Principiano - Fine Barolo That You Probably Haven't Heard About

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Grape growing in Barolo and Barbaresco has changed quite a lot in the 12 years since I first visited, the most visible and obvious factor being the greatly diminished use of herbicide – there’s still plenty used, but at least the whole place doesn’t look like the moon with vines growing on it. Some of the better known producers who have farmed organically for generations (B. Mascarello, G. Rinaldi, for instance) have been joined by many others, including Ceretto and Fontanafredda, both very important because of their large vineyard holdings. Greener vineyards are nicer to look at, of course; in addition to indicating a move towards environmental health, they offer a conscientious producer some help in maintaining balance and reasonable alcohol levels in an increasingly warm climate.  For those who have given up herbicides, there’s a wide range of methods for dealing with the growth of plants and grasses between the vines and between the rows of vines, from aggressively plowing and weed-whacking, to deliberate benign neglect, which results in an untamed and Edenic atmosphere in the vineyard. This extreme vineyard management has long been practiced by Roagna (“Always,” say Luca Roagna), whose vineyards are very beautiful (as are his wines).

 It was exciting to meet Ferdinando Principiano and to visit his vines, where he also allows the free growth of vegetation in the rows. The proof is in the bottle: what you will find are traditionally made wines of great purity and focus, ranging from the amazing 10.5° ‘Dosset’ Dolcetto, to a majestic Barolo from Boscareto, which is the lower part of the hillside of Cascina Francia. How someone like Principiano has gone without a NY distributor is a mystery, but no sooner had we made a purchase then the very fine Indie Wines announced that they would be working with Principiano, so the wines will be more widely available – a good thing for lovers of Barolo. Jamie Wolff

Principiano in the vines, May 2014. Behind him and to the left, you can see a large, conventionally-farmed vineyard with bare ground showing beneath the vines.

 

Principiano, Ferdinando 2011 Barolo Serralunga

Mint, balsam, on top of full Nebbiolo aromatics and a lot of minerality; very ripe and firm tannins. This shows that it’s not all about 2010! It’s made from younger vines in Boscareto (see below), usually harvested rather later than the neighbors. Principiano thinks that his organic viticulture has made a huge difference in the health of the vines, even in difficult growing seasons. The wine gets about a month of maceration and then is aged in 20,000 and 40,000 liter barrels. It’s a harmonious and deep wine with a long future. Jamie Wolff

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Principiano, Ferdinando 2014 Dosset (Dolcetto)

Dosset is Piemontese for Dolcetto; Principiano chose the name because the wine is intended to recall the past, to bring to us, says Ferdinando, the impression “of our grandfathers’ wine. And to remember that my part of Piedmont can also produce wines for every day”. At 10.5° alcohol it’s kind of a miracle; it’s not a simple thing nowadays to make a light wine that also tastes ripe, without green flavors. Dosset is made without sulfur, and drinks fresh and clean – a delicious wine. Jamie Wolff

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Principiano, Ferdinando 2012 Dolcetto d'Alba St. Anna

St Anna is in Monforte, but just outside the zone for Barolo. Principiano has 2 hectares of 40 year-old vines there, at about 1400 feet in elevation – relatively high for the area. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and with a long maceration of 3 weeks (long for Dolcetto, that is), the wine is aged in steel tank and bottle. The result is rich and vibrant, with typical plummy Dolcetto fruit and lots of savory elements. Like all of Principiano’s wines: organic farming + indigenous yeasts + minimal handling + very low (or no) sulfur = wine that’s easy drinking but has great depth and complexity and energy. Jamie Wolff

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Principiano, Ferdinando 2013 Nebbiolo d'Alba Montagliato

Montagliato is a vineyard in Monforte just outside the zone for nebbiolo, although Principiano says it’s a fine site that produces fruit worthy of Barolo. Principiano also makes another nebbiolo from vines in Barolo, but we felt the Montagliato showed more depth and complexity. The wine sees three weeks maceration, and 18 months aging in large older botte (barrels) of Slavonian oak; unfined, unfiltered, no sulfur added. Tasting this wine you think about not just how good it is, but also about how much underperforming wine is made; this is much better than a great many Barolos on the market. It’s a fine intro to Principiano’s Barolos, and it shares their aromatic and flavor complexity. Like the Barolos it’s not flashy, but it’s a serious wine and an object demonstration of skill and quality. About 3500 bottles produced; we feel lucky to have some. My note from the first time I tasted this ends: “it’s hard to believe this is so good”. Jamie Wolff

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Principiano, Ferdinando 2008 Barolo Boscareto

Boscareto wraps around to the north and south of Cascina Francia; you may know the fabulously ugly hotel that now occupies the location of the original farm at the edge of the vines. Principiano has vines in the southern part, which seems like a magical and hidden spot, reached by a road (more of a track, really) that I’d never been on before, and which departs more or less from someone’s farmyard, leading to the vines, in a valley, with Ginestra to the south and Cascina Francia to the north. It seems like it’s the bottom of Cascina Francia – it’s certainly lower, but at over 300 meters not as low by elevation as you might think. The point of this attempt at geographical description is that the wine Principiano is making from Boscareto has (to borrow from our British friends) a hell of a lot of class, breed, call it what you will, but it’s some special wine: not your run-of-the-mill good Barolo. Tasted recently, the 2008 was expressing this vividly, although it’s got a long future. Jamie Wolff

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