Frantoio Forsoni EVOO from Umbria: Estate Grown, Estate Pressed, Estate Bottled.

I came to know Massimo Forsoni through his aunt, Dora Forsoni, a 68-year-old winegrower/huntress and proprietor of a small winery in Montepulciano (SI) called Az. Agr. Sanguineto. Before I moved to Italy to set up Giannoni Selections in 2014, I tried to attend Vinitaly — Italy’s annual wine trade show held in Verona — as often as I could, which meant tasting with Dora and her life partner Patrizia almost every spring. Not only was I introduced to Sanguineto’s sangiovese-based wines in Verona, but I inevitably got to know other extensions of Dora as well, namely her wild boar salumetto and the extra virgin olive oil made by her nephew, Massimo. Dora Forsoni may be minute in size but she is by no means diminutive in character. As the commander-in-chief of her local, all-male hunting chapter just northeast of Montepulciano, she is a ball of conviction. When hunting, she evidently spends most of her time perched in trees, waiting for her prey. (This way the beast is unable to sense her odor and presence as she attempts to seal their fate.) She essentially takes a sledgehammer to many of Italy’s conventions, especially those regarding viticulture, family, gender, and sexual orientation. Upon meeting her, it becomes obvious enough to just embrace all aspects surrounding Dora, including the olive oil.

We managed to develop a rapport against the backdrop of a dizzying trade show, unignorably distant from her Tuscany. Even though we connected infrequently, Dora remembered that I worked in a specialty foods/wine store and was sure to have me taste Massimo’s recent harvest, preparing a small plate of bites to accompany her wines. It always included a salame that she had hunted and cured herself – wild boar – and Tuscan bread, you know, the kind without salt, drizzled with Massimo’s peppery, extra virgin olive oil. However, she never bothered to explain what distinguished his extra virgin from others. Maybe it was my Italian back then? I don’t know. For Dora, a product is either good or not good and beyond that there isn’t much discussion. In her sort of tough, butch, Central Italian way she had decided that if I recognized that Massimo’s oil was good, I could sell it.

This past April I revisited Sanguineto’s Vinitaly stand, this time as an importer and proprietor of my own company. It was as if I was trying Massimo’s extra virgin for the first time, considering it for Giannoni Selections’ portfolio rather than that specialty foods shop in Cambridge. Sensing this, Dora called Massimo on the spot and handed me her cell phone. I was a little taken aback; it was impossible not to feel pressured with the producer on the phone. But it was Dora! And Massimo was lovely! We chatted for a few minutes and I made tentative plans to visit him in Umbria few weeks later.

Shortly thereafter I headed to Umbria and met Massimo in Roselli at his Frantoio Forsoni, located in Umbria’s picturesque Colli Martani, just outside of Spoleto. It became quickly apparent that like Dora, but in his own quiet and focused manner, Massimo only believes in top quality. He showed me the workroom where the olives are delivered and processed. It’s not enormous but it is pristine. Here he pointed out the latest technology, explaining each of the machines (many with temperature control) that carry out the cleaning, slitting, pit removal, malaxing, centrifugal extraction, and vertical decanting. Producing olive oil short of the extra virgin category isn’t for him; he opts to send away the pomace (which still has quite a bit of juice remaining in it) to steer clear of any further refining activities. Massimo’s oil, once extracted, is stored in stainless steel drums in the naturally cool cellar below the workroom.

To give you an idea of the other end of the spectrum of production, in Spain’s Jaén (Andalucía), the crop can be systematically harvested using large, crab-like machines that shake the young trees, causing the olives to fall to the ground to be later vacuumed up. Massimo’s reality is quite different. Everything must be done by hand in his groves because of the steepness and promiscuity of the terrain. Interspersed on some of his slopes are other fruit trees that share the arid, rocky soils. Further, harvest is carried out exclusively during morning hours so that the olives arrive still cool at the mill, which is essential for fragrance and overall freshness. The way Massimo sees it, extreme cleanliness and attention at to detail are crucial at every step, not just during the harvesting/pressing stage. Otherwise all the work during the year in the groves would be futile.

