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Accomasso Barolo is something of a secret. It’s been many years since the wines were in the US (via Peter Matt), Accomasso is not on the critics’ radars, and production is very small; it’s quite possible that even a diligent student of Nebbiolo won’t be familiar with the wines. Heir to Giovanni Accomasso, whose name appears on the label, Lorenzo Accomasso is a kind of hero for us, but more importantly he seems to be a hero to many younger Barolo winemakers (including some whose work doesn’t seem to have much to do with his uncompromisingly traditional wines). He’s a member of Bartolo Mascarello’s generation and a link to a rapidly receding past. The wines have always been very hard to find, and in the last couple of years they have become chic and are much sought-after in Europe. Accomasso has remarked on occasion about his surprise at this not entirely welcome attention, and it certainly hasn’t made it easier to buy the wines.
We’re optimists and we never like to say "never,", but this may be a never-again chance to taste a wide range of his wines. In fact it’s such a wide range that in order to assure we can all get up the next morning we think it’s best to have 2 dinners:
October 13 at the Spotted Pig: 1970 + 1974 + 1978 + 1989 + 1990 + 1995 (Rocche & Rocchette*) + 1996 (Rocche & Rocchette). Dinner with wine, service, and tax is $300.
October 17 at Maialino: 1997 + 1998 + 1999 + 2000 + 2001 + 2007 (Rocche & Rocchette) + 2008 (Rocche & Rocchette). Dinner with wine, service, and tax is $250.
The following notes (and some photos) are courtesy of an expert friend who prefers to remain anonymous. They visited Accomasso with us and then on their own. They don’t speak Italian and were lucky enough to go with Giuseppe Vajra, who translated with kindness, patience, and good humor. When Giuseppe was asked about being credited for his translating, his response was typically gracious: "It's really your call, but what really matters is the possibility of honoring this man."
Quotes by Lorenzo Accomasso, and some notes (mostly from our friend, some from Jamie), from a few visits to Accomasso:
What I remember from our first visit is that 1958 was his first vintage, and that he lived with his sister, and that his mother had gone through periods of notable poverty.
“I have never changed anything.”
He has avoided groups in his life, and has avoided taking on the philosophy of a group: “Do what you want, without looking around at the others.”
“I feel everyone has to stay in their own garden, and I stay in mine.”
“I see it as a positive that many young people come to visit me. I see it as a positive that many people who do not have a background in farming, but are from some other field, come to visit me.”
“I think we are going to go to the better, although it seems a big world.”
“We make wine in the vineyard. Without a good exposure, there is no point.”
“If the land is more expensive now, we have to say thank you to the people who use barrique, because these land prices are something new.”
“I tried to age some Dolcetto in barrique that was 7-8 years old, but I don’t do it anymore because it is boring to work with barrique. However, that wine was still pretty good, so I don’t mind barrique.”
He told me on my 2015 visit that he destems. During my 2016 visit he refused to answer the question of whether he uses some whole cluster. Uses native yeasts; a mix of stainless and concrete for the fermentations; punch downs manually, in steel and concrete. At one point he said: 40-60 days of maceration for the Barolo. Racks in July. At another point he said: 38-45 day maceration, racks when clear. Possibly this was for the Dolcetto. He has 2 pumps for moving wine. Malolactic conversion usually happens in June or July. Malo happens in steel.
These days only a little of the wine is aged in demijohns. At one time he used 250 glass demijohns, but only some of those are used now. In those cases, the wine goes into demijohn after the time in wood. The 1995 Barolo is still in demijohn as of 7/9/2016.
He still today bottles a portion of the production by hand. “It takes 2-3 months for the wines to recover after bottling.”
Lately he has been doing more delegation of the cellar and vineyard to duties to hired help. These employees are not Italian.
His Dolcetto is planted on a steep, stony site near Bovio, in La Morra.
Planted rootstocks in 1958, overgrafted them in 1959.
All of Accomasso’s 3 hectares of vines are near his home in Annunziata (in La Morra). He has a tiny piece of Rocchettevino, a little more in Rocche (usually labeled by other winemakers as Rocche dell’Annuziata), and a tiny piece of Rocchette, a sub-zone of Rocche dell’Annuziata – “a highly prestigious vineyard, which Renato Ratti classified as a first growth” (A Wine Atlas of the Langhe). Rocche and Rocchette are also bottled as Riservas. In Rocche dell’Annunziata, his parcel faces full south, towards Castiglione Falletto. His parcel was planted in 1960. This has now been pulled out, and it has not been replanted yet. Rocchette faces west. More elegant wines than Rocche. “Within a half hectare, you have four different soil types.” The production of his Rochette is about 4,000 bottles each year.
The vineyard closest to his house was in the past bottled as “La Mie Vigne,” but now the name for that in terms of the MGA is Annunziata (not Rocche dell’Annunziata, just Annunziata. MGA = Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive - the officially designated name for each vineyard in the Barolo zone.)
In some rows the trellissing goes as high as 3 meters in his vineyards.
He planted some Michet (the low yielding clone 71) as an experiment (the first harvest was 2012), but has not fallen in love with it. “It gives a different wine.” He feels he has to learn how to deal with it.
The new clones are less resistant to mildew- he needs to spray sulphur more often. Doesn’t like clone 142. Clone 141 is a Lampia that is closer to a Michet. Clone 320 is an older clone that he always used a lot. He never tried the Picotendro. The clone 71 is probably the best clone (the Michet one). He is experimenting with clone 185. He had one ton and a half of Rosé clone: it was approachable right away as a wine.
He has experienced some issues with Flavescenza Dorata amidst his Dolcetto vines recently, but otherwise it hasn’t been much of a problem for him yet.
He believes in green harvesting, rather than pruning back to begin with. In general, he keeps a lot of fruit on the vines (it seems to me, Anon.) He does not hedge the vines. He ties the vine canes into a cappello (“hat”) to protect from hail/sun. He does not use herbicides [in Annunziata, I did not see the other vineyards].
I've twice heard Accomasso offer a rapid but sometimes quite detailed vintage assessment. To say that it's strained my Italian is an understatement, so I'm grateful for our friend's record below. JW
Notes on Some Vintages:
Accomasso’s favorite four vintages: 1971, 1974, 1990, 1997. He also likes 1982, 1989, 1999.
2016: The soil is very dry. He has never seen the soil so dry. There are fissures in the ground.
2015: “I have the inspiration- it may be like 1990.”
2013: “Good, but tricky.”
2009: Not a fan. “Too much alcohol.”
2008: “Not as good as 2007. A wine that people will like, probably.” On 3/11/15 he said the 2008 Barolo was still half in oak, half in steel, and that he planned to bottle it after the 2015 harvest.
2004: Nice wines.
1990 Rocche Barolo: “The poetry of wine. A wine that I really liked, it had everything.”
1989: “Maybe will age longer than 1990.”
1976 and 1977: Not good vintages.
1974: he did not add sulphur. “It was 30 total, but this was in fact a little too low.”
1971: they picked in November.