Giovani Rosso, Barolo & Etna

Giovanni Rosso is a small, family-owned estate in the commune of Serralunga d’Alba in Barolo, Piedmont. Though the Rossos have been vine growers since the 1890s, Giovanni started bottling estate wines only in the late 1990s, focused on red wines and on Nebbiolo in particular. The family owns vineyards in some of the greatest crus of Barolo, including Cerretta, La Serra and Broglio.

Giovanni’s son Davide has made the wines since 2001, having gained experience abroad, notably in Burgundy working for Étienne Grivot and Denis Mortet. He has slowly but surely risen through the ranks of Barolo producers, and today the domaine’s reputation is cemented as one of the region’s finest, including the award of 100-points for their 2016 Barolo Vigna Rionda Ester Canale from Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US (as well as a clutch of 95+ scores from various critics).

The family says, “We are not simply a Barolo producer, but a Serralunga producer,” tied to their historic family vineyards which include a precious one hectare of limestone soils which is the cru Vigna Rionda. The original vines were planted in 1946, and for many years the fruit was prized by other producers, bought by Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Mascarello among others. Today those 1946 vines are the source of that 100-point flagship Barolo tasted below, though another part of the vineyard was ‘exhausted’, and replanted in 2011 with clones of the old Nebbiolo vines. I presume that is what goes in to the Langhe Nebbiolo Ester Canale, the clue being both the price and the small print on the label: “no. 251P of map Foglio no. 8,” the map reference of Vigna Rionda. Pictured are Davide and his mother Ester, who gives her name to the family’s top Piedmont wines.

The family farms “As organically as possible,” using no synthetic fertilizers, insecticides or weed-killers. The vines are worked 100% by hand with cover crops to encourage soil health and diversity. In the winery, large oak formats are used for maturing the wines. Particularly favoured are large 2,500- and 5,000-litre casks of French oak which, unusually, come from the Fontainebleau forest just south of Paris. Slavonian oak casks are also used, though again these are large – 10- or 20-times larger than a Bordeaux barrique.

Into Etna

Davide searched for many years to find a new terroir, where he could “face a new challenge.” The solution came 1,000 kilometres south on the Island of Sicily. Here, a growing number of highly-regarded producers have been building a reputation for quality and interest in their wines, particularly those farming on the slopes of the Mt. Etna volcano. Davide’s Etna adventure began in May 2016 with the purchase of an estate near the village of Solicchiata, close to Passopisciaro. It’s position on the northeast side of the volcano is “perfectly suited area for the production of red wines,” according to Davide, with 1.2 hectares dedicated to white wines, and 5.5 hecatres to red. Carricante and Nerello Mascalese dominate, with small percentages of other local grape varieties.

These are forty years old bush-vines planted at an average altitude is 750-metres, but over coming years new vineyards will be planted on an even higher part of the 14 hectare property.  Soil is entirely composed of lava sand, and the vines farmed organically.

