Magnificent 1960s Barolo: Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, Rinaldi, Cappellano, Oddero

MAGNIFICENT 1960S BAROLO: CONTERNO, MASCARELLO, RINALDI, CAPPELLANO, ODDERO – Acquerello Restaurant, San Francisco, California (1/19/2011)

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I’ve previously written here about my love for old Barolos. See, for example, this summary of a recent dinner, which also mentions my prior experience with the great ’64 Giacomo Conterno Barolo: http://www.rjonwine.com/barolo/barolo-dinner/

Last week’s Rare Wine Co. “Battle of the ’60s” Barolo dinner was a very memorable old Barolo tasting, for a number of reasons. It was my first opportunity to meet and hear from John Gilman, publisher of the View from the Cellar Newsletter, who has become quite an expert on older Barolos in general, and a number of the producers represented in this tasting in particular. Rare Wine Co.’s Mannie Berk, who collected all the wines we tasted at this event, is also one of the great experts on older Barolo, and it’s always great to get his perspective on wines like these, both as an aficionado and as a wine merchant. (I’ve included video clips of both John’s and Mannie’s remarks, and the group’s discussion of each of the vintages we tasted, below.) This was, of course, a special opportunity to taste through bottles of old Barolo that Mannie Berk had carefully selected over many years (some he acquired as long as 15 years ago) from private collections and restaurant cellars in Europe, so that we knew the provenance and the storage are about as good as one can find for Barolos of this age. It was also my first time to dine at Acquerello, and I now can’t believe I was so slow in getting there. The food was quite good, and the Chef, co-owner Suzette Gresham-Tognetti, totally charmed me when she came in toward the end of our dinner to tell us about our cheese course, and to answer questions on the other dishes. Most of all, though, it was a chance to compare and contrast Barolos from five excellent traditional producers, across three of the best vintages of sixties, which included one of the great vintages of all time, 1964. What made it all the more memorable, and quite surprising given my prior experience with old Barolo tastings, is that none of our bottles were clunkers or faulty in any way, and all 18 of them (including the two blind ringers Mannie added, and our closing Barolo Chinato) were very tasty wines, that I would have been happy to enjoy and linger over on their own. How often does that happen in a major tasting of this kind? So bravo to Mannie and Rare Wine Co. for organizing this treat, and thanks to Acquerello for doing a great job on the meal and the venue, and to John Gilman for being a part of the evening.

For some background on the era of Barolo represented in our tasting, here are John Gilman’s introductory comments:

Before turning to the results of the tasting by vintage, which are detailed below, along with my tasting notes, I want to give some background on each of the five producers represented in this tasting. My summary will be in the order that we tasted each producer’s wine, which was Francesco Rinaldi, Cappellano, Oddero, Bartolo Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno:

