As we know, all good things must end. And since Barolo has enjoyed the strongest series of vintages in its history since 1996, I was entirely prepared to hear the sound of a string snapping when travelling to Alba this summer to taste the new releases from the 2007 vintage. Advance word had it that a warm growing season produced ripe, soft wines with less detail and structure than the 2006s, which didn’t quite sound like my cup of tea. But the indisputable fact is that the 2007 Barolos are terrific.
This conclusion was driven home quite forcefully in May during intensive blind tastings of more than 300 new releases in Alba under the name, “Nebbiolo Prima.” I reported on these tastings last month in connection with the best wines I tasted from Roero and Barbaresco, and if you saw that column, you’ll recall that they are conducted over five days for about 50 writers from around the world in an ultra-professional manner. Three identical white rooms provide the setting, and all of the pouring performed by top Italian sommeliers, with roughly 65 wines presented each morning.
Since we’re talking about 65 highly structured Nebbiolo-based wines, that’s a rather hard slog, I confess. But Nebbiolo Prima is the finest event of its kind in the world, and I find nothing quite as fortifying as a flight of really extraordinary wines. And that’s exactly what I tasted--flight after flight.
This month’s column includes all of the top wines that I tasted in two categories, 2007 DOCG Barolos and 2005 Barolo Riservas, with the 2007s being much more numerous. These wines will likely be compared to the stylistically distinct 2006s for many years, and this comparison actually echoes one from a decade ago involving 1996 and 1997. In that case, the wines from the warmer 1997 vintage were the more intensely hyped of the two, but have now been surpassed (in my view, anyway) by the fresher, firmer, more complete and complex wines of 1996.
Although a similar outcome with the wines from 2006 and 2007 can’t be ruled out, I think that the 2007 Barolo are significantly better than their counterparts from 1997, and that they’ll continue to challenge the wonderful 2006s over the long haul. As a group, they are a little rounder and softer, but dozens of them show highly nuanced, intricate aromas and flavors, and few of them seem stewed or obvious in their ripeness. Most are structured with plenty of fresh acidity, and though their tannins are riper and softer than in the 2006s, they show no lack of guts or grip.
What they do show is a very user-friendly profile that will permit them to be enjoyed relatively early by those who lack cellars or patience--or who simply like primary fruit notes as much as they enjoy secondary aromas and flavors from bottle ageing. To be precise, though, while many of these wines can be enjoyed soon or even now, almost none of them need to be consumed soon, or indeed anytime during the current decade. They’ve got the stuffing and structure to last, and they’ve also got sufficient sweet fruit to keep appealing flesh on the bones of those famous Barolo tannins.
To provide a bit of background on process behind the reviews that follow, I tasted all of the wines below, blind, in five carefully conducted peer-group tastings. Every recommended wine was tasted at least twice, with a second evaluation performed before the identity of the wine was known to assure the accuracy of my score (since order of presentation can have a distorting effect). They are set forth below in order of excellence, with the highest-scoring wines topping the list.
When the producer’s name includes both a family and a given name, the family name usually appears first in order. This is a convention followed by the organizers of the Nebbiolo Prima tastings, though it is not one that was followed with perfect consistency. In a few instances I have taken the liberty of making corrections, but generally I have simply conveyed the producer names as designated in the tastings.
Names of particular vineyards and/or proprietary names of wines appear in quotation marks. The final element in the entries (following a comma and prior to a colon) is the name of the commune (or village) from which the wine was sourced, which may be of interest to serious students of these wines and which rarely appears on labels.
Don’t fail to scroll down to find the eight wonderful Barolo Riserva wines from 2005 at the bottom of this column. It seems that fewer Riservas are made each year, and there are some good reasons for that, but they need not detain us here. However, the best wines made with the extended oak ageing called for in this category are extraordinary, whether made in a modern or a more traditional style (which roughly comes down to a distinction between use of new barrels or older, larger casks).
