Descending from more than 7 generations of wine growers, Michele Chiarlo began producing wine in 1956 with a philosophy of only using indigenous grapes. He was a pioneering force in establishing a market for the fine wines of Piedmont. Always an innovator, he was one of the first producers to use methods such as limiting yields and decreasing maceration time in order to create a soft, more traditional style of Barolo. He has achieved ownership of the most acclaimed and prestigious vineyards in Piedmont, from Barbera to Barolo to Barbaresco; with offerings from every price point and appetite, from $10 to $200.
It was an honor and fantastic experience to speak with Michele’s son and Sales and Marketing Manager, Alberto Chiarlo, at the 4th annual Kobrand ‘Tour d’Italia’ held at the Bowery Hotel in NYC. We discussed their iconic Barolos, including winemaking techniques, terroir, vintages and the particular nuances of two of their celebrated Barolos: Cerequio and Cannubi.
2004: According to Alberto, 2004 was a tough vintage. The weather was typical with the exception of a hot September, which did create immense flavour in the grapes, but the wines exhibited “a wall of tannins”. Now, with 11 years under its belt, the tannins have tamed and the 2004 is coming into its own.
2007: Considered as a superb, high quality vintage for Barolo in general. Alberto said that they experienced berry drop in June due to cool, rainy weather, but an absolute perfect August led to fantastic development in the grapes, and it was an “excellent vintage for both red and white grapes”.
2011: One of the most surprising and bizarre vintages of the past few decades for Michele Chiarlo; June was normal, July was rainy with below average temperatures and there was concern the grapes would not ripen properly. August brought a drastic change, with ample sun and above average temperatures that continued thru to early September. This unusual change in climate resulted in the grapes ripening earlier, on average by 2 weeks.
Cerequio is both the name of the vineyard and the hillside upon which it is located. [Stationed 1200 feet in elevation, the hillside is also home to other producer’s vineyards.] It is considered one of the most prestigious Langhe Crus due to its mild climate and magnesium/manganese soils. Grapes were sourced from a single vineyard located in an area called the “balcony of the Langhe”, with “tortonian calcareous Sant’Agata marl, the soils have a bluish colour due to the high content of magnesium and manganese”. Cerequio is aged for 2 years in 700-litre oak barrels and at least 1 year in the bottle before release. It is renowned for its “balsamic and minty aroma and for its elegance”. Alberto described this graceful, lithe Barolo as Pinot Noir with a tannic backbone. It is ready to be enjoyed at about 6 years after the vintage year, and is “splendid for at least 20 years”. With age it will express more of the soil, with distinctive chalky notes emerging amongst sublime fruit.
Michele Chiarlo Cerequio Barolo DOCG 2004
Alberto described this is as a “wine of finesse, not power”. Complex and engaging, with an elegant, compelling softness. Velvety berry and black current are superbly paired with earthy warm brick and the plush depths of tar elements. Dried herbs along with quiet licorice and balsamic notes linger on the lengthy, dry finish. Just fantastic! [Verbatim from my notes.]
$80 [average price]
Michele Chiarlo Cerequio Barolo DOCG 2011
Elegant though still young, with wild cherry, red berry and lively mint accented by earth and spice notes. The finish is stunning, with glorious fruit, honey and floral hints all balanced by dry tannins.
$75 [average price]
Cannubi is the oldest single vineyard, most historical cru within the commune of Barolo [there is a bottle of Cannubi 1752 in a museum]. Another hill of vineyards, there are only 5 parcels total. Michele Chiarlo proudly cultivates 4.5 acres of Cannubi vineyards, and his was the first to be “planted in terraces in order to maximize the hillside exposure”. Cannubi wines are aged in 700-litre barrels for two years and at least 15-16 months in the bottle. Alberto described Cannubi as the “classical” Barolo, able to age for 20+ years.
Michele Chiarlo Cannubi Barolo DOCG 2011
Alberto said this can be enjoyed now, although a few additional years of aging will result in a more classical, quintessential Barolo experience. Lush cherry, fresh berry, and licorice notes envelop an elegant, diaphanous character. Complex and well balanced with layers of firm tannins and clay earthy minerals, the clean fruity finish echoes the opening vibrant fruit.
$90 [average price]
Rated 95 points by Wine Spectator
Michele Chiarlo Cannubi Barolo DOCG 2007
Balanced tannins and soft spices compliment a concentrated, yet not weighty fruit core of cherry and fig. Delicate floral notes on the dry, chalk mineral driven finish emphasise the elegance in this persuasive, alluring Barolo.
$70 [average price]
Rated 93 points by Wine Spectator
Rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast
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