After fifteen years of tasting Barolo, I can’t think of any other producer whose wines create both a stir of excitement and a cringe of anxiety as much as the Barolo of Giuseppe Mascarello. There, I said it. The fact is that I can think of no other producer who is as widely loved, yet who also demonstrates such a large degree of variability. The love of Giuseppe Mascarello’s wines, especially Monprivato, runs so deeply that collectors are willing to forgive the high percentage of failed bottles and worries that accompany the decision to open one.
Unfortunately, the reason behind this variability remains unclear to me. Going back over the years, it’s interesting to follow my comments on these wines. If I go back far enough, I would always question why they seemed to never be ready to drink. Then there would be the off bottle, and then another off bottle. However, somewhere in the middle of all of this would be an outstanding performance from one of his wines that would send chills down your spine, hence the reason that we continue to buy Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that the more recent vintages seem much easier to appreciate in their youth. Going back five or more years, I wouldn’t dream of opening a Monprivato before the age of twenty; yet today, we are enjoying the 2004 and 2005 vintages. Without any talk of a change in style or vineyard practices, it’s hard to know what is creating these changes, but as our recent tasting showed, when Giuseppe Mascarello is on–IT’S ON!
Founded in 1881, Giuseppe Mascarello is renowned as one of the classic traditional producers of Barolo. The family started as tenant farmers, who took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a large portion of the Monprivato vineyard in 1904. Over the last century, the Mascarellos have continued to slowly acquire more parcels, and it is thought that they now control over 93% of the vineyard. Today, Monprivato is almost a monopole of the Mascarello family, as no other producer bottles its fruit as a single vineyard. You would need to look all the way back to 1990 for the last Monprivato made by another producer, and that’s the 1990 Brovia Monprivato, which we were lucky enough to have at this tasting.
The Monprivato vineyard is quite unique and visually stands out when surveying the surroundings of Castiglione Falletto. For one thing, the average vine age is 55 years old (quite old for this region), but then there is also its white calcareous soils with a good amount of limestone strewn throughout. The combination of these two attributes makes Monprivato hard to miss.
From Monprivato, Mauro Mascarello (the current owning family member) makes two wines. One is the namesake and iconic Monprivato, which was first produced in 1970 when Mauro realized that the quality of the vineyard justified its own bottling. The other is Ca’ d’Morissio (named for Mauro’s Grandfather), who had the original idea to use clonal selection to begin replanting portions of Monprivato with the rare michet clone. Today, Ca’ d’Morissio (made entirely from the michet clone and from old vines) stands as a towering bottle in both stature and price, yet if you are ever given the chance to taste it, do not hesitate.
This brings us to today and a group of fellow collectors from the Vinous forum, who have been talking about building a Giuseppe Mascarello vertical. As we were short one of the pillars of our group, (we missed you, Ken V.) the lineup was missing the icon ‘89 Monprivato, but with this group, you never have to worry about great vintages being placed on the table. We managed to amass vintages that spanned 45 years’ worth of G. Mascarello Barolo, starting with the ‘61 and ‘64 (which were made with a large portion of Monprivato), then leading into the first Monprivato, the 1970. We finished with the 2006, an amazing wine in the making.
On to the tasting notes:
1961 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva – The nose was sweet and spicy with notes of raisin, dried-spicy citrus rind, and a note of sweet roasted pecan. It gained freshness with air, yet oxidation had taken hold, as this has already seen its best years. On the palate, it was soft and fleshy with notes of dried cherry, dried strawberry, leather and minerals. It finished long on soil tones and minerality. (92 points)
1964 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Riserva – The bouquet was remarkably similar to the ‘61 served before it, adding rosy medicinal cherry and animal musk to the sweetly spiced citrus notes. On the palate, an elevated bump of acidity defined its zesty and persistent performance, yet it lacked the elegance and purity of the best bottles. Dried red berry, leather and minerals lingered on the finish, marred by a slight bitterness. (88 points)
1970 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – In gorgeous form and still with many years of life left, the 1970 Monprivato was a dark, earthy and perfectly mature expression of Barolo. The bouquet was an earthy mix of moist soil, animal musk, parchment, worn leather, and dried strawberry. On the palate, I found an elegant expression with silky textures and a perfect balance of acid and still-lively tannin. Notes of dried cherry, minerals and a hint of tart citrus filled the senses and lasted into the long finish, along with a hint of inner dried florals. I wish I could have spent hours with this wine. (93 points)
1982 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Here I found a darker and richer expression of Monprivato with notes of dried cherry, undergrowth, dusty earth, hints of mint and dried flowers. On the palate, broad fleshy textures were wonderfully offset by zesty acidity, as black cherry and minerals seemed to saturate the senses. It finished long and mouthwatering, yet perfectly mature. (94 points)
1990 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – And then the 1990 hit the table! It’s been five years since I last tasted the ‘90, and it has certainly improved in that time. Here I found and intensely dark and brooding wine. Masculine to be sure, with a nose of ripe strawberry, dried cherries, tobacco, exotic spice, spiced apple and a hint of orange zest. On the palate, I found silky, pure textures with dark spiced cherry, balsamic tones, earth, leather and zesty acidity. Hints of tannin lingered on the long finish, along with tart red berries. There’s so much energy here. (96 points)
1990 Brovia Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed dusty rosy florals, dried strawberry, mineral-stone, tar and dark earth. On the palate, I found feminine, lifted textures with stimulating acidity, coming across as angular, with a stern minerality and crystalline red berry fruits. It finished structured yet energetic, not showing any heat from the vintage. It’s a very classy wine, with more upside potential that most 1990s. (93 points)
1996 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed black cherry, sweet spice, ironborn minerals, tobacco and dried roses. On the palate, it displayed persistent tart cherry fruit that saturated the senses, along with minerals and savory herbs. Both tannins and acidity were in perfect balance, creating a chiseled expression, leading into a tense and structured finish with saturating tart cherry. There’s a perfect symmetry to the ‘96 Monprivato, which placed it as one of my top wines of the night. (94 points)
