Friday, March 27, 2015

1996 Barolo--Blind Tasting 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 ‘06, '08, and '10 being reported as great and '05 tailing close behind. Notice that I didn't really mention the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage, as I've found these wines to be far less impressive than originally expected. However, back in the nineties, Barolo only saw two decent 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? Because of 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 is the next great vintage. The only question is, when do we start drinking them? It was with this in mind that we recently organized a "blind" 1996 Barolo dinner.

The biggest surprise for me was how open each of these wines showed. At all of my recent '96 tastings, the wines continued to display gripping tannin, which would restrain the fruit on the palate. Although their bouquets were developing well, I began to fear that these wines would never come out of their shells. This tasting was a perfect example of how unnecessary those fears truly were.

Granted, this tasting contained quite a few modern-styled wines, which confirmed a different notion that I’ve been toying with—that the structure of 1996 Barolo lent well to the better modern producers of the time. Imagine my surprise when a bottle of Azelia Bricco Fiasco came out on top, a wine that I would have assumed to be clunky and showing remnants of dark oak. But that was not the case. In fact, the Fiasco vineyard within the commune of Castiglione Falletto reigned supreme on this night, as Paolo Scavino’s Bric del Fiasc, found the third place spot.

Another interesting reoccurrence is the inclusion of the Cappellano Barbaresco, which held its own in the company of Barolo. Yet again we find a Barbaresco inserted into a blind Barolo tastings and showing tremendous potential and longevity.

In the end, I firmly believe it’s time to start digging into our cases of most ’96 Barolo. I’m sure the top traditional producers are years away from their peak (possibly our next tasting), yet from the modern camp, there’s no shame in pulling some corks.

Head over to: The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine for more photos and the tasting notes:


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