Monday, May 9, 2011

Older Nebbiolo: Barolo, Barbaresco & Spanna

There is one certainty which I came to understand very early in my wine drinking life: I love aged Nebbiolo. I could even say that I love aged wine in general, but Barolo and Barbaresco hold a very special place in my heart, a place that can’t be filled by any other substance on earth. Not everyone enjoys fine aged wine; it’s got to be in you—or maybe you’ve yet to have that one bottle that turns you into a believer. However, I’m convinced that once it happens, there is no going back.

This brings me to the tasting of “Old Nebbiolo”. The parameters were simple: any Nebbiolo-based wine from 1985 and before. Why 1985? For one thing, the chances are with each of these vintages that they have either reached their peak or would be just shy of achieving their full maturity. However, what’s more interesting is that these wines were produced before climate change made it easier to consistently bring Nebbiolo to full ripeness on the vine and at a time before anyone had heard of the modernist vs. traditionalist argument. For the most part, these are all wines which enjoyed long fermentations and aging in large neutral casks.

I often wonder what the Baroli of today will one day taste like, because so much has changed since these wines were made. The wines of today are no doubt cleaner, more focused and certainly easier to enjoy when young, but what will they taste like in 30 years? Only time will tell. Until then, we have these vintages of old to keep us happy and in love with what Nebbiolo is capable of in 25 to 30 years time. Tastings like this don’t come along every day, and as a regular taster of Barolo and Barbaresco, it’s nice to sit back from time to time and enjoy wines in their full maturity. It is pure indulgence.

To me, the bottles encompassed in the tasting notes below are all of exceptional character. If you can find them, buy them and relish in their perfect maturity. Most of them aren’t going to get any better with time and a few of them still have some tricks up their sleeves.

On to the wines:

1971 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Cavalieri del Tartufo Ovello – On the nose, gravel and soil notes lead to dried strawberry, tobacco and undergrowth. On the palate, an initial burst of acidity attacked the senses, giving this 40 year old Barbaresco lift and vibrancy as fading dark fruits and minerals caressed the senses. The finish showed eucalyptus and spice. I don’t see this wine getting any better, but it’s still highly enjoyable. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1974 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – The 1974 Francesco Rinaldi showed its age with notes of beef broth, dried leaves, salinity and earth. On the palate, this wine was lean at first, as the beefy broth continued and was joined by faded red fruits and old barrel’ but with time in the glass, it began to turn sweeter and rounder with notes of brown sugar. The finish was remarkably long with hints of pipe tobacco and earth. This was a wine for a lover of old traditional Barolo, and although it may be a little over the hill, maybe even a little dirty, I still found much enjoyment in the glass. (87 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1974 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The 1974 Bartolo Mascarello was classic in every way that an aged Barolo should be. The nose showed dried roses, tar, tobacco and earth with a lively floral perfume. On the palate, it was vibrant with dried cherry, more tobacco and notes of copper. With time in the glass, the wine continued to open and gain in volume and sweetness. The long finish showed faded dry strawberry and a bit of tree bark. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1974 Vietti Barolo Rocche – What a pleasure it was to drink the 1974 Vietti Rocche. The nose showed floral undergrowth, fresh-turned soil with strawberry and, as time passed, a sweet, almost caramel note added outstanding complexities to the already beautiful bouquet. On the palate, it was juicy yet balanced and still showed youthful notes of fresh red berries, cinnamon and sweet floral notes. The finish swung toward the savory side as broth and brown sugar lingered for over 30 seconds. (94 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1978 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbaresco Sorì Paitin – The earthy nose showed faded cherry fruit with eucalyptus, vine-ripening tomato and hints of sweet peas. On the palate, I found slightly bitter red fruits with plum skins and tobacco. The finish was fresh and still lively. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1978 Oddero Barolo – The 1978 Oddero Barolo was simply gorgeous and just entering its full maturity. After four hours opened in bottle, it began to show earthy mushroom, dried cherry, dusty minerals and roses on the nose. On the palate, it was vibrant and dark with lush red fruits, spice, tobacco and an acidic lift that added remarkable freshness that stayed into the long finish with plum and a bit of citrus rind. (94 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1985 Renato Ratti Barbaresco – The nose showed floral undergrowth with strawberry and spice. On the palate, it showed dried red berries with a dusting of minerals and earth, along with a fine structure that should keep it fresh for many years to come. The finish was drying with tannins that are still holding on to this wine’s red berry fruit. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1969 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Colline Novaresi Spanna Montalbano – The 1969 Vallana Spanna would be nearly impossible to guess as a wine with 40+ years on it. The nose was dark with moist earth and herbs, yet there was a vibrancy to the plumy fruit and spice that followed. On the palate, it was remarkably fresh as it caressed the senses with strawberry, mulling spice and herbs. The finish carried this wine home as red berries and earth lingered on the palate. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Other older Nebbiolo tasted this year:

