Once In a Lifetime Tasting of Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Riserva
Terms such as “once in a lifetime”, “Unicorn Wines”, and “iconic”, are thrown around too loosely in my business these days. There are certain wines in this world befitting these terms, but our perceptions change over time, and the deeper that a wine writer, sommelier or wine buyer goes into the rabbit hole of exploration, the less these terms mean. Two events reminded me of this more than any other time, and they both took place over the course of only two days.
It was the weekend of La Festa del Barolo in the beginning of February of this year, an event hosted by Antonio Galloni and Vinous, which brings the who’s who of Piedmont into town. One of the occurrences that made me think happened at La Festa itself. You see, the one problem with an event like La Festa del Barolo is that there is such a large influx of people and great wines, all at once, that it’s almost impossible to take it all in. It’s an amazing event, yet you find yourself hurrying to scribble a tasting note before the next wine arrives, and ultimately spilling glasses of wine into spittoons, simply because the next wine put in front of you is either more alluring to taste or brought by a good friend who is eager to impress you with their contribution.
The moment I realized that there was a paradigm shift in the way I thought of iconic wines took place late in the evening, at a moment when palate fatigue and tiredness had taken a serious toll on me. It was the moment that I was brought a bottle of 1978 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino to taste. This is a wine that I have never tasted before, and I had always considered it to be my dream wine experience (pie in the sky). However, on this night, it was poured into my glass while surrounded by a herd of attendees that had descended upon our area. Hands were reaching out to shake, hugs were being given, and more wine was coming toward us.
My dream wine experience ended up lasting all but one sniff (hard to read anything) and one sip (battered by palate fatigue) before another wine was placed in front of me.
Some people would say that these are high society problems, yet I was left saddened. My dream wine had escaped me.
Then There Was the Other Event
We talk about icons, dream wines and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It all starts to seem so trivial until you actually experience it. That experience took place for me at The Rare Wine Dinner (also part of the La Festa del Barolo weekend), where I was able to taste a vertical of the rare, highly sought-after, and almost impossible to find from a perfect cellar, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva. All from large format, and almost all from one collector’s cellar, where they had not been moved since he procured them directly from the estate.
The vintages ran from 1978 to 2010, all served magnum or 1.78-liter bottiglione, a traditional Piedmontese large format that is no longer in use. This small production of pure Brunate fruit has been traditionally held as a family reserve and sold only through the cellar door to their longtime customers. What’s more, the dinner (held at the Nomad) was attended by Marta & Carlotta Rinaldi, the current generation of the family.
Understanding the Brunate Riserva
What makes the Brunate Riserva so unique is that it represents the legacy and traditions of the Rinaldi family that has spanned three generations. As most Barolo lovers know, Beppe Rinaldi (Marta & Carlotta’s father) passed away on September 2, 2018, just short of his 70th birthday. It was when he first took over the family winery, following the death of his father Battista, that the decision was made to make two blended Barolos in each vintage, instead of publicly releasing a Brunate or Brunate Riserva. Before that time, from 1970 until 1990, the fruit from Brunate would be aged and bottled separately, sometimes with a small percentage of Le Coste to balance the blend.
With that said, the popularity and iconic status of Giuseppe Rinaldi took place under Beppe Rinaldi, producing two seperate Barolos: the more austere and precise Brunate – Le Coste, and the softer and more hauntingly floral (my opinion) Cannubi – San Lorenzo. However, through this all, and until this very day, a small amount of Brunate would be kept at the winery for the Riserva. That is the wine we were tasting on this evening.
I’m sure you can imagine how much of an honor it was to be able to attend this event and taste these wines. Even having paid the tariff to be at that table, the fact is that the experience was priceless.
A Warning Before Reading Further
It’s sad, but it’s the way of things. I remember buying the 2006 Brunate – Le Coste for around $65 when it was first released. However, today the same wine sells for an average of $392. I mention this because you must go into these tasting notes with the understanding that finding any of these wines in the market will be an extremely costly endeavor. That said, if you have the means, these are indeed some of the greatest bottles of Barolo ever produced. You’ll also notice that in order to expand the tasting and add more reference points, there were a small number of Rinaldi Brunate – Le Coste added in to the flights (also from large formats).
Lastly, for more information on Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo in general, visit my last focus piece, which contains a history of the family and detailed tasting notes on the winery’s portfolio of Barolo: The Master of Traditional Barolo: Giuseppe Rinaldi
On to the tasting notes
Flight 1: Modern Drinking Vintages
Antonio Galloni went in a very different direction with the order of the flights on this evening, and in my opinion, the results were incredible. Our first flight was designed to show us some of the best-drinking modern-day vintages. While one of them was a bit disappointing, the rest were eye-opening to say the least. What a great way to start.