1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Unfortunately Flawed. (I included a tasting note of a ‘99 opened a year ago; However, it’s important to note that the bottle I had previous to that one was flawed as well. Following is the original note from the previous bottle). Back to form after my last bottle, the 1999 Monprivato was classic and refined, with a nose full of dried cherry, dusty spice, undergrowth, minerals, and rosy floral notes. On the palate, it was angular and austere, yet the potential in this wine lurks right below the surface, with notes of dried cherry, dark chocolate, balsamic tones and minerals hinting at a bright future. Staying red fruit saturated the senses throughout the finish, along with inner floral notes, dried leaves and soil. Wow! (96 points)
2001 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – As the 2001 Monprivato matures, it’s clear to me that it’s one of the vintage standouts. It doesn’t impress for its power as much as it does for its poise and refinement. The bouquet displays an expression of bright, lifted cherry and strawberry tones, with sweet florals, mint tea and a hint of citrus. On the palate, feminine textures mixed with caking minerality, bright strawberry fruits, and inner floral tones created a very pretty expression, as mild tannin set in and reminded me of its youthful state. It appears that the ‘01 will always be a lighter and prettier version of Monprivato, yet with the persistence to mature with decades. (93 points)
2004 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Here I found a beautiful expression of mineral-laden cherry (a touch medicinal), dusty florals, dried citrus, and spice. It was lifted and feminine on the palate, showing silky textures with pure red fruits, saline-minerality, inner floral tones and hints of citrus. The finish was refined and soft with remnants of dried cherry and inner floral tones, which gave way to a coating of fine tannin. (94 points)
2006 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Tasting the 2006 on this night, with the ‘82 and the ‘90 on the table, gave me the impression that it may one day mature into something that would fall somewhere in between these two great wines. The bouquet was dark and rich, but with soaring floral tones and lifting minerality, Black cherry, sweet herbs and hints of undergrowth filled the senses. On the palate, I found a brooding, massive wine that was barely restrained by youthful tannin, with silky broad textures and saturating dark red fruits. It had a way of being powerful and refined all at the same time, finishing of dried cherry and inner floral tones. (95 points)
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by Eric Guido
When I think back to my exploration of Brunello di Montalcino, the first thing that comes to mind is how quickly I realized that there were wines that I thought were good, ones I thought were very good, and then there was Poggio di Sotto. Literally on another level from all others that I had tasted, Poggio di Sotto had a way of creating Brunello that spoke more to me of Grand Cru Burgundy than it did of Brunello. These ethereal specimens of Brunello thrilled me at every turn and became the wine I bought in every vintage. Because even when they weren’t blockbusters from the top vintages, they still provided me with a level of satisfaction that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Unfortunately, the owner of Poggio di Sotto, Piero Palmucci, decided to sell the property back in 2011, and suddenly something seemed to be lost. Vintages from 2007 and on lacked that magical thrill that captivated me.
For years, I was searching for another Brunello that could provide me with that same level of satisfaction, and honestly (outside of paying for Soldera), I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find it.
Then the day came that I tasted my first Stella di Campalto.
Stella would tell you that the location of Stella di Campalto chose her, as her passion for the land and culture turned into a love for Sangiovese, and with time, Brunello di Montalcino. Being a neighbor of Poggio di Sotto, she was also fortunate to find a friend and mentor in Piero Palmucci, who she describes as the winemaker who whipped her into shape. This makes a lot of sense when you taste a wine from Stella di Campalto, as they have that same magic that drew me to Poggio di Sotto for so many years.
The property consists of 16 hectares, where Stella tends to olive groves, fruits, vegetables, and of course, Sangiovese. With vineyards that she planted in 1998, Stella produced her first Rosso in 2001. By the 2004 vintage, she began to bottle Brunello. Her approach in the vineyards began as organic, but over time the draw of biodynamic practices captured her attention and continues to this day. Stella farms six different parcels of Sangiovese, which are all tended to and picked according to their natural attributes. In the winery, the wines are fermented with natural yeasts in large upright wooden vessels before being transferred to neutral small French and Austrian oak.
There are no restrictions to the way that Stella makes these wines. In fact, she’ll tell you that the winemaking is instinctual more than anything else. The Brunello typically spends 45 months in oak, but the reality is that it isn’t bottled or released until she believes it is ready. It’s because of this that the release of Stella di Campalto can come a year or more behind the current releases of most producers. Since 2009 Stella has decided to bottle all of her Brunello as Riserva, which she could have done since the start, considering the lengthy aging regimen and late releases of her wine.
What’s even more exciting is that just as Poggio di Sotto had one of the greatest Rosso di Montalcinos (considered better than many producers Brunellos), so does Stella. The Rosso of Stella di Campalto is produced in the same fashion as her Brunello with one difference–it is only aged for 22 months in barrel. Through careful selection, Stella and a group of like-minded producers (some of my favorites by the way) taste through their wines together and decide which barrels will lend the best expression of Brunello or Rosso. The results are amazing. The Rosso di Montalcino of Stella di Campalto is extremely limited and should also be on the short list of any fan of the region.
Recently, I was lucky enough to sit with Stella and taste through a vertical of vintages, starting with the 2004. The tasting was an eye-opening experience. Separately, each of these wines were absolutely spellbinding. Together, they formed a history of this producer’s journey through the production of Brunello. Stella herself is just as charming, if not more so, than the wines she produces, and listening to her speak communicates the passion that she has for the land and the wine.
Simply stated, I can’t recommend these wines highly enough. The term, “buy the producer, not the vintage” is perfectly applied here, as each wine communicated it’s own unique story.
