Saturday, August 19, 2017

Elio Grasso (Barolo, Piemonte): Serious wines from an esthetically pleasing estate

The Elio Grasso estate reeks of fine art. From the fine lines of the estate, surrounded, as it is, by the immaculately laid out and manicured vineyards (as seen on the cover of A Wine Atlas of the Langhe and visible in real time from the terrace bar at Il Boscareto across the valley); to the equally immaculate lawn fronting the main building and the aerodynamic robot mini-tractor mowing as it plys its way across; to the sculpted tree fronting the building; to the well-appointed tasting room/reception center/office encountered as you enter the building; to the tunnel cellar that circles behind the tasting room; and the barrels that reside therein. Beautiful. And oh, by the way, they also grow grapes and make wine here.

We were welcomed to the estate by Roberto Bordignon and, after a spell gawking at the external aspects of the estate's beauty, were led into the offices. From there we walked back into the cellar located through the door from the office.

The estate is located in the Ginestra cru of Monforte d'Alba. The first map below shows the cru, within the context of the Barolo zone, while the second map shows the cru, its sub-crus, and the related vineyards.

Ginestra cru, sub-crus (all caps), and vineyards
As we walked through the cellar, Roberto chose to present the estate in relation to its wines. I will adhere to that construct in this post.

According to Roberto, the estate regularly produces two single-vineyard wines: Ginestra Casa Maté and Gavarini Chinieri. Both of these vineyards are 3 ha (7.41 acres) in size. Casa Maté is at a lower altitude than Chinieri, is located within an ampitheatre, is south-facing, ripens earlier, and has clay and limestone soils. Gavarini Chinieri is convex, has good ventilation, and the soil is comprised of clay, limestone, and eroded sandstone.

The grapes for these wines are vinified on the lower level and then pumped upstairs to the aging cellar (I would like to point out that many modern cellars are moving to gravity-flow operation in order to provide a "gentler, less interventionist approach to winemaking."). The wines are aged for 2 to 2.5 years in untoasted Slavonian oak casks. After bottling, the wines are aged for an additional 6 months prior to release to the market. Fifteen thousand bottles of each of these wines are produced annually.

Like the Chinieri vineyard, Runcot is located within the Gavarini sub-cru. This 18-ha (44.48-acre) vineyard was replanted in 1989 - 1990 at 4500 vines/ha with the first vintage produced in 1997. This wine is only produced in great vintages. The grapes are macerated for 45 days with pump overs and some batonnage in the early days. Annual production of this wine is 9000 bottles.

In the years when Runcot is not produced, the fruit is declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo. The Langhe Nebbiolo is vinified in stainless steel and is sold in the spring following vinification.

The Barbera is made from grapes sourced from the 13-ha (32.12-acre) Vigna Martoni. This wine is aged for 15 months in 60% new barriques. They are stored in the tunnel which maintains a constant humidity of 64 - 65%. Annual production of this wine is 100,000 - 110,000 bottles.

The winery also makes a Chardonnay, the first vintage of which was produced in 1990.

After our walk, we tasted some wines.

Roberto indicated that 2016 was an incredible vintage with great balance between alcohol, tannin, acidity, and fruit. The last time he had seen a vintage like this was back in 2004. The 2016 Dolcetto d'Alba was a light, easy, immediately enjoyable wine. Bright red and blue fruit. Unconcentrated. The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo was floral with sweet strawberry, cherries and tar on the palate. Aggressive tannins. Pure Nebbiolo.

The 2014 Barbera was floral with sawdust, sandalwood, and baking spices. Integration of fruit and barrel spices on nose. Mid-palate issues and flavor dilution.

The 2013 Barolo Gavarini Chinieri had a beautiful sandalwood nose with sweet florality, rose petals, nut, spice, and tar. On the palate, tar and earthy red fruits. Medium weight on palate.

We next did a number of vintages of the Casa Maté: 2013, 2007, and 2004. The 2013 showed spice, tar, baking spices, and an earthiness. Depth and structure. Great mouthfeel. The 2007 showed obvious development. Tar, waxiness, honeyed fruit, mint, eucalyptus, herbs, florality, and curry. Tar on the palate along with a long, caressing finish. The 2004 also showed curry and tar on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Beautifully balanced.

Al in all a wonderful visit. Robert was wonderful and the time flew by. Serious wines from an esthetically pleasing estate.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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