About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Memorable Barolo Tasting

Our Vinous group met recently at Morrell Wine Bar and Café for a fantastic Barolo tasting.  I don’t recall exactly who’s idea it was (brilliant as it was) but it was decided we would taste the wines of Giacomo Conterno and Luciano Sandrone.  Eric Guido, who organized the flights for the evening, entitled the tasting “The Icon vs. The Iconoclast: An Epic Barolo Tasting”. What a perfect title for it captures the essence of the differences and approaches of these two different, but incredible wine makers.  Giacomo Conterno is at or near the top of just about everyone’s list of traditional wine makers.  Sandrone on the other hand respects tradition but incorporates aspects of modern technology and technique in his winemaking.  To characterize him as a modernist would be a mistake.  To characterize him, as Eric does, as an Iconoclast who makes fantastic wine would be much more appropriate.  Eric’s write up, complete with photos can be found here at The Cellar Table.

There were 10 of us who participated and brought along the wine (14 bottles) for the evening. Most of the bottles were opened and given some aeration prior to the event.  The tasting was both blind and non-blind.  For those of us, like myself, who preferred non-blind we knew the wines we were drinking in each flight.  Those in the blind group knew the wines in the flight, but not the order.  My preference for non-blind revolves around the fact that since I usually have had previous experience with the wine maker, I am able to obtain a much better assessment and appreciation of the wine compared to other bottles or vintages I have had.  In lieu of guessing (blind) I’d rather assess (non-blind) the wine. It came as no surprise to me that while each participant is an experienced Barolo drinker, opinions varied on many of the wines.  Since our palates are different, our experience with each wine is different.  IMO that is the beauty of wine and events like this, sharing wine and opinions.  At the end of the day no one is more right than anyone else.  Everyone wins.

Executive Chef Juan Carlos Mendoza prepared a wonderful meal to compliment the tasting.

Spiced Walnuts, Olives, Artisanal Cheese Selection, Domestic and Imported Charcuterie.  

Gnocchi, Wine Reduction, Herbs, Tomato Sauce with Melted Pecorino & Crispy Potato Straws.

Herb Marinated Beef Tenderloin, Oven Roasted Potatoes & Brussels Sprouts with Barolo Sauce.

Chocolate Truffles.

Eric organized the wines into 5 flights, with each flight containing at least one wine from each producer.

Before diving into the flights we prepped our palates with a bottle of 1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Vintage Cave Privée, that Tony brought along.  A wonderful yeasty bubbly to begin the evening with.  Wonderful balance on the palate and a lengthy elegant finish.

Flight 1

1997 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia. The 1997 Barolo vintage was originally acclaimed to be one of the best ever.  Alas that did not turn out to be true.  With a few exceptions, I found that the wines began to fall apart a few years ago.  Tonight’s wine was no exception.  The wine had a dark brown hue and a musty bouquet.  It had a palate of old dried raisins and nothing more.  IMO, this wine has passed on.  Some felt differently.  Hey that’s why there is chocolate and vanilla.

2000 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. This was the only wine opened at the tasting.  While not a knock-out, I liked it a lot.  While it took some time to open, I felt it was a round and delicious wine, with an enticing bouquet, vibrant fruit and a wonderful finish. I Wish I had some in my cellar.

Flight 2

While I have not had many Baroli from the 1998 vintage, what I have had I liked.  All three wines in this flight all drank beautifully.  

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne.  This bottling is made from a blend of fruit from four vineyards, Vignane (Barolo), Merli (Novello), Conterni & Ceretta  (Monforte d’Alba).  The wine exhibited a nice expression of the terroir of Piedmont, with and earthy bouquet, round fruit, complexity, focus and finesse on the palate and a soft finish.  

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.   This was stunning, and my favorite of the flight.  A round and delicious wine with fantastic purity, balance, finesse and focus.  The finish was lengthy and elegant.  A wine with soul!  

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  A nice wine, however it lacked the depth of the other two and finished rather short.  

Flight 3

1999 was a fantastic vintage in Barolo.  It produced some of the most vibrant and energetic wines I have tasted from Piedomont.  These are wines that for the most part are drinking gloriously now and will for many years to come.  IMO, the flight of the evening.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. A stunning wine with an intense, fruity bouquet that seduced the palate for what lied ahead.  Full-bodied, balanced and complex with impeccable purity and a very lengthy, elegant finish.  One of the best Monfortinos I have ever tasted.  This has the stuff to last for decades.  Truly a wine with soul!

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Surprisingly this was tighter than the Monfortino. The wine had a lovely earthy bouquet like the Monfortino, but the fruit was not as prominent at this stage of its life.  While it did drink well I think its best years are still ahead.  I will definitely decant my next bottle for at least 4 hours prior to drinking.  

1999 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne.  Another stunning wine that was a few short steps behind the Monfortino.  The wine danced on the palate with the fruit and tannins in wonderful harmony before finishing with a velvety elegance.  Lots of soul here also. 

Flight 4

The 1996 Barolo vintage is one of my favorite vintages.  The wines show great promise and pedigree.  While I have enjoyed a number of bottles over the past few years, the wines are still very much in their infancy and really should be given another 3 to 5 years in the cellar.

1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  More approachable than the Conternos in this flight at this stage.  I like the purity of fruit, but it sort of sat rather than danced on the palate. Finish was a bit short.

1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Aside from a gorgeous fruity bouquet , like the Monfortino the wine is still quite tight and will require patience to unmask the pedigree locked within. 

1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva.  Gorgeous red hue, but still very tight on the palate.  There is great pedigree here, but it is going to take a few years for it to emerge.

Flight 5

This flight rivaled the ’99 flight.  All three of the wines were in impeccable condition and displayed how good aged Nebbiolo can be when crafted by a master, or in this case a couple of them.

1985 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Wow!  The seductive earthy bouquet is the drum roll prior to the flawless performance this beautiful wine performs on the palate.  Soft, refined, elegant, inviting…oh hell this was simply a round a delicious wine.

1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  I was amazed at how youthful this wine was.  It had a tantalizing aroma and seemed to simply soar from the glass with each sip.  This wine underscores how great mature Nebbiolo can be.  I wish I had some in my cellar.

1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  I think most of us were in agreement that this was the best Sandrone of the evening.   If found it to be soft and elegant with wonderfully pure fruit and a lengthy finish.

Conclusion:  While styles may vary some, great wine makers make great wines that provide extraordinary drinking experiences, especially as their wines age and mature.  My thanks to all who shared their wines and participated in this remarkable evening.  Special thanks to Anthony for orchestrating the event, to Eric for organizing the flights and the dinner and to Ignatius for bringing along a couple of stellar dessert wines to end the evening with. 

1998 Chateau Coutet Sauternes.  My first experience with this producer and it was quite good. Floral bouquet and tropical fruit palate that finished with length and finesse.  The wine is a blend of 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Muscadelle.  The wine is aged for 18 months in 70% to100% new oak barrels. 

2001 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito.  Delicious dessert wine.  The balanced palate is alive with dried figs and finishes with a lush and refined sweetness.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido


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