2002 Conterno Monfortino

2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino

2002 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino

This is a weeping wine

A wine in which to weep

There is something deeply profound in wines that are bound in tradition. They possess a tightly knit, intricate fabric of culture, history and place; they are comfortable in their own skin and through the respectful actions of the winemaker seem to exude the wisdom of site. They are the wines that draw you into the glass, the ones that inflict on you a synapse snap that carries you to the far away place from which they sprang, the sights of famous wine villages perched on hills, the smell of the air, that bowl of pasta that was so simple but so, so good……and so it was with this particular wine.

There was a time, not that long ago, that traditional wines from Barolo, wines like Conterno, Mascarello, Cappellano and Rinaldi were considered to be a bit passé,  as the flashy barrique-aged modernistas strutted their stuff and garnered the digits required to send the kids into vinous rapture…..but things come around again see?….these wines are a relict of a once abundant genus before fad became rad…..it’s nice to see they’ve stayed true……. lets have a drink to tradition shall we?

Arguably the most prestigious producer in Barolo is Giacomo Conterno ….. the man himself sadly passed nearly four decades ago. The son of an Italian emigrant he was born in Argentina in 1895 before the family returned to Italy setting up in  Le Coste in Monforte d’Alba. He served in World War I before returning home to help his father, Giovanni in the family winery. They weren’t grape growers…..they purchased fruit from relationships forged with local farmers and produced the wine which was sold and shipped in bulk to far-flung markets….in particular Argentina & America.

In 1920, Giacomo produced a Riserva from the Le Coste vineyard often referred to as the first Monfortino, a wine that is only made in the finest vintages and one that is named after the comune of Monforte. Giacomo was the winemaker at the estate until 1961 when he handed the reins over to his sons Giovanni and Aldo. Within a few years there was some conflict between the two brothers….. the traditionalist vs moderista debate…..and eventually Aldo parted ways with his brother to form the Poderi Aldo Conterno estate in 1969 leaving Giovanni to hold the torch of the traditional approach and continue the legacy of Monfortino.

Giacomo passed away in 1971 and in 1974 Giovanni ventured into grape-growing for the first time, purchasing a vineyard in Serralunga called Cascina Francia that had layed fallow for many years. The vineyard was replanted and when the grapes came on stream, the 14, south-west facing hectares of Cascina Francia have provided the sole source of fruit for the estate. Originally there were four varieties planted in the vineyard: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Fresia but the last due were ditched and now he two varieties provide the goods for the Monfortino, Barolo Cascina Frescia and the estates ripping Barbera d’Alba. In tough vintages you can also see a Nebbiolo d’Alba from the estate that comes from declassified fruit that was destined for the Conterno Barolo. In 2009 added the 3 hectare Cerretta vineyard in Serralunga to the Conterno holdings which is destined for the Barbera and a Langhe Nebbiolo wine.

Serralunga d'Alba map from Kobrand Wines

In the vineyards, the Conterno estate moved towards lessening the use of chemicals and an increase in organic farming methods and despite the building of a new cantina near the square of Monforte d’Alba, the wine-making continues to be very traditional. The selection for Monfortino is made in the vineyard a couple of days before harvest and the wine is vinified seperately, fermented and macerated with a submerged cap for up to 35 days without temperature control (about a week longer than the Cascina Francia which also sees temperature control during its fermentation).

The Monfortino is aged in large, old Slovanian botte for around seven years before release, around three years longer than the Cascina Francia bottling although the 2002 bottling saw eight years in oak. A bit of a miracle vintage was 2002…… it was wet…..very wet and nasty hail-storms did damage throughout Barolo. The Cascina Francia vineyard was miraculously spared from the hail and the rain abruptly stopped on September 1st and perfect weather continued through to October 20th. For the first time in the estates history, all the fruit from the vineyard went into the production of Monfortino with no Cascina Francia being produced. In fact it was a gutsy move…..it was a year in which many producers didn’t produce a Barolo at all and declassified their fruit…. the Conterno decision to produce a Monfortino was inspired and many consider the wine one of the great wines to come form the region.

Sadly Giovanni lost his life to cancer in 2004 and his son Roberto is now guardian of the Conterno legacy.

The wine shows some bricking and has the characteristic orange hue of Barolo at the rim as the glass is tilted. Pop your nose in the glass and the aromas can be nothing else but Barolo. Wild cherries and dark-hued fruits brushed with rose petals, leather, spice, mocha, espresso and licorice. Seductive and alluring with complex aromatic nuance fading in and out of view…..earthy tones, floral flourishes of violets and purple flowers and roasting meats all making an appearance.

The palate is stunning with amazing balance and latent power….. so calm, so true….. again flavours of plum and cherry with hints of spice, rose petals, leather, mahogany, roasting meats, licorice, dark chocolate, earth and violet high tones. It’s not a big bruising style of Barolo….the initial fruit attack on the palate is elegant and rich when it fans out, gaining weight and infinite complexity on the mid-palate flowing like a crystal brook through to a finish that displays super-fine, ripe tannins…..not astringent at all just beautifully inlaid into the fruit and the finish trails off seemingly forever. Such detail and poise in what can be considered a young wine. Epic stuff and destained to be one of the all-time great wines from the Barolo region.

Price: Lots – Closure: Cork – Alcohol: 14% – Source: Matteo from Casacarboni

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