Cannubi: sacred land of Barolo | Wine-Searcher News and Features
Barolo is beloved by consumers, but there is one part that really gets the heart racing.
© Tom Hyland
| Michele Chiarlo’s section of Cannubi is vital to the winery, who say this is where Barolo was born.
Whether you think of it as a vineyard, a hill or an MGA, one thing is certain, Cannubi is the most famous Nebbiolo planted property in the entire Barolo area.
Representing a history of nearly three centuries, Cannubi represents a very distinctive terroir captured in the wines of around 20 producers who are fortunate enough to own a small parcel of this site; it is clear that many other winemakers would like to be able to work the fruit from here, given the worldwide recognition of the name of this site.
Many factors have given Cannubi a special aura, not the least of which is its history, which actually predates Barolo wine as we know it today. There’s a bottle in a wine museum in the nearby town of Bra that’s simply labeled Cannubi 1752, more than a century before the word Barolo was written on a label.
According to Stefano Chiarlo, winemaker of the Michele Chiarlo winery, which owns a small plot of Cannubi, the history of this vineyard is much more than its age. “It was in Cannubi that the new idea of Barolo was born, especially because before 1880 Barolo was a sweet wine. But it is also one of the first vineyards where the new technological system to produce Barolo as an important dry wine began.
Chiarlo adds that the royal family at the time was invested in terms of creating a “revolution” in his words, in the making of an important red wine; “Cannubi is one of the vineyards where there was the first experimentation to produce a red, dry, important wine.”
Most growers will tell you that the most important factor about Cannubi is its particular terroir, as it is said to contain the two main soil types found in the Barolo zone; Tortonian (younger soils, generally producing more accessible wines with softer tannins) and Serravalian (formerly known as Helvetian; older soils; more intense tannins which result in wines that require longer ageing). Most local winemakers believe that the name Cannubi comes from the word “knownbial”, as in a wedding ceremony, the union of two.
“These soils have different compositions and produce two different wines,” notes Paola Rinaldi, co-owner of the Francesco Rinaldi winery in the municipality of Barolo, which has been producing Cannubi Barolo for more than 30 years. “We think this wine is a bit more full wine.”
At Marchesi di Barolo, located in the town of Barolo, Valentina Abbona talks about the historical fame of Cannubi.
“It was surely considered an area that has always been recognized for a number of reasons. Not just because of the quality you have with Cannubi because of the specific geographical position it is in and the combination of different types of soils, but also because it is so close to the village of Barolo [the vineyard is located just north of the town]. It is therefore the most accessible vineyard that has always been there at all times, making it the easiest to work with. It was a qualitative point of view, but also the kind of ease of achieving it.”
Marchesi di Barolo has a long history with Cannubi, as Abbona explains. “We have bottles dating back to the late 1800s from our family’s estate, before the purchase of Marchesi di Barolo, who wrote on the label ‘Barolo Classico Prima Marca Cannubia’, or ‘first brand Cannubia’.”
Describing the specifics of Cannubi’s composition, she remarks: “The soil itself has a good percentage of sand, as well as clay and limestone, so richer characteristics. But that didn’t happen at because of the mixing of the soils it was a matter of erosion ended up leaving a nice mound of sand anyway.We think this vineyard is one of a kind.
© Marchesi di Barolo
| Very old bottles from the Marchesi di Barolo winery with the identification term Cannubio.
While the description of Cannubi as a convergence of Tortonian and Serravalian soils has been taken as the mainstream truth for decades, recent studies suggest a different reality, according to Alessandro Masnaghetti, a journalist/cartographer who has written two books and created a site Very detailed web about Barolo. .
He writes that there is a type of soil in Cannubi known as Diano Sandstone, “whose sandy character has been so often misinterpreted that it has led to this hill being regarded as a point of transition between the Tortonian stages and Serravalian”. In fact, as Masnaghetti wrote in his books and maps, “there are no Serravalian soils in Cannubi”.
What’s in a name?
While all Barolo producers – even those who don’t offer Cannubi Barolo – agree on the remarkable quality of the wines on this site, there is significant dispute over the exact geographical boundaries of Cannubi, as there are essentially five MGAs different (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive, a system for identifying legally permitted place names on Barolo wine labels) with the word Cannubi today. The origin of this situation and the way different producers label their wines is a complex history, which still worries some traditionalists of Barolo.
To understand this matter, it is important to realize that Cannubi, while thought of as a vineyard, is more properly referred to as a hill. The historic center of Cannubi – where growers such as Chiarlo (just across the cemetery on the old road from Barolo town), Damilano, Luigi Einaudi and Bartolo Mascarello have small plots – spans 48 acres. On the northern border is Cannubi Boschis, with an area of 30 acres, while to the south the vineyards of Cannubi San Lorenzo (5.8 acres), Cannubi Valletta (15.4 acres) and Cannubi Muscatel (15. 4 acres) are extensions of Cannubi Hill.
In 2010, a small group of producers sought to have the rules changed so that they could add the word Cannubi to the names Muscatel, Valletta, San Lorenzo and Boschis. The reasoning was clear. “It makes more sense to label the wine Cannubi instead of Cannubi Muscat,” says Abbona. As Marchesi di Barolo have an area in Muscatel, it seems their motives are clear in this case. Yet she defends this choice on superior grounds. “This historic area (the great Cannubi hill) has always been considered one.”
Taking a very different position, Maria Teresa Mascarello, daughter of the late Bartolo Mascarello, one of the most beloved legendary figures in Barolo history, believes that the final decision by a court in Rome in 2013, authorizing Muscatel, La Valletta, Boschis and San Lorenzo to be labeled with the word Cannubi, was a terrible mistake.
“We oppose it because it would be like in Burgundy you say that Gevrey-Chambertin is not more than 15 hectares, but 34. It is not a question of quality that it seems that the wine is better in Cannubi than in Muscat. all people want to have a package at Cannubi, it’s because it’s also about quality.”
For Mascarello, a strict traditionalist in his winemaking and viticultural beliefs, like his father, this result contradicts common sense as well as the history of Barolo. She explains that a Muscat producer, for example, may label their Barolo as Cannubi Muscatel or simply Cannubi; the same is true for the other three MGAs. “Why in Cannubi do I have to use the name Cannubi for Muscat, for Valletta, for Boschis, for San Lorenzo? The quality is in a small plot, not in a big plot. Cannubi is the heart of the hill, but now Cannubi is the whole hill.It’s a matter of upholding the tradition of truth.
Mascarello further explains his problem with this state of affairs. “This decision was not for consumers, because they buy a bottle of Barolo that arrives from Cannubi, which may in fact have arrived from Boschis, San Lorenzo, Muscatel or Valletta, and pay a higher price because what is written on the label is Cannubi.”
Interestingly, few growers who have plots in Valletta or the other three locations use the full MGA name, preferring to use only the word Cannubi, for obvious reasons. One of the few winemakers to label their wine with the full MGA name is Ceretto, with their Cannubi San Lorenzo, first produced from the 2003 vintage. Winemaker Alessandro Ceretto remarks that “this site gives the most beautiful version of all our unique vineyards; for me, it’s a real vintage”. As to why he labels this wine Cannubi San Lorenzo and not just Cannubi, his answer is simple. “My view is in favor of the full name Cannubi San Lorenzo, as it contains all the information in the name.”
So while the dispute over specific labeling may never end, it’s obvious that the Cannubi name on a label conveys the Barolo class like few other sites, as Rinaldi explains. “Our customers are looking for something a little more classic and a little different. So they’re not just looking to Barolo, but a classic Barolo, which you won’t find anywhere. Cannubi is the name customers are asking for.”
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