Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, Three Generations in The Making

If there was one wine that not only defined Barolo for me, but for the majority of longtime collectors, it’s Bartolo Mascarello.  When I first fell in love with Barolo, I was quick to learn that to understand not just what Barolo is about but also where it came from, looking back on the great vintages of Bartolo was the place to start and in many cases to end.  This remains true even to this day, if not more so.  As we often speak about traditional versus modern producers, this was the name that stood for the hardline traditionalists.  Bartolo, who referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, carried the torch of traditional methods and spoke out often about the values that separated the old from the new school.

Up to the very end, his ideals were followed to the letter, even as his health declined and the region changed to appeal to current tastes.  A visit to Bartolo Mascarello was on the bucket list of collectors around the world, and in most cases it was a difficult goal to accomplish.  Even today as we look back on vintages from 60 years ago, the wines epitomize and define Barolo.  

The reason for this was his respect for what came before.  Following in his father Giulio's footsteps and changing nothing about the way Barolo had been produced in their family cantina since the beginning, Bartolo took the hard stance of speaking out against what most of the region considered to be progress--the modernist movement.  

With holdings in the prestigious crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche in La Morra, Bartolo continued to produce one Barolo, which was a blend of crus, instead of giving in to the trend of single-vineyard bottling.  In the winery, the only aging vessels you would find were large Slavonian oak casks, and he became known for his venomous remarks toward barrique, as well as various politicians and world matters.

Through it all, the house of Mascarello maintained its loyal following, becoming something of a city of Mecca for collectors, media, politicians, and anyone seeking truth in Barolo.  Today we see the entire region bending back to the traditional methods that Bartolo worked so hard to maintain, and we are also quite lucky that in his daughter, Maria Teresa, we have found yet another generation of Mascarellos who have chosen to follow family traditions.

Bartolo’s passing was a moment that will never be forgotten by collectors of the time, yet in the capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa, the wines have found a new level of purity and finesse, while still maintaining his ideals.  Today, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo has ascended to the highest ranks of the region, with respect from producers and wine lovers from across the world.   I’m sure the man would be very proud. 

Our recent tasting spanned vintages from 1955 (Before Bartolo joined his father Giulio in the wine making process), through the ‘80s,’90s (some of Bartolo’s greatest vintages) and then into the recent vintages of ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (which show the beginning of Maria Teresa’s time at Mascarello).  It was an evening that I will never forget, and it has only reassured me that these wines, from any of the decades past, are worth seeking out and should be in the cellars of any devoted collector of Barolo.

** A note on the naming of the 1955 and 1958. Prior to a renaming by Bartolo in the early '80s, the wines were labeled as Cantina Mascarello. What's more, although the first two wines state Canubbi on the label, they are both blends of the Mascarello vineyards. The name Canubbi was added for it's prestige.

On to the tasting notes: 

1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi Riserva - The ‘55 Bartolo was unbelievably youthful at first pour, especially with its gorgeous deep color, yet still perfectly mature, displaying a bouquet of dried flowers, dried cherry, and hints of bitter herbs.  On the palate, I found soft textures, with vibrant acid and a flash of dried red berries, before pulling back with a hint of decay.  It finished medium-long on tart red berries and a hint of smoke.  I could sit with this glass all night. (94 points)

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi - The ‘58 worried me, with its completely resolved color showing only a slight red hue.  On the nose, a display of earth tones, dried flowers, and musk gave way to hints of maderization.  On the palate, herb-infused, tart red fruits gave way to elevated acidity that seemed to touch upon all of the senses.  It finished long on dried cherry, cedar, leather and a twang of acidity.  It was completely mature and on the decline, but still highly enjoyable on this evening. (92 points)

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘82 showed just how fickle Nebbiolo can be, coming from a bottle that was opened many hours before serving. My first impression was of a closed and hard wine that wouldn’t reveal its treasures, yet over the course of this tasting it blossomed into an elegant beauty.  The nose showed hints of pine and parchment up front, yet gained depth in the glass, as dusty dried flowers turned to dark, mineral-laden red fruits.  On the palate, I found a deeply focused expression of dark red fruits with still-youthful tannin.  It finished long and drying, yet a bolt of acidity enlivened the senses.  This is something of a sleeping giant. (95 points)

