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The Great Bruno Giacosa Wines of Piedmont
By Ed McCarthy
Oct 30, 2018
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Bruno Giacosa passed away in January 2018, at the age of 88.  About five weeks ago, I attended a tasting of his wines, which reinforced my belief:  Bruno Giacosa was one of the greatest producers of Barolo and Barbaresco that ever lived.  Bruno’s long-time winemaker, Dante Scaglione, continues as a wine consultant to Azienda Agricola Giacosa, and Bruno’s older daughter, Bruna Giacosa, is now officially the boss.  In fact, Bruna has actually been running the commercial aspects of the winery since her father’s crippling stroke in 2006, at the age of 77.

Bruno Giacosa achieved something no other Piedmontese winemaker has ever done:  He attained top recognition for his wines from both Barolo and Barbaresco.  For example, Angelo Gaja, who really put Barbaresco on the world wine map, has a couple of Barolos to his portfolio, but when we think of Gaja, we think of his Barbarescos.  Most of the great Barolo producers--such as Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, and Giuseppe Rinaldi--didn’t even bother with Barbaresco, or in Conterno’s case, made a little in the past, but no longer.   There are a few producers, such as Roagna, primarily known for its Barbarescos, who are now also seriously producing Barolos, but Roagna is not in the same exalted class as the master, Bruno Giacosa.

Bruno Giacosa was born in 1929 in Neive, a town in the heart of the Barbaresco region.  He learned his trade on the job.  At the age of 13, Bruno went to work in the family winery with his father and grandfather, and became fully employed at 15.  At that time (WWII), the Giacosa family owned no vineyards, and had to purchase grapes from the existing vineyard owners.   What Bruno learned during the next 17 years was a profound knowledge of the Nebbiolo grape variety and which vineyards in the region grew it best--even which parcels of the vineyards were best.  (Nebbiolo is an oustanding, but fickle variety.  It is now clear that this late-ripening grape only truly excels in the Langhe region of southwest Piedmont., home of the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco and its surrounding vineyards.}

By 1961, Bruno Giacosa was running the family winery.  By that time, it was already established that the three great producers of Barbaresco wine were Bruno Giacosa, Gaja, and the amazing co-op, Produttori del Barbaresco.  In 1961 (a truly great vintage in the Langhe region), Beppe Colla of Prunotto and Alfredo Currado of Vietti, both had a great idea--to bottle a single, superior Barolo and Barbaresco from their best vineyard, informally known as a cru.  Until that time, all Barolos and Barbarescos were Nebbiolo blends of different vineyards.  Bruno Giacosa joined in with his first cru Nebbiolo in 1964, his Barbaresco Santo Stefano (from the Santo Stefano vineyard in Neive).

In looking back, I can say that the single-vineyard (cru) movement was a turning point in the great success that both Barolo and Barbaresco have enjoyed in modern times.  Yes, it is true that a few traditionalists, such as Bartolo Mascarello, continue to make outstanding Barolos from a blend of Nebbiolo grapes from two or more vineyards.  But no one can deny that both Barolo and Barbaresco have made superior wines since the introduction of single-vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos. 

Bruno Giacosa once stated that his 1964 Barbaresco Santo Stefano was the best wine that he had ever made, but more great ones were to come.  From 1964 to 1982, Bruno continued to purchase grapes from the best vineyards, and made sublime Barolos and Barbarescos. But by 1982, he saw the handwriting on the wall.  The old way of purchasing grapes would become increasingly difficult, as other wine producers gobbled up the best vineyards they could afford. 

And so, in 1982 Giacosa bought his first vineyard, the Falletto di Serralunga vineyard in Barolo.  I arrived in Piedmont for my first visit around that time.  I became close friends with Alfredo Currado and Luciana Vietti.  Alfredo revered Bruno Giacosa, as did everyone else in the Langhe area.  They all agreed that Bruno, with his incredible knowledge of the vineyards, would buy only the best ones available, and Falletto di Serralunga proved to be one of the very best Barolo vineyards.  Later, in 1996, Giacosa bought parcels of two of Barbaresco’s best vineyards, Asili and Rabajá.  After the 2011 vintage, Giacosa stopped making Barbaresco Santo Stefano; all Giacosa Barolos and Barbarescos are now from Giacosa’s own vineyards.

