Sunday, January 21, 2018

Exploring The Classics of Piedmont

Early on in my journey to understanding wine, I realized that there was something about the Nebbiolo grape that captivated me. It was something about its purity, mixed with the multidimensional layers or fruit, florals and earth that would develop over time. The difference between a young and old Barolo or Barbaresco (both made 100% from Nebbiolo) is so drastic, as the wine evolves over decades–not years–and transforms from an angular and austere expression into something so graceful, feminine, soft, and giving. Sometimes you don’t even need to taste these wines to receive the gratification you desire, because their bouquet can be so remarkably beautiful, haunting, alluring and satiating that the sip is only the completion of the experience, before returning to the glass for another aromatic exploration.

Nebbiolo also has the ability to teleport your imagination by communicating terroir so transparently. This is the same reason that so many collectors find their way to Pinot Noir in Burgundy, and why the two grapes are often compared to each other. You’ll find very little in common between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, other than their earthy and floral natures, but it is absolute that both will speak more about the places from which they came than most other grapes do. It’s because of this that the trend of single-vineyard or Cru wines became so popular in Barolo and Barbaresco, and even when a producer blends different vineyards together, you can often find the telltale signs of how one site lent the wine its power, another its spice, and another its structure. A lover of fine details, hidden traits, an explorer, or even those who enjoy nearly incalculable equations will find a lot to like in the variety.

When you add the many different styles of winemaking to this mix, the complexities of Barolo and Barbaresco grow deeper. I found myself saying that I preferred the traditionally-styled wines of the region, macerated for long periods of time on the skins and aged in large neutral oak. Yet I must confess that over time, my mind has been opened to a large number of producers who create wines that are considered “modern” yet made with a soft touch. In fact, the only “modern” barolo I would turn my nose up at today would be one that leaned hard toward drastically reduced yields in the vineyards and a large percentage of new oak. Because if I’ve learned anything in over a decade of tasting these wines, it’s that the lines between modern and traditional have blurred so deeply, that only a small number of producers can now be considered a hardliner in one direction or other. Also, there are some great wines from the past that were made in a “modern” style that are simply irresistible today.

Speaking of winemakers, Nebbiolo also has a way of inciting as much passion in its producers as in the people who buy them. Passion is what drives many wine lovers, and to think that there is someone on the other side of growing, raising and bottling these wines, who shares a similar passion–is a remarkable feeling. In Piedmont, most winemakers are also the same people who care for the vines in the vineyard (another similarity to Burgundy). These aren’t business people who wear fancy suits or designer clothes to work; they are farmers. Most of them can trace their vine-growing roots back generations, and their face will often light up when presented with a wine that their father, grandfather or older generation produced. Of course, this is slowly changing in Piedmont, as outside investment threatens to buy up its vineyards, but that’s a story for another blog.

Our Very Own Piedmont Classics Dinner

With all of that said, the only way to truly understand all of these differences is to taste, which is absolutely the most enjoyable part of this hobby (obsession) that I share with a wonderful community of fellow worshippers of the Nebbiolo grape. Often we’ve done this through vertical tasting (multiple vintages of different or the same producer to understand vintage characteristics). Sometimes through horizontal tasting (one vintage of the same or multiple producers). We’ve even pitted two producers against each other in a traditional-versus-modern showdown. However, what moved me to words today was our most recent tasting, and one of the best we’ve ever embarked on.

Being that our group was started on the Vinous forums, we thought that we would borrow an idea from Antonio Galloni and create our own version of his Piedmont Classics dinner. Why not? This is a group of collectors who each have deep cellars of Nebbiolo going back decades. The tasting was organized into four flights by producer. In most cases, each flight had at least one bottle with significant age and a few with moderate to even youthful wines. (Which is funny when you consider that the youngest bottle on the table was ten years old–but this is Nebbiolo we’re talking about.) The producers we settled on were Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Marcarini, and Brovia–all undeniable classics. Plus, we were treated to a blind tasting addition from Cappellano. The venue was La Pizza Fresca, owned, operated–and on this night even manning the brick-fire oven–by Brad Bonnewell (a fellow Cavalieri del Tartufo e dei Vini di Alba).

It was a study of producer, a study of terroir, a study of vintage, a brick-oven pizza exploration… and one hell of a good time.