Francesco Rinaldi e Figli is one of the lesser known great, traditional Barolo producers. It was founded by Francesco Rinaldi in 1870 when he moved to Barolo, having just inherited a vineyard and house there. Francesco was the cousin of the better known Giuseppe Rinaldi. Luciano Rinaldi took over the reigns in 1938, and is still the head of Francesco Rinaldi, now in his 80s, assisted by his niece Paola. They continue to make Barolo the way Francesco did, with no new oak and long macerations, running 25 to 30 days. They then age the wine exclusively in 35-50 hectolitre Slavonian botti. John Gilman told us that back in the ’60s, they were still foot trodding the grapes, which may have contributed to their deeper color, even 50 years on, than those of the other Barolos in our lineup. The non-cru designated Barolo has long been a blend of grapes from the family’s holdings, which now amount to 9 hectares of Nebbiolo, including 2.2 hectares each in two of the great vineyards of Barolo: Brunate and Cannubi. In more recent years, they have also produced two single cru Barolos: the Brunate and the Cannubio.
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Cappellano is another longtime traditional producer that is relatively unknown in the U.S., although they reportedly have a strong cult following in Europe. They ceased to be reviewed by most wine critics, and therefore dropped off most Italian wine drinking Americans’ radar, after 1983 when Teobaldo Cappellano asked journalist Sheldon Wasserman not to publish scores for his wines. Wasserman not only honored this request, he also reported that Cappellano had asked that his wines not be included in “classifications in which a comparison becomes a divisive numerical term rather than expressing human toil.” The winery was originally founded in 1870, the same year that Francesco Rinaldi was started, by Filippo Cappellano, who succeeded in acquiring nearly 60 hectares of land before his death in 1886. The older son, Giovanni, took over the family business until his own sudden death in 1912. The younger brother, Giuseppe, became a pharmacist, but also dabbled in wine production and manufacturing pharmaceutical products. He made grape jellies and concentrated medicinal musts before inventing Barolo Chinato, which became a revered elixir and household remedy in the Langhe. When his brother Giovanni died, Dottor Giuseppe Cappellano took over the winery, and expanded production with much carefully selected purchased fruit. Giuseppe died in 1955, and his large estate was divided up, leaving the bulk of Barolo production in the hands of Teobaldo Cappellano. Teobaldo ended up with only about 3 hectares of vineyards. His Barolos were made from the Gabutti vineyard of Serralunga d’Alba. According to Rare Wine Co.’s newsletter, “Cappellano made fewer than 800 cases of Barolo per year, all vinified traditionally: a fermentation of 14 to 21 days with indigenous yeasts and aging in well-seasoned botti for at least three years.” From what I’ve read, Cappellano, who passed away in 2009 at age 65, was a highly opinionated oddball–one who definitely went his own way, and did his own thing, including planting a section of his vineyard in the 1980s on its own roots, not grafting it onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. He reportedly subscribed to a crackpot view that grafting vines might have been the cause of phylloxera rather than its cure. He also would not much have approved of wine lovers like me, who do a lot of spitting when they taste wines. He once told Italian journalist Paolo Rossi, “If there is one thing that makes me crazy, it’s spitters of wine . . . the ones who taste a wine by rolling it around in their mouths and then they spit it out. I worked my butt off to make wine to drink, not to spit!” Well, sorry Teobaldo. I’m glad I got a chance to taste your wines, and the remarkable Chinato that you continued to make from your great uncle Giuseppe’s secret recipe. I hated to spit the wines at this tasting in particular, but there’s no way I would have been able to make a decent record of them, and your contemporaries’ wines, without having spat at this tasting.

Oddero now owns over 35 hectares of choice vineyards, including 16.5 hectares planted to Nebbiolo, and currently produces six different Barolos. The founder of this winery was Giacomo Oddero, who initially inherited a small estate in Santa Maria from his father Lorenzo. Starting in the 1870s, he slowly and expertly acquired choice vineyard parcels for Nebbiolo. He was also a visionary regarding wine tourism, and played an important role as an educator in the Barolo area regarding modern techniques and oenology. When he died in 1915, he left the winery to his two sons. His grandson, Dr. Giacomo Oddero, was the one who made the wines in our tasting, and who himself passed on management of the company to his two daughters in the mid-’90s. While the winery now uses some smaller French barrels, winemaking was quite traditional at the time our ’60s Barolos were made by Dr. Giacomo. Maceration extended over two weeks or longer, and the wines were aged in Slavonian oak casks for three to four years, followed by one year in bottle before release. As best I can tell from books and online sources, the grapes for our Oddero Barolos were sourced primarily from the Bricco Chiesa Vineyard in La Morra and from Bricco Fiasco in Castiglione Falleto.

Bartolo Mascarello is one of the icons of traditional Barolo. He originally worked with his father, Giulio, who was born into a family of grape growers, and who started Cascina Mascarello in 1920, following his return from World War I. Bartolo joined his father in the business after World War II. He was insistent on making a single great Barolo, a blend of grapes from three hectares of Nebbiolo in plots the family owned in Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Ruè in Barolo itself, and Torriglione in La Morra. Nonetheless, prior to the time when Bartolo became fully in charge, there were bottlings of Mascarello labeled as “Cannubi” during the ’60s, including 1961 and 1964, although none of the bottles in our lineup were so labeled. Bartolo was a hard-line traditionalist, who, in his later years, railed against barriques and vineyard designated Barolos. Bartolo died in 2005, and his daughter Maria Teresa continues the family winemaking tradition in the mold of her father and grandfather. Up until 1980 the Barolos were labeled “Cantina Mascarello”; since 1982 they have been labeled under Bartolo’s name.

