While Barolo’s style pendulum continues to swing away from the excesses of a few decades back, it is a true reward to work with an estate who never succumbed to modern technology’s seductive promises. The Brovia family established themselves as winegrowers in the hamlet of Castiglione Falletto in 1863, amassing over time an enviable collection of vineyards in some of the zone’s greatest crus (Rocche di Castiglione, Villero, and Garbèt Sue), as well as a sizable holding in the cru Brea in Serralunga d’Alba. We at Rosenthal Wine Merchant have imported the family’s gorgeously traditional Barolo since the 1978 vintage—first with Giacinto Brovia, who revived viticulture here in 1953, and today with his daughter Elena her formidably talented husband Alex Sanchez.
Brovia’s work in the vines and in the cellar embody an ardently traditional sensibility, albeit one executed with sensitivity and precision, and their wines have always displayed an uncanny balance between ruggedness and grace. No chemical treatments are ever employed in the vineyards. The hand-harvested, carefully sorted fruit ferments spontaneously in large cement tanks, with an appropriately lengthy three-to-four-week period of maceration. Aging takes place in gargantuan, ladder-requiring old casks, mainly Slavonian with some French, and bottling is done without fining or filtration. It’s the sort of time-tested, simple cellar approach that allows the unparalleled majesty of Nebbiolo in these vaunted soils to shine; tasting Barolo as wondrous as Brovia’s, one marvels that such methods were ever questioned in the first place.
The much-vaunted 2016 vintage sees Brovia operating at the peak of their powers, and their quintet of Barolo slated to reach us in early August is perhaps a career high-water mark for Alex and Elena. The growing season was a perfect storm of favorable conditions: a mild spring with adequate rainfall; a warm, luminous summer with no catastrophic weather events; and a relatively cool September with wide diurnal shifts, which pushed the harvest date into October—not a common occurrence in today’s warm climate. The finished wines combine the drive of a cooler, later-harvested vintage with the concentration and richness of a more solar year; Alex compares 2016 to 2013, but with more prominent fruit. The sense of energy and clarity running through all of Brovia’s 2016s is thrilling; even in the context of their typically terroir-evocative style, the crus are particularly well-differentiated in 2016, and they possess the structure to age for decades with ease.
Always a stunning value and an excellent encapsulation of the Brovia house style, their Barolo “normale” is comprised 60% of a portion of their holdings in Brea (the oldest and best-exposed vines are bottled separately as “Ca’Mia”—see below) and 40% of the younger vines of their three crus in Castiglione Falletto. One feels both the spicy, boisterous generosity of Serralunga d’Alba and the mineral thrust of Castiglione Falletto in this wine, but this 2016 is notable for its finesse. The contemplative nose evokes a sense of calm stillness, presenting its individual components with clarity and precision; the palate is dynamic in its interplay of pert acidity and fresh, finely wrought tannins.
2016 Barolo “Garblèt Sue”
Garblèt Sue, also known as “Altenasso,” is a subsection of the cru of Fiasco in Castiglione Falletto. Soils here are of sand and clay-limestone marl, but they are richer and less well-drained than those higher on the hill in Fiasco proper. Brovia owns 0.7 hectares of western-exposed Nebbiolo here, planted between 1970 and 1979, and situated at 250 meters altitude (their lowest-altitude cru holding). If “Garblèt Sue” typically shows a hair’s breadth less complexity than its two Castiglione Falletto brethren, it compensates with a generous, exuberant personality and a tendency to drink better earlier. The 2016 is driven by spice at this youthful stage, with tannins slightly dustier and more granular than its stablemates, but this is an overall strikingly elegant vintage for this wine.
2016 Barolo “Rocche di Castiglione”
Rocche di Castiglione is one of the most coveted crus in the appellation, and for good reason: its high-altitude, white-sand soils render a Barolo of dizzying perfume and supreme elegance. Brovia owns a 1.5-hectare parcel of southeast-facing vines at 350 meters altitude, and this is indeed the most refined wine in their lineup year after year. An exceptionally ravishing vintage of an always beautiful wine, the 2016 is already intoxicatingly aromatic, with sappy red fruits and baking spice overlaying an exceptionally focused sense of minerality; it rings on the palate without clinging, its tannins simultaneously caressing and authoritative.
2016 Barolo “Villero”
Brovia owns a hectare and a half of old vines (planted in 1961) situated at 340 meters altitude in this characterful southwest-facing cru in Castiglione Falletto. Villero’s clay-limestone marl (though still containing some sand) renders a wine of notable structure—one which often assumes a dark, brooding personality in its youth. The 2016, while still uncompromising in its robustness, offers exceptionally fresh and energetic tannins, though they are more kinetic than supple; Villero sprints, where Rocche glides. Compared to Rocche’s bright red fruit, Villero leans more toward blue and black, with an earthier spice element and a greater overall sense of solidity, but 2016 offers a relatively refined take on this wine.
2016 Barolo “Ca’Mia”
Brovia’s lone Barolo from the neighboring township of Serralunga d’Alba, “Ca’Mia” is sourced from the best and oldest part of the family’s holding in the centrally located cru of Brea. The Nebbiolo for “Ca’Mia” was planted in 1955 on a southeast-exposed part of the cru at 350 meters altitude, and Brea’s limestone-dominated soils—in contrast to the generally sandier soils of Castiglione Falletto—yield a Barolo of titanic minerality and boisterous power. The 2016 roars its origin with a nose of pure crushed rocks, and a palate of almost overwhelming intensity spreads sizzling, clenching tannins from the front to the back of the mouth. This possesses the same sense of freshness and lift as its brethren, but it is easily the most youthfully backward at this point; ample time will be required but rewarded hugely.