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“The basic concept is that of ‘delicacy’, from the grapevine to the bottle.” Cappellano

March 20, 2020

Amidst COVID-19 fears and an increasing percentage of the population needing to self-isolate, 67 Pall Mall will attempt to keep the glass half full as we provide stories about legendary winemakers that managed to survive and thrive during decades past.

Today’s story is about the legendary Piemontese winery of Cappellano. The story of Cappellano begins with current owner, Augusto’s great-great-grandfather, the notary Filippo Cappellano, a rich landowner with a passion for wine, who, at the age of 48, founded the company, bringing together about 60 hectares into one estate of farmland.

Augusto’s grandfather Francesco Augusto Cappellano, an oenologist, followed his ancestors’ footsteps in passing on the baton to his son Teobaldo, at the end of the 1960s. After his childhood in Eritrea, Teobaldo took the helm of the company and changed it dramatically by reducing the size, and implementing the highest quality control, following very specific guidelines.
A legend in Barolo, Teobaldo Cappellano was one of the last of the region’s great traditionalist winemakers, alongside the Mascarellos & Conternos. Additionally, in 1983 he banished all journalists from his cellar, unless they agreed to review his wines without scores. He saw ratings as divisive among growers.  

Cappellano make fewer than 800 cases of Barolo per year. Two-thirds of his Barolo production is labelled as Barolo ‘Rupestris’, from a parcel planted on grafted rootstock in the 1940s and the remainder is the mythic ‘Piè Franco’from a parcel planted on its own roots with Nebbiolo’s ‘Michet’ clone in 1989.
Cappellano remains one of the Langhe’s and Italy’s great wineries. They are some of the most sought after wines of Europe and we were privileged to taste of four older vintages from 1947, 1955, 1962 and 1970, plus some Piè Rupestris and Piè Franco side by side from 3 fantastic vintages; 1999, 2001 and 2004.

1947 Cappellano

Bright colour, no evidence of garnet hints on the rim that normally is associated with older Nebbiolos. Vibrant and lively looking, almost like a 2-3 year old Pinot Noir. Nose starts very fresh, with bright red fruit resembling cherries and roses, quite floral and perfumed. On palate, the silky nature of tannins makes you travel to Chambolle, charming and ethereal. Gained more weight with time in the glass, but far away from the heat of the vintage. Glorious bottle. One of people’s favourite.

1955 Cappellano

Colour not dissimilar to ’47, just a touch deeper and with a touch of garnet on the edge. Nose though was more classic of older Nebbiolo, with the volatile and lifted characters to dominate the nature of it. On palate showed more fruit, which was more on the sour cherry nature and with a higher acidity than the much warmer vintage of ’47. With time in the glass, the volatility blew off and was much more fruity in about 2 hours after we opened the bottle.

1962 Cappellano

Deep ruby colour, shows more concentration that the previous two wines. A sweet core of fruit, resembling cherries, spiced roses and cooked plums. There is an aromatic lift due to the elegant volatile acidity that adds a note of balsamic and spice. Layered and complex, inviting. Palate follows similarly, with confit plums and cherries. Richer than both the ’47 & ’55, with more weight and body, silky nature of tannins, superbly integrated and balanced. Long & poised, a perfect example why we shouldn’t judge a book from its cover, where the cover in this case is the fame of the vintage.

1970 Cappellano

Colour of a bright orange core with amber highlights, evident of Barolo of certain age. A unique nose, earthy, savoury, smokey. Notes of Cheddar-cheese rind, slightly dusty and with a Lapsang Souchong smokiness and tar notes that is quintessentially Barolo. Palate was meatier, with a beef consommé complexity, mushrooms and truffles. The first of the older wines to show a tannic grip and dryness. Multi-layered, long, complex. For the traditional-lovers, simply a masterpiece.

For the 6 wines that followed, I came under the impression that Piè Rupestris showed an opulent aromatic intensity that made most of wines more appealing or approachable at first, possibly with the exception of 2001, where the roles were somehow reversed. Most of Piè Franco had a deeper nose, maybe bit subdued to start with but with an underlying power that was evident of concentration and grace. What was most evident though, was the nature of tannins, texture and mouthfeel. The Piè Franco wines displayed a much more smooth and round nature of tannins, which make them to be felt more integrated and silky.

As for the vintages tasted, 2001 Piè Franco was a bit closed and didn’t show much. Piè Rupestris was more open and ready to drink from the 2, surprisingly though the 2004 felt readier to drink and that can be enjoyed before 2001. The 1999s as expected, charming, soft, textured and perfumed.