On to the wines: (I also included my most recent tasting note of the 2010, which was not served this day, but completes the picture of Stella’s journey with Brunello)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2005 – This displayed a stunning and bright mix of dried strawberry, floral undergrowth, fresh herbs and an almost salty-savory minerality. On the palate, it was lifted and feminine with angular textures, yet it never came across as hard or austere; instead the word “interactive” comes to mind. Dried strawberry and minerals lasted throughout its long finish. (93 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2006 – Here I found a dark and imposing bouquet with notes of dried cherry, smoke, crushed stone, charred meat and new leather. On the palate, I found glossy (not polished) textures with dark red persistent fruit, hints of plum, grapefruit and mediterranean herbs. The tension in the glass was impressive, as the ‘06 finished with a long display of minerality, bitter cherry, herbs and youthful tannin. I feel that it’s important to note that Stella refers to the 2006 as her Celine Dion. (95 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – The ‘07 Stella di Campalto takes the ripeness of the vintage and marries it perfectly with the lifted nature of the house style. Here, crushed cherry dominated, yet still with a savory edge, giving way to sweet spice, dried orange peel and floral perfumes. On the palate, I found tart cherry and spice, with masses of sweet inner florals, in a light and feminine expression. The finish displayed tart cherry and savory herbal notes. There was a slight lack of substance here, but it’s a great effort for the vintage. (92 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2008 – The 2008 is the ‘Old Man’ according to Stella. Honestly, I don’t get her meaning, as this was pure class and extremely vibrant in the glass. A dark, rich display of red fruit gave way to wet stone minerality, savory spices, and leather. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by vibrant acidity, with persistent red fruits in a tense display that was full of energy and verve. The finish displayed tart red fruits and spice that clung to the senses while mouthwatering acidity worked to wash the palate clean. This is a gorgeous bottle of young Brunello. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2009 – In what is easily one of my top wines of the ’09 Brunello vintage, here I found an amazingly fresh display of ripe strawberry, minerals, fresh herbs and dusty floral tones. On the palate, silky-weighty textures delivered masses of ripe dark red fruit with exotic spices, brisk acidity and a bitter twang, which provided depth. The finish was long and juicy–fresh–with notes of strawberry, inner floral tones and herbs. Wow, especially for the vintage. Stella calls this her ‘young artist’. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 – Where do I start? What defines a Brunello? For the longest time, I would say a classic structure to age would be a point in the corner of a wine this young, yet here I found such a delicate nature and mesmerizing layers, that I’d find it difficult to leave in the cellar for longer than 5-10 years. Coming across more ethereal Burgundy than Brunello, the Stella di Campalto displayed a highly expressive nose, which seemed to continue opening with each tilt of the glass. There was earth, leather, crushed berries, dried flowers—which turned to deep and lively floral tones over time—as well as a savory toastiness, which wasn’t oak but something rich and warming. On the palate, it was soft, caressing, yet brilliantly focused in its ripe red fruits, sweet spice and herbal tones. The most elegant of tannin wrapped around the senses, yet were never drying. It clung to the palate throughout the finish, with saturating dark fruits and fine tannin. (97 points)
And let’s not forget about the Rosso di Montalcino!
Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino 2008 – This is a Rosso? The 2008 Rosso di Montalcino is an outstanding effort with classic bouquet of undergrowth, dusty soil, savory herbs, crushed cherry and exotic floral tones. On the palate, I found weighty-silky textures with ripe cherry, acid infused minerality, and inner floral tones. It finished on red fruits, maybe a bit shorter than desired, yet this is a serious wine deserving of our attention. (92 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
For the longest time, I saw Burgundy as forbidden fruit. I would delve into a premier cru here or an upper-level village wine there. From time to time, a good friend would share something truly special, and I would swoon. As a lover of all things wine, its history, and with the inclination to learn about how each individual terroir creates such unique expressions, Burgundy was always a source of study. However, to study such a vast topic without the practical experience of tasting broadly only makes such a thing more trivial. And so, like many others out there, Burgundy was somewhat untouchable—until the summer of 2016.
Working as a wine director has its ups and downs. One of the ups is, without a doubt, the ability to travel to a region such as Burgundy, taste with over thirty of its top producers, and do so in the company of some of the most knowledgeable Burgundy lovers I’ve ever met. It didn’t hurt that these lovers of Burgundy were also foodies like myself, but that is a story for another time. For now, I’m here to talk about my journey further down the rabbit hole with some of the best Burgundy I’m sure I’ll ever taste.
The organizer of our trip placed us in the perfect location to access both the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. We made our home for this trip at the L’Hôtel de Beaune, located within the walled portion of the city and surrounded by an extensive mix of restaurants, wine shops and culture. This provided the perfect launching point for each day and the ideal location to unwind at night.
Having arrived only days after a horrible frost and weeks following a mass hail storm, the thing first and foremost on everyone’s minds was how the 2016 vintage would pan out. With each visit, you could see it on their faces as producers would try to make light of these events, but only so they could alleviate their own fears. We tend to think of the prices of Burgundy and assume that producers are well-compensated for their efforts, but the reality is that the majority of them are small houses that wax and wane with each vintage. Often times, the price of land or the rules of inheritance make their livelihoods very difficult. One bad vintage, one short vintage, or one lost vintage can be enough to sink even the most highly regarded Domaines.
2014: The Insiders Vintage
Tasting barrel after barrel, one thing that becomes immediately apparent is that the 2014 vintage created wines that speak to our hearts and minds. With a slight preference for the whites over reds, there’s no denying that 2014 has produced some of the most brilliantly sculpted and refined examples that we are sure to ever see. The reds will impress early with medium-term cellaring, and may even not make old bones, as they absolutely thrilled us with their purity and chiseled personalities. As for the whites, they are off the charts and are sure to please a broad audience. The 2014 White Burgundies are all about balance, with a noticeable density of fruit contrasted by stunning minerality and backbone. I for one will be stocking up, as this is one of the most exciting young vintages that I’ve ever tasted.
Looking Forward to 2015
What’s sure to be a critic’s vintage, the 2015s seem to explode from the glass. Their unbridled power and broad-shouldered fruit is sure to settle more as they continue to age in barrel, but clearly 2015 will be a bigger and more fruit-focused vintage. This is a not a bad thing, as the wines possess the focus necessary to impress both upon release and with medium-term cellaring. In fact, we will probably find 2015 to have a long drinking window and to be a vintage that will provide a lot of pleasure for a lot people.
Top Visits, Top Wines
With over thirty visits in seven days, it would be impossible to list them all, yet I’ve done my best to recount the visits that resonated with me the most, without waxing poetic about DRC for the next 2000 words. (And, yes, DRC was the experience of a lifetime.)
Tasting with Pierre Duroche was something of a revelation. Pierre is the 5th generation to run the estate, and with a soft-spoken manner and wine thief in hand, he showed us some of the trip’s best 2015 red Burgundies that we had the pleasure to taste. Each of Pierre’s micro-cuvees from throughout the Gevrey village were stunning, and as we moved up through the Premier and Grand Crus, my opinion was assured that this is one of the next great Burgundy producers in the making.
