Quick Sips: Domenico Clerico

Clerico Photo

Clerico PhotoDomenico Clerico’s small estate is situated in Monforte d’Alba, right in the heart of Barolo. Domenico commenced production in 1979, following a brief engagement in the olive oil business. He possesses holdings in some of Monforte d’Alba’s most esteemed crus, including Ginestra, Pajanà, and Mosconi, concentrating his efforts on single-vineyard expressions. Interestingly, like many of the modernist persuasion, Clerico began in traditional mode, utilizing the hallmark vessels of the traditionalists—Slavonian oak casks—as they were readily available to him. The debut vintage of Barolo Pajanà (1990) represented Clerico’s first expression of a 100-percent barrique-aged Barolo. At the time of Pajanà’s release, he was aging Ciabot Mentin Ginestra—the house flagship—wholly in 700-liter tonneaux, a medium he had begun to use for a portion of Ginestra’s aging in the 1985 vintage. While he did transition to 100% barrique aging for his Barolos in vintages subsequent to 1990, he was motivated to do so for pragmatic rather than stylistic reasons. In essence, one of the middle grounds between cask and barrique—tonneaux —proved to be too high-maintenance. While his initial barrique regimen for Barolos featured equal proportions of new and used French barrels, for a brief period of time, Clerico employed new barrique exclusively for all of his Barolos. He soon moderated these absolute tendencies, with new barrels constituting between 35 and 40 percent of his cooperage. At present, Arte—Piemonte’s second Nebbiolo-Barbera blend— is the only wine in Clerico’s portfolio that is aged exclusively in new barrique. But Clerico hasn’t just been working out his involvement with barrique. In fact, his work with maceration periods has been far more dramatic than his experimentation with barrique. In 1993, Clerico’s maceration periods ranged from five to eight days.

 In 2006, that period averaged 18, with a new addition to the Barolo portfolio (a 2006 from purchased fruit) receiving 23 days of maceration. So where does that place Clerico? At both extremes—and handling them with finesse and passion. Thus, while Domenico Clerico is often positioned in Piemonte’s modernist school (along with Sandrone, Scavino, and Voerzio), his dynamic evolution and current practices no longer warrant such absolute classification. In fact, to regard him as modernist is to blatantly ignore the dynamic evolution that he has undergone over the years, manifested in a shifting stylistic spectrum and a constant probing for the ideal aesthetic. Rooted at the core of Clerico’s winemaking philosophy is his staunch conviction that the quality of the vines is the sole factor determining a wine’s potential. Clerico regards production techniques as mere tools of the trade as opposed to intrinsic components of the wine itself. Appropriately enough, the producer champions the virtues of terroir by focusing on single-vineyard bottlings that express the merits of distinct sites. Perhaps there’s no better testament toClerico’s meticulous approach to viticulture than the sign that directs vintners to his cellar door—Domenico Clerico, Viticoltore (i.e., Domenico Clerico, Vinegrower).Clerico’s efforts in the vineyard are tenacious, based on a relentless pursuit of quality. His average yields, in fact, are among the lowest in the region. The estate’s current portfolio features cru Barolos, including Ciabot Mentin Ginestra, Pajanà, and Percristina; a Barolo cuvée; Dolcetto and Barbera bottlings; and Piemonte’s second Nebbiolo-Barbera blend, Arte.

In 2006, Clerico vinified a Barolo from purchased fruit; it has received his longest maceration period to date. While he will always be a Barolo Boy, Clerico has matured quite a bit since that revolutionary period in the ’80s, when himself and the other members of Barolo’s backstreet vignerons brandished a new conception of Barolo. Yes, he walked away from tradition, but he’s been working his way back, carefully and artfully merging seemingly diametrically opposed approaches. 


*Text and photo courtesy of Italian Wine Merchants