10-Year Retrospective: 2008 Barolo

I can remember the excitement I felt, thinking back to the year that led up to the release of the 2008 Barolo vintage. I had been unimpressed with what I found from the 2007s, with only a handful of wines showing the purity and balance that I expect from a Barolo. Also, the early chatter about 2009 was less than stellar. That left me with 2008, a vintage that was being advertised as something to be excited about, full of cool-toned wines with wonderful aromatics that would do well in the cellar.

When the wines hit, I went to town, snatching up as much as I could find. In fact, it was one of the first Barolo vintages where I had the means to buy in any meaningful quantity, so I would be able to watch the wines mature over time. Tasting them at trade events revealed a selection of intense Barolo with elevated acidity and a spicy nature. They were immediately pleasing as a result of their acid profiles and fruit, because as intense as it was, it wasn’t overripe, overbearing or out of balance.

There was one problem I had with the vintage

I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around how these wines would age. With each one that I tasted, they showed an early accessibility, throwing me off after tasting other vintages that had been advertised as cellar-worthy. Nowhere was I finding the complex and often-drying tannin that I had associated with cool, structured vintages. Having tasted the ‘01s, ‘04s and ‘06s upon releases, I couldn’t understand how the 2008s could stack up against them. There were tannins for sure, but only felt in the mid palate, as each wine seemed to have a level of acidity that left my mouth watering.

Only time would tell, as is usually the case with Barolo, so I laid my acquisitions to rest in the cellar, and I pledged to check in on them in ten years (the amount of time that I’ve always found as a good “first look” for any Barolo vintage).

The wines didn’t want to wait

Through the last few years, 2008 Barolo kept popping up in producer verticals, and each time they would show that same intensity and spicy vibrancy of their youth. I began to wonder if the wines would ever shut down, as Barolo is known to do. With each occurrence, my interests were piqued even further, as I tried to patiently wait for their 10th anniversary.

Welcome to 2018

That 10th year anniversary has arrived, and within weeks of the start of 2018, a 2008 Barolo retrospective was in the works. The lineup was impressive, and I’ll continue to taste the wines throughout the year, however it wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped.

One of the main reasons I began to organize 10-year retrospectives was to have a chance to further fortify my collection with the wines I enjoyed from those tastings–before their pricing became too restrictive. Unfortunately, what this tasting showed me is that I should be happy with what I already have, but outside of a small number of over-performing bottles, that I will not be looking to source more 2008s for my cellar. This may seem drastic, but hear me out.

Drawing Conclusions

First things first, the top wines are gorgeous, but the train has already left the station on nearly all of them. Giuseppe Rinaldi, Bartolo Mascarello and Vietti have all escalated in price to cost double (or more) what they costed upon release. Then there are the rest of the wines and what I’ve learned from tasting a large number of 2008s in a horizontal format.

I’ve found that the acidity, spice and almost-tarry fruit of almost all 2008s becomes boring (and almost tiring) very fast. When tasting a 2008 against other more structured or even riper vintages, its character is a breath of fresh air. But without another vintage to give your palate a break or reset, there’s simply too much of the same. Lastly, I am still perplexed by how these wines will age. As the tannins soften, will we one day find the acidity in these wines too much to bear? Will the fruit always have that intense spice that masks its purity?

An easy generalization to make is that the blending of vineyards produced more balanced wines, as I witnessed through Bartolo Mascarello, both Giuseppe Rinaldi and the performance of G.D. Vajra’s Albe (tasted on a separate occasion).

The Vaira Family of GD Vajra, producers of two of the most balanced wines of the vintage.

In the end, don’t worry about the enjoyability factor found in 2008 Barolo, because it’s still there. However, I would advise collectors to check in one these wines themselves, because the 2008s are still drinking very well. However, I wouldn’t advise organizing a tasting around this vintage by itself, or you may end up making the same mistake as me.

For now, I’ll keep tasting and hoping to grab the best of the best. That said, if you can still find the 2008 Vajra Bricco delle Viole, then you should buy it on sight. The best wines of the vintage are truly gorgeous.

