Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

BAROLO & BARBARESCO – Study in Scarlet

December 2017. Earlier this year I attended a tasting of Piedmont wines hosted by Justerini & Brooks. The focus was on the 2013 vintage. Luckily a number of growers had the imagination also to show some more mature wines, notably from 2009, 2006, 2003, and 1999. This gave an invaluable insight into how Piedmont wines develop in the course of time. How else can one get to understand the long-term prospects of such wines, which can be especially hard to judge in youth?

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Barolo, that most masculine of Italian wines, vastly outnumbered all other appellations at the tasting; but some Barbarescos merited serious attention.

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The tasting reinforced my impression that the Nebbiolo grape, shared by both appellations, performs very differently in the two regions, showing huge energy and thrust in Barolo, and a kind of silky voluptuousness in Barbaresco. It’s certainly a fascinating variety, being able to deliver both force and delicacy. Both qualities can be found in the two sub-regions – but to different degrees and in different modes.

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A few years ago leading Barolo grower Elio Crasso gave me his thoughts on the Nebbiolo grape.

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”All our Nebbiolo vines face south. It’s forbidden by law to plant them facing north.” This underpinned the simple truth that the Nebbiolo – more than most red varieties – needs to be wholly ripe if it is to avoid such defects as harshness and obduracy (defects ascribable to unripe tannins and green acidity).“Most important of all,” continued Signor Crasso, “the Nebbiolo must be picked when it’s RIPE. If it isn’t ripe, it has too much tannin. To me, the Nebbiolo has a lot in common with the Pinot Noir. The two best grapes in the world!”. His words explain (to me at least) why not a few Barolos seem overly tannic, not to say abrasive.

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I found a majority of the 30 or so wines I tasted lacking in rondeur – and not just because of their youth. Most were weak in colour too (probably because the Nebbiolo, like the Pinot Noir, is not a strongly-pigmented variety). Comparable wines from Chianti or Brunello, made from completely different grapes, would have been much darker and shown more flesh and voluptuousness.

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If Barbarescos were in a minority on the day, the following example pleased me greatly and was, in fact, one of the best of those I tasted:

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CASTELLO DI VERDUNO

 

2009 BARBARESCO RISERVA RABAJA

The colour, a nuanced purple, the nose a fusion of cherry, rose-hip, and blood orange – delicate, floating scents that promise roundness. In the mouth, blood orange again and strawberry. The slight astringency on the finish will round out in time. Will improve over the coming decade.

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2012 BAROLO MASSARA

A similar colour, with blood orange on a soft, expressive nose that also incorporates raspberry and saffron. Rounder and fleshier than the preceding, it still has a hint of astringency on the aftertaste, which is also marked by dry, clean wood. Medium long finish. Needs 3-4 years to take off.

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2011 BAROLO MASSARA

Different year, different style. Palish, with a composite smell of saltpetre, cherry, damson, and liquorice. The elegant nose leads into a flavour that’s fuller and weightier than expected but still a a bit astringent. Nonetheless, has promise; needs time.

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2008 BAROLO RISERVA MONVIGLIERO

The first sample so far with a solid, even blackish, colour. Gently voluptuous on the nose, strikingly pure, it emits mellow aromas reminiscent of sandlewood, sweet plum, and crème de framboise. A bit leathery too. The excellent flavour is fleshy, the finish lingering. Easily the best of this quartet and the most complete. Will improve for at least a decade.

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ROBERTO VOERZIO

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2013 BAROLO CEREQUIO

How pale for a Grand Cru Piedmont! But the deep pink hue does have a special glow. The wine’s distinction and uniqueness soon show in an aroma of lingonberry, cherry, and cloudberry. It’s a haunting smell, simultaneously forthright and subtle. A touch of date slinks into the aftertaste, giving greater solidity. Soon the customary Barolo grit asserts itself on the finish. 6-10 years just to start. A sleeper.

