Monday, December 27, 2010

Year in Review: My top 4 wines of 2010

With 2010 now at a close, it’s time for me to look back on some of the best bottles I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months. I’m really happy to say that my top value and top shelf wines of the year are still readily available at retail. What’s even better is that my top shelf bottle falls under $50. A truly defining revelation I had was when I realized that, out of 355 tasting notes written this year, each of my top wines were Italian. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the wines of other regions. However, it does show that my heart is still in Italy. In my opinion, no other region shows the mix of diversity, opulence, style, finesse and sheer drinkability of Italian wines.

On to the wines:

Value Wine of The Year
(Sub $25 bottle that’s still available at retail)

Tuscany gave us many great wines from the ’06 vintage and it doesn’t surprise me that my value wine of the year hails from this region. However, what was a bit of a surprise was that it was not from Chianti Classico or Montalcino, instead it came from Carmignano. This Sangiovese blend, made in a classy and seductive style, was an easy choice, and the best part, is that it’s still available at retail for around $22.

2006 Piaggia Carmignano Il Sasso - Amazing nose like a basket of ripe red fruits. First it was raspberry, then wild berries and then cherry cough drops followed up by cedar and saddle leather with a hint of toasty oak. The palate revealed sour cherries, crème fraiche and clove with a medium body and wonderfully brisk acidity, leading to a nice long red berry finish. (93 Points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher

Top shelf Wine of The Year
(Fancy dinner or need to make an impression, a great bottle in the $35 - $100 range)

In 2009, I tried the ‘03 L’Arco Pario and was immediately impressed by its concentration and Amarone like character with layers of aromatic detail. However, when I tasted the 2004, I was floored. It had all of the rich and detailed aromatics and flavors but was fortified by a level of finesse that brought it from good to great. This is a spellbinding wine from the Veneto region and it’s made by a producer who’s yet to be truly discovered by mainstream media.

2004 L'Arco Pario Veronese IGT - L'arco took it up a step with the Pario in 2004. What came across as residual sweetness in the '03 has been turned into a sweet and sour effect on the palate of the '04. The nose was intense with dark port-like fruits, Christmas spice and ginger bread. On the palate I found a fresh sweet and sour play with a burst of spiced sour cherry and a dark run raisin that led into the long finish. This wine was, all at once, rich yet finessed and truly stunning on the nose. (94 Points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Vintage Wine of The Year
(For some of us, aged wine has no equal. My top bottle with at least 15 years of age.)

I knew the day I tasted this wine that it would end up as one of my top wines of the year. The ’89 vintage of Barolo has truly shown to be a legend in the making and the Conterno, Cascina Francia, has been the top bottle that I have yet to tasted to date. Amazing to think that this is the producer’s normale bottling and that there’s a Riserva that I’ve yet to taste. Also, something to look forward to in 2011, is a V.I.P. Table ’89 Barolo retrospective.

1989 Giacomo Conterno Barolo 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. (98 Points)

Trophy Wine of The Year
(Pulling no punches and the sky’s the limit on cost and rarity)

There was no competition for my top wine of the year. Quintarelli is a master and this bottle was truly magical. The best part about it was that I served this wine blind to a group that had no idea of the price or prestige that the producers name carried. It was thrilling and a bottle that any lover of Italian wine should taste before they die.

1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - The 1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva was a dark mahogany color with rich and wild aromas rising from the glass. I found it difficult to take that first sip because the aromatics were so seductive that I simply didn’t want to take my nose from the glass. Black cherry sauce with saw dust, and then butterscotch and hazelnuts which then turned to spiced ginger cookies and plum reduction. So many layers could be pulled away to continue finding descriptors in this wine and I was only sad that we didn’t have the time to spend hours with it. On the palate I found a menagerie of red fruits as cherry, then raspberry and cranberry filled the palate. Vanilla and milk chocolate, butter cream and roasted nuts with spicy cedar. However, with all this concentration, the wine remains finessed and fresh on the palate. Its 16.5% alcohol is nearly invisible due to the impeccable balance of this wine. The finish lingered for 30 plus seconds with cherry dark chocolate. (99 Points)