Wines of note: 2015’s Gevrey Chambertin Village, 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques, and 1er Cru Estournelles St. Jacques. – Domaine Duroche at Morrell
Based in Chassagne-Montrachet, today’s Bernard Moreau is run by Alexandre and Benoit. Alexandre took us from barrel to barrel, touring through their 200 yearold cellar, and tasting all of the current vintages. If there was one thing that I took from this visit, it’s that Bernard Moreau is making some of the best white Burgundy in the market today. What’s more, the 2014s at this address are off the charts. Picking favorites was like splitting hairs.
Wines of note: ‘14 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot, ‘14 1er Cru Les Champs-Gain, and ‘14 1er Cru Grandes Ruchottes. – Bernard Moreau at Morrell
Georges Mugneret Gibourg
Arriving at Mugneret Gibourg in Vosne-Romanée, and peeking out the back door at the sprawling vineyards of the village heading down to the D974, is a moment that I will never forget. I could practically feel the energy of this location welling up through the ground. We were greeted by Marie-Christine, who took us down into the cellars and began to pour glass after glass, both ‘14s from tank and ‘15s prepared earlier in bottle. These were some of the greatest young Burgundies I’ve ever tasted. Each wine was pure elegance in a glass, yet infused by the earth. They are simply gorgeous.
Wines of note: ‘14 Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots,‘14 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes, ‘14 Ruchottes-Chambertin and ‘15 Ruchottes-Chambertin – Georges Mugneret Gibourg at Morrell
Now the third generation winemaker of Marquis D’Angerville, Guillaume d’Angerville greeted us like an old friend as he walked us through the gardens surrounding the estate. D’Angerville is all about Volnay, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Guillaume led us through a selection of his ‘14s, which were spectacular. The elegance, matched by power and structure of these wines, creates a perfect balance and sense of raw potential.
Wines of note: ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Les Fremiets, ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds, and ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs – Marquis D’Angerville at Morrell
Where do you go before your visit at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti? To taste at Jean Grivot, of course. Our early morning meeting with Etienne at their cellar in Vosne-Romanée was a fantastic way to start the day. The wines of Jean Grivot may have crossed into the realm of price prohibitive, but I firmly believe they are still a good value compared to the company they keep. The ‘14s at this house are in perfect form, and the ‘15s (in mid-malo at the time) were coming along in an exciting trajectory.
Wines of note: ‘14 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts, ‘14 Clos Vougeot, ‘14 Echezeaux, and ‘14 Richebourg – Jean Grivot at Morrell
And so there it is. My trip further down the rabbit hole has left me feeling both anxious to taste these wines again and hoping to add many of them to my cellar. In the end, we all know that the best of Burgundy comes at a premium, but what other wines on earth can incite such emotion and such passion, and what for some becomes a lifelong obsession?
Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by Eric Guido
For me, a classic vintage is one where the wines will mature into something better that what they are upon release. It is a vintage that makes us proud to house in our cellars, without the fear that they will begin to deteriorate over time.
I still remember one of the first Barolo retrospectives that I had the pleasure of attending. It was 1990 Barolo, and the tasting was held about ten years ago. We left that evening with smiles from ear to ear–the wines were simply stunning. Imagine my surprise when I published my blog about that evening and was met by a large part of the Barolo collecting community that believed we were wrong. Many of these collectors had seen the release of the 1990s, and their belief was that 1990 was a ripe vintage that wouldn’t mature well in their cellars. In many cases, these collectors passed up on the vintage and didn’t have stocks to check in on. I took these responses with a grain of salt, knowing what we had tasted and firmly believing that it was a vintage that was still worth our attention.
Wouldn’t you know that only a year later, Antonio Galloni tasted these wines and gave them a glowing review. Suddenly everyone was looking for 1990 Barolo, and the prices soared. In my mind, that is a classic vintage. You don’t need to be able to will your collection to your children in order for it to be classic. In my opinion, you just need to know that it will improve in bottle and provide decades of positive evolution.
Our most recent tasting of 2004 Barolo was an eye-opening experience. We expected these wines to be as hard as nails. We expected them to bite back. Yet many of them were so good on that night that I would drink them today. Half of them were on the upswing with exceptional purity, while a few seemed to be giving all they could already. Someone at the table asked if we still believed that 2004 was a classic vintage, and to that I answer, YES.
The 2004 vintage was a godsend to the region, as 2002 was nearly a complete wash, and the heat of 2003 turned out a selection of overly-ripe and unbalanced wines. The balanced season of 2004 and perfect weather during harvest created the ideal vintage to create great wines. However, the large size of the crop and preceding bad vintages also tempted some producers to take advantage of the overabundance of fruit and fall short of their usual rigorous selection. I believe much of this is the reason why some of the 2004s seem to be lacking in concentration and intensity that we would expect from a cool ‘classic’ year.
In the end, we can’t judge a vintage on the failings of a number of producers. The fact that the producers who turned out the bulk of the vintage made up a large quantity of the wines released, shouldn’t deter us from paying close attention to those who did the right thing.
As I’ve heard many times in the past and believe wholeheartedly, we should buy the producer, not the vintage. 2004 is the perfect example of why this is so important. And never forget, Barolo has a way of surprising us, so let’s not give up on those less-than-stellar wines. You may one day find them reinvigorated with an unexpectedly long lifespan.
