Tasting of a Lifetime: Bruno Giacosa Barolo & Barbaresco 1961 – 2008
In comparison to many of the collectors I know, my experience with Barolo is relatively short. It was only eleven years ago that I was pulled into the world of Nebbiolo. I was warned by others that it could happen, that I might be entering into a hobby that would become a lifelong obsession. The world of Barolo and Barbaresco is vast, and the unique experiences depend on so many deciding factors. The soil, the climate, the exposition, and altitude are just the beginning. When you take it to the next level, you see that the lists of vineyard names and unique qualities of each one can fill a book–in fact, they have. Then you look beyond that, to the vintage, the winery, the winemaker, the style and the passion.
You start to realize that with each wine you acquire and enjoy, you are further embarking on a journey to understanding how a bottle of fermented grape juice can be so moving, or simply stop you in your tracks. That’s the magic of Barolo and Barbaresco.
The history of this region, and how it came to be, is just as important as the factors which decide what the experience will entail. From that living history, we come across the names of producers who have shaped the entire region, and what we perceive to be the greatest experiences we’ve encountered. From that list of names, one person who stands out for his pioneering spirit, insights, and unique abilities, is Bruno Giacosa.
Bruno Giacosa didn’t learn his craft studying enology at school. Instead, at the age of thirteen, Bruno began working in the cellar with his father and grandfather, who made their business producing wine that would be sold in demijohn instead of being bottled at the winery. This wasn’t a family of farmers turned winemakers; this was a family of grape brokers who had established long-lasting relationships throughout the region. The experience of touring landscapes of the surrounding villages with his father helped to shape Bruno and hone his most valuable asset, that is, his ability to source the best fruit for both Barolo and Barbaresco.
Located in Neive, Bruno took the reins of the family business in 1960 and immediately began bottling wine from what would become some of the biggest named vineyards in the region. His first vintage was 1961, when he bottled a Barolo (with fruit from Falletto) and a Barbaresco (a mix of Gallina and Santo Stefano). Before long, this culminated into the release of vineyard-designated wines, starting in 1967, at a time when few producers saw the winds of change on the horizon. Along with producers like Angelo Gaja and Alfredo Currado (Vietti), Bruno Giacosa began to pave the way for Barolo and Barbaresco as we know it today.
The one thing that he didn’t have was his own vineyards. Even with Bruno’s skills of sourcing the best fruit, he watched as farmers became winemakers, making the best vineyard sources more difficult to acquire. Without skipping a beat, and always ahead of the curve, Bruno purchased his first vineyard in 1982, the one which he has been accredited for making famous: Falletto di Serralunga. Over the years, he would go on to buy more parcels, taking pieces of Asili and Rabaja in Barbaresco; yet through that time, Bruno continued to source fruit, but only when it was up to his standards. Many Barolo collectors lament over the loss of Giacosa-bottled Villero and Vigna Rionda–and in more modern times, Santo Stefano.
However, it was Bruno’s quest for the utmost quality that drove him to create the wines that we know and love today. In the greatest vintages, we would be treated to the release of his epic red label riservas. In the poor vintages, Bruno would simply declassify his fruit and sell the juice in bulk. To this day, lovers of Barolo and Barbaresco hunt for leads that could explain where this wine went to.
As for the style that defines the house of Giacosa, it is often referred to as traditional. Yet this is by no means a stark traditionalist approach. Instead, Bruno wanted to make great Barolo. The broadest way to describe this approach is with macerations around 30 days long, fermenting in stainless steel with moderate temperatures, and aging in large Botti of French origin. That said, I’ve heard stories of this approach varying over time. But does that really matter? In my opinion, it does not, because the fact remains that these are some of the greatest wines that were ever made from throughout the region.
Unfortunately, Bruno suffered a stroke in 2006, which was followed by the temporary loss of his highly talented oenologist, Dante Scaglione. With her father’s health in decline, Bruna Giacosa (Bruno’s daughter) stepped up to the mantel, and what followed was a period of unevenness. However, with Dante back in the winery, Bruno back on his feet, and his daughter at his side, I have high hopes that the Bruno Giacosa winery will be back on top once again.