Giacosa has always used two different-colored labels for his Barolos and Barbarescos: white labels for his normale wines, and red labels for his Riservas, which are made in small quantities.  The quiet, soft-spoken Giacosa was a perfectionist:  He would only make Riserva wines when he believed the vintage was superior.  For Nebbiolo lovers, Bruno Giacosa’s Riservas are regarded as among the greatest red wines in the world.  Bruno Giacosa, called the Maestro by his peers, was a man of few words.  He let his wines do the talking for him.

*          *         *

My recent tasting consisted of eight Bruno Giacosa wines, four from Giacosa’s  Asili and Rabajá Barbaresco vineyards, and four from  Giacosa’s Falleto di Serralunga Barolo vineyard--now simply known as Falletto:

2015 Barbaresco Asili:  Balanced, medium, grainy tannins; good depth; touch of tar; red fruits emerge with aeration; obviously will open more with aging, but fairly approachable; has the elegance typical of a Giacosa Asili.  92

2014 Barbaresco Rabajá:  Giacosa’s plot in Rabajá is much smaller than its Asili plot, and so less is produced.  2014 was a cooler, more elegant vintage than 2015; the wine has floral aromas, with red fruits, primarily strawberry with hints of raspberry; silky texture; great depth; drinking well now.  94

2013 Barbaresco Rabajá:  Giacosa’s 2013 Rabajá is dry, full-bodied, with softer tannins not yet fully integrated; it shows notes of fennel and raspberry aromas, with herbal touches; the wine has finesse and precision.  It’s a brilliant wine, which for my palate is drinkable even now, but another taster thought it “way too young.”  I’m sure it is capable of aging for many years.  95

2011 Barbaresco Asili Riserva (Red Label):  The first Red Label Riserva of the tasting, and the first wine I labeled as “outstanding.”  It has aromas of tar, red fruit, and herbs; the fruit is very concentrated; its ripe fruits contribute to its succulent flavors, but all in balance with high acidity and medium tannins.  It is a great Barbaresco, with a long finish.  96

2014 Barolo Falletto:  The 2014 Falletto is darker than the 2014 Barbaresco; and was aged a year longer.  It has the classic Nebbiolo aroma of tar; it is smooth even now, with red fruit flavors, and good acidity, with a touch of tartness on the finish.  92

2013 Barolo Falletto, Vigna Le Rocche:  In 1997, Bruno Giacosa identified “Vigna Le Rocche” as a superior parcel of the Falletto vineyard; the vines are 38 years old, considerably older than the rest of Falletto.  But with his typical precision and perfectionism, Giacosa did not believe this 2013 qualified as a Red Label Riserva.  The wine shows floral aromas, along with red cherry; it has the great depth you would expect from a Le Rocche, along with a consistency of texture, with a touch of tar and earthiness; it needs time to open and mature--I would say several years.  94

2012 Barolo Falletto, Vigna Le Rocche Riserva (Red Label):  Again, I can see Bruno Giacosa’s judgment of a red Label Riserva wine; all three Red Labels were the best wines of the tasting.  This wine has lots of depth, with concentrated, dark, ripe fruit, and a beautiful texture of pulpy, fresh black fruit.  It is bright, with concentrated tannins in balance; and a long, fruity finish. Outstanding Barolo!  97

2011 Barolo Falletto, Vigna Le Rocche Riserva (Red Label):  Even better than the 2012 Le Rocche Red Label; clearly the best wine of the tasting.  Intense, herbal aromas; full-bodied, with ripe, very concentrated fruit.  It is a huge wine, with great richness and a long finish.  It has a silky texture, with velvety tannins.  This 2011 is drinkable now; so delicious and great.  It will age for many years, typical of Red Label Riservas.  98

The Piedmont region, especially Barolo and Barbaresco, is known for its great wine producers.  But judging by the masterly, traditional Barolos and Barbarescos he has produced since 1961, Bruno Giacosa stands at the top--especially for his Red Label Riservas.  The Maestro ranks as one of Italy’s--and the world’s--greatest wine producers.  I feel honored to have known him.