On To The Tasting Notes

Surprise Blind Bottle: Cappellano

I had no idea going into the tasting that I would be treated to a 70-year-old Barolo, which was a true testament to the staying power and nobility of Nebbiolo It makes sense that the producer would be Cappellano. At that time, they were one of the biggest names in the region with some 60 hectares, as well as one of the largest purchasers of grapes. Even with this tremendous production, the name stood for undeniable quality, which is something that has not changed to this day. Bottles of Cappellano from the ‘50s, ‘60s and on to today are always a welcome addition to any tasting.

1947 Cappellano Super Barolo – This was served blind, and what a treat it was. The ‘47 “Super” Barolo was completely mature yet gorgeous, with a bouquet of cigar box, dried flowers, dusty dry spices, and dark soil tones. On the palate, I found pure, lifted sweet red fruits with zesty acidity, minerals and inner florals. It finished long and spicy with ripe yet dried red fruits and lingering sweet minerality. Wow, what an experience. (93 points)

Flight 1: Giacomo Conterno

We’re looking back 47 years at a time before Giacomo Conterno even owned the vineyard that defines them today: Cascina Francia. In fact, the ‘70 Barolo that was labeled Cascina Francia was due to a lapse in time between bottling, labeling and shipping. It isn’t a Cascina Francia at all (they didn’t own the vineyard at that time), but that didn’t stop it from being one of my wines of the night. At that time, the fruit would have come from a source in Monforte, but little else is known. Another highlight from this night’s flight was a peek into some recent vintages that are coming along very nicely as well.

1970 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva – Here I found a dark display of mature Nebbiolo, complemented by layers of earthy, savory aromas. Dried leaves, dusty old spices, and hints of roasted meat wafted up from the glass, yet it remained feminine and pure throughout the experience. On the palate, a soft and inviting textural display gave way to tart red fruits with lifting acidity that created an almost-mouthwatering experience. It finished with saturating tart berry tones, earthy soil tones and lingering undergrowth. (95 points)

1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Where the ‘70 Barolo Riserva was all about feminine grace, the ‘71 instead showed the muscular and attractive gritty side of Nebbiolo. Here I found a rich and dark display with tart red berries up front, followed by animal musk, dried flowers and dark soil tones. It was soft on the palate, with mouth-filling textures which seemed to touch upon all of the senses, as notes of sweet dried red fruits, hints of spice, and minerals prevailed. The finish was long with sour berries, undergrowth and crushed stone. This would have scored higher if there was more clarity or a bump of acidity on the palate, but the fact is that the ‘70 is in fine form and drinking beautifully. (94 points)

2000 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Having never been a big fan of the vintage, the 2000 Giacomo Conterno shows some of its telltale drawbacks, yet it manages to be incredibly enjoyable all the same. Here I found a rich, dark bouquet with crushed cherry, brown spices and dried flowers, yet the wine lacked momentum. On the palate, it displayed silky textures contrasted by intense tart red fruits, inner spice and sweet tannins. The finish was saturating with red fruits, yet it was soft and only medium in length. (92 points)

2007 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – While the 2000 did the best it could in a warm vintage, the 2007 excelled with it. The nose was intense with dusty spices, saline minerals, a hint of savory tomato leaf and notes of undergrowth. It showed silky, enveloping textures with intense dark red fruits, which turned slightly tart as youthful tannin began to saturate the senses. Savory minerality and spice persisted throughout the finish, with a cheek-puckering twang of tart fruit and hints of savory herbs. The density here is formidable, nearly masking its young tannin, but the underlying structure should guarantee the 2007 a long life. Very nice. (95 points)

Flight 2: Bruno Giacosa

There is really only one way to follow up a flight of Giacomo Conterno, and that’s with a flight of Bruno Giacosa. What was really amazing were the similarities found throughout each of these wines, a combination of the winemakers stamp and terroir. Picking favorites here was like splitting hairs, and what it really came down to was the level of drinkability from bottle to bottle. However, scoring-wise, it was the potential mixed with the performance that won out the day.

