Traditional vs Modernista Barolo

I searched for a post that had a list of traditional and modern Barolo/Barbaresco producers. I know it is here somewhere. Anybody know the thread? Can you help a brother out?

Thanks! [cheers.gif]

There were a number of big Barolo fans but no one was able to correctly identify the style.

This was something that someone posted from another source.

I kept part of it, here is what I have:

“The following is my listing of traditional Barolo producers whose wines I greatly admire: Giacomo Conterno, Giuseppe Mascarello (especially his Barolo Monprivato), Giuseppe Rinaldi, Bruno Giacosa, Bartolo Mascarello, Cavallotto, Cappellano, Francesco Rinaldi, Marcarini, Elvio Cogno, Poderi Colla, Brovia, Burlotto, and Luigi Pira. Other fine traditional Barolo producers include Giacomo Borgogno, Oddero, and Massolino.
Traditional Barbaresco producers that are tops include Bruno Giacosa, Marchesi di Gresy, Produttori del Barbaresco, and Castello di Neive.
Some very fine producers have incorporated what they consider the best of both styles in their Barolos and Barbarescos. They include Vietti (with winemaker Luca Currado lately bringing his winery closer to its traditional roots), Ceretto, Marchesi di Barolo, Pio Cesare, Aldo Conterno, Prunotto, Renato Ratti, and Michele Chiarlo.”

That’s a pretty good list, although I would agree that what’s traditional and what modernist can get pretty blurred, and I would also agree that it’s not always possible to distinguish between these poles when tasting blind. Personally, from the few bottles I’ve had, I wouldn’t put Cavallotto in the traditional category, but I may not know what I’m talking about. and Marchesy de Gresy, while a very nice producer, raises it’s Champ Gros in French oak, while it’s other bottlings are more traditional. So the distinction doesn’t always turn out to be useful.

More or less accurate. More oenology goes on at giacosa than contreno mascarello rinaldi etc. giacosa is classicist in my view.

Going off memory while Brovia villero, Roche … Are very traditional I vaguely recall ca Mia bottling from serralunga has some modern elements. Smaller barrels? Maybe some new oak? I could be wrong. It’s a vague memory. Pls ounce check. Either way this bottling is quite dif in style than other castelione site bottlings.

Re ca Mia it ages in mid site French oak botti. Lets call this bottling from them in vietti camp. Neither ultra trad nor modern. An enlightened traditionalist

David – I remember those earlier threads, too. The list above is by and large good, but many producers make wines in both styles. Vietti, Luigi Pira, Elio Grasso and Moccagatta, for instance, put new oak on some bottlings and not on others, or a vary the mix of botte and barriques.

There are lots of different non-traditional techniques; it’s not just oak. It’s the length of the maceration and fermentation (from as short as five days or so to three weeks or more), whether they use roto-fermenters or micro-oxygenation, how long they age it in wood (very long for some of the arch-traditionalist bottings) and so on. Some people mix and match. For example, as I recall, Cavallotto, which does not use barriques and is generally pretty traditional, does use a roto-fermenter.

The heaviest concentration of producers using non-traditional techniques most intensely is in the La Morra-Castiglione gulch (as it were), where Marco de Grazia, the middle man, had a huge influence: e.g., Altare, Silvio Grasso, Scavino, Azelia, Marengo, Corino, Ravello. In that camp you could add E. Pira (Chiara Boschi) in Barolo and La Spinetta in Barbaresco.

They say it’s all ~30 hectolitre botte, French or Slovenian, which I guess allows for some crus to go in one type of wood and others in another:

John makes some excellent points, especially regarding the influence of de Grazia. For me, it is not, and never has been, about traditionalists vs. modernists. There are no “modernists”. The notion is a straw man and a canard. There is no “modernist” school of thought here, and never has been. It makes good copy for wine rags and makes for fun but often largely uninformed debate on American wine boards, but that is about it. There are certainly defenders of tradition, in word and in deed, and you can still spark a decent debate at a Piemontese dinner table by saying the word “barrique”. However, the original debate was stirred by guys like Bartolo Mascarello, who could make the traditionalist case intelligently and articulately, but also supported by many lesser producers who were simple contadini and simply against change of any sort, while being largely ignorant of the relative benefits and pitfalls of any steps forward. (There has been a generational sea change here at most of the best addresses, and with younger, often well-educated winemakers who share ideas rather than hiding them, there is a healthy context for understanding if and when change is for the better.)