As I was saying goodbye, it occurred to me that even if I wasn’t necessarily looking to import olive oil before April, it would be difficult to say no to a producer like Massimo Forsoni who takes estate extra virgin olive oil to another level. It’s extremely rare to find an extra virgin that is cultivated, pressed, and bottled by the same person and produced on such a small scale. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of Massimo’s oil speaks for itself – just as Dora instructed it should.

 

You had me at Merlot.

I Clivi Galea Rosso is made from 70-year-old, endangered merlot vines. Yes, endangered. For nearly a decade, winegrower Ferdinando Zanusso has jokingly threatened to uproot his four acres of merlot. And he is neither kidding nor laughing about their low yield.

I Clivi only made 100 cases of Galea Rosso in 2012. Ferdinando’s frustration over his merlot’s no-yielding production somehow turns into a sort of hidden pride, yet he doesn’t bother to conceal his preference for the impeccable, single varietal, whites he makes from local friulano, malvasia, ribolla gialla, and verduzzo grapes.

Colli Orientali del Friuli is reputed for its white wines; its soils have been likened to Burgundy’s Côte D’Or which is high praise for any growing region. Based on this fact it makes sense that i Clivi should give most of their attention to their white wines. And while most producers rush their reds to market when their wines’ astringency makes one wince, no such urgency has ever occurred to Ferdinando. He only releases Galea Rosso once he deems that it has hit its stride, when it can give pleasure to its drinker.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for seeking out the lone red of a great white wine producer such as i Clivi. Given their trained apathy towards red wine, it means they only bother to produce Galea Rosso in good vintages and they still inevitably age each bottle in their winery–rather than requiring you to age it in your cellar!

Ferdinando admits, “It would be difficult to find a wine of this quality (at this price) from Bordeaux’s right bank, merlot’s native territory.” He nods, “È un signor vino.” Drink a bottle or two and you’ll find his words difficult to dispute. Look for an intricate, balanced palate that is redolent of black cherries, tobacco, leather, and spice. Pair with roasted or braised meats, salumi, Robiola Roccaverano, and pecorino (preferably Sardinian) aged 4-8 months.

 

*Note: This wine starts to sing about an hour or two after uncorking and holds up even a day or two after opening.

BAR MEZZANA Opening 6/1 – Drink these Giannoni wines!

Bar Mezzana (360 Harrison Ave., Boston) – OPENING June 1st!

Look for these wines from Giannoni Selections at Bar Mezzana:

’11 Eugenio Bocchino Barolo “Lu”

’15 Cascina Carrà Rosato “Rosa Thea” (Nebbiolo)

’14 Crealto Grignolino “Marcaleone”

I Clivi “RBL” Spumante

’13 I Clivi Ribolla Gialla

’14 Quantico Etna Bianco

’15 Rado Kocijančič Refosk

’14 Santa Caterina Ligure di Levante Vermentino “Poggi Alti”

 

Ain’t No Ordinary Slice: Pizzeria i Tigli Raises the Bar for Italy’s Food Culture

Located outside of Verona in San Bonifacio, Simone Padoan and his team at i Tigli are working very hard to make some of Italy’s finest pizza. And their version is by no means street food. Guests are invited to sit down to an upscale, well-pressed, red and white kitchen towel in place of Italy’s clichéd, checked (and usually plastic) tablecloth.  Call it “gourmet,” “highbrow,” or “fancy” if you like, this pizza is not to be ignored.  I Tigli’s take on pizza is a slow-rise focaccia that acts as canvas on which to juxtapose a myriad of thoughtful flavors, colors, and textures. Each bite is well-defined and evocative of Italy’s landscape and seasonal bounty, notably coming from researched and sustainable produce of superlative quality.

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Padoan’s mission to create the most superb dining experience is supported not only by the food itself but by the design of the space. It has a way of conveying the level of dining experience the guest should expect. The lines of the place are clean, modern, and inviting with pleasant subtly and transparency, including a kitchen that is just as open, airy, and spacious.