On to the wines: (Served blind and listed in the same order)
Elio Altare Barolo Brunate 2004 – Talk about a perfect way to lead off a retrospective tasting. The 2004 Elio Altare was exceptionally polished and refined, showing ripe strawberry, spice, balsamic and cinnamon. It verged on savory at times and remained intense throughout. On the palate, the textures were soft, yet youthful tannin firmed things up as it traveled across the senses. Dried strawberry and mineral tones lasted throughout as it seemed lifted and finished on a note of dried blackberries. This is a wine that I would love to have in my cellar. (94 points)
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 2004 – I was less impressed than I had hoped with the Cascina Francia. Some tasters questioned if it was the bottle, others worried that this was simply the way the wines were bottled. In the end, only time will tell. The nose reminded me of a tobacco shop, with notes of tar, crushed flowers and plum. On the palate, tart red fruit were followed up by souring acidity and lack of follow-through. It finished lighter than expected with dried cherry and light tannin. (88 points)
Aldo Conterno Barolo Barolo Romirasco 2004 – This has always been a very different wine, always showing an exotic profile. On this night, I was less impressed than in previous experiences. Here I found a pretty expression on the nose with sweet spices and dried florals. On the palate, dark red fruits rested upon silky textures with firm tannin that quickly dried the senses. It finished shorter than expected and left an impression of being a more modern-styled wine. I wanted to like it, but something held me back. (91 points)
Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2004 – The Monprivato proved to be the wine of the night. It was much more open than anyone expected. In fact, its likable personality was the main reason why I didn’t call this wine as being the Monprivato (it was a blind tasting). Here I found sweet florals, dried citrus, cherry and spice. It was remarkably pretty throughout, showing silky yet lifted textures with pure red fruits, saline-minerality, inner floral tones and hints of citrus. The finish was refined, almost juicy at times, then giving way to a coating of fine tannin. Simply gorgeous. (96 points)
Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc 2004 – The 2004 Bric del Fiasc is a solid contender of the vintage and showed the Scavino style in spades. In fact, this was probably the wine that most blind tasters knew from the second they put their nose to the glass. It was intense with dark, earth-infused fruit, intense spice and minerals. It was dark on the palate, where I found an intense display of sour cherry and saturating mineral tones with silky, weighty textures. It finished long, as saturating dark red fruits lingered. (93 points)
Vietti Barolo Brunate 2004 – The nose showed dark, dusty cherry, crushed stone and sweet spices. The oak stood out, but wasn’t overwhelming. On the palate, I found soft textures giving way to dried cherry, mocha and inner floral tones, yet here I also found it to be a bit diluted. The finish was long with palate-coating tannin that seemed more wood influenced than varietal. In the end, it’s still an enjoyable wine. (92 points)
Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco 2004 – I was very happy to guess this wine correctly, as it was a perfect representation of the producer and surprised a lot of people at the table. Azelia really got it right in 2004 across the range. Here I found a highly expressive bouquet of dark red fruits, sweet spices, soaring floral tones, crushed stone and savory balsamic. On the palate, it was refined and silky, but with intense dark fruits and vibrant acidity. Silky tannin lingered long on the saturating dark fruit finish. Through all of its intensity, this is a classic in the making and a sure bet for the cellar. (95 points) Find it at: Morrell
Roberto Voerzio Barolo La Serra 2004 – This showed an intense display of dark spices, dried cherry, dusty soil and minerals. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures with vibrant black cherry, spice and grippy tannin. It finished on saturating dark fruits and spice. This may not be the style of Barolo I crave, but it was undeniably enjoyable. (93 points)
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2004 – Surrounded by two unapologetic modernists, there’s no wonder that most tasters called this out as Bartolo. 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)
Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2004 – The nose showed sweet spices, fresh roses, and bright cherry. On the palate, I found silky, weighted textures with ripe cherry and floral tones. It finished fresh with fine tannin and juicy red fruits and dusty minerals. It may have suffered from being the last wine of the evening, as it seemed almost simple in comparison to many of the wines that came before it. That said, it did stand tall next to the Bartolo Mascarello presented along with it.. (92 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
A special thank you to the team at i Truli for the fantastic meal and service.
Something has been happening to me lately, which I welcome with open arms. For many years, I’ve heard tales of “The Barolo of The South”, otherwise known as Taurasi, made from the Algianico grape in the hills of Avellino, in the region of Campania. Yet, time and time again I would try these wines and find disappointment. Not in the quality of the wine, but in the anticipation of tasting “The Barolo of The South”, which in reality is quite a boast. How do you live up to such a title? Most Taurasi I would taste were of high quality–earthy, dark and full-bodied with structure to spare–but not Barolo.
But then something happened. It was a perfectly-stored, won-at-auction bottle of 1977 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva–and it changed my opinion of the wine forever. In its youth, tasting any wine that can live for 40+ years is a challenge, especially without a reference point. This wine was that reference point. Suddenly all of that rich, dark fruit (not sweet or ripe, mind you) contrasted against gobs of soil, minerality and vibrant acidity–suddenly everything started to make sense.
With elevations of 1800 feet and higher, the Algianico grape found the perfect home in these volcanic soils mixed with calcareous marls, strewn with limestone. The dark black fruit and smoky character of Taurasi makes it very easy to connect the wine to the place from which it’s grown, and its imposing tannin, while making them hard to understand in their youth, also lends a staying power that can carry them for decades in the cellar.
Did I mention that Taurasi usually costs about half the price of your average Barolo?
Now fast forward to today and the producer Salvatore Molettieri. In comparison to Mastroberardino (which is an article all to itself), Molettieri is much smaller in production and still a relative newcomer by Italian standards, with its first vintages released in the mid-eighties. However, the family itself spent four generations tending vineyards in the hills of Montemarano to produce grapes that were sold to the top names in the region. Salvatore, who is a humble man with the simple desire to create a great wine, decided to begin bottling his own production, with the first release in 1988.
To say that he succeeded in his quest for a great wine would be an understatement, as Molettieri is thought by most to be one of the top producers of Taurasi today, with the Cinque Querce vineyard considered to be his Grand Cru.
These are imposing wines in that austere, high-acid Italian way that I love. Yet there’s an elegance to them, which provides a level of enjoyment now, even though they beg for time in the cellar to express themselves properly. The nose is all black stone-earth (if black quartz had a smell, this would be it), with its fruit currently as an afterthought. The more I taste the wines of Molettieri, the more I want in my cellar, in hopes of one day finding the next 1977 Mastroberardino Riserva.
But is it the Barolo of the South? My short answer would be… No. Yet that’s because, in my opinion, Taurasi, and especially Molettieri, is good enough to stand all on its own–without the cliche.
