It’s 2016, and as fans of Barolo and Barbaresco, that means that we have a great reason to organize both 20- and 15-year retrospectives of two of my favorite past vintages, 1996 and 2001. Plans for a ‘96 retrospective are in the works, but today I’d like to share our recently-completed tasting of 2001 Barolo.
2001 is a vintage that has a lot of meaning to me. As a collector, it was the first classic vintage that I could taste on release. Thinking back to those days, and all of the hype surrounding the 2000 vintage, I vividly recall the first of the 2001s arriving. Compared to the 2000s, I couldn’t help but be moved by the ‘01’s sense of refinement and structure. It was the first time that I had witnessed a wine that moved me emotionally, and although they weren’t pleasurable to drink at the time, it was possible to imagine, or forecast, the greatness of these sleeping giants.
The aromatics displayed an intensity of fruit that was held in check by floral, mineral and earth tones. On the palate, we were presented with a glimpse of their potential as a pure core of razor-like focused fruit that steamrolled across the the palate, yet was then quickly smothered as a wave of fine tannin coated the senses. The 2001s were finessed, mid-weight and built for the cellar. At the time, I couldn’t even put these sensations into words, as it took tasting many more structured vintages before I truly understood what I was experiencing.
As I placed these wines into my cellar, I was fully aware that it would be many years before I could consider opening one on the basis of it providing a pleasurably mature experience. I would shake my head in regret each time I read a tasting note on 2001 Barolo, for how could they possibly be ready to drink?
Then in December of 2011, my Barolo tasting group held our first blind 10-year retrospective on the vintage. It was a painful experience. Even as the wines had been decanted much earlier in the day, they were a wall of tannin. We left the experience with palates that were lashed by tannin. Doing my best to report back to readers on the vintage, all I could do was to use the small data-points that I was able to retrieve prior to each wine’s tannic shutdown on my palate. The broad message was that these wines needed more time.
However, what followed were a number of events that cast a worrisome light over the vintage. First was a report from Antonio Galloni of Vinous in 2012 that reported that he had found a high percentage of cork-related issues as he completed his own 2001 retrospective. This was followed by a number of tastings of my own, as well as by fellow collectors, where the wines were found to be overly austere, or in a state where the fruit seemed to be drying as the tannin remained firm and overwhelming.
For years now, we have all worried about the 2001 vintage, and so going into our recent tasting, there was a level of anxiety that was shared by the group. Would these wines confirm our worries or put them back on track to being a youthful yet classic vintage?
I’m very happy to report that it is the former. Our blind 2001 tasting showed a vintage of remarkable character that will continue to mature over the next two or more decades and is just now starting to show its entry into an early drinking window. Are these wines ready to drink? Absolutely not, but with a little coaxing, I’m sure you’ll have the same experience that we did. As for the regiment, each member was instructed to open and double-decant their wine by noon for a tasting that started at 7pm. When it comes to the cork issues that Antonio had experienced, we did have one corked bottle, but these things happen, and it’s difficult to either confirm or deny the problem without tasting a much broader selection of wines.
For the sake of providing a more in depth selection, I have included, with our blind retrospective, a small number of 2001 Barolo that were tasted within the last six months. They have been marked as “Non-Blind!”. Enjoy!
2001 Barolo Retrospective
(This was a blind tasting with capsules removed before bagging. Most wines were double-decanted at noon. Bagging was done with no set order. Attendees knew what wines were present at the table, but they had no information otherwise.)
Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia Riserva 2001 – An initial whiff of nail polish remover gave me pause; however, the ‘01 Granbussia came around in the glass to reveal ripe dark-red fruits, sweet herbs, and spice in an intense expression on the nose. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with herbal-infused red fruits and a hint of bitter blackberry. The finish was medium in length and slightly herbal. Having tasted this on a number of occasions, I admit to being surprised by this night’s slightly clumsy performance. (91 points)
Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2001 – The nose showed smoky cherry with minerals, dried leaves and hints of savory herbs. It was dark on the palate, driven by minerals and tart black fruits, on a medium-bodied frame with cheek-puckering tannin. It finished on dried cherry and hints of wood. Although this came across as slightly austere, there is some pleasure to be found in its current state of evolution. (92 points)
Conterno Fantino Barolo Sori Ginestra 2001 – The nose was deep in its spice-inflected dark red fruits, spice and earthy mineral tones. On the palate, I was greeted by soft and inviting textures with dark, spicy fruits enveloping sweet tannin. Earth tones emerged over time, as well and minerals and savory herbs. It finished on palate-saturating fruit and a hint of bitterness. (91 points)
Gaja Sperss 2001 – I was greeted by a dark, intense, yet polished bouquet of black cherry, spice, tobacco and sweet herbs. On the palate, brilliant red fruits, exotic spice, and floral tones were contrasted by hints of pine, earth, and fine-grain tannin. The finish was long, yet inward in its tart black fruit and tannin, begging for more time in the cellar. (93 points)
Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis 2001 – On the nose, I found ripe cherry and minerals with dusty red floral tones, hints of spice and sweet herbs. It was soft and alluring on the palate through its brisk acidity, displaying notes of ripe cherry, plum and earth. Tannins mounted through the experience as the fruit seemed to saturate the senses, turning darker with time, leading into a finish that showed the structured youth of this young Riserva. (93 points)
Brovia Barolo Rocche 2001 – What an intriguing bouquet, as the Brovia Rocche seems to pull you deeper into the glass with its display of undergrowth and crushed stone giving way to charred meats, dark fruit and hints of herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures, firmed up quickly by brisk acidity and youthful tannin, yet still showing focused cherry and strawberry fruit along with inner floral tones. The finish was long, yet youthfully austere with remnants of dried cherry and minerals. (94 points)
Comm. G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero 2001 – The ‘01 Monvigliero is almost impossible to resist at this stage of its life. On the nose, a display of exotic floral tones, savory herbs and black olive were offset by alluring notes of ripe strawberry fruit and minerality. On the palate, I found soft, velvety textures with fleshy, yet bright and vibrant red fruit, sweet herbs and inner floral tones. It finished on a note of sweet herbal tea and dried strawberry, with fine tannin that was nearly enveloped by it’s juicy and vibrant fruit. This was a real stunner. (94 points)
Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) 2001 – The nose displayed airy and lifted red fruit with notes of dusty spice, menthol and licorice wrapped firmly around a mineral core. On the palate, it displayed radiant cherry and pomegranate with hints of spice and firm ’01 tannins, which provided a saturating and concentrated fruit sensation along with grip to spare. The finish resonated on fine tannin and lingering dried cherry and sweet herbs. (94 points) Non-Blind!
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste 2001 – The bouquet was pretty but compact, showing black cherry, dusty soil, licorice, sweet spice and undergrowth. On the palate, it was tightly wound up in its structure, with notes of dried cherry, strawberry fruit, tobacco and savory herbs. It finished tight and restrained with dried fruits lingering long. This really showed the classic structure and tannin of the vintage with brilliant, focused fruit, yet remains many years away from its peak. (95 points) Non-Blind!
Vietti Barolo Rocche 2001 – The ‘01 Rocche was the personification of pure class and elegance. On the palate, I found dark red fruits with a hint of wood, followed by floral rose, sweet herbs and spice. Soft textures eased the senses, while brisk acidity gave life to brilliant cherry fruit, minerals and inner floral tones in a truly elegant expression of Rocche. The finish was long with hints of fine tannin, dried cherry and lasting inner floral tones. If you have the ‘01 Rocche in your cellar, then you’re in for a real treat. If not, then what are you waiting for? (95 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido