There isn’t a lot of “newness” in a place like Barolo, where so much of the vineyard land has been occupied by the same families for generations. Add to this the sharp rise in real estate values in recent years—and the fact that the Barolo appellation is quite small to begin with—and you can understand why there aren’t many new Barolo labels popping up on store shelves (or in online offers).
All that said, Simone Scaletta’s is a new(ish) label and a very exciting one at that: Today’s 2013 is so right-on in every way that we grabbed just about every bottle that made it to California so we could offer it here. Feeling the pull of the wine life, Scaletta left Turin a little over a decade ago and managed to acquire a few hectares of vineyards in the village of Monforte d’Alba, where he now maintains a small cellar and a team comprised mostly of family to craft impeccable, classically styled Barolo. He’s a hands-on vignaiolo all the way and, for a relative newcomer, a preternaturally talented winemaker whose 2013 “Chirlet” reminded me of the late Bruno Giacosa’s wines—there’s a seamless combination of sweet and savory, and of polish and rusticity, that is truly special. Like Giacosa, Scaletta also coaxes finesse and enticing perfume from a part of Barolo known more for power and bulk (Giacosa’s “Falletto” estate was in neighboring Serralunga d’Alba). This is not a comparison I make lightly, but my reaction to this wine was like hearing a great album for the first time: I want to share it with as many people as possible. If you love Barolo, get your hands on some of this!
Scaletta first acquired his little piece of Barolo in 2002. A modern-day ‘back-to-the-lander,’ he had been in the printing business previously but found the pull of the wine life too strong to resist. He noted to me with a rueful laugh that this leap wouldn’t be possible if he tried it today (because of land values), and that even after a decade-plus in the Manzoni subzone of Monforte d’Alba, his winery and house on the property are still in various stages of construction. His vineyards are his primary preoccupation, of course, and he now farms five hectares within the relatively large cru vineyard called “Bricco San Pietro.” Scaletta’s three-hectare Nebbiolo vineyard for Barolo, called “Chirlet,” has a nearly full-south orientation and an altitude of about 300 meters, with soils comprised of clay marl and sandstone.
These days, Bricco San Pietro is a source of a number of well-regarded single-vineyard bottlings, although, like Chirlet, they don’t necessarily contain the name of their “mother” cru (the most famous example may be Rocche dei Manzoni’s “Vigna d’la Roul”). In terms of style, Scaletta’s Chirlet blurs the line between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ in a way that’s becoming increasingly common: It is neither over-extracted nor heavily oaked (like some modern Barolos), but it is clean and polished at the same time. There’s great fruit purity and well-managed tannins, lending an overall feeling of finesse and balance. As young wines, most Barolo wines hide their sweet black and red cherry fruit under a veil of tannin and mineral savor. In this 2013, it’s already on proud display, and it’ll only become more profound with time.
Simone opts for a relatively long élevage (aging regimen) for his Barolo: the wine spends a year in a mixture of new and used tonneaux (500-liter barrels); a year in large Slavonian oak botti; and a year in concrete tanks before bottling. While still young and in need of a rough decant about 60 minutes before service to show its best, there’s a lot to love already in the 2013 Chirlet: In the glass, it’s a deep ruby with hints of garnet and pink at the rim, with an inviting nose of Morello cherry, pomegranate, red and black currant, blood orange peel, violets, tobacco, toasted almond, and freshly turned earth. Medium-plus in body and sublimely fragrant and satisfying now, it nevertheless has the kind of balance that bodes well for long aging—it’s not about fierce tannins (which this wine does not have), it’s about bright acid! Give this some more time in your cellar (after sneaking a few bottles now) and you will be richly rewarded. Serve it at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems with food that makes you think of the woods. The attached duck confit over polenta should do nicely, and as new discoveries go, this 2013 truly cannot be topped. Enjoy!
Marl & Sandstone