Big Barolo Energy (in the best possible way)

I don’t have an Aha Wine for wine in general, but I did have an Aha Barolo, and it was a glass of Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne . From the moment I tasted it, I knew. MY GOD, the tar, roses, and Nebbiolo magic I’d heard about were real. I recognized that Barolo was a very special wine with a very unique energy. People go mad for Barolo and with good reason. I was thrilled when Vinous announced their very first Los Angeles edition of La Festa del Barolo. Thrilled both for the wine and to meet (in person) the people I’ve been writing for, for what will be five years this spring. And what better way to get to know Antonio Galloni than with a glass of Barolo? The growers at the Festa were a who’s who of Barolo favorites: Vietti, Oddero, Rinaldi, Altare, Sandrone, and more. And the excitement for the region, the wine, the friggin’ ETHOS of the most ageable of wines, was palpable all day, morning to night. From growers to somms to guests—WOW—everyone showed up with that eager anticipatory energy. I was tasked with checking in guests, a great deal of whom had signed up both for the afternoon tasting and the dinner. They nervously checked in their babies (i.e., the Barolo they brought for dinner) as we assured them that yes, the bottles would find their way to the correct dinner table, and absolutely, the somms would make sure the wine would shine in its best light. The afternoon tasting took place in a shady patio behind Marino Ristorante. At some point, I was relieved of check-in duty and began to make my tasting rounds—not that I’d been deprived—one somm had dropped a bit of Spinetta off at my station early on, and another brought me a dab of Riesling they’d opened behind the scenes. Did I mention that in addition to La Festa bringing the best winemakers, the somms were also a who’s who of LA’s finest? But oh yes, the walkaround. If forced, here are my top three picks of the afternoon: I was wowed by the 2012 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis . Still fresh as a daisy but super elegant, I got all the earthy and floral notes hanging on to a strong structural backbone. I’d drink it now, and given how it currently shows, I’d drink it for at least a decade or so to come. The 2018 Elio Altare Unoperuno is, according to Silvia Altare, one of the purest Nebbiolo expressions they make. Unoperuno, basically “one by one”, means they pick (by hand) the grape berries off each bunch, slowly and laboriously. Nary a random bug even makes it into the brew. It was remarkably smooth with a chocolate finish. Meal and dessert in one sip. Then came 2009 Vietti Riserva “Villero” . Remarkably velvety, more dark fruit than bright red, with perfect tannins. I wish I had a better way to say that, but yeah, perfect tannins. Extraordinary. On to the dinner! Each table had one of the growers at it with their accompanying wines, as well as the wines guests brought. Having been directing the fashionably late (this IS LA) guests to their assigned seats, I was a touch late to my table, which happened to be the Altare table. As I slid into my seat, everyone had at least three glasses of Barolo in front of them, as well as the first antipasto. The meat eaters had beef carpaccio, but I’d cackled a little earlier in the evening looking at the table chart that notated guest preferences. My table stated, “one known vegetarian”, which made me feel like an outlaw in a good way, especially when I saw that my antipasto number one was cauliflower greens with pistachios. It hit every salty-crunchy-light-but-also-satisfying note you want out of an opener. I want every snack to have that vibe. I’ll take this moment to mention Chef Sal Marino. He introduced himself to me early in the day, and let me tell you, never a more warm and welcoming Chef could you hope to meet. Not to mention my first bite of his work, earlier that day, a cacio e pepe arancini (on a stick! So convenient!) was superb and boded well for the dinner to come. After the cauliflower greens came a lovely battered zucchini blossom. I don’t even know what the meat eaters were into—some sort of rabbit porchetta? I’m sure it was good, but I was thrilled with my blossom. The Prima dish was the same for both me and the carnivores: an exquisitely rich but vibrant celery root-filled pasta augmented with the crunch of crushed hazelnuts and enriched with shaved cheese. I almost wished, as I often do with the pasta course, that there wasn’t another course coming because I wanted to finish the pasta but thought better of it to save space. There was a third ingredient to the night: conviviality. Talking to my table mates, I learned the two buddies to my left had driven in from Santa Barbara, while the couple to my right came in from Orange County. One guest came in from Mexico City; this was truly a destination dinner. And as the night went on, other wine lovers roved, sharing bottles, trading sips of theirs for ours. One of the most beautiful things about these sorts of suppers is everyone’s compersion, that is, the wholehearted and altruistic joy in another being’s happiness. That’s big Barolo energy for ya. And then there was the moment I decided to woman up and say hi to DLynn Proctor, one of the stars of the “Somm” documentary. I live in LA, the movie stars are amongst us, and I typically either don’t care or don’t even notice, but I wanted to tell him how much inspiration I took from seeing how hard somms worked to earn their pins. Fortunately, he graciously took my fangirling in stride. Oh yes, dinner wine faves: Forgive me, I know a favorite from the walkaround was the 2012 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis, but at dinner, I had the 2006 . It was almost like non-sweet caramel in texture, full but textured and rich and…omg. I was right in my suspicion that it could keep aging beautifully. Antonio made the rounds with a 2004 Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva that blew my mind—graphite and dried rose nose, lush full body rife with ripe fruit and a hint of pastilles. My gosh. By the end of it all, everyone was gallivanting table to table, wine to wine, eager to share with anyone who would listen and taste, which essentially was everyone. Then bright lights went up, and still, everyone partied on. The bottles on tables began to be collected and lined up on the bar, a sort of farewell to winos salute—look at what good work you did! Now for real, go home, and we will see you next year. Once the majority of the guests were gone, we (the somms, me, and yes, Sal Marino, too) all drank the remnants. Of which, there was a reasonable amount. And not because people weren’t lapping it up. It was just an insane bounty of wine Barolo—fitting of La Festa. I can’t wait for next year. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking RAW and Natural Wine: Chilled, Unfined, Unfiltered Sugar and Wine and Everything Fine Further Down the TikTok Rabbit Hole You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Megan Bell Wine Situation Final Five! Andrea Jaramillo

Giacomo Conterno

Riserva Barolo Nebbiolo 2004

Mind-blowing graphite and dried rose, lush full body with ripe fruit and a hint of pastilles. — a year ago

Juan, Severn and 12 others liked this

Luciano Sandrone

Cannubi Boschis Barolo Nebbiolo 2009

If the 2012 was great, this one is ground—almost caramel in texture and taste except not sweet. Full, textured, rich. — a year ago

Severn, Laura and 7 others liked this


Riserva "Villero" Barolo Nebbiolo 2009

Velvety, more dark than red fruited, with tannins are justttt right — a year ago

Juan, Severn and 11 others liked this