Granbussia Through the Decades: 1974-2001

Aldo Conterno 1974 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 1978 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 1989 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 1990 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 1999 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 2000 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno 2001 Barolo Riserva Granbussia


Aldo Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Granbussia has long been one of Piedmont’s icon wines so it was with great pleasure that I sat down recently with brothers Franco and Giacomo Conterno to survey seven vintages of their top Barolo. Needless to say, the opportunity to taste these wines from impeccably stored bottles was an enormous privilege and made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

Poderi Aldo Conterno was founded in 1969 when brothers Aldo and Giovanni Conterno divided the family’s Giacomo Conterno estate over philosophical differences. Aldo was interested in creating a more approachable style of Barolo while Giovanni wanted to produce his wines in a rigorously classic style. Aldo moved to the Bussia zone of Monforte where he purchased the Cicala and Colonello vineyards, making him an exception rather than the rule during a time when it was much more common for wineries to buy grapes rather than work with estate-owned fruit. Giovanni continued to make his wines under the existing Giacomo Conterno label. The brothers also divided their existing stock of wines, which explains the existence of Aldo Conterno bottles in vintages that pre-date 1969.

Granbussia was first produced in a test version in 1970. The first commercial release was 1971. The early vintages of Granbussia were made predominantly from the Cicala and Colonnello vineyards. A small addition of 10-15% fruit from the Romirasco vineyard was added to the blend, but the family chose not to feature this vineyard as it was the only plot they rented at the time and their ability to continue to source fruit was always a question mark. In 1980 Conterno acquired Romirasco as well and the vineyard subsequently became the main component of the wine. Beginning with the 1982 Conterno began using same blend of 70% Romirasco, 15% Cicala and 15% Colonnello for the Granbussia that is used today. Of these terroirs Cicala is the poorest and therefore yields the sturdiest wines. Colonnello lies just a few meters from the border with neighboring Barolo. It has a higher percentage of sand and gives the most delicate wines. Romirasco contains a blend of both soil types. The wines naturally exhibit a combination of the structure of Cicala with the finesse of Colonnello. Granbussia is only made in vintages in which all three vineyards give outstanding results. For example, 2004 was a great vintage, but Cicala was hit by hail, so there will be no 2004 Granbussia.

Granbussia spends three years in oak. It is then moved to stainless steel for two years, a practice that, as far as I know, is unique among Barolo producers. “We aim to make wines that have plenty of primary aromatics and fruit,” explains Giacomo Conterno.

“Our father (Aldo) always remarked how well wines aged in larger formats,” adds Franco Conterno. “He wanted to preserve as much of that freshness as possible by leaving the wine for two years in steel prior to bottling. Above all else he was concerned with cleanliness, a value he instilled in us early on,” adds Conterno. “We age our Barolos exclusively in large Slavonian oak casks. One of our challenges is keeping the barrels perfectly clean, so each year we recondition the casks by scraping out the part of the oak that has been in contact with the wine.” This practice explains the presence of new oak flavors in the wines when they are young.

Granbussia has always been about elegance and refinement rather than about sheer power, which is in contrast to the approach many estates take in bottling their most structured wine as the riserva. Today it is also very unusual for an estate’s top wine to be a blend, as most wineries feature single-vineyard selections for their riservas. The hallmarks of Granbussia are perfumed aromatics, sweet cherry fruit, soft tannins and notable finesse, qualities which are amply evident in these seven wines.

The 1974 Barolo Riserva Granbussia reveals a fully saturated cork. Initial prospects aren’t terribly promising as the wine appears to be slightly over the hill. But as often happens with older Barolos, a gradual exposure to air brings this wine back to life. The 1974 is a beautiful, fully mature Granbussia. A sweet, ethereal and soft-textured Barolo, it is fully tertiary in its roasted coffee beans, licorice, stewed prunes and mint. I might have found more pleasure in the wine a few years ago when it was still at its peak, but it is still gorgeous and well-balanced today. 92/Anticipated maturity: 2007.

The estate’s 1978 Barolo Riserva Granbussia is spiced and balsamic with perfumed ripe fruit and a sweet, expansive personality that follows through all the way to the finish. The fruit is still vibrant enough to allow for another decade of aging. In a vintage famous for having produced structured, tannic wines, many of which are still primary today, the 1978 Barolo Riserva Granbussia stands apart for its extreme elegance, proving that Aldo Conterno’s style was pretty well formed even at this early stage. 96/Anticipated maturity: 2007-2017.

It is a rare treat to compare the two great Granbussias of 1989 and 1990 from bottles that share the same provenance. The 1989 Barolo Riserva Granbussia remains in my opinion the single most profound vintage for this wine, and one of the great all-time Barolos. Still youthful and fresh, this intensely flavored Barolo offers a compelling mix of smoke, licorice, tar, leather cherries with notable purity of expression vibrancy in its fruit, and finessed, silky tannins. It is a beautifully proportioned wine that is sure to provide much pleasure over the next 10-15 years. 97/Anticipated maturity: 2007-2020. Conterno’s 1990 Barolo Riserva Granbussia is sweet, beautiful and opulent, with an attractive roundness to its texture. It reveals lovely inner perfume and plenty of fruit supported by classic structure. It is an elegant, refined Granbussia to enjoy over the next decade. My preference, though, remains for the 1989 which offers greater complexity as well as detail in its personality. 95/Anticipated maturity: 2007-2017.

This is a great showing for Conterno’s 1999 Barolo Riserva Granbussia. A deeply-flavored, structured wine, it offers expressive aromatics and layers of sweet black cherries, roses and tar in a powerful, intense style. It needs at least a few additional years of cellaring for the oak to soften, but it is a terrific effort. 95/Anticipated maturity: 2009-2024. The 2000 Barolo Riserva Granbussia is long and powerful, with a generous quality to its ripe fruit and a sweet, opulent texture. It offers notable persistence on the palate and a pretty note of freshness on the finish that provides balance to the wine’s very ripe, forward style. 93/Anticipated maturity: 2008-2020. The 2001 Barolo Riserva Granbussia is wonderfully harmonious in its sweet, expressive aromatics and perfumed, ripe red fruit.  Medium in body, this delicate Granbussia is surprisingly open at this stage. It is impossible to resist now, although it may start to close up in bottle. This is a remarkably fresh and vibrant Granbussia that should develop beautifully over the following years and decades. 94/Anticipated maturity: 2009-2026.

 --Antonio Galloni