Sordo Barolo horizontal tasting: eight crus, one vintage
Years ago in this publication, my colleague Donatella Dicca eloquently described Barolo as a series of contradictions: “not necessarily weighty in the mouth, yet it possesses intensely penetrating flavours; fiercely tannic and acidic when young, but evolving into a layered, multi-dimensional, elegant beauty as it ages; shades of brick red even when young, the wine can age for decades; oftentimes assaulting to the palate on its own, the wine is masterfully tamed with flavourful food. Even the characteristics generally used to describe the wine are contradictory … how can a wine possess the seemingly unpleasant traits of tar and tobacco, yet also the delicate beauty of violets and roses.”
Barolo is Italy’s most famous wine and perhaps its most complex to understand. Some may say that it’s simple — the wine is composed entirely of Nebbiolo grapes grown on the hillsides of northwest Italy’s Piedmont region. But it shares the regional complexity of Burgundy. Many small vineyards, “scattered like a patchwork quilt, each transferring to the wine a sense of place. The wine is simply a means of reflecting vineyard intricacies, unique personalities, and its storied history.” (Donatella’s words.)
The greatest confusion with Barolo is often the many vineyard designations and the seemingly subtle distinctions amongst them. Which is why comparative tastings of Barolo (whether same vintage, same producer, different site; or same vintage, different producer, same site) tend to be so educational and enlightening with respect to understanding the various Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive (“additional geographical definitions” or MGAs) of Barolo and their general characteristics which impart on the wine their sense of origin, and to gain some sense of what to expect from a Barolo with a particular cru designation on its label. Barolo producers take pride in allowing the wine to express the vineyard.
Sordo is a producer that has the ability to conduct what few others are able to due to their numerous vineyard holdings: a horizontal tasting of eight crus from a single vintage. The tasting was held at their winery, located in the municipality of Castiglione Falletto in conjunction with the Collisioni Progetto Vino. Eight Barolos from the 2013 vintage, each from a different MGA were tasted side-by-side led by third generation family member Giorgio Sordo, senior enologist Ernesto Minusso and Italian wine guru Ian D’Agata.
As the production method was consistent for all the wines (temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel, 24 months aging in large Slavonian oak with additional aging in the bottle before being released), the tasting provided an excellent comparison of the effect of site while other factors were relatively constant. The results reconfirmed that terroir is not simply an esoteric concept, but one that is evident and perceptible in the glass. Even a novice would be able to ascertain that the following wines smell and taste different. Nebbiolo’s ability to express the site in which it is grown could not be more clear. Long live the king.
Sordo Barolo Monvigliero 2013
Fragrant, elegant, accessible, floral and perfumed with violet, rose petal and spice aromas, focussed with fine tannins, juicy, bright and fresh with lovely flavours of sour cherry. A pretty wine. The Monvigliero site is 25 hectares located in the commune of Verduno in the northern part of the zone. Sordo owns 1.77 hectares of the site. The vines are an average of 35 years old with south/southeast exposure. Sordo’s first vintage of production from this site was 2005. Elevation of the vineyard site is 280 to 320 metres and is considered to be one of, if not the top sites of Verduno.
Sordo Barolo Ravera 2013
Rich, full and powerful, compact and somewhat austere, not as perfumed as the Monvigliero, with much more of a brooding nose and rather closed. Will take time to open, evolve and become more expressive. The Ravera site is quite large at 130 hectares and is located in Novello in the southwest of part of the Barolo region. Sordo owns 2.83 hectares and the average age of the vines is 20 years. Elevation is 420 to 450 metres.
Sordo Barolo Perno 2013
Even more powerful and structured than the Ravera, the wine is rich and chunky with mature fruit and earth, tannic and austere. The Perno site is located in Monforte d’Alba in the southeast quadrant of the region. Perno is the third largest cru in Barolo at 191 hectares. Sordo owns 6.6 hectares that are southeast facing at an elevation of 270 to 400 metres on steep slopes and the vines average between 15 to 35 years old.
Sordo Barolo Gabutti 2013
Floral and accessible on the nose and on the entry with lovely red roses and red cherries, the wine becomes structured and tight in the mid-palate with mouth-puckering tannins on the finish that are heightened by the acidity. The wine is perhaps the most remarkably complex of all the wines and evolved in the glass over the course of the tasting, slowing revealing more and more layers. The Gabutti site is 14.24 hectares and is located in Serralunga d’Alba, the most eastern commune in the region and the area which, in general, produces some of the most structured and age-worthy wines. Sordo owns 3.66 hectares that are south/southwest facing with 35- to 50-year-old vines at an elevation of 250 to 300 metres. Gabutti was first bottled by Sordo with the 1989 vintage and was the second cru bottled by the winery.
Sordo Barolo Parussi 2013
Fragrant, floral and fruity, but structured with manageable, silky tannins, balanced and rich. Parussi is located in Castiglione Falletto, essentially in the central part of the Barolo region. The area is often referred to as producing the most balanced wines and this is a great example. Parussi is a 13.4 hectare site of which 1.81 hectares is owned by Sordo. The vines are 15 to 40 years old with west/southwest exposure and an elevation of 270 to 290 metres.
Sordo Barolo Rocche di Castiglione Falletto 2013
Also located in Castiglione Falletto, Rocche di Castiglione Falletto, according to D’Agata, is one of the 10 greatest sites for Barolo, partially evidenced by the fact that 94% of the vineyard is planted to Nebbiolo. The site is 16.5 hectares with Sordo controlling 0.78 hectares. The 30- to 60-year-old vines have southeast exposure with an elevation of 320 to 350 metres. Elegant and refined, the wine shows sour cherry and rose petals, lightly fruity and floral with great balance while still having a full body and tight core, expressing the personality of a cooler climate wine. Rocche de Castiglione Falletto was the first cru produced by Sordo with the 1987 vintage.
Sordo Barolo Villero 2013
Villero, Rocche di Castiglione Falletto and Monprivato are commonly considered the top crus of Castiglione Falletto. The wine is darker, more brooding and brawny, richer and more tannic than the Rocche di Castiglione Falletto in part due to the lower elevation site (230 to 350 metres). There is still great balance, but the wine will definitely need more time to open and welcome the imbiber. Villero is a 22 hectare site with Sordo controlling 0.49 hectares, with vines averaging 30 years of age. 2013 is the first vintage of this cru for Sordo.
Sordo Barolo Monprivato 2013
Balanced and rich with refined tannins, the wine shows sour red cherry, liquorice, spice and a touch of orange peel and stone fruit. Not as structured as Villero, but slightly richer than the Rocche di Castiglione Falletto. 98% of the 7 hectare Monprivato site is planted to Nebbiolo. Sordo possesses 0.45 hectares of Monprivato with an average of 35-year-old vines at an elevation of 240 to 320 hectares. 2013 is the first vintage of this cru for Sordo.