A Memorable Evening of Barolo and Barbaresco: 1978 – 1990

It’s always a lot of fun to get together with my tasting group.  I knew this was going to be an unforgettable dinner when the first wine of the evening was listed as the 1985 Sassicaia, one of the most legendary and collectible wines ever produced in Italy. The plan also included a deep selection of classics, including three Giacosa Barolos from 1978, a mini-vertical of Giacosa’s Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano spanning 1982-1990, and a mini-vertical of Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino covering the historic 1978, 1982, and 1985 vintages.  We were fortunate, and indeed privileged, to taste these wines from bottles that had been perfectly stored since release.  As always it would be a great pleasure to share these wines and the animated conversation they bring out in a small group setting.   What a night lay ahead!

We started with the 1985 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, which was impressive for its deep color, fresh aromatics and vibrant flavors.  It offered attractive plummy fruit, cassis and toasted oak notes on a medium-bodied frame with excellent length and fine, silky tannins, conveying an impression of understated elegance.  Readers fortunate enough to own this wine can look forward to at least another decade of prime drinking.

Giacosa: Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano 1982 – 1990

An unforgettable flight of Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano followed and these wines were nothing short of breathtaking for their complexity, poise and overall balance.  These wines delivered a combination of intellectual stimulation and sheer pleasure that is hard to fully describe, but that places them among the finest wines I have ever tasted.  Needless to say, comparing four great vintages from 1982-1990 was a rare opportunity.

1982 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Dark red.  I was simply floored by the 1982 Santo Stefano.  It shows a captivating, totally hypnotizing nose of roses and spices followed by rich sensations of bright red cherry fruit, licorice and menthol, with extraordinary length, purity and overall balance.  At once delicate and powerful, it shows the notable structure of the 1982 vintage and promises to deliver a profound, emotionally moving drinking experience to those fortunate enough to taste it.  An unforgettable wine.  98/drink now-2016, 02/06

1985 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Dark evolved red.  In keeping with the style of the vintage, the 1985 comes across as further along the aging curve in its color, flavors and structure.  If offers an irresistible mix of sweet prune and plum fruit with notes of spices and licorice in a soft, ethereal style, with notable sweetness and a warmly resonating alcoholic finish.  Though not as complex as the very finest vintages, this gorgeous 1985 is a superb choice for current consumption. 97/drink now-2011, 02/06

1988 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Medium faded red.  The 1988 is the most advanced of these Santo Stefanos.  It is fully mature, with notes of leather, tobacco, beef bouillon, prunes and spices on a medium-bodied frame with soft tannins and excellent length.   There appears to be little upside in cellaring bottles any further and I would choose to drink my remaining bottles within the next few years.  A second recent bottle appeared to be at a similar stage of its evolution.  92/drink now-, 02/06

1990 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Dark red.  The 1990 Santo Stefano remains one of the great versions of this wine.  It is a rich, sensual effort, bursting with sweet fruit along with layers of rose, raspberry, licorice and tar nuances on a full-bodied frame of great length.  Irresistible today, it also appears to have the structure to age gracefully for another decade, although it is hard to imagine that this wine could be any better than it is right now.  97/drink now-2016, 02/06

Bruno Giacosa: The 1978 Barolos

We then moved on to a flight of Bruno Giacosa’s Barolos from the historic 1978 vintage that were strategically served after the Santo Stefanos in anticipation of their greater structure.  This turned out to be a great call.  I was amazed at the richness and liveliness of color that all three wines displayed.  The wines were also incredibly youthful and firmly structured with big, imposing tannins.  These are Barolos that will appeal to those who appreciate traditionally made wines, but the massive, imposing tannins may not be for everyone.

