Now, I'll step down from my soap box so we can talk about one of the most amazing tastings I have ever attended.
March 28th Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia dinner at Maialino
Giacomo Conterno is without a doubt one of the greatest producers of Barolo. Currently, in the capable hands of Roberto Conterno, this winery continues to produce Barolo in a traditional style, which is unrivaled by its many peers. These are Baroli intended to age and be enjoyed over decades. The flagship bottle being Monfortino, a wine that is often described as monumental, however it comes with a hefty price tag. The second bottle from Giacomo Conterno is: Cascina Francia, a reference point Barolo that is still head and shoulders above the rest. Not cheap, but usually a third of the cost of the great Monfortino.
The tasting, documented below, was hosted and organized by Greg dal Piaz. We each brought our own bottles to complete a vertical from 1988 – 2005, with a 1971 mixed in. Many of the attendants brought more than their share, and for that I am very grateful. It was an awesome evening of some of the best Baroli I’ve ever tasted.
The quick an easy rundown for those looking for instant gratification on a 100 point scale.
1971 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo –91
1988 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 96
1989 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 98
1990 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 95
1993 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 89
1994 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 89
1995 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 92
1996 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 96
1997 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – Flawed
1998 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 93
1999 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 93
2000 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 92
2001 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 95
2003 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 88
2004 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 92
2005 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – 89
On to the notes:
Flight 1: Served solo since it's not sourced from the Cascina Francia vineyard.
1971 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo – Maybe a bit past its prime, but still performing beautifully, this 1971 shows undergrowth, tar and minerals up front with of hint of its sour red fruits from days past. On the palate, I found sour berries and cedar leading to a sweeter mid-palate and overall soft mouth feel. The finish was pleasant with old cedar and sour raspberry.
Flight 2: One of the most anticipated flights and surely the crowd’s favorite. Served with an assorted dried meats and fresh breads.
1988 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The nose immediately showed mint with saddle leather and dark red fruit. On the palate is where this wine scored a lot of points, as it showed a resolved and velvety, round mouth feel with cherry, herbs, roses and hint of burnt sugar. The finish was long and tapered away with red fruit and rose. This was one of my top three of the evening, coming in third place for me.
1989 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The nose showed dried red fruits, tar, mushroom broth, a bit of black strap molasses and a hint of barnyard. It also showed a gorgeous structure on the palate that gives the impression that this wine will last for the ages. Still a little tight with a tannic grip, but nonetheless giving with dark red fruit and a mineral core. The finish was long and fine, showing sour cranberry. This was the wine of the night for me, and it was my favorite bottle of this flight.
1990 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – This was darker than the ’89 and it showed an initial nose of undergrowth and brooding dark red fruit. The palate was like an iron wall to me, giving enough to be highly enjoyable but still needing time to come around. The tannins and acidity formed a tightly structured mouth feel with cedar and red fruit. I know that a number of other tasters were very impressed by this bottle, and it certainly has a long life ahead, but I feel it was dwarfed standing next to the perfectly structured ’89 and the immediately appealing ’88. However, I suppose the true testament to its quality is that I turned around and bought another bottle for future enjoyment.
This was a really amazing flight and it was a great idea to enjoy these oldest to youngest so we could truly appreciate these three beauties.
Flight 3: Although these were lesser vintages, the wines showed nicely and make for very drinkable Baroli. The most difficult part of this flight was that the pasta it was served with was heavily laden with pepper, making the finish of each wine nearly undetectable for me.
1993 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – There was cherry fruit on the nose and it was a bit spicy with clove. The palate was a little one-dimensional but still enjoyable with mint, strawberry fruit and herbal tea with honey.
1994 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – Menthol and tar hit you first on the nose with a bit of cherry fruit. On the palate, this showed round and juicy red fruit but it turned very drying through the finish.
1995 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – I find a lot of ‘95s to be just entering their drinking windows and this was a perfect example. On the nose I found strawberry, rose and, with a little probing, sage with a bit of beefy broth. The palate showed more strawberry with sweet tobacco and mineral earthiness. This was my favorite bottle of this flight and a great bottle to source if at the right price.