One last word on the quality of the 2007 Barolos: It is so high and so broadly distributed that I needed to confine the full reviews to wines that I scored at 93 points or higher and I still ended up writing a 4,000+ word column!). You’ll see a list of wines that scored 92, and I’ve got notes on many other wines that were quite strong but down another notch or two. If you want to learn a bit more about one of the wines scored at 92, or have a question about a favorite wine that doesn’t appear below, send me an email at email@example.com
BAROLO DOCG 2007
Parusso Armando “Le Coste Mosconi,” Monforte d’Alba: This is a breathtakingly complex wine, with soft, deeply-flavored fruit that shows such expressiveness that it never fully yields to the prominent notes of oak and minerals that mark the tasting experience from the first whiff to the end of the persistent finish. Dark and dense, this is a big wine that will improve for many years, though it will also be very enjoyable during that span. Given how good the 2006 releases were, there’s no denying that Parusso is now rising to the top rank of Barolo producers, and here’s a telling indication: When I tasted this wine blind, its quality and specific character were so distinctive that I could suspect instantly that another wine tasted earlier in the same flight must be its stablemate, and indeed that wine turned out to be the Bussia bottling from Parusso. I note this not to trumpet a feat of discernment on my part (as anyone might have seen the resemblance), but rather to underline how strikingly distinctive these wines are. 97
Andrea Oberto “Vigneto Rocche,” La Morra: This is a clear standout wine on the strength of marvelously expressive aromatics showing floral notes and spicy, smoky accents to the scents of dark cherries and plums. The wood is restrained but still notable in its contribution to the wine’s complexity, and yet the balance and integration here are so outstanding that the wine seems pure and natural despite its intricacy and power. Dense and packed with flavor but still appropriately firm in the finish for a young wine, this is an object lesson in how good the 2007 Barolo can be. 96
Michele Chiarlo “Cannubi,” Barolo: Of the 2007 Barolo made in a delicate and graceful style, this was my favorite in the blind tastings, showing a lacy intricacy that is a testament to very skillful growing and winemaking. The weight is moderate in the context of the vintage, yet the pure cherry fruit punches above its weight with deep, persistent flavor. Delicate tannins are perfectly weighted to the character of the fruit, and restrained oak again shows a very deft hand in the cellar. This is a thoroughbred. 95
Abbona Marziano “Pressenda,” Monforte d’Alba: This wine announces its seriousness with its darkness and opacity of color and a big blast of fancy oak aroma, yet the proportions of fruit and oak are virtually perfect, providing a sense of natural balance. Although its density and drive indicate a long developmental trajectory for this wine, its integration and proportionality will enable consumers to enjoy it at many different stages of its development--which is an important virtue of the 2007 Barolos crafted by the most successful vintners. 94
Damilano “Brunate,” La Morra: This is probably the most striking wine I’ve ever tasted from Damilano, with explosive aromatics driven by scents of cured meat and smoked bacon. The meaty, almost-but-not-quite gamy character rides along with the dark fruit through the flavors and into the finish, and in the last analysis the wine seems exotic but clean. Among the most character-filled wines shown in the entire Nebbiolo Prima event, this is a brilliantly distinctive effort from Damilano. 94
Poderi Colla “Dardi le Rose Bussia,” Monforte d’Alba: A beautiful wine that is soft and inviting while also showing lots of restrained power. Enticing aromas show floral notes and ripe fruit with spicy accents, but just when you might mistake this for an overly polished wine, it displays its structured side, with fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins that will keep this focused for many years of development. 94
Stroppiana Oreste “Vigna San Giacomo,” La Morra: Very dark, dense pigmentation shows instantly that this wine holds something arresting in store, and sure enough, it delivers outstanding richness and concentration, though not due to over-ripeness or at the cost of any hardness in the finish. There’s a lot of grippy tannin late in the finish, but the rich fruit is up to the challenge of counterbalancing them, and they are indeed needed to keep this big wine in proportion. 94
