Whatever happened to our dreams of 1996 being a great vintage? For over a decade, I’ve been pursuing this vintage with hopes that it would be another 1989, yet now I begin to wonder. Last year we put together a blind ‘96 Barolo tasting, and the outcome led me to believe that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The odd thing about that tasting was that the best-performing wines were all produced in a modern style. That wasn’t the case here at our 20-year retrospective tasting.
At the 20-year mark, the majority of these ‘96 Barolos are still as hard as nails. What’s more, in some cases, the fruit appears to be receding and drying out, even as their tannin and acidity continue to power on. On this night, we tasted the best of the best, and when all was said and done, only a handful of them truly impressed. However, what a handful that was, as two of my top three wines are at the peak of the pricing pyramid and extremely hard to find. In fact, the most all-around enjoyable wines of the evening were from the Barbaresco flight, which did well here due to their more feminine and softer fruit profiles. Of course, three out of four were Bruno Giasoca, with Cappellano (a wine made from purchased fruit) scoring very high as well.
In the end, considering the list of names tasted here and the notes and scores I left with, I’d find it very difficult to recommend many of these bottles to the average consumer. While the Ca d’Morissio was drop-dead gorgeous and with a long life ahead of it, I only see availability in Europe, and at almost $500+ per bottle. My runner up, the Giacosa Riserva Asili can be had for $450+ in the US, which isn’t so bad when you consider the cost of recent vintages. That said, I won’t be seeking out any to buy. As for the Massolino Vigna Rionda, that’s the bottle that I would buy, assuming you can find it (for readers in the UK and Switzerland, you may be in luck). The Massolino was ridiculously close in quality to the top-scoring wines at this tasting. If you really want a great ‘96 Barolo in your cellar, that won’t break the bank, then this is the one to hunt for.
So how long do we need to wait for these wines to come around? At this time, I would look to start drinking any ‘96 Barolo from a modern-styled producer. For the traditionalists, you’re looking at another 5-10 years or more. As for Barbaresco, with the proper decanting, these are just entering their drinking window.
As is usually the case, whenever my vintage reports come back with any negative feedback, I’m sure there will be many who will call me out. However, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t share my honest opinions with my readers? I hope I’m wrong, but at this time, ‘96 isn’t looking like the all-around great vintage we had all hoped for. At the top of the pricing pyramid, your chances of a great experience increases.
My advise is to tread lightly, and look for Barolo recommendations from those who have recently tasted the wines. As for Barbaresco, this tasting has tempted me to dig deeper, as this night’s examples were showing beautifully.
On to my tasting notes:
(All wines were served blind in three flights. Bottles were opened between 9am – 11am, decanted for sediment, and then returned to their original bottle until the start of the tasting.)
Castiglione & Monforte d’Alba
1996 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia – The nose displayed dark fruit, as blackberries dipped in liqueur, sweet spice and hints of espresso dominated. On the palate, it was soft, dare I say diluted, with notes of plum and tart cherry. It finished stern, with drying tannin and bitter remnants of red fruit. Everything about this wine made me believe it would be a modern-styled Barolo. (90 points)
1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche – The nose opened strangely, revealing notes of crushed seashell and saline-minerality. However, with time, the Rocche evolved with a display of floral undergrowth, brilliant red fruits and fresh green flora. On the palate, it was firm from start to finish, with earthy red fruits and intense minerality. Dried floral tones lingered throughout the finish, along with drying tannin and minerals. I had high hopes for this bottle, but it appears to be in a very closed phase. (91 points)
1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed dark red fruits, menthol, sweet spice and dried flowers. With time, its fruit fleshed out, as a beautiful expression of fresh roses appeared. On the palate, it was lean yet with persistent tart cherry fruit that stained the senses. It finished structured and tense, yet the fruit remained intact. I have to wonder if this may have scored even higher had it not been tasted next to the Ca d’Morissio. (93 points)
1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d’Morissio Riserva Monprivato – This revealed a bouquet of dusty black cherry, dried flowers, dark exotic spice and crushed stone minerality. It was hauntingly dark and and floral. On the palate, I found pure fruit and saturating tannic structure, as tart black cherry steamrolled across the senses, leaving a trail of acid-tinged minerals in its wake. The finish was long and structured, with lingering notes of dried berries and inner floral tones. I can only imagine that this wine will see a very long life, and I seriously hope to be able to taste it again. (96 points)
Barbaresco (Or the story of three Giacosas and a Cappellano)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Asili – The nose was deep and layered, revealing ripe red fruits, plum, sweet spice, tar, smoke and earth. It was dark, seductive, and even a bit savory. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures with spiced cherry and plum coating the senses, along with licorice and violet florals. It finished incredibly long yet balanced and fresh with inner florals and remnants of dried cherry fruit. As it was tasted blind, I had guessed this to be the Rabaja–looks like I should be buying more Asili. (96 points)
1996 Cappellano Barbaresco – The nose showed dusty florals up front, with ripe cherry, exotic spice, menthol and sweet floral tones. On the palate, it was vibrant with silky textures that caressed the senses, as dark red fruits and inner floral tones persisted well into the long finish. Its structure loomed, along with a coating of minerals and a hint of herbs. This may not be quite as moving as the last bottle I tasted, but it was still an amazing experience. (94 points)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà – The nose was sweet and layered with dark red fruits, dusty florals tones and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, juicy textures with vibrant red berry fruit that coated the senses. Tannin came late and lasted long into the finish, along with lifted minerality and dark fruit. (92 points)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Albesani di Neive – The nose was perfumed and floral with bright cherry and minerals in a very pretty expression. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits and spice, yet there seemed to be something missing throughout the mid-palate. It finished on dried red fruits and inner floral tones. On this night, the Santo Stefano came across as small-scaled and pretty, but not much else. (90 points)
1996 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda – The nose showed intense minerals, almost saline, with sweet herbs and dark red fruits. It was structured on the palate, yet showing intense dark fruits with a zing of brisk acidity before it’s still youthful tannin took effect and saturated the senses. It finished dry with a coating of minerals and tart cherry extract. This is still a baby, but it’s sure to enjoy a long and fulfilling life. (95 points)
1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto – The nose showed dark black cherry and minerals, yet it was restrained and ungiving at this stage. On the palate, the fruit turned crystalline and brilliant with mineral-wrapped black cherry and dark herbal tones that shot across the senses. It finished on concentrated red fruits, iron and fine tannin. I feel like many of the other tasters were let down by the Falletto tonight, yet I found it to be youthfully poised to grow into a beautiful wine. (92 points)
1996 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose displayed an attractive mix of minerals, dusty red fruits, spice, and iron, all with a savory leaning. On the palate, I found dark, bitter red fruits and minerals with earth tones and inner florals. It finished on fresh herbs, minerals and earth, with a coating of gruff tannin that saturated the senses. As is often the case with Otin Fiorin, I have to wonder if it just needs more time to truly show it’s potential. (94 points)
1996 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The nose was almost savory, showing olive brine and sweet herbs before turning to crushed cherry, brown sugar and dark chocolate. On the palate, it was silky but also a bit one-dimensional, with notes of red berry, smoke and a hint of minerality. It finished on dark red fruits, yet it was murky and partially restrained. Unfortunately, I feel that the fruit here simply didn’t integrate well with Ornato’s barrique oak aging. (89 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes: By Eric Guido