A truly great night of Nebbiolo interwoven with moments of sheer grandeur and others of mind-boggling disappoint. If one conveniently eliminates Flight Three they end up with an impressive level of consistency, but, the level of flaw and awkwardness of that pesky Flight Three remind us that some of the 2001s wines remain in an awkward stage of development while others are victims of wine making flaws that often mar our experiences with wines that by all counts should be other worldly. This is a seriously structured vintage and there wasn’t a wine I would characterize as entering its prime drinking window for a bare minimum of an additional 7-10 years in the cellar, most taking longer. Reminiscent of the seriously structured 1996 and 1989 vintages, but overall one can easily understand the far higher level of average winemaking skills that existed in 2001.
Recalling the recent controversial Decanter article in which they did a Ten Year Retropspective on the ‘01s, which significantly writes off the vintage characterizing many of the wines as going into decline (aka Over the Hill), our impressions could not be more different. Best we can say is that 2001 is shaping up to be an extraordinarily classic vintage delivering superb balance of ripeness, structure and verve; a vintage for the ages.
With the exception of one bottle (Conterno Fantino~Sori Ginestra), all of the wines were uncorked first thing in the morning and single decanted into clean wine bottles where they spent the day Slow O’ing. They were served directly from those bottles. This method proved very successful in allowing the wines to show all they have to give at this young stage of development, without exposing them to the risk of excessive oxygenation (think wine bottomed decanted with a large surface area of wine exposed to O2 = bad dog) which can, of course, trigger young Nebbiolo to close in on itself. The Sori Ginestra was uncorked the night before and allowed to SO until the next morning at which time it was decanted into a clean bottle. From that point it was handled the same as the others wines.
While there were a few wines that showed elements of small barrel oak aging, there was not a single bottle that stank of oak. Clearly the winemaking stylistic move toward reduced small barrel aging that was taking hold in this vintage had positive results.
Overview: Right out of the starting gate all of the wines of this flight were expressive, opulent and delivering at a very high level. Inspiring Flight!
Giacomo Borgogno~Barolo~Storico/Liste (Barolo)
Liste’s bouquet is built on a darkly fruited, thumping bass note with soprano notes of cedar & balsamic resin, pure, clean and complex. In the mouth it is enveloping and broad in its fruit bandwidth, but with time shows increasing delineation cut in a classical, traditional character. Firm and tannic on the finish, this was a great surprise for everyone who had not previously had a bottle of Borgogno’s single vineyard Liste, but those in the know already understood this is a great, under-appreciated bottling, one that deserves a place in every hard core Nebbiolo addicts cellar. Stunning wine with artful oak integration, while it may have started with a certain reliance on its heft, it certainly opened with time in the glass to reveal a convincing level of elegance and detail. 94+
Conterno-Fantino~Barolo~Sori Ginestra (Monforte d’Alba)
If there was a chameleon of the night, it was this, a wine that morphed and ebbed and flowed in notable fashion throughout the course of the evening. Classic in its expression of the Ginestra vineyard with firm red cherry and rose petal fruit, a fine streak of limestone minerality and wisps of Fall forest scents that lend depth of character. Another categorically beautiful bottle, but marked with a bit more approachability than the others, likely due to it having been opened earlier than the other bottles. Paul David commented that it was more advanced than other bottles he’s recently had. Others, especially Brad Vanderpool (his WOTN?), liked this more than I, but make no mistake, I thought it was absolutely terrific and am very pleased to have a nice stash in the cellar. Gorgeous oak integration, fabulous depth of fruit and complexity, a very fine Sori Ginestra. 94+
Aldo Conterno~Barolo Riserva~Granbussia (Monforte d’Alba)
Full Monte Elixir! Action packed with a level of succulent fruit that transcends any of the other wines this evening. The density of fruit is accentuated by incredibly bright, fresh acidity and a firm finish, yet the amazing amount of fruit all but hides the firm, fine grained tannin finish, moving it from foreground to background. Showing the youngest/least developed of the first flight (perhaps even the youngest feeling wine of the night), with time in the glass the fruit darkens, becoming richer, more provocative and laced with anise seed and dark red fruits, showing an almost liqueur-like texture. I find myself very attracted to this great bottle, but this will require another decade+ in the cellar to show its true potential. 95+ (big upside?)
