If there was one wine that not only defined Barolo for me, but for the majority of longtime collectors, it’s Bartolo Mascarello. When I first fell in love with Barolo, I was quick to learn that to understand not just what Barolo is about but also where it came from, looking back on the great vintages of Bartolo was the place to start and in many cases to end. This remains true even to this day, if not more so. As we often speak about traditional versus modern producers, Bartolo stood for the hardline traditionalists. Bartolo, who referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, carried the torch of traditional methods and spoke out often about the values that separated the old from the new school.
Up to the very end, his ideals were followed to the letter, even as his health declined and the region changed to appeal to current tastes. A visit to Bartolo Mascarello was on the bucket list of collectors around the world, and in most cases it was a difficult goal to accomplish. Even today as we look back on vintages from 60 years ago, the wines epitomize and define Barolo.
The reason for this was his respect for what came before. Following in his father Giulio’s footsteps and changing nothing about the way Barolo had been produced in their family cantina since the beginning, Bartolo took the hard stance of speaking out against what most of the region considered to be progress–the modernist movement.
With holdings in the prestigious crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche dell’Annunziata, Bartolo continued to produce one Barolo, which was a blend of crus, instead of giving in to the trend of single-vineyard bottling. In the winery, the only aging vessels you would find were large Slavonian oak casks, and he became known for his venomous remarks toward barrique, as well as various politicians and world matters.
Through it all, the house of Mascarello maintained its loyal following, becoming something of a city of Mecca for collectors, media, politicians, and anyone seeking truth in Barolo. Today we see the entire region bending back to the traditional methods that Bartolo worked so hard to maintain, and we are also quite lucky that in his daughter, Maria Teresa, we have found yet another generation of Mascarellos who have chosen to follow family traditions.
Bartolo’s passing was a moment that will never be forgotten by collectors of the time, yet in the capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa, the wines have found a new level of purity and finesse, while still maintaining his ideals. Today, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo has ascended to the highest ranks of the region, with respect from producers and wine lovers from across the world. I’m sure the man would be very proud.
Our recent tasting spanned vintages from 1955 (Before Bartolo joined his father Giulio in the wine making process), through the ‘80s,’90s (some of Bartolo’s greatest vintages) and then into the recent vintages of ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (which show the beginning of Maria Teresa’s time at Mascarello). It was an evening that I will never forget, and it has only reassured me that these wines, from any of the decades past, are worth seeking out and should be in the cellars of any devoted collector of Barolo.
** A note on the naming of the 1955 and 1958. Prior to a renaming by Bartolo in the early ’80s, the wines were labeled as Cantina Mascarello. What’s more, although the first two wines state Canubbi on the label, they are both blends of the Mascarello vineyards. The name Canubbi was added for it’s prestige.
On to the tasting notes:
1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi Riserva – The ‘55 Bartolo was unbelievably youthful at first pour, especially with its gorgeous deep color, yet still perfectly mature, displaying a bouquet of dried flowers, dried cherry, and hints of bitter herbs. On the palate, I found soft textures, with vibrant acid and a flash of dried red berries, before pulling back with a hint of decay. It finished medium-long on tart red berries and a hint of smoke. I could sit with this glass all night. (94 points)
1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi – The ‘58 worried me, with its completely resolved color showing only a slight red hue. On the nose, a display of earth tones, dried flowers, and musk gave way to hints of maderization. On the palate, herb-infused, tart red fruits gave way to elevated acidity that seemed to touch upon all of the senses. It finished long on dried cherry, cedar, leather and a twang of acidity. It was completely mature and on the decline, but still highly enjoyable on this evening. (92 points)
1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘82 showed just how fickle Nebbiolo can be, coming from a bottle that was opened many hours before serving. My first impression was of a closed and hard wine that wouldn’t reveal its treasures, yet over the course of this tasting it blossomed into an elegant beauty. The nose showed hints of pine and parchment up front, yet gained depth in the glass, as dusty dried flowers turned to dark, mineral-laden red fruits. On the palate, I found a deeply focused expression of dark red fruits with still-youthful tannin. It finished long and drying, yet a bolt of acidity enlivened the senses. This is something of a sleeping giant. (95 points)
1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – I’ve always found ‘90 to be a difficult vintage to truly understand, and I’m not sure if this Bartolo has added more questions than answers on this night. The wine itself was tremendous, and it didn’t show any of the attributes I associate with ‘90 Barolo. Here I found deep, yet focused red fruits with dried roses, pine, dusty soil, and balsamic tones, in a feminine and lifted display. On the palate, youthful red fruits were aided by zesty acidity, providing a sensation of pure refinement. As it sat in the glass, its textures seemed to soften and expand while never losing its energy or verve. The finish was long and youthful, with tart red berry fruit lingering on and on. (94 points)