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – The ‘01 Falletto showed all of the classic hallmarks of the vintage married to the Giscosa style. The bouquet was lifted and pure with a sweet-and-sour persona, as spicy black cherry mixed with sweet herbs and hints of savory tomato leaf. On the palate, I found silky textures that were quickly offset by a combination of dusty minerals and crystalline tannin, as tense, youthful crisp red fruits were ushered across the senses by brisk acidity. The finish was long, showing its youthful tannin with saturating tart red fruits. We still have a ways to go before the ‘01 is in its perfect drinking window, but this night’s bottle was enjoyable on potential alone. (94 points)

2004 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – You should be very pleased with yourself if you have the ‘04 Falletto in your cellar. Here I found a gorgeous display of rich black cherry and cranberry, with notes of holiday spice, sweet florals, crushed stone minerality and mint. It was silky on the palate with enveloping, soft, ripe spiced cherry fruit, juicy acidity and the sweetest of sweet tannin. The finish was long, showing the first signs of youthful structure with saturating spice and dried cherry tones lingering on. (96 points)

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – I’ve been lucky to taste the ‘99 Le Rocche on multiple occasions, as each time it has been stunning. The nose was radiant in its cool, dark red fruit, with raspberry and black cherry, as well as hints of plum. Rosy florals tones, dusty spice and minerals joined the fray with time in the glass. On the palate, I found a refined and structured expression, with black cherry, inner floral, mineral tones and crunchy youthful tannin. The finish was long with palate-coating spiced cherry, sweet inner florals, spice and hints of lingering undergrowth. (96 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – The ‘96 Falletto showed youthfully restrained, yet it was impossible to ignore on its potential alone. The nose was cool and minty, with notes of black cherry, dusty dried floral tones, licorice and hints of smoke. On the palate, I found an angular expression with depths of dark red fruit and minerals, as fine tannin kept everything in check. The finish was long with saturating tannin, lingering spice, dried inner-florals and mineral tones. (96 points)

Flight 3: Marcarini

Speaking of the classics of Piedmont is not possible without including Marcarini in the conversation. Following a large vertical tasting many years ago, my eyes were opened to this traditional producer, who still manages to fly comfortably under the radar. As you look back to older vintages, the name Cogno is often proudly emblazoned across the label, which is the same man who would go on to create the Elvio Cogno winery that has earned an elevated position in Piedmont today. These are classic, traditionally-styled wines that represent a similar mix of value and quality that we find from vintage Produttori del Barbaresco.

1968 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – Following a flight on unbelievable Giacosa Barolo isn’t easy, but the ‘68 Marcarini Brunate held its own. Here I found a perfectly mature and remarkably pretty expression of Nebbiolo fruit with dried floral tones up front giving way to dusty soil, hints of brown spice and faded cherry. On the palate, I found a soft and feminine display with zesty acidity giving life to its dried red fruits, along with earth tones and minerals. It was shorter on the finish than I had hoped yet cleaned up very nicely with a twang of tart red fruit and lingering florality. (93 points)

1973 Marcarini Barolo Brunate Riserva – The nose showed dark dried red berries with sweet florals and a hint of leather. On the palate, I found zesty expression, yet rich enough to the impression of weight, showing bright red berries, earth and minerals. It finished long and balanced with lingering mineral and dried cherry tones. (91 points)

1974 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – The nose showed dark dried berry tones, followed by animal musk, crushed fall leaves, earth tones, and dusty spice. On the palate, it was airy and lifted with great acidity, showing tart red berries with a savory edge and earthy minerality. The finish was long and earthy, with inner floral tones lasting throughout. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘74 vintage, and this Marcarini was a textbook example of why I love them so much. Simply a great drinking wine and vintage. (92 points)

1999 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – The ‘99 Brunate is full of potential, showing a classic, traditional nose, with dried red fruits, pine nettles, licorice, medicinal herbs, and sweet florals. On the palate, it was feminine and slightly firm, with saturating tart berry tones, leather, spice and youthful tannin. It finished beautiful and long, displaying earth tones, dried spices and inner florals. This wine is only just starting to approach its drinking window, and I see many decades of positive evolution ahead for it. (93 points)

Flight 4: Brovia

The house of Brovia has undergone many changes over the last thirty years, as Elena and Cristina Brovia took the reins from their father. Quality was said to have steadily improved through that time, and even more in 2001, when Alex Sanchez joined the family. The exciting thing about this night’s tasting was the ability to taste the ‘79 Rio Sordo–a wine made by the previous generation–next to three wines that represent that period of change. The fact that the ‘79 ended up being my wine of the flight has more to do with its perfect maturity, while the ‘96 Ca’Mia technically scored higher.

