Monica Larner - 30/06/2017
About this WINE
This is undoubtedly one of the great estates, not just of Piedmont, but in all of Italy. Giacosa are revered globally, with a reputation built on the elegance, purity and complexity of wines produced over the lifetime of Bruno Giacosa. Over the course of 60 years at the winery, Bruno came to be recognised as one of the greatest winemakers in Piedmont.
Bruno was born into wine. In 1945, at the age of 16, he began working full-time in the family cellar with his father Mario. Rather than studying oenology, he instead absorbed the traditional knowledge and techniques passed down through his family. His approach was deeply considered, single-minded and perfectionist. Famously exacting and modest, a man more at home in the cellar than in the public eye, he preferred to let his wines speak for themselves. When prompted, he once stated: “Winemaking involves a great many small decisions, each affecting the next. One can only hope to get them right, to capture what there was in the grapes to begin with.”
Bruno became known for extraordinary wines from both Barolo and Barbaresco, made from fruit sourced from the finest crus. These include the iconic “red label” Riservas, made in only the very finest vintages. It was not until 1982 that he started to buy his own vineyards. Today, the estate comprises 20 hectares of vines, including 13 hectares of Barolo Falletto and Falletto Vigna Le Rocche, and just over three hectares combined of Barbaresco Asili and Rabajà.
Since 2006, with Bruno’s illness and subsequent passing in 2008, the estate has been ably run by Bruno’s daughter, Bruna, with winemaking lineage assured by the presence of Bruno’s long-time oenologist, Dante Scaglione, through Francesco Versio and now Giuseppe Tartaglino. Bruno’s standards have unquestionably been upheld, with an immaculate and suitably understated renovation of the winery, and continued, unwavering commitment to producing wines of both the highest quality and of true vineyard expression. Since the 2012 vintage, all of their Barbaresco and Barolo have been made exclusively from estate-grown fruit.
Made in a traditional style, with alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel tanks for 21 days, the wines are subsequently aged for 20 months in large barrels, with no oak toast. Unusually, each wine is aged in the same single barrel until it is ready to be bottled – in their view, to minimise the influence of oak and bring to the fore the individual character of each vineyard.
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.