1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – It’s not often that a ‘95 crosses my path and leaves a such an impression as the ‘95 Bartolo Mascarello did. This displayed a rich, spicy and red floral bouquet with notes of brown spice, savory cherry and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with red berries, minerals and inner floral tones, in a perfectly mature expression of nebbiolo. It finished on dried cherries and floral tones. The ‘95 was simply a pleasure to drink. (94 points)
1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘96 Bartolo was as puzzling at this stage as most wines from this ‘Iron Vault’ of a vintage. The nose showed depths of dark red fruit with soaring minerality and hints of menthol. On the palate, I found refined, yet tightly-wound, concentrated red fruit with saturating acidity and firm tannin. It finished structured and lean with a mix of cheek-puckering acidity and palate-coating tannin. I wanted so badly to like this wine more, especially from its amazing bouquet, but the palate still leaves me questioning if ‘96 fruit has the endurance to outlive those intense tannins and acid. (92 points)
1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Another standout from a ripe vintage, the ‘97 displayed a rich, deep and intense nose with mineral-infused red fruits and dried flowers. On the palate, I found a remarkably fresh expression for the vintage, with soft textures which soothed the senses while notes of focused red fruits saturated everything they touched. Dried flowers, tart berry and minerals lasted on on the finish, along with a hint of dried orange peel. Well done. (92 points)
1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – It was hard to decide if the ‘98 was a damaged wine or just a bad bottle, as the nose was overtly intense with herbal-infused medicinal cherry and spice. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits, yet little else and seriously lacking energy. It finished on minerals with a hint of oxidation. I decided to score this, because it was still a serviceable wine, just not what you would expect from Bartolo Mascarello. (87 points)
1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again. It’s a truly great wine in the making. Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice. With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore. On the palate,a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin. It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice. This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)
2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose showed citrus-tinged red berry and pretty floral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures, unexpected so for an ‘01. There was also a lack of depth. This finish was dry with fine tannin and tart, mineral-infused tannin. I’ve heard stories of the ‘01 being a variable bottle, and tonight’s wasn’t nearly as exciting as my last bottle. (90 points)
2004 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The 2004 is a perfect example of how this vintage can confuse a taster, as it’s so beautiful today and unexpectedly approachable. The nose was a mix of pure red fruits, spice and dried flowers. On the palate, it was refined and open with deep red fruits, soft and lifted textures, and inner floral tones. It finished refined and lifted, with only a hint of tannin. (93 points)
2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘05 was gorgeous and a great introduction to Maria Teresa’s winemaking style. The nose was very pretty, and I’d go as far as calling it mesmerizing, showing dusty tart cherry, and exotic floral tones with hints of sweet spice. On the palate, I found lean tart berry lifted by brisk acidity and inner floral tones. It finished on focused, intense red fruit and fine tannin structure, built like a dancer so to speak. This is highly enjoyable already, but sure to drink well for a decade or more. (94 points)
2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘06 was an iron vault of a Barolo, but behind its imposing structure, there was so much potential. The nose displayed deep, dark, spicy red fruit, with dried florals, spice cookie and mint. On the palate, dark, mineral-infused red fruits and rich spices saturated the senses, yet stayed fresh through brisk acidity and refined tannin. It finished long on palate-coating tannin, dried cherry and balsamic tones. This was just a baby, but with 30-40 years of potential. (96 points)
2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – As expected, the ‘07 Bartolo Mascarello showed the heat of the vintage, yet managed to do it with grace. The nose was intense with rich depths of red berry fruits, spice cake and sweet florals. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures giving way to ripe cherry with plenty of flesh, sweet spices, hard red candies and stunning acidity which provided energy. The long finish balanced spicy red fruit with hints of sweet tannin, yet remained fresh throughout. (92 points)
2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose showed mineral-infused dark red fruits and balsamic tones. On the palate, I found rich black cherry with slick, almost sappy textures in something of a monolithic display. The finish was long with grippy tannin, dark minerality and dried red berries. Unfortunately, the ‘09 does suffer from the heat of the vintage, yet never becomes overwhelming. (91 points)
A big thank you to all of my fellow members fo our Vinous tasting group.
