Each year, a rapt audience of Piemonte die-hards eagerly awaits the release of a new vintage from the Cappellano family in Serralunga d’Alba. In a zone so seduced by modern methods over the past few decades, Cappellano is the rare estate that never made concessions to technological trickery, never changed their wines to suit the fashion of the times. Teobaldo Cappellano—the deceased father of the current steward Augusto—was a strong-willed iconoclast who decried the artificiality encroaching upon Italian wine during his time. “Baldo” (as he was affectionately called) was one of the co-founders of the ViniVeri organization, a well-regarded group of growers united not only in their respectful methods of farming and winemaking but in their overall philosophy of wine and its ultimate cultural and spiritual value. A profound reverence for tradition suffuses all of the work done at Cappellano—from Augusto’s old-style methods of vinification, to his labeling, to his refusal to court the press, he understands the jewel he has inherited and works tirelessly to preserve its magic. And the wines that issue forth from his tiny cellar—generous of spirit, deeply traditional, powerful yet full of life—are a testament to his mastery. We will receive the 2013s from Cappellano around the first of May, and our only regret is that there is never enough to satisfy those among us who understand the beauty, value, and meaning of such singular wines.
2014 Nebiolo d’Alba
An even rarer bird than the Barolo “Pie Franco” below, Cappellano’s Nebiolo d’Alba (spelled with one “b” as a nod to the old Piemonte dialect) comes from a small parcel in the nearby town of Novello—less vaunted turf than the family’s classic holdings in Serralunga d’Alba, but capable of producing honest, expressive wines, especially under such careful stewardship. 2014 was a difficult growing season in the north of Italy; and, while Cappellano’s 2014 Nebiolo is not as rigorous in its structure as in more typical years, it offers gorgeous transparency and strikingly pretty aromatics, along with a palate of lip-smacking freshness and gentle purity. Sadly, the family’s holdings in this village have been mercilessly attacked by flavescenza dorata—a bacterial vine disease—and 2014 will be the final vintage for this charming wine.
2013 Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti”
By all rights, Barbera has no business being planted in such a well-situated portion of such an esteemed cru in Serralunga d’Alba. Augusto could easily replace it with Nebbiolo, augment his production of Barolo, and reap far more money from this chunk of prime real estate. Thankfully, the Cappellano family has always believed in the expressive power of Barbera planted in a great site and treated with respect and seriousness in the cellar, and, sure enough, their Barbera d’Alba is outside class—one of the finest examples of this grape variety, full stop. It is treated in exactly the same manner as the Barolo: a long, natural, traditional fermentation with plenty of time on the skins, aging in well-used casks for over three years, and bottling without fining or filtration. This 2013 offers an assertively wild, bold nose of Turkish spice, iron, game, and brooding red fruits. The palate is riotous, with huge acidity pulling against thick, crunchy fruit, and a wallop of tannin that puts one in the mind of a bygone era of Italian wine, albeit in the most soul-stirring way. There is that sense of sizzling energy on the palate, that hallmark of healthy, non-manipulated fruit which simply cannot be faked. Those fortunate enough to obtain a few bottles of this minuscule-production tour de force are encouraged to lay a couple of bottles down in their cellar, as it is a wine that will develop new layers of complexity for a good fifteen to twenty years.
2013 Barolo “Pie Rupestris”
The fabled Cappellano Barolo Chinato (the first ever made in the region) is an important wine for the family—so much so that a full one-third of their vines in the Gabutti cru are devoted to it. As with the Barbera above, Augusto could easily use all of the Chinato-destined fruit to produce more Barolo, thereby making more money with arguably less toil. The upshot of Augusto’s admirable continuation of this family tradition, however, is that only the prime filet of their Gabutti holdings are included in the Barolo proper. Vintage in and vintage out, Cappellano’s Barolo “Pie Rupestris” is one of the most distinctive and singular wines in the entire zone—and in a year as blessed by nature as 2013, it is as monumental as one would expect. The 2013 is a broad, immensely tannic wine, yet it shows no strain of ambition, no overt desire to beguile or impress. There is a solidity and assuredness at its core, an honesty—of structure, of tannic heft, of carriage—that mirrors the character of the Cappellano clan. A vivid, utterly gorgeous nose leads into a densely concentrated palate that—like all of the world’s greatest wines—unites power and finesse in seemingly paradoxical fashion. There is a glimmer of elegance here as well, a distant sense of gentleness that emerges through the old-school roar of structure. That, too, is honest, for it is Augusto’s nature—an intelligent, gentle spirit committed to continuing the incredible work of his predecessors in a thoughtful manner. Give this magnificent, multilayered wine the time in the cellar it deserves.
2013 Barolo “Pie Franco”
One of the rarest wines in our portfolio, Cappellano’s legendary Barolo “Pie Franco” is produced from a tiny section of ungrafted Nebbiolo in the heart of their Gabutti holdings. Though it is produced in exactly the same fashion as its American-rootstocked brother above, its personality is always strikingly different (despite the undeniable family resemblance): more ethereal, more kaleidoscopic in its aromatic profile, and even more texturally seamless. That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of old-style Barolo structure to be found here, as Pie Franco is in no way demure or polite. But it is somehow less “earthbound,” provoking a sense of wonderment in the taster and offering a glimpse into something beyond analysis, beyond language. The bold but lively 2013 offers fruit pitched slightly more toward the red than the Rupestris, and while it is equally tannic, the tannins themselves are silkier and less imposing—a difference of physique rather than of weight. Drinking this wine before, at minimum, ten years of bottle age should be against the law, and those lucky few who obtain access to the ’13 Pie Franco are exhorted to exercise patience.
The spellbinding elixir known as Barolo Chinato was actually invented by the Cappellano family, with Giuseppe Cappellano—a pharmacist by trade—developing the recipe in the late 19th century as a digestive aid. The still-top-secret, carefully guarded recipe was passed down from Giuseppe to his son Francesco, then to his son, the iconoclastic and revered Teobaldo, and finally to Augusto. The recipe has remained unchanged since the earliest days, transferred ceremoniously via handwritten letter during each generational shift. Augusto still crushes the herbs and spices by hand with the family’s old cast-iron mortar and pestle, and the steps to creating the perfect mixture are complex and difficult—Augusto told us it took him years, beginning as a young child, to master the technique. Happily, the results of this arcane process are nothing short of sublime, as Cappellano’s Chinato blitzes the senses with overwhelming complexity—the nose of the stuff alone is worth the price of admission. On the palate, the Chinato’s marked sweetness is buffered by its sheer depth—after all, 50% of the blend is traditionally vinified and aged single-vintage Barolo. A heady melange of herbs and spices, coupled with the elixir’s rich, chocolatey depths, pull both mouth and mind in infinite directions, but the whole experience is still balanced, composed, and just flat-out absurdly delicious. Those granted the privilege of accessing the Cappellano family’s sublime wines are strongly urged to explore the Chinato as well, as it is a vital constituent of the estate’s overall production.