Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tour and tasting at Poderi Aldo Conterno: Decanter's Great Piedmont Reader Weekend

We had just spent 5 hours with one of the most enthralling wine producers -- Angelo Gaja -- in the world and were now on our way to a tour and tasting with Gianfranco Conterno of Poderi Aldo Conterno.  His was going to be a tough job.  We were sated -- both gastronomically and mentally -- and our best bet would probably have been a crowning siesta.  But no.  We had a schedule and we were going to stick to it.  Gianfranco would have the task of bringing us along and keeping us focused on the present.

Poderi Aldo Conterno was founded when Aldo Conterno parted ways with his brother Giacomo shortly after the former's return from a 5-year stint in the US.  His time overseas had expanded Aldo's mindset while his brother, who had never spent any extended time away from the Langhe, remained loyal to the traditions of the region. Under the direction of the father, the brothers split the equipment and inventory, with Giovanni retaining ownership of the historical family cantina while Aldo went off and created today's Poderi Aldo Conterno.  Aldo focused on making wines which, while not modern, were less tannic and backward than was traditional.  He came to be known fondly as "the King of Barolo." Aldo Conterno died on May 30, 2012, leaving the winery to his sons Franco, Stefano, and Giacomo.

Poderi Aldo Conterno is located in Bussia, a village in Monforte d'Alba.  It is surrounded by 25 ha of vineyards at 400 meters altitude and with a south southwest aspect.  The soil is comprised of alternating layers of compact gray sand and white and blueish calcareous marls.

Used with Decanter's permission

In addition to the vineyard surrounding the Cantina, the Conterno family own three cru vineyards in Bussia: Romirasco, Cicala, and Colonello.  Romirasco -- located at 410 meters altitude on Soprano Hill -- has a SSW exposure and a clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron.  The Nebbiolo vines in this vineyard are 50- to 55-years old.  The Cicala vineyard is located on concave slopes with southeast exposures. The soil profile is similar to Romirasco's except that it is browner in color.  The vines here are 50-years old.  The vines at the Colonello Vineyard are 35- to 40-years old.  All of these vineyards are farmed organically.

Giacomo with Decanter's brain trust (used with Decanter's permission)

Aldo Conterno has a 7000 square meter cellar with room for 1 million bottles.  They produced 250,000 bottles during the 1970s but but has reduced that number to 80,000 bottles today.  According to Giacomo, small production levels is the price that they have paid for going organic.  Alcoholic fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) occurs in stainless steel tanks (with the exception of the Granbussia which is fermented in large Slavonian oak casks) while the resulting wines are aged in large Slavonian oak casks -- Barolos -- or French oak barriques -- all other wines.  The Conterno wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

At the conclusion of the cellar tour we settled in for a tasting of the Conterno offerings. First up was the 2009 Bussiador Chardonnay Langhe B. DOC.  According to Giacomo, they were the first to think that Chardonnay would have the chance to flourish in Barolo. In his view, Chardonnay grown here expresses the minerality of the area.  The Chardonnay grapes are grown on 35- to 40-year old vines resident on 2.56 ha of the Chastain vineyard and, while the winery has the capacity for 30,000 bottles, they only vinify 6000 bottles.  The wine is placed in stainless steel tanks until the initiation of alcoholic fermentation when they are transferred to 100% new oak barriques for its completion and for malolactic fermentation.

On the nose minerality, sweet white flower, apple pear, rusticity, vanilla, and a hint of pineapple.  On the palate, clean, grapefruit, minerality, long finish with some heat. According to Giacomo, this wine should live on for 9 or 10 years.

The second wine tasted was the 2009 Il Favot Langhe Nebbiolo DOC.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from 20-year-old vines from a number of vineyards in Bussia.  After hand harvesting, the crushed grapes are allowed to stay in contact with the skins in stainless steel tanks in order to increase the color and tannin levels in the finished wine. Vinification occurs in the stainless steel tanks where the wine will remain for 6 months post-vinification.  The wines are transferred to 100% new oak barriques at the end of that six month period and will mature therein for another 18 months after which they are bottled.

On the nose violets, deep plum, sweet vanilla, turpentine.  On the palate spicy, rustic, fresh, plum, slight green characteristic.  Balanced.  Giacomo saw this wine as being ready in 3 to 4 years but with the stuffing to last up to 10 years.

The 2008 Colonello Barolo DOCG was made from grapes grown in the highest position in the namesake vineyard.  Giacomo saw this as being a classic vintage with harvest ending in the first week of November.  The must stayed in contact with the skin for 30 days.  After vinification the wine was racked a number of times before being transferred to large Slavonian oak casks for 29 months of aging.

Violets, plum, tar, and a hint of phenolics on the nose confirmed on the palate along with a spiciness.

The 2008 Cicala Barolo DOCG is treated in the same manner as was the Colonello. Violets, plum and tar on the nose with spice, freshness, coating minerality, and a blackpepper finish.  5500 bottles of this wine were produced.

The grapes for the 2008 Romirasco Barolo DOCG is sourced from the 3.8 ha vineyard of the same name.  This wine is aged an additional 2 months in oak casks relative to the wines from the other cru vineyards.  Dark cherry, licorice, and tar on the nose with an elegant long spicy finish.

The Granbussia Riserva DOCG is the flagship wine of the estate.  The 4950-bottle production is made from grapes drawn from the Cicala (15%), Colonello (15%), and Romirasco (70%) vineyards.  These grapes are co-fermented in wood with 60 days of skin contact and spends another 32 months maturing prior to bottling.  The wine is stored for another 12 to 18 months after bottling.  This wine was first introduced in 2005 and that was the vintage that we tasted.

On the nose tar, roses, violets, plum and figs.  On the palate richness, tar, graphite, freshness and elegance.  Long finish with some heat.

At the outset I said that we had presented Giacomo with a tall order given what had preceded him.  He came through.  The winery has a story to tell, having, as it does, such a storied pedigree and such excellent wines.  Giacomo himself was earnest and passionate and served as an excellent counterpoint to the whirlwind that had gone before.  Wonderful capper to a wonderful day.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. May I ask: How did you arrange your tour? Did you just contact the winery directly? How far in advance did you schedule?

    1. The tour was arranged by Decanter Magazine.