1979 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – The bouquet was stunning, showing dusty spices, earth, undergrowth and a hint of iodine, before notes of dried cherry and floral tones began to develop in the glass. On the palate, I found soft textures with zesty acidity giving way to minerals, spice and sweet and sour red fruits. The finish was medium in length, yet still zesty and fresh with dried berry tones, spices and lingering minerality. (93 points)

1995 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – (Flawed–Badly)

1996 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – The nose was dark and intense, showing dried cherry, dusty spices, smoke, and minerals upon minerals. On the palate, I found a silky expression with dark red fruits, classic ‘96-styled crunchy tannin, and earthy minerals. It finished long, as its young tannin saturated the senses, drying out the fruit and leaving an impressive of austerity. This was very good, but I do wonder if the fruit will outlive the tannins. (92 points)

1996 Fratelli Brovia Barolo Ca’Mia – The nose was dark, rich, mineral-laden–classic. Here I found a mix of dried cherry, raspberry, dusty spice, earthy minerality and moist soil tones. On the palate, silky textures were quickly offset by intense dark red fruits, with brisk acidity adding mineral lift and young tannin, which settled down hard on the senses. The finish was long and structured, even cheek-puckering, allowing hints of tart red fruit and minerals to linger. This wine was densely packed, with dark focused fruit wrapped in fine tannin with balancing acidity, which sounds like a recipe for success to me. I can’t wait to see where it’s going. (94 points)

Credits and Resources

Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by: Eric Guido

Thank you to La Pizza Fresca and Brad Bonnewell

Don’t forget to check out one of the world’s great wine loving communities: Vinous Forums

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Aglianico del Vulture Returns to Collisioni

Article, Photos and Tasting Notes: Eric Guido

When heading back to Collisioni this year, the number one question on my mind was if I would have a chance to conduct a focused tasting of Aglianico del Vulture. To the average consumer, this may not seem like the tasting that I would be looking forward to the most as I packed my bags for a stay in Barolo, but it was. Why? Because in my opinion, this is a region and a variety that is on the rise in Italy. One that deserves its day in the sun, but through the sins (or let’s just call it lazy winemaking and overproduction) of the past, it had its momentum slowed over the last ten years.

Aglianico del Vulture is a DOC in Basilicata, a region of Southern Italy which borders Campania, and it is one of the few regions that has a coast on two sides of the boot. It is also well known for Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano, that gives its name to Aglianico del Vulture.

First and foremost because of the variety, Aglianico, which is renowned for its use in creating Taurasi in Campania. Add to that the diverse volcanic soils throughout its five delimited growing zones, Maschito, Ripacandida, Barile, Ginestra, and Rionero. The climate of each of these is moderated by influences from two seas, a large range of altitudes and degrees of elevation–it all adds up to having the ingredients to make a great wine.

I recall my early inquiries into Italian wine, and the writers of the time commenting on the potential of the Vulture–unfortunately, that potential was never realized. In some cases this was due to the lack of a champion, a producer that consumers and collectors could relate to, who would show them what was possible beyond the status quo. Don’t get me wrong, the region had its big names, such as Paternoster and their consistently high-scoring Don Anselmo. However, there was no face or name behind the brand that was out in the world and speaking to collectors. This may seem petty compared to the quality of what is in the bottle, but without a face behind the brand, it was just another Italian wine that most consumers didn’t understand.

Today, the producers in Aglianico del Vulture are determined to change that. Much of this is the result of the new generation that is taking on more responsibility in the wineries, or taking over completely. The simple fact that these producers have put so much energy into a large showing of wines and personally attending Collisioni is a huge point in their corner. They have attended the event with ears and minds open to change, taking in all of the criticism and compliments that our board of wine writers, somms and professionals were eager to give.

We spent the better part of a day tasting Aglianico and talking through the wines, and I can say with certainty that the bar has been raised yet again. Last year I found a mixed bag of some excellent, others inspired (but not quite there yet), and a few downright poor examples of Aglianico del Vulture–but this year, there was a marked change.

First there is a new emphasis on place, which I’d like to see displayed more on each label, instead of the fantasy names that many producers choose to use. When you hear that a wine is made from grapes sourced from a vineyard in the crater of a volcano, it adds a story and urges you to search for the terroir in the glass. To think that a producer would choose not to market this information is beyond my comprehension–this is the kind of information that we wine lovers thrive on.

Next is the cleaning up of the wineries, and a smaller dependence on old, old… old barrels that needed to be retired many years ago. There’s no question that most tasters preferred large, neutral barrels, but when that barrel is leaking and dirty–you end up with a dirty wine. Last year, I found a number of wines that suffered from this. This year, only one wine showed signs of old barrels.