Giacomo Conterno is another legendary name in the world of traditional Barolo. Giacomo’s father, Giovanni, took over the cascina that belonged to his wife when he brought his family back to the Langhe from Argentina in the early 1900s. Giacomo helped move the family into making a great Barolo, in only outstanding vintages. The first one was a 1920 Riserva. Giacomo soon changed the name of the Riserva to Monfortino, in honor of his home village, Monforte d’Alba. The Monfortino is thought by many to be the greatest of all Barolos. Giacomo was friends with Cappellano and Giulio Mascarello. He passed the business on to his children in 1961, the year the first of our Barolos in this tasting was made. Son Giovanni became the winemaker, and made our ’64 and ’67 Barolos. The other son, Aldo, started his own, now famous winery. The grapes for the Conterno Barolos in our tasting were purchased from growers with prime sites in Monforte and Serralunga. (In 1974, Giovanni began acquiring vineyards, starting with a major acquisition of Casinca Francia in Serralunga.) Giovanni died in 2004, and his son Roberto is the current winemaker.

A final comment before turning to the flights and tasting notes: The handling of these wines, and their being opened and decanted hours before the tasting, made a huge difference in our enjoyment and appreciation of them. Mannie has tasted many Barolos of this age, and has learned that they need to be opened and decanted for at least an hour or two before serving, both to let the bottle stink blow off, and because the serious tannins these wines possess, even at this stage of their evolution, can benefit from some good aeration. For this reason, he had all of these bottles opened and double decanted starting at 11 am. He reported that one of them, the ’64 Conterno, seemed like it might be dead at that point, and that he might have to use his back up bottle (the only one he’d brought), but with several hours in the decanter, the wine came back and showed beautifully. I’ve had old Barolos at dinners where we basically popped and poured, and many of the wines did not show at all as well as I had hoped. I will know better now, in the future.

Champagne starter

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We started with this lovely Champagne, and a couple of delicious appetizers: arnacini of broccoli rabe, and profiteroles with black truffle and ricotta. Our last appetizer was the carmelized onion soup with pancetta and potato pictured above.

1967 Flight

Next it was on to our first flight of Barolo, our youngest flight. The food course with these was potato wrapped cannelloni of beef brasato with truffled verdure.

I very much enjoyed the wines in this flight, which included my WOTN, the Giacomo Conterno. I got to go back to this for comparison during the course of the evening, as Acquerello supplied us abundant stemware, for all of our flights, and it outdid even the wonderful ’64 Bartolo Mascarello for me. The rest of this flight, while very good, was not as strong as the wines from these same producers in our 1964 flight (with the exception of Giacomo Conterno, whose ’67 I preferred to the ’64). Meat and earthy flavors and aromas predominated on most of the wines for me, except for the fabulous Conterno. John Gilman described it as a very elegant vintage. For his comments, see this clip:

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  • 1967 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with clear meniscus (surprisingly dark for the vintage); roasted meat, smoke, beef jus nose; mature, grippy, meat jus, smoke, roasted meat, charcoal, autumnal palate; medium-plus finish 93 points

  • 1967 Cappellano Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Light bricked brown color with broad, clear meniscus; earthy, Lipton Tea, chlorine, French onion soup nose; mature, earthy, grippy, French onion soup, tea palate with some sweetness; long finish 93 points

  • 1967 Oddero Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with ruby lights and pale meniscus; earthy, chlorine, subtle tobacco, dried roses nose; earthy, autumnal, beef jus, tangy, lamb jus palate; medium-plus finish (least flashy of our flight of ’67 Barolos, but good) 92+ points

  • 1967 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked light medium brown color with pale meniscus; mature, delicate, chocolate, truffle, dried cherry, roses nose; tasty, mature, grippy, light beef jus, roses, dried cherry palate, should go another 10-15 years; medium-plus finish 94 points

  • 1967 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium brown color with ruby lights; classic tar, roses, tea nose; wonderful, balanced, sweet, mature, elegant, dried cherry, raspberry palate with grip, should easily go for another 20 more years; long finish 97 points

1964 Flight

For our ’64 flight, we had American Kobe beef coated with onion charcoal, salsify and Jerusalem artichokes. This was the strongest, most consistent flight overall for me, but not by much, as the ’67s and ’61s were quite wonderful too. There was a sweetness to the fruit in most of these samples that Mannie said was indicative of the vintage, along with their length and great texture. It’s his favorite vintage of the ’60s. There was also a lot of rose and floral qualities to most of these wines, which I like very much. And a few of them should continue to be quite wonderful for decades more yet. For John’s and the group’s reaction, listen to this clip:

