Saturday, September 8, 2018

Exposing Terroir In Ribera Del Duero

Tasting with Dominio del Aguila at The Cellar Table

Vega Sicilia, Pingus, and Pesquera.  These are the names that we associate with the Ribera del Duero, as well as the styles.  In fact, it would be difficult for the average wine lover to think of anything else.  Vega Sicilia alone defined what the region was capable of, and grew into an international brand long before anyone else had aspirations of creating wines that would be collected and hunted for the world over.  In fact, when most producers in Ribera speak of their vineyards, it’s usually in relation to where their vineyards start and Vega’s end.  

This makes perfect sense when you tour the region, watching the hills that slope up from the alluvial plains, showcasing their old-vine Tempranillo.  Vega has relied on families that have been with them for generations to maintain these vines over time.  In some cases, they are upwards of 130-150 years old, and they still go into Vega’s blend.  However, as you come closer to the valley floor, things become quite different.  The vine ages go down drastically, the soils change, and suddenly things start to look more like a greener version of Napa Valley instead of Spain.

It’s because of this and the inclusion of international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, that the average wines of Ribera start to look a lot alike, along with a reliance on new oak, which masks the stamp of terroir with a sheen of spicy vanilla.  The properties with the best vines and vineyard locations are able to make amazing wines in spite of this, even though it can take many years for the oak to integrate.  I for one would never turn my nose up at a mature Unico.  However, if terroir and the flavor of indigenous varieties is what you seek, then Ribera is not the best place to look--at least not until recently.  

Looking to the Hills

I think back to my last trip to Ribera del Duero, and one thing that I kept finding myself doing was looking to the hills.  As I stood at the edge of a road, peering into one of Vega’s old-vine parcels, I started to wonder where that road led as it wound up a steep hilly landscape.  Turning to a wall of rock, roots and soil behind me, from a sheer slice of earth that was carved away to make space for that road, I began to question why there was so little emphasis on what could be found there.  On these lower slopes, the soils consisted of a fine mix of colluvial deposits from the hillsides above, along with sandy limestone and a layer of quartz gravel beneath.  Yet here you could also see a white hue from the addition of chalk.  What else was up there?

This prompted me to begin looking for the expression of RIbera del Duero that I craved, knowing that every region has its artisans, grower-winemakers that think big but work small and have an attachment to terroir.  At the time, I just didn’t know who those people were in Ribera.

Dominio del Águila

It was only two years ago that Dominio del Aguila came unto my radar.  At first, it was an item that was allocated and purchased by Morrell in limited quantities, the kind of quantities that don’t warrant being able to taste a wine before making a buying decision.   With them came some dramatically high scores from the Wine Advocate, and so, as these things tend to go, some of the wine sold due to their scores, and the rest sat long enough that I began to research the producer to better understand how we should sell their wine.  

This research provided my ah-ha moment; the realization that Jorge Monzon of Domino del Aguila was doing exactly what I had hoped, exposing the unique terroir and native varieties of Ribera del Duero.  Let’s keep in mind that Tempranillo is as closely tied to the Ribera as any variety can be to a historical region.  In fact, a wine can not be included in the Ribera del Duero designation without being at least 75% Tempranillo.  The problem is that much of the recent plantings are using high-production clones, plus adding more Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in the place of old-vine, less productive, Tempranillo.

But there’s so much more to it than that.

These are vineyards from another time, when different varieties were interplanted to create field blends.  Granted, when these vines were first planted, the wines they created may have been simple, easy-drinking, farmers’ wines.  However, today these ancient vines of 80-150 years old!!!  What’s more, they are planted in locations that may not be ideal for modern-day farming, but perfect for the artisan who works by hand. It was in these vineyards around the town of Aguilera, between 870 to 900 meters above sea leave, that Jorge found old-vine Tempranillo planted along with Albillo, Tempranillo Gris, Carinena, Garnacha, Bobal, Brunel and a number of other varieties that are still awaiting identification.  

Jorge identified these locations and slowly acquired them over the course of ten years while working for Arzuaga-Navarro.  Throughout that time, he nursed the vines and soils back to health using organic principals, while selling his production to the who’s who of the region.  Jorge was basically biding his time to be able to launch Dominio del Aguila in 2010, when he was confident in the fruit he was producing and how to properly vinify them into the style of wine he envisioned.  With the help of his wife and partner, Isabel Rodero, they then set to rebuild three acient cellars which date back to the 15th century, to age and store their production.

