TN: Two Piemontese, too much oak?


  • 2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Percristina - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Decanted and given seven hours air before being served open. A bouquet of melted road tar, earth, blackberries, cooked meat juices and bonfire, but with a dominant note of polished mahogany (showing oak artefact). In the mouth, huge black fruit concentration and power. Olive tapenade, charred barbequed steak, blackberries and blackcurrants, tar and mocha. However, for me, it’s the wall of French oak tannins that dominates, particularly on the back palate and bitter finish, overpowering the excellent fruit. It’s impressive but too oak dominated for me. Thinking back to other ultra-modernists I’ve had from the early 1990s, I’d cellar a bottle of this Clerico for 12-15 more years. I’d worry whether the fruit would survive that long … If your tolerance for oak tannins is higher than mine your drinking window would, obviously, start earlier.
  • 2007 Sottimano Barbaresco Cottá - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
    Drunk over three evenings. A bouquet of dark cherries, black spices, liquorice, creosote, mushrooms and black truffles. In the mouth, a savoury, earth entry, with underbrush and savoury nuances. There’s also cedar and some attractive red and black berry fruit, with touches of tar. There is bright, juicy fruit and good volume, power and drive, marred only slightly by a bitter tannic finish. I recently tasted at Sottimano and know that, like the 2008 Currá I tasted there, this Cru would have seen 20-25% new French oak. I was happy with similar oak for the 2008 Currá but then perhaps it had the better fruit to handle it? This is a decent wine but I’m glad that Sottimano have dialled back since 2010 to around 10-15% new barriques for their Barbaresco Cru.

Posted from CellarTracker

Interesting, Howard - I loved the Percristina on release and ended up buying a six pack, but haven’t touched it since. Your note may prompt me to pull a cork on one just to see if I find the oak as pronounced as you did.

Nebbiolo and oak…ugh.

Howard, my notes on the 2009 Curra say that it is always released a year later than the Cotta and other single vineyards. Perhaps because there is more concentration or better fruit? I’ll be there next month and I’ll ask why the extra year. I am also curious about which vineyard has the Brachetto for the Mate.

The Sottimano website says both spend 24 months in French barriques (15% new) but it says:

The Currà vineyard is located in the town of Neive, which is very close to the area of Barbaresco; this results in a wine rich in tannis, like all the wines from Barbaresco, but with the fruity, charming elegance of Neive. This wine is released one year after the other crus to better express these components.

According to Wine Searcher, the 2015 Cotta is available, but the 2013 is the latest Curra.

Two pretty regular offenders.

It is interesting how occasionally the oak becomes integrated in some of the modern wines but usually in great vintages like 1990. It’s a gamble that rarely pays off in my opinion.

Agreed. Far more Barbaresco/Barolo ruined by oak than improved. There are bottles here and there that may survive the (mis)treatment but they are few and far between.

I generally agree with the chorus here. Nebbiolo is like Tempranillo or Chardonnay, where the influence of small and new barrels is huge.

Sometimes it works, especially with more age, but usually I prefer to taste the grapes and the site without the large oak signature over them.

This is a interesting comment as for some reason I thought Clerico’s 1990 Pajana handled its oak and I have liked it in the past (even if it probably would have been that much better IMO without the oak), whereas other vintages (and I don’t have extensive experience) I found nearly undrinkable.

[edited to correct nonsensical brain fart]

Hi Howard
I gave up on Clerico few years ago as I could never ‘get them’.

I was surprised by Sottimano when I first tasted them few years ago. Prompted me to buy 6 each of 2013 Cotta and Pajore. I had one bottle of 2013 Pajore which was nice. The oak appeared to be handled well.

I can go back to a 2008 Sottimano Pajore that was beautifully balanced and Burgundian a year or two ago. Another 05’ that was nice and integrated, though can’t recall the Cru. They seem to be only improving, though I’d like to taste more.

Howard, good to hear from you. Sounds like you had another fruitful trip to Piedmont!

Hi Howard, thanks for the note. I have more Clerico in my cellar than I want (which is zero tbh) and I have tried a 96 and 98 in the last 2 years. Based on these two wines, I would agree that keeping them for 25+ years from vintage is definitely the way to go. I am less concerned about the fruit fading away as there is always plenty of good high quality fruit in the Clerico wines. Too bad about the Clerico oak sledgehammer!


Yes. For my taste that’s true of all of the Italian ‘big red’ varieties, they are too transparent to new wood.

I don’t put these two producers in the same bucket. Sottimano uses a little French oak and they are indeed polished but they are brisk, classy wines. Clerico, well, those wines don’t really taste like Nebbiolo.

I don’t know the Sottimano wines, really, but it’s more than a little French oak. According to the website, they use only 15% new Francois Freres barrels, but the wines undergo malolactic in those and are aged in barriques for two years. It says the other 85% of the barrels are used, “up to four years.” And even two- and three-year-old barrels can still impart quite a bit of oak flavor.

John, that’s fair. But I stand by my contention that the Sottimano wines are far more classy than those of Clerico, and taste a lot more of their grape.