A vertical tasting of nearly 70 years of Monfortino Barolos
Filippo Bartolotta travels to Monforte d’Alba in the Piemonte wine region of northern Italy for an impressive vertical tasting of legendary Barolo producer, Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino, comprising vintages from 1947 to 2014.
A few yards away from the cathedral in the tiny village of Monforte d’Alba lies the legendary winery of Giacomo Conterno, one of the most famous Barolo producers in the world – and said to be the first producer-named Barolo made in the Riserva style.
At the helm is Roberto Conterno, the third generation winemaker who took full control of the family estate after his father, Giovanni Conterno, died in 2003.
Roberto is a man of few words – largely silent and waiting for the interlocutor to have something to say or ask. Every time I visit him, it is the same story. At the beginning of the conversation there is a reserve and if you were to report a slightly inaccurate data or ask a wrong question, he will correct you immediately with no rooms for small talk. He doesn’t talk around it, he doesn’t waste time but goes straight to the heart of the matter. As a young journalist, I was intimidated by this, but now I love his straightforwardness.
And since his purchase and amazing renovation of the Nervi Winery in Gattinara, he seems to have found a more sanguine and friendly approach – the tension of the first few moments disappears within a few minutes.
From the several visits I had at Cascina Francia I always bring back the same memories: perfectly clean cellar, silence, stillness and precision. This is what Monfortino and Giacomo Conterno are all about.
From the oldest to the youngest vintage, Monfortino never expresses itself with half measures: austere, reserved at the beginning and then… a full explosion if power, energy and elegance. Absolute symbiosis between the producer and wine.
Monfortino is a selection of the best fruit from the vineyards of Cascina Francia in Serralunga d’Alba. From the 1920’s onwards, Roberto’s grandfather Giacomo and father Giovanni bought Nebbiolo grapes of extraordinary quality as there were very few bottlers, meaning the choice of great crop was abundant. This continued up to the 1970’s when more producers started to bottle their own wine, so in 1974, the family bought the Cascina Francia estate, comprising 6 hectares of Nebbiolo, 3.5 hectares of Barbera, 3.5 of Dolcetto and 1 hectare of Freisa. Today, that has grown to 9 hectares of Nebbiolo and 7 hectares of Barbera as well as 6 hectares of the Arione Nebbiolo vineyard in Roddino as off the 2019 vintage.
After it is picked, the Monfortino goes into ‘botti’, the traditional large Slavonian oak barrels that holds around 5,000 litres (the equivalent of eleven smaller barrels and hold about 275 cases) for at least seven years.
Below are my tasting notes of Monfortino from 1947 till 2014. The notes come from a unique vertical tasting I held for a group of private collectors but they are also blended with some more tasting notes and consideration I had the chance to experience thought the years.
The wine is presented in an intense garnet red coloured in the glass. The nose is harmonious and elegant, perfectly portraying the Langhe terroir: sensations of very ripe red fruit such as cherry jam are combined with hints of wild rose and dried violet. Then there are hints of herbaceous and balsamic notes and in perfect harmony also the spices: among the main ones are black pepper, tobacco, vanilla, sandalwood, nutmeg, bitter chocolate and liquorice. The taste in the mouth is an experience, an explosion of flavours followed by a perfect elegance, even if only difficult to describe. The finish is ecstatic, long and pleasantly persistent, as well as the aftertaste that closes the whole. Absolutely to try at least once in your life, to understand how a great wine can excite and involve all the senses.
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2014
This beauty shows a very transparent and intense ruby red colour. Mountain strawberry, juniper and wild rose. A silk on the palate with a wonderfully precise design of the fruit flavours: raspberries, pomegranate with a perfect flinty touch. I had the pleasure to try this wine a couple of times form the big barrels with Roberto Conterno and it has been a beauty almost since day one. This is one of those examples of fine juicy and ready to drink fine wines but with a never ending finish. Drinks now, holds forever. 100/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2006
Sage, liquorice, black olives and plums. A super structured vintage together with 2002 and 1999, this wine is gonna last for a long time. Very tight palate, this wine will benefit from more bottle aging. Interesting to notice that from this vintage Monfortino ages 8 years in the big botti. A silent giant worth stashing away for a few years. 94/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2002
I have tasted and drunk this vintage quite a few times and it has always shown huge depth, nervy tannins and a very elegant juicy palate of dark cherries, prunes together with some leather and dry roses. 2002 has been a tough vintage because of the hail storms in Barolo, La Morra and Castiglione Falletto where some lost the entire crop – but do not be fooled by the general bad reviews of this vintage in Langhe, as this Monfortino really is a superstar! 98/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2000
A sweeter, readier to drink Monfortino then you would actually expect. Abundant dark fruit, extractive character, leather, coffee beans and earthy notes. It is a bolder and rounder Monfortino packed with a lot of oriental spices. Big and round with a beacon, liquorice and black berries nots. 93/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1999
Orange peel, Mediterranean herbs, blueberries and rhubarb. This is a power-house and super structured Monfortino, very similar to the 2006 vintage but of course starting to show the true potential of this “monster”. Right now the wines shows some intense savoriness, a mineral edge and a very lingering finish. 96/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1997
Similar to vintage 2000, this Monfortino shows a hot side of Barolo with more mature notes, Mediterranean herbs like wild fennel, a lovely dark cherry backbone and a smokey touch. Sweet tannins, ripe fruit with some elegant mango notes. This is a very sweet Monfortino. Interesting note: this is the only time the harvest was carried out in September because of the heat. 97/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1993
