When Paolo Conterno released their stunning 2010 wines, we had an incredible response from those that tasted them and subsequently put them on their wine lists/retail shelves. That was the ‘unicorn’ vintage, the one we’ll be talking about many years from now, but this is 2011 and by all accounts these are some of the best wines ever to come from our Conterno. Established in 1886, the Paolo Conterno estate has belonged to the Conterno family for four generations. The vineyards (most of which stand in the historical cru of Ginestra) and the cellar are run with passion by Paolo and Caterina together with their son and daughter Giorgio and Marisa. The extremely high quality of the wines – the result of the combination of the extraordinary terroir, a unique microclimate, excellent vineyard exposure and the dedication of the Conterno family – has been acknowledged and prized by the Italian and international press.
Ginestra. It’s worth us pointing out the importance of this site which is regarded as one of the premier crus of the entire zone of Barolo. Neighbouring another famous cru – perhaps the most regarded in Barolo – Francia of Giacomo Conterno, this area is the meeting point of Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba, and a place where the tarry characters and epic tannin of the former with the blue fruit and incredible structure of the latter meet to create wines of concentration, complexity and power. Recently re-classified into various sub-cru sites, Conterno’s allocation of the vineyard proudly exists in the most exposed and steeply raked part of the hill. The vines grow on slopes of up to 35%, some of the steepest in Barolo, and at a not insignificant altitude of 350m ASL. Calcaric clay dominates the makeup of the soil in Ginestra.
Undoubtedly this vintage was not typical cool-climate Piedmont, but we shouldn’t be too quick to call it a ‘hot’ year. In fact the conditions were seriously great for ripening Nebbiolo’s classic firm tannins. What made this warmer vintage easier to manage, and in many cases very exciting for some producers was the lessons learned by the producers from the famously ‘hot’ vintages of 09, 07 and 03. The best vineyards showed their area characteristics far better than the lesser wines down the ladder – many of which are showing generic Nebbiolo characters rather their site’s unique nuances – but there’s no doubt that all of the wines from 2011 are showing more of themselves right now than the wines of the last vintage. Whether or not to drink them right away seems to be harder to define, because if recent history is anything to go by, the good vintages have a habit of becoming great ones over time. Antonio Galloni’s vintage report is pretty good and you can find it here. The main thing we need to remember as the gatekeepers is that ’11 was another great year in Barolo, and to dismiss it as a lesser version of ’10 would be missing the point entirely.
2011 Paolo Conterno Barolo Riva del Bric
Hand picked in early October, grapes were crushed and immediately destemmed after harvest. 20 days on skins, fermentation at controlled temperatures, native yeasts. Matured for 3 years in very large French Oak (3,500L) and 1 year in bottle. Riva del Bric is the selection of the Ginestra vineyard designated to the 20-25 year old Nebbiolo vines, not yet at maturity for the senior ‘Ginestra’ or ‘Ginestra Riserva’ wines. Though Giorgio Conterno stubbornly insists Ginestra is his flagship, since the first bottlings Riva del Bric had positioned itself as a wine that is similarly thrilling and complex, but also one to drink rather than wait for compared to the Ginestra. This is a wine that’s shaped by its land more than most Barolo, that can be said without reservation, but it’s the supreme handling (or lack of) throughout the process which means Riva del Bric is now quickly becoming Piedmont’s (and even Italy’s) current ‘wine to watch’
This is fabulous Barolo with burnt orange, blackberry, meat, earth, and fresh herb. Full-bodied, round and velvety. So flavorful and crazy. Drink now. Why wait? But it will age wonderfully (also in his top 100 wines of 2015), 97pt James Suckling
92pt Wine Spectator
2011 Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra
Hand picked in early October, grapes were crushed and immediately destemmed after harvest. 20 days on skins, fermentation at controlled temperatures, native yeasts. Matured for 42 months in very large French Oak (3,500L) and 1 year in bottle. This flagship from the very individual Ginestra cru is from Paolo Conterno’s older vines on the site. They have their feet deep in the heavier clay soil of Conterno’s vineyard, as well as the most exposed pockets of the vineyard. Ginestra was always spectacular in its prime even though its youth was in many years awkward and sinewy, but in recent years it’s become more approachable when young whilst retaining that core of intensity and tannin that will see this wine last for decades. Finally, the Ginestra has come of age and is truly one of Barolo’s marvels.
a powerful and rich red, 93pt James Suckling
Super Tre Stelle, Luigi Veronelli
Anyone with a love for the wines of Monforte d’Alba should keep Paolo Conterno towards the top of their ‘must taste’ list