TN: 2012 Barolo - Vietti, Vajra, Grasso (!), Brovia and more

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.

Tasting format/protocol:

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.)


think the Grasso will ever shed its oak?

I’d be more optimistic about the '12 than the '11, since it was less noticeable on day 2. But, given what you can get for less than $60, why bother to find out?

Many thanks for the notes John, and certainly interesting insight into a vintage.

Did you taste them with food, or on their own? Even just 8 wines can be quite a tannic assault with young Barolo.

Good to see the Schiavenza being appreciated (yeah Gray - what’s your problem?! [berserker.gif] [wink.gif] ). I think they have a very good attitude there, in both making wine and running a restaurant. Both IMO are over-performing what they charge, at least to my tastes.


Yes, we had food, and the wines needed it. These definitely took a toll on the palate after a while, and you needed to refresh with some food (cold meats, quiche, cheese and bread).

Thanks for the notes, John. I am going to be buying quite a bit of '12 Barolo for myself, to me the vintage is relatively fresh, very typical, not the weight of say '10 but very much to my taste. This is not just because I have the wines in inventory…

Cavallotto uses roto-fermenters for a traditional long maceration*, turning them once a day, because Alfio Cavallotto thinks he gets better tannin extraction that way. He says the skins of Nebbiolo are slippery and tend to stick together.

  • about 30 days, depending on vintage

I forgot to a post on a ninth wine that someone brought. We tasted it after we’d tasted and ranked the main eight. It was a step down for me:

Bruna Grimaldi - Bricco Ambrogio (Roddi): Lighter in body, with a fair deal of tannin and a bit of alcohol showing (which the others didn’t). I didn’t write detailed notes or give it a score, but it would have been at the bottom for me – probably 85-ish. Competent but not enough depth to be really interesting, and less well balanced than most of the rest.

Thanks for the info on Cavallotto, Oliver. I recalled that they used the roto-fermenters in some moderate way – not for seven-day macerations or anything radical like that.

Oliver - Since you bring in producers from La Morra (Oddero), Barolo (Brezza), Castiglione (Cavallotto) and Monforte (Germano), so you have any sense of whether some villages fared better than anothers in 2012?


My tour of Barolo producers last April was interrupted by a health problem, which was very bad timing, so I don’t have the sense of the vintage that I should, but I am delighted with my producers (Cavallotto, Germano, Brezza, Castello di Verduno and Oddero). The weather was apparently tricky but I love the combination of fully developed flavors, restrained alcohol and fresh acidity in the wines that I’ve tasted.

John - thanks for the notes. Sounds like a fun night and like you, I’m a fan of the 2012s. Love the perfume on the wines!

Great tasting and notes – thanks!

Ian, I plead guilty and am still trying to figure out what my problem is. I liked the Schiavenza on the nose a great deal–I thought it had an elegant, almost Burgundian like nose, but scored it poorly because of what I picked up as an overly hot ending. But as John said, none of these (except the Elio Grasso that even I ranked 8th) really disappointed. My top three oddly were the Vietti (“what’s not to like here?”), the Fratelli Alessandria (“balanced and light”) and the Vajra (“rich, meaty and sweet”) : go figure.

I think the 12s have been a mixed bag, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a number of them so far, between having tasted them over in Piedmont and at the La Festa 2012 tasting. From the Festa lineup, in no particular order, I really liked Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate, Giacomo Conterno Francia, A&G Fantino Bussia Cascina Dardi, Vietti Ravera, Vajra Ravera, Massolino Margheria and Burlotto Monvigliero. I didn’t particularly care for the Cannubi wines presented, nor the Conterno Fantino nor Elio Grasso. Additional 12s that I found compelling from our trip - the rest of the Vietti single vineyards were pretty special, and the Bartolo Mascarello may be in the running for the wine of the vintage.

+1 for Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate and Bartolo Mascarello.

Hi Gray
Just a little gentle ribbing, I delight in differences of opinion about wines.

In support of your concern, the alcohol levels are typically at 15% for Schiavenza Barolos, and that is high, though not unusually so these days (nor the highest seen). Whilst I’ve not noticed any heat myself in their wines, there is always the risk that it might become exposed with time. I wouldn’t complain at all if they were to edge that down to a 14% alc level.


Thanks for trying few 2012 again.

Interesting to see the oaky comments on the young Elio Grasso. I do not know what to make of it other than to watch and wait hoping the oak integrates and goes it background. I do have a vested interest as I have a lot of 2010s.

I loved the Vajra wines in 2012. Lovely wines without pretension.