Now in its fifth year, the annual In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) tasting, which took place on February 23rd in New York City, has certainly proven that the way we think about California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has changed, and in my opinion, for the better. No longer are consumers looking for over-oaked, buttery Chardonnay which shows nothing of its origins, soil or climate. Instead, Chardonnay has shed its weight, gained vibrancy through acidity and depth through terroir.
As for Pinot Noir, a Burgundy-inspired renaissance has taken place here, and the results are wines of soaring aromatics, rooted in the earth, yet finessed and floral with drive and verve on the palate. We’re seeing more partial and whole cluster fermentation and a “less is more” approach in the winery. As a result, it’s often hard to put the glass down, as you are faced with a multifaceted bouquet which continues to blossom in the glass.
It’s a very good time to explore Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California’s Santa Barbara, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and Santa Cruz appellations. Whether you’re a fan of Burgundy or Oregon Pinot, you’ll find something worth hunting for. A testament to this fact is the amount of Burgundy producers found tasting at the event; in town for this week’s La Paulee tasting, yet spending their free time sipping Californian wine.
Some of these wineries have been in the game for decades, while others are just starting out. I know that, for many of you, this is still undiscovered country. However, it’s worth exploring, because what these wineries represent is the opportunity to take a peek into another world. I know from experience that Burgundy can be difficult to traverse, to afford, and it often lacks a factor of reliability in all but the most expensive wines. Yet the new paradigm for California Pinot and Chardonnay bridges the gap and allows us to explore the unique attributes of these noble varieties with a much more dependable—and affordable—experience.
In general, I preferred the 2012 Pinots, yet there were a number of fantastic 2013s on display. As for Chardonnay, the 2013s are stunning, showing tremendous depth and etched acidity which brought them to life on the palate. The Santa Cruz AVA continues to impress in both categories and may be one of the most overlooked regions in the United States.
With such an impressive showing, it was actually difficult to decide what to include here, and so I chose to focus on the producers who impressed me the most, along with a number of honorable mentions below. Frankly, you can’t go wrong with any of these wines, and for stylistic differences, simply look to the tasting notes.
Domaine de la Côte
Domaine de la Côte is an exciting new project headed by winemakers Rajar Parr and Sashi Moorman; using the same vineyards originally purposed for the Sta Rita Hill Pinots from Evening Land. With control over every aspect of these prestigious, cool-climate vineyards, Domaine de la Côte has quickly assembled an impressive portfolio of world-class wines. The Sta. Rita Hills Pinot is vinified with 50% whole clusters and aged in neutral oak, providing an exotic mélange of mineral-infused Pinot fruit complemented by elegant floral tones. It’s also one of the best QPR’s in its range, representing tremendous value. Domaine de la Côte is sure to quickly find itself on the short list of top Pinot producers in California. The 2012s were some of my favorite wines of the tasting, and Sashi went on to explain that his 2013s are some of the best wines he has ever made.
Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012 – This is a tremendous wine for an entry-level offering, which bears the same exotic floral tones on the nose as their top wines. The nose showed show earth and floral undergrowth first with a resonating note red berry to pull it all together. It was floral with minty herbal tones and wild berry fruit, all ending in a finale of savory herbs and earth. (91 points) Morrell
Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir “Bloom’s Field” Sta. Rita Hills 2012 – The nose was exotic and seductive with notes of cherry, mango and tangerine up front, yet as it bloomed in the glass, I found sweet herbs, mint, floral undergrowth and gravel dust. On the palate it was youthful, yet highly enjoyable and focused today with red berry, orange peel and hints of blueberry skins. The finish was long with red fruits, still exotic as it was on the nose, along with a lingering minerality. A beautiful bottle of wine. (94 points) Morrell
Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir “La Cote” Sta. Rita Hills 2012 – The nose was so soft yet intense with depths of ripe dark red fruit, however the profile is more about exotic floral tones and spiced-citrus with hints of undergrowth adding brooding depth. The textures on the palate seemed to sweep over the senses like the finest silk, carrying with them refined, focused red fruits, inner floral and earth tones. Intense and vibrant throughout and with a long finish off crushed flowers, tart berry, citrus-rind and earth. (95 points) Morrell
I’ve been a huge fan of Calera’s entry-level Pinot ‘Central Coast’ for many years, as it presents great value. Josh Jensen is truly a pioneer and the catalyst of establishing the Mt. Harlan AVA. Here the vines grow in limestone-rich soils at 2200 feet above sea level, benefiting from cooling breezes coming off the Pacific Ocean. The entire lineup was impressive, but it was the ‘Ryan Vineyard’ which impressed me the most on this day.
Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan 2013 – Smoky and rich on the nose with a gorgeous note of spiced apricot. On the palate, this showed soft textures made vibrant through brisk acidity with ripe stone fruit lasting through the finish. (91 points) Morrell
Calera Pinot Noir “Ryan Vineyard” Mt. Harlan 2012 – The nose showed masses of dark red fruits with herbs, earth and floral undergrowth. On the palate, it was driven and intense with dark, tightly-coiled textures and concentrated spiced-fruit. Rich yet reserved in its youth, yet I can imagine it will blossom into something grand over the coming years. (92 points)
The 2012s at Kutch truly made me a believer in this project. As for the 2013s, they showed very youthful and tense on this day. However, the 2013 Mcdougall Ranch was certainly the standout.
Kutch “Mcdougall Ranch” Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 – The nose showed intense wild berry and floral tones with chalky minerals. It seemed to expand on the palate, starting with angular textures yet quickly fleshing out in all directions with crushed berry fruit, herbs and earth tones. The finish was long with saturating spiced-red fruit and structural components clinging to the senses. Young indeed, yet it should flesh out over time. (93 points)
When tasting through the Larue Pinots, it was the ‘Coastlands vineyard’ which really grabbed my attention. With fruit sourced from the Cobb family’s Coastlands Vineyard, Larue can boast having access to some of the oldest Pinot vines on the Sonoma coast. The vineyard sits at 900-1200 feet above sea level and is heavily influenced by the cooling breezes of the Pacific. After spending 17 months in French oak, half new, this wine emerges as a muscular and fruit-driven Pinot, yet it’s still well-rooted in the earth.
Larue Wines “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2012 – The nose was fresh and spirited, showing ripe red berry with dark soil and minty herbal tones. On the palate, beautifully focused red berry fruit gave way to hints of minerals, sweet spice and gripping tannin. It was long and saturating on the finish, tugging at the senses with intense red fruits. (92 points)
Lutum, the Latin word for “dirt” or “soil,” is the foundation from which Gavin Chanin builds the portfolio of Lutum Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The goal is to make wines which are the ultimate expression of variety and site; cool climate Pinot Noir which maintains its natural beauty. Tasting through the Lutum lineup is like taking a tour of California’s top Pinot-producing vineyards. Tasting these next to the Chanin Pinots was also a remarkable opportunity. One of the main differences between the two projects is that the Lutum fruit is completely de-stemmed, yet with the 2013 Gap’s Crown Vineyard, this seems to have worked to the Lutum portfolio’s favor; it was one of the most complete 2013s I tasted at IPOB. (Lutum Selection at Morrell)
Lutum “Durell Vineyard” Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 – The nose was floral at first, turning to spiced citrus and stone fruits. It opened with richness on the palate yet quickly turned to cleansing acidity. Its fruit lingered long through the finish with a spicy twang which seemed to never fade. (93 points)
Lutum “Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012 – The nose showed radiant red fruits with violet floral tones and sweet spice. It was silky on the palate with weighty textures and contrasting vibrancy through brisk acidity. Cherry, spice and sweet floral tones lasted into the finish with a slight tug of tannin and acid-lending grip. This was really enjoyable from start to finish. (92 points)
Lutum “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 – 2013 is the first vintage for the Gap’s Crown, and it showed tremendous potential. The nose showed dark red fruits with floral tones, spice and hints of licorice reaching up from the glass. On the palate, it showed tremendous depth with dark-red fruit and exotic spice which gave way to a youthful tannic tug through the finish. The richness and density here alone was remarkable, yet perfectly balanced by juicy acidity. (93 points)
I have long been a fan of Mount Eden Chardonnay. For the last ten years, Mount Eden and Ridge Vineyards have represented the whole of the Santa Cruz AVA in my cellar. Now I see how this region has come to life, yet this venerable property is still at the top of the game. In my opinion, they produce one of the most noble and age-worthy Chards in the United States. In youth, they show their oak in prominence, yet what takes place in the cellar over the next five to ten years is nothing short of magical. Rich, intense, finely-sculpted and certainly worth seeking out.
Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 2011 – The nose was gorgeous, showing that youthful richness I’ve come to expect here, yet I know this will mellow into endless layers over time. Hints of wood gave way to citrus and stone fruits with seemingly endless floral notes and hints of spice. On the palate, it was tense, layered and long. Tightly-knit, pulsating with rich textures and contrasted by brisk, mineral-laden acidity. Tasting this today is all about imagining what it will one day become. (94 points) Morrell
Mount Eden Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 – The nose showed savory herbs and ripe red berry with dark soil tones and minerals. On the palate, this was deep with textural heft ushering intense ripe red berry fruits and herbal tones across the senses. Long, long, long on the finish with tart red berry, mint and minerals. It was more forward than expected yet a delight all the same. (91 points)
Neely, produced by the Varner brothers, was a new experience for me at the IPOB tasting. The wines were sensual and rich yet balanced to the core. Yet another amazing showing for Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot. All farming is done under organic principals, and the fruit is completely de-stemmed. With aging in 24-30% new French oak, these emerge with rich textures and ripe fruit married to mineral vibrancy. The combination is moving to say the least.
Neely “Picnic Block” Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 – The nose was highly-expressive with radiant dark-red fruit, floral tones, spice and herbal mint. On the palate, it was intense and rich with vibrant waves of acidity creating textural currents across the senses. Crushed red berry and spice lasted into the finish with hints of rose and dark soil tones. (91 points)
Neely “Upper Picnic” Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 – The nose showed floral perfumes and undergrowth up front, quickly joined by crushed red berry and spice. On the palate, it was intense yet kept lively through brisk acidity, showing dense red fruits with cinnamon, clove and sweet floral tones. The finish lingered long with dark red fruits and minerals. (92 points)
Sandhi wines, also headed by Rajar Parr and Sashi Moorman, set out in a pursuit of balance to produce cool-climate Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Old vines from north-facing vineyards are used with windy exposures to assure a long, characterful growing season. These are complex, textural wines of pure terroir-driven fruit. (Sandhi Selection at Morrell)
Sandhi Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2013 – This was a beautiful performance for an entry-level Chardonnay. The nose showed hints of almond and citrus with high-toned floral notes. It opened with richness on the palate and then quickly firmed up with persistent and focused citrus-tinged stone fruits. Long with tart citrus on the finish yet still fruity and easily likable. (90 points)
Sandhi “Sanford & Benedict” Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2013 – Amazingly fresh and vibrant on the nose with citrus up front followed by stone fruits and floral tones. Showing silky textures with floral finesse and hints of smoke on the palate. Turning tart yet still juicy and lively throughout the finish. (93 points)
Pax Mahle shows the diversity of his winemaker prowess with the Wind Gap project. Being well established for his remarkable success with PAX, where Mahle creates polarizing wines of intensity. His focus at Wind Gap however, is all about cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Pinots showed stunning depths of fruit with exotic aromas and fantastic textures–but on this day, it was the Chardonnay that stole the show
Wind Gap “Woodruff Vineyard” Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2009 – There is tremendous depth to be found in the bouquet of the ’09 Woodruff vineyard Chardonnay; literally a glass you want to sit with and indulge in over a long period of time. Ripe stone fruits, perfumed floral tones, and mineral depth kept me coming back to the glass. On the palate, it showed silky textures with admirable weight, yet remarkably fresh all the same with notes of ripe peach, herbs and minerals lasting into the finish. Just beautiful. (93+ points)
More Pinot Noir
Mindego Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 2013 – The nose showed perfumed floral tones with minerals and tart red fruit. On the palate, it showed focused mineral-laden, red fruits with excellent persistence carried into the finish, where floral tones seemed to linger on and on. (90 points) Website
Tyler Bien Nacido Old Vine Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2012 – The nose showed ripe raspberry fruit and lifting floral perfumes with hints of undergrowth and moist soil tones. On the palate, I found soft textures giving way to balanced tannic structure with red fruits and hints of spice lingering long. Saturating and firm on the finish yet begging you to take another sip. (91 points) Morrell