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - I’ve always found ‘90 to be a difficult vintage to truly understand, and I’m not sure if this Bartolo has added more questions than answers on this night.  The wine itself was tremendous, and it didn’t show any of the attributes I associate with ‘90 Barolo.  Here I found deep, yet focused red fruits with dried roses, pine, dusty soil, and balsamic tones, in a feminine and lifted display.  On the palate, youthful red fruits were aided by zesty acidity, providing a sensation of pure refinement.  As it sat in the glass, its textures seemed to soften and expand while never losing its energy or verve.  The finish was long and youthful, with tart red berry fruit lingering on and on. (94 points)

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It’s not often that a ‘95 crosses my path and leaves a such an impression as the ‘95 Bartolo Mascarello did.  This displayed a rich, spicy and red floral bouquet with notes of brown spice, savory cherry and sweet herbs.  On the palate, I found silky textures with red berries, minerals and inner floral tones, in a perfectly mature expression of Nebbiolo.  It finished on dried cherries and floral tones.  The ‘95 was simply a pleasure to drink. (94 points)

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘96 Bartolo was as puzzling at this stage as most wines from this ‘Iron Vault’ of a vintage.  The nose showed depths of dark red fruit with soaring minerality and hints of menthol.  On the palate, I found refined, yet tightly-wound, concentrated red fruit with saturating acidity and firm tannin. It finished structured and lean with a mix of cheek-puckering acidity and palate-coating tannin. I wanted so badly to like this wine more, especially from its amazing bouquet, but the palate still leaves me questioning if ‘96 fruit has the endurance to outlive those intense tannins and acid. (92 points)

1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - Another standout from a ripe vintage, the ‘97 displayed a rich, deep and intense nose with mineral-infused red fruits and dried flowers. On the palate, I found a remarkably fresh expression for the vintage, with soft textures which soothed the senses while notes of focused red fruits saturated everything they touched.  Dried flowers, tart berry and minerals lasted on on the finish, along with a hint of dried orange peel. Well done.  (92 points)

1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It was hard to decide if the ‘98 was a damaged wine or just a bad bottle, as the nose was overtly intense with herbal-infused medicinal cherry and spice.  On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits, yet little else and seriously lacking energy.  It finished on minerals with a hint of oxidation.  I decided to score this, because it was still a serviceable wine, just not what you would expect from Bartolo Mascarello. (87 points)

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again.  It’s a truly great wine in the making.  Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice.  With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore.  On the palate,a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin.  It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice.  This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed citrus-tinged red berry and pretty floral tones.  On the palate, I found soft textures, unexpected so for an ‘01.  There was also a lack of depth.  This finish was dry with fine tannin and tart, mineral-infused tannin.  I’ve heard stories of the ‘01 being a variable bottle, and tonight's wasn’t nearly as exciting as my last bottle. (90 points)

2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘05 was gorgeous and a great introduction to Maria Teresa’s winemaking style.  The nose was very pretty, and I’d go as far as calling it mesmerizing, showing dusty tart cherry, and exotic floral tones with hints of sweet spice. On the palate, I found lean tart berry lifted by brisk acidity and inner floral tones.  It finished on focused, intense red fruit and fine tannin structure, built like a dancer so to speak. This is highly enjoyable already, but sure to drink well for a decade or more. (94 points)

2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘06 was an iron vault of a Barolo, but behind its imposing structure, there was so much potential.  The nose displayed deep, dark, spicy red fruit, with dried florals, spice cookie and mint.  On the palate, dark, mineral-infused red fruits and rich spices saturated the senses, yet stayed fresh through brisk acidity and refined tannin.  It finished long on palate-coating tannin, dried cherry and balsamic tones. This was just a baby, but with 30-40 years of potential. (96 points)

2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - As expected, the ‘07 Bartolo Mascarello showed the heat of the vintage, yet managed to do it with grace.  The nose was intense with rich depths of red berry fruits, spice cake and sweet florals.  On the palate, I found silky-soft textures giving way to ripe cherry with plenty of flesh, sweet spices, hard red candies and stunning acidity which provided energy.  The long finish balanced spicy red fruit with hints of sweet tannin, yet remained fresh throughout.  (92 points)

