I met Domenico Clerico, who died this past weekend, for the first time in November 2011, at his new winery in Monforte d'Alba, a spacious, modern facility built into a hillside just below the town. I knew his wines—pure, complex expressions of Nebbiolo from some of Monforte's top crus—but had never met the man behind them.
Clerico spoke no English, and my Italian was limited to a few words, yet with his infectious smile, I sensed immediately his warmth, energy and passion for his work. We tasted a few older wines, then the 2007s, the new 2008s (the first vintage he bottled at the new winery) and barrel samples of 2009 and 2010.
It was an intense tasting, with Clerico's comments and answers to my questions translated by his winemaker Gianmatteo Rainieri and then–sales director Luciano Racca. Wine after wine was concentrated and expressive, with plenty of youthful Nebbiolo fruit, the stamp of each vineyard and the muscular tannins that allow Clerico's wines to age.
Afterward, we had dinner together at La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso, one of the best Langhe restaurants boasting an extensive wine list. It was truffle season and Clerico immediately asked to see the day's selection. Grabbing a truffle the size of his fist, his face lit up, his joy evident.
It was a memorable evening and I learned a little about his humble beginnings, his gentle personality and immense generosity. "The Langhe is aging," he said. "We need kids to get interested in viticulture and winemaking and stay kids, so they never lose the passion."
The following year, I saw Clerico in Los Angeles at Wine Spectator's annual Wine Experience. We had chosen the Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006 as Wine Spectator's No. 8 Wine of the Year. Luciano Racca took the stage and spoke about Clerico and the Barolo; when Domenico was introduced to the audience, he received a standing ovation.
In November 2013, I was back in Piedmont. The stellar 2010 vintage was about to be released and, in order to taste as many as possible during my weeklong stay, I enlisted the help of Luca Currado of Vietti to organize a tasting with 10 top Barolo growers. It was held at Il Torre in Castiglione Falletto; after the tasting, we had dinner. At the end of the evening, we discovered that Clerico had paid the entire bill. When I thanked him, he smiled and gave me a big hug.
That was Clerico. He and his wife, Giuliana, lost their only child, Cristina, when she was seven years old. The Barolo Percristina is a tribute to her. Even after becoming ill and battling cancer, Clerico's physical strength may have diminished, but he never lost his zest for life, his sense of humor and compassion.
I reached out to several of Clerico's contemporaries and friends for their memories. A few of their contributions were included in his obituary on Monday. Chiara Boschis was busy helping Giuliana and the family. Dominic Nocerino of Vinifera Imports never imported Clerico's wines, but knew him for 30 years. He referred to Clerico as "a warrior."
Luciano Sandrone knew Clerico since childhood: "Domenico and I were only four years apart. As a boy, I used to go by bicycle from Barolo to Monforte to attend classes at elementary school. He was already the typical stubborn Langet, headstrong but with an incredible big heart, a dreamer with lots of energy but farsighted, skilled and talented. The label of his wine, "Aeroplanservaj," reminds me so much of him! Freedom and a sharpshooter. Ciao Domenico ... sei un Grande!"