Barolo

Here are my tasting notes of the best Barolos, starting with my favorite producers and friends whose family-produced wines you will find by visiting the towns of Serralunga or Barolo. I am listing them in alphabetical order so you won’t think I favor one over the other – it depends on what we’re having for lunch that day!

Giacomo Anselma Barolo – Serralunga. It was late in the day on a hot afternoon in August 2009. We had been drinking since morning with our friends and makers of fine Barolo, having lunch with Gianni Cannonica, and who knows how many wonderful bottles (see Cannonica below for a description).
From Barolo we went to Serralunga where I insisted we stop for a coffee, (a somewhat odd request in the land of Nebbiolo!) but everything was closed, even dogs and cats had taken cover in the shade. I spotted a bar that looked open and as we walked in, we realized we had stumbled upon the Anselma family restaurant. Although we certainly consumed enough Barolo for one day (is that even possible?) we opted for a bottle of 2003 sitting on the shelf. It was such a hot day, we had to put the bottle in the ice cream freezer for 20 minutes to cool it down a bit… but that didn’t stop the three of us from finishing it off fairly quickly.
 2003 Anselma Barolo. Still young and wild, the fruit explodes with such intensity it was shocking. This is a big, natural wine, not constructed with additives nor layered with oak, just the ripe, luscious density of great Nebbiolo. It opened up and began to show its future potential with a supple sweetness offset by strong but pleasant tannins. There is a gamey quality in both the aroma and the taste, like a wild animal – goats or sheep!  Honestly, it’s both an attractive and challenging combination that makes me always go back for more. (2003 was a hot year and that explains the intensity of this wine which has since been somewhat tamed upon further aging, and no longer dominates). This is simply a delicious and refreshing Barolo, one of my all-time favorites. Though other vintages might arguably have more subtleties, nothing matches the intense pleasure of drinking Franco Anselma’s 2003. A very example of what other vintners in Barolo did wrong in the ’90’s by creating overly oaked, massively structured wines that appeal to American wine critics.
We inquired about Anselma’s production and discovered that Giacomo Anselma’s son Franco was now the wine maker. Franco came up from the cellar to talk with us and sensing our great enthusiasm for his wine, he pulled an amazing bottle from his private cellar…

 1999 Giacomo Anselma Barolo Vigna Rionda (Riserva) I had been given a bottle of Anselma Nebbiolo once when I did a jazz workshop in Fossano in 1995 and I kept it for 10 years. It was incredible. Franco’s Nebbiolo is like other producers Barolo.

But nothing comes close to this bottle – the  1999 was my first experience with vintage Anselma Riserva Vigna Rionda. Solid brick-red color, there was a bit of sediment in the first glass because Franco, not wanting to miss the moment, didn’t wait for it to settle… Orange edges to this brilliant hue, the nose is perfectly balanced, not heavy, like air moving through an evergreen forrest; moss, cedar, dried fruit, natural aromas. Still young but balanced with such sweet fruit, the sweetness is alarming! The nose strikes you first, then you put the glass down while the aromas are still swirling through your head. You feel embraced by the cool forrest sensation as the earth of Vigna Rionda calls you closer to her. The fruit blends into the tannins on the side of the tongue, and the earthiness returns with a latakia tobacco finish. 30 years to go on this wine. It’s poetry, a living joy!  100 POINTS!!

Coincidentally, the three GREAT wine makers of Barolo – Giacomo Anselma (Franco’s father), Giacomo Conterno and Mascarello Bartolo – all passed away in 2004. Great years for these Barolos were ’58, ’61 and ’64. These were men who made wine for their grandchildren.
Barolo 1967 Pico Della Mirandola. Roddi d”Alba. 12,015 bottles: # 5698 Consorzio Cooperativa di Vini Tipici,  Vittorio Alfieri.
This is a bottle that was discovered in a friend’s basement in Bergamo, Italy. Time has forgotten this Barolo but I will not quickly lose the memory of this fantastic wine. A light, translucent, orange brick color the center, the edges turning completely clear. Aromas of cedar, wooden cupboard, dried fruit. Very expansive and elegant, alive, and still growing! Flavors of strawberry and dried wild cherries. After four hours, the shoulders start to rise as the tannins emerge, revealing tobacco and a fine, licquored, sweetly perfumed finish with infinite length on the palette (infinita lungezza). This is a classic Barolo with lots of floral subtleties and dried fruit, not the earthiness of some other Barolos. The last drop in an empty glass lingers gracefully for a half-hour, never fading, possessed of true finesse. What a lovely experience for a 45 year old wine! 95pts. 3/2012
Not Barolo, but from a producer nearby: Borgongo Dolcetto D’Alba 2010. I drank it w/ dinner tonight in Bergamo, starting with a plate of delicious salami, lardo, pancetta and prosciutto, mostly made by the owner’s mother-in-law. The lardo was especially perfumed and nicely spiced, melting in your mouth. The second dish was a Tagliata di Manzo, medium rare and perfect!

Now the wine: Dense color. Fresh aromas of berry, persimmon and dark plum. Crisp acidity, tart fruit flavors with a good sweetness on the finish, yet a dry nuttiness that makes a perfect wine with grilled meat in summer – full flavor but not heavy and easy to drink.  One of the best Dolcetto wines, highly recommended. 92. 6/9/2012

1998 Luigi Pira Vigna Rionda. I bought this bottle on a visit to Serralunga during a private tasting at Pira’s cantina around the corner from the castle with its’ imposing tower which can be seen from all sides when approaching Serralunga . Rich, dark color with a glowing edge. On first opening, quite amazingly there is no aroma whatsoever! Decanted it for an hour, it slowly begins to open. Dense aromas of blueberry, plum, mint, damp wood, spice, black tea and cigars, beautiful earth undertones with a spicy center and floral scents on top.  Flavor are rich and dense, the tannins supporting solid fruit flavors. Two hours later, the development is exciting, the acidity and tannins balanced by the earthy essence of dried fruit: black cherry, wild cherry and kirsch extract. The aromas are very elegant, making an intriguing combination.  Harsh and unforgiving when young, this has really changed with time. Fantastic. 95+ .. pasta Amatriciana I made at home w/ pancetta, onions, peeled tomatoes put through a blender and slow cooked, a dash of fresh ground black pepper, a small hot red pepper, and topped with fresh basil.

1990 Barolo Bricco Roche

1990 Barolo Bricco Roche

1990 Bricco Rocche Barolo Brunate.  This is a stylish bottle with a long Bordeaux-like neck and cork. I bought this years ago from the bottom shelf of a wine store in Bergamo. The ’90’s were already gaining legendary status and Brunate is a prestigious vineyard, but this was only 50,000 lira or around $30! The nose is well developed: dark, dried cherries, a true classic nebbiolo bouquet right out of the bottle. It has aromas of dried herbs, dates and a very slight raisin air that comes out on top. The flavors are well integrated, as expected from a 23 year old Barolo! The tannins are tightly wrapped around very potent fruit, an elixir of cherry, blackberry, tobacco, dark plums, spices and a sweetness to the long finish. Spectacular! 98  (had this with a home made chicken piccata by Mark White!) 6/2013

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