So what was that vision?

It becomes easy to understand Jorge’s inspiration if you look further back into his past.  Prior to Arzuaga-Navarro, he worked for Vega Sicilia, trying to perfect a white wine that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Unico.  Before that, he was at Domaine La Romanee-Conti, working alongside the cellar master, Bernard Noblet, and soaking in any knowledge that he could.  Things suddenly start to become clearer when you consider his past.

Today’s Wines and Looking to the Future

Today, the wines of Dominio del Aguila are like nothing I’ve ever tasted from Ribera del Duero, and I mean that in the best possible way.  The combination of old-vine field blends, foot-trodden fruit, whole-cluster fermentation, and aging in neutral barrels for the majority of the portfolio has created one of the most exciting mixes of wines that I’ve had the pleasure to taste in a long time.  If tasted blind, you would never guess Spain.  You would possibly find yourself thinking that it was an off-the-beaten-path producer from Languedoc, someone willing to experiment and release at a price point that could land their wines into the right markets.

Take the Picaro Tinto Vinas Viejas as an example.  Here we have a Tempranillo-based red (95%) with a small mix of varieties grown in heavy clay soils, that was crushed by foot, fermented with stems, and aged for thirteen months in completely neutral wood.  It’s a wine that sells for $35 per bottle and could make a believer out of anyone who has given up on Ribera.  Minerality, acidity, vibrant fruit, balance and grippy tannin--all present and ready to impress. 

As you work your way deeper into the portfolio, we find the Albillo Viñas Viejas, one of the most characterful Spanish whites that I’ve ever tasted.  It can’t even bear the designation of Ribera del Duero due to the rules of not accepting any white varieties, yet I assure you that this is one of the top wines of the entire region.  Then there is the Riserva, the company’s flagship, and a wine that deserves hours of meditation as it unfolds both in the bottle and the glass.  I had the opportunity to taste this wine once over the course of a day, and each taste was better than the one before it.  The Reserva comes from 85-year-old vines planted in sandy clay soils with limestone mixed throughout, and again, foot-trodden, whole clusters and aged in neutral oak barrels.

Lastly, there’s the Gran Reserva Pena Aladas, from several sites around the Pena Aladas, which host vines that are well over 100 years old, growing in a thin layer of sandy clay over gravel, limestone and bedrock.  The Pena Aladas spends 51 months aging in the cellars of Dominio del Aguila, and may well be an immortal wine.  Tasting it is like dreaming of what may come, because today, it contains so many intense layers and sensations that it nearly overloads your senses.  I can only hope to be able to taste this wine again when it’s mature.

There is more, as Jorge is a believer in terroir and continues to search for new and interesting ways to expose it.  One wine that I’ve yet to taste is the Canta la Perdiz, which has received some of the highest praise imaginable from popular critics.

What more can I say?

I cannot recommend Dominio del Aguila highly enough.  I don’t recall having been this excited about a new producer in a very long time, and I can only imagine that other producers have become inspired by what Jorge has accomplished.  We may be witnessing a rebirth of the entire region.  The classics will always be the classics, with an audience that loves them, but I can safely say that Dominio del Aguila is blazing the trail for what Ribera del Duero will likely soon become.

On to the Tasting Notes

2014 Dominio del Águila Pícaro Clarete Ribera del Duero - The nose was remarkably pretty, showing fresh crushed strawberries with hints of dusty earth, sweet herbs and minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures with pure red fruits, a stunning mix of acid and minerals with hints of citrus. The finish was spicy and medium-long with lasting minerality. (91 points)

2016 Dominio del Águila Tinto Pícaro del Águila - The nose was dark and sweetly spiced, with notes of crushed stone giving way to exotic spice, dusty raspberry, cherry, and sweet floral tones. On the palate, I found silky, almost creamy textures with sweet-and-sour red and blue fruits, lavender, and violets leaving a coating of mineral and spice upon the senses. The finish was long yet fresh, with zesty red fruits, grippy light tannin and resonating minerality. (92 points)

