It was October 2004 and I had not yet completed the path to become a sommelier. I participated with a certain assiduity in the technical tastings – formal ones that take place with us all seated at tables – that were offered by my Association, at the Hilton Hotel, in Rome. This particular day the theme was the tasting and storytelling of Michele Chiarlo’s wines. I met him in person on the day of my first real taste of some of the most prestigious Barolo vineyards, such as the Cannubi, Cerequio and Brunate Crus. Thus, Brunate will be the subject of our story today.
Pietro Chiarlo, Michele’s father, founded the Winery in 1956 in the heart of Monferrato, in Calamandrana, focusing on the future potential of the wine produced in that period. Michele continued his work dedicating himself to the expansion of the Winery, with the purchase of parcels in the most suitable crus of Monferrato and Langhe. Assisted by his sons Stefano and Alberto, Michele has also developed the commercial network over time, consolidating his presence, both in the American and northern European markets. The Winery can be considered large by Piedmontese standards, extending to 120 hectares today.
The Winery owns some of the most prestigious Crus in Barolo (Cerequio, Cannubi) and in Barbaresco (Asili), but it is also present, with a beautiful property in Castelnuovo Calcea, as well as in the Gavi area. The production has about twenty labels, a representative range of wines from Southern Piedmont, ranging from Barolo to Barbaresco, from Gavi to Barbera, from Nebbiolo to Dolcetto and Moscato.
Only local grapes are grown in the vineyards, such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Cortese and Moscato. The production philosophy of the winery aims to enhance the characteristics of the grapes that have been grown in a specific terroir. According to the traditional practices, red wines mature in wooden barrels and Crus age in big oak barrels or tonneaux, but the oak flavors are never dominant in either. The fundamental objective that has been pursued by the Winery since the 1990s is that of environmental sustainability, ever since the first forms of integrated control with the selective use of phytochemicals were applied in the vineyard. This is a virtuous path, which has been renewed over time and in 2007 a project was launched, recognized by the Ministry of the Environment, which aims at the total sustainability of the supply chain up to the consumer table.
As mentioned, we will talk about a very special wine, a Barolo Brunate, which has always been one of the most important crus of the entire apellation. I bought a bottle a few years after the tasting I took part in, having learnt that Michele Chiarlo no longer vinified it. This was due to the fact that the vineyard he had rented for about twenty years was not available for use anymore. Shared among many historic producers, Brunate is a large vineyard of 28 hectares, with most of it being in the municipality of La Morra, and a little in Barolo. The exposure is homogeneous, to the south mainly, with a significant difference in height ranging between 230 and 400 meters above sea level. The soil is rich in calcium carbonates and manganese, with clay mixed with very fine limestone sands, known as Marne di Sant’Agata, dating back to the geological period of Tortonian. The Barolos of this area are very bodied and austere, fragrant and elegant,rich, full and round wines, with a high alcohol content and intense colors.
The Barolo Brunate that we tasted was aged for two years in oak barrels and refined for 15 months in the bottle, before being put on the market. In reality, it stayed in the bottle for a lot longer, considering that the vintage we tasted was the last of the 20th century.
So, we move on to the actual tasting of Barolo Brunate 1999.
Transparent garnet color, still with surprising ruby reflections, asign of the full vitality of the wine. Very fragrant, extensive on the nose, with hints of tobacco in evidence, then ripe dark fruit like jam, followed by spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, ending with hints of goudron, licorice and eucalyptus. On the palate, it confirms the first impression we had by observing the color, still maintaining an incredible freshness. The silk tannic texture is well integrated and is in total balance with the great softness, due to long aging process. Remarkable is the balsamic persistence of this wine that demonstrates a majestic finesse and harmonious elegance.
A real masterpiece that still excites me to this day, that canbe paired with a roast, or simply to be sipped slowly with closed eyes.