this Cru represents the “absolute elegance” and the aromas of powder, cinnamon, creme de cassis, incense, cosmetic trinkets that I cannot name, seem to prove him right. The mouthfeel is complete, exhilarating: you get strong tannins along with juicy, plump flavors of purple fruit, balsam herbs and blood orange that give an idea of harmony and rare finesse.
Barolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale Rosso 2016
Finally, the monster enters silently and then begins to roar. Sweet, balsamic with hints of Vermouth infusions, aromatic woods, raspberry jam; then darker: earthy, musky and gamey. It changes all the time – after a while I feel it oscillating between fruit and tertiary aromas and then bursting with intoxicating scents of mint and spices all of kinds. On the palate, it dispenses shivers: it is bright and dark at the same time, citrus-tinged and floral, balsamic and mineral-driven; the tannins are perfect, the remarkably long finish features all the aforemontioned aromas in sequence and keeps changing. It is a multifacted, tetragonal, hypnotic wine: Galloni defined it as the “Musigny of Barolo” and I think the comparison fits perfectly. It is simply one of the most mind-blowing fascinating, glorious Barolos I have ever smelled and tasted!
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