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
This is a question that I feel like I’ve been asking myself for the last eight years. I still fondly remember buying a six-pack case of 2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval and slowly working my way through it (if you can call that “work”). As classically structured and refined as it was, I couldn’t help but feel like I was rushing that wine. Each year, I would eagerly check in, and each year I’d have a similar result, and that was that it was only getting better. As I got down to my last two bottles, I started to wonder what I would do when it was all gone. Due to their limited distribution, I couldn’t find them on the shelves of my local retailers, and before I knew it, my stash was gone.
So why did I wonder if it was Washington’s time to shine? Simple. Because as much as I loved that wine, it seemed to be the exception, not the rule. I would check in from time to time on other producers at the local tastings, but I could never recreate the magic that seemed to emanate from that bottle of Cadence. The wines were often very good, but seldom great. In fact, if there was a term that I would have used to describe Washington wine to another wine lover throughout those years, the term would “dependable.” Good, solid, consistent, satisfying, but hardly great–until recently.
In the last two years, I have enjoyed tasting through a large number of Washington wines, and not just in one category. The fact is that what these wines are now expressing to me, which seemed lost somehow in the examples I had tasted before, is a sense of place. Recently, Washington wines don’t seem like they were trying to be Bordeaux or Napa; instead they are an expression of Washington, and I couldn’t be happier.
Keep in mind that Washington state, and its wine-producing regions, are quite large. The Columbia valley starts in the south and runs through the center of Washington, including nearly 99% of the state’s vineyards. However, as we look deeper into the smaller AVAs, we start to find a number of exciting terroir to discover. Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope are just a few worth mentioning, which have been turning out wines of world-class standards.
So, what is it then?
Is it possible that the region is changing, or is it just that the quality level in general has gone up as more and more producers become keen on setting themselves apart from the pack, and not simply trying to make good wine? I believe it’s the latter, as there have always been trendsetters here. Leonetti (a name that should be known by all) has been in the game and turning heads since 1977. Jim Holmes founded and planted one of the first vineyards on Red Mountain in 1975; the name of that vineyard is Ciel du Cheval, the same one that captured my attention through that fateful bottle of 2005 Cadence. Frankly, the list goes on and on, and it even includes modern-day trendsetters like K-Vintners, where Charles Smith has shown us the heights which Rhone varieties can achieve in Washington soils.
The best part is that Washington remains largely under the radar with the exception of a few well-known producers, yet it is the second-largest producer of wine in the United States. So finding these wines is much easier today than it ever was, and the prices remain very fair.
When I take this all into consideration, I believe it is Washington’s time to shine.
Below I’ve included some of my favorite Washington state wines from the last year, along with a few details about the vintages, as this can really help to point you in the right direction.
The Undeniably Classic 2012s
I must say that 2012 is the vintage that turned me back on to Washington State wines. The most interesting thing about it is that many people considered it to be relatively warm at the time, yet not so when compared to 2013 and 2014. By Washington standards, this was a classic and even vintage with near-perfect weather at harvest. When sampling them, it’s the freshness and balanced structure of the 2012s that draw me in. They are wines that I want to spend time with and watch mature.
