Each summer, as we approach Labor Day and make final preparations for the autumn shipments, one early-October arrival is always circled as perhaps the highlight of the season from our Italian growers: the single annual release of the majestic cru Barolos from Brovia. The 2013 vintage hardly needs an introduction, as it has already been widely recognized as one of the most complete growing seasons of recent years. Some of you may have already garnered a sense of what is to come with the 2013 Barolo “normale”, which arrived in June. Having followed the evolution of this vintage over the past few years, we can confidently assert that this release is one of the strongest we have seen emerge from their modest cellar in Castiglione Falletto.
Since our first release of the outstanding 1978 vintage, the Brovia family has consistently produced wines that rank among the finest in all of Barolo. In the beginning, we worked with the brothers Giacinto and Raffaele, and since that time, little has changed in their approach to the work in the vineyard and in the cellar. Today, everyday operations of the estate have been passed on to the capable hands of Giacinto’s daughters, Christina and Elena, with the help of Elena’s husband, Alex Sanchez. This transition has proven to be highly successful, as their continued dedication to quality and to the great traditions of the region have reaffirmed the rarefied stature of this estate.
The Brovia family has acquired vineyard holdings since the estate’s foundation in 1863 that profoundly voice the terroir of their zone in the village of Castiglione Falletto; i.e., Garblet Sue (0.7 hectares), Villero (1.5 hectares), and the fabled Rocche (1.5 hectares), and .6 hectares in a fourth significant cru Brea (Ca’Mia), located in neighboring Serralunga d’Alba. Recognizing the unique character of each cru, the Brovia family began bottling them separately many years before most of their neighbors moved past single “house” Barolo bottlings (which blended various parcels into a single cuvee). Hindsight affirms the soundness of that decision, as their four crus stand among the greatest sites in the Langhe, each affording the drinker a textbook lesson about the terroir in this central zone of Barolo.
The lengthy history of each of their bottlings is made compelling in the context of the family’s unwavering commitment to traditional Barolo. Their work in the vineyards and cellar has remained largely the same through the years, ignoring many trends that served only to cloud the authentic expression of terroir. It was not long ago that many consumers of Barolo overlooked estates like Brovia for a more modern style of wine. While many of their neighbors attempted to tame the tannins of Nebbiolo with an arsenal of equipment and small barrels, Brovia remained steadfast in keeping their fermentations long and natural. One cannot help but be struck by the stark simplicity of their cellar operations; proof that very little is needed to make wines of profound depth and clarity. As in the past, their fermentations today start with natural yeasts in old, large concrete tanks. Fermentations can run as long as a month, after which the cru Barolos move to thirty-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks for eighteen months, before a final eighteen-month period in thirty-hectoliter French oak casks. Furthermore, the Brovias employ no chemicals whatsoever in their vineyards, thereby putting them in a small minority in this exalted region.
Alex Sanchez describes the 2013 growing season as long with moderate temperatures. After a rainy spring, they had a very nice summer. Temperatures never reached dangerous levels, and the consistent weather persisted through September and October. The harvest began quite late, towards mid-October, and lasted until the end of the month. Fermentations were slow and steady, taking about four weeks at relatively low temperatures. Alex boldly states that he prefers the 2013 vintage to their excellent 2010s, sensing that it has superior concentration and structure and should age gracefully for an even longer period. Unsurprisingly, he notes that the 2013s are tight and wound-up at this early stage in their evolution, suggesting they need at least five to six years before they become accessible.
The base of this cuvee is sourced from the lower part of the “Brea” vineyard (roughly 60%) with the remaining portion coming from younger vines in “Garblet Sue,” “Villero,” and “Rocche.” Aged in large 70-hectoliter Slavonian oak, this wine is always the most approachable of their bottlings. That said, those of you who enjoyed the open and delicious 2011 and 2012 versions might be surprised by the seriousness of this exceptional vintage. The fruit is silky, pure and compact, with a fresh, high-toned character. Quite structured, this wine shows a bit more tension and architecture than it normally does — it will be interesting to watch this wine develop over the next few years.
Barolo “Garblet Sue”
“Garblet Sue” is located within the cru “Altenasso”, directly on the border of the “Fiasco” vineyard. At a height of 250 meters, these vineyards are the lowest of the Brovia’s three Crus in Castiglione Faletto. The vines for this wine are also the youngest, having been planted in 1970 and 1979. This vineyard typically produces the easiest and youngest-drinking of their four crus, but don’t let the 2013 vintage fool you. The tannic and mineral structure of the 2013 elevates the “Garblet Sue” to another level. Initially, the wine is quite generous and pleasant, with somewhat high-toned, red fruits underscored by dark feral and dried-herb notes, but the wine finishes with an edgy acidity and ferocious tannins that are reminiscent of the “Villero”. The complexity and structure of the 2013 “Garblet Sue” is a testament to the seriousness and potential longevity of this classically structured vintage. If you must pull corks on your ‘13s early, this is your best bet, but we recommend you give all of these wines as much time as you can muster.
The vines from this historic cru are located at an altitude of 340 meters in a steep vineyard of very compact, calcareous clay. For us, “Villero” is the most classic rendition of Barolo—always big, tannic and wild, while at the same time possessing an underlying purity and elegance. No wine from this estate needs more time in bottle to master its hard and wild edges. The fruit of this formidable 2013 has a warmer character than the “Garblet Sue” and “Rocche”, with a dense, ripe, black-cherry character to the fruit. Underneath, the wine displays wild, medicinal notes of licorice and orange rind, with formidable and slightly bitter tannins. Quite the beast at this early stage; past experience tells us that this wine will be tamed over time.
Barolo “Rocche di Castiglione”
Situated at 350 meters, the vineyards for Rocche are among the highest in Castiglione Faletto. The soils here are light and sandy, making this wine the most elegant of the group. The unique character of this vineyard has historically been prized as one of the best in the region for producing wines of finesse and character, and the 2013 follows suit perfectly. This is the leanest of the four crus, and its high-toned fruit offers an airy purity that makes the fruit really jump. Not massive or overly fruity, there is nonetheless plenty of density here. Rocche is also the least tannic of the group, which enhances its more pure and cerebral character.
Barolo “Brea – Vigna “Ca’Mia”
Located in the adjacent village of Serralunga d’Alba, the “Brea” vineyard typically produces a wine with a striking balance of generosity and elegance. In contrast to the clay and sandy soils in Castiglione Falleto, the limestone component to the soil here contributes to an intense mineral presence. Because of the high elevation of this vineyard (at 350 meters), “Ca’Mia” retains a fair amount of acidity to balance out the generous, plummy fruit that marks the wines of Serralunga. The 2013 Brea is a perfect storm of power and grace, with shimmering red fruits almost reminiscent of Chambolle-Musigny. The wine displays its breed in an exhilarating potpourri of mint, lavender, and truffle. Structurally quite taut at the moment, its mineral intensity and firmly tannic spine beg for some patience from those fortunate enough to obtain a few bottles.