Burlotto – to give the estate its full name, Commendatore G. B. Burlotto – is a long-established Barolo producer that I have been late in coming to appreciate. For the last few years at Nebbiolo Prima (the annual blind tasting in Alba at which about 300 producers show their new releases to invited international wine journalists) I’ve been noticing that I consistently score Burlotto’s wines very high. This year I decided it was time that I found out something about the winery, so I arranged to visit. Winemaker Fabio Alessandria hosted me for an afternoon at what turned out to be, to my intense pleasure, one of the most traditional wineries of the zone.
Not only was Burlotto’s cellar filled with fine old botti – the very large barrels of Slavonian oak that have been the traditional wine fermenters and containers in Piedmont at least since the 19th century – but also the family continues to grow all the traditional Piedmontese grapes – Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo – as well as the now-almost-endangered Freisa and Pelaverga. The latter were for me a special treat, because they make wines that are distinctive and always accessible and refreshing, especially after the sometimes daunting task of each morning’s tasting through 50 or 60 young Barolos.
Unfortunately Freisa and Pelaverga are not well known outside their native zone, hence don’t make a big market item, and, hence again, are steadily losing vineyard space to better-known, more easily sellable varieties. That’s yet one more instance of how the very success of wine is contributing to its homogenization. Thank whatever gods may be for steadfast traditionalists like Burlotto.
Fabio led me through a tasting of Burlotto’s extensive line of wines. All remarks within quotation marks in the rest of this piece are Fabio’s comments.
“Giovan Battista, my great-great-grandfather, is considered one of the founders of Barolo. According to my family legend, he was the first producer to bottle a Barolo under his own name. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he surely was one of the pioneer small producers. We are still a family farm – 15-16 hectares, mostly in Verduno, plus some others in Cannubi and a few other places. We grow mostly Nebbiolo, but also a little Freisa and Pelaverga in Verduno.”
“We’re close to organic, but we’re not certified organic – no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides. The cellar is very traditional. The work is all artisanal, all done by hand. We don’t even try to control the fermentation temperature too much; we prefer to be as natural as possible.”
Viridis Sauvignon blanc 2013: Classic nose, with lots of lime, citrus, sage, mint. On the palate, a bit less extravagant, but passionfruit-tasting: sweet and acid all wrapped up together. Very refreshing. A good example of Sauvignon from an unlikely zone. “In Verduno, we have small patches of chalk in some vineyards. That’s great for Sauvignon blanc, which is why we tried that variety here. “
Elatis Rosé 2013: (45% Nebbiolo 45% Pelaverga 10% Barbera) Very nice: light, fresh, berry-ish, with a few other fruits mixed in – strawberries and raspberries plus, as Fabio says, “a touch of pepperiness, a touch of peach – but especially the wild strawberry, from the Pelaverga.” He adds, “Rosés aren’t traditional here. We were the first cellar in this area to produce and bottle one. They are becoming more and more popular now.”
Pelaverga 2013 and 2012: The nose is very underbrushy, almost wild, especially wild strawberry. Complicated flavor, fresh and very interesting: very lively. All these characteristics very pronounced in the ’12. This is a variety I am really happy has survived. “Pelaverga evolves in the direction of Pinot noir – aromatic cooking herbs, thyme, bay leaf. My grandfather really loved Pelaverga and kept growing it while other people were abandoning it. It’s having a new life now, especially as a lunch wine, for which it’s perfect: light and flavorful, with a little complexity.”
Dolcetto 2012: Lovely strawberry nose: classic Dolcetto aromas. Very fine: a beautifully done traditional Dolcetto. “2012 was a strange harvest, very warm. The wines turned out very different from our expectations – not fat or big, but more elegant, less alcoholic.”
Barbera 2012: From vineyards in Roddi and Verduno. Aged in botti. Blackberry, brambly nose. Delightful Barbera fruit and acid: great fun – a perfect Barbera.
Barbera Aves 2012: A selection of the best parts of each vineyard. Aged in tonneau. A touch of wood on the nose: smoother on the palate than the first Barbera, but still lively fruit. A bit more polished and elegant than the basic Barbera. “An important experiment for us, a chance to vary a bit from tradition. Barbera is more receptive to a little oak than Nebbiolo is.”
Langhe Freisa 2012: Wild strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors; fine acid/tannin balance; some elegance: Very fine. Another traditional Piedmont variety that deserves being preserved. “80% of the DNA in Freisa and Nebbiolo is the same. Freisa is the older variety, so it may be some sort of rustic great-grandparent of Nebbiolo. Yield is lower than Nebbiolo and the harvest is later, because Freisa’s tannins don’t ripen as well as Nebbiolo’s.”
Langhe Nebbiolo 2012: Black cherries and underbrush; on palate cherry and earth notes. Medium body. Very elegant, very composed. “A little raspberry too in the flavor.”
Barolo 2010: Wonderful black cherry, earth, and tar aroma. Delicious, with pleasing soft tannins, great acidity and freshness. A five-star wine for sure, and this is just Burlotto’s basic Barolo. “We produce four different Barolos. We work very traditionally. Verduno Barolo is more delicate and elegant than other zones, and we try to emphasize that.”
Barolo Acclivi 2010: This is what used to be called a riserva – a selection from several vineyards in the best years. More tar on nose – the fabled goudrun – and palate, more structured and less giving now. This one is built for the ages.
Barolo Monvigliero 2010: “A single-vineyard wine, but one of our most traditional: We crush the grapes by foot, and we don’t always tightly control the temperature during fermentation. Two months maceration on the skins.” Lovely and elegant, with undertones of dried flowers, tar, dried fruit. Silky tannins. Totally enjoyable already, and yet giving every sign of long life ahead of it.
Barolo Cannubi 2010: Equally as good as Monvigliero, but very different; austere, showing more power and a bit less elegance, but in no way heavy. A wonderful, pure Nebbiolo-fruit finish. Very, very fine: All these Barolos are five-star wines.
So concluded yet another fine visit in Barolo-land, leaving Ubriaco to mourn once again the passing of the days when one could take almost a case of wines onto the plane home as hand luggage.