I recently managed to catch up with Gianluca Grasso to gain some background on his 2017 Barolo, which I tasted yesterday and are offered here for the first time. For those who are not aware of his wines, Grasso has carved out an enviable reputation for quality and consistency over many years and certainly counts as one of Atlas' favoured estates.
Over Zoom, we unsurprisingly talked about adjusting strategies to suit the changing climate, as 2017 had already been termed a hot, dry vintage in the press. This topic isn’t peculiar to Piemonte; just think of recent Burgundy vintages where growers are adapting their approaches with an even more sensitive variety. In Barolo, 2017 was a dry vintage, receiving somewhere approaching 35-40% less rain between April and October than in 2016. Temperatures were also higher than we have encountered in last few years, with notable heat spikes occurring in May as well as in June. What is crystal clear is that the timing of these events is more important than the average data; a point stressed by Gianluca. Rainfall was relatively even in the early part of the year and normal in October. However, July and September were notably very dry months. Equally, in terms of temperature, August, September and October were all cooler than recent years, with night-time temperatures notably lower than the norm. These two aspects have done much to shape the vintage, and the resultant wines, that I have just started to assess, possess generous ripeness, as you would expect, but crucially they have retained very good freshness, thereby achieving fine balance.
The key point is that growers haven’t been sitting back without adapting – they are aware of the need to do what they can to slow the progress of ripening in such vintages. If you look at the last decade, there have been a number of warmer, drier years and growers have accumulated experience on exactly how to deal with them. This largely relates to the canopy of the vines and the trend in Piemonte is towards minimal bunch thinning and no leaf plucking. Gone are the days when there was a need to concentrate the vines’ efforts on a smaller crop or remove leaves to expose the fruit more. A more developed canopy providing shade is a common sight in Piemonte now in the run up to harvest.
When I quizzed Gianluca on what he thought of the wines, it was clear he was very pleased with the results, and so he should be. Now having tasted, I am sure it will be a struggle to pinpoint this vintage when tasted after a few years in bottle. The more classic profile of the Grasso Barolo will lead many a skilled taster astray – mark my words. Gianluca Grasso is enjoying a rich vein of form, producing impressive, wonderfully expressive wines in vintages that aren’t packed with dramatic successes. Call it form, or a happy coincidence of skills and raw material, but given vintage conditions favourable to fully ripe fruit, the Grassos are adept at delivering extraordinary results. He deserves acclaim for producing wines like his superb 2015s (which he duly received) and these outstanding 2017s, as much as for his 2016s (from arguably the finest year in several decades). But, just as in Burgundy, where the grower becomes the draw over and above the vintage, so it is the case in Piemonte. Gianluca’s father, Elio, always underlines that great wine is made in the vineyard and the Grasso family's attention to detail in the vineyard has always been clearly demonstrated. Now with Gianluca’s winemaking skill, born of experience, they are reaping considerable rewards. This Monforte d’Alba-based, family-run estate is at the top of its game.
Please see my notes on the finished wines below, taken from samples opened yesterday.
2017 Barolo, Ginestra Casa Matè, Elio Grasso
£300 per 6 bottle case in bond
A south-facing vineyard with vines of approximately 40 years of age, planted at an altitude of 300 to 350 metres. The soils here are slightly clayey over a limestone base.
More brooding and reticent on the nose as is so often the case with Casa Matè. The 2017 is a very textural, mouth filling style with a darker fruit than its sibling. A more powerful style, the ample fruit reveals balsamic notes and minty nuances, backed by small, dark berry fruits. This is a richer, denser Barolo than the Chiniera, but has a certain glossy, pure accent that hooks the taster. There is almost a velvety note with a cushioned sense of depth that shows before the tannic frame asserts. This follows classic lines and once more refutes the impression of 2017 as a hot vintage. Well done Gianluca – another memorable Case Matè to complete an impressive trio in 2015, 2016 and 2017, with none out of place. Drink 2025-2044. (SL)
2017 Barolo, Gavarini, Chiniera, Elio Grasso
£300 per 6 bottle case in bond
Similarly, a south-facing vineyard with vines of approximately 35 years of age, planted at a slightly higher altitude of 350 to 400 metres. The soils differ slightly to Casa Matè as there is a little more sand, over the limestone.
A scented, floral touch allied to deeper, dark red fruit notes behind. The fruit on the palate reveals no hint of the warmer vintage, it retains freshness and poise with zesty orange nuances keeping the juicy cherry, pomegranate and berry fruit lively and vibrant. Spearmint, aromatic herb notes and a mineral undertow starts to show on the finish, which is long, sleek and elegant. Chiniera has capacity to excel in such vintages – the sweet ripeness of the fruit seems amplified, but with no loss of precision or identity, and the tannins, though fine-grained, are admirably veiled by the expression of fruit. A resounding success. Drink 2024-2042. (SL)
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All the best,