Sunday, July 23, 2017

Top-rated Barolo crus -- tranche #2: Rocche dell'Annunziata, Monprivato, Villero, Francia, and Vignarionda

Three of the foremost Barolo vineyard experts -- Renato Ratti, Alessandro Masnaghetti, and Antonio Galloni -- have each taken a shot at classifying the crus in the Barolo zone (I have shared the frameworks of the individual schemes in a prior post.). If we look at the highest levels of these schemes, both Ratti and Galloni have 10 crus assigned, but they only have agreement on five (Brunate, Cerequio, Rocche di Castiglione, Monprivato, and Rocche dell'Annunziata). Masnaghetti has rated his crus from one star (lowest) to five stars but he has further divided that top category in two (5 star and 5 star Superiore), with five crus in the former and four in the latter. This organization complicates the effort to balance the top-level crus across the three rating systems.

In my previous post on the top-level Barolo crus, I labeled the best crus as those which were consensus picks by the three experts with the Masnaghetti picks being 5-star Superiore.

The crus covered in this tranche are: Rocche dell'Annunziata and Monprivato (consensus picks, each awarded 5 stars by Masnaghetti); Francia and Vignariondo (selected by both Masnaghetti and Galloni); and Villero (selected by Ratti and Masnaghetti). The characteristics of these crus are presented below.

Consensus Picks
Rocche dell'Annunziata
One of the three La Morra crus included in the top-rated-Barolo-cru categorization (the other two are Brunate and Cerequio), Rocche dell'Annunziato was part of a larger territory (Marcenasco) managed by the Benedictine monks resident in the Abbey of San Martine. According to, the vineyard appears to have grown in three distinct stages:
  • Stage 1 -- The original part of the vineyard (18.8 ha) covering the lower, south- and west-facing lands below the road to Torriglione.
  • Stage 2 -- Somewhere between 1988 and 1994, it grew to encompass the southwest-facing plots (Oberto, Mascarellos, Scavino, Accomasso) just above the aforementioned road.
  • Stage 3 -- A final push to the borgata ofoiolo (Rocche Costamagna, Erbaluna). 
The vineyard lies in a hollow between the hills of San Martini and Cerequio-Brunate and, as such, experiences the sun's rays from early morning until late in the afternoon.

The Tortonian-era soils are of a clayey-calcareous nature, chalky white on the higher slopes, and siltier lower down. According to, the soil is between 40% and 50% silt, a characteristic it holds in common with the lower vineyard of Cannubi Boschis. The stones present in the soils aid in drainage.

Wine Characteristics
The wines from this MGA are noted for body (less noticeable than in the cases of Brunate and Cerequio), elegance (more concrete and less ethereal than is the case for Rocche di Castiglione), and complexity (Masnaghetti). Further, they are graceful and richly scented (Carlo Petrini, A Wine Atlas of the Langhe)

For Antonio Galloni, Rocche dell'Annunziata
... yields Barolos of finesse. Rocche dell'Annunziata is known for its striking, floral perfume (violets, roses), sweet spices, dark red fruit and silky tannins. These are gracious, feminine Barolos that tend to open up relatively early, but also age with grace. Rocche dell'Annunziata showcases the refined side of Barolo.
Monprivato is an "exceptionally fine vineyard on the long strip of hillside that descends from the village of Castglione Falletto to the houses of Garbelletto" (Petrini). It is "doubtlessly one of the most prestigious of the MGAs ..." (Masnaghetti).

Monprivato is an historic vineyard, as shown by land registry archives dating to 1666. It is primarily farmed by Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli, with a small portion held by Giovanni Sordo. The family bought its first plot in the MGA in 1904 and have since had some notable accomplishments:
  • Introduction of the Michét Nebbiolo clone by Maurizio in 1921
  • Substantial replanting of the vineyard to Michét in 1963
  • Fourth generation, in the person of Mauro, taking the reigns in 1967
  • Introduction of a Monprivato single vineyard in 1970
  • Purchase of small plots from neighbors between 1985 and 1990 to extend its holdings to the current dominant size
The crus southwest exposure, and lack of surrounding obstacles, ensures all-day access to the sun's rays.

According to, the soil is a "clayey-silty marl with good structure, a high content of active limestone, and a well-proportioned supply of micro-elements." This soil is similar to soils of the other great vineyards on the western side of Castiglione Falletto (Petrini).

Wine Characteristics
Monprivato wines are well-structured but also offer  "elegance and intense aromas" (Petrini). Masnaghetti notes that Monprivato wine are sometimes similar to the wines of Rocche and sometimes similar to the "balanced austerity" of Villero and have delivered a long series of frequently memorable vintages.
The soil composition and vineyard's south-westerly exposure at midday provides the Barolo wine with excellent body, a subtle bouquet, delicate tar, a lingering aftertaste, an unmistakably clear elegance, and the ability to evolve in a very positive way over time.
A favored plot within the monopole was planted with the best clones of Michét and, in 1988, the estate began making a wine called Ca' d'Morrisio from this parcel. Both the Ca' d'Morrisio and the Monprivato cru are only made in the very best years.

