Touring and Tasting with Valter Fissore
I was back on the road this June to visit Piedmont, Italy and attend the Collisioni Festival. It’s always an amazing experience combining wine, food, music, art and literature. However, this year’s event also provided me with a rare opportunity and one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in Barolo.
You think you know something about a wine or vineyard. You think you’ve mastered it. You read all of the best books and go over the accounts of fellow consumers, bloggers and wine critics. You collect maps, study elevations, soil types, and exposures. You arrange to meet the people themselves, chatting with the owner or winemaker across a tasting table or at a dinner, listening to them speak about their methodologies and passion as you sample through the fruits of their labor.
I had done all of these things in an attempt to understand the Ravera Cru and the Elvio Cogno winery, which has made this vineyard famous. However, nothing could have prepared me for the utter thrill and insights that filled me with joy when I was finally able to visit the winery and vineyard itself. I left the experience in a state of elation, knowing full well that not only had I received an education and better understanding, but also that I would now be a dedicated collector of the Barolo produced from these hills.
Don’t get me wrong; I have enjoyed the wines of Elvio Cogno for many years, and there are quite a few already in my cellar. The Bricco Pernice has proven time and time again to be one of the greatest wines from the region, especially in riper vintages. Yet what I was not prepared for was the truly eye-opening vertical tasting of the Vigna Elena Riserva or the first-hand exposure to the Ravera vineyard itself, with its many unique terroir. There is no longer any question in my mind as to why Elvio Cogno produces four individual Barolos from these hills. With Valter Fissore, of Elvio Cogno, leading our tasting and tour, I firmly believe that this is the winery to watch in Piedmont, because a day will come that they will be considered among the region’s elite.
How It All Got Started
The history of Elvio Cogno started with the Marcarini winery in La Morra, where Elvio (the namesake of the current winery) had set the standard for traditionally-styled Barolo. Having started as the cellar master, at first working for no pay in order to become established, Elvio submerged himself in the study of Barolo. His first vintage at Marcarini was the legendary 1964 Brunate. To this day, a bottle of Marcarini Barolo with the words “Vinificatore Elvio Cogno” printed on the label is sure to be a memorable experience. Through his success, Elvio earned a partnership at Marcarini, yet in 1990 he made the fateful decision to leave the company and start his own winery.
Elvio purchased a farm house in the Ravera cru, a location which he believed could one day yield Barolo of the highest order. He also took on his daughter and her husband Valter to help him restore the farmhouse and train the vineyards to produce Nebbiolo worthy of Barolo. Now it’s twenty-eight years later, and through the work of the Cogno family, the Ravera cru is considered one of the top vineyards in the entire region. Elvio passed away in 2016 at the age of 79, leaving Nadia and Valter Fissore at the head of the Elvio Cogno winery.
The Present Day Elvio Cogno
In the winery, very little has changed since the humble beginnings of Elvio Cogno. Valter continues to produce Barolo in a purely traditional way, with long, spontaneous fermentations, slow extractions, a prudent use of submerged cap, and aging only in large neutral barrels. It’s also worth noting that this was one of the cleanest wineries I have ever seen, without a single smudged tank or stained barrel in sight.
Valter cites his father-in-law as the greatest mentor he ever could have had.
However, what has changed is the vineyard that surrounds their winery. To a large degree, these changes are the result of Elvio and Valter’s work, yet it is also the undeniable onset of global warming that has helped to propel the Ravera cru to another level. Whether Elvio realized that this would be the ultimate result of his foresight, having purchased 11 hectares of Ravera, or had he not, is unknown. Yet what is known is that his investment has paid off in a way that no one else had imagined.
Into the Vineyard
I think back to La Festa del Barolo in 2017, as Luca Currado of Vietti told the story of how he purchased a parcel in Ravera back in the nineties. He joked about how proud he was, until a fellow Barolo producer explained that he had bought a great piece of land–for Barbera or Dolcetto, not Barolo. Yet today, the Vietti Barolo Ravera wins the highest accolades from critics around the world. I thought about this as I viewed the Ravera cru, and Valter began to point out the locations where different wineries had their holdings; lo and behold, the Vietti parcels are located on the same knoll as Cogno’s Bricco Pernice, a location that Elvio had always believed to be the best aspect of the entire vineyard. This also explains a lot, especially when I consider my tastings of these two wines together and how similar and equally important they often are.
However, that’s where Ravera can become confusing. The Ravera cru is an extremely large vineyard by Barolo standards, covering a total of 130.41 hectares, or 322.11 acres. It’s also extremely important to understand that due to its many exposures, varying soils and elevations, that a large part of the Ravera cru is not suited for the Nebbiolo grape. Keep this in mind as you see more unscrupulous producers seek to secure portions of Ravera in order to take advantage of its “name power” on their label.
The best portions of Ravera, which the Elvio Cogno winery owns a large portion of, are on the south-, southeast- and southwest-facing slopes. It’s here that you find compact calcareous clay, rich in minerals and limestone. Yet you also find a confluence of both mountain and maritime influences, with both the Alps and the Mediterranean in such close proximity. Combined with the diurnal shifts in temperature between night and day, and you have one of the most ideal locations to produce Barolo. It’s a location that provides a long and even growing season, where the grapes mature evenly and slowly, forming depths of flavor.
