The Best "Barolo Riserva" You've Never Heard Of

Posted by CrushWine

2004 Ferrando Carema Black Label
Black is the New Black
Mountain Nebbiolo, Built for the Long Haul

"When I am asked which wine would I choose were I to be restricted to a single one, my answer is: Carema."
- Neal Rosenthal

The quote above from our February offer for Ferrando’s beautiful 2004 Carema "Etichetta Bianca" ("White Label") received not only an enthusiastic response (and a quick sell-out) but an unprecedented slew of requests for the wine's big brother, Ferrando’s "Etichetta Nera," or "Black Label." At the time, this über-small production wine -- the rarity of this wine cannot be stressed enough -- was unavailable, but we’ve just secured what we've been told is the final parcel of Black Label - it arrives next week.

The Etichetta Nera is made only in top vintages from a special selection of grapes - think of it as a Barolo Riserva bottling and certainly the most substantive mountain Nebbiolo produced. In wine geek circles, Ferrando's 1996 Black Label is already a legend; the 2004 seems destined for similar glory. The vintage is just too strong; the warmth of the vintage has given the wine an extra dimension without sacrificing at all its alpine freshness, its agility or grip.

The 2004 edition is full of cinnamon-tinged dark cherry fruits, sweet herbs (mint, tarragon), irises, violets, an intriguing smokiness and very present silken tannins. Though the wine is nimble (an aspect that will develop further with age), there is no denying the density or the deep, dark-fruited concentration. Enjoy the White Label over the next few years - but put the Black Label in some dark corner of the cellar and try your best to forget about it.

If you think of the White Label as a Chambolle-Musigny - elegant feminine, eminently graceful, the Black Label is Bonnes-Mares. Yes, there is plenty of finesse, but it is more masculine, denser, stonier, richer and more intense. It rewards the patient.

White or Black Label, Carema makes truly special wines. Neal Rosethal’s words above are bold ones, for sure, especially coming from someone who has top bottlings from Barthod, Lignier and Fourrier at his fingerstips nightly (not to mention top older Barolo from traditional rockstar Brovia). His comment is wise because the wines are undeniable expressions of both Nebbiolo and place. The northern climate in Carema is so cool that grapes ripen based on a combination of prayers and the steep terraced vineyards that are ingeniously situated to soak up every last bit of precious sun. This is viticulture at its most heroic and least profitable. However, when the stars align, the region is capable of producing wines of such unique beauty that one feels indebted to the region's growers who remain committed to breaking their backs on steep slopes in near obscurity.

Only 16 hectares are currently planted in Carema and Ferrando's total production is 120 cases, and the majority of wine bottled is White Label. The exact White/Black label breakdown isn't available, but it is a quarter of the total production, at most. Given the quality, rarity, aging potential and sheer labor involved, this is a serious value especially when it's a qualitative equal of Riserva Barolo and Barbaresco bottlings with price tags of $100+.

While geographically separate, the Black Label deserves to be considered in the same rarefied space as these "Kings" of Italian wine. In such a context, there is no denying the wine can easily give as much pleasure (which, before the focus on reviews and scores, was sort of the point). There is something unique and utterly charming about Ferrando's masterpieces that can’t be replicated anywhere else on the planet. How much is that worth?

To order, email us at or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Joe Salamone
Stephen Bitterolf
Wine Buyers
Crush Wine & Spirits

2004 Ferrando Carema Etichetta Nera


Net / No Further Discounts
Black Label Arrives Next Week