I see instead a continuum, ranging from arch-traditionalist to anti-traditionalist. If you charted all Piemontese producers along the continuum, you would indeed find a large number of dots on or near the arch-traditionalist end of the spectrum (most of which are identified above), and few, or perhaps even none, at the anti-traditionalist end. La Spinetta has had some bad moments in its experimentation with oak, but yet, has made some outstanding wines. I just had the first Gallina Barbaresco made by Giorgio Rivetti, the 1995, and it was terrific, showing none of the oak that so dominated it upon release. On the other hand, many of the wines of Albino Rocca have gone to their graves as overoaked messes. The mileage varies too much to make speaking of a “modernist” school make any sense. Every rule will inevitably be swallowed by its exceptions, I think.

Like many, I strongly favor the wines of the best traditional Barolo and Barbaresco producers, but when it comes to Barbera and Dolcetto, traditionally made examples are not always the best. My experience, necessarily limited by the relatively brief amount of time that the barrique has been employed in the Piemonte, is that, in the fullness of time, where the judicious use of barrique is the only thing making a wine “modernist”, the oak dissipates and it becomes pretty much impossible to make any distinction. There have been several attempts to test this, one by the Wine Spectator and one by Ed Behr, the food writer that I recall; however, those were many years ago, and I am not sure that we have the best test wines sufficiently mature to reach a confirmation. In my view, for example, there is no chance that Gaja’s wines, what with that new oak and kiss of Barbera (in some vintages…maybe) that causes so many panties to bunch up among Nebbiolo lovers, will prove any less stunning 40 years on than G. Conterno’s or Giacosa’s. The differences will be found in the vineyards more than in the techniques. Gaja makes wines from the San Lorenzo vineyard at least as ageworthy as Monfortino. I have had 1971 Barbarescos from Gaja and Giacosa side by side, and they are more alike than different, and both utterly brilliant. Pre-barrique for Gaja? I believe so, but the early Gajas speak to extraordinary skill as a winemaker that has not changed, through all of Gaja’s experimentation with non-native grapes and techniques. On the other hand, a bad, manipulated, overoaked wine is what it is, and there are indeed too many of them. However, the state of affairs that I have described does not make nor support a case for the validity of a traditionalist vs. modernist approach…

I completely agree that there’s a continuum now, and many of the most extreme changes in technique have been curtailed. But you’re absolutely wrong to say there is (or was) no modernist school. The De Grazia/Altare camp very consciously aimed to remake Barolo and loudly proclaimed their manifesto. It was that movement in the 80s and 90s to which Bartolo Mascarello was responding.

There’s a fascinating account of this in a 2007 research paper from Stanford Business School called “No Barrique, No Berlusconi: Collective Identity, Contention, and Authenticity in the Making of Barolo and Barbaresco Wines.”

If you ignore the academic jargon, it’s a terrific read for anyone interested in these wines.

The thread on that article two years ago prompted some interesting thoughts.

John, I know that piece, and I agree that it is an interesting read, but de Grazia is/was de Grazia (his influence not to be denied, regardless of what you think of it) and the “movement” was driven more by his desire for a certain type of wine for a growing American market than anything else, was it not? Short-lived it was, and La Morra-centric, involving a bunch of pretty average producers. Look at de Gracia’s stable of Piemontese producers today: Silvio Grasso? Revello? Paolo Conterno? Are these wines that you, or anybody you know, seek out?