2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed mineral-infused dark red fruits and balsamic tones.  On the palate, I found rich black cherry with slick, almost sappy textures in something of a monolithic display.  The finish was long with grippy tannin, dark minerality and dried red berries. Unfortunately, the ‘09 does suffer from the heat of the vintage, yet never becomes overwhelming. (91 points)

Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Italian Wine In The Extreme: The Collisioni Experience

Article and Photos by: Eric Guido

You think you know Italian wine. You spend ten years studying and tasting. You research, you write, and you spend every spare moment immersing yourself in the topic. You also taste with individuals that share your passion, and you meet with visiting producers on a regular basis. Over time, you start to feel as if you have become an authority on the topic. Your friends believe you have mastered it, and you may have even have convinced yourself of this. Then you go to Collisioni, and you realize that all you know is just the tip of the iceberg.

My first introduction to Collisioni was through an e-mail I received from Ian d’Agata, who if you don’t already know is something of a jack-of-all-trades within the wine world. You can imagine that, with his experience as a wine writer and critic for Decanter, International Wine Cellar and now Vinous media, author of the Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Scientific Advisor for Vinitaly, and creative director of Collisioni, an email from Ian d’Agata is not something you ignore. Over the years, I’ve received many invitations to be included in trips and tasting tours, but this one really stood out. In fact, I was sold the second I read the invitation.

Collisioni started as a festival for music and literature, but it grew in a short time to encompass food and wine. What started as a small event hosting 10,000 in 2009 has now grown to expect 150,000+ attendees that fill the streets of the small town of Barolo. The preparation for such an event is a massive undertaking, and being one of the guests, I was able to watch as the town of Barolo went from sleepy streets to a bustling festival over the course of only a few days.

The best part is that the who’s who of Piedmont winemaking turned out for the event. Even producers who weren’t involved in the myriad of tastings, round tables and tours could still be seen walking the streets and taking in the many sights and sounds. As this was a festival born from music and literature, it seemed as if every corner held an attraction, with onlookers amassed throughout each nook and cranny of the cobblestone streets.

On one night, the entire city gathered to watch Elton John. If you can imagine the streets of Barolo, completely empty, as the sounds of “Rocket Man”, “Candle in The Wind”, and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, echoed throughout. Every soul seemed to be aligned that night with Elton John’s timeless setlist. It amazed me how everyone there seemed to connect during the show. Even people who didn’t seem interested in attending the concert earlier that day were found singing along. It was a magical evening.

The entire experience was something truly special.

However, what we are here to talk about is wine, which Collisioni excelled at, as it provided its guests with a selection of regional tastings from around Italy that were as challenging as they were interesting. We aren’t talking about the average room full of tables with which professionals tour in search of the handful of wines that stand out. Instead, this was five days of intense tastings, each done in a round table style with producers in attendance to answer all questions and a panel of specialists to comment and drive the conversations.

My attendance placed me tableside with producers in panel discussions and accessing wine in front of the crowd on a regular basis. Each night followed with a visit to a winery, where we were able to soak in the gorgeous surroundings of the region and taste with some of Piedmont’s best and up-and-coming producers. All this while surrounded by fellow professionals and experts from around the world. The days were long and not a moment was spent waiting for something to do–but you know what? I loved every second of it.

I’ve decided that the best way to honor this experience is to showcase a number of the standouts and most memorable moments.

Enter Dogliani

Isn’t it ironic that on a trip to the heart of Barolo, surrounded by producers and great wines, one of the most impactful evenings was spent with producers of Dolcetto Dogliani?

One of the main topics throughout our Collisioni experience was how Nebbiolo was slowly replacing all other varieties throughout the villages that make up the Barolo appellation. It’s believed that the days of seeing a Barbera or Dolcetto d’Alba will soon be over. This will leave a large void for lovers of Piedmont's other great varieties. However, in the case of Dolcetto, Dogliani has us covered.

First let me say that if you’ve tasted Dolcetto from anywhere else and decided that it’s not for you, then you owe it to yourself to taste a Dolcetto Dogliani.

Keep in mind that Dogliani has the same diverse terroir and rolling hills that your find throughout Barolo. The difference is that these producers take advantage of the best expositions to plant Dolcetto, not Nebbiolo. It’s difficult to compare Dogliani Dolcetto to one from any other location.

The best part is that, after tasting a number of wines from the 2105 vintage, now is the perfect time to jump into this region. These are tremendous examples of the variety, and the vintage is so easy to like. As for recommendations, I was smitten with examples from Addona Marziano, Chionetti, San Fereolo, and Einaudi.

Top Wine: San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore 2007 - The bouquet was positively refreshing and exotic with a mix of blackberry, and crushed raspberry fruits, followed by dried flowers and both sweet and savory spices. On the palate, it was alluring in it’s soft yet rich textures, and lifted by vibrant acidity and minerals, giving way to blackberry and plum fruit. It finished long and fresh as the fruit faded slowly to reveal fresh inner floral tones. Really this is just a pleasure to drink. (93+ points)

What’s a Lucana?

This was one of those moments when you realize that you knew much less than you thought you did. Sitting at our lunch pavillion (think of a buffet at a movie set, but make all the food Piedmontese), I stared at my schedule and noticed that the Regionale Lucana tasting was to follow. I asked the other guests at my table, “What’s a Lucana?”, and they all shrugged.

In the end, this was one of the best focus tastings of my trip. Lucana, otherwise known as Lucania, is also known as Basilicata (starting to make sense now?). Basilicata is 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. What it is also well known for is Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano, that gives its name to Aglianico del Vulture.

Aglianico del Vulture is a DOC that I’ve taken a lot of interest in over the years, since I believe that it has all of the potential and ingredients to be a world-class wine, but no one has come along as a champion for the region. The ingredients I speak of are first and foremost the variety, Aglianico, which is renowned for its use in creating Taurasi in Campania. Add to that the diverse volcanic soils, moderating influences from two seas, a large range of altitudes and degrees of elevation, and you’d think that Aglianico del Vulture would be the next big thing in Italy–but it’s not.

Why? Well that was what I was here to find out. Unfortunately, the reason seems to be more about growing pains and devotion than it is about a quick fix. If anything, this tasting revealed that there are a small number of quality-minded producers who are working very hard to put Aglianico del Vulture on the map. The problem is that there are many more who aren’t giving it their all.

That said, out of 28 wines tasted, the cream did rise to the top. Elena Fucci, Cantina di Venosa, Donato D’Angelo, Cantine del Notaio and Madonna delle Grazie all deserve your attention. (Tasting notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Elena Fucci Titolo 2013The nose was wonderfully expressive, showing tobacco, earth and ash up front, followed by focused blackberry and notes of fresh herbs. On the palate, I found dark red fruits, pepper, violet florals, leather and youthful tannins. The finish was youthfully austere, yet complex in it’s black fruit, savory spice and fine tannin. I would love to see this wine again in five years. (93 points)

Nonino Grappa

In Italy, wine is food. It’s created to be enjoyed with a meal, and going back through history, it was often used as a way of surviving and fortifying oneself for a hard day. However, wine is seldom thought of in Italy as a “drink.” When dinner is over, and the time for a drink is upon you, Italians in the north reach for Grappa.

That’s not to say that Nonino Grappa should be thought of as just another spirit, because frankly it is so much more than that.

Located in Friuli, Nonino is a family-run company with a history going back over 100 years and can lay claim to the fact that they put Grappa on the map. Their success in the media and worldwide markets opened the minds of consumers and placed Grappa on their tables.

Yet, to this day, there is Grappa and then there is Nonino. After this experience, I believe it’s safe to say that much of this is the passion of the family who’s running the show. We tasted through six different variations of Nonino Grappa, each made from the pomace of varying grape varieties. For my tastes, it was the Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Il Moscato that stole the show, with its unending array of aromatics. In fact, each time I returned to the glass, there seemed to be an entirely new and exotic mix of aromas. This tasting made me a believer.

Build a Better Albe

Okay, in all honesty, I don’t think I could build a better Vajra Albe than Aldo Vaira himself, but I couldn’t help but try. This was one of the best tastings of our entire trip. After a day full of tasting and regional focus groups, we were sent off to Locanda in Cannubi, a restaurant located in the heart of Cannubi. The cuisine was phenomenal, with traditional regional specialties that were given a contemporary twist. The Bertolini-Boggione family do an amazing job here, since after a week of eating traditional foods, I found myself salivating over each plate that was placed in front of me.

