Nebbiolo translates to "little fog" and refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape appears to thrive on. Attempts at growing Nebbiolo outside of Piedmont have proved fruitless. One of the more interesting points Ms. O’Keefe talks about in her book are the nuances in style that the different soils in the various zones of Barolo produce; such as power, elegance, subtlety, perfume and texture. These differences combined with the winemaker’s approach provide for some of the most exciting and enjoyable wines to be found on the planet. For me drinking Barolo is like listening to the music of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin, wherein their individual interpretation of the Great American Songbook standards provides for heightened musical appreciation and hours of enjoyment. Sipping one of these remarkable wines while listening to their music is one of life’s pleasures for me. While the music was absent from our dinner, the wines played their own music in beautiful harmony.
1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno DOCG (Monforte d'Alba). Located in Monforte d’Alba where the soil is composed predominantly of sandstone and clay, the estate produces more modern styled Baroli, opting to use new oak (Barrique) when making its wines. I find that the use of new Barrique usually produces a Barolo with a palate marked by oak and vanilla. That is not the case here as the oak was very well integrated. The fruit was bit quiet to start but began to awaken after 30 minutes in the glass as the wine began to show power and finesse on the palate. 1996 was a great year in Barolo and this wine, like many others from the vintage, still has a long life ahead. $85. Wine-Searcher.
2007 Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo DOCG (Barolo). Owner/wine maker Giovanni Canonica did not start to export his wine to the U.S. until 2004. Production is small (6,000 bottles of the ’07) of this old world Barolo. In the opinion of many, myself included, Canonica’s Baroli are in the same class as those of the iconic old world Barolo estates such as Cappellano, Conterno, Rinaldi and Mascarello. The Paiagallo vineyard is situated fairly high on the slope above the town of Barolo. The soil here has less sand and more clay, which tends to produce wines that are more approachable earlier than other Barolos. Canonica follows super old-fashioned techniques with foot-pressed grapes; indigenous yeast fermentation; no temperature control; very long fermentation in wood; aging in very large old wood barrels (botte) and very minimal sulphur used throughout. Tonight’s wine displayed impeccable balance, complexity and finesse with a lengthy and elegant finish. I sipped the wine throughout the evening and it just kept evolving in the glass with each sip. This clearly had my vote for the wine that drank best for the evening. While this is readily approachable now it will easily last for another 30 to 40 years. A wine with soul! This will not be easy to find, as allocations are small. $75 - $100.
1997 Bartolo Mascarello DOCG (Barolo). While the 1997 Barolo vintage was initially thought to be an extraordinary one, it turned out not to be the case as most of the wines began to fall apart a few years ago. Such was the case with 3 consecutive bottles of the 1997 Bartolo Mascarello I opened in 2012. The wine was dead and wound up being poured down the drain. Fortunately I was able to return my remaining bottles. The bottle we drank tonight was thankfully better than my previous bottles. While there was not a lot of complexity to the wine, the fruit was more apparent, but did not have a lot of life. A drinkable wine, but not what one expects from this iconic producer of usually outstanding Barolo. If you have some in your cellar, I suggest you drink up!
2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi S Lorenzo Ravera DOCG (Barolo/La Morra). In my opinion, Giuseppe Rinaldi is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo, crafting traditional wines marked by succulent fruit, focus and finesse. While the bouquet of this wine tonight was gorgeous, on the palate the wine was virtually closed. The pedigree is apparent, but the wine is asleep now, as are most Baroli of this vintage. The wine did begin to open after about an hour suggesting the need to decant for a few hours if you wish to drink it today. I would revisit in 2 to 3 years, when it should be "singing". Alas there does not seem to be any of this vintage available on the market today.
1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia DOCG (Serralunga d'Alba). Like Rinaldi, this is one of the top 5 producers in Barolo. Traditional to the core, the wines are outstanding examples of the elegance and complexity of great Barolo. This vintage is just beginning to wake up. After about 30 minutes the wine began to show its stuff and display the fantastic pedigree of the estate’s wines. It is a wine endowed with wonderful balance, focus and depth and a lengthy finish. Give this a few more years in the cellar and you will be justly rewarded with a beautiful and stunning wine. $250. Wine-Searcher.
2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia DOCG (Monforte d'Alba). Granbusia is only made in years when all three of the estates vineyards, Romirasco, Cicala and Colonnello yield outstanding results. Tonight’s wine was decanted for one hour. What a glorious wine. One of the best wines of the 2005 vintage I have tasted. The wine displayed great balance, complexity, finesse and focus and finished with considerable length and elegance. The wines of the 2005 vintage are not destined for long aging, but like this bottle tonight, many are drinking beautifully now and will provide great drinking for the next decade. $360. Wine-Searcher.
Thanks Howard for the terrific selection.