In the hearts and minds of Barolo lovers the name Conterno means everything. The original Conterno was the great Giacomo Conterno. Giacomo handed the reins over to his sons Giovanni and Aldo in 1961 where they worked together for eight years. In 1969 Aldo felt the need to make his own wines, so founded an independent winery in Monforte d'Alba. Today both labels are still going strong. Giacomo Conterno's Barolos are often described as the most muscular, tannic Barolos on the market, whilst Aldo Conterno's wines are marked by the purity of their fruit and perhaps foremost, for their enduring elegance.
Hakkasan Mayfair provided the stage for a tasting and dinner that looked to celebrate a range of modern vintages of Aldo Conterno's top wines and evaluate their willingness to stand up to the complex flavour profile of the Cantonese and Sichuan dishes that Hakkasan is best known for. The tasting, which enjoys the setting of Hakkasan's impressive private dining room, focuses on four great vintages of Conterno's top wine - Barolo Granbussia Riserva, followed by two young vintages of each of the single vineyard Barolos that go into the Granbussia - Romirasco, Colonnello and Cicala. The older wines (1995, 1996 and 1997) have a softness and poise that is truly beguiling; these vintages all have more of the dried fruit and floral character that great Barolo takes on as it settles with age. The youthful wines are hedonistic and tannic; the '05 wines are more of a pleasure to drink in youth than the staunch, unapproachable wines from '06 which are clearly a great wine that's in for the long haul. The best wine in the tasting is the 2001 Barolo Granbussia Riserva. Most of the assembled tasters agree that this wine is at a perfect point in its evolution; still displaying many of superb primary fruit characteristics, but starting to develop the earthy, smoky depths that the finest wines take on.
Tasting samples dispatched, we move through to the restaurant to look more closely at Barolo as a foodie wine. Cantonese cuisine might not be ones first thought when matching with Nebbiolo, but it is surprising how comfortable these classic Italian wines are with the sweet spice/savoury character of the food. What's clear from looking at the diners' tasting notes is that here the youthful, masculine Romirasco '05 is the top wine. With dishes like Cantonese duck and slow braised lamb shank, the refreshing acidity, pure fruit and ample structure is really needed. This tasting and dinner gave an extraordinary insight into the adaptability of these noble wines and their ability to help bring focus and cohesion to dinner that incorporated a wide range of flavours.