Four Decades of Barolo: Wines of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s

A recent gathering of passionate Nebbiolo lovers in Boston provided a great opportunity to open a wide range of wines spanning four decades and the full gamut of styles.   The wines were critically evaluated and discussed without food after which they were heartily enjoyed with a variety of delicious homemade dishes, among them our hosts’ spectacular braised short ribs, which were so exceptional they nearly stole the show.  The wines were decanted for several hours prior to being served and tasted blind.   Given the casual nature of the evening notes on these wines should be interpreted as impressions rather than formal tasting notes.

1988 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco Sorì Tildin – Medium/dark ruby.    Very pretty on the nose, showing aromas of alcohol and macerated cherries with non-varietal notes of bell pepper and earthiness that clearly set this wine apart from the others in the flight. On the palate this shows great length, with plenty of dark cherry fruit and excellent freshness on the finish.  Some tasters liked this less, but I find it hard to argue with this wine’s objective level of quality, though I too would like to have seen more typicity.   Well-stored bottles should last another decade or more. 92 points, tasted 06/05

1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero – Medium ruby.  Giacosa’s 1989 Villero is stunning.  It displays a gorgeous, complex nose of roses, sweet fruit, tar, and spices along with more evolved notes of leather and tobacco.  As the wine sits in the glass, layers of ethereal, sweet fruit emerge, along with suggestions of menthol and spices that provide a note of freshness.  Like a fine Renaissance sculpture, everything here is in perfect proportion and balance.    This too should continue to drink well for at least another decade.  Far and above the most impressive wine of this first flight.  95 points, tasted 06/05

1989 Vietti Barolo Villero – Medium ruby.  Vietti’s 1989 Villero come across as much more modern.   It offers a nose of spices and vanilla followed by very sweet, concentrated fruit with good length and a very long finish.   Some of the meatier flavors suggest a mature Barolo, but the wine’s austere, somewhat lean personality make me think a few more years of aging will be beneficial.  This seems to have been caught at an awkward stage in its evolution, but it seems to offer some outstanding potential.  90+? points, tasted 06/05

1988 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero – Medium ruby.  The 1988 Villero is similar to the 1989, but lacks the former wine’s elegance and supreme sense of balance.  Still, the 1988 Villero is an attractive wine, with a mature nose of leather, dried flowers, underbrush, and spices.   This was not the best bottle of this wine I have tasted, and although it showed a lot of structure, it also lacked the fruit that other bottles have shown.  Well-stored bottles will drink well for at least another ten years, and the 1988 is closer to maturity than the 1989.  92 points, tasted 06/05

1988 Vietti Barolo Rocche – Medium ruby.  Vietti’s 1988 Rocche is a powerful, concentrated wine offering sensations of macerated cherries, menthol, and tar, with plenty of dark, jammy fruit on a structured frame, with a supremely long finish.  This wine’s best days appear to still be ahead of it.   90+ points, tasted 06/05

1989 Ceretto Bricco Rocche Barolo Prapò – Dark ruby.  Ceretto’s 1989 Barolo Prapò is surprisingly evolved for the vintage.  It shows a mature nose of tobacco, leather, underbrush, stewed fruits and tar.   Although it is certainly a large, structured wine, there is not enough fruit to make this compelling.  Comes across as surprisingly advanced for a 1989 Barolo from Serralunga.  89 points, tasted 06/05

1978 Vallana Spanna – Dark ruby.  The wine’s unique nose immediately signals that this wine is different from the others in the flight.  The 1978 Vallana shows very delicate, evolved aromas reminiscent of an aged Burgundy and soft dark cherry fruit.  Although it is a bit lean on the palate, this offers good length and freshness, and is excellent with food.  Most impressively, it held up extremely well with the wines that followed.  Piedmont aficionados know that the wines of Antonio Vallana are among the most quirky, fascinating wines ever produced.  I would choose drink my remaining bottles of this 1978 fairly soon, but then again, a recent bottle of the 1958 was also outstanding, and showed little, if any, signs of being a full twenty years older.  90 points, tasted 06/05

1971 Fontanafredda Barolo La Villa – Medium cloudy ruby.  The 1971 Fontanafredda is a beautiful, fully mature Barolo.  It offers an evolved nose of leather, tobacco, spices, and meat.  The fruit has mostly faded, and although the wine offers modest depth, it really comes to life at the table where it offers immense drinking pleasure.   I would choose to drink my remaining bottles within the next few years.  91 points, tasted 06/05

