I’ve tasted a lot of Barolos, but only about 10% of what I’ve tasted to date are truly mature Barolos, with 25 years or more of age. To me, Barolos with at least a quarter century on them are so much more compelling and enjoyable than young Barolos, they’re virtually different animals. Mature Barolos often have incredible, ethereal perfume and very complex, layered and subtle palates, not to mention unusually long, grippy finishes. In short, I love them. So I greatly anticipated this month’s gathering to taste mature Barolos, from the ’74 vintage and earlier. Not all of these showed well, unfortunately, but a few of them were quite wonderful, and among my favorite Barolos to date.
Barolos, like Barbarescos, are made, of course, from the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo grapes are hugely tannic, but also have very thin skins that convey relatively little pigment to the wine–resulting in older Barolos appearing orange or very light red in color. It was a shock to me, in tasting older Barolos, that they could be so light in color and yet have such depths of flavor and long finishes, owing to their resolved but still grippy tannins. Because of the huge tannins on these wines, it is a requirement of the DOCG that Barolos receive a minimum of three years of aging, at least two of them in barrels. Riserva Barolos require five years of total aging. But the great Barolos seem to require at least another 20 years of cellar aging before they really begin to demonstrate their amazing perfume and palate magic.
Of the two dozen or so mature Barolos I’ve tasted so far, the greatest have been from some of the great Barolo vintages: 1970, 1964 and 1955. My favorite to date, one of the wines that really turned me on to the unique and haunting beauty of these wines, was a 1964 Giacomo Conterno, full of lavender and truffle on the nose, with an incredibly complex and earthy palate that seemed to communicate not just a host of savory and dried fruit characteristics, but also memories and moods from another time. A 1955 Giacomo Borgogno Riserva Antichi Vigneti and a 1964 Fontanafredda are two other treasured memories of mature Barolo at its best.
The highlight of our mature Barolo gathering this month was a 1970 Pio Cesare, which was also the group’s wine of the night. It had that entrancing perfume, along with a wonderfully rich and complex palate. Also excellent was a 1952 Giacomo Borgogno Riserva and a 1970 Renato Ratti Marcenasco. The big disappointment of the evening was the performance of our two Barolos from one of the greatest Barolo vintages–1961. One of those was corked, the other, the ’61 Borgogno Riserva, was a library re-release from Borgogno, in a reconditioned bottle, from which sediment had been removed and the cork replaced with a new one. It smelled and tasted much more like a young Barolo–not the experience I’m looking for in a Barolo that’s supposed to have nearly 50 years of age on it. Compared to similar vintage Barolos from non-reconditioned bottles, this one tasted much too young not to have had something more than just the bottle reconditioned–i.e., it tasted suspiciously like there was at least some newer wine mixed with older. I intend to avoid purchasing such library re-releases of Barolo in the future.
We started with a lovely Meursault, the ’04 Bouchard Les Genevrières, and our dishes at Lupa were hearty, delicious and excellent with our wines, as usual. We had two delicious sweet wines to end: a ’90 Poniatowski Vouvray Clos Baudoin and ’75 Coutet. All in all, a very tasty evening.
- 2004 Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
Light medium golden yellow color; lovely lemon, baked lemon, almond, vanilla nose; very tasty, poised, tart lemon, mineral palate, youthful yet drinking fine now; medium-plus finish (so much better than on release, and another time I had it–bottle variation, or have the “greenies” integrated somehow?) (93 pts.)
Older Barolo Flight
- 1952 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Riserva – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricking medium red color with clear meniscus; nice roses, dried cherry, leather, tar, dried berry nose; mature, tar, dried berry palate with grippy tannins and depth; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
- 1961 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Classico Riserva – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Bricking medium red violet color with pale meniscus; roses, tart berry, black cherry, lavender nose; youthful, tart red fruit, dried red fruit, cranberry palate with medium acidity and grippy tannins; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (a Borgogno library re-release, with reconditioned bottle) (91 pts.)
’60s Barolo Flight
- 1961 Vietti Barolo Castiglione – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Cloudy, bricked, medium red color with clear meniscus; leather, tobacco, dried red fruit, maderized, tart currant, mushroom palate with TCA; medium finish (NR/flawed)
- 1967 Oddero Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Very light red color with clear meniscus; maderized, dried berry, tea nose; medium bodied, chewy, dried berry, tar, roses, tart chocolate palate, much better than the nose; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
’70s Barolo Flight
- 1970 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Slightly cloudy, medium dark red color with pale meniscus; tobacco, earthy, dried berry, mushroom nose; tasty, mature, mushroom, dried currant, dried berry, tar palate; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)
- 1970 Pio Cesare Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Very cloudy, bricked medium dark brown color with pale meniscus; lovely, mature, roses, dried berry nose; tasty, rich, dried currant, dried berry, roses, chocolate palate; medium-plus finish 95+ pts. (group’s WOTN) (95 pts.)
- 1974 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
Cloudy, bricked, medium dark red color with pale meniscus; maturing, cocoa powder, dried berry, hazelnut, “brooding” nose; odd, narrow, tart currant palate, a little dried out; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)
- 1990 Prince Poniatowski Vouvray Clos Baudoin – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
Light medium golden yellow color; lovely, rich, ripe apple, mineral, lanolin, spiced apple, pear nose; tasty, rich, poached pear, spiced apple, tart apricot, lime, mineral palate; long finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)
- 1975 Château Coutet – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Barsac
Medium orange red color; creme brulee, burnt, preserved orange, pear nose; crystallized orange, apricot, orange creme brulee palate; long finish (94 pts.)