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I always make it a point to order at least two pizzas, one of which is almost always a Margherita. I Tigli handles Italy’s this iconic dish with almost palpable consideration.  Offering four takes on the classic pie, each is defined by texture and type of cheese.  It is the leavening, however, that determines the final result. The options are either “classica,” “soffice,” (soft) “croccante,” (crisp) or “bufula” and the tomatoes are always the preferred San Marzano from Campagna. For the cheese there is a choice of a surprisingly tasty fior di latte from Alberobello (Puglia), DOP Mozzarella di Bufula from Paestum, (a town in Campagna that is known for being home to the nation’s five top producers) or burrata. Provenance is usually noted on the menu, an element that has only more recently become more present in Italy. The staff is also trained to speak to all aspects of the menu, including, of course, their eclectic, natural-minded wine list.

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Quality, seasonality, and a creative spirit go without saying at i Tigli.  Radicchio di Treviso would never appear before the end of November and, likewise, white asparagus would only find its rightful place on the menu at the beginning of March. Along with the intense consideration for seasonality is an appreciation for the colors that various times of the year have to offer. Known for its visually striking pizzas, the featured delicacies contrast color and textures intelligently and tastefully, making it difficult not to notice of their artistic rendering as they are placed on the table.  Also making an impression on the palate are some unlikely encounters of savory and sweet.  In the same bite Padoan isn’t afraid to offend (Italian) customers by mixing fish and cheese or even propose other culinary influences, such as those of Thai or Japanese origin. Nothing is to be taken for granted on (and off) the menu.

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Whether Padoan and i Tigli are truly embraced by their clientele, it’s not absolutely apparent, judging from some of the rather scathing reviews posted online. It’s true that i Tigli is not inexpensive by any standard.  But their prices not only reflect the cost of ingredients and attention to detail, but more their chosen risk to do things a little differently.  In doing so they also petition their customers to think differently about pizza.  Certainly there’s room for fancy pizza alongside the slice joint, right? Given Italy’s lagging economy and its increasingly migrating talent, lamenters should delight in the fact that a food luminary such as Padoan still exists within Italy’s borders and stop complaining about his prices.  Cheap, mediocre pizza is available everywhere in Italy and it doesn’t take much research to find it.

Be sure to call ahead to book a table for dinner or drop by for an impromptu lunch until 14:30 pm.

Pizzeria I Tigli – Via Camporosolo, 11 37047 San Bonifacio (VR) 045 6102606 (Closed Wed.)

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Fasioi: Veneto’s Refined Bean Soup Recipe with Borlotti Beans

Simply named after the word for beans in Veneto dialect, Fasioi is a dish that I make almost every week when temperatures begin to drop because it is just that good. Rich, warming, nuanced and delicious, this is a soup that is at once hearty, healthy, and so easy to prepare. The way that these ingredients unite in symphonic flavor in the final dish is evidence of its refinement—even when the few constituents make up little more than a peasant’s fare. Pay attention to the subtleties of the instructions and you’ll master this dish without any difficulty! See the recipe and instructions below. Buon appetito!

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 Ingredients

  • 2.2 lbs Fresh Borlotti Beans or 500 g dried (soaked overnight)
  • 1 Sprig Rosemary
  • 8 Sprigs Thyme
  • 1 White Onion
  • 4-5 Tbs Olive Oil + a little extra to drizzle when plating
  • Freshly Cracked Pepper to taste
  • Coarse Salt to taste
  • Water

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1.  Remove your beans from the sheaths and give them a good rinse, discarding any that are discolored or sticky. If using dried beans rinse them as well.

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2.  Cover them with 1 ½ – 2 inches of water and bring them to a boil.

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3.  Add your finely diced onion to the pot.

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4.  Let the beans boil for five minutes and then reduce to a simmer (low-medium heat) with the lid partially open. Depending on the beans that you’re using, the overall cooking time could range from 1 ½ hours (if fresh Borlotti) or 2 1/2 hours (if dried). The freshness of the dried beans also factors in as well; fresher beans cook more quickly.  Stir about every fifteen to twenty minutes.

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5.  Prep your herbs for their infusion in the olive oil—the finer the better.  (I don’t recommend using dried herbs.)

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6.  The infusion of rosemary and thyme is to be added just before serving. Heat the oil over low heat for about two minutes in order to extract the flavors and aromas of the fresh herbs.