An austere and silent vintage which has been struggling to be more expressive and ready to drink. Leather, humus, with less fruit depth then usual but way more inclined towards the shiitake mushrooms and dry figs and black berries uplifted by a lovely goji berries touch. A leaner and somehow dryer Barolo which seemed to be focused more on the sapidity and minerality traits. Still though no signs of oxidativeness or decay. Matter of fact It could just need more aging. 93/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1990
1996 has been a block buster vintage in the Langhe region. For many years we have been cracking open bottles with the same comment: monumental, we have to wait. Sometimes though the waiting hasn’t payed back showing only very tight Barolos even after many years. Monfortino 1990 has gotten out finally some lovely sweet cherries, black pepper, forest floor and rosemary. The palate still shows the tight tannic character but with a sweeter and more floral finish then ever. 96/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1988
I love this vintage. I love those vintages that are often bashed by the majority and they seem to be reacting and standing their ground. Mineral and salty bits, juiciness and length with some delightful strawberry jam, dry roses and a really refreshing drinkability. Complex and yet direct this is a stunning Monfortino with a lighter style. 95/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1987
Floreale Anice, dry redcurrant, juicy plums and seductive hibiscus and propolis notes. Some very sweet tannins are creating an important structure but always in total harmony with the acidity and the fruit character. A very deep and lingering experience from the beginning till the end. 97+/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1985
Come tutti i grandi, in questa annata sono nati dei mostri di generosità e Powerful and elegant, grippy and relaxed with so much dynamism on the palate. I love the officinal herbs, the sweet spices and the gentle tobacco notes. I believe this is what any red wine lover is hinting for: concentration, velvet tannins, depth and intense mineral -grafite like- notes. This wine has always been good and it will carry on that way. 98/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1982
Dark chocolate and violets , an intriguing nose with some notes of cocoa and dried rose petal. Another nice surprise of elegance perhaps a little more docile than the other wines so far. The palate is manifested by notes of cherry still intact and good floral and red berry notes. The tannin is quite ripe and sweet with a nice freshness and drinkability. 94/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1978
From the four years old vines planted in Cascina Francia in 1974, this is the first Monfortino bottled without any purchased fruit but only from the estate. Four years old vines only and a masterpiece. Some agronomists say that the 4th leaf shows what the vine will be capable of in 30 years time. Well, this was the case.for one of the best ever Monfortino proceeded. Official herbs, cola and dry roses with a gunflint and a pure pomegranate and strawberry nose. A 15th century fortress structure but with a Degas ballerina lightness and the depth of a Picasso. 100/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1971
Acidity, acidity acidity. Still too young if that’s ever possibile. Giacomo has always been telling me that this wine has never been ready to drink. Japanese katana like acidity, it feels as if some of the malo is still there. i prefer the nose here with so much red fruit, violets and cranberries. No traces of aging almost, one needs some fine cheese to smooth the wine down. Could this be the wine to take to the moon and back? Could it ever open up? 89/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1971
A Kaleidoscopic nose of plums, dark cherries, dark chocolate and dry mountain herbs. This is one of the most vertical and reactive Monfortino, similar to the 1978 but with less concentration and elegance but still immensely pleasant with its cardamom, earthiness and prunes. 94/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1970
Sweet spices, elegant muddiness, roses and mulberries. Soy sauce, pencil shavings blend with dry redcurrant, acacia flowers and sage. Pine sap, cypress aromas and almond flowers. A very elegant Barolo with some amazingly refined tannins. Unbelievable to experience such a masterpiece from such a poor vintage. 98+/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1964
If I were to go for my dessert island Barolos I’d go for the 1967, always elegant floral and sweet. But should that vintage be out of stock, then I’d go for the 1964. Monfortino here shows a bee wax and echinacea nose with so much red driven fruit still so fresh and juicy. The citrus elements on the palate uplift the wine above ground. I love the acidity and the velvet of this wine. It is so easy to drink and yet complex, a true distillation of Langhe with the perfect dry roses and tar. 98/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1961
Dark fruit prunes, tobacco and smoke. A great almond and blueberries combination with a strong medical herbs touch. Lots of depth and sweetness on the palate, not as sweet as ’64 but still smooth and very very pleasant. 1961 has been one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century all over Europe and yet in Barolo the ’64 and ’67 have been way more pleasing. And the same is here with Monfortino when comparing the two vintages. 95/100
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1955
This must have been a bad cork. It wasn’t stinky but it was without any aromas and totally dried out on the palate but with no oxidative notes.
Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1947
Although the ‘60s and late 70’s have been showing what a true fine Barolo is capable of, this vintage is out of this world. I know that given this is is the oldest there’s the inclination to be more generous with it, but this wine is in a brilliant shape. Light and transparent color as it should be at this age but with a concentration on the plate which was quite a surprise. Bergamotto, quinine and red currants still there, alive and kicking. Every once in a while there’s a darker side popping out with porcini mushrooms, leather and moka notes, but it is for a fe seconds, as the wine is dominated by juicy red fruit, white truffles and orange peel. Silky tannins, sweet finish…and on and on…