The Making of a 100-Point Wine: A Barolo with Structure, Energy and Balance | Wine Enthusiast
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The Making of a 100-Point Wine: A Barolo with Structure, Energy and Balance

The 2016 Barolos are fantastic. One of the longest and latest vintages in recent memory, 2016 offered perfect conditions for the fickle Nebbiolo grape. When I sat down to taste more than 350 Barolos from the vintage last spring, I expected greatness. But I wasn’t expecting to find two young wines that would deserve 100 points.

Reviewing almost all of Italy means I get to taste some of the most illustrious wines in the world, namely Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. I’ve bestowed a handful of 100-point wines since I started at Wine Enthusiast in 2013, including two other Barolos from the 2010 vintage.

The first 2016 Barolo that left me speechless stood out for its structure, radiance and sheer beauty. I was captivated.

As I tasted it, I had no idea of its producer. At Wine Enthusiast, all tastings are conducted blind, so my assistant sets up flights of like wines in numbered bags. I knew it was Barolo, and I knew it was likely the 2016 vintage, even though some producers release the wines a year or two later than others.

Because Barolo is structured and ageworthy, they’re opened several hours in advance to let them breathe. If the wines are still extremely tense and closed, I’ll give them time to unwind and revisit them a few hours later.

I didn’t need the extra time with this bottle. It stopped me in my tracks with its textbook Nebbiolo-ness: aromas that recall forest floor, rose, herb and wild berry, and its delicious fruit, spice and menthol flavors.

But more than the aromas and flavors, it was an austere, ageworthy structure combined with compelling energy and balance that floored me. In my tasting notes, I wrote that it was a “textbook, dream Barolo.”

After I finished that day’s tasting, I pulled the bag off of the standout wine. It was Giovanni Rosso’s Ester Canale Rosso Poderi dell’Antica Vigna Rionda.

It hails from the village of Serralunga d’Alba, which makes heroically structured Barolos from limestone soils that impart serious tannins. Of all the hallowed vineyards in Serralunga, and in the entire denomination, none can bring Barolo lovers to their knees like Vigna Rionda.

Giovanni Rosso 2016 Ester Canale Rosso Poderi dell'Antica Vigna Rionda
Courtesy of Giovanni Rosso

Protected from cold, eastern winds by the high ridge of Serralunga, Vigna Rionda gets full southern exposure. This combination allows grapes to reach ideal ripening before harvest almost every year. High vineyard altitudes of 985 feet provide marked day-night temperature changes that prolong the growing season and create complex aromas in the finished wines.

Divided by 10 growers, Giovanni Rosso’s three-acre parcel of Vigna Rionda is considered one of the best sites. It also epitomizes the successes, heartbreaks, challenges and triumphs of the entire denomination.

This was the parcel from which the late, great producer Bruno Giacosa sourced grapes for his now-legendary wine, Barolo Collina Rionda, which he made from 1967-93. No producer before or since has Giacosa’s in-depth knowledge of the top vineyard areas in Barolo and Barbaresco.

Giacosa’s bottling put Vigna Rionda on the map for wine lovers, and encouraged other growers in the cru to make their own wines, as opposed to selling grapes to large producers.

Giovanni Rosso 2016 Ester Canale Rosso Poderi dell’Antica Vigna Rionda (Barolo); $450, 100 points
This textbook, dream Barolo opens with quintessential aromas of underbrush, rose petal, dried herb and forest berry while the youthfully austere, delicious palate delivers juicy Marasca cherry, raspberry compote, licorice and menthol before a tobacco finish. Noble tannins give it a firm, polished backbone while bright acidity keeps it balanced and imparts ageworthy energy. Drink 2026–2066. Cellar Selection

Today, the Giovanni Rosso firm is owned by enologist Davide Rosso and his mother, Ester Canale Rosso. How they ended up with this parcel, or rather resumed possession, is the stuff of films.

The Canale family acquired vineyards in Vigna Rionda in 1934, and they passed through the generations. After Ester’s father passed away prematurely in 1963, Ester and her mother couldn’t maintain the vineyard. In 1970, they sold their holdings to Ester’s uncle, Aldo Canale. The property passed to his son, Tommaso, who had no direct heirs.

After Tommaso’s death in 2010, Ester inherited most of the parcel she had parted with decades earlier. She and Davide bought the rest from cousins who also inherited part of the revered plot. Today, they own the exact parcel the family was forced to sell in 1970.

The Ester Canale Rosso Vigna Rionda Barolo is made from one acre of Giovanni Rosso’s parcel and with the oldest vines planted in 1946. Davide keeps winemaking traditional, including aging exclusively in 16-hectoliter casks made of Slavonian oak.

This fusion of scrupulous winemaking, an ideal growing season, old vines and one of the greatest vineyards in Barolo all came together in this drop-dead-gorgeous wine.