Littorai “Cerise Vineyard” Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2012 – The nose revealed dusty cedar up front with dark-red berry fruit and sweet spice. On the palate, it showed dense, dark textures yet remained vibrant and focused with tremendous balance and class. Dark-red berry fruit and spice lasted into the finish, joined by licorice and inner floral tones. This is a wine in need of time to fully reveal itself, yet it’s still enjoyable today for its sheer power. (93 points) Website
Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley 2009 – This was a dark beauty on the nose, emerging with deep red fruits, moist soil, hints of cedar and savory herbs. On the palate, it showed soft textures with ripe raspberry, remaining vibrant and floral throughout. The long finish showed tart berries, spice and balsamic tones. I can imagine this would continue to gain layers with time in the glass. (91 points) Website
Ojai “Bien Nacido” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley 2013 – This stands out immediately for its fresh ginger and spice, along with complementing notes of apricot and citrus on the nose. At first rich on the palate, yet driven and mouthwatering with citrus, ripe melon and minerals. The fruit seemed to saturate the senses on the finish, turning tart with a pleasurable cheek-puckering sensation. (92 points) Website
Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido
I have to admit, before working with Morrell, I never paid much attention to the Hospices de Beaune. Frankly, I had grown used to being let down by gimmicks in the industry. Specially labeled wines made through a collaboration of winemakers or consultants usually equated to marketing ploys—which we all see too much of these days. Rarely do these projects present us with great wines.
Then the day came when the 2012 Hospices de Beaune reds arrived at the office, and it was time to taste. I approached them with trepidation, as I was expecting to be underwhelmed. What a mistake.
Each showed gorgeous varietal character, transparency of place, and all the hallmarks of this tremendous vintage. As I worked through them, I found myself impressed with each wine. While some scored higher then others, I assure you, there was not a single poor performance. Then I reached the Corton, and—Wow!
Typically, great Corton requires patience, often leaving us with an angular and herbaceous impression in its youth. Yet here, while I was presented with the expected austerity of youth, it also showed generosity, and that silky, ethereal ripe Pinot fruit we all crave. Digging deeper, I came to learn that Louis Jadot provided the élevage, making this one of the most enjoyable wines I’ve ever tasted from their cellar. Yet what truly sealed the deal was the price. This is a Grand Cru Corton of tremendous character and assured longevity, which costs $120. It’s a wine that I hope to add to my own cellar.
2012 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Cuvée Charlotte Dumay – The nose was intense with sensual dark-red fruits and savory herbal tones, followed by hints of dry spice, musk and a slight, sweet buttery note. On the palate, it was full of energy with youthfully-lean textures, which seemed longing to burst at the seams, showing focused red fruits with palate-coating sweet tannin and hints of green stem. It was long on the finish with brilliant red and black fruit, minerals, soil and floral tones. This is a gorgeous Corton in need of a few years in the cellar–also a great value. (93 points) Morrell
For those who don’t know about this program, the Hospices de Beaune is a charity auction held each November in Beaune’s Hotel Dieu. It’s a home created for the sick and poor over 500 years ago, which now functions as a museum. Hospices de Beaune has ownership of over 150 acres of vineyards, much of it classified as Grand and Premier Cru, and all of which has been donated over the centuries. From these vineyards and with the winemaking talents of some of the most revered names in Burgundy, the Hospices de Beaune produces a number of cuvées to be auctioned off, with proceeds made as a donation to the hospitals of Beaune.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
The landscape for Sangiovese has changed drastically in Tuscany. There was a time when Brunello was the only game in town, and Chianti was too variable to trust. However, in 2003, when Italian authorities put Brunello under the microscope for suspicion of adding international varieties to a wine that’s supposed to be 100% Sangiovese—suddenly the market began to change. Consumers and critics alike started to look outside of Brunello, and what they found was that a small number of producers were making varietal Sangiovese, which could not only compete, but dominate, and at a better price.
The evolution in Tuscan Sangiovese brought fame, and rightly so, to the likes of Montevertine Le Pergole Torte, Poggio Scalette’s il Carbonaione, Felsina Rancia, Fontodi Flaccianello and Isole e Olena Cepparello; all 100% varietal Sangiovese with potential for the cellar. Yet of all of these, if I had to choose one for its balance, elegance, intensity, and consistency—it would be Isole e Olena Cepparello.
The talent behind Isole e Olena is its forward-thinking owner, Paolo de Marchi. Having taken over the winery in 1976, Paolo admits to his experience as being one of constant evolution. Paolo was also one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in this area with tremendous success (detailed below). However, it is his 100% Sangiovese Cepparello which has been hailed as one of the greatest expressions of the grape from Tuscany today. This didn’t happen overnight, yet for the last 15 years, this property has been on fire.
Having just tasted the newly-released 2011 Isole e Olena Cepparello, I was immediately impressed by its sheer class and elegance–perfectly married to those textbook Sangiovese notes of red berry fruit, leather, earth, dried flowers and with a zing of acidity. The 2011 is beautiful now and surprisingly drinkable, yet is sure to mature into a model of grace in the cellar (94 points). I would put Cepparello against the best from Brunello, and with each vintage, it finds its way into my cellar.
Yet Isole e Olena does not begin and end with Cepparello. When Paolo de Marchi started to experiment at Isole e Olena, it was at a time when 100% pure Sangiovese wasn’t widely accepted from the region. It was because of this that he planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for blending purposes. However, it wasn’t long before he realized the potential of his Cepparllo as a mono-varietal wine, and so he created a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon under the label “Collezione de Marchi.” Today, Isole e Olena’s Cabernet Sauvignon is being called one of the best in Tuscany, with the competition charging twice the tariff. This is not a Cabernet for the table tonight; instead it finds its perfect place in the cellar with five or more years of maturity—yet once reached, good luck finding another Tuscan Cabernet which can compete.
The nose on the Isole e Olena Cabernet Sauvignon was dark and inviting with unbridled intensity, showing notes of thick blackberry jam, sweet clove, herbs and dusty minerals with a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was rich with velvety textures and ripe dark fruits. Juicy acidity lent balance to this concentrated effort, nearly masking its formidable tannin, while notes of menthol, herbs and savory cherry sauce lingering through finish. (94+ points)
And finally, at the top of the Isole e Olena pyramid is the just released 2006 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. This wine is only now starting to turn up in the States. When the Gran Selezione designation was created, Paolo struggled with the decision to use it. He didn’t want to confuse consumers and felt that his Cepparello was rightly ‘The’ Chianti Classico Riserva of his portfolio; and so, he decided to go in a completely different direction.
The Isole e Olena Chaniti Classico Gran Selezione is a barrel selection from the 2006 Cepparello, blended with 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Syrah, then aged in oak (1/3 new) for two years. After bottling, it was held in the winery’s cellar for another five years. That said, Paolo didn’t start this project with the intention of using it for the Gran Selezione designation, but instead saw it as a 50th anniversary wine to celebrate his father’s purchase of the Isole and Olena estates in the 1950s. However, Paolo saw this as an opportunity and chose to release it as Gran Selezione which will retail around $200, placing it in competition with Tuscany’s elite. If anyone can succeed in such a bold move, I put my money on Paolo di Marchi. Plans are also in place to do the same with the 2010 vintage.
The nose on the 2006 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione was dark and almost sensual, showing a mix of rich raspberry and cherry, followed by notes of plum, savory herbs, tobacco, hints of forest floor and mint. It was savory on the palate with silky textures contrasted by a spine of brisk acidity, resulting in a toothsome experience with dried cherry, exotic spice, tobacco and a hint of citrus. The finish was long, yet structured, showing dried red fruits, spiced orange and mountain herbs. (95 points) This is a serious wine, still in need of time, even after eight years of perfect aging. Yet I can’t help but sense greatness here—as I’m sure you can tell from my tasting note.
When you consider the caliber of the Isole e Olena profile, I think it becomes pretty clear that this estate will only continue to gain momentum. Unfortunately, prices are likely to rise as consumers look outside of Brunello for their top-shelf Tuscan drinking. However, there’s always the Chianti Classico, which is an excellent introduction to the Isole e Olena style, at a fraction of the Cepparello’s price.
My final words of wisdom–put Isole e Olena at the top of your “Watch List”.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
What has become an attraction for Barolo enthusiasts around the world, the third annual La Festa del Barolo, hosted by Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media, took place between February 6th and 7th at The Four Seasons Hotel in New York. Each participant attended with a bottle, or three, of the finest Barolo in hand to share with fellow collectors and winemakers from Piedmont.