2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Riserva Cinque Querce – The nose was intense with sweet spice, espresso bean, crushed black cherry, sweet herbs, dusty earth, and exotic floral tones. On the palate, it was firm and tense with concentrated cherry, blackberry, and dark chocolate drying out the senses with its youthful structure. It finished long and tense with hints of citrus and layers of tart cherry and blackberry fruit. This is in need of a decade in the cellar, yet it is so full of potential. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
2006 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose was deeply pitched yet still fresh, displaying blackberry, black cherry, exotic spice, graphite, dusty florals and earth, yet it remained so fresh. On the palate, I found silky textures with blackberry and a bitter twang of citrus, turning more angular toward the close, yet the tannins have pulled back with maturity. The finish was long with palate-staining blackberry and a touch bitter with hints of tart citrus and undergrowth. Beautifully done. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
2005 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed radiated dark earth, stone and minerals, with tart cherry and herbal notes rounding out the fruit. On the palate, soil-laden, sour red fruits with rich, focused concentration flowed across the senses. The tannins were chewy, but not overwhelming, leaving an impression of austere elegance. It finished with palate-staining dark red fruits and tannin, which slowly faded yet never seemed to disappear. Day two was even more enjoyable, as this wine darkened even more, while also taking on undergrowth and notes of mushroom, which continued to accentuate the experience. Earthy, so very Italian, and enjoyable to the last drop. (93 points)
2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed animal musk and undergrowth up front, turning to savory cherry sauce, smoke, dusty spice and dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky textures which soaked the senses, giving way to tart cherry with a hint of citrus. The finish was long with fine tannin gripping the senses yet not overwhelming. This is drop-dead gorgeous but still quite youthful, and it may one day deserve a higher score. (92 points)
2011 Salvatore Molettieri Aglianico Irpinia Cinque Querce – The nose showed cherry and blackberry fruit, with hints of graphite and floral undergrowth. It was rich and silky on the palate, with dark fruits, which were a touch bitter, as they should be in Aglianico. The finish was long with dark fruits, tart cherry, and inner floral tones. This is a tremendous value. (91 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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
Some tastings leaving you wanting more, while others are hardly of note. However, sometimes you find yourself at a tasting that leaves such an impression on you that afterwards you think about how lucky you were to experience it. That’s exactly what happened to me when tasting through nine vintages of Peter Michael.
The story of how the Peter Michael Winery came to be is a fascinating one, especially when it’s being told by his son Paul, who was just a teenager on holiday with his family when he one day realized that the trip was really meant to scout out a location for their new winery.
In 1982, Peter Michael purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena in Knights Valley. It was a little-known location, which had played host for vines over a century ago, but disappeared into history through prohibition and disease; and so, it came with no guarantees of success. However, Peter was determined and believed in the terroir. Suddenly, family vacations became the start of a whole new era for the entire family, as they began planting and laying the foundations for today’s Peter Michael Winery.
It all started with Bordeaux varieties, and then with the help of Helen Turley, the winery released its first wine in 1987, a Chardonnay. Much has changed since then, as the family has worked to delimit each of their parcels, splitting them up by soil types and microclimates. Looking to marry the ripeness and fruit intensity of Sonoma with classic old world winemaking, Peter Michael enlisted a team combining winemakers from the old world and the new. In fact, the list of famed winemakers who have contributed goes on and on.
On thing that has remained the same is the family that brings us these amazing wines. Peter’s mantra, “mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, and limited production”, has been followed since the beginning, and the goal is to keep the winery under 100% family ownership for at least 100 years. Looking at the pride Paul feels when speaking about his family and their accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine that they will ever give up the reins. Knight’s Valley is in their blood.
On this day, it was a tasting of two wines, both from the estates Les Pavots (The Poppies) vineyard. The first was the acclaimed and highly sought-after L’Apres-Midi, a Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon, which pays tribute to the great white wines of Bordeaux, but in a truly Peter Michael style. This was followed by the wine bearing the vineyard’s name, Les Pavots. This is a wine that speaks to the old-world wine lover, as well as the new. It’s a Bordeaux blend, made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, with varying amounts of Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Somehow the cooler climate and rocky volcanic soil lends Les Pavots a classic feel and refined balance, all while displaying perfectly ripe California fruit. Both wines are beautiful, and both are also highly limited.
In the end, it’s amazing to think about the courage it must have taken for the Peter Michael family to embark on such a journey. Today, they enjoy a much-earned respect from wine lovers around the world. Enjoy!
On to the tasting notes:
2010 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense citrus and minerals, gaining richness with time in the glass, adding floral tones and hints of wild herbs. It displayed soft textures on the palate, along with flavors of ripe peach, apple, melon, hints of honey and inner floral tones. It finished with a zing of acidity, yet remained pure and elegant, tapering off with notes of young peach and crushed stone. (93 points)
2011 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – Showing a darker and richer side of L’Apres-Midi, the ‘11 opened up with notes of ripe peach, kiwi, and minerals in an alluring display. On the palate, I found silky textures, which gave way to smoky peach, apple and wet stone. The finish was long and intense with floral perfumes, ripe peach and hints of honey. (94 points)
2012 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense fruit and floral tones, displaying ripe pear, apple, hints of spice, crushed stone and honey suckle. On the palate, it displayed perfect balance with soft textures giving way to tart lemon, zesty minerality, and exotic inner floral tones. Sweet apple, citrus and spice waited for me on the finish, which was remarkably long and fresh. What a beautiful performance from a wine that I would love to sit with for hours. (95 points)
2013 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was rich and fruity with hints of vanilla and wild herbs, which turned to floral perfumes. On the palate, it was lively and pure, seeming to hover upon the senses, displaying ripe stone fruits, and sweet inner floral tones. Hints of honey and ginger lingered on the finish. The ‘13 L’Apres-Midi is gentle giant of a wine that finds beauty in its understatement. (93 points)
2014 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was peppery with rich and savory notes of lemon, wild herbs, olive and green apple. On the palate, I found tense, angular textures with young stone fruit and hints of spice. It finished on wild herbs, lemon and brisk acidity. The ‘14 is hard to judge today, as it comes across and remarkably youthful. (92 points)
