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Luciano Sandrone

Iconic Barolo and more from a Jewel in Piemonte’s Crown

Today, Luciano Sandrone is one of Barolo’s most admired names, a fact made all the more remarkable given his Estate’s humble beginnings. As Kerin O’Keefe writes in Barolo and Barbaresco, Sandrone is one of “the few producers who does not hail from generations of growers and winemakers.” Sandrone’s father was a carpenter, but instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Luciano chose a life in wine, first at Giacomo Borgogno and then at Marchesi de Barolo, where he rose to become cellar master, a role he would hold until 1990. 

In 1978 Sandrone achieved his ambition, buying a small plot in the then little-known Barolo Cru of Cannubi Boschis. Made in his parent’s garage overlooking the Cannubi hill, Sandrone tentatively took his inaugural Barolo to Vinitay in 1981, where he sold every one of the 1500 bottles to an American broker. It quickly became one of Piemonte’s first cult wines, first with the 1982 and 1985 vintages, and by the time the 1990 Cannubi received a perfect score from Robert Parker, the dye was cast.

“Sandrone is now a historic estate, but the wines keep getting better and more finessed, a testament to the drive for perfection that runs through every aspect of this exemplary winery...” Antonio Galloni

Since the early ’90s, Luciano has worked alongside his children Luca and Barbara and, increasingly, his grandchildren Alessia and Stefano. Driven by the family’s clarity of vision, the Estate has since expanded to over 27 hectares. One of the things least discussed about this celebrated producer and Barolo, in general, is the quality of their work in the vineyards. Sandrone is genuinely one of the regional leaders in this area. Firstly, they are organic in a region where organic practice is still infrequent. Secondly, Luca Sandrone is a perfectionist (like his sister Barbera) and is completely obsessed with the vines he manages. His focus is very much on making the vines stronger, healthier and more resilient rather than the symptomatic approach that is so typical. A great deal of the vineyard work is done by hand, with the Estate employing twelve full-time workers in the vines alone. Luca and Luciano openly reference Burgundy in their approach and seek to harvest only perfectly ripe and immaculate fruit. This is one of the keys to the purity and flesh of the wines. 

Another little-known fact is that 30-50% of the fruit is fermented as whole bunches, with the destemmed portion of the fruit also having a very high percentage of whole berries. Luciano Sandrone remembers well that once upon a time, all the region’s wines were made without destemming. The maturation occurs in large format oak, 500 litres and beyond, and only a small percentage of this oak is new (10% across the winery). The work in the cellar is minimal, with only wild yeast fermentation and no filtration. The macerations are managed very carefully, and the bottling occurs relatively early as Luciano Sandrone wants to capture the most refined tannins and as much fruit purity as possible, another key to understanding the wines produced here. 

Of course, like all great growers, the primary key is the vineyards themselves. There is no doubt that Sandrone works with a spectacular range of Barolo vineyards. Yes, there is the legendary Cannubi Boschis (today bottled under the Aleste label), but there are also great Barolo sites in Monforte, Serralunga, Castiglione Falletto, Novello and more in the Barolo township itself that all contribute to the outstanding Le Vigne cuvée. Little wonder this wine now comfortably rivals (and some would argue in specific years eclipses) the Aleste for quality.

“No one has done a better job of bridging the traditional and modern style than Sandrone, especially in recent years. The Sandrone Barolos are made in a style that emphasizes fruit and intensity. In that sense, they are the equivalents to growers such as Claude Dugat or Leroy in Burgundy.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Tasting at Sandrone is like an endless degustation at your favourite restaurant, where every dish is unique, yet just as delicious as the next! There are no entry-level wines at this address, more a series of benchmarks with their own distinctive personality and style. I don’t think that Luciano Sandrone will mind Galloni comparing his wines, (stylistically or otherwise) with those of Claude Dugat or Leroy. Luciano is a lover of Burgundy and is very open about the influence this region has had on his viticulture (organic and perfectionist) and winemaking (where the aim is purity and ripe tannins). After his first ‘win’ at Vinitaly in 1982, he jumped in his car and drove over the Alps to Burgundy. By his own admission, Sandrone absorbed an awful lot from this, and subsequent visits to the great vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Given the class and expression of Sandrone’s wines today, we’re pretty sure Mr. Dugat and Mme. Bize-Leroy would be similarly flattered by the stylistic comparison!

What is most important is that irrespective of fashion or style, Luciano Sandrone crafts wines of profound integrity, purity and deep expression. These are wines made with passion and honesty. They provide wonderful drinking pleasure both when young and with bottle age. As a fastidious and naturally talented vigneron, Sandrone’s obligation to keep the unique signature of the terroirs alive is vividly captured in these wonderfully intense wines.

The Sandrone family also runs an outstanding museum program they call Sibi et Paucis (the name is Latin and translates roughly as: ‘for the few and favoured’). Each year, about 10 to 15% of the production of their Nebbiolo wines (the two Barolos and the Valmaggiore) is held back in the winery’s underground cellars under optimal aging conditions to provide this producer’s long-term clients with aged-release wines that are closer to maturity. 

Luciano Sandrone dreams that one day all his wines will be released only when they are ready to drink. Currently, the Sibi et Paucis wines start being re-released six years after the vintage for the Valmaggiore and for the Barolos, 10 years after the vintage. It is a wonderful initiative that we, of course, welcome. Each release comes with a stamp on the label to differentiate it from the original release.