However, the real honor was in sharing my table with Milena Vaira (Aldo’s wife), Ian d’Agata and two Masters of Wine. Seriously, how could we fail?

To be honest, it was a cutthroat competition, right up to the final announcement that our time was up. We took the more logical approach of blending by the percentage of Vajra’s holdings throughout the three vineyards that produce Albe (Fossati, La Volta, and Coste). In the end, Ian gave a last-second splash of La Volta that rounded our blend out nicely.

We were victorious.

But it bears mention that Levy Dalton, of “I’ll Drink to That” fame, demanded a rematch in 2017.

For the Love of Amarone

I have to admit, as difficult as I find it to keep Amarone in my personal rotation, I truly do love these wines. For many years now, I’ve been attending tastings with the Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte, and with each vintage I find myself enjoying them more and more. Frankly, they are easy to love. Especially since the organization was created to showcase the classical zone of the region and unite producers who were dedicated to upholding tradition and quality production. In the end, they are hedonistic wines of pure pleasure, but the hard part is maintaining refinement amidst all of the richness and intensity of Amarone. These are the producers who have mastered the art.

One thing I will say is that as we all become aware of two distinctly different styles of Amarone (the rich going on confectionary, versus the rich going on bitter and savory), I have to ask if there will ever be an official way to identify them on the shelf. A perfect example is the conversing styles of Speri (who I love for their classicism and poise) and Zenato (who I love for their ripeness, intensity and richness). If you are looking for a wine for a fatty steak, grab the Speri. If you are looking to pair something with a chunk of blue cheese, then Zenato is a match made in heaven. So how does the consumer tell the difference?

These are questions for another time. For now, my standouts were Tommasi, Speri, Tedeschi and Zenato. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 The nose was deep, rich and intense with ripe cherry giving way to notes of orange peel, brown spice, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth. I found broad and silky, palate-coating textures contrasted by zesty bright cherry and spice. It finished with fine, classic tannins, bitters, sweet herbs and dried black cherry. It was big, rich, intense and hard to resist. An unapologetic Amarone. (95 points)

We’re in Piedmont; what about Barolo?

Barolo, I didn’t forget about you. How could a lifelong fan of Barolo and all things Nebbiolo not give these wines the spotlight they deserve?

So, yes, I did taste a lot of Barolo. Probably the most important data point I can provide is on the 2012 vintage, of which I tasted quite a bit. There are many publications that have gone on about the vintage conditions, so I won’t rehash that here, but I am happy to share some general observations.

The 2012 vintage falls into a shadow that is being cast by the power of the 2011s, the classicism of the 2010s, and the speculation over the much-touted 2013s. These are good wines, but the fact remains that they possess neither the vibrancy and drive of a warm vintage, nor the structure and refinement of a cool vintage. They are pretty wines that display the purity of nebbiolo fruit. Most have beautiful aromatics, but they lack the details on the palate that would round out the experience. There are standouts, as there are in all vintages, but the bulk of the wines lack any thrill factor.

So what do we do while we wait for 2013?

We backfill classic vintages (’04, ’06 and ’08) and look at the often overlooked 2011s. Many Barolo collectors have been conditioned to shun warmer vintages, but I believe this is a huge mistake when considering the 2011 vintage. They are ripe and often intense, but beneath all of that fruit is a structure of sweet tannin and a bold acidity that carries the wines gracefully. My opinion is that we will be drinking these wines twenty years from now and wondering why we didn’t buy more.

My 2012 Barolo Standouts: Giuseppe Rinaldi, Rocche Costamagna, and Giacomo Fenocchio. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2012The nose was soaring from the glass with a display of deep, dark red berry fruit, dried roses, tobacco, leather and savory spice. On the palate, wonderfully pure, silky textures ushered in ripe, bright cherry fruit, minerals and inner violet floral tones, as fine spicy tannin settled in and dried the sense. It finished more on subtle tannin, with fresh plum, cherry, and inner floral tones. There’s a Pinot Noir like elegance here, showing remarkably pretty and pure. (94 points)

Tidbits and outtakes (since I felt this was verging on a novelette):