Looking forward to more wine and friends in 2011.
Thank you all for making The V.I.P. Table a success!
Eric Guido

Friday, December 3, 2010

1996: Barolo Retrospective

A while back, I polled a number of experienced Barolo collectors for their choice of the best vintage of the ‘90s. These days, we seem to have a great vintage every year, if not every other year, with ‘01, '04, and '06 being reported as great and '05 tailing close behind. Notice that I didn't really mention the highly acclaimed 2000 vintage, as I've found these wines to be far less impressive than originally expected. However, back in the nineties, Barolo only saw two good vintages between 1990 and 1995. It wasn't until 1996 when they hit their vintage streak with '96, '97, '98 and '99. These were all good-to-very good years, but there is only one vintage of the nineties that each of these experienced collectors believed to be the best vintage, and that's 1996!

Why? Structure and balance. The Barolos from 1996 showed that perfect unity of tannin, acid and alcohol with a core of rich fruit, that spells "cellar worthy." Most Barolo lovers look for the next 1989 or 1978 that they can squirrel away in their wine cellars and enjoy in their magnificent maturity; it's a big part of what draws people to Nebbiolo, the heights it can reach with proper aging. All signs lead us to believe that 1996 will be one of those vintages and it was with this in mind, and the fact that these wines are now nearing their fifteenth anniversary, that I decided a 1996 Barolo Retrospective was in order.

However, before moving onto the wines, I wanted to extend my gratitude to Tolani Wine Restaurant, in Manhattan's upper Westside, for an absolutely amazing meal, great service and wonderful hospitality. Tolani is a relatively new face in this uptown location, which has seen some pretty amazing restaurants over the last few years, but you'd never know they were the new kid on the block from the level of service and commitment to great food. The passion that the owners show toward making this restaurant great is infectious and if I lived in the neighborhood, you'd see me there weekly. I highly recommend visiting Tolani for a romantic dinner, wine with friends, or a group event. The atmosphere is rustic warm yet chic, dark, and mysterious--and the food from Executive Chef David Rotter? Inspiring.

On to the notes:

1996 Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana – The Pajana showed very expressive on the nose with sour red fruit, primarily cranberry, and floral notes with lipstick, oak and leather. The palate was at first jammy, with red fruits but turned sour, and mouth-watering as cedar, spice and dark, dark chocolate came forward. This wine showed intense density of fruit against a large dollop of mouth-watering acidity and, hidden beneath all of this, a wall of tannin. Give it another four or five years and I think it may tame itself into something wonderful. (93 points)

1996 Conterno Fantino Barolo Sorì Ginestra – The 1996 Conterno Fantino Barolo Sorì Ginestra, at first, showed very rustic with mushrooms and undergrowth on the nose, but as it spent time in the glass, red fruit emerged with tar, tobacco and a hint of oak. On the palate, I found minerals and earth with tealeaf and dried cherries, which led to a medium long, with light tannin finish. It was highly enjoyable but took time to come to life in the glass. (92 points)

1996 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio – The 1996 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio showed cigar box, leather, salty sea air, sour cherry fruit and hints of toasty oak on the nose. On the palate, I found jammy strawberry that started linear but turned expansive with softer fruits, tobacco and earth. The finish was long and palate-staining with drying tannin at the close. I believe this bottle is a year or two away from its drinking window but a little too extracted for my tastes. (90 points)

1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio – The 1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio showed red cherries, animal musk and holiday spices on the nose with a rich rustic feel. On the palate, I found sweet juicy raspberry fruit with cinnamon and herbal tea. The finish turned to sour red candies with a smooth close. This bottle is ready to drink and, although it shows a very modern performance on the palate, I feel the nose is its saving grace. (91 Points)

1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi – The 1996 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi showed mushrooms and tar with wild berries and a hint of oak on the nose. On the palate, I found sour cherry, soil and leather strap with a bit of menthol. The finish was a little short but pleasant all the same. (90 points)

