Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On 2006 in Barolo

After spending the first morning-and-a-half of Nebbiolo Prima surveying the 2007 vintage in Roero and Barbaresco, the final two-and-a-half days worth of big blind tasting sessions were devoted to the various communes of Barolo, largely to the 2006 growing season along with a handful of 2004 Riservas. Relative to our Barbaresco days, the challenges presented in the move to Barolo were no less daunting, the pain even more pronounced given the ever increasing muscle of the wines as we moved from the municipality of Barolo on day two through to Serralunga d'Alba on day four. Yet the overall outcome was more satisfying, more complete, more to my liking. 2006 does indeed seem poised to become a classic vintage for Barolo... but let me not get ahead of myself.

As is to be expected, some patterns did emerge over the course of the three days, especially in terms of general qualities and consistency from municipality to municipality. As in my report on Roero and Barbaresco, let's start with a list — yes, the dreaded list — of the wines that most appealed to my senses.

Barolo by Commune (and number of "normale" 2006s tasted):

Novello (7):

Barolo (43):
  • Barolo, Bartolo Mascarello 2006 (Barolo and La Morra) – wild and quite tannic, bright fruit
  • Barolo, Giorgio Scarzello e Figli 2006 – tar, dark flowers, classic color and nose
  • Barolo "Preda Sarmassa," Virna Borgogno 2006 – natty aromas, savory touch of brett, good structure and energy

La Morra (42):
  • Barolo "Rocchettevino," Gianfranco Bovio 2006 – classic color, pretty nose, sweet fruit
  • Barolo "Rocche dell'Annunziata," Rocche Costamagna 2006 – modern style, open, very well done
  • Barolo "La Serra," Bosco Agostino 2006 – ripe nose but balanced, long and textured
  • Barolo "La Serra," Eugenio Bocchino 2006 – perfumed, forward, fine structure

Verduno (6):

Castiglione Falletto (17):
  • Barolo "Rocche," Monchiero 2006 – rose, violet, tar... classic wine, cool texture
  • Barolo "Enrico VI," Cordero di Montezemolo 2006 – integrated tannins, high acid, elegant

Monforte d'Alba (36):
  • Barolo "San Pietro," Tenuta Rocca 2006 – masculine style, sweet mid-palate, grippy
  • Barolo "Bussia," Giacomo Fenocchio 2006 – compelling aromatics; long, tannic finish
  • Barolo "Big d'Big," Podere Rocche dei Manzoni 2006 – rich, modern style; good oak/fruit integration

Serralunga d'Alba (31):
  • Barolo "Serralunga," Palladino 2006 – masculine and a touch sauvage, classic Serralunga
  • Barolo "Margheria," Massolino 2006 – big and brawny but balanced, well done
  • Barolo "Cerretta," Ettore (Sergio) Germano 2006 – woody but integrated, well balanced, promising

Barolo Riserva (27 overall):
  • Barolo Riserva "Preda Sarmassa," Virna Borgogno 2004 (Barolo) – classic color and aromas, surprisingly soft, becoming
  • Barolo Riserva "Preve," Gianni Gagliardo 2004 (Monforte and Serralunga) – serious matter, rich fruit, long finish

Virna Borgogno was the only producer to have more than one wine emerge as a stand-out in my notes from the blind tastings at Nebbiolo Prima. In both cases, it was their Barolo "Preda Sarmassa," a blending of fruit from the crus of Preda and Sarmassa that is aged in a mixture of botti and barriques. Both the 2006 "normale" and the 2004 Riserva stood out for their character and expression, displaying fine balance along with a natural aromatic profile that appealed directly to my senses.

In simple terms, I was left with the impression that 2006 appears to have been a ripe but otherwise classic vintage in Barolo, producing a solid number and wide spread of wines that show elegance, power, and potential longevity yet with the possibility of pleasure for those wishing to drink in the near- to mid-term. I never recommend shopping by vintage but, for those for whom that's the easiest approach, you could certainly pick worse years in which to do so.