2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The bouquet was wild and fresh showing savory herbs, black olive and dark black fruits. It was dense, with lifting acidity on the palate, as black fruits gave way to intense minerality. It finished long on dark fruits, pepper and spice. Nicely done. (94 points)
2012 Cadence Ciel du Cheval Vineyard – The nose showed crush black cherry with minerals, floral tones and a distinct savory richness. On the palate it was truly intense yet smooth with notes of cherry, sweet herbs and dark chocolate. The finish showed more of its youthful tannin, giving the fruit a dry yet still wonderfully concentrated persona. The 2012 Ciel du Cheval should spend a couple of years in the cellar for the best experience, as I am quite excited to see where it’s going. (94 points)
2012 K-Vintners Syrah The Hidden Northridge Vineyard Wahluke Slope – The nose was gorgeous, both richly intense, yet fresh and lifted with florals and minerality, showing dark earth, blackberry, savory herbs, violet floral tones, smoke and hints of toasty oak. On the palate, it displayed velvety textures like a sheet of heavy silk drawn across the senses, leaving remnants of black fruit, plum and hints of spice in its wake. The Hidden is a wine of layered aromatics contrasted by dense textures on the palate. It’s less about details today, with an almost black-hole persona that seemed to envelope all that it touched. (94 points)
2012 Cadence Tapteil – The Taptiel vineyard is showing a distinct savory quality with minerals, undergrowth, currant and hints of herbs. On the palate, it was at first angular, but with the fruit intensity and caressing silky weight to keep it fun. In fact, what left the biggest impression on me was its balance, as a mixture of bittersweet dark fruit seemed to touch upon all the senses and remained throughout the finish with an almost sappy concentration. This is some pretty intense juice, and yet again another wine that will probably benefit from a few years in the cellar. (93 points)
2012 DeLille Cellars D2 – This was a very pretty and floral red on the nose, showing spirited ripe cherry tones, blueberry skins, a hint of wax, and candied spice. Persistent red fruit gave drive to the palate along with notes of mocha, herbs and cedar. The textures were gripping yet silky smooth, leaving the senses perfectly attuned for another sip. Very nice. (91 points)
2012 L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard – On the nose, I found sweet tea and intense spicy red fruit. It was grippy on the palate with saturating dark red, finishing fresher than expected. It was almost too easy to like, and it was defined by soft textures. (90 points)
Getting Warmer Now: 2013, The Tightrope Vintage
Coming out of the Classic 2012 vintage, it seemed like another cool vintage was on the horizon, with a late flowering and cool spring. Then came July and August, and with them a significant rise and lasting heat. The saving grace of 2013 was in the fall, when temperatures moderated and allowed growers to pick at perfect ripeness. The result is a set of wines with intensity and richness, yet offset by vibrant acidity.
2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Ferguson Vineyard – What a gorgeous bouquet on the ‘13 Ferguson. Here I found floral and sweet herbal tones, followed by crushed-stone minerality, and a mix of tart cherry and blueberry. On the palate, it was structured yet still powered on through its intense deep red fruits and caking minerality. The finish displayed an array of dried fruits, graphite and sweet herbal tones. It displayed a great amount of potential with its structure and concentrated fruit to spare. (95 points) find it at Morrell
2013 K Vintners Syrah River Rock – The nose showed exotic florals with marine minerals, and olive, then turning to sweet spice and black fruit. On the palate, I found dark blue and black fruits, with marine minerality coming through from the bouquet. The finish was incredibly fresh and lifted by inner floral tones. This wine wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly my cup of tea. (94 points)
2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)
2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The ‘13 John Lewis displayed a gorgeous bouquet of crushed blackberry, violet floral tones, saline-minerality, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found lifted, silky textures with pepper-infused black fruits, zesty acidity and saturating mineral tones. It was remarkably pretty with its inner floral tones and lingering black fruit finish. (93 points)
2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)
2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah The Deuce Walla Walla Valley – The nose was dark yet full of life with intense black fruits, exotic florals, white pepper and spice. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures matched by youthful fine-grain tannin with dense black fruits, in a balanced yet currently monolithic effort. The finish was focused, long and youthful. I’d love to see where this wine is going. (91 points)
Rich, Big, Racy but Balanced: The Warm Vintage 2014s
The 2014 vintage was warm from start to finish, but in this case the heat was more even and less jarring to the vines than in 2013. The results were perfectly-even ripening. Meaning that although the ‘14s display the ripeness of the vintage, they do so while remaining balanced, and in a truly alluring way. Having only tasted a small set of early release 2014s, I must admit to enjoying them quite a bit.
2014 K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Vineyard – The nose was airy and fresh with intense bright blackberry, exotic spice, olive and sweet herbs. I found silky textures on the palate with saturating raspberry, blackberry fruit, and sweet inner florals. It was intense on the finish, yet it remained fresh throughout with staining black fruits with a hint of tart citrus. (93 points)
2014 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon – The ‘14 Columbia Valley Cab is just stunning today. Here I found rich dark fruits and spice cake mixed with wild herbs and floral undergrowth in a truly alluring performance. On the palate, soft textures gave way to exotic spice and hard red candies with a hint of tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish showed a bit of austerity, yet its focused fruit and balance kept things fun and urged me to take another sip. (92 points)
2014 SIXTO Chardonnay Moxee – The nose was big and rich with dark oaky flavors, spiced apple, pear and sweet herbs. On the palate, it was rich but with great mineral cut and seductive notions of ripe, spiced pear. The finish was long with a tart acids that made for the perfect end-cap on this rich yet undeniably enjoyed wine. (92 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
Red Mountain Vineyard photo courtesy of Washington State Wine and Andréa Johnson Photography
You think you know Italian wine. You spend ten years studying and tasting. You research, you write, and you spend every spare moment immersing yourself in the topic. You also taste with individuals that share your passion, and you meet with visiting producers on a regular basis. Over time, you start to feel as if you have become an authority on the topic. Your friends believe you have mastered it, and you may have even have convinced yourself of this. Then you go to Collisioni, and you realize that all you know is just the tip of the iceberg.