The Gala dinner kicked off the event with Barolo dating back almost 90 years (such as the 1926 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino), all poured by the New York’s top sommeliers. The event also included a charity auction which raised $228,000 to be donated to The Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai. It was an epic selection to sample and bid on from a region which is sure to become the next big craze in collectible wine.
What followed was a focused tasting of 15 iconic Barolo from the highly revered 2010 vintage, all while seated with the producers themselves providing commentary on their Barolo, as well as stories and precious details about their families and history. The buzz on the street from all involved is that 2010 Barolo is truly the epic vintage that Antonio Galloni has been telling us all about.
Our table was hosted by Valter Fissore of Elvio Cogno, who brought two of his own wines to be shared. From their high altitude vineyard Ravera, Elvio Cogno is producing some of the most exciting wines in Barolo today. Ravera, which is a vineyard in the municipality of Novello, has received a lot of attention lately, as it is the same sight which was sourced to produce the 100-point awarded 2010 Vietti Barolo Ravera. The Elvio Cogno winery is steeped in history and proud of the traditional winemaking styles of Barolo, which they still practice to this day. This is a producer to watch.
Below is a small sampling of some of the extraordinary wines which I was able to taste at the Gala Dinner.
1956 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Cannubi – This was a true pleasure to taste, finessed and vibrant for its age, almost like whisper, showing soil tones upfront, yet fleshing out in the glass with dry cherry, dried flowers and a hint of mineral. On the palate, notes of waxy red fruit, crushed fall leaves and inner floral tones were carried by near weightless textures with balance and poise. The lingering finish left impressions of dry cherry and undergrowth. It was truly a gorgeous, mature wine. (93 points)
1961 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – The nose was glorious in its evolution and truly showed the remarkable staying power of great Barolo. The nose was dark with rich, mature fruit, yet intense as dried berry gave way to crushed fall leaves, dark soil and mineral tones. On the palate, sweet dark berry tones were carried effortlessly by vibrant, acid-driven textures, yet what truly impressed me was the rich, meatiness to its dark fruit. The finish was remarkably fresh with lingering soil and mineral tones. (94 points)
1978 Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco – (very limited notes from memory, so there will be no score) This showed brilliantly and clean with a remarkably rich, dark fruited and woodland-styled nose. It flowed effortlessly focused across the palate with crystalline dried cherry fruit and dark soil tones. I only wish I had time to sit with this wine; it was glorious.
1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose showed rich tones of dried black cherry, soil, undergrowth and animal musk. It was fully resolved on the palate with rich dried cherry, mineral and soil tones, yet fresh and still juicy. The experience continued with persistence on the finish in its tart red fruit, undergrowth and inner floral tones. (93 points)
1982 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino – The nose continued to open in the glass and would have improved for hours if given the chance. It showed a dark persona yet somehow reached from the glass with notes of eucalyptus and herbal mint. Dried cherry with an animal, feral musk, minerals and dark soil tones rounded out the bouquet. On the palate, it was remarkably youthful and powerful with generous weight contrasted by lingering structural components, as notes of dried berry, plum, leather, earth and savory herbs flowed across the senses. It finished softer than expected with a steady fade of dried berry and leather from the palate. (95 points)
1990 Gaja Sperss Barolo – This came to life in the glass with dark fruits, soil and undergrowth, yet stayed fresh and vibrant throughout with a hint of lifting menthol. On the palate, this showed silky, resolved textures with racy dark fruit, hints of tobacco and herbs. Yet, it was the finish that truly impressed with its multiple layers of fruit, herbs, floral and balsamic notes. (94 points)
2004 Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena – The nose showed round berry tones with dusty soil, minerals and herbs. On the palate, it showed tart red fruit, which seemed to saturate the senses while remaining vibrant and balanced throughout. This is a youthful and structured ’04 which should develop beautifully in the cellar. (93 points)
2000 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera – The nose was dark yet highly expressive, showing dark-red berry, spice, crushed leaves, soil and animal musk. On the palate, I found driven intensity without the ripeness typically associated with the 2000 vintage. Notes of tart red fruits, minerals and herbs mounted on the senses, all the while remaining fresh through its balanced acidity and closing with refined tannin. (92 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
I’ve been tasting a lot of young Barolo lately, which isn’t always an enjoyable thing to do. Yet here we are, just a day away from the 2015 La Festa del Barolo in NYC, where trade and enthusiasts alike will taste through some of the top 2010 Barolo on the market. It is the event of the year for a Barolo lover like me, where we can meet the winemaker and go into as much detail as we like, on a wine which is steeped in details.