It seems to me that the article puts together quotes in a way that gives the (likely unintended) false impression that there was a large bunch of “modernists” holding regular meetings, in the modernist clubhouse with dues-paying members, and that when it hit the fan with the traditionalists, you had a bunch of Piemontese farmers on either side of the issue waving pitchforks at each other. Obviously, none of that ever happened. The “movement” seems to be an overstatement in an academic paper written by people who, to my knowledge, with the possible exception of Negro, did not have and have not maintained ties to the area or its wines (not to suggest that is a prerequisite for writing research papers, but it would always help in this neighborhood). There was the tasting of each other’s wines in the early 80s. There is no doubt that critics like Suckling, Parker and the Gambero Rosso crowd fueled the production of the new barrique style for a time, which also ties back to de Grazia in large part. (He fed Parker and Suckling all of the free wine that they could drink.) Maybe Clerico and Altare had dinner now and again and talked about the new stuff. (Bartolo was not invited, eh?) But Gaja would have nothing to do with it, and Altare and Bartolo each did whatever he could to attract attention to himself (albeit in different ways). Sandrone went off and did a lot of experimentation on his own, and we STILL do not know the nature and extent of it, but we know that he has always produced decidedly better wines than all or almost all of the so-called modernists with which he is often grouped. (Altare’s best wines pale by comparison to Sandrone’s 1982 Barolo (from Cannubi grapes), which, along with the best later Sandrone wines, suggests to me that Sandrone has always been a traditionalist trying to make the best wines that he could, not a radical in a radical movement.)

I am not really meaning to lock horns with you about the technical existence or non-existence of something called the modernist movement. I do not think that it matters much any more. It did not change the face of winemaking here in any important way. I am simply trying to say that it was short-lived, largely localized in La Morra rather than universal, did not have the active support of the Piemonte’s finest winemakers on either side of the issue (save Bartolo) and is now pretty much dead as a doornail because of the quality of the vineyards and the winemaking ability of most of those still employing barrique and new technologies was never all that great to begin with (yes, save Altare’s Brunate, Corino’s Rocche and a few others).

I think that it is useful for people new to the wines to understand the difference between the traditional wines and those whose producers have a heavy hand with oak or who are given to significant manipulation of their wines (which, thankfully, is not a huge number). Beyond that, I would advise them to explore and find their own spot on the continuum that I described, or maybe better yet, do not rush to pick a spot and keep traveling up and down the continuum for a while…

Well, there plainly was a modernist school, it extended well beyond the De Grazia folks (to cite a few examples, Ceretto, Seghesio, Valentino) and influenced the winemaking many other places (think of all the barriqued cuvees offered by producers who otherwise use pretty traditional methods). Moreover, through the 90s the De Grazia portfolio dominated the shelves in the U.S. and those wines garnered top ratings from Parker.

You said “There is no ‘modernist’ school of thought here, and never has been.” That’s what I was taking issue with. There was and it was vocal and influential.

I respectfully retract on the “never” and quibble with the extent of its influence when compared to the clout of the critics in all of this. I see it as largely a movement of followers, not leaders. Do you believe that use of barrique in the Piemonte caused Frenchmen and Spaniards to use them? Or are you just speaking of elsewhere in Italy, where I would hang that phenomenon squarely on the critics and consultants and nobody else?

Just taste mid-90s Paolo Scavino if you don’t believe it was influential. I think I’m still picking oak splinters out of my teeth from the last one I had about 6 years ago.

And I apologize for having switched off the Klapp Hyperbole Discount Factoring on my computer. It’s back on now.

You’re right to distinguish those who merely barriqued from the De Grazia-La Morra crew and their roto-fermenting and ultra-short fermentations etc.

My point is, “How often does anyone buy wines where they will have to pick splinters out of their teeth these days?” And how many of the people who made wines like Scavino’s have not wised up and dialed back the oak? That seems to be a better measure of influence…lasting, not in the moment…but I respect what John says and accept that we may be using different yardsticks at times…