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7.  Coarsely crack or grind your black pepper. (Usually I use basic Tellicherry peppercorns that are available almost everywhere.) These are to be stirred in at the very end of cooking.

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8.  After the beans have reached your preferred consistency—I like them with a bit of density so I let them cook longer, although more liquid is fine too—add the salt in small doses until it is to your liking. Keep in mind that beans need to be well-seasoned in order to show off their earthy flavors.

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9.  Serve with a drizzle of fresh olive oil—one with a peppery backbone works well in this dish. Pair with a dry, white such as Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, or Pinot Bianco.

Enjoy!

Note:  The finished textures of the versions using fresh beans and dried beans are very different.  Because of the naturally higher moisture content of the fresh beans, I would recommend covering them with only an inch and a half of water at the beginning of cooking process.  The final result is usually brothier and highlights whole, tender beans.  About an hour and twenty minutes of cooking should be sufficient for fresh bean version.  An alternative is to puree about half of the beans and reenter them into the soup in order to achieve a richer, silkier mouthfeel.   The soup from dried Borlotti, instead, requires about two and a half hours of slow cooking.  Towards the end the beans begin to break down and sort of create a puree on their own that yields a denser result.  Because of the extended cooking, be sure to cover the beans with two inches of water (or slightly more) before initiating the process.  Don’t be afraid to add some water midway if necessary.  Adjust the cooking time in accordance with the final texture that you’re looking for.

The Big Chill: Europe’s Cool Summer and How it Effects Harvest 2014

The Festa dell’Uva in neighboring Cormons (DOC Collio) ended its three days of festivities on Sunday, September seventh.   However, many winegrowers here in Friuli are scratching their heads about what exactly they have to celebrate this year. While some producers have already commenced picking—especially those that cultivate Pinot Grigio and Tocai—others have continued to let their grapes remain on the vines, hopeful for few more sunny days to bring up the sugars and lower malic acidity.  From weather forecasts many are weary of the diminishing window of opportunity to bring in this year’s crop and increasingly present are the risks and fears surrounding unripe wines.

At the end of August, Colli Orientali del Friuli’s Consortium convened to attempt to address this year’s climatic shifts that are concerning not just Italian growers but even more those in France, Spain, Germany, Austria and Portugal. Without going into too many meteorological details, it comes down to the inherent location of the Arctic jet stream. Rather than positioning itself around Iceland as it usually does during the European summer, the Arctic jet stream lowered itself to the British Isles. In doing so it inevitably summoned an almost permanent vortex that prevented the high pressure system of the Azores to establish itself properly at the end of June—one that typically presides over Europe’s summer. Unfortunately, presence of this vortex or low pressure system created a continuous collection of humid air in northern Europe that resulted in frequent disturbances including precipitation, thunderstorms, cloudy skies, and overall cooler temperatures throughout the summer. However, June, July, and August weren’t the only months that were atypical this year. Temperatures during winter were a solid three degrees Celsius above average throughout. And, even as a transitional season spring, was dramatically warmer and gave way to bud break of the vines four weeks early. Those advances, however, were reabsorbed by the abnormally chilly weeks that followed.

Not surprisingly, the wine community in Friuli is cautious to draw conclusions and make predictions from this rather anomalous vintage. Growers can merely note this year’s stark contrast to the arid summers that they have experienced since 2003 and consider closely the measures that they undertook to counter the threats associated with such an abnormal year. Does this year mark a sort of climatic recalibration that we are experiencing? Question mark. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots. One is that indigenous varietals are still fairing relatively well this year.   They are not as susceptible to difficulty under less than optimal conditions unlike non-native grapes. Secondly, making good wine is not impossible; rather, it may take more selectivity and work in the cellar. What remains to be seen are which growers will make the difficult decisions necessary to draw upon those bright spots and deliver wines that are still superlative in quality despite this summer’s big chill.

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How Do You Pomodoro?

