Barolos of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s: Notes from a Memorable Tasting

A recent gathering with friends provided the perfect occasion to open a few special bottles of our favorite wines. The theme was aged, traditionally made Barolos.  The setting was a beautiful country home set high in the Appenine mountains, on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany.  The estate was gorgeous and peaceful, the only sounds to be heard were the barks of the playful dogs and the gentle trot of the horse.  The weather was chilly so we lit the fireplace.  First we tasted the wines, then we enjoyed them alongside a traditional Emilian menu of tortellini in brodo and bollito misto.  While it is fun to taste wines like this side-by-side, doing so inevitably leads to comparisons of the wines.  These Barolos are such idiosyncratic, highly individual wines, that they are probably best enjoyed on their own, without the presence of other wines.

1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo—Light strawberry red in color.  Conterno’s 1964 Barolo presents an incredibly fresh, delicate and perfumed nose that continues seamlessly onto the palate, showing flavors of cherries and spices, and finishing with very sweet, soft tannins.  I am at a loss to explain or describe this wine’s extraordinary youthfulness and sheer appeal.  This wine is inviting and refreshing beyond words.  My impression is of drinking a stunning wine at its absolute peak.  Truly exceptional and unforgettable.  Made from a blend of grapes the estate purchased from the Ginestra zone in Monforte, and Serralunga.  98 points

1974 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino—Intense dark ruby color that belies this wine’s age.  A massively concentrated and powerful Monfortino packed with flavors of ripe dark cherries, wet earth, tar, and licorice.  The wine offers layers and layers of flavors that continue to unfold in a drinking experience that only a great wine can provide, although my sense is that this Monfortino is revealing only a fraction of its true potential.  Roberto Conterno says his 1974s are still very young.  I wish I had known that beforehand.  95+ points

1971 Cantina (Bartolo) Mascarello Barolo (from 1.9 liter bottiglione) —The bottle, which I purchased at the estate recently, is remarkable itself.  At Mascarello the 1.9 liter format was used prior to 1980.  The bottle is covered by a layer of dust.   There is no label per se, just the numbers “71” written on the bottle in chalk.   An index card with the estate’s information is tied and secured to the bottle with a wax seal.  The cork is also covered with wax.  Following Mascarello’s suggestion, the wine was stored upright for several weeks prior to opening.   The wine was decanted immediately prior to serving.  Needless to say it was a real treat to drink a perfectly stored example of a great wine from a great vintage.

Medium ruby color with slight orangeish tones at the rim.  The wine is somewhat cloudy.  At first it shows overpowering aromas of barnyard.  Fortunately that blows off with air and the wine opens nicely, with plenty of mature flavors of dried fruits, balsam, animal, leather and cedar.  The finish is very long and persistent and the wine is exquisite with food.  Tasted the next day the wine was more even complex and expansive on the palate.  This Barolo has definitely reached maturity although it seems to have enough structure to keep for a few more years.   The wines of Bartolo Mascarello represent the bastion of traditional winemaking in Barolo.   95+ points 

1989 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala—After tasting the 1989 Bussia earlier this year, I was curious to check in on the Cicala.  The Cicala is Aldo Conterno’s most masculine Barolo, as the soils here are extremely poor, and thus yield wines of great structure.  The wine is dark ruby in color, with no signs whatsoever of age.  The wine is rich and decadent, with generous flavors of dark cherries, spices, tar, and plenty of tannins.  The Cicala appears to still very young and in need of further cellaring.  95+ points

-- Antonio Galloni