2014 Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Reserva Tempranillo - The nose was dark with savory minerals up front, crushed stone and animal musk, as peppery herbal tones emerged On the palate, I found silky textures, yet energetic, with saturating dark blue and red fruits, smoky crushed stone, ashen-earth, sweet herbal and spice tones. The finish was long, displaying masses of lingering minerals, marine-inspired florals, building tannin and fresh woodland berries. This wine took three hours to really open up, but it was well worth the wait. (95 points)

2014 Dominio del Águila Albillo Viñas Viejas
- The nose was incredibly spicy, with a burst of hot green peppers and curry leaf up front, giving way to wild herbs, crushed stone, lemon rind, and hints of fresh green apples. On the palate, I found silky, deep textures with minerality up front, as young pit fruits and wet stone came forward, complemented by brisk acidity adding verve and lift from the mid-palate through the finale. The finish was long with saturating minerals, wet stone, wild flowers and spice. Wow. (95 points)

2013 Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva Penas Aladas -  The nose was dark and intense, showing animal musk, crushed stone, and dark soil tones backed by notes of herbal-infused blackberry, blueberry, wild flowers, and hints of tangerine. On the palate, I found silky, creamy textures with zesty spiced red fruits, lavender, inner herbal tones, saline-minerality and inner soil tones. It was as if the nose transposed perfectly to the palate. The finish was long, showing saturating black cherry and lasting minerality with a coating of fine tannin. I was amazed by how intense and layered yet fresh the ‘13 Gran Reserva was. (96 points)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Germany Own-Rooted, Unfiltered & Unstoppable

Talking 120 Years of Wine with Dr. Ulrich Stein 

by: Eric Guido

Dr. Ulli Stein of the Mosel has yet to find a German wine law that he hasn’t been able to work around in some way shape or form, having even gone to the highest courts of Europe to do so.  That’s not to say that his crusade is based on a desire to simply break the rules, but instead that his insights on winemaking, terroir, and the raw ingredients needed to make great wine go against almost one hundred years of misconceptions.

Although the wines of Ulli Stein still fall into the category of the esoteric here in the States, throughout Europe he is considered a visionary.  Not only that, but a man who is willing to go to war over his beliefs, and in doing so, improve the entire region. 

If I had to generalize about the wines of Ulli Stein, the first thing that would come to mind is the word “unexpected”, as they don’t follow the rules, much like the man who makes them, and they surprise you at every turn.  As I put my nose to a glass of Red Light, Stein’s entry-level Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder in Germany), I was amazed by the purity of fruit and precision that was backed by layers of earth and floral tones.  To think that it is a wine that would sell for $32-$35 amazed me, but that was before Ulli had explained his past with red varietals in the Mosel.

Bringing Red Wine Back To The Mosel

As he explained it, long before the current regime of German wine laws, it was decided in Nazi-controlled Germany that wine production would be focused exclusively on Riesling, simply because it was the variety that generated the most revenue.  They went as far as forbidding the planting of red grapes, making it illegal to do so.  These rules went unchanged for over 50 years.  Fast forward to the 1980s, when a young Ulli Stein began to question the laws and inquire with authorities to seek permission to plant Pinot Noir.  He was met with opposition and a warning that to do so would be illegal.  Unwilling to settle for this answer, in the mid-eighties  Ulli began to plant Pinot Noir within his holdings, making him one of the first producers and the owner of some of the oldest vines for red wine within the Mosel today.   In the late nineties, the rules were changed to permit red varieties, and by that time Ulli had already established himself as a producer of Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Merlot.  Today, many more winemakers are working with Pinot Noir in Germany, and the future for the variety looks very bright, especially to me, after tasting the 2015 Stein Spatburgunder Trocken Waechter, a wine made from Pinot Noir planted in blue slate soils as far back as 1987.

Making The Case for Own-Rooted Vines 

However, as renowned as Ulli Stein is for his work with red wine (in a region known mostly for its Riesling), what first drew me to the producer is the work that he does with some of the oldest own-rooted vines in all of Germany.  His Himmelreich (heaven) and Hölle (hell) vineyards are both planted to ungrafted vines that date back 65-70 years, and in one section, named Alfer Hölle, he is even able to source fruit from vines planted in 1900.

I was surprised to find out that there are between 50-60 hectares of ungrafted vines in all of Germany, about half of them planted between 1910 and 1935.  From that total of own-rooted Riesling, Ulli tends four hectares, a significant percentage. Being well aware of the effects of the Phylloxera epidemic during the late 1800s, I was quite surprised by this.  However, while most of the world was forced to quickly adapt to Phylloxera by replanting their vineyards on American rootstocks, in Germany it took significantly longer for the root louse to begin attacking their vines.  Much of this was the result of their climate, but also the soils that consist mostly of slate.  Even to this day, it’s only in areas where topsoil exists over these stoney soils that Phylloxera can attack German vines.

