When we think about Giacomo Conterno, the first thing to come to mind is Barolo Monfortino and the Cascina Francia vineyard. Of course, this is an iconic producer who has been making what is considered to be the greatest Barolo of our time. For many of us, we look to the ‘entry-level’ Barolo Cascina Francia for value, which at $150 is still a worthy acquisition when compared to the $500+ that Monfortino can fetch.
Yet, it’s a select few who think of Giacomo Conterno’s Barbera—which is a shame. Maybe it’s the grape itself, and that many of us have been trained to think that an expensive bottle of Barbera will taste more of the oak it’s aged in, than the variety’s inherent traits and the vineyard it comes from. Most people are happy to sip their Barbera thoughtlessly with a plate of pasta or slice of pizza. The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with that, as Barbera is the perfect complement to nearly any cuisine. Yet to exclude this variety’s ability to make world-class wines of exceptional depth is a mistake.
Roberto Conterno, of Giacomo Conterno, shows us what Barbera is fully capable of when grown in the right location with low yields and aging in cask. The location is the Cascina Francia vineyard, with its predominantly calcareous soil, the same vineyard which produces Nebbiolo fruit for Monfortino. Located in the municipality of Serralunga and owned exclusively by the Giacomo Conterno winery since 1974, Cascina Francia is known to produce tannic rich, intense fruit, rooted firmly in the earth with a dark mineral core. When applied to Nebbiolo for making Barolo, the results are wines of epic structure which age for decades. However, these same characteristics apply to Roberto’s Barbera, yet with juicy, acid-driven textures, ripe fruit and earlier accessibility which the variety is known for. Low yields in the vineyard produce the intense, rich fruit, which is then aged for 21 months in medium-sized Slavonian oak casks.
The style is quite powerful and often overwhelming in its youth. However, a small amount of patience will reward you ten-fold. Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia Barbera transforms quickly in the cellar to reveal a wine of exceptional class and elegance. This is not your average table wine by any stretch of the imagination; instead it is towering, with dark masses of fruit contrasted by an acidic spine. I’m thinking steak now more than pasta, as this wine is haunting in its complexity—yet sensual all the same.
With prices of Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo going through the roof, the Barbera Cascina Francia provides us with an opportunity to experience the greatness of this vineyard and artistry of Roberto Conterno at a much lower price. Paying $50 for Barbera may seem expensive at first, but considering other options in this price range (from around the world), and suddenly it starts to make a lot of sense.
I am very happy to provide my tasting notes for the last seven vintages (missing ’09) of Conterno’s Barbera CF. Each note includes my ideal drinking ranges, and with a little hunting, each of these can still be found in the market.
On To the Tasting Notes:
2012 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Francia – The ’12 Francia Barbera can be best described as a rosebud on the verge of blooming. The nose showed tense aromatics with tart red fruits, spice, floral tones, minerals, mint and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, I found focused red fruits with clenched, acid-driven textures paving the way to secondary notes of wild berry, herbs and inner floral tones. Long with tart berry on the finish, which seemed to coat the senses. This is a wine in need of a few years in the cellar—dare I say another 2005 in the making? (93+ Points) Morrell *Note: as of 2012, Cascina Franica has been shortened to ‘Francia’
2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was intense and rich, literally leaping from the glass, with dark red berry fruit, rosemary, brown sugar, smoke and sweet floral tones. On the palate, the power of Serralunga was mixed with the ripeness of the 2011 vintage to present a Barbera of epic proportions, as flavors of black cherry and raspberry fruit were complemented by mineral and savory herbs; its brisk acidity kept it mouthwatering and fresh through the entire experience. The long, dark-red finish stained the palate and would not relent, as a slight bitter note added even more character. This is a formidable Barbera of intensity and exotic, almost sensual textures. I don’t see this maturing beyond a few more years in the cellar, but with a performance like this, there’s no reason to wait. (94 Points)
2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was enticing, yet massive, rising from the glass in waves, which seemed to change and intensify with each swirl. It showed dark ripe strawberry, brown sugar, cedar dust, menthol, floral undergrowth and, at times, a slight rustic note of barnyard. On the palate, it was tightly knit and focused with a balance towards acidity, as it revealed ripe red berries, sour patch apple, exotic spice and inner floral tones. It finished dry with berry extract seeming to coat the entire palate. This is youthful and clenched with the ability to go many years in the cellar. (93 Points)
2008 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was elegant, showing both richness and finesse with notes of raspberry, floral perfumes, dark chocolate, chalk dust, and hint of mint and rosemary. Soft, silky textures caressed the palate, delivering dark red berry, orange zest and spice, along with zesty acidity, which seemed to instantly refresh the senses. A bitter twang with tart berry lingered on its refreshing, clean finish. Enjoyable now for its gorgeous aromatics, yet still angular on the palate. I would give the ’08 another year before digging in. (92 Points)
2007 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – Dark crimson red color in the glass. The nose was like a basket of fresh-picked, super-ripe berries followed by holiday spices, new leather and a bit of oak. Some heat was present but did not detract from the experience. On the palate, I found masses of dark fruit, sour licorice, pepper and bitters. Very balanced with the acidity showing just a bit through the rich fruit. The finish was long but fresh with blackberry fruit. Rich and forward, the ‘07 shows all of the hallmarks of the ’07 vintage, and I see no reason to wait any longer. (92 points)
2006 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose showed crushed berries, cinnamon sugar, stems and undergrowth. On the palate, this was broodingly dark yet vibrant with black cherry, tar, Christmas spice and gorgeous dark chocolate on the finish. It’s a beautiful expression of Barbera, yet smaller-scaled than the ’07, which shows the elegance this varietal is truly capable of. (93 Points)
2005 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was autumnal, showing dried leaves and cherry, sweet spice and hints of citrus peel. On the palate, dried red fruits with a bitter twang, licorice and mineral soil tones swirled around the senses in a mouthwatering, slightly angular yet truly refined expression of Barbera. The finish was long and palate-staining with red berry, yet truly fresh. This was my last of six bottles, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed the development of this wine more than almost any other—drink up! (93 Points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido