A Field Guide to Building the Ideal Italian Wine Collection – Part 2

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Revel - Cellar Designs for Fine Wines
By Francesco Vigorito of Italian Wine Merchants

The Pillars of an Italian Wine Collection

No Italian wine collection would be complete without wines from Piemonte, home of collectible, age-worthy wines revered around the globe. Let’s start today with the “King” and “Queen” of Italian wine, Barolo and Barbaresco. Both are composed exclusively of the indigenous Nebbiolo grape, one of the world’s most tannic and acid-driven varieties, characteristics that allow their wines to mature and age gracefully for over 10-70 years. Not all Barolo and Barbaresco are created equally—in fact, there are only a handful of producers in these tiny regions that should garner your attention as far as collections go.

Leading that charge in Barolo is Giacomo Conterno and its Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Words simply can’t describe the experience of drinking this wine from a standout vintage. The 1955 is the best bottle of Italian wine to ever touch my palate, and I still think about today, even though I drank it about a year ago! Barolo Monfortino is the most sought-after Barolo made, and with fewer than 600 cases produced in the vintages when Conterno chooses to make it, there isn’t much to go around. If these bottles are ever offered to you, make sure not to hesitate to pick them up. Without Monfortino in your collection, you really can’t call it an Italian wine collection. If we wanted to make a comparison to Burgundy, Conterno’s Monfortino is the DRC Romanée-Conti of Barolo; perhaps that puts it in perspective.

With Barolo Riserva Monfortino at the top, there are a couple of other producers right on its tail, most notably Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia, Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo (the estate’s only Barolo), Luciano Sandrone’s Barolo Cannubi Boschis (no Riservas made here), Bruno Giacosa’s Red Label Barolo Riservas, Giacosa’s Barolo Collina Rionda (no longer produced), and last but absolutely not least, Guiseppe Rinaldi’s Brunate-Le Coste (also no longer produced). Certainly, there are other producers making exceptional Barolos that are not on my list, but to my thinking, these six represent the finest and most collectible out there.

Let’s now turn to Barbaresco. Producing roughly a third less wine than Barolo and lying only 10-15 miles to the northwest, the wines are very similar in profile, but Barbarescos tend to bring a more elegant style of Nebbiolo to the game. Because there is less Barbaresco produced, it really comes down to two producers who craft totally different styles of wine, but both have the same respect for the Nebbiolo grape and the Barbaresco region. These producers would most definitely be Angelo Gaja and Bruno Giacosa.
You can’t say enough about Gaja and all that he has done for the Italian wine scene, both through his contributions to spurring quality winemaking practices as well as the attention he drew to Italian wines through his deft hand at marketing. Gaja’s single vineyard “Barbarescos”—I use quotes here because they are technically not Barbarescos due to the addition of Barbera—are the flagship wines in his portfolio. With their black and white labels, showcasing his name “GAJA” in all caps, you cannot miss these bottles in any wine shop or wine cellar. The Gaja family is originally from Spain, but these wines are as Italian as Italian wines get and will be the cherry atop many Italian wine collections.

Another vital Barbaresco you cannot miss is Bruno Giacosa’s Red Label Riservas that he produces only in the finest vintages. His wines present a more refined and suave style than Gaja’s, attracting more the Burgundy collector because of the nuance and elegance in his mature wines. One word of advice: don’t open up a Giacosa Red Label prematurely or you will run into a wall of tannins that can scrape the plaque off your teeth and leave you with a bad experience. All of this said, Giacosa’s famous Red Label Riservas, whether Barbaresco or Barolo, garner serious attention from collectors world-wide because of their sheer rareness, deliciousness and performance on the auction block. If I had just one producer of Barbaresco in my cellar, it would have to be Bruno Giacosa.

So here we have the backbone of the superior Piedmont collection. From Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino to Giacosa’s Red Label Barbaresco Riservas, these recommendations will guarantee more than a lifetime of joy and great drinking. If you enjoy Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, stay tuned for part three later when I detail the collectible wines of Tuscany.

Italian Wine Merchants can be found here at http://www.italianwinemerchants.com