The Piedmont wines

(2020) From vineyards planted between 1959 and 2008, this is matured in 5,000-litre oak barrels and is darkly-hued, and immediatly smooth and silky aromatically. Black cherry is the overriding aroma, but with a polished leather sheen and little note of dried herbs. In the mouth there's that lovely juxtaposition between tartness and sweetness, the cherries, lip-tingling acidity and hint of briar and herbs adding lots of interest. No UK retailers listed at time of review.
(2020) Ageing is in 5,000-litre casks for this Langhe Nebbiolo. A 2018, the colour is garnet with a little amber on the rim and the nose is firm and fairly ungiving at this stage, some small red fruits, raspberry freshness. It is firm and just a touch lean on the palate at this stage, but beyond that the purity of the fruit is very fine, and the balance and structure of the wine good, plentiful cherry acidity and fine tannins. This could loosen up a little over a year or two in bottle.
(2020) From younger vines (planted in 2011) in the same Vigna Rionda vineyard that supplies the top Vigna Rionda Barolo, this is aged in large barrels of oak from the Fontainebleau forest for 12 months. Fine, pale colour, and a lovely delicate strawberry and raspberry note to the herbs and forest floor spices on the nose. Some floral top notes just developing. In the mouth it is structured, cool and correct: fairly tightly wound at this youthful stage, the surge of acdity through the mid-palate to join the fruit, and the taut, very fine tannins, giving lots of tension and linear focus. The spices, the hints of game and truffle, are just starting to develop, but it remains cool and elegantly concentrated and intense into the finish. Needs time.
(2020) Well, this is just delicious and already drinking well, though undoubtedly with many years ahead of it. Quite pale and touched by amber on the rim, there's great fragrance here, old roses and tar, classic Barolo, plenty of fruit, pencil-shaving and spices too in a complex but alluring picture. In the mouth so soft already, the initial impression at least with that supple, fleshy fruit, but the firmness of the structure here begins to impact, telling you there's a serious side to this, lovely cherry acidity and bit of sinew to the tannins, finishing on fruit spice and structural grip. Price and stockist quoted at time of review is for the previous vintage.
(2020) From one of the steepest hillsides of the region, and chalky lime soils, this vineyard sits at 350- to 390-metres, across the road from Vigna Rionda. A shade paler than the Cerretta perhaps, the nose a little more mellow showing sweet damp earth and truffle already, a firm chestnut character and again that very sophisticated polish of the large French oak casks even a hint of Patchouli in the emerging, exotic fragrance. In the mouth wonderful sweetness of fruit here, wonderful intensity, slightly more open than the Cerretta arguably, but tensioned by those polished tannins and exquisite acid balance, the finish is long, concentrated, but never heavy. Again, a baby, but a beautiful one.
(2020) The Cerretta vineyard sits between 320 and 450 metres altitude, on limestone and clay soils. This cuvée spends three years in large French oak 'botti'. Deep ruby with a softening on the rim, this is polished and refined on the nose, a graphite and pencil-shaving precision and elegance, notes of fine herbs, a touch of bloodiness and discreet red fruits. In the mouth it's a gorgeous wine, powerful and dense in terms of concentration and texture, but edged by supple tannins and cherry-pit dry acidity that gives a cool, very precise feel. The fruit is sweet and smoothly supple too, but there's a restrained grip and serious intent here, in a baby Barolo that will cellar for decades without a doubt. Available from September 2020.
(2020) Decanted for three hours to allow this baby just a chance of opening up slightly. It pours a youthful but pale colour with a broad Amber rim. Taut, firm, graphite and briar aromas, hints of curling woodsmoke and spices, some floral notes floating somewhere above very firm cherry pit notes. Compact and tightly furled. The palate tight as a drum currently, but so beautifully composed, fruit, creamy tannin and generous but firm acids all perfectly balanced. Some tobacco spice and a touch of truffle and polished wood adding a layer of depth. So young, needs years - probably decades - but very, very elegant and refined indeed.

The Etna wines

(2020) From a vineyard planted in 1975, this is mainly Carricante with small percentages of other local varieties. Though unoaked, five months sur lie with regular batonnage builds texture and aroma, focused on lemon and crunchy red apples, but with a hint of ozone and of something more ripe and peachy too. Any suggestion of peach is soon blown away on the palate, which streaks with vivid lemon and salts, and although there is very good texture adding mouthfeel and creaminess, its that energising thrust of citrus and salinity that drives the long, focused finish. Price and stockist quoted at time of review are for the previous vintage.
(2020) Giovanni Rosso's Etna red is mostly Nerello Mascalese, with small amounts of other local varieties. It is matured in French oak barrels of various sizes. The colour shows a little tawny on the rim, but it is quite ripe and smoothly solid on the nose, a little wisp of exotic, incense-like smokiness and firm black and red fruits. In the mouth the game and truffle character is more pronounced, but there's a piercing freshness about this, a zest of orange or kumquat bitterness, small, firm berries and plenty of spices too. It's a solid and powerful wine, and yet has agility too. Price and stockist quoted at time of review is for the previous vintage.

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