Taking another Look at Ceretto


Last week was a bountiful week for this Barolo lover. Not only did I enjoy a great Oddero dinner with friends and Isabella Oddero in attendance, but I was able to follow that up with an old Barolo dinner on Sunday and an extensive tasting of the offerings from the Ceretto family’s holdings in Piemonte, Bricco Rocche, Bricco Asili and Monsordo Bernardina in particular.

I’ll start in a bit of a reverse order here be commenting on the Ceretto tasting first.
The wines of Ceretto have a long history in Piemonte, and were among the few wineries that chose to lead the way toward modernization of the wines in the late 1960’s. Since then the winery and the styles of wines produced have taken several stylistic turns.

From those early efforts in the 1960’s to make Barolo and Barbaresco a cleaner more approachable wine until the 1982 vintage, the wines remained fairly traditionally styled, cleaned up perhaps but continuing the viniculture traditions that long held sway in the region.

From 1982 and onward the wines of Ceretto adopted a more modern profile, utilizing significant new oak to help shape the wines and alter the aromatics. With missteps along the way the Ceretto family continued to incorporate new innovations in the cellar while retaining some traditional aspects to the winemaking. The results were uneven at best with some wines being too dirty while others were marred by excessive use of oak.

Ceretto may never have been the ideal of consistency in Piemonte but as many of their mature wines attest to, 1971 Grignore and Pittatore Barolo’s enjoyed last year or the wonderfully engaging and evolving 1982 Prapo for example, Ceretto is certainly capable of producing wonderful wines.

The extensive tasting organized last week by Ceretto and their US importer, Wilson Daniels, was a chance for the winery to not only display their full lime-up of available wine but to also illustrate the move forward towards quality and cleanliness that accompanied the ascendancy of the latest generation of the family to positions of leadership at the firm.

With the changing of the guard in 1999 came an effort to revitalize the brand and add some polish to the wines. The style had drifted, first toward the modernist side, then back to the tradionalist side, during the decade of the 1990’s but with no real direction. Now the wines are cleaner than they have been over the past decade and the quantity of new oak used for aging has been brought down to a level where it still makes an impact on the finished wine but tends not to dominate the varietal character of the Nebbiolo grape.

My notes show that the early results, the younger generation took full control of the winemaking process only in 2001, while promising, have yet to reach the peaks of their promise. The winemaking is fundamentally different, and the wines are certainly technically better but they are such young examples that I hesitate to draw any overall conclusions at this early stage.

We started our tasting out with two young wines the 2008 Blange, Ceretto’s Arneis, which was Light and fresh with an attractive purity and the 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Rossana which was a touch lean for the variety but used that in it’s favor yielding a lighter, almost elegant style of very approachable Dolcetto. I enjoyed both wines

One wine worth noting, and then perhaps moving on from is the decidedly modern, fruity 2007 Monsordo. Cabernet based, big, rich and oaky it was fine, anonymous and crowd pleasing in style.

The 2006 Barbaresco Asij showed much promise with a pure core of sweet ripe fruit in a lean, fresh style. It shared a lovely sense of balance with the previous wines and may hint at what is to come from Ceretto.

Up next was one of the main attractions of the afternoon: The line-up of the 4 2004 Barolo. We were off to a promising start with the Bruante, made in a very accessible, ripe style. The Bricco Rocche is more reticent but not showing noticeably more depth or detail. The Prapo on the other hand is lean and sleek with good complexity coming from both the expressive fruit on noticeable oak imprint; it is the star of the lineup. The entry level Zonchera was also a bit oaky and also jammy. It fell a bit flat with its soft texture and bit of roughness coming from the wood.

Among the older Barolo the 2001 Bricco Rocche was rather evolved on the nose with tannins that seem out of proportion with the amount of fruit the wine retains.  The 1999 Bricco Rocche was a step up with better freshness but shared that chalky, dryingly tannic finish that marred the 2001. The 1999 Prapo on the other hand was fresh, cool and crisp with fine balance. It was among the finest wines of the tasting with lovely fruit and balanced, integrated oak notes.

The Bernadot showed an accessible, soft character with modest aromatics and depth that made the oak treatment rather obvious. The 2001 was the stand out in this line-up that spanned 1998-2005, though the 2005 was promising with impressively fresh flavors framed by a judicious use of oak. The 1998, 2003 and 2004 were all fairly ordinary and undistinguished wines. 

The Bricco Asili exhibited more depth and texture than the Bernardot with a higher toned, more expressive character. While some of the vintages appeared to be on the simple side the 1999 was rich, fresh and dark with nice balance in a traditional, fairly tannic style, as was the 2004. The 1998, 2003 aqnd 2004 all were slightly more impressive than their Bernardot counterparts but failed to create much excitement.

Overall there was a step up in freshness since beginning with the 2001 vintage at Ceretto. If you have dismissed their wines in the past it may be time to give them another chance. These are wines that can exhibit both good varietal character and terroir but are made in a style that should mature fairly quickly and remain accessible throughout the wines life. I think there is still work to be done here, especially in light of the prices charged for many of these wines, but they have certainly made a move in the right direction. I look forward to seeing where it takes them and wish them a steady hand at the helm.

Stay tuned for more Barolo notes coming up this week. Notes from a dinner will be up next.

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