So what effect does an old, own-rooted vine have of its fruit and the resulting wine?  According to Ulli, old vines produce less fruit (naturally lower yields) but also less sugar (resulting in lower alcohol) and more production of extracts and aromatic compounds.  What this means is a wine that is naturally fruit-concentrated yet balanced and with the potential to have more depth both on the nose and the palate.  Older vines are also more resistant to disease and fungus, due to their thicker-skinned grapes.  

To this day, Ulli continues to plant ungrafted vines, even though it remains forbidden by German wine laws.  For him, there’s no worry that these vines will continue to thrive, free of Phylloxera.

The The High Courts of The EU 

Then there is Strichween, or what, by tradition going back hundreds of years, one would call Straw Wine.  Being a lover of both Italian and German wines, I was amazed when Ulli explained to me that the method of making Straw Wine was very much like the production of Amarone, as perfectly ripe grapes would be picked and placed on straw mats to dry and raisinate for a period of time, before being crushed and made into wine.  

His interest in Straw Wine brought Ulli back to the authorities once again, only to find out that although the name and wine held a strong foundation in German tradition, no one was permitted to use the name or process in the production of wine for sale.  This news sent Ulli to the courts in a battle that brought him all the way to the highest courts of the EU, after which he received permission to produce his wine.  Yet even after the battle was won, he was not permitted to use the actual name “Straw Wine”, and so he made up his own from a local dialect, and Strichween was born. 

So there we have it, as Ulli Stein continues to make some of the most highly sought-after, yet locally under-the-radar wine in Germany’s Mosel.  He’s doing it from some of the steepest terraces you can imagine (one at a 70% incline), from forgotten vineyards that contain vines that were planted over a century ago.  He’s a true believer in the quality of fruit over ripeness, and the work and creativity that goes into making wine being as important as the terroir itself.  I doubt he’ll ever stop challenging the system, and I wouldn’t want him any other way, because the man, the wines, and the story paint a complete picture that is Stein.

On to the Tasting Notes

Stein Rose 2017
- The 2017 Rose is wonderfully fresh, showing strawberry with sweet florals, dusty stone and hints of undergrowth.  It's a soft and juicy expression with zesty acidity adding depth to its red berry and sweet mineral tones.  It finishes just as it started, wonderfully fresh and full of lively red fruits. (89 points)

Stein Pinot Noir Red Light 2016 - The 2016 Red Light is an incredible fresh and zesty expression of Pinot fruit with ripe strawberry giving way to sweet spices, herbs and a hint of white pepper.  Here I'm finding soft yet energetic textures with bright cherry fruit, inner florals and lively acidity.  The finish iss medium-long and very pretty, displaying hints of fresh red berries, minerals and inner floral tones.  Frankly, this glass was hard to put down, and I can imagine enjoying it slightly chilled through the warm days ahead. (90 points)

Stein Pinot Noir Trocken Waechter 2015 - The 2015 Spatburgunder Trocken Waechter is intense with dark peppery red fruits, hints of animal musk and spicy florals on the nose.  Soft and incredibly rich textures are balanced by brisk acids and usher in flavors of ripe cherry, plum and inner florals that reminded me of the color purple.  It has spunk and energetic, giving way to a long and zesty finish that lingers on savory herbal tones. Talk about making the case for Pinot Noir in Germany. (92 points)

Stein Cabernet Merlot Trocken 2015
- The 2015 Stein Cabernet / Merlot Trocken shows its cool-climate origins in the best possible way, opening with a display of exotic spice, white pepper, chalk dust and savory mountain herbs.  On the palate, soft textures are offset by zesty red and blackberry fruit with saturating minerality on a wiry and tense frame.  This finishes long and grippy with crushed wild berries and youthful tannin tugging at the senses. (90 points)

Stein St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2016 - The 2016 St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Trocken is lively and seductive with ripe grapefruit up front backed by crushed stone and a zest of lime.  Here I'm finding soft textures with zesty acidity, as notes of green apple, young mango, sweet minerals and wet stone wash across the senses.  The finish is medium-long and precise, making the mouth water while resonating on mineral-infused citrus tones. (92 points)

Stein Riesling Blauschiefer Trocken 2016 - The 2016 Riesling Blauschiefer Trocken is intense with ripe peach, mango and apple, as notes of honeysuckle and dusty minerals added depth.  It's soft, almost oily textures are grounded by saturating mineral and spice, as notes of green apple combined with zesty acidity to create a truly energetic experience.  It tapers off long and satisfying, as green apple combines with zesty minerals offset by lingering brisk acidity. (93 points) This is from fruit coming mostly from Himmelreich at an average 65 year-old vines.