Lastly, it’s the goal to establish Aglianico del Vulture as a competitor against Barolo, Brunello and Taurasi as one of Italy’s great wines of longevity. The truth is that the timing couldn’t be better, as we watch the prices of Barolo and Brunello soar–and Taurasi seems comfortable to rest on past laurels. If Aglianico del Vulture can refine and elevate its reputation in time–it may just end up as the new “Barolo of The South”.

In the end, the producers of Aglianico del Vulture wanted to know about how they can begin to be profitable in the face of all of this change, and that will be the most difficult part. We were all asked to give them a dollar range that we each believed their wines could be worth, assuming they continued to move in the right direction. In nearly every case, these wines are currently undervalued. But first, Aglianico del Vulture needs to prove to consumers they they are worth the tariff.

The day will come (possibly sooner than you think) that these wines will sell for twice, if not three times their current cost. My advice is to stock up now, because this is not only a region on the rise, it’s an organization of producers who are determined to prove themselves to the world.

All of my tasting notes are below, both good and bad. As for my recommendations for those looking to take advantage of this region on the rise, look to Cantina del Notaio La Firma, Donato D’Angelo and Laluce to lead the way. It’s an exciting time to be following Aglianico del Vulture.

On to the tasting notes:

2012 Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture La Firma – The nose was dark and layered, showing black cherry, plum, sweet violet tones, clove, dried orange, and dusty black earth. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by notes of plums and spice, lifting minerality and fine saturating tannin. The finish was firm and drying yet extremely long on violet-inflected black fruit. This is a wine to bury in the cellar. (93 points)

2008 Azienda Agricola Michele Laluce Aglianico del Vulture Le Drude – The nose showed crushed black fruits, savory spices, dried flowers, and undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures with stunning, vibrant acidity, dark red and black fruits, wild herbs, and savory spices. Tannin mounted throughout the experience, yet it’s already quite enjoyable, showing mature earth and charred meat tones. The finish was long, showing savory herbs, dried meats and spice. (93 points)

2012 Donato d’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture – The nose showed incredible depth with mineral-laced cherry, violet floral tones, dried orange peel and peppery herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by fine tannin and balancing acidity, as dark red fruits began to saturate the senses and hints of spice and inner violet notes formed. It finished long on tart cherry and fine tannin, yet it maintained freshness and lift. In five to ten years, this should be just entering a long and lovely drinking window. (93 points)

2011 Colli Cerentino Aglianico del Vulture Masqito – The nose was beautiful yet dark, showing spiced cherry, plum, dried orange, and crushed violets. On the palate, I found tart black fruits, inner floral and herbal tones, with energizing acidity matched by fine tannin. It finished intensely structured on dark fruits, undergrowth and hints of ash. This needs time, but I’m already loving it. (92 points)

2012 Azienda Agricola Michele Laluce Aglianico del Vulture Zimberno – The nose was dark and earthy, showing mineral-tinged black fruits, volcanic ash, spicy herbs, and undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures counterbalancing tart black fruits and savory herbs. The ash and minerals from the bouquet seemed to translate perfectly onto the palate, adding a saline quality to the experience. It finished long with clenching tannin and tart black fruits. (92 points)

2005 Tenuta le Querce Aglianico del Vulture Vigna della Corona – The nose showed mature notes of undergrowth, crushed cherry, plum, dried flowers and dark earth. On the palate, I found soft textures, plum and crushed cherry, savory minerality and sous bois. On the finish, I found unbelievably youthful tannin with bitter black fruits and spice. (91 points)

2013 Terra Dei Re Aglianico del Vulture Nocte – The nose was dark and spicy with violet inflections, showing intense black cherry, cinnamon, anise, hints of undergrowth and ash. On the palate, I found soft textures with blackberry and plum fruit, savory spice, saturating fine tannin and balancing acidity. It finished structured yet with good energy and lingering spices. (91 points)

2012 Cantina di Venosa Aglianico del Vulture Carato Venusio – The nose showed depths of crushed black cherry, with notes of cedar, sweet herbs and minerals. On the palate, It displayed energizing acidity with silky textures, ripe cherry, sweet spices and herbs. Medium-tannin lingered on the palate, along with black cherry and undergrowth. (91 points)