It’s not by chance that pasta al pomodoro is Italy’s most beloved dish, offered on most menus throughout the country.  When executed properly it is subtle and refined and yet so simple and satisfying.  Sweet, savory, herbaceous, and spicy – it covers an impressive range of flavors.  There are a million variations of this tomato-based pasta, but the one I make is at its best in August when tomatoes are hitting their stride.  I’m not going to lie, I actually shudder when I hear New Yorkers referring to tomato sauce as gravy.  This recipe is the complete opposite of “gravy” or a cooked sauce; it is more of an aglio-olio-peperoncino recipe with fresh plum tomatoes that have been de-seeded and cored.  In this top ingredients are key because they can’t hide behind a heavy garlic/cooked tomato flavor.  This method is all about showing off the quality of the tomatoes.  So hit the farmer’s market!!

Ingredients (serves four)

600 g plum tomatoes

20 leaves fresh basil

2 fresh peperoncini (or chili peppers)

sale grosso (large grain salt)

olive oil

500 g pasta

Note:  Here in Italy I usually use plum tomatoes from Sicily because they have thin skins, less liquid and seeds, and a concentrated, not overly sweet flavor.  Use what you like best or tomatoes that have similar qualities.

Procedure:

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Rinse your tomatoes.

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Slit each tomato so that this incision will become more pronounced with its brief boiling.

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Boil your tomatoes for about two minutes or until you notice the slits becoming more apparent.  (*It is essential to expose the tomatoes to as little cooking as possible so to maintain the utmost freshness of the finished dish.)

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From the boiling pot place your tomatoes in an ice water bath (my ice has melted in this photo!) so to avoid further cooking.

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Carefully remove the skins of the tomatoes, using your original incision to initiate the process.

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Remove all seeds, excess water, and the gelatinous part of the tomato as well as any small stem.  (It doesn’t have to look pretty.)

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Add salt to the tomatoes and then torn basil.  If you have time, refrigerate the tomatoes at this point for about an hour or two to macerate the tomatoes, basil, and salt and then take them out about a half an hour before you use them to let them come to room temperature.

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Slice your garlic thinly and chop your peperoncino, adding both to about four to five tablespoons of oil.  Make sure that your oil covers the contents. Infuse the ingredients over low heat for about three minutes or until you can smell the garlic.  (*A finer dice of the peperoncino will make the finished dish more piccante – also depending on the length of the heating during this step. I try to keep the heating to a minimum so to maintain the freshness of the oil at this stage to keep the flavors light and fresh with just enough garlic and spiciness.)

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My preferred pasta for this dish: Martelli spaghetti from Pisa.  Other favorite pastas:  Setaro, Benedetto Cavallieri, and Rustichella.  (Also De Cecco.  NEVER Barilla.)  Martelli has a ton of flavor on its own – you can taste the sweetness and nuttiness of the grain.  It is toothsome and inviting.

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There is no need to finish the dish over heat in a saucepan – simply combine well the infused oil with the tomatoes and pasta and proceed to plating!  If you can coat the pasta and tomatoes without using ALL of the infused oil, feel free to leave out the remainder if you want to achieve the freshest flavor profile of the finished dish.  At the table be sure to add a few extra leaves of freshly torn basil and a drizzle of olive oil to further enliven the dish.  *Adding a touch of uncooked (uninfused) oil is essential because it gives even more lightness and balance to the dish, perfectly melding cooked and fresh flavors and ingredients.  With one forkful you’ll see that this dish is very much the sum of the quality of its ingredients – fresh, light, and symphonic – so be selective at the farmer’s market!

Eccoci!  Pasta al Pomodoro!  Enjoy it until summer tomatoes disappear!

Natural Resistance – A Film by Jonathan Nossiter

Thank you for voicing what has been unsaid for some time.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Oeso6gNKz1k&feature=share

Synopsis:

