Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Penetrating Magic of Burlotto

Running into Fabio Alessandria in the Piedmont Hall at Vinitaly, he called me by my name. How he remembered I cannot imagine. But in such a hectic place and day, it was a welcome salutation. We made plans to come by his family winery, Comm. G.B. Burlotto in Verduno, when we arrived back to the Langhe after the wine fair.

The drive from Verona to La Morra was punctuated by a steady rain and a GPS malfunction. We found ourselves barreling towards Parma, having missed the turnoff at Piacenza. We finally arrived 90 minutes longer than we had anticipated. It had been a lopsided few days, and as tired as we all were, Piedmont was steady, calm and quiet. A needed respite.

The day after Vinitaly everyone has a hangover. Not from drink, but from the frenetic pace and saturation of the senses.

Fabio met us at his gate at 9:30 AM. I’d been to taste before with him, in the little deconsecrated chapel on the edge of the property in Verduno. But I’d never stepped behind the curtain. There are so many people to get excited about visiting in Piedmont. Burlotto, for me, is way up there on my list.

I don’t know what it is. Yes I do. The wines are simple. They are truthful. They are accessible to folks other than multi-millionaires. And they are gorgeous.

Fabio can be self-deprecating. I think he feels his English isn’t good enough. It is. In fact, he uses the English language better than many native speakers. He understands the roots of the language. It might be his nature, to get to the essence of the subject he is dwelling on. Fabio could have been a monk, centuries earlier, toiling away in some dark cell with a candle and a quiver, working endlessly on illuminated manuscripts. Thankfully for all of us, his work, this time, is to make wine in an illuminated manner. His wines have that special kind of unfathomable allure one seeks out in wines from the Langhe, or anywhere, for that matter.

At first blush, one could look at the winery and see a mess of a place. Barrels that seem to be in a state of disrepair. Doors, painted from another time. Walls, stenciled in another era. The whole place looks like time passed it by. And indeed, some of the progress of time has. All the bling and glamour of more “important” wineries outshine this little cobweb of a winery in a forgotten town of Barolo. Verduno, looking like the back lot at Cinecitta where Sergio Leone filmed a gunfight scene for one of his many spaghetti westerns. Yeah, the place has character. It hasn’t been Disney-fied yet.

Do you really come to these pages for the list of wines and their scores? You will be disappointed if you do. But there are some wines we had that day, which moved me.

The 2013 Pelaverga – Pelaverga is a light red wine, a dark rosĂ© color. A picnic wine, as Fabio likes to say. Or a wine with cheese, maybe with fish, or lighter food. With the warm weather heading our direction, the Burlotto Pelaverga is one of the wines that are a staple, not in the cellar, but in the fridge. Really lovely wine.

From the 2013 vintage we also tried his Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba “Aves”, Langhe Freisa and Langhe Nebbiolo. Fabio noted that he believes the Freisa to be maybe a parent or a grandparent of modern day Nebbiolo. Piedmont and the Langhe, for a winemaker, is a toy-box full of goodies. Mono-varietal wines, all a little different, for unique settings or times of the year. These wines pulse with identity formed from the penetrating magic of Burlotto.

And the larger-than-life mono-varietal – Barolo – at Burlotto one can taste wine like it was made when I first came to the Langhe. Fabio says his tastes and the tastes of his parents are similar, so the need to revise the style wasn’t necessary to his ego. And we all thank him for that.

We tasted four Barolo wines from 2011 – the classic Barolo, the Barolo “Acclivi”, the Barolo “Monvigliero” and the Barolo “Cannubi.”

The classic Barolo represents a style of Barolo that depends on blending from different vineyards. Now the style is to separate the crus, in fact the new laws in Barolo prohibit a producer from noting those different vineyards on the front label, to support a single cru system. But many of the old-timers still think this is the real identity of Barolo.

The “Acclivi” takes that philosophy to another level, in that Fabio and company are taking lots from vineyards in Verduno to promote an expression of Verduno Barolo. Really a hallmark of the winery, and one which after ten years exhibits all the best from Burlotto.

The “Monvigliero” is a special wine. You know it when you breathe in the aromas and then taste it. It has something special that marks it as a wine destined for greatness. Open tank fermenter, whole cluster, trod by foot (Fabio is a size 44), minimal intervention. One in our group bought a case. I’d love to see this wine in 20-30 years, although I’m not looking forward to being any older.

With all the talk about the 2010 vintage of Barolo, these 2011’s did not disappoint.

Finally, the “Cannubi.” Some think Cannubi symbolizes Barolo. It certainly has the history. Burlotto has a small .7 hectare vineyard on the hill. Producers today produce their Cannubi wine with price tags hovering at $100 and more. Burlotto’s is one for the rest of us who don’t have the budget for premium sports cars or wines. It’s a little harder in profile than the Monvigliero, but it’s a great example of what Cannubi can be, or maybe what it used to be.

In the chic urban areas of New York and San Francisco, among the somm-sett, Burlotto has something of a cult-status. I know this strikes Fabio as a bit odd, just like it strikes Bob Dylan to be considered a prophet of his generation. But both of these fellows, in the creative process of their life, have been fortunate to have that special magic in which to make our lives better because of their creations. And for that, we all should be grateful.

Note: a lovely interview/podcast with Fabio by Levi Dalton HERE - Recommended

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