Stein St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Feinherb 2016 - The 2016 St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Feinherb opens with a layered bouquet, showing young peach and hints of green melon, followed by wild herbs and savory crushed stone. It's a soft and savory expression with a mix of green apple, saline-minerals and lime-infused herbal tones.  The finish is medium-long and salty with a twang sour citrus and hints of spice. (92 points) This hails from 75-80 year-old ungrafted vines.

Stein St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Extreme Trocken 2014
- The The 2014 St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Extreme Trocken shows fresh apple with hints of undergrowth, crushed stone and floral tones, and seems to gain richness and berth the longer it sats in the glass. This is incredibly soft on the palate, with notes of ripe apple, pear and hints of lime.  Zesty pineapple and citrus-tinged minerals define the long and penetrating finish.  It’s an incredibly tense wine at this time and aching for time in the cellar, yet packed with potential. (92 points) The "Extreme" is from 90-100 year-old ungrafted vines planted in blue and grey slate soils within a walled vineyard at a 70% incline.

Stein Riesling "Ohne" 2014 - The 2014 Riesling "Ohne" shows a mix of dried florals, peach and apricot with masses of minerality and hints of smoke.  It's weighty and textural yet also perfectly balanced, as notes of dried apricot and citrus rind seemed to coat all of the senses, only to be washed clean by zesty acids and minerals.  The finish is remarkably long, showing fresh sliced yellow apple, minerals and crushed white flowers. The Ohne is a very unique wine, allowed to undergo multiple fermentations and not treated with any sulfur. (90 points)

Stein Riesling Striehween 2011 - The 2011 Riesling Striehween was a first for me, as I’m sure it is for many, as it’s a category that belongs to Stein.  This is produced much like an Amarone, through painstaking processes.  Here I'm finding a striking and layered display of dried peaches, apricot, sweet melon, honeysuckle and stone dust.  On the palate, it's silky and full-bodied, washing across the senses, lifted by balanced acidity, with notes of ripe peach, apple and honeydew offset by a zing of orange zest.  The finish seems to go on and on, yet it is uplifting and fresher than you would imagine, showing sweet florals and hints of kiwi. (93 points)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Exploring The Classics of Piedmont

Early on in my journey to understanding wine, I realized that there was something about the Nebbiolo grape that captivated me. It was something about its purity, mixed with the multidimensional layers or fruit, florals and earth that would develop over time. The difference between a young and old Barolo or Barbaresco (both made 100% from Nebbiolo) is so drastic, as the wine evolves over decades–not years–and transforms from an angular and austere expression into something so graceful, feminine, soft, and giving. Sometimes you don’t even need to taste these wines to receive the gratification you desire, because their bouquet can be so remarkably beautiful, haunting, alluring and satiating that the sip is only the completion of the experience, before returning to the glass for another aromatic exploration.

Nebbiolo also has the ability to teleport your imagination by communicating terroir so transparently. This is the same reason that so many collectors find their way to Pinot Noir in Burgundy, and why the two grapes are often compared to each other. You’ll find very little in common between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, other than their earthy and floral natures, but it is absolute that both will speak more about the places from which they came than most other grapes do. It’s because of this that the trend of single-vineyard or Cru wines became so popular in Barolo and Barbaresco, and even when a producer blends different vineyards together, you can often find the telltale signs of how one site lent the wine its power, another its spice, and another its structure. A lover of fine details, hidden traits, an explorer, or even those who enjoy nearly incalculable equations will find a lot to like in the variety.

