A Great Barolo Cru: Lazzarito

A few days of windy, wintery weather excited my self-indulgence gland, and I (rather easily) persuaded Diane that we needed A Rare Roast Beef and a Real Red Wine. A quick trip to our butcher, Ottomanelli, produced the fixings for the former, and a quick look into my hoard produced the latter: a 1989 – great vintage! – Vietti Barolo Lazzarito. To borrow a phrase from a memorable Flanders & Swann song, “A chorus of yums ran round the table.”

As a cru name, Lazzarito probably isn’t as immediately recognizable to American wine drinkers as, say, Cannubi, but it’s a site just as long-revered and just as important. Before the late-twentieth-century expansion of many Piedmont townships, the Lazzarito name was restricted to a very precise “bowl” of vineyards on the western slope of Serralunga, just about in the middle of that large commune’s north-south axis.

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The vineyards of Serralunga. North is on the left. Lazzarito is the yellow section in the middle.

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Most of the Nebbiolo vineyards (there is some Dolcetto too) lie between 300 and 400 meters in altitude, with western or southwestern exposures. The calcareous soils are largely ancient marine sediments, with admixtures of marl and sand, and they naturally restrict the abundance of Nebbiolo fruit, while conferring a wealth of trace elements. Taken together, the characteristics of the site contribute to producing Barolo of great elegance and complexity, with very long aging potential. In short, Lazzarito is a top-tier site.

There are documents that indicate that Lazzarito was known by that name already at the beginning of the 17th century, and that its wines were already prized. The name may mean that a lazar house – a leprosarium, or perhaps a hospice of some sort – once stood there, but that is very uncertain.

The entirety of the Lazzarito hillside was formerly the property of Opera Pia Barolo, a charitable entity established in 1854 by bequest of the last Marchesa di Barolo, Giulietta Falletti. The Marchesa was French, born Juliette Colbert, and she is legendarily supposed to have played a major role in the development of Barolo by bringing the French enologist Oudart to the zone. According to the story, the Fallettis shared Oudart’s services with the then King of Savoy (later of all Italy) on both their enormous properties throughout the area.

After the Marchese’s death and the Marchesa’s long childless widowhood, all those Falletti properties became part of the Opera Pia Barolo and were over the years gradually dispersed. Now the largest chunk of Lazzarito is owned by Fontanafredda (itself once an estate of the king – but that’s another story), with Guido Porro and Vietti next in line. Anselma, Ettore Germano, Rivetto, and Villadoria also own significant pieces.

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The Lazzarito cru. The central portion, on the west side of the road, is the most highly prized. Vietti owns the fields just slightly south of the Cantina Lazzarito.

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The present status of the name Lazzarito is slightly uncertain, since the recent (highly politicized – are you surprised?) designation of crus in Barolo has canonized the expanded township boundaries, and included under the revered Lazzarito designation some vineyard sites that used to be separate entities – for example, Lazzairasco, a good site, but not up to Lazzarito’s level. So for more recent vintages, it pays to know exactly where a producer’s vineyards are located – and for that information, nothing compares to the data on the back of Alessandro Masnaghetti’s maps, a portion of which is reproduced above.

color 1With older vintages, like my ’89, that is not a problem, since back then only growers who owned or had access to the very finest sites bothered with a cru designation. For Lazzarito, the major names to look for are Fontanafredda, Guido Porro, and Vietti. Vietti has long produced wine from Lazzarito and owns some of the choicest portions of the hillside. As for the vintage: Barolo fans will remember 1989 as the middle vintage of a succession of three great ones, regarded by many growers in the Alba area as marking the arrival of global warming as a fact of life in the zone. Most critics think 1990 was the finest of these three vintages, and in most cases they are probably right. ’90 certainly has power and fullness – but from some sites, and Lazzarito is surely one of those – 1989 has the finesse and elegance of the very greatest Barolos.

The bottle Diane and I enjoyed certainly did. Of the many superb Barolos I’ve been lucky enough to drink, this bottle offered the most velvet mouth feel, the most elegant mature fruit, and the longest finish of almost any I can recall. That it did so after many years in my less-than-ideal storage conditions is a tribute to the skills of the late Alfredo Currado, who with his wife Luciana owned Vietti and for years made all its wines. It’s also a testimony to the value of putting wines of a good vintage away and forgetting them for as long as you can stand it: As I’ve said so many times in this blog, the rewards are wonderful.

5 Responses to “A Great Barolo Cru: Lazzarito”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom: Excellent post and we certainly agree that Lazzarito is one of the most important crus of Barolo. One other producer that makes a lovely Barolo from this site is Ettore Germano; the wine that Sergio Germano started to produce a few vintages ago is a Riserva and it is a beautiful wine that displays the breeding of this great site.

  2. Mark De Mey Says:

    Fond memories of a Fontanafredda Lazzarito 1982!

  3. Ole Udsen Says:

    Great Post, Tom. A couple of comments: First, I utterly agree that Alfredo Currado made great wine. Sad that he is not in charge anymore, as the son and son-in-law – for my taste at least – make considerably more dilute and modernist wines. Second, Guido Porro’s Lazzarito is actually called Lazzairasco. I visited him last year (see http://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/the-annual-pilgrimage/) and found his Barolo to be very good, even if I do think that Lazzarito is capable of even greater depth and expression. Cheers Ole

  4. Geoff Says:

    Another gem! I love the concept of taking a ‘Real Red’ wine and putting it away and forgetting about it for as long as you can bear it. I must go and crawl (!) into my cellar and see what I’ve forgotten down there!

  5. Ed McCarthy Says:

    Tom, I think most Barolo observers in Piedmont prefer 1989 to 1990. I for one agree that ’89 is the best of the ’88, ’89, ’90 trio. it is definitely outliving the ’90.

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