Cascina Cucco “Cerrati Vigna Cucco,” Serralunga d’Alba: Serious stuff, this, with conspicuously deep color, balanced expressive aromas based on dark tones, and flavors that follow suit with oak showing but in proportion. Like other top renditions in this vintage, this wine shows excellent depth and concentration, but with purity rather than excessive ripeness or extraction being evident. This has already soaked up most of its oak, and is delicious now though very promising for future development. 94
Parusso Armando “Bussia,” Monforte d’Alba: Gorgeously pure and strikingly deep and lasting in flavor, this is dark and dense and terrifically satishfying without ever seeming over-ripe or even overt. There’s plenty of high-quality oak in evidence, and likewise enough acidity and tannin to frame the flavors, yet the marvelous fruit grabs one’s attention and never surrenders center stage. With additional time to develop secondary aromas and flavors, this will likely ascend from excellent to extraordinary. 94
Palladino “Parafada,” Serralunga d’Alba: With a complex bouquet showing leathery, floral, and stewed fruit notes, encountering this wine is like meeting an old friend--if you enjoy traditionally-styled Barolo. Its flavors keep the reunion rolling with sweetness and depth and a very appealing softness, though some oak edging suggests that this isn’t quite your father’s Barolo. Deeply ripe and vaguely funky, this isn’t for everyone, but I found it a delightful throwback to the past. 94
Franco Conterno - Cascina Sciulun “Vigna Pugnane,” Castiglinone Falletto: Impressively saturated color provides a formidable first impression, and the expressive aromas, concentrated body and deep flavors follow suit. There’s plenty of oak as well, but it isn’t charry, and the finish shows no excess of wood tannin. Clearly built for the long haul, this still expresses the open generosity of the vintage, and is an excellent example of the modern style. 94
Vietti “Lazzarito,” Serralunga d’Alba: You might be tempted to dismiss this wine on account of its light color, but that would be a bad mistake, as its rather wimpy appearance conceals a wine of remarkable hedonistic appeal. Sweet and soft and open and succulent, this is virtually irresistible, though it certainly isn’t a macho ideal of Barolo. There’s actually a fair amount of ripe tannin in back and some oak too, but the sheer succulence of the fruit eclipses it. A delightful wine. 94
Renato Ratti “Rocche,” La Morra: Among the most impressive wines in this year’s Nebbiolo Prima tastings, this shows extraordinary color saturation, fruit that is very ripe, opulent, and virtually chewy, and a serious lashing of new oak. There is--in brief--lots of everything in this wine, and there’s nothing wrong with that because the balance is so even. This rendition isn’t as subtle as its precursor from the 2006 vintage, and it won’t likely develop as much over time, but it is absolutely packed with flavor and is surely a great bet for the next decade. 94 [The “Conca” bottling from Ratti is also very good in this vintage, if still rather oaky at this stage in its development. I’ll review it and the Marcenasco bottling here on WRO this autumn.]
Abbona Marziano “Terlo Ravera,” Novello: There’s no question that 2007 was a great success for this fine producer's Barolo bottlings, as this wine as well as the Pressenda were both clear standouts in the blind tastings. What is most appealing about this wine is that it offers an initial impression of opulence and juicy fruitiness, but then shows lots of little subtleties on closer scrutiny, plus impressive structure that is initially enshadowed by the sheer juiciness of the fruit. Wood notes are evident but quite restrained, and all of the wine’s major components are very well integrated. An excellent wine that displays all of the best characteristics of the vintage. 93
Pio Cesare “Ornato,” Serralunga d’Alba: Made in a rather audacious style, with an aggressively woody aromatic impression that seems to billow with smoky, toasty, spicy accents, it nevertheless manages to pull of a very convincing performance thanks to sweet, deeply flavored fruit that manages to counterbalance the oak. With a little time to integrate its components, this will likely ascend from being impressive to being something really extraordinary. 93 [Although the Ornato is certainly excellent, the normale bottling from Pio Cesare is an even greater achievement when production levels are taken into account. I scored it at 92 points in the blind tasting, and though it didn’t have quite enough richness or depth of flavor to score above that level, it earned every one of those 92 on the strength of its lovely floral aromas, deliciously sweet fruit, and excellent texture with an appealing tenderness thanks to very fine-grained tannins.]