When you add the many different styles of winemaking to this mix, the complexities of Barolo and Barbaresco grow deeper. I found myself saying that I preferred the traditionally-styled wines of the region, macerated for long periods of time on the skins and aged in large neutral oak. Yet I must confess that over time, my mind has been opened to a large number of producers who create wines that are considered “modern” yet made with a soft touch. In fact, the only “modern” barolo I would turn my nose up at today would be one that leaned hard toward drastically reduced yields in the vineyards and a large percentage of new oak. Because if I’ve learned anything in over a decade of tasting these wines, it’s that the lines between modern and traditional have blurred so deeply, that only a small number of producers can now be considered a hardliner in one direction or other. Also, there are some great wines from the past that were made in a “modern” style that are simply irresistible today.

Speaking of winemakers, Nebbiolo also has a way of inciting as much passion in its producers as in the people who buy them. Passion is what drives many wine lovers, and to think that there is someone on the other side of growing, raising and bottling these wines, who shares a similar passion–is a remarkable feeling. In Piedmont, most winemakers are also the same people who care for the vines in the vineyard (another similarity to Burgundy). These aren’t business people who wear fancy suits or designer clothes to work; they are farmers. Most of them can trace their vine-growing roots back generations, and their face will often light up when presented with a wine that their father, grandfather or older generation produced. Of course, this is slowly changing in Piedmont, as outside investment threatens to buy up its vineyards, but that’s a story for another blog.

Our Very Own Piedmont Classics Dinner

With all of that said, the only way to truly understand all of these differences is to taste, which is absolutely the most enjoyable part of this hobby (obsession) that I share with a wonderful community of fellow worshippers of the Nebbiolo grape. Often we’ve done this through vertical tasting (multiple vintages of different or the same producer to understand vintage characteristics). Sometimes through horizontal tasting (one vintage of the same or multiple producers). We’ve even pitted two producers against each other in a traditional-versus-modern showdown. However, what moved me to words today was our most recent tasting, and one of the best we’ve ever embarked on.

Being that our group was started on the Vinous forums, we thought that we would borrow an idea from Antonio Galloni and create our own version of his Piedmont Classics dinner. Why not? This is a group of collectors who each have deep cellars of Nebbiolo going back decades. The tasting was organized into four flights by producer. In most cases, each flight had at least one bottle with significant age and a few with moderate to even youthful wines. (Which is funny when you consider that the youngest bottle on the table was ten years old–but this is Nebbiolo we’re talking about.) The producers we settled on were Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Marcarini, and Brovia–all undeniable classics. Plus, we were treated to a blind tasting addition from Cappellano. The venue was La Pizza Fresca, owned, operated–and on this night even manning the brick-fire oven–by Brad Bonnewell (a fellow Cavalieri del Tartufo e dei Vini di Alba).

It was a study of producer, a study of terroir, a study of vintage, a brick-oven pizza exploration… and one hell of a good time.

On To The Tasting Notes

Surprise Blind Bottle: Cappellano

I had no idea going into the tasting that I would be treated to a 70-year-old Barolo, which was a true testament to the staying power and nobility of Nebbiolo It makes sense that the producer would be Cappellano. At that time, they were one of the biggest names in the region with some 60 hectares, as well as one of the largest purchasers of grapes. Even with this tremendous production, the name stood for undeniable quality, which is something that has not changed to this day. Bottles of Cappellano from the ‘50s, ‘60s and on to today are always a welcome addition to any tasting.

1947 Cappellano Super Barolo – This was served blind, and what a treat it was. The ‘47 “Super” Barolo was completely mature yet gorgeous, with a bouquet of cigar box, dried flowers, dusty dry spices, and dark soil tones. On the palate, I found pure, lifted sweet red fruits with zesty acidity, minerals and inner florals. It finished long and spicy with ripe yet dried red fruits and lingering sweet minerality. Wow, what an experience. (93 points)

Flight 1: Giacomo Conterno

We’re looking back 47 years at a time before Giacomo Conterno even owned the vineyard that defines them today: Cascina Francia. In fact, the ‘70 Barolo that was labeled Cascina Francia was due to a lapse in time between bottling, labeling and shipping. It isn’t a Cascina Francia at all (they didn’t own the vineyard at that time), but that didn’t stop it from being one of my wines of the night. At that time, the fruit would have come from a source in Monforte, but little else is known. Another highlight from this night’s flight was a peek into some recent vintages that are coming along very nicely as well.

