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More Barolo: Azelia and Domenico Clerico

A highly anticipated visit to the maker of Wine Spectator's 2011 No. 8 Wine of the Year
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 29, 2011 10:45am ET

Azelia was founded in 1920, a branch of the Scavino family that today is run by fourth-generation vintner Luigi Scavino and his son Lorenzo. Half of the 37-acre vineyard surface is devoted to Barolo, with an average annual production of 6,250 cases.

The estate is small enough for the family to operate with the help of some part-time workers. It is named after a wild flower from the region, but there is also a vineyard near the winery with called Azelia.

The style of wines at Azelia emphasizes fresh fruit with the underlying elements of terroir. For example, its Dolcetto is refined and elegant, while the Barolos, most from Serralunga, exhibit more structure, with the exception of the charming and graceful Bricco Fiasco.

The Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo Langhe are fermented in rotofermentors and aged in stainless steel. The Barbera is aged in one-year-old barrels for 14 to 16 months once the malolactic has finished. Maceration depends on the vintage, but generally is 20 to 25 days for the Barolos and 10 days for the Dolcetto.

After five to six days of settling, the Nebbiolo destined for Barolo is aged in large, 25- and 30-hectoliter casks of Austrian and Slavonian oak, with the exception of the Barolos Bricco Fiasco and San Rocco. These go into barrique, 20 percent new and 80 percent one year old. "We don't use more than 20 percent new oak so we don't cover the Nebbiolo perfume," explained Lorenzo.

The Dolcetto d'Alba Bricco dell'Oriolo comes from high-elevation vineyards in Montelupo Albese, near Diano d'Alba, with sandy soils and a south-facing exposure. The vines are 40 years old. The 2010 is a fresh, peppery, raspberry-flavored red, with a vibrant, firm frame.

Azelia's Barbera d'Alba Vigneto Punta comes from 60- to 65-year-old vines planted in a southwest-facing hilltop in Castigilione. It exudes floral, black currant and licorice aromas, with cherry and licorice flavors matched to a creamy, rich texture.

The Barolo 2007 hails from six vineyards in Serralunga (70 percent) and Castiglione (30 percent). Perfumed, with fruit and spice notes, it's firm, rich and dense, with chocolate, cherry and plum flavors. Mineral accents grace the finish. The Barolo Bricco Fiasco represents the historical site of the family, first bottled separately in the 1978 vintage. Its fragrant floral, cherry and raspberry aromas and flavors are pure, aligned to an elegant profile, with charm and a long finish. The vines there are 65 years old.

The Barolo Margheria shows a chunky, dense profile, a fruity mix of cherry and strawberry with a savory finish. Scavino purchased this parcel in 2002; the vines are now 40 to 45 years old. Barolo San Rocco, also from Serralunga, was purchased 10 years earlier. An austere version, it offers spice and bittersweet chocolate notes with muscle and assertive tannins.

Scavino bought vines in Bricco Voghera in 2000. This is the source of the Barolo Riserva Voghera Brea 2004, made only in the best years. From vines more than 75 years old, it features a complex nose of eucalyptus, cherry, tobacco, spice and chocolate. A core of sweet fruit is augmented by savory mineral elements.

From Azelia it was on to the eponymous Domenico Clerico, a visit I was anticipating since we chose his Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006 as the No. 8 wine in this year's Wine Spectator Top 100.

Clerico, with a total of 52 acres of vineyards, is just putting the finishing touches on a new state-of-the-art winery that is designed to make wine from the bottom level up. It's an environmentally sensitive building with plenty of room for fermentation, wood aging and storage. The 2008 Barolos Ciabot Mentin and Pajana and 2007 Aeroplan Servaj were bottled there in July.

