Sunday, May 27, 2012

In the chapel of Burlotto

Fabio Alessandria has had a former church in Verduno converted into a tasting room for Burlotto.

This was the first house of Christian worshship constructed in the small town of Verduno (population today: 400 people). Later, when other, larger churches were erected in Verduno this place was sold to Fabio's family.

"Those who devoutly recite in this church the third part of the Rosary to assist the Holy Mass will acquire each time 300 days of indulgence."

The former church is located right next to the Burlotto family house and cantina.

The various medals which in the past Burlotto Barolos have won in international competitions are immortalized on the facing of the family residence and office.

Fabio has another, smaller tasting room in this building as well.

We taste through the current releases, which include white and red, and a number of different grape varieties, in addition to the more well known Monvigliero and Cannubi Barolos from Burlotto.

Fabio bottles two Sauvignon Blancs. This one, the "Dives," is aged in acacia barrels.

I would be hard pressed to name a better value red wine from the Piemonte than this one, Fabio's normale Barbera d'Alba. The 2010 is delicious and very drinkable.

The "Acclivi" Barolo, which is a blend of grapes from several crus that Fabio owns, is also a wine that I think represents good value. You can pick up a bottle for about $45 or $50 retail in the New York area. It showcases an elegant style, but with a bit more heft than the standard Burlotto Barolo normale. I liked the 2008 Acclivi a lot.

We take a tour of the cantina.

All of the Burlotto red wines are fermented in large oak fermenters like this one.

Fabio has a lot packed into the fermenting room at the moment, because he is expanding the cellar and the various new doors and such that have been purchased have yet to be installed.

The winery will soon have considerably more space available for bottle storage.

This room may house a museum of sorts, as Fabio and his mother have many documents and photographs relating to wine and the family's history in Verduno that they could share.

This photo shows Fabio's great great grandfather G.B. Burlotto offering the family wares at a wine fair in Torino. G.B. Burlotto was one of the very first producers in the Barolo area to eschew demijohns and place an emphasis on bottled wines.

This old cask, bearing a royal insignia, is one G.B. Burlotto would also have been familiar with.

Some of the casks currently in use at Burlotto.

The "Monvigliero" 2009 Barolo is still in cask. Fabio ages it is for 3 years in the large wood, and then for another year in bottle before release.

Monvigliero is perhaps the commune of Verduno's crown jewel vineyard site.

Taking a visit to Monvigliero, it is easy to see why it is so esteemed. The exposure to the sun is excellent. And exposure counts for a lot here, because with Monvigliero we are at the northern limit of what can be called Barolo. Temperatures can be cool here, especially at night, owing in part to the winds coming off the nearby Tanaro River. Fabio points out the diurnal temperature difference in the area by noting that the small open park in the town of Verduno, the Belvedere, is perfectly pleasant to enjoy on a summer afternoon, but unbearable at night owing to the cold. Fabio credits those cold night temperatures with helping to preserve the aromas in the wines of Verduno.

Perhaps another reason Monvigliero wines achieve such success is the presence of significantly old vines like this one in the vineyard.

Burlotto has several rows of vines in Monvigliero. This row is near the top of the vineyard.

The view from Burlotto's row near the top of Monvigliero. The town of Verduno is on the hill to the right.

Over dinner that evening Fabio opened up a 3 liter of 1995 Monvigliero Barolo. I had had this same wine and vintage from 750ml back in New York not long ago, and the adages certainly held true in this case: wines that have never moved from the original cellar taste much younger in their evolution than those that have, and large format bottles age slower than normal sized bottles. In this particular case, the 3 liter tasted about 10 years younger than the 750ml I had tried earlier, which is a pretty substantial difference when you think about it. Perhaps because the wine tasted so much fresher, the strawberry fruit that Fabio says is a characteristic marker of Monvigliero Barolo was entirely evident.

The Belvedere in Verduno. Entirely pleasant during the day, but cold at night.

As a sommelier I have spent a decade watching Barolo discourse in the United States hinge on "modern" vs. "traditional" producers. The emphasis for many years has been placed on what happens to the fruit inside the winery. I would be very happy if more consumers seemed to also comprehend the geography of the larger Barolo zone. If someone said to me at the table that they were looking for the kind of the elegant, lighter weight Barolo with a lot of aroma that they often find with the wines of Verduno, rather than a heavier wine from Serralunga, I would be thrilled. But unfortunately that seems at this point like a ridiculously optimistic expectation. That being said, not a day goes by that I don't encounter a customer fully aware of the broad differences between Chambolle and Gevrey, so perhaps there is hope.

If someone wanted to try a Burlotto wine that wasn't an elegant offering from Verduno they might instead drink Fabio's Cannubi, which he sources from that famous vineyard in the Barolo commune.


Anonymous said...

Levi-- so glad you got to visit the Burlotto estate! I sell Fabio's wines in NYC. Great guy! Great wines! Thanks for taking the time to post this.

Suzanne Reynolds
Vision Wine Brands

greg sorensen said...

Thanks for a great piece on Burlotto, one of the finest and most historic producers in the Langhe. I had the pleasure of meeting Fabio on his recent trip through NYC, and hope to follow in your footsteps and visit Burlotto in the near future.

Anonymous said...

When I tasted the 1989 Monvigliero last year at a Rare Wine Co. Event in NY, I knew I was tasting something very special. As I sit here sipping the 06, I pray these wines continue to fly under the radar. A feminine side of Barolo that can be enjoyed young or old - home run! :) Thanks for the article. Shhhhh!

Kim Caldwell