1978 Giacosa Barolo Rocche di Castiglione – Dark red.  The 1978 Barolo Rocche di Castiglione is a stunning wine.  It opens with the perfumed, aromatic nose that is so typical of the Rocche vineyard, with slightly evolved notes just beginning to appear.  On the palate it reveals layers of macerated cherry fruit on a deceptively medium-bodied frame with outstanding length and freshness on the finish.  It is the most accessible of these 1978 Giacosas.  The wine’s notable balance, seductive appeal and overall harmony led several tasters to place it among the top wines of the evening.  96/drink now-2016, 02/06

1978 Giacosa Barolo Riserva Speciale Villero – Dark red.  The 1978 Barolo Villero takes things to another level, with a deep penetrating nose and layers of sweet dark fruit, menthol, eucalyptus, and minerals. This massively packed, structured Barolo offers outstanding purity of expression in a richer, more concentrated style.  It too comes across as very youthful.  97/drink now-2021, 02/06

1978 Giacosa Barolo Riserva Speciale Collina Rionda – Dark ruby.  The riveting 1978 Barolo Collina Rionda captures all of the classic notes from this historic vineyard in a never-ending counterpoint of aromas and flavors that seduces this taster.  Suggestions of violets, cocoa, licorice, iron, asphalt and vibrant sweet dark fruit are just some of the nuances to be found in this highly compelling, monumentally structured Barolo that coats the palate with extraordinary length and complexity.  Like the other wines in this flight it appears to be magically youthful.  Well-stored bottles will provide an unforgettable drinking experience for another 15-20 years, and perhaps more.  99/drink now-2021, 02/06

Giacomo Conterno: Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1978 – 1985

Amazingly, after all those great wines we still had one flight left, and what a flight it was.  Older bottles of Monfortino can be somewhat of a crapshoot as many bottles have been ruined by poor storage over the years.  However, these bottles of 1978, 1982 and 1985 Monfortino were absolutely pristine, which allowed the group to thoughtfully and accurately assess the wines.  It was an unforgettable flight.

1978 Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino – Dark ruby.  Conterno’s majestic 1978 Barolo Monfortino offers a fascinating contrast to the Giacosa Collina Rionda in its more concentrated, sweeter fruit and a seamless purity that seems to foreshadow a modern style of winemaking that would place more emphasis on lower yields and rounder, softer textures.  This bottle is mind-blowing in its powerful yet superbly well-balanced, nuanced expression, with waves of sweet dark fruit, licorice, cocoa and leather flavors that go on forever.  Despite the wine’s sheer size it offers outstanding complexity in its vivid detail, with great length and enough freshness on the finish to make me think it will last at least another twenty years.  On most occasions, Conterno’s 1978 Monfortino is the Wine of the Night, as it was again in this tasting….a true testament to this wine’s stature as one of the greatest Barolos ever made.  I have had the privilege of drinking several bottles of this magical wine over the last year and perfectly stored bottles are simply…perfect.  100/drink now-2021, 02/06

1982 Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino – Medium red.  Another stunning Monfortino, the 1982 displays a nose that is surreal in its detail, showing a deep, balsamic quality with slightly more mature tones.  It comes across as youthful on the palate, with suggestions of leather, spices, cocoa and sweet dark fruit on a big, structured frame of extraordinary balance.  The more imposing tannins give the impression of a wine that is more classic in its personality than the 1978.  It is one of my all-time favorite Monfortinos.  97/drink now-2021, 02/06

1985 Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino – Medium red.  The 1985 opens with a heady, alcoholic nose which is followed by layers of sweet fruit and ethereal notes that offer much pleasure.  Although the 1985 offers outstanding length and purity it does not have the complexity of the very finest vintages.  That said, it nevertheless delivers an unforgettable and highly enjoyable Monfortino experience.  It is the most approachable of these three wines and is a great choice for drinking today.  96/drink now-2016, 02/06

There are few better ways to close an evening like this than with a glass of Giuseppe Quintarelli’s Recioto, one of my favorite wines.  Sadly our bottle of the 1979 Recioto della Valpolicella was dried out and lacking fruit.  Fortunately we had better luck with a stunning bottle of Kracher’s 1999 #5 Scheurebe Zwischen Den Seen Trockenbeerenauslese.  Its lush personality and heady, exotic combination of apricot jam, passion fruit, lime, papaya and coconut flavors was the perfect way to conclude a truly unforgettable evening of great wine and conversation.

-- Antonio Galloni