Barolo, from the northwestern region of Piedmont in Italy, is not like any other wine. Not only is it a wine which requires unending patience in the cellar, but also in the glass. Yet that same patience is rewarded by Barolo like no other wine on earth. Often compared to red Burgundy, and I see the similarities—yet the biggest difference here is the talent Barolo has for blossoming over great amounts of time. There’s the patience again.
I don’t buy Barolo to enjoy tonight or tomorrow. I buy it to put in the cellar for decades. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a young Barolo today. In fact, in today’s market, all you need is to understand the vintages and the styles of producers, to find one which will give you immense satisfaction.
Over the last decade we’ve seen an equal number of ripe and open vintages, versus those which are classic and austere.
- 2010 is a vintage for the cellar. You can find some satisfaction in the entry-level bottles today, but you’ll be missing the true excellence of the year. This is a vintage I plan to bury deep in my cellar. (Hold)
- 2009 represents a set of wines that can be enjoyed today—yet will never mature into the Barolo I adore. (Drink)
- 2008 gives us one of the most drinkable, classically-styled vintages we’ve ever seen. They can be downright gorgeous today, yet I’m still holding mine in the cellar. (Sample for yourself, you may be surprise)
- 2007 was big and racy in its youth, yet recent experiences have shown them in an odd place right now. I’ve watch ‘07s fall apart in the glass; yet there’s drive and persistence in 2007, which makes me wonder if they may mature into something special—so for me, I’m holding them. (Drink or hold)
- 2006 gave us big, brooding, dark wines with stern tannins matched by concentrated dark red fruit—this is a vintage for the cellar. (Hold)
- 2005 is one of the prettiest vintages I’ve ever seen in Barolo. These wines are feminine and acid driven with bright Nebbiolo fruit. They can be enjoyed today, but I still believe the best is yet to come. (Drink or hold)
- 2004 was considered classic upon release, and we were warned not to touch them. Today I hear rumors that these are starting to open up. However, this is a vintage which will only get better with time. (Hold)
- 2003 was a torrid, hot year for Barolo, which often shows notes of cooked fruit. They can be fun to drink, but not what I’m looking for in a bottle of Barolo. (Drink)
- 2002 was a year where most producers didn’t make any Barolo. This wasn’t just about the growing season, but more about hail which destroyed fruit throughout the region. You can count the number of noteworthy ’02s on one hand, and they are ‘interesting wines’—but good luck finding them. (If you find one, let me know)
- 2001 was another classic vintage and to this day remains structured, yet beginning to show a glimpse of what’s in-store. Leave them in the cellar for now. (Hold)
All that said, for me, I find the true glory of Barolo to be in its seemingly immortal personality. Sometimes I wonder if some bottles may outlive me. Yet that is part of the infatuation.
When I open a Barolo for dinner, it’s at 10 a.m. in the morning.
When I taste a Barolo and it seems closed, I simply leave it for the following day. (It’s almost always better.)
When I buy a young Barolo it’s for my cellar; typically with a plan of leaving it untouched for at least ten-years. I’m still waiting on the ‘89s, ’96s and ’99s to open up. And if I want to drink one sooner, I’m either pulling one from the cellar, which I bought over a decade ago, or buying older wines from a trusted source.
For drinking older Barolo, some vintages you can still find on the market and are truly worth buying are: ’74, ’78, ’82, ’85, ’88, ’90, ’95, ’97 and ’98.
This may seem like a lot of work, yet once you experience the depths a Barolo reaches over time, it suddenly makes a lot of sense. Worrying about where a wine was stored and how long it sat on a retail shelf can drive the Barolo lover mad. All you can do is trust in your source—or buy them young and store them well.
In the end, Barolo is worth your patience.
What follows are some the most exciting, young Barolo that I’ve tasted recently. Each of them is well worth your attention.