Vintage Character

2008 is a difficult vintage for some producers due to a wet winter and spring that resulted in issues with mildew and peronospora. It is considered a cool vintage, with a warm yet balanced summer and late harvest that started around the middle of October (one of the latest on record) under unexpectedly cold temperatures. However, this resulted in the amazing perfumes that have defined many of the wines.

On to the Tasting Notes

Our tasting was held at the North End Grill in New York City. All wines were served blind after having been opened in the morning and double decanted back into bottle.

Flight 1

Gaja Langhe Nebbiolo Conteisa 2008 – The nose showed ripe black cherry with sweet herbs and spice, dried leaves, lavender and a slight hint of undergrowth. On the palate, silky textures were offset by spicy tart cherry with saline-minerals, zesty acidity and mounting young tannin. It was incredibly soft, almost flat, which detracted from the experience. The finish was long with saturating tart red berry fruit, lingering acids, spice and a long bitter twang. (92 points)

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2008 – Here I found a lifted and pure expression of Barolo that wowed me with its feminine grace. The nose showed mineral-laced cherry and strawberry with a sweet dusting of spice, dried flowers and hints of balsamic. On the palate, I found soft, caressing yet lifted textures with pretty strawberry, inner rose, mineral tones, bitter herbs, and brisk acidity which added mouthwatering freshness. It finished long with fine saturating tannin, zesty acidity, saline-minerals and lingering spice. This is a classic in the making. (95 points)

Lorenzo Accomasso Barolo Riserva Rocche 2008 – The nose was dark, dank and rich with earth-infused black cherry, minerals, crushed stone and hints of savory herbs. On the palate, I found soft, almost diluted tones with hints of crushed raspberry, spice, a bit of diesel and saturating minerality. It finished medium-long with tart, saturating red fruits and an impression of imbalance. (88 points)

Flight 2

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera 2008 – The nose showed depths of red plum and black cherry with sweet soaring floral tones, hints of wild herbs and a pleasant dose of sweet spice. On the palate, I found zesty, soft textures hosting spice-infused inner florals and juicy fresh cherry, as notes of leather and spice added grip. It finished long on sweet cherry with zesty spices and acids lingering long. This was so easy to like already and perfectly balanced for further development. (96 points)

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2008 – The nose was slightly restrained with mineral-infused cherry, crushed dried flowers, and stone dust. On the palate, I found ripe black cherry, followed by earth tones and minerals, with mounting fine tannin which dried the fruit and left a structured and earthy impression. It finished long and structured with notes of dark earth, tart black and red fruits. (92 points)

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2008 – The nose was layered and remarkably pretty, showing black cherry and plum with hints of licorice, tobacco, dusty earth, moist minerality and hauntingly dark dried floral tones. On the palate, I found soft, pliant textures with dark red berry fruit, inner rose, and dry spice, as balancing brisk acidity and light tannin settled in to complete the experience. The finish was long and dark with saturating, spicy red berry fruits, inner florals and lining hints of fine tannin. This wine is drop-dead gorgeous. (97 points)

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste 2008 – The nose was slightly restrained and opened up only with coax in the glass, showing notes of dried strawberry, crushed roses, dried citrus, savory saline-minerals and dusty exotic florals. On the palate, I found silky textures which coated the senses, yet they were quickly offset by fine tannin and zesty spice with ripe red and blue fruits, as appealing sweet inner-florals developed over time. It finished long and structured with saturating black raspberry fruit and a coating of grippy young tannin. (95 points)

Flight 3

Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Vignolo 2008 – The nose showed ripe plum, crushed strawberry, dusty spices, sweet minerality and dried floral tones, On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty spice and balanced acidity, which added energy and verve, as pretty red berry and inner floral tones coated the senses. The finish was long with staining spicy red fruit, sous bois, and lingering sweet herbal tones. (94 points)

Fratelli Brovia Barolo Rocche 2008 – The nose showed crushed overripe cherry, dried orange peel and sweet, exotic floral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures with light cherry and spice, yet lacking depth and with a zing of zesty acid. The finish was medium-long with a burn of acid and little in the way of fruit. (N/A)

You’ll notice that there are two tasting notes for the Vietti Rocche. The reason for this is that the wine was tasted in the morning when it was first opened and then again in the evening. In nearly every case, Barolo only improves through the process of opening and allowing them to decant in the bottle throughout the day, but somehow the Vietti Rocche did not.