1978 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Bussia di Monforte – Medium evolved ruby.  This 1978 is nothing short of spectacular in its profoundness.   Although the nose shows some evolved notes such as tobacco, there is still plenty of sweet, perfumed fruit, which blossoms on the palate, with incredible persistence, and a lingering note of menthol to round out the exquisite finish.    Like the 1978 Monfortino that would follow, the 1978 Bussia appears magically young, although it is a decidedly more delicate and medium-bodied wine. Though fully mature, this shows no signs of fading.  Pure magic in a bottle. 97 points, tasted 06/05

1967 Borgogno Barolo (Library Release) – The 1967 Borgogno possesses a captivating and enthralling nose of roses, licorice and menthol you could get lost in.  Sadly, this wine is less interesting on the palate, and lacks continuity, definition and fruit to balance the aromatics.  Nevertheless, this is an interesting bottle that showcases the Borgogno style in its classic, austere character.  The tannins are quite soft, and this is a pretty wine for current consumption.  It shows no signs of being tired, and the way Borgognos age, this bottling can easily last another ten or more years.  Like all of this house’s library releases, this wine is incredibly fresh and intact considering its 38 years. 90 points, tasted 06/05

1978 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino – Judging from its dark impenetrable color, this is unmistakably Monfortino.  The 1978 is without question on of the finest wines I have ever tasted and this bottle was spectacular.  It is a deep, concentrated effort boasting a rich balsamic nose of spices and minerals along with layers of dark ripe fruit that gradually reveal themselves, supported by a structured frame of great length, with a final note of freshness that suggests that this wine has a long life ahead.  While the 1978 Giacosa Riserva Bussia is delicate and ethereal, the 1978 Monfortino remains powerful and authoritative.  I am reminded of the frequently asked question: “Should a great wine be intellectually stimulating or hedonistic?” Monfortino is both, in equal measure.  It is a wine that completely engages all of the senses, and needless to say, tasting the 1978 is always a real treat.  98 points, tasted 06/05

2001 Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Riserva Pozzo dell’Annunziata – Inky purple.  Voerzio’s Barbera is a wine that simply transcends varietal with its exotic, explosive nose of spices, chocolate and mineral notes.  It is richly concentrated and structured on the palate, displaying waves of dark fruit that coat the palate with tremendous thrust, closing with a seriously long finish.  I am once again amazed at how well balanced this wine is given its sheer size.  A great effort. 93 points, tasted 06/05

1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto – Medium ruby.  The 1990 Riserva Falletto displays an irresistibly alluring nose of roses, licorice, tar, and menthol. It offers great purity and delineation in its sweet ripe fruit flavors, with notable concentration and terrific persistence.   Everything is perfectly in balance here.   With some air this is an immensely rewarding bottle to enjoy now, although it is sure to age gracefully for another ten to fifteen years and probably more.  The most satisfying of this last group of wines.  97 points, tasted 06/05

1995 Vietti Barolo Rocche – Dark ruby.  The masculine, strapping Rocche is darker and meatier on the nose, with a more evolved balsamic character and notes of spices and stewed fruits.  It offers good length, if not much overall complexity.  My impression is that this wine will not improve dramatically with additional cellaring.  90 points, tasted 06/05

1996 Clerico Barolo Percristina – Dark ruby.  This wine offers a stark contrast to what we have tasted so far- it is our only unabashedly modern-styled Barolo.  The 1996 Percristina announces itself with an extroverted nose of toasted oak, spices, vanilla, and menthol followed by masses of concentrated dark fruit that coat the palate, with building tannins and a very long finish.   This Barolo offers much harmony and balance in its own way.  With some air it is approachable today, although ideally a few additional years of cellaring are warranted.  I have always been partial to Clerico’s 1996s.  92 points/tasted 06/05

1997 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Dark ruby.  Mauro Mascarello’s 1997s are among the most structured wines I have tasted from this vintage.  Perhaps caught at an awkward moment, the 1997 did not enjoy a particularly strong showing, despite having been decanted for over five hours.  It is a massively endowed, concentrated Barolo, packed with ripe dark fruit and fierce tannins that make it hard to fully evaluate.    However, this wine’s strong track record, as well as its aging potential (see Issue 3 and 4), gives me no cause for concern with regards the wine’s future.  In addition, Mascarello’s 1997 Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio has been nothing short of stunning on the three occasions I have tasted it so far.  90+? points/tasted 06/05

—Antonio Galloni