1978 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco – This bottle opened with crushed fall leaves, sauté mushroom and sweet black cherry fruit. The color was ruby in the center with an orange rim. On the palate it showed perfectly resolved, as velvety dried cherry and light strawberry fruit caressed the senses with tobacco, a sweet tea middle-palate performance and a gracefully long red fruit finish. This bottle was all class and finesse. It was a very feminine Barolo at its peak. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1974 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Monfalletto – This bottle was popped and carefully poured immediately with a small amount decanted to remove sediment at the end. The color faded from red to amber and into an orange rim. On the nose, at first I found leather, green stems, cedar and dried flowers but as the wine opened, it became more and more fragrant as cinnamon, coca and dried cherries became prominent. It was a dream to sit and enjoy the bouquet alone. The palate was balanced and perfectly resolved, feeling like silk across the tongue with flavors of red fruit, mulling spices and herbal tea. It was extremely vibrant and fresh for such an old bottle of wine. The finish showed dried cranberry and lasted half a minute. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

1971 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco – The nose showed dusty potpourri, charcoal, beef stock and slightly faded dried red fruits. On the palate, I found strawberry and cedar, but with time this wine opened further to reveal tobacco and darker, sweeter red fruit with a vibrant, round mouth-feel. The finish was subtle, but elegant, and left me wanting more. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

A big thanks goes out to Tolani Wine Restaurant for their hospitality and in helping me to make this tasting special. Tolani, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has certainly made an impact on me. The food is spectacular with a diverse menu from around the world that continues to impress me and a staff that is top notch. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a meal so much from start to finish. Look for a full review shortly at What’s Cookin’ or at The V.I.P. Table.

For another perspective on this great tasting Doug Smith, a fellow taster, posted his notes here: Cellar Tracker.


  1. Looks like most of the wines came from Chambers, am I right? I had few of them and agree with your notes.

  2. Hey Serge

    A number of these did come from Chamber's. It's amazing how good dependable they are with older bottles. I was in the store the other day and was marveling at some old 50s and 60s bottles of Barolo with amazing fill levels and labels that looks near mint. It's a great place.

  3. Just discovered your blog (I was looking for some reviews of Paolo Bea's wines, since I'm planning trip to Umbria). Great stuff you've got going on here. What's your take on the older varieties of Aglianico (I'm thinking Villa Matilde and the likes - I've come across several 1990s vintages for under €20)?


  4. Honestly, I need to spend more time with older Aglianico. I've had a good amount of early '90s Mastroberardino, but not much else. Maybe this will be my next focus point, as I've been putting stuff away in the cellar for a few years now. What I can say, is that the Mastroberardino I've had, was very inspired through the early '90's -- fell off around '95 and came back strong in '99 and on.

    There's just so much good wine to experience in the world, and so little time to do it.

  5. Hey, thanks for the feedback! I'm still trying to work up the nerve to uncork a 1995 Mastroberardino I scored for €19.90...

    "... so much good wine to experience in the world, and so little time to do it..." - I'll drink to that!

  6. Probably the best wine I've ever had: a 1975 Gattinara from Dessilani tasted in 2009.

  7. They can't all be great, right? I'll tell you that one of the luckiest things about living here in NYC is Chamber Street Wines. They have a regular stock of older bottles from immaculate storage. I've yet to have an off bottle.

  8. Eric - I just discovered your website .. this account of the older Barolo tasting is fantastic, thanks.. Steve Adams

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