My monthly group met for a blind tasting of 2012 Barolos on Tuesday. The take-aways:
As a group, we liked them a lot better than the 2011s we tasted in December 2015, even though 2011 was a warmer year and, I think, had a better reputation, at least in the U.S. It appears that U.S. retailers went light on the ‘12s, as I had to scout around quite a bit for some of the wines.
The two Serralunga wines came out on top for the group, and the two Castigliones ranked 6th and 7th. I don’t know if that’s significant or just luck of the draw with these particular wines. We didn’t have anything from Barolo or La Morra.
The 2012 Grasso wine was noticeably oaky, like the 2011 we tasted a year ago.
The vintage: Not everyone was keen on the 2012 vintage. WBer Greg dal Piaz trashed it in a web posting last May (“A vintage saved but not salvaged”), saying most of the dozens of wines he tasted were overly tannic, underfruited and generally overrated.
So I was a bit surprised when I visited the Langhe in August and September and found that I quite liked the wines. I thought most of the ‘12s were balanced, relatively open and very aromatic (I posted on the visit here). Not a great or long-lived vintage, to be sure, but solid in a lighter style.
That was our group’s take this week. The quality was in a fairly narrow range. As someone said, “Even the eighth place wine doesn’t suck.”
I took a lot of heat for my posting on the tasting of 2011s because I reported how oaky the Elio Grasso Gavarini-Chiniera was. So, naturally, I wanted to include the '12 this time. It, too, showed oak when we tasted it blindly.
There were two other overlaps from the 2011 tasting: The Giacomo Fenocchio–Villero and the Brovia Brea/Ca Mia’.
The line-up included two blended, “entry-level” bottlings (Vajra and Vietti) and six single vineyard bottlings.
I resampled the line-up last night. Only the Fenocchio was substantially different – and much better.
Ranked in the order of the group’s preference, which (for once) was very close to mine.
Brovia – Brea (aka Ca Mia’) (Serralunga) ($60)
Group rank: 1st (my 3rd): Raspberry on the nose – a rarity in Barolo – plus some darker fruits. Rich. Great grip on the palate. Not too fruity at first, but it fleshed out with air, adding sour and dried cherries. Lots of fruit on day 2. 90+ points for me.
Of the other four people with similar palates whose scores I noted, one had it 2nd, two had it 6th and one had it 7th, so this was not a universal favorite.
Footnote: The 2011 ranked 5th/6th in December 2015.
Schiavenza – Ceretta (Serralunga) ($51)
Group rank: 2nd (my 1st): I was very taken with Schiavenza’s wines when I visited in 2005, and I loved a bottle of their ’12 Prapo that I had over there in September. No one will accuse these wines of being delicate or feminine. This is Serralunga talking.
Deep, concentrated darker fruits on first impression, and the intensity holds up on day 2. In the mouth, this is tannic but with great fruit concentration. “Really dense … and balanced,” I wrote. Dense, spicy, persistent finish. 92 points for me. Of the other four people with similar palates whose scores I noted, two had this 1st, one had it 2nd. WBer Gray Newman had it 7th. Don’t know what his problem was.
Fratelli Alessandria – Monvigliero (Verduno) ($56)
Group rank: 3rd (my 2nd): Sweet custard aroma on the nose at first, then that was replaced by celery. Think celery juice. A very light aromatic profile, with some floral notes emerging. In the mouth, this was lighter than all the rest, with nice fruit and a trace of summer wild flowers. Much less concentrated. “Monvigliero?” I wrote. Or maybe the Vajra or Vietti.
My first instinct was right. If the Schiavenza was Serralunga speaking, this was Monvigliero shouting out. This vineyard has such a distinctive terroir (unless it’s the Scavino version, where winemaking seems to plaster over the character of the vineyard). This is a Burgundy-lover’s Barolo, in the best sense. I loved it when I tasted at the winery (where I also got that celery) and it showed well here.
Vajra – “Albe” ($30)
Group rank: 4th (my 4th): Fairly ripe fruit on the nose, but had what I can only describe as a tautness: This wasn’t a lap-it-up ripeness. Tannic in the mouth but with good fruit concentration, and tannins aren’t too harsh. Tastes like classic Barolo. Long finish. 90- for me.
This showed very well at the cantina in September and wasn’t disappointed this week. This is the real deal, and a real value.
Vietti – “Castiglione” ($45):
Group rank: 5th /6th (my 6th): “Is this nebbiolo?” someone asked. I had the same reaction at first sniff: It smelled like cabernet or merlot. Very hard tannins in the mouth. “Charmless,” I wrote. Some fruit appeared with more air, but it didn’t seem to have much nebbiolo character apart from the tannin. No different on day 2.
A pity as this wine was a good bet, and good value, for so many years. I found the 2010 a bit hot and now this is a real disappointment. At this price, it’s no bargain at all.
Cavallotto - Bricco Boschi (Castiglione) ($58 )
Group rank: 5th /6th (my 5th): This had the best nose of the eight by far – intense, rich nebbiolo – and that was true on day 2, as well. And perhaps I should have ranked it higher just for that. In the mouth, lots of fruit and grip, and a pleasant sweetness. “Polished tannins,” someone said, aptly. (As I recall, they use rotofermenters though they are otherwise traditional in their approach.) A nice sweet fruit on the finish, though that was a tad short. The nose notwithstanding, this seemed just a little lacking in this line-up. 89/90 points for me.
Giacomo Fenocchio – Villero (Castiglione) ($42)
Group rank: 7th (my 7th on day 1; much better on day 2):
Lighter, redder fruit profile on the nose. Tannic on the palate – even a tad dry. Less fruit than most. Some people thought they detected oak, but I doubt this has been near any new oak.
This was the one wine that really improved overnight in the refrigerator, which I would attribute to the very traditional approach here. It gained flesh/fruit and really sang on day 2. 88 points on day 1, more like 91 on day 2. The 2013s are the ones to watch from Fenocchio, though.
Footnote: The 2011 ranked 7th/8th in our December 2015 tasting, but I put it 2nd.
Elio Grasso - Gavarini - Chiniera® (Monforte) ($69)
Group rank: 8th (my 8th): Red fruit on the nose, along with coconut. No real nebbiolo scents (e.g., dried cherries, sour cherries, rosehips). In the mouth, it seemed to have sweet oak of a coconut persuasion. Pleasant enough but dominated by the oak and it was a little lower in acid and definition. Hard tannins on the finish, with a sweet oak note.
While the ’11 Grasso smelled like freshly sawed wood, this seemed more like American oak, and the oak was less overwhelming. The oak was less intrusive on day 2.
I would just emphasize that the oak stood out for many of us tasting this blindly. It was an outlier in the line-up of traditionalists.
86 points for me.
Footnote: The 2011 was the group’s #2 wine, my 7th.
These were tasted single-blind: We had the list but even I didn’t know which was which in the order.
I decanted half of each bottle into a pouring bottle two and a half hours ahead, then poured the remainder into the pouring bottle when we were ready to begin. This seemed to do a very good job of opening up the wines. (The pouring bottles are identical so you can’t guess the wine from the shape or height of the bottle.)