2006 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was gorgeous with rich black currant, cherry sauce and spice, complicated by hints of wild herbs and olive. On the palate, silky textures faded to reveal intense dark red fruits and spice, yet it remained remarkably elegant and refined. The finish was long with saturating raspberry fruit, herbs and minerals. The ‘06 is in a beautiful place right now. (95 points)
2007 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose showed tart cherry and floral perfumes with hints of sage and dusty spice . On the palate, I found silky textures with medium weight, giving way to black cherry and blueberry with still-youthful tannin contrasting vibrant acidity and providing a truly classic feel. The finish was long with notes of dried blackberry, pine, tobacco and herbs. I’m usually not a fan of the ‘07 vintage but Peter Michael’s Les Pavot is a real standout. (96 points)
2008 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restained with notes of dark earth, dried cherry and minerals. On the palate, I found a mix of cherry and blueberry, yet all was kept in check by a mix of brisk acidity and tannin. It finished on hints of cola and spice. At nearly eight years old, I found the ‘08 to be a bit of a mystery to me, but it’s possible that we’re seeing it through an odd phase. (92 points)
2009 Peter Michael Les Pavot – This showed a dark, deep and layered bouquet of blackberry and herbs in an almost-savory performance with hints of tobacco pulling up the rear. On the palate, tart cherry gave way to wild herbs and minerals, and it gave a perfectly balanced and almost juicy performance. It finished on a contrast of vibrant acidity and ripe fruit. This wine is a pleasure to drink. (94 points)
2010 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was dark and brooding, showing blue fruits, savory cherry sauce, dusty spice, hints of wild herbs, minerals, and pepper. On the palate, it was soft-textured, almost creamy, with intense black cherry that seemed to coat all of the senses. Youthful tannin came forward on the finish, as its rich fruit slowly tapered off. The ‘10 is still quite young yet full of potential. (93 points)
2011 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘11 Les Pavot is already quite appealing today, with a mix of spicy red and blue fruit and minerals on the nose. It was super-soft, yet not weighty on the palate, with notes of ripe blueberry and spice. Hints of tannin came forward on the finish, drying the palate, yet not detracting from the experience. In fact, I found ‘11 Les Pavot to be one of the most enjoyable and ready-to-drink wines from this day’s flight. (94 points)
2012 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘12 displayed a gorgeous bouquet of dark fruit and spice, with hints of pepper, lifting herbal tones, and minerals. On the palate, I found silky textures, yet seemingly weightless somehow, displaying a mix of cherry and blackberry, which gave way to wood spice and sweet tannin. It finished long and refined as its dense core of fruit persisted and youthful tannin coated the senses. This is a classic in the making. (96 points)
2013 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restrained at first; yet with coaxing, it opened up to reveal dark earth and minerals, followed by dried blueberry, floral tones and brown spice. On the palate, I found a soft and elegant expression with blackberry fruit and spice, followed by sweet tannin that saturated the senses. It was long, structured and spicy on the finish, with hints of dried berries, ginger and dark chocolate. This is so youthful today, yet you can sense the potential in the glass. Truly Stunning! (97 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
I started with Chianti Classico, like many other Italian wine lovers, I’m sure. It’s simply the most likely of all Italian wines to be placed in front of you throughout your life. Whether it was at a pizza restaurant growing up or a friend’s table when you were just getting old enough to want to move beyond beer and wine coolers–Chianti was there for us all.
However, not all Chianti is created equal, as we’ve all learned the hard way. And what’s more, wine writers have only just started to broach the topic of the many different expressions and diverse terroir of Chianti. I for one look forward to this new renaissance of Italy’s favorite wine.
Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of tasting notes on Chianti Classico, and I have probably tasted a thousand more that didn’t move me to pick up my pen. Through it all, there have been a handful of wines that have stood out as the pinnacle of what the region and its producers are capable of. These are the wines that thrill us in their youth but also have the potential to age, which isn’t a trait that many people associate with Chianti. I can count these producers on one hand, but within that group, you will always find Fontodi and their top Chianti Classico, Vigna del Sorbo.
Vigna del Sorbo has come a long way since it’s inception in 1985. In the beginning, it resembled the best qualities that Chianti had to offer at the time, with sangiovese at its core (as Chianti Classico requires), a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon and aging in new wood. Yet what set Vigna del Sorbo apart, and is only just starting to be talked about today in Tuscany, is terroir. That term that we see over and over again, yet don’t think for a moment that the word’s overuse should ever take away from its importance–as Vigna del Sorbo is a perfect example of just how important terroir is.
Vigna del Sorbo was the brainchild of Giovanni Manetti, the man behind the scenes at Fontodi. It was his passion for Sangiovese which drove him to experiment and finally arrive at the elevated position which his winery enjoys today. You see, even going as far back as the 1985, Giovanni wanted to show the world that a 100% expression of Sangiovese could create a world-class wine. It’s because of this that he created the well-received Super Tuscan, Flaccianello. However, it took time for Giovanni to realize what Vigna del Sorbo was truly capable of.
A recent tasting of thirteen vintages followed Vigna del Sorbo from it’s deep roots in modern-Chianti (of the time) with the 1995, through the growing pains of the early to mid 2000s, and right up to the truly epic (100% Sangiovese) 2012 vintage.
It was amazing to witness not only the vintage characteristics, but also how Fontodi has tinkered with and refined their style. I was lucky to be sitting with a longtime friend and great resource of Chianti knowledge, Gregory dal Piaz (who happens to be in the middle of writing a book on the topic of Chianti). Greg’s insights on each vintage were priceless.
However, what became apparent to me throughout the evening was that no matter the winemaking style of Fontodi at any given time, the abilities of its winemaker and the prestige of the sight also shone through. The ‘95 was classic, as was the ‘99. They made me question how anyone would choose to change this formula. However, all doubts faded away when tasting the ‘10 and ‘12, because they were as beautiful an expression of Vigna del Sorbo that we could ever hope for.
Watching as the percentage of international varieties faded from the 2008 through 2012 Vigna del Sorbo was an eye-opening experience. Some would say that this decision had a lot to do with global warming and how it became difficult to keep alcohol levels down with the addition of Cabernet. The word from Giovanni himself is that he was able to acquire a second parcel of Vigna del Sorbo, one which contained significantly older vines. The addition of this fruit is what Giovanni believes makes the current vintages as good as they are.