My first introduction to Collisioni was through an e-mail I received from Ian d’Agata, who if you don’t already know is something of a jack-of-all-trades within the wine world. You can imagine that, with his experience as a wine writer and critic for Decanter, International Wine Cellar and now Vinous media, author of the Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Scientific Advisor for Vinitaly, and creative director of Collisioni, an email from Ian d’Agata is not something you ignore. Over the years, I’ve received many invitations to be included in trips and tasting tours, but this one really stood out. In fact, I was sold the second I read the invitation.
Collisioni started as a festival for music and literature, but it grew in a short time to encompass food and wine. What started as a small event hosting 10,000 in 2009 has now grown to expect 150,000+ attendees that fill the streets of the small town of Barolo. The preparation for such an event is a massive undertaking, and being one of the guests, I was able to watch as the town of Barolo went from sleepy streets to a bustling festival over the course of only a few days.
The best part is that the who’s who of Piedmont winemaking turned out for the event. Even producers who weren’t involved in the myriad of tastings, round tables and tours could still be seen walking the streets and taking in the many sights and sounds. As this was a festival born from music and literature, it seemed as if every corner held an attraction, with onlookers amassed throughout each nook and cranny of the cobblestone streets.
On one night, the entire city gathered to watch Elton John. If you can imagine the streets of Barolo, completely empty, as the sounds of “Rocket Man”, “Candle in The Wind”, and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, echoed throughout. Every soul seemed to be aligned that night with Elton John’s timeless setlist. It amazed me how everyone there seemed to connect during the show. Even people who didn’t seem interested in attending the concert earlier that day were found singing along. It was a magical evening.
The entire experience was something truly special.
However, what we are here to talk about is wine, which Collisioni excelled at, as it provided its guests with a selection of regional tastings from around Italy that were as challenging as they were interesting. We aren’t talking about the average room full of tables with which professionals tour in search of the handful of wines that stand out. Instead, this was five days of intense tastings, each done in a round table style with producers in attendance to answer all questions and a panel of specialists to comment and drive the conversations.
My attendance placed me tableside with producers in panel discussions and accessing wine in front of the crowd on a regular basis. Each night followed with a visit to a winery, where we were able to soak in the gorgeous surroundings of the region and taste with some of Piedmont’s best and up-and-coming producers. All this while surrounded by fellow professionals and experts from around the world. The days were long and not a moment was spent waiting for something to do–but you know what? I loved every second of it.
I’ve decided that the best way to honor this experience is to showcase a number of the standouts and most memorable moments.
One of the main topics throughout our Collisioni experience was how Nebbiolo was slowly replacing all other varieties throughout the villages that make up the Barolo appellation. It’s believed that the days of seeing a Barbera or Dolcetto d’Alba will soon be over. This will leave a large void for lovers of Piedmont’s other great varieties. However, in the case of Dolcetto, Dogliani has us covered.
First let me say that if you’ve tasted Dolcetto from anywhere else and decided that it’s not for you, then you owe it to yourself to taste a Dolcetto Dogliani.
Keep in mind that Dogliani has the same diverse terroir and rolling hills that your find throughout Barolo. The difference is that these producers take advantage of the best expositions to plant Dolcetto, not Nebbiolo. It’s difficult to compare Dogliani Dolcetto to one from any other location.
The best part is that, after tasting a number of wines from the 2105 vintage, now is the perfect time to jump into this region. These are tremendous examples of the variety, and the vintage is so easy to like. As for recommendations, I was smitten with examples from Addona Marziano, Chionetti, San Fereolo, and Einaudi.
Top Wine: San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore 2007 – The bouquet was positively refreshing and exotic with a mix of blackberry, and crushed raspberry fruits, followed by dried flowers and both sweet and savory spices. On the palate, it was alluring in it’s soft yet rich textures, and lifted by vibrant acidity and minerals, giving way to blackberry and plum fruit. It finished long and fresh as the fruit faded slowly to reveal fresh inner floral tones. Really this is just a pleasure to drink. (93+ points)
What’s a Lucana?
