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Barolo uncovered with dbHK and Michael Palij MW

Members of Hong Kong’s wine trade and wine enthusiasts explored five Barolo communes and five ‘crus’ with Italian wine expert Michael Palij MW in the latest of dbHK’s masterclasses.

In the sumptuous surrounds of the Ritz-Carlton, the drinks business Hong Kong hosted a trade and consumer masterclass, led by local Italian wine specialist VinoVeritas Asia’s founder and Italian wine expert, Michael Palij MW to explore the five communes of Barolo: Serralunga, Monforte, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra and Barolo.

Following decades of research and numerous trips to Italy since attaining his MW at the tender age of 29, Palij shone a light on the little-known topic of menzioni geografiche aggiuntive (MGA); a relatively new classification which sought to recognize Barolo’s 170 single vineyards (‘crus’) and which came into force from the 2010 vintage so that every wine produced from a single vineyard must now carry its MGA on the label.

“It’s like a spotlight on a little corner of Italy,” he said. “Since 65 million years BC when the Langhe lurched out of the sea and the first vine was introduced from Liguria in 500BC, this small area has and still boasts a varied terrain, geography and topography which manifests itself in differing expressions of Barolo wine.”

It was in 1966 and 1980 when Barolo became a DOC and DOCG respectively, but it was only when Renato Ratti published his famous map of Barolo cru with three tiers that Italy recognized the need for Barolo to have its own cru system but “this being Italy and fraught with faff,”  it was only in 2010 when the Italian Government made the MGA classification official.

“Which is good really,” continued Palij. “Because 2010 happens to be an absolute classic vintage for Barolo.”

Five iconic Barolo producers, Domenico Clerico, Damilano, Giuseppe Mascarello, Massolino and Roberto Voerzio were represented by several of Hong Kong’s prominent wine importers, including Enoteca, Altaya Wines, VinoVeritas Asia, Sino Vantage Asia and Kerry Wines and came under scrutiny in the first masterclass for 16 of Hong Kong and Macau’s wine trade.

Winemaker Elena Mascarello was on hand to introduce Giuseppe Mascarello wines

Palij started by introducing Barolo and the five communes that represent 78% of Barolo’s total wine production.

“Barolo is approximately three times the size of Barbaresco and yet is minuscule compared to other great wine producing regions of the world,” he said. “In comparison to Mendoza at 160,000ha, Bordeaux 115,000ha and even the relatively small areas of Burgundy at 27,700ha and Napa at 18,200ha, Barolo is tiny at only 1,900ha.”

Palij also pointed out that Barolo shares an average annual temperature of 11C with Burgundy and like Burgundy, has significant vintage variation due to the wide difference between summer and winter temperatures. Despite being 60km from the sea, Barolo has a strong Continental climate that is moderated by the northern-draining Tanaro River.

The flight comprised:

  • 2010 Roberto Voerzio, Barolo DOCG La Serra from La Morra (importer: Kerry Wines)
  • 2010 Damilano, Barolo DOCG Cannubi from Barolo (importer: Enoteca)
  • 2010 Giuseppe Mascarello, Barolo DOCG Monprivato from Castiglione Falletto (provided by VinoVeritas Asia)
  • 2010 Domenico Clerico, Barolo DOC Pajana from Monforte d’Alba (importer: Altaya Wines)
  • 2010 Massolino, Barolo DOCG Margheria from Serralunga d’Alba (importer: Sino Vantage Asia)

Winemaker, Elena Mascarello from Giuseppe Mascarello in the Castiglione Falletto commune was also on hand to introduce her wine to the guests as part of her first foray into Asia.

“Barolo of course, has longevity so 2010 is perhaps a little too young to drink now but these wines will give an indication of how they will be in 10-15 years time,” said Palij.

The five wines came from 5 estates with very different sizes, from the relatively large Domenico Clerico estate at 114ha to the smaller Giuseppe Mascarello at 7.12ha. The trade highlighted that the tasting notes of the wines fitted the typical descriptions of Barolo of black fruit and roses – “though I’ve never come across much tar”, added Palij drily – but still varied in style from the aromatic, fresh red fruit of Roberto Voerzio and Domenico Clerio to the dried black fruit and rose of Damilano and Massolino and Mascarello’s intense aromatics of spice and ripe red fruit.

Chester Grucza, beverage manager of Buzz Concepts, pointed out that the wines were “hugely different in style and that it would be interesting to see how they would evolve,” though Palij did point out that often he had to make “an apology for Barolo as very few good examples exist before the late 1970s for example – so not in the way that Burgundy, Bordeaux or even Rioja can last for years.”

Elena spoke briefly on her 2010 vintage – “As Michael said, it is a very classical vintage and very warm which led to us picking a little earlier than usual in September, rather than the generally later time of October. The wine spent 38 months in Slavonian oak bottle and was released after only a few months in the bottle.”

Tosca at the Ritz Carlton provided a stunning backdrop for the Barolo dinner

After a quick room reset, Hong Kong’s consumer wine enthusiasts poured in to go through the same flight. Greg De’eb of Crown Wine Cellars did
agree with Palij regarding aged Barolos tending to lose structure and Palij recalled a conversation he had with La Spinetta winemaker, Giorgio Rivetti while comparing the 1990 and 2000 vintage (ostensibly the same weather conditions) and Rivetti admitting that Barolo producers “lacked the technology” in the 1980s to make longer-lived wine.

Afterwards guests repaired to the world-famous Tosca restaurant for a lavish dinner starting crafted by Michelin-starred Puglian chef Pino Lavarra and commencing with a deliciously crisp Andreola Prosecco provided by Vino Veritas.

Palij also highlighted the still white wine paired with the starter comprising the grape Timorasso that Michael had discovered along with the producer Vignetti Massa whose family had tirelessly worked to bring it back from extinction.

The following wines and courses rundown:

Andreola, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore, 26esimo I DOCG

2012 Vignetto Massa, Timorasso Derthona with warm potato cream, goat cheese and black truffle

2008 Domenico Clerico, Barolo Pajana with Chef Pino’s beef carpaccio

2006 Damilano, Barolo Cannubi with cauliflower risotto, black truffle, fennel pollen and sliced egg yolk

2004 Roberto Voerzio, Barolo Riserva 10 Anni Fossati Case Nere and 2004 Massolino Barolo Margheria with beef loin with polenta and baked cauliflower

2001 Giuseppe Mascarello, Barolo Monprivato with an Italian cheese selection.

With a substantial representation of 25 members, the Hong Kong Wine Society had come out in force, including Chairman Vernon Moore, Vice-Chairman Roland Muksch and Debra Meiburg MW amongst others.

By the end of the evening, the substantial cloud cover that had wreathed Tosca in impenetrable mist lifted, revealing the panoramic view of Hong Kong’s harbour. One guest, Peter Hammond remarked rather poetically as a parallel that the masterclass and dinner had uncovered Barolo “which has always been a bit of murky territory to me, and now it’s much easier to understand its communes, wines and different producers.”

The drinks business Hong Kong would like to say a thank you to all of the event sponsors, including Inhesion Asia for providing the Spiegelau glasses for the masterclasses and with special acknowledgement to Vino Veritas as key sponsor, as well as all the producers and their importers as mentioned above for generously supporting the event with their wines.

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