Einaudi, Respecting Dolcetto and Showcasing Barolo
Luigi Einaudi is a famous name in Italian history, as he served as Italy’s first president in 1948. But prior to that in 1897, he purchased his first vineyards in the Dogliani zone, some 25 miles south of the city of Alba; later in 1915, he began to produce wines from his own grapes. Today his great-grandson Matteo Sardagna is the proprietor of the Einaudi winery, with holdings spread out over a number of territories in the Langhe district, where he produces Dogliani as well as several examples of refined and complex Barolo from some of the area’s most heralded vineyards.
What’s fascinating about the Einaudi operation is the emphasis on both Dogliani and Barolo, especially as these two red wines are so dissimilar in character, and offer such different pleasures, the former for its youthful charms, the latter for its richness and aging potential.
Let’s start with Dogliani, the name for wines produced in the eponymous zone that are made from the Dolcetto grape. These days, Dolcetto does not receive the respect it demands, as many consumers think of this wine merely as a light red to be consumed early. While there are some examples of Dolcetto in Piedmont that are crafted in this manner, the wines from Dogliani are highly complex and sophisticated versions of the Dolcetto grape. Einaudi produces a classic Dogliani, from estate vineyards at 1100 feet elevation, that offers rich raspberry and black cherry flavors with medium-weight tannins; while this wine is quite enjoyable upon release – Sardagna recommends pairing it with pasta, soups, and meats – it can be enjoyed some five to seven years after the vintage.
His other Dolgliani is “Vigna Tecc” from a single vineyard with 35-year old vines situated 1250 feet above sea level. While this wine also offers similar bright fruit flavors, it is a more full-bodied example of Dogliani than the classic offering. Here the wine displays greater complexities, from its aromas and palate flavors to its higher levels of tannins and greater length in the finish. Another difference with the Vigna Tecc is that the wine is aged in large oak barrels for 10 months – which increases its overall complexity – while the classic Dogliani is aged only in steel tanks. The Vigna Tecc has admirable aging potential from seven to as much as 10 or 12 years from the finest vintages.
Despite the lack of interest from some in the wine business about Dolcetto in general, there are many wine buyers and sommeliers that treasure a well-made Dogliani for its distinctiveness and ability to pair with a variety of foods. Sardagna recognizes the market opinions about Dogliani, but has great confidence in the wines. “The appellation suffers enough but we’re well-known and continue to sell Dogliani in Europe and America. Here we also worked on making a Dolcetto with more elegant tannins and the results have been satisfying.”
A Study in Terroir
Regarding Einaudi Barolo, there are currently four examples, with a fifth, from the Monvigliero vineyard in Verduno, on the way. One of the Einaudi Barolos is from the famed Cannubi vineyard in the commune of Barolo; this plot is as renowned as any in the Barolo production zone, given its lengthy history of excellent wines. This vineyard contains the two major soil types in the area, resulting in wines of great complexity. This is a sensual Barolo, one with plenty of staying power, yet it is never overripe or heavy; offering attractive red cherry fruit with distinct balsamic and spice notes, this is a graceful Barolo that only hints at its identity upon release, as the true character of this wine emerges after a decade. It is the classiest wine in the Einaudi portfolio.
The Terlo “Vigna Costa Grimaldi” Barolo, from a vineyard not far from Cannubi, has similar grace and appeal, and should be better known. There is also a classic Barolo labeled as “Ludo,” that is crafted from four separate parcels owned by the winery. This manner of blending from different vineyards means the wine “could be defined as a Barolo of time past,” in Sardagna’s words. “It macerates for less time – 20 days, while our crus macerate 40 days. It’s a Barolo that needs to express itself earlier.” It’s also a wonderful value, one that consumers and trade buyers should seriously consider for their needs.
New to the Einaudi lineup is a Barolo from the Bussia cru in Monforte d’Alba. “Bussia gives us another block of the area and my goal is to have a more complete range, featuring the different personalities of this wonderful appellation,” Sardagna remarks. “Bussia has more intense yet polished tannins; the palate is more complete, with good salinity and zestiness.”
As of 2021, another Einaudi Barolo will be available, with the 2017 release from the
Monvigliero cru. Examples of Monvigliero Barolo have been recognized in recent years as among the most distinctive in the zone, and Sardagna has purchased 1.4 hectares (approximately 3.5 acres) in this cru. Sardagna calls this as a “spectacular Barolo thanks to its elegant aromas and complexity.” Part of that complexity is due to the fact that 20% of the wine is made from whole cluster grapes.
For years, Sardagna aged his various examples of Barolo is a combination of large and small barrels, but as of 2015, he now uses only large casks – botti from 20 to 50 hectoliter is size. He has also embraced other changes in the cellar, using a destemmer that separates the grapes from the stems by way of vibration. He changed wine presses, and now “presses very gently, and we don’t press everything,” in his words. He also uses lower fermentation temperatures (28° to 30° C maximum), with very few pumpovers and long macerations. “This results in more elegant, perfumed wines that are complex at the same time. The use of casks is essential to bring out the best of the terroir.”
Einaudi clearly has a strong portfolio with top quality Dogliani and Barolo, and he is constantly seeking the best ways to craft these wines, overseeing changes in production methods. He realizes this is necessary to continue the conversation among consumers, especially younger ones who often prefer New World reds, such as California Cabernet Sauvignons. “We have a niche clientele and I see that it’s growing. I don’t see obstacles and I think those who are getting to know Barolo must be well-versed. I’d like to point out that Barolos are being produced that combine complexity with finer tannins. The other side of the coin is that there are many consumers who are tired of New World wines.”
By Tom Hyland
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