2007 Vietti Barolo Villero Riserva – The nose showed rich, dark-red fruit, spice, sweet-rosy florals, and a hint of mint. On the palate it was driven, with almost electric tension to its dark red fruits and spice, yet floral and earthy all the same. Intense and concentrated in its fruit, seeming to saturate the senses, yet balanced througout. The finish seemed to last for over a minute as dried cherry, leather, rose petal and spice slowly faded. The ’07 Villero Riserva is drop-dead gorgeous now, and should continue to mature in the cellar. It’s far from a typical ‘07, and structured like a race horse. (96 points) Website
2010 Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – The nose was gorgeous. Forward, yet refined, showing brilliant cherry and rose tones, followed by pine nettle and mineral tones. With time in the glass, the fruit turned to dark raspberry and hints of resin. On the palate, it was youthful and lean, yet clenched like a fist, showing tart red fruit, hints of menthol, earth and mineral tones. Floral tones lingered long on the finish with a hint of dried cranberry. It’s a beautiful young wine. (95 points) Morrell
2010 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Enrico VI – The nose was dark, rich, savory—gorgeous—with balsamic tones wafting up from the glass together with plum, violet florals and dark soil. On the palate, focused red fruit, espresso bean and mineral tones flowed in silky waves, yet clenched toward the close by its youthful structure. Saturating, dark red fruit, herbs and floral tones returned on the finish. This wine is just a baby now, yet it should flesh out beautifully over the coming years. The nose alone is worth the price on entry. (94 points) Website
2010 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste – The nose showed black cherry with sour floral tones, undergrowth, hints of grapefruit and a menthol lift. On the palate, it was feminine, with red fruits contrasted by fine tannin in a juicy and seemingly weightless expression. Staying red berries lingered on the finish, turning dry as the wine’s structure bore down on the palate. This is a serious Barolo in need of time in the cellar, yet should emerge as a beauty. (94 points) Morrell
2008 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva – At first understated on the nose, this opened with a few minutes in the glass to display a gorgeous mix of tart black cherry, dark soil, minerals and floral undergrowth. On the palate, this showed silky, acid driven textures, which gave life to its brilliant red fruit personality, contrasted by a core of minerality and inner floral tones which created a push and pull that lasted through the finish as structural elements clung to the senses. Will it age? Yes, this is a balanced wine with center-focused fruit. Yet, there is no harm is trying a bottle today. (94 Points) Website
2006 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta – The nosed showed classic notes of dark red fruits, violet floral tones, dark spices and earthy undergrowth. On the palate, it was structured and brooding with its dark red fruits, tobacco, minerals and soil tones, yet ultimately leaving a sense of refinement with each sip. Long on the finish with dried black cherry, savory herbs and lingering mineral tones, as youthful tannin tugged at the senses. (94 points) Morrell
2010 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Gattera – The nose on the 2010 Gattera was seductive and rich with dark black cherry, plum, sweet balsamic tones, licorice and minerals. On the palate, this turned more to youthful restraint, as tart red berry fruit and mineral tones washed against the senses, only to be quickly reeled in by fine tannin. The finish was structured, as tannin and acid seemed to tug at the palate, yet through it all a note of concentrated red fruit lingered long. This is a wine that requires patience, and a lot of it, yet should blossom into something wonderful. (92 points) Website
2010 Massolino Barolo – Intense and flamboyant on the nose with striking dark red fruits, dusty soil tones and rosy floral notes. On the palate, it showed a yin and yang of ripe versus savory red fruit with hints of herbs and a satisfying acid-driven balance, which ultimately kept the tannins here from tiring the senses. The finish was firm, yet focused in its fruit. This wine has great potential and is a tremendous value. (92 points) Website
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe – The 2010 Barolo Albe impresses with a bouquet which literally reaches up from the glass to pull you in. Notes of pine nettle and mint are front and center, joined by wild berry fruit and floral rosy tones. On the palate, sappy, brooding red fruits are contrasted by a streak of vibrant acidity. It’s tightly coiled yet silky at the same time with an herbal lift lending freshness. The finish was long and seemed to touch upon all the senses while also revealing a formidable structure, which was otherwise buried under its intense fruit. It’s surprisingly enjoyable now yet will reward further cellaring. (92 points) Morrell
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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