1970 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva – Here I found a dark display of mature Nebbiolo, complemented by layers of earthy, savory aromas. Dried leaves, dusty old spices, and hints of roasted meat wafted up from the glass, yet it remained feminine and pure throughout the experience. On the palate, a soft and inviting textural display gave way to tart red fruits with lifting acidity that created an almost-mouthwatering experience. It finished with saturating tart berry tones, earthy soil tones and lingering undergrowth. (95 points)

1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Where the ‘70 Barolo Riserva was all about feminine grace, the ‘71 instead showed the muscular and attractive gritty side of Nebbiolo. Here I found a rich and dark display with tart red berries up front, followed by animal musk, dried flowers and dark soil tones. It was soft on the palate, with mouth-filling textures which seemed to touch upon all of the senses, as notes of sweet dried red fruits, hints of spice, and minerals prevailed. The finish was long with sour berries, undergrowth and crushed stone. This would have scored higher if there was more clarity or a bump of acidity on the palate, but the fact is that the ‘70 is in fine form and drinking beautifully. (94 points)

2000 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Having never been a big fan of the vintage, the 2000 Giacomo Conterno shows some of its telltale drawbacks, yet it manages to be incredibly enjoyable all the same. Here I found a rich, dark bouquet with crushed cherry, brown spices and dried flowers, yet the wine lacked momentum. On the palate, it displayed silky textures contrasted by intense tart red fruits, inner spice and sweet tannins. The finish was saturating with red fruits, yet it was soft and only medium in length. (92 points)

2007 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – While the 2000 did the best it could in a warm vintage, the 2007 excelled with it. The nose was intense with dusty spices, saline minerals, a hint of savory tomato leaf and notes of undergrowth. It showed silky, enveloping textures with intense dark red fruits, which turned slightly tart as youthful tannin began to saturate the senses. Savory minerality and spice persisted throughout the finish, with a cheek-puckering twang of tart fruit and hints of savory herbs. The density here is formidable, nearly masking its young tannin, but the underlying structure should guarantee the 2007 a long life. Very nice. (95 points)

Flight 2: Bruno Giacosa

There is really only one way to follow up a flight of Giacomo Conterno, and that’s with a flight of Bruno Giacosa. What was really amazing were the similarities found throughout each of these wines, a combination of the winemakers stamp and terroir. Picking favorites here was like splitting hairs, and what it really came down to was the level of drinkability from bottle to bottle. However, scoring-wise, it was the potential mixed with the performance that won out the day.

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – The ‘01 Falletto showed all of the classic hallmarks of the vintage married to the Giscosa style. The bouquet was lifted and pure with a sweet-and-sour persona, as spicy black cherry mixed with sweet herbs and hints of savory tomato leaf. On the palate, I found silky textures that were quickly offset by a combination of dusty minerals and crystalline tannin, as tense, youthful crisp red fruits were ushered across the senses by brisk acidity. The finish was long, showing its youthful tannin with saturating tart red fruits. We still have a ways to go before the ‘01 is in its perfect drinking window, but this night’s bottle was enjoyable on potential alone. (94 points)

2004 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – You should be very pleased with yourself if you have the ‘04 Falletto in your cellar. Here I found a gorgeous display of rich black cherry and cranberry, with notes of holiday spice, sweet florals, crushed stone minerality and mint. It was silky on the palate with enveloping, soft, ripe spiced cherry fruit, juicy acidity and the sweetest of sweet tannin. The finish was long, showing the first signs of youthful structure with saturating spice and dried cherry tones lingering on. (96 points)

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – I’ve been lucky to taste the ‘99 Le Rocche on multiple occasions, as each time it has been stunning. The nose was radiant in its cool, dark red fruit, with raspberry and black cherry, as well as hints of plum. Rosy florals tones, dusty spice and minerals joined the fray with time in the glass. On the palate, I found a refined and structured expression, with black cherry, inner floral, mineral tones and crunchy youthful tannin. The finish was long with palate-coating spiced cherry, sweet inner florals, spice and hints of lingering undergrowth. (96 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba – The ‘96 Falletto showed youthfully restrained, yet it was impossible to ignore on its potential alone. The nose was cool and minty, with notes of black cherry, dusty dried floral tones, licorice and hints of smoke. On the palate, I found an angular expression with depths of dark red fruit and minerals, as fine tannin kept everything in check. The finish was long with saturating tannin, lingering spice, dried inner-florals and mineral tones. (96 points)

Flight 3: Marcarini

Speaking of the classics of Piedmont is not possible without including Marcarini in the conversation. Following a large vertical tasting many years ago, my eyes were opened to this traditional producer, who still manages to fly comfortably under the radar. As you look back to older vintages, the name Cogno is often proudly emblazoned across the label, which is the same man who would go on to create the Elvio Cogno winery that has earned an elevated position in Piedmont today. These are classic, traditionally-styled wines that represent a similar mix of value and quality that we find from vintage Produttori del Barbaresco.