Brovia “Rocche,” Castiglinone Falletto: Like many of the 2007s, this doesn’t offer quite the aromatic intricacy of the 2006s, but compensates for that with its open, generous, balanced flavors and a structural balance that will make it enjoyable over many years. A relative lack of overt oak enhances this profile. 93
Grasso Silvio “Bricco Luciani,” La Morra: This wine may ultimately merit a significantly higher score, as it was a little less expressive than one might have expected based on its extraordinary color saturation and remarkable density and power. Big, balanced and bold, this is already excellent and just needs time for a shot at outright greatness. 93
Mario Gagliasso “Rocche dell'Annunziata,” La Morra: Silky and soft, this is a marvelously charming wine that showed so much complexity and class that stood head and shoulders above a flight of very good wines. Very ripe, with just a hint of heat in the finish, it is also very complex in both aromas and flavors, with fine structural balance. 93
Giacomo Fenocchio “Villero,” Castiglinone Falletto: Although this was not among the most expressive wines aromatically, it left a winning impression thanks to wonderfully deep, ripe flavors with open notes of dark cherry and candied berries. Terrific depth and length make this completely convincing, and though some wood shows, it shows from the wings of the stage. 93
Poderi Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi,” Barolo: Slightly shy in terms of aroma and faintly hot in the finish, this is nevertheless an especially endearing wine on the strength of big, sweet flavors or dark cherries and black plums. Fine-grained tannin is notable but not remotely obtrusive. Enjoyble now, but with years of development ahead. 93
Bruna Grimaldi “Badarina,” Serralunga d’Alba: An object lesson in the character of the vintage, this wine is already showing open, rich, succulent fruit in the forefront, with deep color and rich fruit easily counterbalancing the wine’s tannin and wood. 93
Andrea Oberto “Vigneto Brunate,” La Morra: This is a powerful, structured wine that provides a contrary first impression because the sweetness and depth of its fruit is so striking that the acidity and tannin and oak almost seem like sensory afterthoughts. The stereotypical knock on Barolo from its detractors is that these structural elements are so intense that one needs to search for fruit, but in this case the fruit is so prominent that the opposite is true. To be sure, there’s plenty of structure to be found in this wine, but this is lovely first and formidable second. 93
Pecchenino “San Giuseppe,” Monforte d’Alba: Juicy, sweet and exceptionally appealing, this is a gorgeous expression of the vintage. The oak is restrained, lending a bit of smoke and spice around the edges, but these notes are very subtle, and the predominant impression is one of ripe, ultra-expressive fruit that is supremely soft and inviting but never stewey or obvious. A beautiful wine. 93
Burlotto Comm. G. B. “Vigneto Cannubi,” Barolo: Among the most elegant and stylish wines of the vintage, this is remarkably balanced and integrated at this early stage in its development. Deep color, sweet fruit, soft flavors, polished tannins and spicy oak are all so precisely balanced against one another that none of these aspects is eclipsed, leaving a wonderfully intricate whole. 93
Virna Borgogno “Cannubi Boschis,” Barolo: Broad and expressive and generous at every turn, this is deeply colored and amply concentrated but never chunky or obvious. There’s lots of spicy, smoky oak, but it is easily overshadowed by the rich fruit. 93
Crissante Alessandria “Galina,” La Morra: Lovely, subtle aromatics and flavors include notes of red and black cherries, woodsmoke, baking spices, and damp earth. Deeply and persistently flavored, this was lightly oaked and thankfully so, as the pure fruit and subtle accents deserve the spotlight that was left to them. 93
Michele Chiarlo “Cerequio,” La Morra: Wickedly deep color suggests that a forbidding wine is in store, and a dense, concentrated feel on the palate reinforces that impression. However, it ultimately proves to be a misimpression, as the flavors and finish prove much more inviting than forbidding, as the wood and tannin are smothered in sweet, deeply flavorful fruit. There’s certainly plenty of wood and tannin to frame this and keep it structured for a long period of improvement, but the fruit is the real attraction here--already. 93
Elvio Cogno “Ravera,” Novello: This wine is complete in all respects and very well made, with excellent concentration and depth of fruit as well as balanced wood and tannin. While not quite as expressive as the very top performers at this stage in its development, it as very evenly proportioned and poised for a long period of improvement. 93 [It bears noting that this producer also made a bottling labeled as “Cascina Nuova” which is, in 2007 as in other recent vintages, among the very best values in Barolo. Moreover, the house’s top wines don’t appear because they are on an (admirably) delayed release schedule: The current release “Pernice” is from the 2006 vintage, and it is among the most alluring wines of that vintage at this early stage, and the 2005 Vigna Elena is exceptionally refined, alluringly perfumed, and built for two decades of development.]