This was one of those moments when you realize that you knew much less than you thought you did. Sitting at our lunch pavillion (think of a buffet at a movie set, but make all the food Piedmontese), I stared at my schedule and noticed that the Regionale Lucana tasting was to follow. I asked the other guests at my table, “What’s a Lucana?”, and they all shrugged.
In the end, this was one of the best focus tastings of my trip. Lucana, otherwise known as Lucania, is also known as Basilicata (starting to make sense now?). Basilicata is a region of Southern Italy which borders Campania, and it is one of the few regions that has a coast on two sides of the boot. What it is also well known for is Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano, that gives its name to Aglianico del Vulture.
Aglianico del Vulture is a DOC that I’ve taken a lot of interest in over the years, since I believe that it has all of the potential and ingredients to be a world-class wine, but no one has come along as a champion for the region. The ingredients I speak of are first and foremost the variety, Aglianico, which is renowned for its use in creating Taurasi in Campania. Add to that the diverse volcanic soils, moderating influences from two seas, a large range of altitudes and degrees of elevation, and you’d think that Aglianico del Vulture would be the next big thing in Italy–but it’s not.
Why? Well that was what I was here to find out. Unfortunately, the reason seems to be more about growing pains and devotion than it is about a quick fix. If anything, this tasting revealed that there are a small number of quality-minded producers who are working very hard to put Aglianico del Vulture on the map. The problem is that there are many more who aren’t giving it their all.
That said, out of 28 wines tasted, the cream did rise to the top. Elena Fucci, Cantina di Venosa, Donato D’Angelo, Cantine del Notaio and Madonna delle Grazie all deserve your attention. (Tasting notes: Cellar Tracker)
Top Wine: Elena Fucci Titolo 2013 – The nose was wonderfully expressive, showing tobacco, earth and ash up front, followed by focused blackberry and notes of fresh herbs. On the palate, I found dark red fruits, pepper, violet florals, leather and youthful tannins. The finish was youthfully austere, yet complex in it’s black fruit, savory spice and fine tannin. I would love to see this wine again in five years. (93 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
In Italy, wine is food. It’s created to be enjoyed with a meal, and going back through history, it was often used as a way of surviving and fortifying oneself for a hard day. However, wine is seldom thought of in Italy as a “drink.” When dinner is over, and the time for a drink is upon you, Italians in the north reach for Grappa.
That’s not to say that Nonino Grappa should be thought of as just another spirit, because frankly it is so much more than that.
Located in Friuli, Nonino is a family-run company with a history going back over 100 years and can lay claim to the fact that they put Grappa on the map. Their success in the media and worldwide markets opened the minds of consumers and placed Grappa on their tables.
Yet, to this day, there is Grappa and then there is Nonino. After this experience, I believe it’s safe to say that much of this is the passion of the family who’s running the show. We tasted through six different variations of Nonino Grappa, each made from the pomace of varying grape varieties. For my tastes, it was the Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Il Moscato that stole the show, with its unending array of aromatics. In fact, each time I returned to the glass, there seemed to be an entirely new and exotic mix of aromas. This tasting made me a believer.
Okay, in all honesty, I don’t think I could build a better Vajra Albe than Aldo Vaira himself, but I couldn’t help but try. This was one of the best tastings of our entire trip. After a day full of tasting and regional focus groups, we were sent off to Locanda in Cannubi, a restaurant located in the heart of Cannubi. The cuisine was phenomenal, with traditional regional specialties that were given a contemporary twist. The Bertolini-Boggione family do an amazing job here, since after a week of eating traditional foods, I found myself salivating over each plate that was placed in front of me.
However, the real honor was in sharing my table with Milena Vaira (Aldo’s wife), Ian d’Agata and two Masters of Wine. Seriously, how could we fail?
To be honest, it was a cutthroat competition, right up to the final announcement that our time was up. We took the more logical approach of blending by the percentage of Vajra’s holdings throughout the three vineyards that produce Albe (Fossati, La Volta, and Coste). In the end, Ian gave a last-second splash of La Volta that rounded our blend out nicely.
We were victorious.
But it bears mention that Levy Dalton, of “I’ll drink to that” fame, demanded a rematch in 2017.