  • 1964 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricking medium dark red color; appealing, earthy, autumnal, roast rabbit nose; tasty, grippy, dried cherry, roses, rabbit jus, youthful, autumnal, with smoke, tar and char showing up toward finish; long finish 94 points

  • 1964 Cappellano Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked light medium red color with wide, clear meniscus; old roses, dried cherry, dried berry, charcoal nose; youthful, poised, dried berry, mineral, tar palate with charcoal edges, fascinating, with depth; long finish 94 points

  • 1964 Oddero Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; herbal, dill, a little VA, dried orange, truffle nose; tight, mature, dried cherry, dried orange, cinnamon, roses palate; long finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)

  • 1964 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with ruby lights and wide, pale meniscus; roses, dried cherry, autumnal nose; autumnal, grippy, dried cherry, roses, preserved cherry palate with depth and relative youth, will go another 20-25 years; long finish 96+ points

  • 1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked light medium red color with ruby lights and clear meniscus; gorgeous, tar, dried roses, dried cherry, rosewood, autumnal nose; tasty, rich, caramel, dried roses, dried berry, roses, youthful palate, with grip; long finish 95 points

Mystery Wines

Mannie hadn’t advertised any mystery wines, or the Barolo Chinato, as part of the tasting, so it was a surprise when he mentioned, just before we started the first flight, that there was going to be a mystery wine both in that flight, of 1967s, and the next flight, of ’64s. He wouldn’t tell us anything about the wine other than it was the same vintage as the rest of the flight. Once I got to this mystery wine in the first flight, I couldn’t believe the nose. It was like a rose garden on steroids–beautiful, intense, floral. The palate was also very tasty and youthful, with great structure. I was initially guessing Grand Cru Burgundy, possibly a Musigny, but didn’t think a ’67 Burgundy, even a Grand Cru, would have held up anywhere near as well as this beautiful wine. That led me to think maybe it was a mature Hermitage instead. When we got to the ’64 flight, the nose was quite different, though still very appealing. Mannie did, at that point, let us know that the two mystery wines were by the same producer. I was stumped though. This second wine did not have quite the structure of the first, and was also affected by brett. At the end of the ’64 flight, Mannie revealed that both were Antonio Vallana Spannas. Here are his comments on this producer:

It is hard for me to find much reliable information on Antonio Vallana e Figlio and its origins. I understand there are two pages about it in Burton Anderson’s 1980 book Vino: The Wines & Winemakers of Italy, and I’m going to have to track down a copy. Michael Skurnik currently handles distribution for this producer, and according to Michael Skurnik Wines’ website (which I’ve often found to have innacuracies about producers) the estate was founded in 1937. Since I see a bottle of Antonio Vallana Spanna from the ’33 vintage being offered on the web, I’m thinking this is again a case where Skurnik’s info is not to be relied on. Bernardo Vallana apparently named the winery for his father Antonio. The winery is based in the town of Maggiora, about 100 miles northeast of Barolo. Spanna is the local name for Nebbiolo which, in that area, was often blended with Uva Rara or Bonarda Novarese, for their aromatic qualities, and Vespolina. The wines were traditionally matured in large old oak barrels. Rare Wine Co. offered bottles from the ’50s and ’60s in 2000, followed by a smaller offering in 2001. I am delighted to have been introduced to these great examples of long aging Nebbiolo, from outside the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs. The ’67 was definitely one of my WOTN.
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  • 1967 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Piemonte Nebbiolo Spanna – Italy, Piedmont, Piemonte DOC

    Bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; intense roses, rose garden, floral, rose tea, dried cherry nose; tasty, youthful, dried cherry, tart cherry, strawberry, roses palate with great structure; long finish (Mannie Berk poured this blind, and the only clue was that it was a ’67. From the fabulous nose we were initially guessing a Grand Cru Burgundy, like a Musigny, but didn’t think one from ’67 would be holding up this well. So guesses turned to ’67 Hermitage and La Chappelle. What an amazing old Nebbiolo.) 96 points

  • 1964 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Piemonte Nebbiolo Spanna – Italy, Piedmont, Piemonte DOC

    Bricked light medium red color with ruby lights and pale meniscus; appealing, subtle spice, baked cherry, chocolate, mint nose; tasty, complex, poised, tart cherry, dried berry, tar palate with grip and a touch of brett; medium-plus finish 93+ points

1961 Flight

We had our last set of Barolos, the 50 year olds, with our cheese course, which consisted of Moliterno, Testun al Barolo and Carboncino. Here’s a video clip of our Chef, Suzette Gresham-Tognetti, explaining the selection of the cheeses, and answering our questions about the other courses.