Crus Selected by two of the three Experts
Even though Villero is only located "a few dozen meters" from the vineyards at Rocche di Castiglione, it has a very different soil type ( Villero's
... soil is tough and more compact than the Rocche because it has a higher amount of clay with limestones. The presence of clay silicates helps it retain water ... Rocche is looser and poor in nutrients.
Both Masnaghetti and Petrini concur with this characterization. In addition, Masnaghetti sees the Villero soil as, at times, deeper and more fertile than the soils of Monprivato.

Villero is one of the "most divided up" of the Castiglione Falletto MGAs as well as being one of the most homogenous in terms of aspect (Masnaghetti). With the exception of the lowest and highest parts of the slope -- west-facing -- the vineyard has a southwest exposure. Masnaghetti identifies the upper middle parts of the slope as being most favorably positioned while the lower portions are best suited for non-Nebbiolo reds and white grapes.

Wine Characteristics
The wines from Villero grapes are a little less elegant, with more structure, alcohol, and tannins than wines from Rocche (Petrini). Masnaghetti also describes the wines in this comparative manner seeing it as having more structure and less finesse than the wines of Monprivato. Oddero finds the wines of Villero to be rounder and juicier, with warm tones and dark fruit notes" as compared to Rocche wines which are "longer, more vertical in structure, and have more marked minerality."

According to Selected Estates, "the presence of loam and brown clay in the soil makes Villero stand out as one of the most profound, dark-fruited crus of Barolo, with characteristic aromas of black plum, anise seeds, withered rose petals, and rhubarb."

Previously known as Cascina Francia, this cru was renamed Francia as part of the MGA naming process. This vineyard was purchased by the Conterno family in 1974.

The soil is a calcareous limestone and, combined with the southwest exposure of the vineyards, yields high-quality grapes (Petrini).

One of the southernmost of the Serralunga crus, it has relatively recently been planted to Nebbiolo. Previously it was dominated by Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barbera.

Wine Characteristics
The wines are rich in tannins and require 7 to 8 years in the cellar to reveal their true potential. According to Masnagheti, the cru yields wines that are "truly classic, rigorous but not hard, solid but not excessively concentrated." The wines have a high degree of salinity (

I visited with Roberto on the afternoon of May 17th of this year. As he related it, the fruit for the estate's flagship Monfortino and for the Barolo Francia (previously Cascina Francia) is sourced from this cru. Five of the 14 hectares are planted to Barbera with the remainder Nebbiolo.

Monfortino is made from the best grapes in the greatest year and that search begins in the vineyard with selection and vinification of "proto-Monfortino" and Francia wines.

Roberto said that 2015 was a great vintage. It had been a warm summer and Barbera likes those conditions. Francia, he said, delivers minerality while Ceretta delivers fruit. The 2015 Barbera Francia showed a core of minerality surrounded by blue fruit. Great balance along with a cupric finish.

The year 2013 was a great vintage for Barolo. The Barolo Francia was perfumed, floral and restrained. Hay, sweet fruit, and spice. Silky, mature tannins resulting from, according to Roberto, being picked at ultimate ripeness. According to Roberto there will be no 2013 or 2014 Francia as those grapes will be used in Monfortino.

Vignarionda is a round-shaped (hence the name), gently sloping (300 to 350 m) vineyard located in the Serralunga d'Alba subzone.
If you ask a resident of Serralunga to name the town's three finest vineyards, one of the trio is sure to be Vigna Rionda. It is an historic vineyard. The quality of its grapes has been celebrated for hundreds of years and the greatest names in Langhe winemaking have for many years made special efforts to acquire grapes from Vigna Rionda (Petrini).
The vineyard's location ensures access to sunshine for most of the day while also using the Castelleto hills for protection from excessive winds.

According to
Like all soil in Serralunga, its origins date back to the Serravallian Age (sometimes called Helvetian), characterized by Lequio soil, or layers of grey marl alternating with sandstone, formed by siliceous sands that are more or less cemented between the marl layers, and calcium carbonate, iron carbonate, and inorganic residuals of vegetable and mineral organisms. Vignarionda's soil is rich in microelements like potassium, boron, manganese, and magnesium. Its active limestone content is quite high -- at 13.58%, it is the highest in the entire Barolo zone.
Wine Characteristics
The wines from the cru are "fairly tannic ... with outstanding structure and excellent aging potential" (Petrini). Masnaghetti sees the wines as "austere, severe, and sometimes unyielding, whether they be made from from the grapes of the historical nucleus ... or those grown in the western-facing sector."

To date I have covered the top-rated crus so designated by at least two of the three experts. In future posts I will cover the top-rated crus classified as such by a single expert. The next post, then, will cover the Ratti top-level crus that have not been validated by either Masnaghetti or Galloni.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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