Older Barolo – Terroir, Breeding and Class
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
In a few short weeks, I will be in Alba for a special tasting called Nebbiolo Prima, an anteprima (preview) tasting of hundreds of new releases of wines produced exclusively from Nebbiolo. There will be releases of Roero Rosso from the 2011 vintage as well as similar wines from Barbaresco.
But the highlight of this five-day event will be sampling more than 200 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage. This vintage is already being spoken of as a modern-day classic, wines that have the potential to age for as much as 40 or 50 years. In case you believe this is typical wine industry hype for the latest releases, think again. When I attended this event three years ago, when the 2007 Barolos were featured (a very impressive group of wines, in its own right), several producers told me that while they thought I would like their 2007s very much, “wait until you try my 2010s in a few years.” They knew they had something special right from the start and were excited about these wines even in their initial stages, years before release. (I have tasted a handful of these wines – some of them tank samples – so while it’s too early to tell, yes, these wines should be something very special.)
I’ll report on these wines next month, but whenever you taste a new vintage of Barolo, you find yourself comparing it with other vintages, especially ones that are similar in style. Then of course, you size up the vintage for its aging potential. Even in an ordinary year, a well-made Barolo can age for 12-15 years and in most vintages, 15-20 years is the norm. Then you have a few outstanding vintages when the finest examples of Barolo are candidates for 25-40, perhaps even 50 years of aging potential.
Last year, I wanted to try some older Barolos and see how they were tasting after a number of years in the bottle. So with fellow American journalists Tom Maresca and Kerin O’Keefe, we visited nine great Barolo producers and tasted older wines at their cellars. We requested four wines from each producer; the years would cover several decades, ranging from the 1970s and 1980s and well as the 1990s and up to the decade of the 2000s. Each producer had at least four wines for us to taste, some even graciously poured an extra one or two wines; we did not refuse!
We sought out an array of great Barolo producers, with a selection that would represent various communes in the Barolo zone. These were the nine cellars we visited: Massolino (Serralunga d’Alba); Giacomo Fenocchio (Monforte d’Alba); Elio Grasso (Monforte d’Alba); Pio Cesare (Alba); Ceretto (Alba); Marcarini (La Morra); Oddero (La Morra); Renato Ratti (La Morra) and Prunotto (Alba). Before Tom and Kerin arrived in the area, I also visited a tenth cellar – Borgogno in the town of Barolo – to taste older examples of their Barolos as well.
A few points about the Barolos we tasted and how these wines have changed over the years. We were able to taste a few examples from 1978, a great vintage that is finally starting to show its best, after more than 35 years. Certainly the winemaking was different in the 1970s, especially in terms of technical approach, but also a philosophical view, as the typical Barolo made some 40-50 years ago was a wine that was rather closed and even a bit backwards upon release. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your view; certainly with the proliferation of powerful wines from California, Australia and other corners of the globe, wines that display forward fruit are the ones that attract the attention of today’s wine media, at least in terms of high scores and important ratings. So some Barolo producers, in order to garner greater attention for their wines, have followed suit to some extent, as examples of this iconic wine from the 1990s and on are more forward and not as tightly wound upon release as in the past. Is this an improvement? Again, this depends on your point of view, but it is a reality.
Pio Boffa, Pio Cesare Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Another form of reality is climate change; anyone who denies this condition as part of the equation in the Barolo zone is simply overlooking the truth. Each of the producers I spoke with commented on ever warmer temperatures in the area; the only disagreement was when it first occurred. At the Giacomo Fenocchio estate, Claudio Fenocchio said that 1990 was the first vintage he noticed this condition, while for Pio Boffa at the Pio Cesare estate, 1982 was the first year of climate change.
This has resulted in earlier harvests; where Nebbiolo for Barolo had traditionally been picked in mid-late October – and sometimes even early November in some extreme years, those days are pretty much long gone. Harvest these days is often in early October and rarely later then the 2nd or 3rd week of that month. “The biggest change in the Barolos today is the climate,” comments Mariacristina Oddero.
Here are notes on a few of the best wines I tried that week:
2006 – This was a classic Barolo year, one that offered powerful wines meant for the long haul. Beautifully structured wines with very good acidity; the finest should age for 25-35 years.
Oddero “Brunate” Deep garnet; meaty aromas – orange peel and Asian spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Big mid-palate, though not as concentrated as some of the ’06 Barolos. Very good acidity, subtle wood notes and excellent persistence. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer. ****
Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera” - Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, marmalade and caraway seed. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Lovely mid-palate, big fruit flavors, perfectly balanced. Very good acidity, subdued wood notes, outstanding persistence. Powerful wine of great breeding and ideal structure. Peak in 25-35 years. *****
2004 – A brilliant year for Barolo. Wines of amazing aromatic complexities – I recall being as impressed as I had ever been with the perfumes of these wines when I tasted them upon their release – and remarkable elegance. Ideal ripeness along with very good acidity, these are Barolos of grace and finesse. Yet these are not less accomplished than the 2006s, merely less forceful; still, the finest examples of 2004 Barolos will age for 25-40 years.
Franco Massolino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Franco Massolino comments on the 2004 growing season. “In 2004, the weather was simply perfect. It was a wet spring followed by a summer that was not too hot. 2004 is a wine I really like, a combination of power and elegance.”