2000 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The 2000 Brunate Riserva was an amazing way to begin our vertical tasting, as it completely transcended our expectations for the vintage. The bouquet was incredibly pretty, showing dried roses, crushed strawberry, sweet exotic spices, minerals and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by tart cherry and zesty acidity, as earth tones and hints of sous bois emerged. The finish was long, displaying a refined tension, as perfectly ripe tannin lingered amidst notes of tart cherry and minerals. (95 points)
2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – While I expected a more mature wine from the 2000 vintage, instead I found it with the 2001. Here I found a dark and exotic bouquet, with spicy sweet florals, black fruits, licorice and undergrowth. On the palate, soft, enveloping textures washed across the palate with fleshy, ripe cherry and strawberry fruit, giving way to minerals and a slightly oxidized, rusty note. The finish was long, resonating on earth tones, along with tart black cherry and hints of balsamic spice. (93 points)
2009 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The 2009 was certainly the result of a warm vintage, yet it carried itself with poise and balance. The nose was dark and rich with mentholated dark red fruits, cardamom, cinnamon, brown sugar, sweet roses and the slightest hint of volatility. On the palate, I found juicy textures, mixing ripe black fruits with brisk acids and minerals, in a ripe yet perfectly balanced expression. The finish was medium in length, as saturating tart black fruits, licorice and dark inner florals tones lingered. (92 points)
2004 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate / Le Coste – The 2004 was gorgeous on this evening, showing an early glimpse of what promises to be a long and enjoyable drinking window. The nose showed a mix of polished red and black fruits, licorice, dusty rose, dried orange peel and emerging earth tones. On the palate, I found a soft yet vibrant and lifted expression with bright cherry, sweet spice, hints of fine tannin and pretty inner florals. The finish was long, showing the ‘04’s structure, with a mix of cherry and strawberry against grippy tannin, yet still so fresh. What a beautiful wine. (96 points)
Flight 2: Modern-Day Classics
This may not be the title that Antonio officially gave to this flight, but it was evident from the vintage and the very first wine that that’s exactly what it was. Each one of these will continue to mature over the coming decades, but they are already showing a glimpse of how great they will one day be. I’ll say right off the bat that I’m very happy to have the 2006 in my own cellar to enjoy 15 to 20 years down the road.
2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – As is often the case with the best 2008s, the Brunate Riserva was especially vibrant and spicy, showing a bouquet of dusty, mineral-encased black fruits with crushed stone and smoke, gaining volume and depth the longer it spent in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures, energized and excited by brisk acidity, as a mix of exotic red and black fruits washed across the senses, leaving notes of sweet herbal tea, spice, hard red candies and hint of fine tannin. The finish was long and zesty, showing a mix of ripe cherry and autumnal spice. (96 points)
2007 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – Although the 2007 was lacking the depth I’d expect from such a highly rated vintage, it made up for it with its wonderful balance from start to finish. The nose was restrained at first, slowly opening in the glass to reveal crushed black cherry, sweet dried floral, savory herbs and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found soft textures complementing fleshy, ripe cherry, sweet herbs, licorice and a hint of black tea. The finish was long, as structure mounted and gripped the senses, but it somehow maintained balance with vibrant cherry and sweet herbal tones. Wow. (94 points)
2006 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate / Le Coste – The ‘06 is a classic in the making, showing depths of polished dark berry fruits, earthy floral undergrowth, savory spice, balsamic and quinine. On the palate, I found medium-bodied textures, muscled and lean in its youth, with a mix of red and darker fruits, black tea, inner florals and slow-mounting tannins. The finish was long and structured yet packed full of potential, as dried florals, cherry and hints of spice lingered. (97 points)
Flight 3: The Nineties Revival
What a great opportunity to check in on these four years from what many have called the “Barolo Streak” of the nineties. Back then, traditional houses had to work hard to sell their wine, which is ridiculous to think on today, since they have become the icons of the region. If only we knew then what we know now.
1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The unbelievably classic 1999 was a treat from the moment I put my nose to the glass. Here I found a mesmerizing display of crushed black fruits, stone dust, sage, balsamic spice, black tea and moist earth. On the palate, silky textures showed a balance of great depth versus finesse, as dark red fruits displayed a sweet-and-sour persona, with a mix of savory spices and dark inner florals. The finish was long with tart berries, a twang of lingering acidity and hints of tannin. This is a model of poise and refinement, balanced to age for many more years to come. (98 points)
1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – Unfortunately, the ‘98 was one of my least favorite wines of the tasting, showing many of the same tired notes that seem to be plaguing many wines from this vintage. The nose was dark and earthy, showing moist soil tones, wet sand, and crushed seashells, before giving way to a mix of crushed plum, blackberry and a hint of animal musk. On the palate, I found soft textures, displaying fleshy ripe cherry and strawberry, giving way to a mix of elevated acids and minerals. The finish was long, as drying tannin mounted against a mix of acid and grippy tart cherry. (91 points)
1997 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted a ‘97 Barolo that impressed me as much as this did. The nose was dark and rich with sweet herbal tones giving way to dried cherry, potpourri, and hints of animal musk, in a much fresher-than-expected showing. On the palate, I found a zesty, energetic expression with medium-weight textures hosting mature red berry fruits and brown spices with a hint of residual tannin. The finish was long with a sweet-and-sour cherry note, minerals, spice, lingering acidity and echoes of dark florals. (94 points)
1996 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – I have hopes for the ‘96, although it scares me, like many of them often do, since its tannins seem to be outliving its fruit. Only time with tell. The nose was dark, showing polished black fruits with haunting blue florals, crushed stone and a dusting of savory spice. On the palate, I found silky textures, which were quickly firmed up by a mix of acid and still-youthful tannin, as lean, almost savory black fruits and minerals cascaded across the senses. The finish was long, yet structured and dry, as fine tannin saturated and echoes of crunchy black fruits lingered. (95 points)
Flight 4: Three Generations in the Making
This flight gave us the opportunity to try a vintage made by the current generation, Beppe (may he rest in peace), and his father’s wine as well. Witnessing this evolution and the generational shifts was a magical way to understand how only small refinements by each generation has left an undeniable signature on the wines.