Digging deeper, the numbers and results above could easily be misleading if taken at face value. The communes of Barolo and La Morra, the largest in the Barolo zone, anted up with the highest number of bottlings so had statistics working in their favor. Indeed, of the 42 wines tasted hailing from La Morra, four of them were compelling enough to be included in my short list of favorites. Aside from those four, however, I found La Morra to be the least consistent of the major communes, the most prone to wines that showed over-ripeness, jamminess, over-extraction and/or a heavy hand in the oak department. The stuffing was there but, in far too many cases, the upholstery was just too flashy.

Over-ripeness seems to have been a common issue in Barolo itself in 2006, as well. While the majority of wines we tasted from the commune of Barolo seemed to be more comfortable in their own skins than did the wines of La Morra, looking back on my notes I find just as many references to alcoholic heat, stewed or over-ripe flavors, and overtly lush, opulent fruit. What was lacking in far too many cases was exactly what this commune is most know for: elegance. That said, the best wines, in particular the three highlighted above, were very, very fine and true to their origins.

Cutting to the chase, if I were forced under duress to pick a commune in which the 2006 vintage found its clearest, most complete voice, my gut reaction would have to be Castiglione Falletto, with Monforte d'Alba running it very close. In both of these sub-zones of Barolo, I found the greatest consistency of expression, along with the finest balance between elegance and power. Stylistically, as can be expected, the wines ran the gamut from old school to centrist to modernist in terms of oak treatment and extraction, but with a high level of success in all categories. Many producers I had the chance to speak with, particularly in Monforte, spoke of 2006 as a great vintage, among if not at the top of their "favorite vintage" list for recent years. I can see why.

Serralunga d'Alba was no slouch in 2006, either. This commune is known for producing the most muscular, masculine expressions of Barolo and that was in clear evidence throughout our tastings. If there's a downside to that, it's that some of the wines struggled to find a balance for all that power. Also, that masculine expression seems to draw to it a high percentage of modernist approaches in the cellar, with many producers trying to tame savage tannins by coddling the wines in newish or smallish oak. Happily, more producers in Serralunga seem to have gotten that balance right in 2006, and the best wines (see the short list above for a few examples) were truly delicious, and just a little more complete from my perspective than in 2004 and 2005.

* * *

Over the course of our four days of blind tastings, human nature inevitably led most tasters back to the same seat each day. That wasn't a bad thing, in this case, as finding a spot that's peaceful and comfortable goes a long way to helping you get through the tough task of tasting 75-85 Nebbioli at a sitting. I was lucky enough to find my spot (the empty chair in the pic above) at a table right next to Kyle Phillips and Tom Hyland, two well-respected journalists and two of the quietest, easiest neighbors in the room. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone take such thorough, intensive notes in this kind of tasting format as did Kyle. Tom was no slouch, either, and was also good for an occasional update on hockey scores as the Philadelphia Flyers (my home team) and Chicago Blackhawks (his) both made their ways through the NHL playoffs.

Underpinning the innate fallibility and minimal utility of the large blind tasting format when it comes to appreciating or understanding single wines, I should point out (just as an example, not to single out any one producer) that as much as I enjoyed the Baroli of Virna Borgogno in the blind tastings, I liked the other wines from same producer's lineup less when tasted non-blinded at that evening's walk around tasting in the Castello di Barolo. Conversely yet to the same point, there were many cases where wines that I normally enjoy — from producers such as G.D. Vajra, Elio Grasso and Giuseppe Rinaldi in Barolo, and Cantina del Pino and Produttori del Barbaresco in Barbaresco, just to name a few — simply did not show well in the blind tastings. Some of those same wines showed beautifully, though, when tasted in situ during other portions of my trip.

Painful as was the experience of tasting all those wines in such quick succession, and as futile as it may seem in the context of true wine appreciation, I do think that the insight provided in this context in terms of the big picture understanding of vintage and commune serves a crucial function and was one of the most important aspects of Nebbiolo Prima. Personally, I'm happy to have seen some old favorites emerge among the highlights, and to have discovered some new producers — and opportunities for further exploration — along the way.


Director, Lab Outreach said...

Quality post. But am chiming in to compliment you the top image. That's a very cool image. Cheers!

David McDuff said...

J David,
I found that getting up for an occasional breather – whether to heed a call of nature, to snap a picture or to step outside for some fresh air – was a necessity for retaining focus during the tastings. Glad you liked my shot, and thanks for stopping by.

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