Flight 4: Another highly anticipated flight for me. The 1996 vintage being one of my favorite vintages for Barolo and the ’98 being a wine I hoped to see perform well, I was not disappointed. This was served with a choice of Bombolotti alla Carbonara (a pasta dish with black pepper, guanciale & egg) or Maccheroni in Guazzetto (a pasta dish with cod, basil & tomato.
1996 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – This brought about a floral nose with roses up front, followed by cherry with beef broth and tar. The palate showed lots of cherry fruit, pipe tobacco and earth, but it was all kept in check by a fine structure with streamlined acidity. I can see this wine being a classic as it leaves you lusting to taste it in a more mature state. The finish is refined and reminiscent of the roses on the nose. This was my number two of the evening: God what a gorgeous Barolo. This was my favorite bottle of this flight and I would recommend buying this on sight.
1997 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The 1997 came across as a flawed bottle or possibly better explained as a dirty wine. The nose showed a lot of earthy chalk and potato skin. On the palate, the performance was good but lacking, likely due to the aromatics being so out of whack. The palate showed ripe dark red fruit, tar, and was a bit chunky.
1998 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The nose was big and inviting with black cherry, anise and a hint of cinnamon. Drinking beautifully now with a fine structure and almost pinot like feel in the mouth it’s a very pretty wine that flows across the palate with sweet cranberry and roses. It leaves you feeling almost… refreshed. This was one of the most open wines of the evening.
Flight 5: This unfortunately resulted in some of the least detailed notes of the evening for me, as my palate was coated by tannins and overwhelming rosemary notes of our main course, which was Porchetta, a slow-roasted pork dish with rosemary & potatoes
1999 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – I found the nose to be a bit muted but showing cherry and a bit of clove. On the palate, this showed a gorgeous structure with more cherry fruit. The fact is, this wine is still a baby and with proper aging it will one day emerge from it’s shell and be amazing.
2000 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The nose was big and ripe with black cherries, earth, and a bit of raw beef. The palate was soft and full-bodied with dark red fruits, red beets and minerals that all turned a little sweet on the mid-palate and led to a slightly tannic finish. I certainly don’t see this lasting decades but it was enjoyable and a good candidate for drinking in five years plus.
2001 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – Another favorite of the evening for me, this was a beautifully structured Barolo showing a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. The nose was very floral with roses, cherry, leather and old cedar. On the palate, I found a fine structure with a slightly sour cherry fruit fighting to come out with sweet tobacco and a nice balanced acidity to the wine. This was my favorite bottle of this flight.
Flight 6: One of the strangest flights for me as it became hard to understand how these would ever rival the majority of the wines we had sampled throughout the evening. However, that can often be the case with young wines such as these. I will also say, that by this time, I’m sure my palate was saturated by the tannic structure of the wines preceding this flight.
2003 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – The 2003 showed big briary red fruit, cinnamon, herbs and dark chocolate on the nose with a little heat. The palate showed sweet, spiced red fruit and raisin but was chewy with cloying tannins. It was a textbook example of the 2003 vintage and it left me wondering if I was drinking Barolo from a traditional producer.
2004 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – Honestly, I don’t get all the hype. Not to say this isn’t a great Barolo, but from what the critics said, this should have been earth moving. The nose showed red fruit, undergrowth and a bit of toast. On the palate, I found strawberry, cooked orange like marmalade and tar but felt that it lost its heft on the mid-palate and ended feeling linier, restrained and a bit alcoholic. Possibly this is just the stage of its life but certainly not performing very well at the moment. This was my favorite bottle of this flight, with hopes of future potential based on its structure.
2005 Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia – On the nose I found menthol, undergrowth and sour cherry with rose and an odd bit of graham cracker. The palate was tight but focused with strawberry fruit, cedar and tar but with a tannic bite keeping it all restrained. I found this to be a little lighthearted for a Barolo.
In the end, this tasting proved to me without a doubt, that Cascina Francia is the reference point Barolo it is often acclaimed to be. Rivaled only by a select few and truly capable of achieving heights, with proper aging, that very few will ever reach. If you are looking for a Barolo to put away and enjoy for decades to come, for a child's birth year, a wedding anniversary or just for your own future enjoyment - Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia is an obvious choice.
To find these bottles on Wine-Searcher, click here!