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2013 BAROLO LA SERRA

Anaemically pale but clearly (to judge from its inner glow) a wine of quality. The nose is round and, if light, firm and uncompromising, with hints of red cherry, carnation, and raspberry. Clean- cut and vigorous in the mouth, it has a linear rather than globular structure. The finish is mouth-drying – at present anyway. But this palely loitering wine’s core of dense fruit, if slow to reveal itself, augurs well for the future.

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2013 BAROLO LE BRUNATE

A bit darker, this has a round, tender smell of raspberry, pomegranate, brick-dust. Blood orange and cinnamon insert themselves into the flavour – the latter from medium-toast oak. The aftertaste is medium long and dryish. Hard to predict how this enigmatic wine will turn out.

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2013 BAROLO SARMASSA

Another weak colour (why can’t Barolo producers get richer pigments?). The nose is in total contrast, being assertive and suffused with blood orange and raspberry scents. Even more expressive on the palate than on the nose, it quickly unfolds a sequence of subtle flavours and sub-flavours of almost Chambolle-like delicacy. A rush of deliciousness on the aftertaste – blood orange, saffron, cinnamon. A tingling freshness on a finish full of exuberant fruit augurs well for the future.

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2007 BAROLO RISERVA 10 ANNI FOSSARI CASE NERE

The faintly browning “robe” of this 10-year-old signals a degree of maturity. The bouquet – the wine is old enough to use that word – suggests raspberry, ginger, and saffron. It’s a subtle wine, both expressive and seductive, with real substance on the aftertaste with a pruny density on the smoky finish. In style, a meld of Vosne and Chambolle à l’italienne.

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2013 BARBERA RISERVA POZZO/ANNUNZIATA

This is the darkest, most vigorous wine so far, exhaling a luscious composite scent of dark chocolate, elderberry, and damson. The palate, rich and juicy as the scent promises, has a sinewy structure that enfolds the opulent fruit. It’s full of energy, with a rippling aftertaste. I love that long finish, so much so I’m lost for words (almost). The gritty aftertaste makes me think fleetingly of Latour. Very good indeed – the most complete of this series.

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SCARZELLO

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2013 BARBERA D’ALBA

A dark, solid purple, with an intriguing scent of elderberry, graphite, and black cherry and suggestions of wet clay. The lushly fruity flavour seduces me after all those grainy Barolos, and I revel in a cascade of black cherry, blackcurrant, and sloe on a long, silky flavour and aftertaste. I love this glossy, characterful wine.

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2011 BAROLO SARMASSA VIGNA MERENDA

This Barolo, is altogether different from the preceding and much, much paler. But the producer’s prowess shows in a big, vital aroma reminiscent of raspberry, nectarine, and cherry. An influx of additional nuances gives me pause, and I’m compelled sniff again. What a fascinating smell! I can’t altogether pin it down but appreciate it a great deal. Soon a touch of rose-hip syrup enters into the picture and the longish aftertaste is full of character. A slight astringence promises a rigour which, in tandem with ample fruit, urges patience.

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GUISEPPE MASCARELLO

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2012 BAROLO MONPRIVATO

The colour – a wan pink – suggest weakness; but the nose (raspberry and other red fruits), promises volume and depth. It’s so refined I find myself thinking of Chambolle Musigny. The soft, harmonious flavour caresses the palate, opening up to release cherry and pomegranate notes. You register the tannins, which are of the ripe kind, just the kind to provide structure without subduing the fruit. The finish is soft and succulent. Very good.

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2011 BAROLO MONPRIVATO

This is pale too but the nose commands attention: waves of lingonberry/cranberry and red cherry. The delicious, medium-full flavour shows unexpected lusciousness. Spicy elements on the long finish include cinnamon. The protracted aftertaste ends with a flourish. It’s a wine that, in the midst of this hectic tasting, makes you first pause for reflection and then nod in belated recognition of excellence.

