(Antonio Galloni - Wine Advocate - Feb 2010)
About this WINE
Domenico Clerico’s small estate is situated in Monforte d’Alba, right in the heart of Barolo. Domenico Clerico is one of the most respected names in all Barolo, and his wines are renowned for both winemaking of the highest quality and for their exceptional expression of terroir, derived from outstanding vineyard holdings in four of the greatest crus of Monforte: Ginestra, Bussia, Pajana and Mosconi.
Domenico commenced production in 1979, following a brief engagement in the olive oil business, concentrating his efforts on single-vineyard expressions. Interestingly, like many of the modernist persuasion, Clerico began in traditional mode, utilizing the hallmark vessels of the traditionalists, Slavonian oak casks, as they were readily available to him.
The transition to barrique took place subsequent to 1990 and whilst his initial barrique regime for Baroli featured equal proportions of new and used French barrels, for a brief period of time, Clerico employed new barrique exclusively for all of his Barolos. He soon moderated these absolute tendencies, with new barrels now constituting between 35 and 40 percent of his ageing vessels.
Owner Domenico Clerico is one of the key proponents of the modernist movement in the winemaking process of Barolo, creating more round, fruity wines. He believes that the grape, rather than the production processes, is the key to quality wine and passionately advocates the importance of the land in wine-making. This explains his concentration on single-vineyard wines as they allow the character of the land to shine.
“One of the most gifted winemakers in Piedmont...these are wines of extraordinary richness, amazing aromatics, and sensual personalities that satiate both the hedonistic and the intellectual senses." - Robert Parker, Jr.
Located due south of Alba and the River Tanaro, Barolo is Piedmont's most famous wine DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), renowned for producing Italy's finest red wines from 100 percent Nebbiolo.
Its red wines were originally sweet, but in 1840 the then extant Italian monarchy, the House of Savoy, ordered them to be altered to a dry style. This project was realised by French oenologist Louis Oudart, whose experience with Pinot Noir had convinced him of Nebbiolo's potential. The Barolo appellation was formalised in 1966 at around 1,700 hectares – only a tenth of the size of Burgundy, but almost three times as big as neighbouring Barbaresco.
Upgraded to DOCG status in 1980, Barolo comprises two distinct soil types: the first is a Tortonian sandy marl that produces a more feminine style of wine and can be found in the villages of Barolo, La Morra, Cherasco, Verduno, Novello, Roddi and parts of Castiglione Falletto. The second is the older Helvetian sandstone clay that bestows the wines with a more muscular style. This can be found in Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga d'Alba, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour and the other parts of Castiglione Falletto. Made today from the Nebbiolo clones Lampia, Michet and Rosé, Barolo has an exceptional terroir with almost every village perched on its own hill. The climate is continental, with an extended summer and autumn enabling the fickle Nebbiolo to achieve perfect ripeness.
Inspired by the success of modernists such as Elio Altare, there has been pressure in recent years to reduce the ageing requirements for Barolo; this has mostly been driven by new producers to the region, often with no Piedmontese viticultural heritage and armed with their roto-fermenters and barriques, intent on making a fruitier, more modern style of wine.
This modern style arguably appeals more to the important American market and its scribes, but the traditionalists continue to argue in favour of making Barolo in the classic way. They make the wine in a mix of epoxy-lined cement or stainless-steel cuves, followed by extended ageing in 25-hectoliter Slavonian botte (barrels) to gently soften and integrate the tannins. However, even amongst the traditionalists there has been a move, since the mid-1990s, towards using physiologically (rather than polyphenolically) riper fruit, aided by global warming. Both modernist and traditional schools can produce exceptional or disappointing wines.
Nebbiolo is the grape behind the Barolo and Barbaresco wines and is hardly ever seen outside the confines of Piedmont. It takes its name from "nebbia" which is Italian for fog, a frequent phenomenon in the region.
A notoriously pernickety grape, it requires sheltered south-facing sites and performs best on the well-drained calcareous marls to the north and south of Alba in the DOCG zones of Barbaresco and Barolo.
Langhe Nebbiolo is effectively the ‘second wine’ of Piedmont’s great Barolo & Barbarescos. This DOC is the only way Langhe producers can declassify their Barolo or Barbaresco fruit or wines to make an early-drinking style. Unlike Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo can be cut with 15% other red indigenous varieties, such as Barbera or Dolcetto.
Nebbiolo flowers early and ripens late, so a long hang time, producing high levels of sugar, acidity and tannins; the challenge being to harvest the fruit with these three elements ripe and in balance. The best Barolos and Barbarescos are perfumed with aromas of tar, rose, mint, chocolate, liquorice and truffles. They age brilliantly and the very best need ten years to show at their best.