A Vertical, Five Decades in The Making
If I had to name the producer and the wine most responsible for my introduction and continued love for Barolo and Piedmont, that name would be Vietti and the wine would be the Barolo Rocche.
With the release of the 2001 Vietti Rocche, I was given my first chance to taste a young version of a wine that would become a decade long obsession, representing the most cherished bottles in my collection. After that moment I set out to taste back vintages so that I could understand what I felt was one of the most classic expressions that Barolo had to offer. This quest led me to wanting to also understand the people behind the wine, and so names like Mario Vietti, Alfredo Currado and Luca Currado were added to my vocabulary as I dug deeper to figure out what made these wines so great.
In the case of Rocche, it is in my opinion the perfect marriage between producer and terroir which is responsible for its standing among Barolos top wines. No other winemaker has created an expression of the Rocche vineyard that I believe can compare with Vietti. The Barolo producer Brovia, with parcels surrounding a plot of Vietti vines, comes closest to competing. Yet there is something so regal and refined about the Vietti Rocche that when placed head to head, I believe it always comes out on top. The Rocche vineyard in Castiglione Falletto runs along a steep ridge with a southeastern exposure and contains sandy soils that are white in color due to the large amount of limestone found within. In the case of Vietti, Rocche is a wine that takes a decade or two to show its quality, but once it does, there’s nothing else like it.
The list of vineyard sources that are owned and farmed by Vietti are extensive, which started as far back as 1961 when Alfredo Currado helped to pioneer the movement of creating single-vineyard expressions with the 1961 Vietti Barolo Rocche. Today, single vineyard or “Cru” bottlings are the most popular in the region, and the Vietti winery is very much to thank for it.
After Rocche came other prestigious vineyards. Brunate, Villero, Lazzarito, and Ravera all addorn Vietti labels, yet it’s important to keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg as the family was renowned for their blends of vineyards going back to the early 1900’s, starting with Mario Vietti. With respect to tradition, the winery continues to put the same effort into their Barolo Castiglione, a blend of vineyards, as they do with their single-vineyard bottlings. In fact, the Castiglione is almost ⅔ composed of Ravera fruit (a vineyard that Vietti has been producing 100-point wines from) along with a mix of vineyards which any other producer would choose to bottle separately with a much higher price tag.
For Luca Currado, the current generation to head up the Vietti winery, the continued emphasis on their multi-vineyard Barolo is just as important as their commitment to Piedmont’s other varieties. Luca has become renowned for his ability to produce what is often considered the region’s best Barbera, even deciding to grow and bottle the variety from the Scarrone vineyard, which any other producer would replant with Nebbiolo for Barolo. However, this doesn’t matter to Luca, just as Alfredo Currado had brought Arneis back from near extinction, so did Luca play a large part in returning Barbera to eminence in the region.
With all of this said, is it any wonder that Vietti takes up more space in my cellar than any other producer? My love for the wines and the people that make them runs deep.
It was with this in mind that our Barolo tasting group (a group of friends from the Vinous forum) decided to build a Vietti vertical that would span over five decades, including wines made by Mario Vietti and up to the latest releases. The location was Ai Fiori, which I choose after many experiences with the wonderful people behind the scenes and the extremely high-level of their cuisine. What could possibly make this evening better? How about if Luca Currado himself was there to enjoy these wines alongside of us. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy such a tasting. In the end, this was one of the greatest tastings of my life.
On to the tasting notes and flights:
Mature Vietti Barolo Flight
I always get nervous in a tasting like this when the first flight is so good that you can’t imagine the following wines getting any better. Luckily that was not the case on this night, but that doesn’t change the fact that our older Barolo flight was simply amazing. Having Luca in attendance helped to give us some unique perspective on the wines as well, especially since the ‘54 and ‘61 were wines made by his Grandfather. Luca explained that he has never had the chance to tasted the ’54 before this night. In the end, this is a perfect example of how a well stored bottle of Barolo can live on for generations.