2012 Terre degli Svevi Aglianico del Vulture Re Manfredi – The nose was lifted, showing violets, blackberry, tart plum and minerals. On the palate, I found lean textures with peppery black fruits and a combination of zesty acids and saturating tannin. It finished long and structured with concentrated tart black fruits coating the senses. (90 points)

2015 Paternoster Aglianico del Vulture Synthesi – The nose showed bright mineral-tinged black cherry, rich ginger spice, hints of violet florals and peppery herbs. On the palate, I found tart red fruits and lean tannin on a medium-to-light bodied frame. It finished tart, yet still quite fresh with lingering tannin and hints of blackberry fruit. This is a fresh style for Vulture, yet with a beautiful purity of fruit. (90 points)

2011 Tenuta I Gelsi Aglianico del Vulture – The nose was intense with dark red and black fruits, both savory and sweet spices, and hints of minty herbs. On the palate, I found soft textures with a savory and almost-saline personality, showing tart cherry, plum and saturating minerality. Its firm tannin came on late, drying the fruit throughout the finish and leaving an impression of youthful austerity–bury some in the cellar for at least five to ten years. (90 points)

2012 Tenuta I Gelsi Aglianico del Vulture – The nose showed intense dark red fruits, anise, dried violets, moist ash and pepper. On the palate, I found silky textures on a medium-bodied frame offset by tart black and red berry fruits, spice and leather. It finished structured with saturating tannin, tart dark red fruits and black earth tones. (89 points)

2013 Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture Il Repertorio – The nose showed intense crushed raspberry with notes of clove, anise, and spice. On the palate, I found medium-bodied textures with intense dark fruit, giving way to wild herbs and peppery spice. It finished medium in length with fine tannin and savory spices lingering on. (89 points)

2013 Cantine Strapellum Aglianico del Vulture Piano Regio – The nose was holding back, yet with coaxing, it revealed dark red fruit, violets, clove, wild herbs and crushed stone. On the palate, I found lean textures with tart red and black fruits, dark soil tones and spice. It finished long with saturating tannin violet inflections and lingering tart red berry fruit. (89 points)

2008 Colli Cerentino Aglianico del Vulture Masqito – The nose was dark and brooding, showing savory charred meats, black earth, cherry, herbs, and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, It was unexpectedly youthful and complex, displaying tart cherry, saline-minerality, and spice. The finish was long with saturating gruff tannin that dried the fruit despite the wine’s age, making me wonder if the fruit can hold up to them over time. (88 points)
2011 Cantine Strapellum Aglianico del Vulture Nibbio Grigio – The nose was fresh and floral with light blackberry, minerals and spice. On the palate, I found soft textures with a mix of red and black fruit, yet this lacked persistence, as fine tannin saturated the senses. It finished structured yet still fresh with medium length. (88 points)

2015 Cantina di Venosa Aglianico del Vulture Verbo – The nose was perfumed with spicy red florals and notes of crushed raspberry, orange peel, and crushed stone. On the palate, I found vibrant red fruit with juicy acidity and hints of spice. It finished with zesty red berries and a coating of fine tannin. This may be simple, but it’s undeniably enjoyable today. (87 points)

2013 Terra Dei Re Aglianico del Vulture Vultur – The nose showed crushed violets, black fruits, ash, fall leaves, and peppery herbs. On the palate, I found lean textures with herbal black fruits and saturating tannin. It finished on drying tannin and tart red fruits. (87 points)

2011 Terre degli Svevi Aglianico del Vulture Re Manfredi Vigneto Serpara – The nose was brooding and dark with notes of plum, undergrowth, ash, chalk dust, and sweet violets. On the palate, I found silky textures with concentrated ripe black fruits, peppery herbs and spice. Hints of pepper lingered along with earthy undergrowth and bitter herbs. I can’t help but feel like part of its profile is the result of old (unclean?) barrels. (86 points)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

1990 Barolo & Barbaresco Retrospective

The Prelude to The Modern Vintage

Six years ago, a group of friends and collectors–myself included–assembled a 1990 Barolo retrospective tasting. I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the time because, only six years ago, the average Barolo collector looked down on the 1990 vintage, disregarding it as a warm, ripe year that wouldn’t deliver wines that could mature well in the cellar–boy, were we wrong.

