This promised to be a great tasting. I love Barolo. It is sooo expensive though, so I don’t get to drink anywhere near enough of it.
First up was the Society’s AGM, however. To accompany the business section a small selection of “conversation wines” from the Society’s collection was provided to lubricate the meeting, ahem.
I tried the Australian 2002 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill which was lovely, linear and minerally; a 2001 Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Combe aux Moines (a gift from the Estate of a supporter of the Society); a 2001 F. Esmonin Ruchottes Chambertin (from the same estate) which was tender, floral, and fine, with gorgeous fruit and structure, and a sweet finish; and a 2010 Terres Dorees Beaujolais Village, Moulin a Vent which was delicious, floral, light and aromatic and fruitful. A fantastic way to get the palate working.
The business was over and done in 23 minutes, longer that the previous year (due to a few questions from yours truly), then it was on to the Barolo’s…
As usual, a society member led the tasting, and produced the following notes to accompany the flight and provide pre-reading background to the wines. Here is what AH wrote for us:
“It is usually possible to recognise Barolo or Barbaresco when they are served blind, particularly if they follow Red Burgundy. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” is often the call. Michael Garner, co-author of Barolo – Tar and Roses says it is the only wine that smells like you have walked into an old church. The structure is distinctly Italian, with unrepentant tannin and acid, and that characteristic tarry goudron element often shows in older examples. These stereotypical descriptions fail to account for the fascinating variation in style that is seen among these wines, which are every bit as diverse as Red Burgundy.
What are the key determinants of style and quality in Barolo?
- Soil. The soils of the Barolo region can be divided into two main types that are separated geographically by a diagonal line running through the town of Barolo and up towards CastiglioneFalletto. The communes of Barolo and La Morra to the northwest of the line are located on soils formed in the Tortonian era; consisting of calcareous clay and blue-gray marls. Wines from this part of the Barolo region tend to be more elegant and approachable earlier than their Serravallian counterparts.
Southeast of the line, the communes of Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba are on silty marls dating back to the Serravallian era and are comprised of clay, sandstone and, in particular, calcium carbonate, which renders wines that are more structured, tannic and take longer to reach their optimal drinking window.
Parts of Castiglione Falletto have a third soil type; the Arenarie di Diano d’Alba. This has a higher sand content than the soils across the valley in Serralunga d’Alba and may explain differences in structure between Serralunga and Castiglione wines, and differences between vineyards within the Castiglione Falletto commune.
- Aspect. The direction a vineyard faces is fundamental to the quality of the cru. The tongues of the Barolo hills are rippled with hills and valleys, producing enormous variability in microclimate, and a vine planted on a south or southwest-facing slope will see more sun than vines on the northern side of the hill. Elevation is also important, the best parts of the vineyard being on the mid to top part of the hill; the so-called bricco. Traditionally, the best sites for vines were identified as the a reason the hill where the snow melted first in spring. In recent years, global warming and the rise in prices of Barolo have made it possible and desirable to replant with Nebbiolo areas that were previously considered suitable only for Barbera, Dolcetto and hazelnuts.
- Winemaking style. Up until the late 1960s, Barolo was made by blending wines made from different vineyards to achieve a balance of elegance and structure, and aging them in ancient large format oak botti, probably inherited from ones grandfather. In the 1970s, a new generation of winemakers began to question their forefathers’ practices. These ‘Barolo Boys’ visited Burgundy and came back with ideas of making individual crus and aging them in barriques. In 1983, in a fit of pique, Elio Altare took to his father’s botti and fruit trees with the chainsaw that was heard around the world; this act being a symbolic turning point in Barolo winemaking history.
While the move from the traditional winemaking practices to the modernist approach undoubtedly brought long-overdue improvements in cellar hygiene and consistency of quality, many felt that the flavours imparted by high speed fermentations in roto fermenters and aging in oak barriques obscured the essential form of Barolo and Barbaresco; with leather, tar and roses giving way to espresso, chocolate and vanilla.
