All leading wine regions have producers who achieve cult status. Bordeaux has Latour and Pétrus; Burgundy has DRC; Spain has Vega Sicilia. In Barolo, the myth is Giacomo Conterno. His Monfortino is a mythical bottle that can age for many decades. Recently a tasting was organised in Los Angeles where vintages up to 1929 were poured, all in fine shape.
For a good part of the late 20th century the wines were made by Giovanni Conterno. After Giovanni passed away in 2004, the estate is now run by his son Roberto. Every time I meet Roberto he speaks about his father with a respect that inspires both awe and emotion. Out of this respect, there have been no changes in the winemaking. The wines are fermented in vertical wooden vats and aged for an extended period in giant casks of Slavonian oak, many of which are several decades in age. They look like huge old elephants and have a similar noblesse and patience. Every time I enter the Conterno cellars and see them, I have tears in my eyes. I honestly don’t understand how people can fail to see the beauty of these casks and replace them with barriques.
One change in recent years here has been the acquisition in 2008 of a parcel in the Cerretta vineyard in Serralunga. It will produce a few thousand bottles of Barbera and Barolo (or Langhe Nebbiolo in weaker years, such as 2008 and perhaps also 2009). I expressed my excitement about Cerretta here; the Conterno wines are showing engaging fruit and freshness alongside their customary depth and concentration.
The major Conterno holding is 14 hectares in Cascina Francia. When I visited here in 2005 Roberto Conterno gave me a long lecture about geological studies made 2 meters deep in 15 different parts of the vineyard. Geology is important because Cascina Francia makes one of the tightest and most mineral wines of all Barolos. This ageworthy character is evident even in the Barbera, perhaps the most brilliant interpretation of the grape anywhere in Piedmont (see a Google translation of my Polish article on the 2000 vintage). The Cascina Francia Barolo is a wine of majestic depth and structure. On this occasion, tasting the 2007 and 2009from cask, I was also struck by its nigh-miraculous quality of fruit and concentration of flavour: although tight and tannic this wine has none of the hard edges of many other Barolos; the tannic structure is perfectly amalgamated into the densely textured fruit.
In the best vintages Giovanni and Roberto Conterno have been making a riserva bottling that ages over six years in cask. The name of this wine, Monfortino, is synonymous with the highest prestige (and price: 250€ and more per bottle) in the world of Italian wine. I won’t easily forget the tight concentrated grain of the 2004 (to be bottled this summer). Roberto Conterno takes lessons from no-one and so there was no chance he could be discouraged to bottle the 2002 Monfortino by the negative stereotype that from the very beginning surrounded that hail-striken vintage. I have enjoyed several 2002s in the past for their finesse and freshness but the Monfortino is another story: with a majestic tannic and acidic structure and proud concentration, it might not be among the most memorable Monfortinos (my experience is too thin to say) but is in itself a monumental wine.
Giacomo Conterno is deservedly a household name. Roberto Conterno’s extremely stringent quality standards and high level of control result in wines of majestic concentration and proportions. They have to be tasted to be believed.
My trip to Piedmont including flights, accommodation and wine tasting programme is sponsored by the Albeisa association of wine producers.