A er working in restaurants around his hometown of Denver, Colorado, Ryan Fletter landed at Barolo Grill, where Blair Taylor had created a paean to Piedmont’s food and wine. To galvanize the staff, Taylor took them to Italy. “We went all over Tuscany—to Montalcino, Chianti and Florence; up to the Veneto to taste Amarone, and over to Piedmont,” Fletter recalls. “I was blown away by the deliciousness of the food. But it was really while tasting a Barolo in Barolo that everything just clicked."
Fletter became the Grill’s wine director in 2006, and the owner in 2015. Last summer, the new boss took his turn closing the restaurant for two weeks to explore the food and wine of Italy with his staff. The 21st annual excursion was devoted entirely to Piedmont with a focus—not surprisingly—on Barolo.
“It’s incredible how small the area actually is,” Fletter says. “Five villages—Monforte, Serralunga, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Barolo—constitute the bulk of it, and if you stand in the middle of Castiglione and do a three-sixty, it’s all pretty much right there around you, like a big bowl. But within this small area there is a tremendous diversity of terroir and microclimates.”
1. E. Pira e Figli Barolo Cannubi (Barolo)
“The anchor of the region is the town of Barolo. Located on the western side of the bowl, the town’s better sites face east, and this, along with the looser, sandier soil here, tends to create highly perfumed wines. Cannubi occupies an entire south-north spine on the edge of the town’s centro storico between two higher ridges. Part of the vineyard faces west, but the classic section faces due east, and it is here, right in the flank of the hillside, that Chiara Boschis has her vines,” Fletter explains. “Classy and elegant, with pronounced scents of roses and violets, exotic spices, silky tannins and firm, powerful fruit, the wine’s balance of finesse and structure is a hallmark of this vineyard.”
2. M. Marengo Barolo Brunate (La Morra)
“As far as I’m concerned, Brunate belongs among the top ten of the best vineyard sites in the world,” Fletter says. Just north of Barolo, Brunate’s sandy soil and eastern exposure create wines with even more intensity and concentration, he explains, adding that they also have an unmistakable high-toned, ethereal floral aroma. “Marco Marengo consistently makes a jaw-dropping wine of tremendous power and finesse, with distinctive rose-petal perfume and ripe black cherry fruit, that captures the essence of this spectacular site.”
3. Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia (Monforte d’Alba)
Bussia, a subzone of Monforte d’Alba, is a little warmer than the surrounding areas, Fletter explains. While the territory carrying the Bussia name was greatly expanded in 2010, Fletter points out that the Aldo Conterno winery is located in the historic part known as “Bussia Soprana” (upper Bussia). “There’s a lot of clay here and the wines are warmer, weightier and broader than the elegantly high-toned, high-shouldered wines of Barolo and La Morra.”
4. Palladino Barolo San Bernardo Riserva (Serralunga d’Alba)
“Every time I taste a bottle of this wine it takes me right back to Serralunga. The town sits on a high north-south ridge with mostly western exposures and compact clay-limestone soil, resulting in thicker-skinned grapes with more pronounced tannins. The wines here can seem quite closed in their youth, which is why I chose a riserva. Powerfully taut, muscular and granitic, with slowly evolving scents of dried herbs and violets, dense black cherry and licorice, this wine beautifully demonstrates the power and austerity of Serralunga, as well as the ability—perhaps even the need—of the wines of this town to age.”
5. Cavalotto Barolo Bricco Boschis (Castiglione Falletto)
“For me, both Cavalotto and Vietti represent the village of Castiglione Falletto, and Castiglione Falletto, in turn, represents a coming together of the two sides of the Barolo zone, the compact clay-limestone of the eastern side (Monforte and Serralunga) and the loose, sandy soil of the west (Barolo and La Morra). The Bricco Boschis vineyard is located right in the middle of Castiglione Falletto, and because Bricco Boschis is owned almost entirely by Cavalotto, it is almost impossible to separate the one from the other. This wine exudes both elegance and power: the pronounced floral aromas of La Morra and the power and structure of Serralunga.”
6. Vietti Barolo Castiglione (Castiglione Falletto)
“Vietti is one of the very few (if not only) wineries to own vineyards in all eleven of the Barolo towns,” Fletter says, “and this wine, made from vineyards in Castiglione Falletto, Monforte, Barolo and Novello, represents an important aspect of Barolo: Until the 1960s, nebbiolo grapes were typically sourced from different areas within the zone and combined so as to make the most balanced wine possible.” This is an excellent example of this old-school approach, Fletter says. “It’s firm but supple, with Barolo’s hallmark white true and cherry blossom aromas, as well as enough fruit to make a balanced wine for drinking now.”illustration by Veronica Collington