The ‘Legends of Piedmont’ at Crush

The following wines were tasted at a class on Barolo and Barbaresco I led at Crush Wine and Spirits in mid-town Manhattan in February 2006.  The evening provided a great opportunity to check in on a few new releases as well as taste some of the region’s benchmark wines from nearly all of the most important vintages back to 1961.

Flight #1

These first two wines are great examples of how far traditionally made wines have come in recent years.  Once criticized for being hard to understand when young, today there can be no doubt that these wines often show well at an early stage.  While these Barolos will be even better with a few more years of cellaring, they are also drinking beautifully now.  I would expect the 2001 Cascina Francia to close down at some point in the future, while the 1999 Monprivato seems to be in a period of expansiveness.

2001 G. Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Medium red.  Conterno’s 2001 Cascina Francia confirms its stature as one of the great wines of the vintage.   It offers captivating, highly nuanced layers of rose, spice, sweet red fruit and mineral flavors on a medium-bodied frame with extraordinary length in an understated yet profoundly expressive interpretation of Nebbiolo.  Blessed with fine, silky tannins, it is also very open at this stage, although my guess is that it will shut down over the next few months.  Readers who haven’t tasted this wine yet owe it to themselves to do so, as it seems destined to become one of the house’s legendary Barolos.  96/drink after 2009, 02/06

1999 G. Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – Medium red.  The 1999 Monprivato offers suggestions of flowers, sweet dark red fruit, licorice and minerals with notable weight on the palate, superb persistence and a final lingering note of sweetness on the fresh finish.   It is an uncharacteristically rich and full-bodied Monprivato at this stage and on this day it was absolutely amazing, dazzling tasters with its complexity, balance and sheer profoundness.  As I have written in these pages before, Mascarello did not bottle his Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio in 1999 and there can be no doubt that the Monprivato benefits from the added richness of the fruit that might have otherwise gone into the Riserva.   Monprivato remains one of the great values in Barolo and this 1999 is another wine that future generations will look back on as one of the vintage’s finest.   I have been fortunate to taste older vintages of Monprivato on many occasions and this wine’s aging potential is decades.  The 1999 is a must-have wine.  95+/drink after 2011, 02/06 

We then moved into two of the region’s top Riservas.  It was fascinating to observe how the wines evolved in the glass.  The 1997 Ca’ d’Morissio was unquestionably the more appealing wine at the outset, but as time passed the 1996 Monfortino may have surpassed it with its greater complexity and delineation of aromas and flavors, a phenomenon I attribute mostly to vintage characteristics.  Both offered the kind of exhilarating drinking experience that only a few of the world’s wines can provide.

1997 G. Mascarello Barolo Riserva Ca’ d’ Morissio – Dark red.  Mascarello’s 1997 Ca’ d’Morissio is simply a stunning wine.  It offers heady notes of roses, tar, licorice, cloves and subtle earthiness along with masses of sweet dark fruit, beautifully marrying the exotic nature of the vintage with classic structure, length and balance.   As it sits in the glass, the flashy and opulent qualities of the vintage become more apparent.  This undeniably appealing and fascinating wine is easily one of the top 1997 Barolos.   With some air it can be consumed today, although it is sure to gain added complexity with additional cellaring.  Not to be missed.  95+/drink after 2009, 02/06

1996 G. Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino –Dark red.  The 1996 Monfortino opens with a breathtaking nose that is to die for.  Expressive aromas of leather, spices, cocoa, and roses gradually emerge from the glass. On the palate the wine displays masses of concentrated fruit that coat the palate with extraordinary length and expansiveness and with a purity of expression that keeps me coming back to wine time and again.  Although it remains quite youthful and somewhat dominated by its structure, I am encouraged by its development.  Perhaps we won’t have to wait decades to enjoy this wine at its prime.  That said, my earlier drinking window (after 2006) appears to have been overly optimistic.  This was a great showing by one of Barolo’s legendary wines from a legendary vintage.  97/drink after 2012, 02/06

Flight #2

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo –Medium red.   It is always a joy to drink to taste Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolos when they are on.  The 1990 Barolo offers a mature nose of roses, leather, tobacco, cedar and coffee with sweet dark fruit and earthy notes in an irresistibly ethereal style.  Medium-bodied and delicate, it shows plenty of supporting structure, although this bottle was somewhat more advanced than a bottle tasted a few months ago.  My impression from both bottles, however, is that this is a wine that has entered its peak window of drinkability.  94/drink now-, 02/06

1989 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis –Dark ruby.  The 1989 Barolo Cannubi Boschis displays much class and elegance in its deep layers of spices, smoke, and sweet dark fruit flavors with great length, finesse, and terrific overall balance.  In the company of the other, mostly traditional wines, it offers a stark contrast in style, yet as it sits in the glass it seems to become more and more classic with each passing minute.  It is an irresistible Barolo that is drinking well today, but that also has the structure to age well for at least another 10 years.  A great Cannubi Boschis. 96/drink now-, 02/06

1985 A. Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia – I had high expectations for this wine, but our bottle showed cloudy color and seemed to be the victim of poor storage at some point in its life.  No rating.

Flight #3

1982 Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano – Medium red.  What pure pleasure it is to taste this wine again.  Everything is in perfect balance, from the captivating nose of roses and spices, to the opulent, sweet perfumed fruit that blossoms onto the palate with a seamless purity that is hard to fully describe with mere words.  It is a highly fascinating and compelling wine that offers a new dimension to its profound personality with each successive taste.  With some air this is a highly enjoyable wine to drink today. Giacosa’s 1982 Santo Stefano Riserva remains an unforgettable and emotionally moving wine.  98/drink now-, 02/06

1978 Gaja Barbaresco – Dark red.   Gaja’s 1978 Barbaresco is a study in contrasts.  The nose suggests a mature wine, with aromas of leather and cocoa dominating, although on the palate the wine shows generous amounts of dark fruit in a concentrated style with much persistence, length and the structure of the vintage.  My impression is of a beautiful wine that lacks the balance to be a truly great wine.  92/drink now-, 02/06

1961 A. Conterno Barolo – Medium red.  In many ways the best was saved for last.  Like the other tasters present, I was floored by this stunning, well-preserved bottle of Aldo Conterno’s 1961 Barolo.  It is a fully mature wine that displays all of the hallmark nuances of leather, cocoa, spices, prunes and plums with sweet fruit, great length and an unforgettable finish in a delicate yet powerful style.  Although objectively it is somewhat rustic in its personality, it remains a tremendous achievement and a real privilege to taste.  At 45 years young it is still full of life, yet I would choose to drink my remaining bottles sooner rather than later, as it would be a shame to miss this wine at this extraordinary peak of expression.   95/drink now-, 02/06

—Antonio Galloni