  • A person can live on a diet of Carne Cruda, Vitello Tonnato, e Pomodoro con Buffalo Mozzarella twice a day for a week straight.
  • Verdicchio deserves more attention (See: Notes).
  • I know just enough Italian to get into a lot of trouble.
  • There’s a rumbling in Abruzzo; check out Tiberio (you’ll thank me later).
  • Donnafugata Ben Rye may be the greatest dessert wine on earth.
  • Tasting 32 Grignolinos sounds a lot worse than it really is. (See: Notes)
  • Donatella Cinelli is doing some exciting work in Orcia.
  • Senza Glutine doesn’t work as well in Piedmont as you might think.
  • There’s more to Gavi than La Scolca.
  • There’s a underground Terracotta aging movement in Piedmont (check out Rivetto).
  • Piedmont is most definitely the most beautiful wine region on earth.

That’s all. In closing, I would like to thank Ian d’Agata for including me and the Collisioni team for all of their hard work. This was an undertaking of immense proportions. Well done!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Barolo & Barbaresco 1996, 20-Year Retrospective

Whatever happened to our dreams of 1996 being a great vintage? For over a decade, I’ve been pursuing this vintage with hopes that it would be another 1989, yet now I begin to wonder. Last year we put together a blind ‘96 Barolo tasting, and the outcome led me to believe that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The odd thing about that tasting was that the best-performing wines were all produced in a modern style. That wasn’t the case here at our 20-year retrospective tasting.

At the 20-year mark, the majority of these ‘96 Barolos are still as hard as nails. What’s more, in some cases, the fruit appears to be receding and drying out, even as their tannin and acidity continue to power on. On this night, we tasted the best of the best, and when all was said and done, only a handful of them truly impressed. However, what a handful that was, as two of my top three wines are at the peak of the pricing pyramid and extremely hard to find. In fact, the most all-around enjoyable wines of the evening were from the Barbaresco flight, which did well here due to their more feminine and softer fruit profiles. Of course, three out of four were Bruno Giasoca, with Cappellano (a wine made from purchased fruit) scoring very high as well.

In the end, considering the list of names tasted here and the notes and scores I left with, I’d find it very difficult to recommend many of these bottles to the average consumer. While the Ca d'Morissio was drop-dead gorgeous and with a long life ahead of it, I only see availability in Europe, and at almost $500+ per bottle. My runner up, the Giacosa Riserva Asili can be had for $450+ in the US, which isn’t so bad when you consider the cost of recent vintages. That said, I won’t be seeking out any to buy. As for the Massolino Vigna Rionda, that’s the bottle that I would buy, assuming you can find it (for readers in the UK and Switzerland, you may be in luck). The Massolino was ridiculously close in quality to the top-scoring wines at this tasting. If you really want a great ‘96 Barolo in your cellar, that won't break the bank, then this is the one to hunt for.

So how long do we need to wait for these wines to come around? At this time, I would look to start drinking any ‘96 Barolo from a modern-styled producer. For the traditionalists, you’re looking at another 5-10 years or more. As for Barbaresco, with the proper decanting, these are just entering their drinking window.

 As is usually the case, whenever my vintage reports come back with any negative feedback, I’m sure there will be many who will call me out. However, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t share my honest opinions with my readers? I hope I’m wrong, but at this time, ‘96 isn’t looking like the all-around great vintage we had all hoped for. At the top of the pricing pyramid, your chances of a great experience increases.

My advise is to tread lightly, and look for Barolo recommendations from those who have recently tasted the wines. As for Barbaresco, this tasting has tempted me to dig deeper, as this night’s examples were showing beautifully.

On to my tasting notes: 

(All wines were served blind in three flights. Bottles were opened between 9am - 11am, decanted for sediment, and then returned to their original bottle until the start of the tasting.)

