Last Thursday I visited with Giacomo Conterno of Podere Aldo Conterno, located in the hamlet of Bussia Soprana, just outside Montforte d’Alba.
It was there I got a geology lesson in the landscape of the Langhe. The ridges of the Langhe were formed during the Miocene epoch of the Tertiary period, about 15 million to 7 million years ago.
The oldest formation is the Lequio, which covers Serralunga d’Alba and part of Monforte d’Alba. The soils are sandstone with iron and gray marl. The other part of Monforte d’Alba’s vineyards and those of Castiglione Falletto were formed later and are known as Diano sandstones. These soils tend to make wines that are more muscular and firmly structured that take longer to soften and mature.
On the La Morra and Barolo side are the Sant’Agata marls. There is higher sand content, along with magnesium and manganese, resulting in wines that are more approachable early, with wonderful aromatics and finesse. The Cannubi cru from Barolo is a perfect example.
These are generalizations of course, and there will be nuances and differences within each area and producer.
Aldo Conterno’s top crus are located in contiguous plots just over the hill from the winery: Romirasco, Cicala, Colonello and Bussia Soprana. Giacomo Conterno describes this area as a bridge between the La Morra side and the Serralunga side.
Conterno’s classic Barolo is a blend of several sites outside the crus. The 2004 showed cherry with hints of wild herbs, mineral and licorice. Its sweet fruit was balanced by good acidity and the finish was almost chewy in texture.
The Barolo Colonello 2004 offered some of the tar and licorice elements but also floral and red fruit flavors. The elegant profile was balanced and long. The Barolo Romirasco 2004, the first Romirasco to be bottled since 1993, was complex, smelling of wild red berries and flowers, with flavors of cherry and licorice. It combined both power and finesse with a firm structure and greater density than the Colonello.
Unfortunately, there was no Cicala in 2004. Ninety percent of the crop was destroyed by hail. As a result, there will be no Gran Bussia, since it is a blend of Cicala, Colonello and Romirasco.
Conterno also opened a Barolo Gran Bussia 2001. It had gorgeous aromas of rose, licorice and tar, followed by beautiful sweet fruit, concentration, balance and length.
Conterno uses rotofermentors for the best possible extraction of flavors and tannins, aging the wines in large Slavonian oak casks that are replaced every 8 years. The wines bridge the modern and traditional style, with plenty of fruit when young, but also the structure to age.
There were no 2002s or 2003s at this address, because the Conternos felt the wines weren’t up to the standard of the estate. Hail also destroyed the Romirasco crop in 2007 and as much as 50 percent of Cicala and Colonello.
Such is the life of growers, but Giacomo Conterno remains philosophical. “We are farmers, but we are lucky farmers,” he mused. “It’s important that we remember our roots.”