This all leads to December 12th, 2016, at a restaurant in New York City named DeGrezia, where a table full of some of the most passionate Barolo collectors I know, Antonio Galloni among us, built our lineup of Bruno Giacosa. The tasting nearly spanned Giacosa’s entire history, from the inaugural vintage all the way to 2008. You can imagine the anxiety that filled us all, even weeks before the event. I can attest to my own personal health, which had been in decline the previous week, and how hard I worked to get myself back into condition, because this was not a tasting to miss. In fact, this was the experience of a lifetime.
On to the tasting notes:
1961 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Speciale – Sourced from the Gallina and Santo Stefano vineyards, the ‘61 Barbaresco was unexpectedly youthful and exuberant, showing a touch of volatility that contributed to its raciness. On the nose, I was greeted to a vibrant display of sweet florals and spices, gaining richness with time in the glass, adding dried orange, cedar and hints of dusty vanilla. On the palate, I found silky textures combined with racy acidity, showing dried cherry, mint and inner floral tones. The finish was long yet juicy, as saturating spice and red berry tones lingered long. Frankly, you’d never guess this wine’s age. (94 points)
1964 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva (Falletto) – Having had the pleasure of tasting this during three different phases of its time open in bottle, I was at first greeted to a bouquet of dried flowers, dusty earth and parchment. Over the course of hours, the nose gained a deeper and dark persona, as dried black cherry, undergrowth and a slight musty aroma took hold. Yet hours later, the fruit came to the front, becoming more blue and black than red, with a exotic spiciness. On the palate, dark, pliant textures made themselves known, ushering in silky waves of dried fruit, herbs, dark soil and minerals. It was still youthful in its vibrancy, yet perfectly mature in tannin, finishing on iron-tinged minerality and with a sense of perfect balance. (95 points)
1967 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva – The ‘67 was beautiful in its maturity, as a wave of dusty earth, dried florals, minerals and a hint of caramel lifted from the glass. On the palate, it was zesty, displaying a mix of savory minerals, dried herbs and hints of worn spice. The finish was shorter than I’d hoped, yet still wonderfully balanced and refined, with a lingering hint of citrus, red berry and dried inner florals. (91 points)
1978 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano – In a word… spellbinding. The ’78 Barbaresco Santo Stefano took all of the lifted floral, cherry, minerals and spice that we love about this wine in its youth and transported them gracefully over 38 years of maturity to form a feminine, elegant wine of purity. It was a pleasure to drink, yet all I needed to truly enjoy it was the ability to take in its bouquet over and over again. Bright red floral fruits and dusty spices led to a palate with silky-soft textures and saturating dried berry tones. A hint of tannin still resonated through the finish, along with mouth-puckering acidity and notes of leather, cedar and inner floral tones. Stunning! (95 points)
1979 Bruno Giacosa Barolo – The ‘79 Barolo was completely mature yet still quite enjoyable. Here I found a nose of dusty potpourri, dried cherry and a hint of parchment. On the palate, lifted, feminine textures gave way to tart red berry and hints of cedar. It was persistent, yet a bit linear, ending with medium length and a bitter twang of tart red fruit. (90 points)
1980 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche di Castiglione – The ‘80 Rocche displayed a fully mature bouquet of tart dried berries, orange peel, hints of caramel and iodine. On the palate, I found savory and herbal-infused remnants of red berry with hints of cedar and spice. A wave of acidity maintained freshness throughout and paved the way for a pleasurable finale of dried berries and earth tones. (92 points)
1985 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche di Castiglione – What started as a vegetal nose of cucumber and herbs quickly evolved into a wonderful display of crushed strawberry, brown spice, earth and dried roses. On the palate, I found soft textures with a rich display of spicy crushed cherry, which was pumped up by a pulse of vibrant acidity and mineral thrust. It finished on dried red berry, which coated the palate and slowly faded to minerals and earth. (94 points)
1986 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche di Castiglione – The nose was dark and massive, with plush notes of black cherry, sweet herbs, earth followed by hints of almond, celery and dried cedar. On the palate, I found vibrant, acid-driven textures overlaying rich dark red fruit, with hints of balsamic, smoke and spice. This finish was shorter than I’d hope yet left a sense of utter balance and remnants of minerality. (93 points)
