Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2003: Barolo Retrospective

I started collecting Barolo just as the 2003 vintage was about to be released.  What a time that was, just on the heels of the highly acclaimed ’01 vintage and the absolute dismal failure of ’02.  At the time, my hopes for ‘03 had already been dispelled by reports of unrelenting heat resulting in overripe fruit and under-ripe tannin.  The ’03 growing season literally baked the fruit throughout the days and never gave them the much-needed cooler nights to rest.  The results were wines of intense concentration with high alcohol and aggressive tannin.  A few critics had picked a small number of wines that they deemed very good, but nowhere near classic.  The warning was: Buyer beware; it’s good, but it doesn’t taste much like Barolo.

Still, I am a completeist and I had to put some bottles in my cellar.  And so, I cherry-picked.  Some were the usual suspects; however, with time, stories came out here and there about ’03 Baroli that were atypical, hence, better than the regular ’03 Barolo. 

The dinning room at Paprika, where
our tasting was held.  Paprika continues
to impress across the board.  Keep an eye
out for my special focus on Paprika
Restaurant at
Some bottles that come to mind are; Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, which was touted to have been helped by the juice from the Monfortino bottling that wouldn’t be produced that year.  Next was Aldo Conterno’s Il Favot, which is usually nothing more than a Langhe Nebbiolo, yet was praised by a well-respected wine writer as being as superior as any Barolo because it was essentially a blend of all of Conterno’s grapes and not aged in French Oak (as the Il Favot typically is).  Then there was the Roagna Paje, which was highly praised by Antonio Galloni as being a standout in the vintage.  Among all of these, the only one to truly impress across a broad range of tasters has been the Roagna.  In fact, it seems that the wines of Roagna, as a whole, were very classic in ’03 and certainly deserve our attention.

The two wine's of the night. The
Roagna was classic, while the
Scavino impressed with its
sheer, sexy personality.
The results of the tasting below were a mixed bag.  As Barolo lovers, we all have considerable amounts of money invested in our cellars and we all want to feel like the choices we made were the right ones at the time.  Unfortunately, when it comes to 2003 Barolo, the only sound investment is one that was made off the blowout list from our favorite retailer.  Don't get me wrong; there are a number of stellar bottles, such as the 2003 Paolo Scavino Bric del Fiasc that scored 93 points.  However, if I had paid the $90 release price instead of obtaining it for $60 on sale, I wouldn't feel as good about it right now.  With only a few exceptions, these aren't wines for the cellar.  Those exceptions, such as the wines of Roagna, should continue to impress, but the most common descriptor used for these bottles is "not typical of the 2003 vintage."  For current drinking, there are some values to be found, when the price is right.  But don't make the mistake of ordering a bottle of 2003 Barolo off a restaurant wine list, thinking it's going to behave like Barolo.  Informed decisions are an absolute necessity, and with that, on to the wines:

2003 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda - The nose of the Roagna was classic in every way as a bouquet of cherries and earth with tar, roses and undergrowth wafted up from the glass.  On the palate, it was, at first, very tight and focused with sweet cherry.  With time in the glass it began to take on weight and show darker red fruit with earthy minerals and cedar.  The finish was structured, yet long and truly showed this wine's youth.  From all the 2003s I've tasted, it showed the most classic and will benefit from further aging. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Aldo Conterno Il Favot - The nose was dark with overripe plum and crushed berries.  It was almost confectionary at times, yet it had an appealing note of black olives.  On the palate, I found sour cherry with clove, yet the fruit was flabby and lacked balance.  The finish was long, however cloying with a lingering note of hard candies (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc - The nose showed rich, dark black cherry with roses, cinnamon and clove.  On the palate, I found intense raspberry fruit balanced by a full and luxurious body with menthol, earth and sweet spices which lingered through the long finish.  The ’03 Bric del Fiasc may not be a wine for the ages, but it has many more years of enjoyment ahead of it.  It’s a dark, appealing... sexy wine. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Pio Cesare Ornato - The 2003 Pio Cesare Ornato was hard to understand.  I kept hoping the nose would improve with time, but upon tasting this wine, I had to wonder if it was simply flawed.  The nose showed bread crust and a rusty note, with cherry fruit lurking beneath it all.  On the palate, I found sweet cherry, yet the acidity in this wine burned, literally, into the finish. (83 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed sweet red berries with spicy clove, roses and crushed fall leaves.  On the palate, it was soft and juicy with red fruit and earth.  The finish was long and pleasant.  This isn't what you'd expect from Barolo, yet it's enjoyable all the same and should improve slightly over the next few years. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto - The nose showed tart cherry and blackberry with a note of waxy lipstick.  On the palate, the fruit was intense, even overripe with blue and blackberry jam.  The structure quickly overwhelmed the palate with harsh, drying tannin that coated the mouth through the finish.  It's hard to imagine that this wine will ever balance out. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!
2003 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – The nose showed big briary red fruit, cinnamon, herbs and dark chocolate with a whiff of unmistakable heat.  On the palate, I found sweet, spiced red fruit and raisin but it was chewy with cloying, gravelly tannins that shut down the wine’s finish. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!


  1. Hi Eric, I love reading your Barolo Retrospective articles! I started around the same time as you to collect Barolo and Barbaresco. I missed out on most of the 2003 vintage, but luckily got hold on some Roagna Paje bottles. I've also tasted his Vigna Rionda 2003 and thought that is was more impressive than his 2004 version upon release, but that will certainly change with time.

    It seems as the traditionalists are able to make great/good wine even in difficault vintages. With Roagna I think this is very clear, winemaker over vintage. I've also had luck with Schiavenza Prapo in 2003. All others I've tasted have too much hot fruit and alcohol.

  2. Thank you for the comment.

    I agree about traditional producers. For the most part they are better at handling challenging vintages. Roagna really knocked it out of the park with the 2003's. I'm happy to have some Paje resting in my cellar. One wine that I love from the '07 vintage is G. Mascarello's Monprivato. There's a wine that find balance in its usual earthy, mineral laced and structured form, combined with the ripeness of the vintage. Another example from '07 would be Burlotto's Monvigliero. Both are great wines.

    Thank you for the tip on the Schiavenza Prapo. I've heard the name but have never seen the wines. I'll have to seek them out.


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