For the Justerini & Brooks buying team, the annual
Piedmont trip is one of the most eagerly anticipated. Protected by the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean to
the south, Piedmont is a very special place.
Arriving from busy Milan, spirits lift
as the Langhe hills loom into view. It is a striking landscape. Atop winding
country roads, medieval villages cut a sharp silhouette, hopping across steep,
jagged valleys and awe-inspiring vineyards from one hilltop to the next. It was good to be back.
Of course, we were here to taste the wines. This time our focus was the latest 2013 vintage releases from Barolo, Barbaresco and Alto Piemonte. A week in mid-March under dry, sunny skies was just the climate for strolling vineyards and tasting in cellars. Growers were happy too – a spell of fine weather signalling the arrival of spring and budburst in a few of the earlier ripening vineyards. Our schedule was busy; twenty estates in four days - with the great and the good - and some new faces too.
Though constantly on the move, we could not escape the feeling of eager anticipation and excitement in the region – there is certainly something in the air. We’d go as far to say that producers are positively buzzing. Not only has the last decade yielded a run of fantastic vintages, there are more on the way, maturing steadily in their cellars. Truthfully, producers nowadays, be it traditional or modern, are better and more enthusiastic in their work than ever before and this can be seen in the wines from top to bottom. When one considers that production levels are smaller than in Burgundy and the general trend amongst wine collectors has moved toward site specificity, transparency and restraint, it is unbelievable that Barolo and Barbaresco flew under the radar for so long.
The rolling hills of Piedmont, looking glorious in the early spring sun.
Luckily for us, Justerini & Brooks began building
relationships and importing top-end Barolo in the early 1990s, at a time when
Piedmont was very much in the shadow of other more “illustrious” regions. We are
proud to have some of the longest standing partnerships in Piedmont of any
importer, and direct allocations from the region’s smartest addresses. Our trip
coincided with a few significant Justerinis' anniversaries this year, and to our
great elation, we discovered that 2013 was just the vintage with which to
Justerinis' Chairman, Hew Blair, with long-standing friend and wine-maker, Elio Altare.
Like so many outstanding vintages, 2013 was no walk in the
park. Elio Altare recalled a difficult start to the season. He said that cool
weather interspersed with rain brought yields down considerably. Flowering was
a month later than usual and vineyard work needed to be pro-active in order to
stave off disease pressures. However, the summer and harvest conditions were
ideal, meaning that the reduction in yield had in no way compromised the
quality. Mario Cordero, from Vietti in Castiglione Falletto, affirmed that “August,
September and October were beautiful. We prefer it this way round, it’s much
less stressful and these kind of long slow ripening conditions are great for
On average, picking began in mid-October lasting to the end
of the month – a later harvest than usual. In this respect, 2013 is considered a
classic vintage, in the very best sense of the word, or “normal for the
vintages of the 1970s and 1980s”, according to Alex Sanchez of Fratelli Brovia.
We found that the wines were indeed beautifully styled and restrained, with fresh
acidities and sweet tannins without being anywhere near as daunting as other “old-school”
greats like 2010 and 2006. Much of this is down to the nature of the tannins.
Although present, the concentrated, crystalline fruit flavours ensure that they
are not overly marked, and the long slow ripening period with wide diurnal
swings allowed them to ripen until sweet and finely etched, without holding too
much power and austerity. Alex Sanchez said “I love the texture, for me the
texture is better than 2010. The beauty of this vintage is that it’s so elegant
you can enjoy the wines in four or five years but they are so well balanced
they will age well too.”
Alex Sanchez of Fratelli Brovia chats to the team.
Asked for his thoughts on the vintage, Giles Burke-Gaffney,
Justerini & Brooks’ Buying Director surmised that “stylistically the 2013s favour
energy over weight but don’t lack for depth, and they transmit a very
transparent vineyard character. Such is their finesse that they should start to
drink well in the medium term, but they have the structure and intensity to
excite well into the next two decades. The overall quality level is very high
and the wines of the greatest crus are nothing short of outstanding.”
All smiles for the vintage. Giles Burke-Gaffney, Justerinis' Buying Director with Martha Rinaldi.
A word on a few select crus. Brunate, as it often is, was exceptional
in 2013; combining power with finesse, balancing La Morra fragrancy and perfume,
with the underlying minerality and might characteristic of the vineyard. Some
of the best examples arrived courtesy of Roberto Voerzio, Giuseppe Rinaldi and
Vietti – each with their own signature. Meanwhile, Marco Marengo continues to
produce one of, if not the best value cru Brunate in the entire denomination.