1968 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – Following a flight on unbelievable Giacosa Barolo isn’t easy, but the ‘68 Marcarini Brunate held its own. Here I found a perfectly mature and remarkably pretty expression of Nebbiolo fruit with dried floral tones up front giving way to dusty soil, hints of brown spice and faded cherry. On the palate, I found a soft and feminine display with zesty acidity giving life to its dried red fruits, along with earth tones and minerals. It was shorter on the finish than I had hoped yet cleaned up very nicely with a twang of tart red fruit and lingering florality. (93 points)

1973 Marcarini Barolo Brunate Riserva – The nose showed dark dried red berries with sweet florals and a hint of leather. On the palate, I found zesty expression, yet rich enough to the impression of weight, showing bright red berries, earth and minerals. It finished long and balanced with lingering mineral and dried cherry tones. (91 points)

1974 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – The nose showed dark dried berry tones, followed by animal musk, crushed fall leaves, earth tones, and dusty spice. On the palate, it was airy and lifted with great acidity, showing tart red berries with a savory edge and earthy minerality. The finish was long and earthy, with inner floral tones lasting throughout. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘74 vintage, and this Marcarini was a textbook example of why I love them so much. Simply a great drinking wine and vintage. (92 points)

1999 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – The ‘99 Brunate is full of potential, showing a classic, traditional nose, with dried red fruits, pine nettles, licorice, medicinal herbs, and sweet florals. On the palate, it was feminine and slightly firm, with saturating tart berry tones, leather, spice and youthful tannin. It finished beautiful and long, displaying earth tones, dried spices and inner florals. This wine is only just starting to approach its drinking window, and I see many decades of positive evolution ahead for it. (93 points)

Flight 4: Brovia

The house of Brovia has undergone many changes over the last thirty years, as Elena and Cristina Brovia took the reins from their father. Quality was said to have steadily improved through that time, and even more in 2001, when Alex Sanchez joined the family. The exciting thing about this night’s tasting was the ability to taste the ‘79 Rio Sordo–a wine made by the previous generation–next to three wines that represent that period of change. The fact that the ‘79 ended up being my wine of the flight has more to do with its perfect maturity, while the ‘96 Ca’Mia technically scored higher.

1979 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – The bouquet was stunning, showing dusty spices, earth, undergrowth and a hint of iodine, before notes of dried cherry and floral tones began to develop in the glass. On the palate, I found soft textures with zesty acidity giving way to minerals, spice and sweet and sour red fruits. The finish was medium in length, yet still zesty and fresh with dried berry tones, spices and lingering minerality. (93 points)

1995 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – (Flawed–Badly)

1996 Fratelli Brovia Barbaresco Rio Sordo – The nose was dark and intense, showing dried cherry, dusty spices, smoke, and minerals upon minerals. On the palate, I found a silky expression with dark red fruits, classic ‘96-styled crunchy tannin, and earthy minerals. It finished long, as its young tannin saturated the senses, drying out the fruit and leaving an impressive of austerity. This was very good, but I do wonder if the fruit will outlive the tannins. (92 points)

1996 Fratelli Brovia Barolo Ca’Mia – The nose was dark, rich, mineral-laden–classic. Here I found a mix of dried cherry, raspberry, dusty spice, earthy minerality and moist soil tones. On the palate, silky textures were quickly offset by intense dark red fruits, with brisk acidity adding mineral lift and young tannin, which settled down hard on the senses. The finish was long and structured, even cheek-puckering, allowing hints of tart red fruit and minerals to linger. This wine was densely packed, with dark focused fruit wrapped in fine tannin with balancing acidity, which sounds like a recipe for success to me. I can’t wait to see where it’s going. (94 points)

Credits and Resources

Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by: Eric Guido

Thank you to La Pizza Fresca and Brad Bonnewell

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