Currently Available

Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2021

Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2021

Sandrone’s Dolcetto is, without doubt, one of the very finest examples of the region. The consistent quality of this wine—its purity, silky texture, fine tannins and balance—can only come with perfectly ripe fruit from top sites. In this case, the sites are also high-altitude, which brings added freshness to the layers of fruit. From estate vineyards in Monforte d’Alba, Sandrone draws from Castelletto and Cascina Pe Mol. The latter sits at the top of the ridge leading from Monforte d’Alba to the hamlet of Perno and is among the highest vineyards of the region. In Novello, there are the Rocche di San Nicola vineyards and the whitish marls of Ravera—where the easterly exposure contributes perfume and aromatic complexity. Joining these sites now is fruit from Rivassi and Crosia in the commune of Barolo. There are typically 10 different parcels contributing to the blend, with any fruit not making the grade sold off in bulk. Each parcel is vinified separately before blending and the wines are aged in tank only. The amount of care that goes into the growing of this wine is quite remarkable and it shows in the glass. There is some history here: when Luciano Sandrone was starting off, he was driven to produce greatness, yet he could only access a limited quantity of Barolo vines. He, therefore, channelled a great deal of his drive and energy into his Dolcetto (and Barbera). This helps explain the quality on offer.

“The 2021 Dolcetto d’Alba is bright and punchy. Blue/purplish fruit, violets, spice, licorice and rose petal all meld together in this bracing, taut Dolcetto. This is an especially understated, super-classic style for Sandrone, and it works so well.”
91 points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
“The Dolcetto is as dark as night and stains the glass with its intense extraction of color. This richness in color is just the prelude to the ripe and luscious plum aromas that mingle with notes of violets and dried herbs. The palate is plush and full in body with the core of fruit being dominated by black plum and black cherry with a subtle leather note peeking through on the finish.”
90 points, Jeff Porter, Wine Enthusiast
Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2021
Luciano Sandrone Barbera d'Alba 2020

Luciano Sandrone Barbera d'Alba 2020

Sandrone’s layered and polished Barbera is drawn from four sites: Cascina Pe Mol, (mentioned above); Ravera and Rocche di San Nicola (in Novello); and Albarella (in Barolo). At between 350 and 450 metres, these are some of the highest, most exposed vineyards in the region, bringing superb freshness and vibrancy to this wine. To balance the structure and acidity for which this wine is noted, Sandrone matured the wine in 500 litre tonneaux (40% of which are new). The estate has special, untoasted barrels made in Burgundy for this cuvée to ensure the wood impact is as discreet as possible. Of course, when the wine is young, some wood shows through on the nose, but it is seriously classy oak and is hardly noticeable. With aging, the integration is seamless.

“The 2020 Barbera d’Alba is another wine that shows the greater refinement at Sandrone these days. Even so, there’s plenty of richness in the ripe red cherry, plum, mocha and spice flavors. Soft, silky contours wrap it all together, with a gentle kiss of oak that lingers. The 2020 is an absolute delight.”
93 points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
“This is a terrific value wine. Darkly saturated and rich, the 2020 Barbera d'Alba is packed tight with dark blackberry and plum. This hot-vintage Barbera is lovely to pair with grilled meats or easy chicken recipes. This is a luscious, generous wine from Piedmont.”
93 points, Monica Larner, The Wine Advocate
Luciano Sandrone Barbera d'Alba 2020
Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2022

Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2022

Sandrone’s Dolcetto is, with good reason, one of the finest, most complex examples of the region. The consistent quality of this wine—its purity, silky texture, fine tannins and balance—can only come with perfectly ripe fruit from top sites. In this case, the sites are also high-altitude, which brings added freshness to the layers of fruit. From estate vineyards in Monforte d’Alba, Sandrone draws from Castelletto and Cascina Pe Mol. The latter sits at the top of the ridge leading from Monforte d’Alba to the hamlet of Perno and is among the highest vineyards of the region. In Novello, there are the Rocche di San Nicola vineyards and the whitish marls of Ravera—where the easterly exposure contributes perfume and aromatic complexity. Joining these sites is fruit from Rivassi and Crosia in the commune of Barolo. Another key to the quality is the age of the vines, now averaging over 50 years. There are typically 11 different parcels contributing to the blend, with any fruit not making the grade sold off. Each parcel is vinified separately before blending and the wines are aged in tank. It’s a super bright and aromatic release loaded with red and blue fruit flecked with savoury spices. It revels in vibrant midweight appeal, and the finish is long and deliciously crunchy. In short, this is about as close as Dolcetto comes to Nebbiolo-level depth and class.  

“The 2022 Dolcetto D'Alba displays a deeper purple hue with some opaqueness and offers riper aromas of mocha, ripe plums, crushed lavender, and sweet earth. Medium-bodied, it has a nice snap of freshness and a chalky, ripe texture. It’s moving toward a full-bodied feel and is going to drink well over the next few years.”
90 points, Jeb Dunnuck, jebdunnuck.com
Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2022
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“Sandrone is now a historic estate, but the wines keep getting better and more finessed, a testament to the drive for perfection that runs through every aspect of this exemplary winery... Luciano Sandrone is making some of his finest wines in what has been a long and extraordinary career full of successes. That in and of itself is a testament to Sandrone family’s relentless quest to improve. Of the Piedmont wineries that are still in their first generation, those that started in or around the 1980s, Luciano Sandrone is arguably the only estate that has joined the small group of properties, all of them multi-generational, whose wines are widely recognized as icons and collectibles.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

“Luciano Sandrone is one of the leading lights in Piedmont. No grower has managed to so brilliantly reconcile modern and traditional approaches… Luciano Sandrone's wines have never been more elegant than they are today. …Simply put, Luciano Sandrone is at the top of his game.” Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate

“Today his cru Cannubi Boshis and blend Le Vigne, wines at their best miraculously combining power and concentration with elegance, are amongst the most sought after internationally, almost impossible to obtain even at high price.” Nicolas Belfrage, Barolo to Valpolicella

Country

Italy

Primary Region

Piemonte

People

Winemakers: The Sandrone Family

Availability

National

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