Claudio Fenocchio labeled the 2004 vintage as “bellissima. It is traditional with great elegance.”
Renato Ratti “Rocche” – Deep garnet; aromas of kirsch, tar and red roses – just beautiful! Excellent concentration with a rich mid-palate. Great fruit persistence with notes of orange peel in the finish. Excellent persistence. Long, long finish; the tannins are remarkably fine. 25 years plus. *****
Marcarini “Brunate” – Deep garnet; aromas of Oriental spice, dried cherry, orange peel and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent complexity, this has a meaty character to it. Long, finish, great structure, rich, polished tannins, very good acidity, outstanding persistence. 25 years plus. *****
Massolino “Vigna Rionda” – Lovely pale garnet color, aromas of red cherry, red roses and carnation. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, precise acidity and a long, long, finish. Beautiful harmony of all components and superb varietal purity. 15-20 years -perhaps longer. ****
1999 - An outstanding Barolo vintage; wines of power and elegance. The 1999s, as well as any vintage in the last twenty years, are beautiful wines that truly reflect their origins.
Aldo Conterno “Romirasco” - Deep garnet; aromas of mocha, mint, red poppies and brown herbs. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, beautiful acidity and fruit – perfectly ripe. Gorgeous balance and outstanding persistence. 25-35 years. *****
Ceretto “Bricco Rocche” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of leather, tar and strawberry jam. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Long finish with supple tannins, excellent complexity and very good acidity. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer. *****
1996 – Another classic year, resulting in wines of great power and varietal purity. Fenocchio, comparing 1996 with 1990, which received brilliant reviews, said “1996 is difficult to describe now. When you compare 1990 and 1996, no one will remember the 1990 ten years from now, but the 1996 will be drinking beautifully.”
Giacomo Fenocchio “Villero” - Deep garnet; aromas of leather, truffle, balsamic, dried cherry and myrtle. Medium-full with very good concentration. Excellent ripeness – sweet fruit – good acidity and rich tannins. Very good acidity with impressive persistence. 25 years plus. *****
Borgogno Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, dried orange peel, dried cherry and a hint of tobacco. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, still rich, firm tannins. Excellent complexity – lovely wine! Best in 15-20 years. ****
1989 - A great Barolo vintage, somewhat overshadowed for some years now by the more powerful 1990, but given some time, most of the 1989s are now showing their brilliance. Tremendous depth of fruit with superb structure.
Prunotto (classic Barolo) – Deep garnet/light brown edge; aromas of herbal tea, dried cherry, truffle and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich tannins, big persistence, very fine acidity. Excellent balance and still very young. 12-15 years. ****
Renato Ratti “Conca” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of balsamic, tea leaf and licorice. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Huge mid-palate, very powerful wine. Big tannins, very good acidity; outstanding persistence and complexity. Touch of savoury quality. Notes of oregano and sage in the finish. Slightly austere finish, thanks to the amount of tannins. 20-25 years to peak – perhaps longer. Great wine! *****
Pio Cesare - Deep garnet with a light brown edge; aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich persistence, lovely balance, very good acidity. Best in 12-15 years. ****
Ratings – ***** Outstanding / **** Excellent
I’ve listed just a few of the wines I tasted over the course of a magnificent week in the Barolo zone. Here is the complete list of older Barolos I tasted during that time.
Borgogno – 1998 Riserva, 1996 Riserva, 1982 Riserva
Ceretto – 2004 Bricco Rocche; 1999 Bricco Rocche; 1993 Bricco Rocche; 1989 Bricco Rocche
Pio Cesare – 2000 Barolo; 1996 Barolo; 1989 Barolo, 1978 Barolo
Aldo Conterno – 2005 Gran Bussia Riserva, 2004 Romirasco, 1999 Colonello
Giacomo Fenocchio – 2004 Bussia Riserva; 1996 Villero; 1990 Bussia Riserva; 1978 Barolo Riserva
Elio Grasso - 2006 Gavarini Chiniera; 2004 Gavarini Chiniera; 2001 Ginestra Casa Maté; 1996 Runcot
Marcarini – 2004 Brunate, 1996 Brunate; 1990 Brunate; 1978 Brunate
Massolino – 2004 Vigna Rionda; 1996 Vigna Rionda Riserva “X Anni”; 1989 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo Riserva
Oddero – 2006 Brunate; 2004 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 2001 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 1998 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo (classic)
Prunotto – 2004 Bussia; 1996 Bussia; 1989 Barolo (classic); 1985 Bussia; 1982 Riserva Bussia; 1978 Riserva Bussia
Renato Ratti - 2008 Rocche; 2004 Rocche; 1999 Rocche Marcenasco; 1998 Rocche Marcenasco; 1990 Marcenasco; 1989 Conca
If you would like to read my reviews of all 41 wines as well as reviews of more than 100 Barolos from 2006, 2004 and 2001, as well as reviews of wines from other recent vintages such as the best from 2009, 2007 and 2008, please contact me, as I will be releasing a special issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. This will be published in a pdf file and will be sent to those that pay a small fee. More information can be found by emailing me (click on this link for my email).
You won’t want to miss this special Guide to Italian Wines, a complete guide to Barolo in general and the best wines over the past decade.