These days the distinction between traditionalists and modernists is less clear-cut. Producers like Bartolo Mascarello stick to a hard line traditionalist approach; a fax machine being the most high tech device in that cantina, whereas others like Domenico Clerico take great pride in their vast halls of French barriques, but many combine elements from both approaches, or use roto fermenters only for turning the cap once or twice a day, or have a low percentage of new oak.
Of the producers we will be tasting, Brezza and Marcarini and perhaps Vietti could be regarded as traditionalists, Baudana under the ownership of G.D. Vajra would be leaning towards traditionalism, Sandrone somewhere in the middle and Mauro Veglio more in the modernist camp.
A wet spring led to delayed flowering and the summer was dry and hot, causing a rapid maturation cycle and an early harvest for most producers. Complexity in Nebbiolo relies on a long maturation time, which 2009 did not provide. Galloni describes the 2009 Barolos as light to medium-bodied wines, with radiant fruit but only modest concentration. He says that “overall, this is a fairly average vintage with many good wines, a few superstars and a bevy of Barolos that will drink well right out of the gate. But the visceral thrill of the truly great vintages, sadly, is not there.”
Kerin O’Keefe describes 2009 as a buyer-beware vintage, with exceptional wines being few and far between. Scathing heat caused uneven ripening and if the grapes were picked in a single harvest the presence of overripe fruit led to cooked flavours.
Here are the wines we will be tasting:
2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito (Serralunga)
2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa (Barolo)
2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne (Barolo)
2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata (La Morra)
2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate (La Morra)
2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta (Serralunga)
And then on to the tasting itself, with all the wines customarily served blind in 60ml pours:
2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata – Deep dark carmine. I was very impressed with this wine. Dense savoury nose of cinnamon, aniseed and vanilla, dark fruits, fig, plum, a chemical character, and tarry. So expressive. The wine was sweet and ripe to taste on entry, with intense gorgeous primary ripe fruit flavours, harmonious oaking, tar, and a gentle drying finish. I scored this Gold. A great start.
2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – Brick carmine. A classic Barolo. Sweet and lifted nose. Thinner fruit than the Muro, almost sour. There where notes of lanolin, strong bush honey, and quite angular. Again the wine drank as sweet, ripe, intense, and powerful. It was long. It was hot. Tasting superbly with honey and tar. Quite evolved. I scored this Gold.
2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa – Brick carmine. There were a few suspended solids in this wine. Didn’t affect the taste. Quite dumb aromatically at first, with cardboard box and funky characyers. Spicy hot and sharp to taste. Sweet entry. Lean. A hot finish. (they were all hot, to be honest). This one was lighter, perhaps faulty. A simple wine, compact and complete to some. I scored this Silver.
2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne – Deep brick carmine. Another classic Barolo. Quiet on the nose, but a step up in quality. Lightly fruited, not much in the way of expression at first. Tarry, showing some leather an tomato sauce. It was a big changer through the night. Powerful in the mouth. Dense and sharp. Tarry, powerful. Grunt. Balance. Then a dry finish. Harmonious when all considered. No flaw, gorgeous. My second favourite wine of the night. I scored this Gold.
2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta – Deep brick carmine. Yet another classic Barolo. Quiet nose, with elegant fruit, then revealing savoury qualities and density. Some described ‘roasting-tray scrapings’. I saw roses in a broody, reserved wine. To taste, the wine wasvery powerful, with depth and tannic thrust, full-on, grunty and hot. Menthol character. A fruity finish, long, and quite sweet. A bruiser of a wine. I scored this Gold.
2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – Deep brick carmine. Floral, with rose and quinine, sweet vanilla, ripe fruit, lanolin, quite confected. There was a fantastic savoury and spicy hit at the back of the nose. So expressive. The wine tasted sweet and ripe. There was great tannin structure, density and opulence. Mouthsmackingly good . I scored this Gold and it was my Wine Of The Night (WOTN)