Burlotto Comm. G. B. “Acclivi,” Verduno: This especially interesting wine packs a lot of aroma and flavor onto a relatively light frame, showing lovely notes of cherry liqueur and spices along with subtle oak. 93
Ceretto “Bricco Rocche Prapò,” Serralunga d’Alba: My note on this wine from the blind tastings calls it the “Prince of Darkness” on account of its saturated color, deep, alluring aroma, and dark-toned fruit flavors, which show great ripeness. There’s lots of oak and the fruit is right on the verge of being stewed in character, but everything in this audacious wine works in the final analysis. 93
Wines Scored at 92 Points:
Aurelio Settimo “Rocche Dell'Annunziata,” La Morra
Pio Cesare, Serralunga d'Alba, Grinzane, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Novello
Cascina Adelaide “Preda,” Barolo
Bric Cenciurio “Coste di Rose,” Barolo
Barale Fratelli “Castellero,” Barolo
Giacosa Fratelli “Vigna Mandorlo,” Castiglinone Falletto
Sobrero Francesco “Ciabot Tanasio,” Castiglinone Falletto
Vigneti Luigi Oddero e Figli, La Morra
Mario Gagliasso “Torriglione,” La Morra
Podere Rocche dei Manzoni “Vigna d’la Roul, Monforte d’Alba
Mauro Veglio “Castelletto,” Monforte d’Alba
Cascina Ballarin “Bricco Rocca,” La Morra
Brezza Giacomo & figli “Cannubi,” Barolo
Vietti “Brunate,” La Morra
Marchesi di Barolo, “Cannubi” Barolo
Eraldo Viberti “Rocchettevino,” La Morra
BAROLO RISERVA 2005
Cordero di Montezemolo-Monfalletto “Gorette,” La Morra: Still broodingly, impressively dark, with aromas and flavors that still are driven predominantly by primary fruit notes after all of these years of ageing in oak and in bottle, this is a remarkable wine. There’s a lot of wood showing on both the nose and the palate, but my sense is that the massive underlying material will outrun it, and that the wine will remain as delicious 10 or 15 years from now as it is currently. Almost scary. 95
Mario Gagliasso, La Morra: As the Pythons used to say: And now for something completely different. This wine shows a lot of development, and is a much better bet for the near term than for the cellar, but is smells like a million bucks, with gorgeous sweet fruit and scents of saddle leather, spices and dried flowers. The soft, sweet flavors are equally appealing, and though this may not hold its charms for a decade, it is so delicious now that it would never survive that long in your cellar anyway. 94
Franco Molino Cascina Rocca “Villero,” Castiglione Falletto: This shows lots of wood-based aromas from its long stay in oak, yet it is nevertheless very complex, with all sorts of nuances recalling violets, baking spices, leather and incense to go along with the toasty, smoky wood notes. The oak shows in the flavors and finish as well, but there’s more than enough sweet fruit to counterbalance it. 94
Rivetto “Leon,” Serralunga d’Alba: Exotic, enduringly interesting aromas get this off to a great start, and ripe, sappy, succulent fruit follows through. A big wine with loads of fruit and loads of oak, it is very well proportioned and, though very appealing already, still a long way from its apogee. 94
Marchesi di Barolo, Barolo: Very healthy-looking dark color suggests that the raw material in this wine was extraordinary, since its long stay in oak has barely dented its primary character or paled its hue. The flavors are strikingly sweet and inviting, and though there’s a lot of fine-grained tannin to frame all that fruit, the finish is still generous rather than astringent. This will need time to gain complexity, but the core could hardly be more solid. 93
Franco Conterno Az. Agr. Cascina Sciulun “Bussia Munie,” Monforte d’Alba: This was a little less expressive aromatically than the other top Riservas, but it is still a brilliant, highly distinctive wine thanks to its fresh, penetrating, remarkably pure fruit notes. Red cherry and raspberry scents flavors are amazingly vivid, and though there are some spicy and smoke accents, the fruit is clearly running the show here. 93
Roberto Sarotto “Audace,” Barolo – Novello: Intensely leathery, spicy and exotic, this provides quite an aromatic thrill ride. The fruit is sweet and engaging, and though there’s a bit of astringency in the finish, that should be easy to buffer with food, and the wine’s astonishing aromatic appeal makes it one to buy. 92
Cavallotto Tenuta Bricco Boschis “Bricco Boschis – Vigna San Giuseppe,” Castiglione Falletto: Exotic scents of leather, dried cherries and incense are absolutely lovely, and there’s an impressive freshness to the fruit thanks to bright acidity. This stays tender and sweet through the persistent finish. 92