The results of our tasting were positive nearly across the board, with only one wine showing poor development and with a few of them verging on epic. When the time came for me to write up my review and to begin to market it to my community of readers, I was met by a number of negative responses. Some people even went as far as calling my opinions incorrect, completely convinced that these wines couldn’t possibly be as good as I said. With time though, opinions began to change as more and more collectors re-tasted the wines themselves and found something they didn’t expect–something they liked a lot.

My opinion was that 1990 wasn’t a poor vintage. It was a ripe vintage, of that there is no doubt, but the wines maintained a freshness and liveliness through balanced acidity, and a purity of ripe fruit that is hard to resist. I mused that they would continue to age beautifully for many years in the cellar.

That brings us to September 27th at the North End Grill

The 1990 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco started with an unusually turbulent winter, as weather patterns fluctuated between unusually cold to unusually warm through April. Yet the bigger issue was the lack of precipitation. The region was graced with neither rain nor snow until April, and warm weather that lasted into May. The flowering and crop set was variable across the region, yet, in the end, most producers found the set to be generous. With June came the lasting heat, which remained through most of the summer and sped the maturation of fruit. However, with September the weather became much more seasonal, and although the harvest was early by 10-15 days, it was done under optimal conditions. The fear was that the fruit lacked the necessary time on the vine to develop depth and ripe tannin.

Some people immediately disregarded the vintage as ripe and not worthy of the cellar. The funny part is that by today’s standards, it would have been considered a much better year.

From the start, the 1990s drank beautifully and continued to drink well for a decade. Many people thought of it as a restaurant vintage, meaning that a sommelier could buy the wines and open them for their customers upon arrival. Vintages that we might say the same for in the recent past include 2011, 2009, 2007 and 2003. This isn’t the best company to keep in a Barolo collector’s opinion, but 1990 has something very different from these vintages–balance.

There are many theories about why wines age in a positive manner, and with Barolo most people associate it with tannin alone. However, in the time that I’ve been collecting wine, the theory that I’ve come to believe more than any other is that a wine matures on its balance. Fruit, acid and tannin in balance will allow a wine to go the long haul. In my opinion, if the conditions of the 1990 vintage were repeated today, then the wines would have been much better-received in their youth. I see it as a prelude to our modern vintages.

When tasting through the 1990s on our table, balance was the repeating theme in nearly all of them. The fruit was ripe on the nose and palate, only verging on tart in some cases, and they were all carried gracefully across the senses by vibrant acidity. The tannin lurked in the background, only showing itself early in a small number of wines. However, in most of them, their tannin could be perceived only on the tail end of the finish. When you consider that these are 27 year-old wines, then you would expect the tannins to be taking a back seat.

The 1990s we tasted are defined by their consistency and the wide drinking window that they’ve enjoyed. Six years ago, they were gorgeous–maybe coming across as a touch riper. Today they are just as beautiful, a bit more refined, and in no danger of decline.

If you can find 1990 Barolo or Barbaresco from your favorite producer that has been well stored, then my advice is to buy it and enjoy.

On to the tasting notes:

1st Flight: Paolo Scavino Barolo

Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc 1990 – The ‘90 Bric del Fiasc provided a fantastic start to our tasting, being one of the first times that I’ve tasted this wine and found the development of more tertiary aromas and flavors. The nose was gorgeous, displaying crushed fall leaves, tar and undergrowth up front, as notes of black cherry, brown sugar and a hint of iodine developed in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty acidity with mineral-drenched tart cherry fruit that saturated the senses. It finished long on dark red fruits, undergrowth and iron-borne minerality. (94 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata 1990 – Upon serving, the ‘90 Rocche dell’Annunziata was much warmer (temperature-wise) than the Bric del Fiasc, which hurt its initial performance, but as the evening wore on, I was able to taste it again on its own with much better results. The nose was hauntingly dark and intense with baked cherries, exotic spice, marine-minerality and hints of sweet herbs. On the palate, I found medium-bodied textures yet still lighter than I expected, with dried black cherry and strawberry fruits. Hints of tobacco, sweet herbs and inner florals lingered on the palate long into the finish, with an earthy-mineral tinge. (91 points)

2nd Flight: Modern Leanings

Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Barolo Brunate 1990 – The bouquet was gorgeous with spicy ripe cherry, cigar box, hints of orange citrus, and menthol. It entered juicy on the palate, with pretty ripe cherry and sweet spice tones, yet falling off toward the mid-palate, and ultimately becoming muddled with an odd note of rotten fruit. It finished with medium-length and hints of fine tannin, but it appears that the Ceretto Brunate may have already seen its day in the sun. (90 points)

Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina 1990 – The nose was dark and intense, showing black earth, minerals, hauntingly dark floral tones, dried black cherry, cedar, and savory herbs. On the palate, I found unbelievable silky textures and medium-to-full bodied weight, with vibrant red berry fruits, spices, minerals and vibrant acidity that added great energy to the mix. It was so easy to like that you could easily find yourself drinking it instead of tasting. The finish was long with a display of dark red fruit, saturating sweet spice, tobacco and dried roses. (93 points)

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis 1990 – The ‘90 Cannubi Boschis was at first dark and brooding in the glass, taking time to unfurl, yet once it did–what a beautiful display it was. Here I found a dark and meaty bouquet with minty herbs and bright cherry adding freshness. As it sat in the glass, notes of dusty spice and dried rose appeared, yet there remained a note of beef blood, which grounded this in the earth. It was silky on the palate, yet structured and still youthful, showing tart cherry, orange peel and tobacco. The finish was long and saturating to the senses, with lively tannin and dried red berry tones. (96 points)

3rd Flight: Serralunga and Monforte

Gaja Barolo Sperss 1990 – The ‘90 Sperss was remarkably fresh for both the vintage and what I expected from the wine. Here I found a gorgeous bouquet of dried violets offset by dark earth, leather, red licorice, dusty old spice box and crushed stone. On the palate, soft textures were complemented by an undercurrent of ripe dark red fruits, with hints of dried citrus, minerals and brisk-energizing acidity. It finished long and floral with lingering hints of undergrowth, spice and dried red berry fruit. (97 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1990 – The nose displayed an overwhelming mineral, metal and sawdust note, lacking in fruit but also not showing any aromas that I associate with cork. On the palate, it was one dimensional, showing dark red fruit but without any energy or drive. I’m sure this was an off bottle, but I’m not exactly sure of how it arrived at such an odd state. I declined scoring it as a result. (NA)

Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia 1990 – This is further evidence that when an Aldo Conterno Barolo is on, that there is little else that can compare. The ‘90 Granbussia was Monforte-fruit personified. It was dark, viral, and brooding, with dried black cherry giving way to iron-like minerality, dusty florals and earth. On the palate, it was silky but with an underlying current of dark tannic structure and mineral earth tones, as black fruit saturated the senses. It was powerful and still tense, showing further potential for the cellar as it finished long on dried berries and tobacco. (94 points)

4th Flight: Barbaresco

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Gallina di Neive 1990 – The bouquet was gorgeous with sweet florals and exotic spices, followed by dried strawberry, tobacco and hints of floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found a silky expression made vibrant through juicy acidity with mineral coated dark red fruits, and spices. It finished long and floral with hints of sweet herbs, lasting minerality and mouthwatering acidity. It’s amazing how juicy and fresh this 27 year-old barbaresco is, as well as how Giacosa could create so many consistently beautiful wines across so many vineyards and vintages. (95 points)

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora 1990 – The Produttori Pora Riserva was so perfectly balanced and mature on this evening, showing a floral bouquet, yet rich with dried cherry, hints of olive, minerals and undergrowth. On the palate, I found saturating deep red berry fruit tones with zesty acidity providing freshness, and earth and tobacco adding depth. The finish was long and still lightly structured, and dried cherry and strawberry seemed to slowly melt from the senses. (94 points)

Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi 1990 -The Costa Russi was a model of purity and nebbiolo refinement on the nose, as notes of pine and mint rose up from the glass, joined by hints of tar, dried rose, strawberry, potpourri and minerals. On the palate, I found zesty textures with nearly imperceptible weight, as the wine seemed to hover on the senses with lively notes of tart red berry, spice, citrus and fresh herbs. It’s amazing how youthful this felt, yet also perfectly mature, as it finished on dried berries, hints of cedar and inner floral tones. (93 points)

Also tasted in April 2017

Vietti Barolo Rocche 1990 – The ’90 Vietti Rocche is showing beautifully tonight. The bouquet was gorgeous and intense, with black cherry, mint, tobacco, sweet spice, dried flowers, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures with a kick of acidity adding bite, while crunchy tannin added grip. Tart black cherry, dried citrus, wild herbs, and intense minerality saturated the senses. It finished fresh with biting acids and tannin, but oh so good and drinking wonderfully. (95 points)

Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

For more impressions on our evening, visit: Wine Without Numbers