No matter what the reason, what this tasting proved to me without a doubt is that Vigna del Sorbo is a world-class wine, which I would place against the best of the best. I’m happy to have many of these vintages in my cellar, and I look forward to adding many more.
On to the tasting notes:
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1995 – The bouquet had me the second I put my nose to the glass. Here I found a perfectly mature display of crushed black cherry, floral undergrowth, dusty dry spices and hints of musk. On the palate, it displayed a perfect balance of acidity and mature red fruits, which were fleshy and vibrant next to the wine’s integrated tannin. It finished long with dried floral and earth tones. What a great way to start our tasting, as the ‘95 was perfectly mature and holding strong. (94 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1997 – The nose was dark and slightly muddled with ripe black cherry and sweet herbal tones. On the palate, I found soft textures and brisk acidity with red fruits, yet there’s a serious lack of depth here. The finish was clipped and a bit simple. Like most ‘97s, the wine ultimately came across as fading, with a decline in purity of fruit and leaning toward a dank and unbalanced place. (87 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1998 – The ‘98 is drinking beautifully, and it suffered only from being placed so close to the ‘95 and ‘99. On any other day, I believe this wine would be turning heads with its dark and earthy bouquet of ripe strawberry, florals and cedar. On the palate, I found soft textures with spicy, dark red fruits and hints of mushroom. With time in the glass, it lost some of its persistence on the palate, yet still showed strong, finishing long on dried cherry and hints of earthy funk. (93 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1999 – The ‘99 is classic in every sense of the word. Today it still comes across as young, yet there is a balance of fruit, tannin and acid that makes it seductive and easily enjoyable. The bouquet was pure class, showing haunting dark floral aromatics followed by black cherry, strawberry, spice and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found fleshy textures, with a core of sweet tannin and brisk acidity lending vibrancy. Black cherry, spice, and minerals were all on display in this perfectly balanced beauty. It finished long and intense, still showing youthful structure and promising years of development down the road. (96-97 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2000 – The nose showed undergrowth and moist soil up front, followed by blackberry and minerals. On the palate, I found pliant, juicy textures, yet lacking the fruit concentration of other vintages. This finish was pleasant yet a bit short with mature strawberry and cherry notes. I don’t see much of a future for the 2000, yet it’s drinking perfectly well today. (90 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2001 – While some other tasters felt the ‘01 lagged behind, I found it to be youthful yet truly classic with vibrant fruit and sweet tannin. The nose showed rich cherry with dusty florals, spice and fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was still youthfully tight with gripping tannins slightly restraining its bright red fruits. A core of minerality added further depth and lasted throughout the finish along with dried cherry and spice. This wine is in need of another five or more years before entering its early drinking window. (95 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2004 – The nose was earthy with dusty soil, leather, dried flowers and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found angular textures with gripping tannin, giving way to tart cherry and brisk acidity. Tannin coated the palate throughout the finish, drying the senses and the wine’s otherwise beautiful fruit. I hope to be wrong one day about the 2004, as on this night it seemed as if the wood tannin may outlive the fruit. At the moment, it’s a hard wine to like. (91-94 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2006 – flawed
(Tasting Notes from 10-27-15) This is dark and brooding, still a black hole of a wine, and in need of time. The nose displayed floral perfumes of mint, cedar and savory herbs, followed by dark red fruit and hints of dusty spice. On the palate, angular textures gave way to youthful tannin, bitter black cherry and wood tones. It was dry on the finish, but youthfully so, with a core of concentrated red fruit that wouldn’t relent. This may be a classic in the making, but in need of 5-10 years in the cellar. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2007 – Big, fleshy, racy and hot may work in Napa, but it’s hard to pull off in Tuscany. The nose was large-scaled with ripe black cherry, espresso bean and intense sweet spice. On the palate, I found weighty textures with densely packed red fruits wrapped in a mix of sweet, sweet tannin and spice. It finished on dried cherry, cheek-puckering tannin and a hint of heat. There’s an audience for the 2007, but it’s not with a group of Chianti lovers. (93 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2008 – The nose show masses of dark fruit, olive brine, espresso and savory spices. On the palate, it was large-scaled and monolithic with a wave of dark fruits and murky, almost moldy notes. It finished clipped, with remnants of undergrowth and funk. The 2008 came across as either being in a very odd stage or having been too fruit-concentrated and oaked-influenced at the winery. (NA)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2010 – The 2010 is a classic in the making with a perfect balance of intense yet pure fruits and sweet tannin. On the nose, I found sweet, dusty spices along with ripe cherry and cedar. On the palate, it was polished, refined and perfectly balanced, as intense red fruit and minerals coated the palate, followed by a wave of sweet tannin and spice. The finish was structured, yet its persistent fruit continued to resonate. I see this aging into something resembling the amazing ‘99. (96 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2011 – The nose showed dark red fruits, black olive and hints of pepper. On the palate, I found blackberry, cherry and licorice with hints of savory herbs. It finished with big, gruff tannin, feeling rich yet unbalanced. This was another hard wine to judge among its present company. However, as much as I’d like to think it was just outclassed, the ‘11 came across as dark, beastly and lacking balance. (91 points)
Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2012 – The 2012 took all the the classicism of 2010, but it added an airy, almost ethereal quality, which in the end was quite attractive. The nose showed bright cherry with sweet floral tones and dusty spice. It was lively and intense on the palate, with focused acidity ushering along a core of concentrated red fruit, minerals and spice. This was like a freight train across the palate in its youthful state, yet it still finished long and refined with a classic coating of sweet tannin. This is even better than the last time I tasted it, and it’s another one to put in the cellar to love for a long time. (96 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Just for fun, I’ve added Fontodi’s Dino. Giovanni’s tribute to ancient wine making techniques.
Fontodi Dino 2013 – The nose opened with exotic floral tones, ripe cherry, dark soil, minerals, and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, it displayed racy textures with sweet strawberry fruit, a hint of tropical citrus, spice and tantalizing acidity. The finish was fresh with vibrant acidity dancing on the senses. Simply gorgeous. Dino is one of the most balanced and enjoyable Amphora wines that I’ve tasted from Tuscany. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine
Article, tasting notes, and photos by: Eric Guido
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