Domenico Clerico might sound as if it should be an order of Italian monks, but it’s the name of a respected Piedmontese winemaker. “He’s one of the original Barolo boys,” says Crystal Edgar, Domenico’s US national sales representative. Sadly, after succeeding his father in the family business in 1976 and expanding it from four hectares (9.8 acres) to 21 hectares (51.8 acres) with annual production of 110,000 bottles, Domenico Clerico passed away on July 16, 2017. So it was a privilege to taste some of his legacy with a group of industry enthusiasts at Cleveland’s Dante Next Door restaurant shortly after Domenico’s passing.
Domenico and his wife, Giuliana, added to the small family farm by purchasing land and vineyards in the crus they loved near the town of Monforte d’Alba: Bussia, Ginestra and Mosconi. The first wine we tasted was Barbera d’Alba Trevigne, which means three vines. It comes from vineyards in the Monforte district and offered spicy aromas with hints of cherries and blackberries. With well-balanced acidity, Trevigne paired nicely with the charcuterie plates passed around the table in true Italian Sunday family dinner style.
The next two wines, Langhe Rosso Arte (named for an impromptu work of art Domenico created for the label) and the 2012 Barolo went down beautifully between bites of Dante’s superb linguini carbonara. The Rosso Arte is a blend of Nebbiolo (one of Piedmont’s most popular varieties) and Barbera. With lots of dark fruit and intensity, it’s an ideal foil for this savory entrée. This Barolo is one of Domenico’s newest wines and its dark fruits are layered with spices and dark tobacco flavors. It’s full-bodied with balanced acidity.
Those who knew Domenico well were happiest sharing the 2011 Barolo Ciabot Mentin, which was the winemaker’s favorite. (I concurred in his judgment, as the lawyers like to say.) Produced from south-facing vineyards in the Ginestra cru, this complex wine has a generous bouquet with dark fruit enhanced by grilled herbs and mineral nuances. Like many memorable wines, the name has an interesting story behind it. “Ciabot” means small building and it’s where soldiers often bunked or hid during World War II. Many of these abandoned sheds still dot Italian vineyards and remind locals of that turbulent era.
The 2011 Barolo Pajana is also from the Ginestra cru. It offers blackberry, spice, leather and grilled rosemary flavors – beautifully integrated with a supple mouth feel. With silky tannins it felt robust on the palate and stood up to a plate of strong cheeses, including a sublime blue to end our feast.
Although I love cheese and wine for dessert, I found myself craving dark chocolate. Perhaps it was due to the bittersweet nature of this gathering: celebrating the legacy of a winemaker no longer among his vines. Arrivederci and grazie, Domenico—your earthly vines and heavenly wines live on