The Cogno Imprint and Wines
Valter and Nadia believe firmly in their terroir, as Elvio taught them to do, which had inspired the family to work toward organic certification, as well as a low-impact approach in both the vineyard and winery. Born in the vineyard, and one of the most fascinating wines to come from Elvio Cogno, is the Vigna Elena Riserva, which is produced from one hectare of Rose Nebbiolo clones planted in 1991. This is one of only two or three Barolos produced 100% from the Rose sub-variety, and it is a bucket list wine for any Italophile and Barolo collector. After six years of aging in the winery cellar (three in botti and three in bottle), the Vigna Elena shows the inherent qualities of the Rose sub-variety mixed with the prestigious terroir of Ravera. (See below for a vertical tasting of eight vintages).
Then there is the Bricco Pernice, hailing from what Elvio believed to be the best parcel of the Ravera cru. The vineyard is situated across three parcels, two with vines averaging 25 years old and the third with vines averaging 50 years old. It’s one of my top wines in nearly every vintage, communicating itself as a textbook example of traditional Barolo, which excels in warmer years.
The wine that bears the vineyard’s name is the Barolo Ravera, produced from a mix of Lampia and Michet Nebbiolo clones, which enjoy a perfect south to southeastern exposure. It is the Elvio Cogno benchmark wine. The Barolo Ravera shows a dark and imposing expression in its youth, one that hides its tannins under a veil of rich fruit and slowly reveals its true layers over the course of ten years or more. If you could only buy one wine from Elvio Cogno, this should be it.
Last is the Cascina Nuova, a Barolo produced from the younger vines of the estate, located around the Ravera parcels at an average vine age of 12 years old. However, anyone who passes up on tasting the Cascina Nuova would be committing a foul, as it’s one of the best values to be found in Barolo today.
In Closing and On the Horizon
I’ll leave you with a few thoughts.
- That I will be buying a lot more wine for my own cellar from Elvio Cogno going forward.
- That I’m as excited as can be to watch these current vintages age.
- That I am now a devoted fan of Vigna Elena (only now feeling like I truly understand the wine).
- That Bricco Pernice belongs in the cellar of every serious Barolo collector.
- Oh, and that Valtor Fisore has a steel tank full of a Ravera Barolo that was fermented whole-cluster… But you didn’t hear that from me.
A Vertical Tasting of Elvio Cogno Vigna Elena
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2006 – The nose was gorgeous, with lifted aromas of dried roses, pomegranate, cranberry, tar, dusty cedar and spice. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, offset by tart raspberry with zesty acidity, as notes of licorice, minerals and dark inner florals filled the senses. The finish was long, fresh and understated, with lingering fine tannins, rosy floral tones and hints of dried strawberry. It’s so feminine and lifted yet tense and poised for the long haul. (95 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2007 – The nose was dark, intense yet also quite pretty, with crushed tart cherry, confectionary spices, dried roses, and smoky minerality. On the palate, silky textures washed across the senses with wonderful elegance, as ripe red and black fruits coated the palate, leaving minerals and inner florals in their wake. The finish was medium-long, with hints of fine tannin and sweet inner florals. (92 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2009 – The nose was dark with depths of plum, crushed cherry, ripe strawberry, rosy florals, hints of truffle, tobacco, and sweet spice. On the palate, silky textures coated the senses, offset by brisk acidity with zesty red berry fruit, spice and minerals. It finished long, with fine tannin coating the palate while hints of dried strawberry and minerals lingered. (94 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2010 – The nose was dark, brooding, yet still floral and full of life, displaying exotic spices, dried black cherries, and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures, as unbelievably vibrant red fruits–vibrant for the vintage–sweet spices, minerals and inner florals washed across the senses. The finish was wonderfully long with lingering fine tannin, sweet bright cherry and floral tones. It was so lifted, yet structured and precise, and it has such a long life ahead of it in the cellar. (96 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2011 – The nose was intense with zesty red fruits, exotic spice, roses, floral undergrowth and dusty minerality. On the palate, I found soft textures with fleshy strawberry, raspberry, zesty acids and sweet spices. The finish was medium-long, resonating on dark red fruits and minerals with lingering brisk acids and hints of light tannin. (94 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2012 – The nose was woodsy with dusty soil tones, hints of licorice, olive, crushed red berries, and dried roses. On the palate, I found soft textures with wonderfully pure cherry, spices, savory minerals and inner earth tones. It finished long with saturating red berries, minerals, spices and lingering brisk acids. (94 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2013 – (Tank Sample) The nose was dark with hints of cedar up front, followed by crushed stone, dusty minerals, strawberry, and dried roses. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by brisk acids and fine tannin, as notes of woodland-influenced strawberry, minerals and inner rose washed across the senses. The finish was long with saturating sweet tannin, youthfully dry yet so compacted and poised. Wow! (97 points)
Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva 2014 – (Barrel Sample) The nose was dark, moody and earthy, showing cured meats, floral undergrowth, savory spices, minerals and crushed raspberry. On the palate, I found soft textures with vibrant dark red fruits, driving acids, mineral tones, and inner rose. The finish was long, as tannins saturated the senses, resonating on dark, tart red fruits and minerals. (93 – 96 points)