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


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