On my third day of visits in Barolo, I saw Luciano Sandrone and Elio Grasso. Sandrone started his estate from scratch, and Grasso, though his father and grandfather grew grapes and other crops, switched from a career in finance to work his family's land.
Sandrone came from a family of carpenters in La Morra. Rather than join the family business, he learned to make wine, first at the traditional Giacomo Borgogno, then at Marchesi di Barolo, where he became the cellar master. Sandrone purchased 2.5 acres in Cannubi Boschis in 1970, releasing his first Barolo from the 1978 vintage.
Today, Luciano Sandrone farms 67 acres, 65 percent of which are owned, the remainder leased, for an average annual production of 100,000 bottles. His brother Luca manages the vineyards and consulting enologist Mario Ronco works with Sandrone in the cellar, while daughter Barbara handles the commercial and administrative side of the business.
Though Cannubi Boschis, now 7.4 acres, is bottled separately, Sandrone's other Barolo, Le Vigne, is a blend of parcels from Merli (Novello), Cerretta di Perno and Conterni (Monforte d'Alba) and Vignane (Barolo). With the 2011 vintage, parcels from Baudana (Serralunga d'Alba) and Villero (Castiglione Falletto) will be added. Both samples of 2009 showed beautiful fruit, with the Cannubi Boschis the more floral and elegant of the two. Both were blended the day before my visit.
Le Vigne 2008, in bottle now for 10 months, offers cherry and herb aromas and flavors supported by a firm structure. Cannubi Boschis 2008 is perfumed, with floral and strawberry notes, in an elegant, racy, linear style. The '08s are lighter in profile than either 2009 or 2007, with present tannins and a vibrant feel.
At lunch, we tasted the 2007s and two older vintages, Cannubi Boschis 2001 and Le Vigne 1999. The 2007s are rich, with Le Vigne offering fruity aromas, licorice and mineral flavors wrapped in firm tannins. Cannubi Boschis is elegant, perfumed and spicy, showing finesse and fine length.
Cannubi Boschis 2001 features cherry, raspberry, spice and rose elements matched to a sweet, rich palate. Almost exotic in its fruit character, it delivers excellent balance and a long finish. The Le Vigne 1999 is more reserved on the nose. It's elegant—a spicy, direct, linear red, complex, subtle and long.
Left to right: Luca Sandrone (vineyard manager), Barbara Sandrone (administration), Mario Ronco (consulting enologist) and Luciano Sandrone (winemaker).
Le Vigne is the more masculine and structured of the two Barolos, Cannubi always seductive and charming.
Elio Grasso began bottling under his own label in 1980. His grandfather bought vineyards in Ginestra in 1920, selling grapes and a little wine in barrel, a practice continued by Grasso's father until his death in 1979.
It was then that Grasso, an economist working in Turin, decided to return to his family's farm. He was 36 years old and had never tasted wine. "I didn't come back to make wine because I liked wine," he recalled. "I had never drunk wine up to that point. I came back to work the land my father and grandfather worked. I couldn't let that be abandoned."
His son Gianluca has been making the wines since 1995. His attachment to the family's holdings was passed along from his father. "I'm glad Gianluca feels the same [about the land]. He has a great passion for wine."
Elio replanted the vineyards, beginning in 1980; today, individual vines are replaced with a selection from the estate's best vines. Only 20-plus-year-old vines from the fully south-facing parcels go into the Barolos, of which there are three: Gavarini Chiniera, Ginestra Casa Maté and in the best years, Rüncot Riserva.
These are beautiful Barolos that reveal depth and complexity, pure fruit flavors and harmony without sacrificing their origins. Chiniera is the most elegant, Casa Maté sturdier and muscular, Runcot suave and sophisticated.
Grasso's 2008s are particularly appealing. The Barolo Gavarini Chiniera 2008 combines floral, cherry and raspberry perfume with an elegant, silky mouthfeel. It stays fresh and harmonious, ending in a long aftertaste. The Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2008 features deep, rich black cherry and licorice notes, showing more density, tannins, concentration and power than the Chiniera, but not the finesse. Both these Barolos are aged in large Slavonian oak casks.
Gianluca (left) and Elio Grasso share the passion for their family's land.
"2008 is an amazing vintage for Barolo," recalled Gianluca. "The grapes were very different from what we've seen in the past [several vintages]." The younger Grasso was ready to harvest when his father advised him to wait because the phenolics weren't ripe. After another 15 days, they began harvesting.
The maceration with submerged cap was 45 days, compared to 30 in 2007, for the Nebbiolo destined for the three Barolos. "The flowers I smelled during the fermentation—I have never smelled flowers like I did in '08," he added. "Maybe in '01."
Grasso decided on a more modern interpretation for the Barolo Rüncot; it is aged in 100 percent new barriques. The 2006 matured in barrel for 46 months, the 2001 37 months. The former exhibits a gorgeous nose of licorice, dried cherry and spice. Though reserved, it's powerful, dense and tannic, but also balanced, fresh and long, ending with ripe, refined tannins. The 2001 is beginning to open, sporting a fabulous bouquet of licorice, dried cherry, plum and tobacco. Its sweet fruit filled the mouth in a rich, concentrated way, with ripe, exotic fruit and dense, solid tannins to match.
Rüncot is made only in the best years. In fact, Grasso released no Barolos in 1986, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 2002.
Gary Long — Palm Beach , Fl — December 9, 2011 12:35pm ET
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