For the Love of Amarone
I have to admit, as difficult as I find it to keep Amarone in my personal rotation, I truly do love these wines. For many years now, I’ve been attending tastings with the Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte, and with each vintage I find myself enjoying them more and more. Frankly, they are easy to love. Especially since the organization was created to showcase the classical zone of the region and unite producers who were dedicated to upholding tradition and quality production. In the end, they are hedonistic wines of pure pleasure, but the hard part is maintaining refinement amidst all of the richness and intensity of Amarone. These are the producers who have mastered the art.
One thing I will say is that as we all become aware of two distinctly different styles of Amarone (the rich going on confectionary, versus the rich going on bitter and savory), I have to ask if there will ever be an official way to identify them on the shelf. A perfect example is the conversing styles of Speri (who I love for their classicism and poise) and Zenato (who I love for their ripeness, intensity and richness). If you are looking for a wine for a fatty steak, grab the Speri. If you are looking to pair something with a chunk of blue cheese, then Zenato is a match made in heaven. So how does the consumer tell the difference?
These are questions for another time. For now, my standouts were Tommasi, Speri, Tedeschi and Zenato. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)
Top Wine: Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 – The nose was deep, rich and intense with ripe cherry giving way to notes of orange peel, brown spice, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth. I found broad and silky, palate-coating textures contrasted by zesty bright cherry and spice. It finished with fine, classic tannins, bitters, sweet herbs and dried black cherry. It was big, rich, intense and hard to resist. An unapologetic Amarone. (95 points)
We’re in Piedmont; what about Barolo?
So, yes, I did taste a lot of Barolo. Probably the most important data point I can provide is on the 2012 vintage, of which I tasted quite a bit. There are many publications that have gone on about the vintage conditions, so I won’t rehash that here, but I am happy to share some general observations.
The 2012 vintage falls into a shadow that is being cast by the power of the 2011s, the classicism of the 2010s, and the speculation over the much-touted 2013s. These are good wines, but the fact remains that they possess neither the vibrancy and drive of a warm vintage, nor the structure and refinement of a cool vintage. They are pretty wines that display the purity of nebbiolo fruit. Most have beautiful aromatics, but they lack the details on the palate that would round out the experience. There are standouts, as there are in all vintages, but the bulk of the wines lack any thrill factor.
We backfill classic vintages (’04, ’06 and ’08) and look at the often overlooked 2011s. Many Barolo collectors have been conditioned to shun warmer vintages, but I believe this is a huge mistake when considering the 2011 vintage. They are ripe and often intense, but beneath all of that fruit is a structure of sweet tannin and a bold acidity that carries the wines gracefully. My opinion is that we will be drinking these wines twenty years from now and wondering why we didn’t buy more.
My 2012 Barolo Standouts: Giuseppe Rinaldi, Rocche Costamagna, and Giacomo Fenocchio. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)
Top Wine: Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2012 – The nose was soaring from the glass with a display of deep, dark red berry fruit, dried roses, tobacco, leather and savory spice. On the palate, wonderfully pure, silky textures ushered in ripe, bright cherry fruit, minerals and inner violet floral tones, as fine spicy tannin settled in and dried the sense. It finished more on subtle tannin, with fresh plum, cherry, and inner floral tones. There’s a Pinot Noir like elegance here, showing remarkably pretty and pure. (94 points)
Tidbits and outtakes (since I felt this was verging on a novelette):
- A person can live on a diet of Carne Cruda, Vitello Tonnato, e Pomodoro con Buffalo Mozzarella twice a day for a week straight.
- Verdicchio deserves more attention (See: Notes).
- I know just enough Italian to get into a lot of trouble.
- There’s a rumbling in Abruzzo; check out Tiberio (you’ll thank me later).
- Donnafugata Ben Rye may be the greatest dessert wine on earth.
- Tasting 32 Grignolinos sounds a lot worse than it really is. (See: Notes)
- Donatella Cinelli is doing some exciting work in Orcia.
- Senza Glutine doesn’t work as well in Piedmont as you might think.
- There’s more to Gavi than La Scolca.
- There’s a underground Terracotta aging movement in Piedmont (check out Rivetto).
- Piedmont is most definitely the most beautiful wine region on earth.
That’s all. In closing, I would like to thank Ian d’Agata for including me and the Collisioni team for all of their hard work. This was an undertaking of immense proportions. Well done!
Article, Photos, and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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