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.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

1998 Barolo & Barbaresco Retrospective

Our NY Vinous Nebbiolo group met a couple of weeks ago at Ai Fiori Ristorante in Manhattan to do a 20-year retrospective of Barolo and Barbaresco from the 1998 vintage.  For this dinner we invited Vinous wine writer Ian D’Agata to join us.  Ian is a respected wine writer and his book “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” was named 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year.  All welcomed his presence and comments.

This was my first visit to Ai Fiori, but not my first experience with restaurants owned by noted chef Michael White.  The food, like my experiences at Marea, Osteria Morini and Ristorante Morini was terrific.  We were given a private room and given two choices for each course.  I selected:

Polipo - octpus allapiastra, sepia, tomato ragu toasted bread, basil.  Fork tender Octopus in a harmonious sauce of tomato and sepia.

Tortelli – ricotta & mascarpone ravioli, sottocenere cheese, red wine glaze.  These handmade and perfectly cooked pasta pillows threw a party in my mouth.  Another dish in perfect balance.

Vitello – amish vial chop “au four”, root vegetable, blanquette.  Simply magnificent.  These dishes complemented the wine beautifully, making this one hell of a dinner.

Before getting to the Barolo & Barbaresco, we started the evening with a bottle of 2010 Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Grand Cru Les Chemins d’Avize. Chemins d'Avize is a blend of fruit from the Chemin de Plivot and Chemin de Flavigny lieux-dits. Disgorged in June 2016. The wine was vinified and aged in oak barrels of various sizes and bottled with 2 grams of dosage (some form of sweetness (sugar, or wine and sugar) added to a Champagne to balance it out). Winemaker Pierre Larmandier uses only indigenous yeasts for alcoholic fermentations, producing the most natural and terroir-specific wine possible. Each cru is vinified separately. This was terrific beginning to the evening.  I loved the yeasty bouquet and full, round and yeasty palate.

Flight 1
Barbaresco & Nieve.  The 4 wines that made up this flight were simply awesome.  It was without question the best flight of wines I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili.  Gorgeous Piedmont bouquet filled my nose in anticipation of what I was about to taste.  I was not let down.  This is classic Giacosa.  Round and delicious with an elegant and lengthy finish.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà.  A bit bigger and earthier than the Asili, but round and delicious as well.  Like the Asili it kept evolving in the glass and had finished with great length.

Ken, who knows more about Giacosa and Nebbiolo than anyone I know, provided some interesting information on these two wines.  He explained that while Giacosa labeled one Asili and the other Rabaja, when the vineyard boundaries were made official, both parcels were classified as Asili. Thus we tasted two wines from different plots in the same vineyard, made by the same great winemaker, in the same way.  Check out Ken’s blog The Fine Wine Geek for an in depth look at Giacosa and his wines.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva and 1998 Roagna Barbaresco Crichet Paje were my wines of the night.  They were simply magnificent.  Impeccable balance, complexity and depth with an soft, elegant palate and finished with the same elegance.

Flight 2
Barolo & La Morra.  This was an interesting flight of 3 wines with varying degrees of modern wine making.

1998 Vietti Barolo Brunate.  This drank beautifully.  The wine had a soft, elegant palate with a lengthy finish.  I was surprised to learn (from Eric’s notes) that wine maker Luca Curado did a bit of experimentation with the vintage and that the wine is considered to be modern-styled.  You could have fooled me.

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. Sandrone is considered a more modern styled wine maker, but it would be unfair to characterize him as a modernist.  His wines are always gorgeous, exhibiting depth, balance, complexity and finesse.  Unfortunately these characteristics fell short in tonight's wine.  It drank ok, but was outdistanced by the Vietti.  

1998 Paolo Scavino Rocche dell’Annunziata Riserva. My least favorite in this flight.  Oak was well integrated, but present.  His wines are just too modern for me.

Flight 3
Monforte.  I did not like this flight at all.

1998 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia.  While I have enjoyed this wine on many occasions, tonight was not one of them.  The bottle was off.  I was particularly disappointed in that I sold the bottle from my cellar to Michael Z and it was pretty much a disaster.

1998 Domenico Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra.  Much too modern for me.  Oak was dominant.

Flight 4
Serralunga.  Another good flight, with the Falletto starring.

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia.  Terrific bottle of wine.  Silky palate and elegant finish.

1998 Vieti Barolo Lazzarito.  Like the Granbussia, this was an off bottle.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto.  Classic Giacosa.  Simply gorgeous, and one of the top wines of the evening.  Great mouth feel and lengthy and elegant finish.

1998 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva.  Fantastic potential here.  It drank very well, but is still very much a baby and needs more cellar time, in my opinion.

The bottom line is that 1998 is an excellent vintage and will drink well for quite some time.  The only downside is that the price of these wines has escalated in the past decade, so finding them at a reasonable price will be a challenge.  I only wish I had bought more of them years back.

We finished the evening with a cheese course of Caprotto  - Chiriboga Blue – housemade crackers, quince paste.  I brought along a bottle of 1998 Quintarelli Amarone to drink pair with the cheese.  Unfortunately the magic of Quintarelli was not to be found in this bottle. The palate was dull and the finish nonexistent.

Please check out Eric Guido's blog on the evening at The Cellar Table.  

All in all it was a magical evening.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guido


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