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AZELIA

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2013 BAROLO BRICCO FIASCO

The strawberry-infused aroma leads into a flavour with a dash of Campari-like tartness. If unforthcoming at present there’s something purposeful about it. All the same, I’d never have guessed it was fashioned from 80-year-old vines, from which I’d have expected more fat and volume. At bottom, a serious wine which needs time.

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1999 BAROLO BRICCO FIASCO

The colour’s so brown I fear oxidation: the nose is certainly very open and markedly soft. But no: a swirl of the glass brings forth a nucleus of mature, solidly fruity scents – cinnamon, chocolate, saffron, sweet cherry. The flavour shows a lovely spiciness and grows increasingly refined in the glass (I find myself thinking of an elderly Dujac from a light vintage). However, the scratchy, mouth-drying tannins on the finish give me pause. Still inchoate at 18 years. Maybe it will achieve harmony in another 8-10.

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ELIO ALTARE

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2013 BAROLO VIGNETO ARBORINA

The colour is medium deep, the nose firm and harmonious, conjuring up plum, sandlewood, and elderberry. One sip reveals a wine with balance and just the right degree of extraction. The flavour is long, quite complex, and structured in a light but harmonious way. For once, a young Barolo that could be drunk now; but it will improve over 12-15 years.

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2011 BAROLO CERETTA VIGNA BRICCO

The most solid colour so far, veering towards black. The fine aroma of coffee, blackberry, damson and smoke shows real vitality and leads into a slightly pruny flavour with Piedmont vinosity and power. It gets better and better in the glass, the powerful flavour showing pronounced terroir traits, both earthy and stony. Astringent yes; but with enough fruit to outlive that obduracy. And proof that Barolo can be well-coloured.

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2003 BAROLO VIGNETO ARBORINA

This purplish 14-year-old gives off swirling, savage aromas of cherry, raspberry, and liquorice wood, solid yet also ethereal, a faint suggestion of sweet black fig soon showing on a nose not unlike that of a Nuits St Georges. There’s a feeling of substance, of volume, on the palate, with a reprise of liquorice wood backed up by sloe, damson, and clove. A wine with grip and a haunting presence. Cries out for hearty food.

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MARIO MARENGO

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2013 BAROLO BRICCO VIOLE

With the nuanced blue-purple hue of a good Cote de Nuits Burgundy, this smells like a fusion of plum jam and sweet prune. The medium-full, clayey flavour is a repeat of that. The gently marrowy aftertaste is balanced and protracted, though you register the usual sinewy Barolo finish after a while. Very good.

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2013 BAROLO BRUNATE

Made from 70-80-year vines, this has a deep rose colour with a pink meniscus. The lovely aroma is of great purity, suggesting raspberry, lingonberry, and rose-hip. It’s firm in the mouth, with hints of strawberry compote, ginger, and cinnamon. Very long, it still needs 5-6 years to open, followed by at least 10 of ever-burgeoning sapidity.

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2011 BAROLO BRUNATE RISERVA

This limpid wine has a soft, gently voluptuous scent that makes me think fleetingly of a Richebourg. It’s a round, appealing smell of clayey smoothness. The flavour is round and velvety – which is no doubt why it’s classed as Riserva. A harmonious wine to enjoy over the coming 14-15 years.

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1999 BAROLO BRUNATE

At over 17 years, this limpid wine has a slightly smoky nose of plum, raspberry, wild cherry, and rose-hip. The fascinating and elusive flavour has a datelike density but the finish is still a bit astringent. Lots of things still to be resolved: It’s a wine still in evolution, with much promise. It would be rewarding to retaste this in 5-6 years, even if full maturity won’t arrive until some 8 years later. .

 

© Frank Ward 2017

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Related articles :

Piedmont, Italy : Region of mists and mellow fruitfullness (I)

Piedmont, Italy : Region of mists and mellow fruitfullness (II)

 

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