1954 Vietti Barolo Riserva – Talk about a way to start a tasting, and from a vintage that’s not considered to be among the best, the ‘54 Mario Vietti Barolo was simply gorgeous. The nose was savory and spicy, showing dusty earth, dried flowers, savory herbs and a hint of raw meat. On the palate, I found lifted textures with red fruits of amazing purity, and inner rose tones in a phenomenally balanced and refreshing expression. It finished fresh with palate-coating minerality and inner floral tones. The word spellbinding comes to mind. (93 points)
1961 Vietti Barolo – The ‘61 was hard to gauge as it seemed impossibly dark both in color and on the palate. The nose showed dark red fruits with moist soil, hints of herbs and undergrowth. On the palate, I found dried berries, minerals, earth and an acid induced vibrancy. The finish was long on concentrated dark berries. It’s hard to tell if this wine was “correct”, but it sure wasn’t that bad. (88 points)
1967 Vietti Barolo – The bouquet was reluctant at first, taking time in the glass to come around, but once it did the ‘67 was a force to be reckoned with. Here I found dark, earth-infused crushed red fruits, dried strawberry, spiced orange and undergrowth. On the palate, it was lifted and full of life as dark fruits and savory minerals washed across the senses. The finish was long on dried berries, minerals and an animal muskiness. (93 points)
1970 Vietti Barolo – The ‘70 showed some of the most beautiful aromatics. It was a wine that could be smelled but never tasted and still enjoyed. Here I found a rich blend of earthy dark soil, undergrowth and dried florals mixed with crushed strawberry. On the palate it was soft yet driven with zesty acids and minerality giving way to dried berries and hints of spice. It finished incredibly long with floral-infused red berry tones lingering. (91 points)
1982 Vietti Barolo Bussia – The ‘82 Bussia was classic in every sense of the word. Here I found a gorgeous bouquet of dried leaves, dusty soil, minerals, a hint of herbs and dried cherry. On the palate, dark silk textures saturated the senses with dried red fruits, minerals and inner floral tones. In finished long with hints of unresolved tannin and dried red berry fruits. I simply didn’t want this glass to end and would have loved to spend the entire evening contemplating this wine. (94 points)
Masseria Barbaresco Flight
The number one takeaway from this tasting is that I’ve been a fool for not buying and cellaring the Vietti Barbaresco Masseria. I arrived at my event expecting this to be a bridge flight between the older wines and Rocche, but instead it ended up being just as enjoyable as it’s two bookends. Each vintage was wonderful, but the ‘89 was on a whole other level, and easily competes with some of the best Vietti wines that I have ever tasted.
1974 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria – Of all of the ‘74s I’ve enjoyed in my life, I must say that Vietti stands out as one of the top producers of the vintage. The ‘74 Masseria was no different. The nose was remarkably pretty and perfumed with a hint of caramel giving way to dusty soil and sweet spices. On the palate, I found tart red fruits, with zesty acidity and saline minerality. It finished long on minerals, iron and dried inner floral tones. (93 points)
1985 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria – Surrounded by an embarrassment of riches, it’s easy to see how the ‘85 finished last in this flight, yet it was still a wonderful wine. The nose showed crushed cherries with dusty earth and dried flowers. On the palate, I found soft textures with juicy acidity giving life to a display of crushed red berries. It finishes long and saturating to the senses with concentrated red fruits. (92 points)
1989 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria – Deep, dark, rich, and impeccably balance, the ‘89 Masseria really wow’d me on this evening. To be honest it’s a wine that I don’t pay enough attention to and that’s a mistake which will soon be corrected. Here I found a stunning display of dark, rich red fruits, savory herbs, sweet rosy florals and hints of brown spice. On the palate, silky textures were offset by vibrant red berry tones with mineral acid lift which created beautiful contrasts and helped to bring life to its unresolved tannin. The finish was long and saturating to the senses with sweet herbs and dried red fruits. (96 points)
1990 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria – The contrasts between the ‘89 and ‘90 were apparent and quite enjoyable to discover with these two wines next to each other. The nose showed a glossy display of black cherry, dusty spices, herbs and crushed stone minerality. It lacked the elegance and refinement of the ‘89 but made up for it with its dark, sexy persona. On the palate red fruits saturated the senses leaving behind a coating of dry tannin with a lasting buzz of acidity. The finish was long with dark fruits and hints of crushed mint. Wow! (94 points)
Rocche di Castiglione Barolo Flight
Rocche, Rocche, Rocche, Oh how I love thee. This is the wine that started me on the path to loving Barolo and finding that my true passion went far beyond a single wine, but to the grape itself, Nebbiolo. However, in the end, if I could choose any single wine to drink it would probably be a mature Vietti Barolo Rocche. On this night we had three to choose from, and the opportunity to taste the 2013, which is a masterful wine that needs 20 – 30 years to come around. I hope I’m around to enjoy the 2013 when it does.
