Tuesday, March 1, 2011

1990: Barolo Retrospective

Those who know and love mature Barolo sometimes wait decades to finally open a bottle from their cellar. We patiently watch as the producers we know and single vineyard bottling we adore slowly collect dust until the day that someone gives us an excuse to pull that cork. Usually it’s a good, trusted friend or a professional critic that waxes poetic on how a vintage has started to drink well. Whatever the reason may be, what I know is this: when a vintage of Barolo reaches maturity, a small part inside of each Barolo collector blossoms with joy.

Paprika Restaurant, 110 St. Marks Place
The perfect location for our tasting.
Warm, inviting, and specializing in
traditional Italian cuisine.
Paprika Website
However, not every Barolo enthusiast agrees on what vintages are excellent or just good. The two most often heard vintage descriptions are classic and ripe. Classic describes, a vintage where temperate swings of hot and cold have found that perfect yin yang that gave the grapes great concentration mixed with a perfect level of acidity and well-defined aromatics. Where ripe, refers to an abundant year where the heat of the vintage sped the grapes to maturity too fast and often results in high concentration, low acid and often, high alcohol. Many often wonder about the aging potential of ripe vintages (the 2000 Barolo vintage comes to mind). The reality is, when taking global warming into consideration, that most vintages today would have been considered ripe twenty years ago. I guess we can argue that today’s producers are better skilled when dealing with today’s climate… but then again, 1990 was a ripe vintage.

Barolo from 1990 is certainly not as classic as 1989. It’s nowhere near as structured as 1996. However, 1990 Barolo is drinking beautifully and you may be able to argue that it’s not classic, but no one can convince me that isn’t an absolutely wonderful vintage that’s full of gorgeous bottles of Barolo that will give many more years of ageability and drinking. It’s a dark and mysterious vintage for Barolo that’s seductive on the nose with its rich fruit mixed with stunning aromatics. Most of these are like velvet on the palate with spicy dark wood tones and an array of forest and earth notes. In the end, it’s a vintage to seek out that will not disappoint.

On to the notes:

1990 Conterno Fantino Barolo Sori Ginestra - The nose showed honeyed tea, cocoa and dusty spiced cherries. On the palate, I found rich, ripe strawberry with earth and minerals. This wine was elegant and beautifully resolved but showed a bit more of its age than I had expected. The finish was long and fresh. (90 points)

1990 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva - Deep, dark red fruit wafted up from the glass, followed by roses and undergrowth. As I explored further, the dark fruit turned to dusty black cherry as floral notes and a bit of iodine filled out the nose. To breath this in was like lying in a bed of spring flowers after a sun shower with fingers stained in sweet cherry juice. On the palate, the fruit was focused, as sour strawberry led to minerals and green pepper, driven by vibrant, coursing acidity that balanced out the massive structure of this wine. The finish showed like a fresh young wine with earth and red fruits against silky tannin. (96 points)

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - In a word, classic. The nose of the Barolo Mascarello showed focused red fruit with tobacco, florist shop, old parchment and hints of faded cinnamon. On the palate, this was silky smooth with crushed red berries and vibrant acidity that lent a cool, linger airiness that was almost menthol but not quite. The finish played a sweet and sour fruit act on the tongue and red fruit slowly faded from perception. Classic. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia - The nose was utterly explosive and captivating as earthy tobacco and tar with raspberry wafted up from the glass. With further exploration, musky notes with roses and a hint of black olive tempted the senses. On the palate, this wine showed its rich yet massive structure with dark ripe strawberry, tar, savory broth, graphite and lead fading to a long staying finish. This wine is drinking beautifully yet should continue to improve for many years. It’s absolutely stunning. (96 points)

1990 Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello (from magnum) - On the nose, I found overripe red fruits with musk, dark chocolate, licorice and tobacco. On the palate this wine was at first lean but gained massive amounts of volume in the mouth, showing tea leaf and spiced dried cherry but turning slightly chewy into the sweet finish. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero - The nose showed a very feminine expression of elegant, dark red fruit, spices, roses and plum skin. On the palate, I found sweet, round cherry that somehow came across as light on its feet but structured. This wine lacked some of the stuffing that was found through most of the wines tasted on this night, yet it was appealing in a very restrained and feminine manner. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

1990 Vietti Barolo Villero Riserva - The Vietti Villero Riserva was a beast of a wine that successfully walked the tightrope between rich concentrated fruit and an earthy, animal expression. The nose show honeyed herbal tea and ripe sliced fig, earthy mushrooms and tar. On the palate, this wine was bursting at the seams with massive dark red fruits, followed by honey, earth and tealeaf. It showed an amazing concentration of fruit without ever becoming tiring or chewy; instead it finished elegant and long. (94 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

1990 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato - The Monprivato was earthy in a way that only a true Barolo or Burgundy lover can understand. The nose showed fresh turned soil with roses and savory brown sauce. On the palate, I found sour red fruit, verging on cranberry, with leather and tealeaf, but as the wine matured in the glass, the fruit turned darker and sweeter with hints of violet candy and spice. The finish was long with red fruits and minerals. (93 points)

1990 Brovia Monprivato – The nose showed very closed with hints of red fruit pushing to the fore but little else. On the palate, I found sour cream and red fruits but with a turbulent level of acidity that ultimately left me wondering if this bottle was somehow flawed. (No Score) Find it: Wine-Searcher


1990 Bruno Giacosa Falletto Riserva – The nose showed dark red fruits with clay, earth, roasted nuts and hints of green peas. On the palate, I found sweet raspberry with spice, wood and a remarkable balance of elegance and concentration. This wine showed young yet still highly enjoyable. If it wasn’t paired against the Vigna Rionda, its qualities may have shown brighter. (93 points)

1990 Bruno Giacosa Collina Rionda Barolo Riserva (My wine of the night)

What a wine, a wine that you spend years thinking about when reading other tasters’ notes. You stare at the pictures and read through their experiences. You wonder if there's any chance that the wine could really be worth all the hype and poetry waxed upon it. How could a bottle really be worth such a price, you ask. Then the day comes that you finally taste it…and it's magical. It's a paradigm shift of sorts. I've had this happen with Quintarelli and now, I've added Bruno Giacosa's 1990 Collina Rionda Barolo Riserva to that list.

The 1990 Bruno Giacosa Collina Rionda Barolo Riserva was everything I ever wanted in a glass of Barolo. It was sweet yet sour, earthy yet fruity and rich yet with razor-like focus. The nose showed masses of ripe red berries with hot dried spices, gravelly moist earth, mushroom and hints of green stems. On the palate, this showed silky, sweet, ripe strawberry yet it also had a savory warmth, full with earth, menthol and leather strap on a beautifully structured frame. It was amazing how young the Collina Rionda seemed as silky tannin washed across the palate and soothed me into a long, seductive finish that begged for the next sip. (98 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher

Related Links:
For a great Italian meal or vino: Paprika Restaurant
For another take on this fine evening: Greg dal Piaz on Snooth & The Fine Wine Geek

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