Castiglione & Monforte d'Alba 

1996 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia - The nose displayed dark fruit, as blackberries dipped in liqueur, sweet spice and hints of espresso dominated. On the palate, it was soft, dare I say diluted, with notes of plum and tart cherry. It finished stern, with drying tannin and bitter remnants of red fruit. Everything about this wine made me believe it would be a modern-styled Barolo. (90 points)

1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche - The nose opened strangely, revealing notes of crushed seashell and saline-minerality. However, with time, the Rocche evolved with a display of floral undergrowth, brilliant red fruits and fresh green flora. On the palate, it was firm from start to finish, with earthy red fruits and intense minerality. Dried floral tones lingered throughout the finish, along with drying tannin and minerals. I had high hopes for this bottle, but it appears to be in a very closed phase. (91 points)

1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato - The nose showed dark red fruits, menthol, sweet spice and dried flowers. With time, its fruit fleshed out, as a beautiful expression of fresh roses appeared. On the palate, it was lean yet with persistent tart cherry fruit that stained the senses. It finished structured and tense, yet the fruit remained intact. I have to wonder if this may have scored even higher had it not been tasted next to the Ca d'Morissio. (93 points)

1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d'Morissio Riserva Monprivato - This revealed a bouquet of dusty black cherry, dried flowers, dark exotic spice and crushed stone minerality. It was hauntingly dark and and floral. On the palate, I found pure fruit and saturating tannic structure, as tart black cherry steamrolled across the senses, leaving a trail of acid-tinged minerals in its wake. The finish was long and structured, with lingering notes of dried berries and inner floral tones. I can only imagine that this wine will see a very long life, and I seriously hope to be able to taste it again. (96 points)

Barbaresco (Or the story of three Giacosas and a Cappellano) 

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Asili - The nose was deep and layered, revealing ripe red fruits, plum, sweet spice, tar, smoke and earth. It was dark, seductive, and even a bit savory. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures with spiced cherry and plum coating the senses, along with licorice and violet florals. It finished incredibly long yet balanced and fresh with inner florals and remnants of dried cherry fruit. As it was tasted blind, I had guessed this to be the Rabaja--looks like I should be buying more Asili. (96 points)

1996 Cappellano Barbaresco - The nose showed dusty florals up front, with ripe cherry, exotic spice, menthol and sweet floral tones. On the palate, it was vibrant with silky textures that caressed the senses, as dark red fruits and inner floral tones persisted well into the long finish. Its structure loomed, along with a coating of minerals and a hint of herbs. This may not be quite as moving as the last bottle I tasted, but it was still an amazing experience. (94 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà - The nose was sweet and layered with dark red fruits, dusty florals tones and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, juicy textures with vibrant red berry fruit that coated the senses. Tannin came late and lasted long into the finish, along with lifted minerality and dark fruit. (92 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Albesani di Neive - The nose was perfumed and floral with bright cherry and minerals in a very pretty expression. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits and spice, yet there seemed to be something missing throughout the mid-palate. It finished on dried red fruits and inner floral tones. On this night, the Santo Stefano came across as small-scaled and pretty, but not much else. (90 points)

 Serralunga d'Alba 

1996 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda - The nose showed intense minerals, almost saline, with sweet herbs and dark red fruits. It was structured on the palate, yet showing intense dark fruits with a zing of brisk acidity before it’s still youthful tannin took effect and saturated the senses. It finished dry with a coating of minerals and tart cherry extract. This is still a baby, but it’s sure to enjoy a long and fulfilling life. (95 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto - The nose showed dark black cherry and minerals, yet it was restrained and ungiving at this stage. On the palate, the fruit turned crystalline and brilliant with mineral-wrapped black cherry and dark herbal tones that shot across the senses. It finished on concentrated red fruits, iron and fine tannin. I feel like many of the other tasters were let down by the Falletto tonight, yet I found it to be youthfully poised to grow into a beautiful wine. (92 points)

1996 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) - The nose displayed an attractive mix of minerals, dusty red fruits, spice, and iron, all with a savory leaning. On the palate, I found dark, bitter red fruits and minerals with earth tones and inner florals. It finished on fresh herbs, minerals and earth, with a coating of gruff tannin that saturated the senses. As is often the case with Otin Fiorin, I have to wonder if it just needs more time to truly show it's potential. (94 points)

1996 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato - The nose was almost savory, showing olive brine and sweet herbs before turning to crushed cherry, brown sugar and dark chocolate. On the palate, it was silky but also a bit one-dimensional, with notes of red berry, smoke and a hint of minerality. It finished on dark red fruits, yet it was murky and partially restrained. Unfortunately, I feel that the fruit here simply didn't integrate well with Ornato's barrique oak aging. (89 points)

 Article, Photos and Tasting Notes: By Eric Guido