1978 Vietti Barolo Rocche – I’ve always been told the 1978 was a great vintage for Barolo, yet I have seldom experienced a wine that lived up to the hype–and then there’s the ‘78 Vietti Rocche. The nose was beautiful and classic with dried flowers up front giving way to dried raspberry, exotic spice and animal musk. On the palate, I found silky textures with vibrant acids adding freshness and lift as notes of tart red berry and saline-minerality washed across the senses. The finish was long and still lively with minerals and inner floral tones prevailing. What a beautiful wine. (95 points)
1985 Vietti Barolo Rocche – This was without a doubt the single best ‘85 Rocche that I’ve ever tasted. As they say with mature wines, “there are no great wines, only great bottles” and this was a perfect example. The purity and remarkably pretty bouquet on the ‘85 Rocche was riveting, a display of roses with crushed red fruits, fresh mint, and dusty soil tones lifted from the glass. On the palate, it was zesty, lifted and incredibly fresh, seeming to take its cue directly from the bouquet with a mix of pure red berries and inner floral tones. The finish was medium in length, adding earthy minerality to the mix, along with remnants of fine tannin. (94 points)
1989 Vietti Barolo Rocche – If I was asked to pinpoint a Vietti Rocche vintage which I believed was the best current expression of the wine that you could find, it would be the 1989, and this nights was no different. Here I found a bouquet of dried cherries and plums, with sweet floral tones, crushed stone and hints of cedar. On the palate, it was silky soft and so pure with an impeccably balanced display of red berries, earth, rosey inner florals, minerals and hints of fine tannin. The finish was long, with fine tannins that have only recently soften enough to complete the experience as lingering notes of dried cherry, earth tones and roses carried on for almost a full minute. It was an absolute joy to taste. (97 points)
2013 Vietti Barolo Rocche – The bouquet was stunning, yet so youthfully intense, with rich dark red berry tones giving way to a combination of exotic spices, sweet rosy florals, dusty minerals, and earth tones. On the palate I found saturating, intense red fruit with fine tannin which lingered throughout as mineral and inner floral tones battled for the spotlight. A wave of acidity added liveliness which carried through to the finish and helped to soothe the wines youthful structure. This is a classic in the making, the only question is how long it will take to mature. (96 points)
Lazzarito Barolo +1 Ravera Flight
I have only recently started to add small amounts of Lazzarito to my cellar, being the wine in the Vietti portfolio that often sees the large amount of new oak, I had stayed away for many years. However, with more recent vintages it seems that Luca has managed to find a balance that works. This may not be a traditional wine, but it is undeniably one of the best wines being made in the region. Add the 2013 Ravera to this flight, which was recently awarded 100 points from Antonio Galloni, and you have one hell of a set of wines.
1989 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – The bouquet was dark–hauntingly so–and brooding, with sweet herbs, tobacco, black cherry, moist soil and crushed stone. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a stunning mix of acid and fine tannin, with dark berry and mineral tones. It finished long and structured on dried red berry fruit, yet not quite ready to offer up its treasures as the ‘89 Rocche was. (93 points)
1998 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – The ‘98 Lazzarito was certainly a wine from another time in the history of Vietti, the nose was dark with sweet herbs, hints of olives, minerals and black cherry. On the palate, I found a remarkably soft, almost plush expression, with dark blue and red fruits, brown spices and sweet herbs. It finished long on dark fruit and minerality with licorice and balsamic hints. (90 points)
2004 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – The ‘04 Lazzarito was a dark and sensual beast of a wine, showing just how much potential this vineyard has to offer. The nose was dark and reaching up from the glass, showing mineral-laced black cherry, spices upon spices, sweet herbs and hints of tobacco. On the palate, I found silky textures with youthful tannic grip, before a thrust of dark saturating red fruits flooded the palate, leaving inner floral tones in their wake. The finish was long and elegant with fine tannin offset by masses of dried raspberry, cherry and saturating minerality. I found myself wishing I had bought this upon release. It was simply stunning. (95 points)
2013 Vietti Barolo Ravera – The nose showed dusty spices and minerals up front with a mix of red and black fruits, dark violet floral tones and crushed stone. On the palate, I found a dark, viral expression of Nebbiolo with intense minerality matched by firm tannin as black fruits saturated the senses along with hints of lavender and spiced citrus. It finished long and structured on a complex mix currant, plum, exotic spice and dried orange. (96 points)
Thank you to the team at Ai Fiori
I would like to conclude this piece with A sincere thank you to the team at Ai Fiori. A tasting of this level could only be possible if held at a location that you can trust to provide the absolute best possible experience of service and cuisine. Ai Fiori was up to the challenge and the members of my group left as happy as could be. I highly recommend stopping in and getting to know why this has become one of my absolute favorite restaurants in New York City.
Pancetta di Maiale – braised pork belly, charred spring onions, pickled hen of the woods, romesco
Insalata di Astice – lobster, asparagus, hen of the woods, brown butter vinaigrette
Tortelli – ricotta & mascarpone ravioli, sottocenere cheese, red wine glaze
Agnolotti – braised veal parcels, pesto rosso, balsamic
Shrimp Risotto – riso acquerello, shrimp, saffron, fennel, parmigiano
Pollo Arrosto – roasted chicken, prosciutto, cannellini beans, pistachio
Tagliata – dry aged strip loin, pommes purée, spring onion, bordelaise
Vineyard photos and portrait of Luca Currado courtesy of: Vietti Winery
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos of Tasting by: Eric Guido
Visit The Fine Wine Geek for another take on this amazing tasting!
Visit Morrell Wine & Spirits to view our selection of Vietti Barolo
Visit the Ai Fiori Website