For a set of 50-year-old, traditionally made Nebbiolos, these were terrific, and surprisingly youthful. I found a lot of fruit, and dried fruit, on the palates of these wines, along with the delightful “autumnal” noses of drying leaves and truffle. For the final group discussion of the wines, listen to this clip:

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  • 1961 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricking medium dark red color with pale meniscus; lighter, roses, VA, tea, oranges, blood orange, autumnal nose; youthful, solid, dried cherry, red berry, dried orange, youthful palate, with 20 years or more to go; long finish (seemed the youngest of our 3 Rinaldis, even though it was the oldest) 93+ points

  • 1961 Cappellano Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked, light medium red color with clear meniscus; lighter, tart red fruit, cranberry, truffle, milk chocolate nose; tasty, tart red fruit, dried strawberry, spicy cherry, cranberry, youthful palate; long finish 93+ points

  • 1961 Oddero Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricking medium dark red color with pale meniscus; dried berry, VA, plum cake, chocolate, morel mushroom nose; richer and more youthful on palate of dried berry, chocolate, tart plum, with grip and years to go; long finish 94 points

  • 1961 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with clear meniscus; autumnal, VA, subtle nut paste, truffle, acorn nose; tasty, truffle, baked plum, autumnal, tar, roses palate that will go another 30 more years; very long finish 95 points

  • 1961 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

    Bricked medium red color with clear meniscus; deer jus, truffle, mushroom nose; mature, earthy, sweet, autumnal, dried berry palate with depth and grip, will go 20-25 more years; long finish 94+ points

Chinato Finish

Barolo Chinato is a digestif/apéritif type wine (in Italian, a “vino aromatizzato”). Dottor Giuseppe Cappellano was a pharmacist before he became a winemaker, and he invented Barolo Chinato. Cappellano’s Barolo Chinato is, according to Rare Wine Co.’s newsletter, “an infusion of Barolo with quinine bark, clove, wormwood and cinnamon and a small amount of cane sugar.” I found this very unusual wine to be very tasty, exuberant with spice, and quite haunting. The finish was incredibly long. With this last wine, we had an assorted dessert plate containing a quince tart with almond cream, chocolate ganache with toasted coconut, panna cotta with pomegranate and poached pear, and an almond biscotti. Wine importer and writer Terry Theise, who happened to also be dining at Acquerello in the main dining room, with my fellow wine blogger Amy Cleary, entered the room during this course, and got a taste of our Chinato. I really like this picture of Terry and Mannie together:
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  • N.V. Cappellano Barolo Chinato – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo Chinato

    Bricking medium dark ruby color; fascinating big, herbal, bark, rich orange spice, cinnamon, bay leaf nose; tasty, exuberant, unique, bark, roses, clove, cinnamon, dried cherry palate; long finish 93+ points

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4 Responses to Magnificent 1960s Barolo: Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, Rinaldi, Cappellano, Oddero

  1. amy says:

    Happy to see your tasting notes. It was a treat to get to taste what we did, even briefly.

  2. Whew! I was having a hard time imagining that Terry was drinking the Baroli – I mean, it’s just not Riesling.

    Btw, I’m a big fan of the Antonio Vallana wines. First time, Manny generously shared a bottle. Second one? At Acquerello! (I now have a few in my cellar – ha!)

    Great notes and tasting!

  3. Barry Tam says:

    I just opened my 1967 Giacomo Conterno, it comes with a bricked brown color with nothing related to red at all. It is quite horrible. But it is super in the mouth. Is that normal? As I expected to be at least orange or light red.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Barry,
      Barolo typically isn’t admired for its color. 😉 It does sound like the color on your ’67 is more advanced than it ideally should be. There may have been some storage issues with that bottle in its past. The fact that the sturdy Nebbiolo held up on the palate, however, isn’t a surprise. I’m glad it tasted the way it should.
      –Richard

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