“Four Italian winegrowers live a life we all dream of: Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa in their converted 11th century monastery and winery in Tuscany find a way to grow grains, fruits and wine that creates a link to their ancient Etruscan heritage ; Corrado Dottori and Valerio Bochi, refugees from industrial Milan in their grandfather’s farmstead in the magical Marches labour for a rural expression of social justice; ex-librarian Elena Pantaleoni working her father’s vineyards in Emilia, strives to make her estate a utopian reality; and then Stefano Bellotti, the Pasolini of Italian agriculture, a radical farmer poet, disrupts everyone’s rules from his avant garde farm in the Piedmont.But these protagonists of a rapidly spreading European natural wine revolution have encountered fierce resistance. Not everyone believes in their struggle for an ecologically progressive, economically just and historically rich expression of Italian agriculture. With the help of their delightfully eccentric film curator friend Gian Luca Farinelli, these very contemporary peasants use the power of fiction films to combat the institutional lies that make any act of freedom today an act of dangerous dissent.10 years after Mondovino, the wine world has changed just like the world itself. The enemy is now far greater than the threat of globalization. It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s them. And us. But these natural wine rebels against the “New World Economic Order”, offer a model of charmed and joyous resistance. “Natural Resistance” mixes documentary and fiction in the hope of stirring the hidden rebel inside all of us.”

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Bruno Giacosa: The Genius of Nieve?

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Last evening I had the privilege of drinking a spectacular bottle of Bruno Giacosa’s 1978 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano di Neive.  It’s not everyday that one comes across a wine of this age and caliber.  My friend Ferdinando with whom I shared this incredible bottle had visited Giacosa in the late 70’s, mid-80’s, and again in 2001. On the first two occasions he had the opportunity to speak and taste directly with Bruno after which he purchased a 180 bottles each time. From Ferdinando, it was fascinating to get a more intimate perspective on Giacosa and a broader context of the winery.

He explained that Bruno Giacosa had been bestowed with the title “il Genio di Neive” – the genius of Neive – because of his superior wines and ability to elevate the level of quality far beyond the standards of his peers.  By knowing each of the cru vineyards in the region with great precision, he was able to essentially cherry-pick the finest grapes of the from growers that sold their produce rather than making wine themselves. Since the 1960’s, Giacosa became one of the region’s (and Italy’s) most profound producers of Barolo and Barbaresco.  His meticulous wines were known to be of utmost consistency,  sometimes even sacrificing entire vintages, selling them off as vino sfuso (bulk wine), rather than opting to bottle them.  Additionally, Giacosa was a pioneer for his labels that included the name of the cru, in the tradition of Burgundy producers in France.      

It’s not by chance that relying solely on purchased fruit, he was able to exploit certain factors that came to distinguish his wines.  Relative vine age was one competitive advantage on which Bruno most capitalized; his wines were always made from old vines that were low-yielding and well-tended.  Other producers were subject to the inherent conditions of their sites that they inherited or cultivated.  Giacosa didn’t actually cultivate vineyards until he purchased the Falletto (Barolo) vineyard in 1982 and the Rabajá and Asili vineyards in Barbaresco in 1996.  After these junctures he began to experience the advantages and disadvantages of other growers.  His Barolo vines in fact were rather young for his standards and he therefore struggled to make wines of the quality that he once achieved.  At the end of the seventies, Giacosa noticed increasing property values in Barbaresco and Barolo and an growing scarcity of fruit to which he previously had access.  Farmers were  frustrated at their returns that were glaringly insignificant compared to the prices that the region’s top cru wines fetched.  This was evident already in the late seventies when Giacosa’s ’71 Barolo Vigna Rionda – that which my friend had formerly purchased – was no longer available.

The winery was forced to redetermine its course not only with the purchase of vineyards in 1982.  Giacosa also took on enologist Dante Scaglione in 1990 rather than continuing to craft the wines himself.  Other subtle changes began to take place as well.   Macerations began to shorten in order to produce more approachable wines and French oak began to replace Slavonian.  The winemaking that was once pathbreaking in the region was replaced by an oenological philosophy is described as “updated traditional.”

For me, the bottles of Bruno Giacosa’s ’71 Barolo and ’78 Barbaresco in Ferdinando’s cellar have become even more precious after learning of their dialogue over the years and the changes that the winery has undergone in recent years.  Even if I can only appreciate their relationship from a distance as I admire its not surprisingly vibrant rim, I nonetheless savor each of those coveted glasses and a connection to this once great barolista.

Vintage bottles awaiting uncorking.

Vintage bottles awaiting uncorking.