2010 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The 2010 Brunate was on full display, showing a rich and incredibly fresh bouquet of crushed black fruits with sweet herbs, menthol, brown spice and the slightest hint of exotic spicy volatility. On the palate, I found silky, pliant textures with depths of exotic dark fruits, sweet tea leaves, and minerals, which were at first enlivened with brisk acids and then restrained by fine tannin. The finish was long, structured, yet balanced, with ripe black fruits, cheek-puckering acids and lingering mineral tones. This is a classic in the making, and I’m sure it will shut down at some point, but it’s currently allowing a preview of what this gorgeous wine will one day become. (97 points)
1993 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The ‘93 was drinking very well on this night, yet I don’t see it getting much better. Here I found a bouquet of sweet-and-sour red berry fruit, crushed fall leaves, undergrowth and hints of animal musk. On the palate, soft, fleshy textures were offset by notes of sour cherry, a twang of brisk acids and earthy minerality. The finish was medium in length, resonating on tart red fruits, savory spice and a palate-pinching reminder of elevated acidity. (91 points)
1990 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The 1990 was a contender for Wine of the Night, showing an unexpectedly refined and layered expression, with dark savory herbs giving way to dusty black fruits, sweet tea leaves, menthol, lifting minerals and crushed stone. On the palate, I found soft, pliant textures, offset by sweet-and-sour wild berries complementing juicy acids, with sweet spice and pretty inner floral tones. This perfectly resolved beauty finished long on a mix of sweet-and-sour berries, herbal tea leaves and savory brown spice. (98 points)
Flight 5: Mature Barolo at its Best
If there were vintages of a lifetime back in the ‘70 and ‘80s, then 1978 would be one of them. The best part is that it did not disappoint, and although the ‘82 and surprise ‘84 appears to be on the downhill slope, they were also wonderfully enjoyable.
1982 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The nose was earthy, showing crushed fall leaves, dark minerals, animal musk and hints of dried cherries. On the palate, I found a soft, soft, soft expression of perfectly resolved nebbiolo, as unexpectedly vibrant red fruits washed across the scenes, leaving masses of earthy minerals and a hint of muskiness. The finish was long, resonating on minerals and earth tones, yet still fresh and showing a final burst of sweet-and-sour red fruits. The ‘82 is completely mature, and likely on the downhill slope, yet hard not to like. (93 points)
1978 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva – The 1978 was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We often hear about how great this vintage is, yet we seldom get to experience it. The nose was dark, rich, layered…intense, showing a mix of brown spice, crushed black fruits, dried strawberry, balsamic tones, savory herbs, dusty soil and hints of sour animal muskiness. On the palate, silky textures were perfectly balanced by refreshing acids and lingering tannin, as red berries and spice tones emerged, along with lifting minerality and masses of dark inner florals. It finished long, balanced, and wonderfully enjoyable, with lingering spice, earthy minerals and resonating dried florals. What a dramatic and perfectly matured bottle of Barolo. I will never forget it. (99 points)
1984 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate – The ‘84 was the surprise of the night, brought to the event by Carlotta and Marta from their cellar. The nose showed sweet-and-sour red fruits, along with wild herbs and hints of animal musk. On the palate, soft textures were given unexpected energy through brisk acidity, creating a fresh and lifted experience, as tart red wild berries, minerals and dried floral tones developed. The finish was long with a twang of zesty acids, tart cherry and lingering minerality. What a pretty and highly enjoyable wine, which is likely nearing the end of its drinking window yet still so fresh today. (93 points)
Credits & Resources
A very big thank you to Ken Vastola of The Fine Wine Geek, for use of his photos of the Rinaldi family in their winery.
All other photos, tasting notes and article by Eric Guido
Visit The Nomad, for a dinning experience like no other. I also must thank them for working so hard to cook within my dietary restrictions.
Thank you to Antonio Galloni and Vinous for conceptualizing such an event and bringing it to life.
For more info on Giuseppe Rinaldi, visit: The Master of Traditional Barolo, by Eric Guido