Last minute addition to Flight One:
Produttori del Barbaresco~Barbaresco Riserva~Rabaja (Barbaresco)
This was both the lightest in hue along with the lightest in body weight of Flight One (and of the night), showing elegant strawberry fruit and dried rose petal, a surprisingly light palate weight, and a fierce finish defined by mouth puckering tannin and bracing acidity. Firm n’ fit with nary a single gram of excessive palate weight, this Rabaja needs a whole lot of cellaring to put a few pounds on its currently anorexic skeletal frame. Time will reward, but for now I suggest steering and saving it for a better day. 91+
Flight Two brought another wave of impressive consistency:
Scavino~Barolo~Bric del Fiasc (Castiglione Falletto)
Once again Bric del Fiasc makes a major league showing with its dark, eucalyptus laced fruit and a profound frame of crushed limestone minerality. The level of consistency with this bottling is impressive and with the 2001 Scavino has once again smacked it out of the park! With time in the glass deep, black cherry fruit echoes though the wine as an acidic embrace and a firm tannic French kiss remind one just how bright the future is for this bottling. Total Rock Star, but you guessed it, it needs lots of time! 95+
Cavallotto~Barolo Riserva~Vigna San Giuseppe (Castiglione Falletto)
The character of the VSG is defined by superbly transparent, opulent, richly nuanced, mentholated fruit, dark, rich and showing hints of meatiness. Super focused and delineated, the echoing dark fruit builds a strong sense of purity. Reminiscent of the equally impressive 1999, a seriously firm finish completes this very powerful Barolo. In need of at least another 8-10 years to reach early peak drinking, patience will reward at a level just short of winning the Lotto. Damn fine! Fab! 94
Vietti~Barolo~Rocche (Castiglione Falletto)
Yowsah, what a turn of events with its brooding black fruits and mocha woven into a fabric of crushed rock. Very mineral, perfectly ripe and layered with precise layers of complexity, this is definitely not a wine for fruit flies. Every dimension echoes greatness, it would appear this underrated wine continues to gain momentum from additional cellaring. Graceful in every measure with super silky, firm tannin on the finish and invigorating acidity. Very serious and very impressive, my favorite wine of the Flight and one of my top three of the night. 96+
We entered this flight with some very serious expectations only to be bitch slapped! Ffffraaaack, but it was not to be! It wasn’t by design that all three of the bone jobs of the night were lumped into a single flight, it just turned out that way. What a serious disappointment and a complete write-off. Tough love knows no bounds.
Giuseppe Mascarello~Barolo~Monprivato (Castiglione Falletto)
The lightest hued Barolo of the night, super mentholated, high toned and laced with chalky, shrill notes. No matter how much time in the glass, this puppy never fleshed out, nor gained an iota of interest. Hard, closed and defiant. Judgment deferred for a number of years down the road. Those who follow Monprivato know it is a wine with a reputation of being fickle in its youth, especially in structured vintages. I remain confident we found Monprivato to be in that very off mood this night, it just needs lots of time. It may just rival the superb ‘89 or ’90 someday, but that day is a long way down the road, a long and winding road. NR
Pio Cesare~Barolo~Ornato (Serralunga)
Despite the initial impression of ripe dark fruits with a spicy earthiness, impressive depth and great character, Ornato shows a knarly streak of out of whack volatile acidity that seriously distracts from the overall quality. Clearly a flawed bottle, judgment reserved. NR
Giacomo Conterno~Barolo~Cascina Francia (Serralunga)
And as if to add insult to injury, Cascina Francia shows almost nothing on the nose but high tone, uber harsh volatile acidity. Absolutely horrible, obviously a very off bottle, for which we all groped for a reason. Off bottles happen! I had one on release and it was stunning, every bit the wine Antonio wrote about, yet here we were left in despair. Pretty much undrinkable, judgment reserved, NR
Thankfully the final flight of the night closed on a grand high note as the trio of Giacosa delivered the goods on all counts!
Bruno Giacosa~Barbaresco~Santo Stefano (Neive)
A total sex machine with its Giacosa signature brown sugar n’ caramel notes taking center stage. The more time it spent in the glass, the more alluring it became. Almost irresistible in its appeal and very hard to keep one’s hands off the glass, this just kept getting more and more exciting with time, but toward the end the wine’s structure began to take over, with firm tannin and acid making its presence known. Stunning, I liked it a good bit more than the Asili that followed. 96+
Bruno Giacosa~Barbaresco~Asili (Barbaresco)
Where the Santo Stefan showed accessibility to its decadent fruit, the Asili starts off in an awkward place, showing absolutely none of the elements that made the SS so attractive. A bit stern and showing mostly mineral and structure; with time in the glass it bright, firm bright red fruit begins to emerge with notes of chalkiness making it to the front. While the purity of fruit is impressive, I can’t help but think we didn’t quite catch this youngster in the showy mood the SS is currently in. Still, great potential and I think others like it more than I. 94
Bruno Giacosa~Barbaresco Riserva~Rabaja (Barbaresco)
And finally the star of the night, the already legendary Rabaja Riserva shows up in full celebration mood. Like a Testarosso that has just pulled in, one can simply not ignore the captivating allure of its extravagance and persona. It’s a Nebbiolo magnet; ripe, delineated, layered with intensity and complexity, and always showing those classic brown sugar n’ caramel notes that routinely define Giacosa’s Riservas. “Once you go Red You’ll find no Dread”. Seemed fitting to say that after the Crash n’ Burn of Flight Three. Amazing in every measure, like hitting the Power Ball, well, almost. If you’ve got this in the cellar you’ve got bank. If you don’t, find some friends who do or buy some! 98+
End of the last flight gave us a chance to go back and retaste the previous flights and there is little doubt at this point in the evening, that with the exception of Flight Three, the wines were showing a stunning level of intrigue and expressiveness. 2001 rocks it!
We closed with a wonderful 1963 Croft Port (thank you Paul David) , which was drinking superbly.
Uber Kudos to all the attendees: Brad Vanderpool, Rick Halterman, Paul David, Dan Foote and especially to hosts Paul & Crissy Faraci for another most gratifying night of youthful Nebbiolo Narcissism. Faraci’s food including the braised short ribs and all the other stunning stuff we stuffed ourselves with was fabulous and paired perfectly!
We decided that next year’s TYA celebration, which will focus on 2002, will include just two wines: a double mag of Monfortino (or two mags) and Roagna’s Paje Crichet (if we can find some). Salute’!