Thursday, July 6, 2017

The top-rated Barolo crus: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione

Beginning with the work of Renato Ratti in the 1970s, and continuing through cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti, and the more recent efforts of Antonio Galloni, there have been lauded efforts to classify and rank the vineyards of the Barolo region. The table below shows the classification schemas employed by the three mentioned gentlemen.

Best sub-regions of high qualitative peculiarity
Sub-region with special characteristics
Historic sub-regions of wine growing


Alfonso Cevola, in a 2015 article, compared the highest levels of these three Barolo classification schemes in order to determine the degree of alignment at the top. The Cevola comparison was presented in tabular form. I present that data graphically below.

Beyond the analysis provided in the Cevola article, the data show that only four of the top-level crus are located on Tortonian soils with the remaining 12 sited on Helvetian soils.

One of the Cevola findings was the fact that there was unanimous agreement that three crus were among the very best in the region: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione. The characteristics of these crus are presented below.

According to, Brunate had been identified as producing "wines of special character" over 500 years ago. This 25-ha cru is an inter-commune vineyard with administrative responsibility shared between the towns of Barolo and La Morra. According to, the soil profiles and exposure on both sides of the communes dividing line are essentially the same but the altitudes differ, ranging from 230 m to 400 m. The soils feature marls of S. Agata fossils with good levels of sand, especially in the higher elevations. reports that:
The lower sand levels in the soil result in aromas that are less intense but feature notes of fruit and spice such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As the wine matures, the fine structure of the terroir translates into hints of tobacco, rose and liquorice. And in great vintages, the nose has notes of truffle and tar. Alkalinity and elevated calcium levels give the final wine a touch of delicate elegance ... The Barolo of Brunate can be defined as a particularly balanced wine with an ample nose and an intense structure with good alcohol levels, as well as, generous tannins and body.
According to, "It is one of the most representative vineyards of the commune of La Morra and has always been considered one of the points of reference of the entire appellation." Vinous cites Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini who identified Brunate wines as "austere, yet ethereal, notes of spices, mint, licorice and balsamic are all very typical." Polaner Selections was pithy: "Brunate is one of the greatest vineyards in the Barolo region ... with wines that "... are prized for their depth, power and brilliant balance..."

Masnaghetti describes this MGA as extending over two virtually opposing slopes with the one facing Casa Nere being better exposed and yielding the better wines of the two.The micro-climate of the MGA is excellent, protected as it is from the cold northern winds by the La Morra hills. The loose soils, primarily silt and clay, "favors the production of structured, tannic wines that are more powerful than those from Brunate" (

Masnaghetti sees Cerequio as "An MGA of truly superior level, accordingly, which generally expresses a style characterized by structure and austerity but with an innate sense of power and proportion which gives this Barolo a warmer and more dynamic development on the palate compared to Brunate."

Rocche di Castiglione
Up until the 1960s, the received wisdom in Barolo production was the blending of fruit from various vineyards in order to meld these individual characteristics into a multi-faceted, sum-of-the-parts wine. It was not until 1961 that the Currados of Vietti and Beppe Cola of Prunotto made the decision to bottle unblended wines; wines that would showcase the character of the area within which the grapes were grown. Borrowing from the French terminology, a "cru" Barolo. In the Vietti case they chose to bottle a wine from the highly regarded Rocche di Castiglione cru while Beppe Cola drew on his Bussia cru.

Rocche di Castiglione, described by Masnaghetti as one of the most prestigious crus in all of the Barolo appellation, is located 88% in the Castiglione Falletto township and 12% in Monforte d'Alba. Its 14.36 ha (stated elsewhere in the book as 16.33 ha) has 52% devoted to vineyards (92% of vines in Castiglione Falletto and the remainder in Monforte d'Alba), and 95% of those vines growing Barolo-targeted Nebbiolo fruit. The remaining vines are targeted at Dolcetto (5%), Barbera (0.5%), and Langhe Rosso (0.5%). describes the cru thusly:
Rocche di Castiglione is one of the smallest and most renowned vineyards of the entire Barolo area. Located at an altitude of 300-350 meters above sea level, this "Cru" consists of a number of small, steep vineyard properties, and forms a long narrow strip along the side of a very steep hill with an east-southeast exposition. The lower part of this long strip of earth, which is about 1.5 km long and 60-70 meters high, sits on a cliff (rocche) that in some places drops as much as 150 meters to the Perno river at the bottom. It is characterized by large, sharp limestone blocks mixed in with the marl soil typical of the eastern side of the Barolo appellation, known as "Helvetian soils" and producing the more structured, long aging and complex wines. 
These characteristics give the wines of Rocche unique, well-defined aromas of floral and mineral compounds, softer tannins than the rest of the Helvetian zone resulting in excellent balance, and a distinctive elegance. An 'iron fist in a velvet glove."
Luca Currado, in his comments at the Galloni Rocche di Castiglione Retrospective, described Rocche wine as being like a Swiss watch in that it is very difficult to put together. First, the vineyard is steep and very difficult to work; everything has to be done by hand.  Second, vinifying Rocche is a challenging exercise. They do extended submerged cap and the tannins always take a long time to come together and then ... pop. According to Luca, you have to wait longer for the Rocche tannins to resolve than for any of his other wines.

Luca and Elena Penna Currado at the Galloni

Castiglione Falletto is located between Serralunga d'Alba and La Morra and its Rocche di Castiglione MGA has elements of both of these bordering communes. According to Luca, Rocche wines have the silky tannins and elegance of La Morra and the complexity, depth and power of Serralunga d'Alba.

I will be covering the remaining MGAs mentioned in the three rating schemas in future posts on this blog.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. I love the idea of compiling all of this information in one place. I'm wondering if you have "The Atlas of The Langhe" from Slow Food. They may not rate the vineyards, but I have often found them to be a great reference of information. I think what surprised me most here was Cerequio, and the realization that I don't own a single wine made entirely from that vineyard.

  2. The idea of compiling all the info is good. All this about maintaining quality vineyards. s
    thanks for sharing it.