Thirty Years of Vietti: Barolo Rocche 1974-2004

1974    Vietti Barolo Rocche              91

1978    Vietti Barolo Rocche              ?

1982    Vietti Barolo Rocche              94

1985    Vietti Barolo Rocche              ?

1988    Vietti Barolo Rocche              92

1989    Vietti Barolo Rocche              94

1990    Vietti Barolo Rocche              93

1996    Vietti Barolo Rocche              94

1997    Vietti Barolo Rocche              93

1998    Vietti Barolo Rocche              91

1999    Vietti Barolo Rocche              94

2000    Vietti Barolo Rocche              93

2001    Vietti Barolo Rocche              94

2003    Vietti Barolo Rocche              92

2004    Vietti Barolo Rocche              96

A simple, informal dinner at Becco, in New York City’s theater district, provided an incredible opportunity to survey a broad range of vintages of Vietti’s Barolo Rocche.  Vietti is one of Barolo’s historic properties. Husband and wife team Alfredo Currado and Luciana Vietti were pioneers in the 1960s. They were among the first producers to recognize the unique qualities of their vineyards, many of which are among the finest in the region, even today. Their 1961 Barolo Rocche was among the earliest Barolos to be made from a single vineyard rather than from a blend of plots as was the prevailing custom at the time. Vietti was also one of the first estates to export a significant amount of their production to overseas markets, especially to the US. In fact, I remember that when I lived in Italy a few years ago their wines were always easier to find in the US than locally. Today, the estate is run by brothers-in-law Luca Currado and Mario Cordero. While the quality of the Barolos continues to be very high what impresses me most about Vietti is the quality of all their wines, from top to bottom.

The Rocche vineyard is located in Castiglione Falletto, not too far from the winery. The hallmarks of this site are perfumed fruit, finessed, silky tannins, and a sweetness to the fruit that makes the wines accessible at a relatively early age for Barolo, all qualities that were on full display in the wines. The atmosphere in the room was electric as we worked our way through this breathtaking array of wines, which we enjoyed alongside Becco’s traditional Italian fare. The food was delicious, but on this night our attention was understandably focused on the wines. Special thanks are due to collector Greg Dal Piaz who organized the dinner and contributed all of the wines except for the 2003 and 2004, which were brought by Luca Currado.

I think it is safe to say we were all impressed with the deep color and overall freshness of the 1974. It wasn’t among my favorite wines of the night, but its ageworthiness was commendable. Among the 1980s vintages, I loved the 1982 for its perfumed aromatics, ripe fruit and silky, finessed tannins. It was a great and very representative 1982. Tasting the 1989 and 1990 side by side provided a fascinating comparison of these two great Barolo vintages. The 1989 was fresher and more delineated, with pretty balsamic notes that developed in the glass, while the 1990 presented a distinctly opulent, fruit-driven personality, but was also further along in its evolution. The 1988 revealed a more slender personality, but it too offered notable elegance and freshness, something that is increasingly elusive, as the wines of this vintage have begun to show their age. Sadly, our bottle of the 1978 wasn’t perfect. The 1985 was slightly corked, which was a shame, since it was clear that the wine had aged gracefully and was otherwise intact.

Moving into the 1990s, I admired the 1996 and 1999, two wines which share many similarities as they are both products of cool, fresh growing seasons. The 1996 showed itself to be the pure-breed classic it has always been. Gorgeous black cherries, baking spices and menthol all emerged from this vibrant, structured Barolo. Although it was terrific on this night, the firm tannins suggested it will age along with the best wines of the estate. The 1999 was very similar in style, but it came across as slightly more elegant, although that is splitting hairs at this level. The 1997 struck me as a modern-day 1990. It was hard not to love this wine for the sheer opulence of its seductive ripe fruit and gorgeous balance. Oddly, the 1998 came across as over-ripe and simple next to the 1997, something that came as a surprise to everyone at the table. The 2000 enjoyed a stellar showing. Although it revealed many qualities that were reminiscent of the 1997, it also appeared to offer better balance and harmony as it was less obvious in its expression of the hot vintage.

I have always enjoyed the Vietti wines, but in recent years they have stepped up quality in a remarkable manner. The wines from the 2000s amply prove that the estate is making the best wines it has in its long, storied history. The 2001 was an adolescent. Sweet, perfumed and layered, it showed remarkable balance and poise, with the greater volume and depth it has acquired in bottle. The 2003 was also big and full-bodied, yet it showed remarkable freshness considering the vintage. Though a great effort in a difficult vintage, the 2003 clearly suffered when compared to the 2001 and the 2004 that followed. In many ways the best was saved for last. As much as I loved the 1982, 1989, 1996 and other vintages, the 2004 was on another level entirely. I was somewhat surprised by how much the wine had begun to close down since I last tasted it in bottle a few months prior, but all the ingredients for a classic, superb Barolo Rocche were there, from the signature aromatics, to the ripe dark fruit and the finessed tannins. Yet the 2004 revealed an additional level of ripeness and concentration which should allow it to take its rightful place as one of the finest, if not the finest, Barolo Rocche Vietti has ever made.

-- Antonio Galloni