Clerico's Dolcetto Langhe Visadi 2010, fermented and aged in stainless steel, includes grapes from vineyards in Dogliani, thus the Langhe appellation. It's pure and full of macerated cherry, fresh and supple with a lingering finish. The Barbera d'Alba Trevigne 2009 exudes a meaty, dense profile with dark plum and blackberry flavors. It spends 14 months in barrique, 50 percent new and 50 percent one year old.

Capisme-e 2010, the estate's Langhe Nebbiolo, like the Dolcetto, sees no oak aging. In its second vintage, the grapes come from the San Pietro vineyard in Monforte, whose 30-year-old vines formerly went into Clerico's Langhe Rosso Arte blend of Nebbiolo (90 percent) and Barbera (10 percent). It offers cherry, licorice and tobacco notes, with soft but still supportive tannins.

Clerico export manager Luciano Racca and cellar master Gianmatteo "Jimmy" Raineri presented several vintages of Barolos. From Pajana, a vineyard in the Ginestra cru with 35-year-old vines, the 2010 Barolo is packed with flesh and fruit; the 2009 is ripe, with mint and floral aromas; the 2008 still suffers from its bottling in July, yet reveals purity and balance in a sleek, linear way. The 2007 evokes spice and dried cherry flavors on a firm, refined frame. It should be approachable soon. It was aged two years in barriques, 80 percent new and 20 percent one year old.

The Ciabot Mentin undergoes the same wood aging. It's a more powerful Barolo than Pajana, with the 2010, '09 and '07 showing lovely ripe fruit, licorice and tobacco flavors. The 2008 is the most elegant of the four vintages. All show fine potential.

Aeroplan Servaj is a new project for Clerico, coming from a 4-acre leased parcel in the Badarina cru of Serralunga. The name means "wild airplane," a nickname Clerico's father coined for the free-spirited young Domenico. It is aged six months longer than Ciabot Mentin or Pajana, also in 80 percent new barriques and 20 percent second use.

The inaugural 2006 Aeroplan Servaj offers the textbook cherry, licorice and tobacco flavors of Barolo, but this is very tannic right now, slightly rustic and dry on the finish. I preferred the 2007 Aeroplan Servaj, bottled at the end of July, for its iron and mineral aromas and savory eucalyptus and tobacco flavors. It too is firm yet long and expressive. A barrel sample of the 2010 revealed an impressive combination of richness and structure, ripe fruit and mineral notes.

Percristina, Clerico's "riserva" in terms of aging but not in name, sees five years total, three in 100 percent new barriques and two in tank before bottling. The 2004 Percristina is stunning, exhibiting sweet licorice, cherry and floral aromas married to a rich, supple profile. The tannins are refined, with complexity and a long, mineral aftertaste. The "old clone" vines, some planted in 1947, come from the Mosconi cru in Monforte d'Alba, with a south-southeast exposure.

The 2008 vintage was more difficult, the humid weather requiring more spraying than the previous two years. The favorable summer weather allowed the grapes to ripen fully and the harvest was more typical, with picking in early- to mid-October for the Nebbiolo destined to become Barolo.

"We are big fans of '08," said Racca. "The vintage is very direct, not so impressive, but direct. It's something we like."

"It's a vintage without the expression and power of '07," added Raineri. "It was a different vintage from the beginning. The flowering was uneven, so there was a natural green harvest. In the end, this was a good thing."

These are big, rich wines, ripe and packed with fruit and dense tannins. The maceration times have increased since Clerico first began using rotofermentors, up to 30 days for the Barolos, with barriques the barrel size of choice for aging.

Tom J Wilson
Canada —  November 29, 2011 5:25pm ET
Hello Bruce;

Have you had a chance to taste Jimmy's own Barolo ?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  December 6, 2011 11:02am ET
Tom,

I did tasted Jimmy's Barolo, under the Raineri label that he is doing with Luciano Racca. They poured the 2007 and 2008 classico and Monserra (a selection of the best lots from Santo Stefano di Perno and Serralunga). They are excellent young Baroli and it's a label to watch.

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