1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero – The ‘89 Villero opened with a funky earth, mushroom and mineral-driven bouquet, yet quickly evolved in the glass to reveal bright red fruit with rosy florals, undergrowth and spice. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, which seemed to touch upon all of the senses, as notes of undergrowth seemed to carry over from the bouquet, leading to ripe cherry, spice, cedar, and a slight grip of still youthful tannin. It finished youthful with dried cherry, minerals and hints of exotic spice. With the exception of a slightly dirty quality on the nose, this was exceptional. (95 points)
1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva – The ‘89 Falletto didn’t perform as well as past bottles I’ve experienced, as it seems it may have been poorly stored at one point in its life. The nose showed minerals up front, along with dried berries, spiced orange and notes of undergrowth. On the palate, I found dark, almost murky, red fruits with notes of coffee grinds, sweet spice and moderate tannins. A roasted sensation lingered, as it finished on briny minerality. (NA)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto – This opened with a beautiful and exuberant display of wild berry, dusty spice, rose, licorice, crushed stone minerality and smoke. On the palate, I found angular textures with youthful tannin, yet its vibrant spiced-cherry fruit maintained a wonderfully drinkable persona. It finished on palate-coating tart red berries, tar and leather tones with hints of lingering mineral-infused tannin. (95 points)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva – My love of Giacosa’s Asili seems to grow deeper and deeper with every taste. Here I found an earthy and seductive bouquet of savory herbs and seared meat, which transformed to crushed berries, plum, roses and hints of moist soil. On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by youthful tannin, as vibrant dark-red fruit filled the senses, along with, earthy minerals, anise and bitter balsamics. The finish was youthfully dry, yet dense red fruits prevailed, promising many years of development. What a beautiful wine. (96 points)
2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche Riserva – The ‘00 Rocche was simply seductive with an alluring bouquet and enveloping on the palate. Here I found a dark and inviting mix of crushed cherry and strawberry with sweet spices. On the palate, soft textures gave way to floral-infused cherry, as hints of leather and earth tones filled the senses. The finish was long with a yin-and-yang of sweet red fruits and a bitter twang of spice and herbs. Although this came across as a bit roasted, it was still so easy to like. (94 points)
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva – Where to begin with this elegant beauty of a wine? The nose was a dark and exotic beauty which filled the senses with aromas of cinnamon-tinged black cherry, brown spices, tobacco, dusty florals, and tar. A massive wave of dark fruit swept across the palate, delivering saturating fine tannin with notes of leather, cedar and exotic spice. The long finish lingered with resonating tart red berry, spice and a coating of fine tannin. The is a gorgeous wine with marvelous balance and decades of evolution ahead of it. (97 points)
2004 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva – The ’04 Asili was firing on all cylinders tonight. One of the first wow wines of the tasting, and it stayed with me throughout the entire evening. Almost impossible to take my nose from the glass, with a mix of fresh herbal-tinged cherry, exotic florals, minerals and green olive. On the palate, it was rooted in the earth, layered, and showing masses of structured depth, as saline-minerality paved the way for dried cherry, leather and iron. It finished unbelievably fresh on a note of cherry pits with hints of spice and fine tannin. There’s so much potential here, as my last comment to my fellow tasters was, “why don’t I have this wine in my cellar?” (98 points)
2007 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva – The ‘07 Asili was so easy to like, taking the ripeness of the vintage and combining it perfectly with the house style. Here I found a bouquet of sweet florals and spice, with hard red candies and the slightest hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found intense dark red fruits ushered in by angular, weighty textures. Vibrant acidity mixed with grippy tannins, which provided the perfect contrast to the ‘07’s warm vintage persona. It finished long on spicy red berries, bitter cherry and spice. (94 points)
2008 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche Riserva – (served blind) This is one of those moments where you consider the score versus the cost, and you have to question whether one should affect the other. The controversial ‘08 Rocche was served blind, and it was clear that it was Nebbiolo. What was not clear was where it was from, and no one would have guessed Giacosa Riserva. The nose showed ripe cherry with a dusting of spice and dried orange. On the palate, I found tart red fruits with saturating minerality and a zing of fresh acidity. Youthful tannin coated the senses, drying the palate and finishing on notes of spice and cedar. (90 points)
Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by Eric Guido
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