Is it the ability for the wine to mature for fifty years? How about twenty?
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.