1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche – The 1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche gave a classic Barolo performance on this evening. The nose was fresh yet powerful all at once with a cool refreshing quality, as floral notes of roses, then tar and leather, red fruits and dusty ash came forward. The palate showed well-defined red fruits against a stiff structure of silky tannin and acid, as flavors of licorice and hints of tobacco showed through. The finish was fresh yet still restrained. This bottle will benefit from another five-plus years in the cellar before really starting to strut its stuff. (94 points)

1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne – The 1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne was very reserved on the nose as its fruit came across like watered down Kool-Aid with cinnamon and a little jammy dark fruit hiding in the depths of the glass. On the palate, I found a sweet and sour red fruit performance with holiday spices, but in the end, a fellow taster hit the nail on the head in noting that it reminds him of fruit punch. The finish was long but not cloying. (89 points)

1996 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Cannubbio – The 1996 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Cannubbio showed very rustic, yet highly enjoyable to a lover of traditional Barolo. The nose showed dusty cherry with animal musk and hints of mushroom and undergrowth. On the palate, I found dark sweet fruit with leather and tobacco leading to a medium finish with drying tannins. This bottle could use more time but is enjoyable now with proper decanting. (89 points)

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The 1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo was, at first, very expressive on the nose but shut down quickly in the glass. Aromas of tar, roasted nuts, ripe strawberry and roses wafted up from the glass as if to tempt us and then sink our expectations as this wine suddenly turned off. The palate showed a tight structure as rose water and light cherry showed through. The finish was short with dried red fruit and hints of tobacco. This bottle needs more time, but I fear that it may never show the soft, rich, dried fruit of an aged Barolo. (90 points)

1996 Roagna Barbaresco Paje – The 1996 Roagna Barbaresco Paje showed tobacco with dates and sweet berry on the nose. The palate was, at first, soft and then turned to sour berry with, cedar, herbal tea and hints of cherry. The finish was medium long, still showing some tannic structure, yet perfectly fresh. I would leave these for another three years in the cellar but it can easily be enjoyed now. (91 points)

Other '96 Baroli Tasted in 2010

1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia- This wine showed 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 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. God what a gorgeous Barolo. (96 points)

1996 Mario Marengo Barolo Brunate - This showed deep ruby red color leading to brick with a slight orange rim. The bouquet could by smelled from four feet from the glass. Aromas of black cherry and rose petals rose from the first swirl. With a little more time I found forest floor, tar and red licorice in the glass. This is a Barolo that can be enjoyed entirely on the nose alone. The palate was full bodied with cherry fruit, minerals, undergrowth and old oak. A bit murky but still highly enjoyable. The finish showed soil with a lasting minerality. (91 points)

1996 Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca - Initially, the nose showed roses with new leather, tar, anise and sour red fruit hiding behind it all. The palate was very tight with savory beef broth, minerals, old cedar and cranberry. The finish showed sour red fruits with cheek puckering tannin lingering toward the end. As this bottle approached the fifth hour; the nose retained many of it's initial qualities but a rich (not sweet) cherry tobacco had moved to the front along with dusty dried flowers. The palate had taken on more body as a mix of red berries, cinnamon and sauté mushroom led to a slightly gravely tannin on the tremendously long finish. At the seventh, and last hour. This bottle had become almost impossible to ignore as the cherry took on darker, woody and mentholated tones in the nose. The roses had become sweet and the tar faded to the rear. On the palate, sweeter red berries with cherry liqueur, spice, and soil took over. The tannins on the finish had faded to a slight drying sensation and left me with cranberry and cedar, which lasted for a full minute. (94 pts.)

The run down:

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – 96 points
Vietti Barolo Rocche – 94 points
Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca – 94 points
Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana – 93 points
Conterno Fantino Barolo Sorì Ginestra – 92 points
Roagna Barbaresco Paje – 91 points
Mario Marengo Barolo Brunate – 91 points
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio – 91 points
Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio – 90 points
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi – 90 points
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – 90 points
Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne – 89 points
Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Cannubbio – 89 points