Vietti Barolo Rocche 2008 (morning note) – The nose was lifted and feminine, yet it showed masses of bright strawberry, cherry, roses and dusty minerality. With time, it developed layers of balsamic spice, hints of white pepper and animal musk, maintaining wonderful purity. On the palate, I found silky textures with ripe cherry, sweet inner-florals and minerals, as brisk acidity added liviness in contrast to slow-mounting fine tannin. It finished long with harmonious mineral-influenced tannin, yet slightly drying its notions of bright cherry and spicy florals. (95 points)

Vietti Barolo Rocche 2008 (evening note) – The nose was very ripe and rich, showing crushed plum, sweet confectionary spices, lavender and dusty florals. On the palate, silky textures gave way to tart black cherry with minerals and an herbal twang. Balanced acidity kept it lively and fresh, as exotic spices saturated the senses. The finish was medium-long with a lasting mix of minerals, spice, and hints of youthful tannin. Having tasted this wine many hours prior, I can’t help but feel that we caught it at an odd stage in its decanting. (90 points)

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2009 – The ’08 Monprivato showed a pretty bouquet of dusty, mineral-encased bright cherry, crushed stone, dried roses, soil tones and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty, feminine textures, accentuated by brisk acidity with bright cherry and strawberry, sweet herbal tea, saturating mineral tones and the slightest hint of fine tannin. It finished medium-long, fresh and savory with lingering inner florals, minerals and spice. This is showing beautifully tonight, but it’s very hard to gauge how well it will age. (93 points)

Flight 4

Through a mispulled and opened bottle, we had two bottles of Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia served blind at the table. I’ve included both tasting notes, but one bottle was flawed. The other didn’t show as favorably as I had hoped.

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 – The nose showed crushed strawberry, with dusty sweet florals, fleshy ripe plum, licorice and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures with gorgeous sweet spices, cool-toned ripe cherry and zesty acidity, as inner floral tones and hints of light tannin coated the senses. The finish was medium-long with hints of saturating tannin, inner rose and minerals. In all honestly, I was disappointed when the Cascina Francia was revealed in this blind tasting, as I had hoped for more from this bottle. (92 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 – The nose was restrained at first, adding depth and richness with time in the glass, as notes of overripe black cherry, sweet-and-sour brown sauce, a hint of orange peel, soil tones, and dried florals lifted from the glass. On the palate, I found soft, almost-diluted textures with tart black fruits and spice, yet its structure seemed to be based on acid more than tannin with a short finish that lingered on dank earth tones. I believe this was a bad bottle. (N/A)

Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2008 – The nose showed mineral-infused cherry and strawberry with stone dust and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found unbelievably silky textures with saturating red fruits, balsamic tones, dark minerality, and saturating spice. The finish was long and firm with saturating spice, saline-minerals and fine tannin. This wine continues to develop in a very positive way, yet is still years away from its early drinking window. (94 points)

Also tasted in 2018

G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2008 – The bouquet was refined and dark, yet generous, displaying notes of plum and savory-spiced black cherry complemented by hints of dried roses, mint, fresh cedar and pine. On the palate, I found soft feminine textures with lively acidity and a hint of tannin perceivable only by a gentle tug it gave on my senses. A remarkably pretty and lifted mix of fresh strawberry, cedar and mint washed across the senses, following into the long finale, where hints of light tannin saturated the senses, as inner floral tones and dry cherry extract seemed to linger on. (92 points)

Resources and Credits

Many thanks to the members of our Barolo group. Formed on the Vinous message boards many years back by a group of passionate collectors whom I am proud to be a part of.

Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido

A special thanks to the North End Grill