“After many days … Talking and trying to promote Piemontese Wines … It was just perfect the nice evening with all of you! Specially with one of my favorite vintage! Is really a pleasure to share an evening with persons that appreciate what we ( we = all piemontese producer ) do here … You do not have an idea how much make us happy!”
When we spoke then about the next dinner in New York Luca asked that it be a lower key affair and I quickly agreed. It's not every day, or every year even, that I can put together a tasting like that so for this years visit I suggested a smaller group and a horizontal tasting of Vietti's 1989s.
1989 is one of the truly great vintages for Piedmont. It produced powerful wines with tremendous reserves of perfectly ripe fruit. The wines were a little slow out of the block, and in fact many claimed the 1990s to be superior but they were suckered by the opulence of the fruit from that warm vintage, a harbinger of things to come. 1989 is without a doubt the vintage of the decade and is just entering its peak-drinking window so I was very excited to be trying the Vietti line-up.
I have a long love affair with Vietti that goes back to their 1978s. I went to a wine shop in Queens, NY many moons ago with, what was then, a large sum of money. I was going to buy a case of Italian wine and there was no better place to go than this particular shop. I browsed for a while then was helped by a man who had not only an encyclopedic knowledge of the wines but an electrifying passion!
Well I bought some wine but instead of leaving with a case to enjoy I left with 4 bottles, that I was supposed to cellar. Now granted 2 were magnums but to a youthful an impatient young man the idea of cellaring wine lacked a certain appeal. So I drunk one of the magnums first, a 1978 Aldo Conterno Barolo, hard as nails. Yuck! What had I done? I opened the other wine and it was simply sensational. Perfumed and balanced, richly fruited subtle yet complex and endlessly evolving! It was the 1978 Vietti Rocche and, as they say, the rest is history!
Well we were not planning on making much history this night but we did get around to sharing some great wine, captivating conversation, and a wonderful meal with friends. History or not that's what I call a successful Sunday night!
We started the vening with a bottle of 1985 Henriot Enchanteleurs. This started off decidedly oxidized yet cleaned up quite well with air. By the end of the evening it had just a hint of sherry on the nose but the dried orchard fruits were clear and bright with a fine mousse and gentle spice tones. 88pts
We then moved on to the 2002 Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet. This is really a brilliant bottle of white Burgundy. The nose starts off with a touch of brie and smoky firepit. There is still an obvious oak tone and notes of candied pineapple but in the mouth this is clean and pure with spectacular mineral cut and great depth. Still awfully young this was a treat and sure to improve for years! 95pts
And then we were off to the races starting with the 1989 Vietti Barolo Castiglione. This base bottling was a blend of many vineyards, mostly likely including Bussia, Ravera Novello, Ravera Mosconi, Bricco Boschis, Valletta, Brunella, Foassati, and Ciabot Berton. This delivers above it's paygrade with such wonderful, layered aromatics that revealed fresh herbs, sandy soil, sour cherry and currant fruit and hints of bay leaf, minerals, and briarwood. In the mouth this offered well-resolved tannins with fine focus. To the transparent, light red fruit. There were lovely notes of rosehip, roast meat and sandalwood and the palate and a haunting finale of roses in the mouth. What a steal this was. Firmly at peak but I see nothing to gain from keeping this any longer and it may have been better a few years ago. 2009-2014 91pts
Next up was 1989 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria. This showed a touch of oxidation on the nose, perhaps a bit of ill storage along the way with notes of beef bouillon dominating the nose yet there were notes of dried herbs, earthy, coffee and smoke adding complexity. In the mouth this was deceptively soft and juicy at first yet remains packed with soft tannin. There is lots of tarry fruit here with good length but that tannin does poke out on the end. It's a bit blocky and lacks the elegance that one might expect from Barbaresco but still put on a good showing for itself. 2009-2016 88pts
We followed this with the 1989 Vietti Barolo Brunate. What a nose, intense with limestone, copper, earthy and starchy notes that were just a touch burnt. This was just smoking, or so it seemed with huge notes of pipe tobacco and hot asphalt rising from the glass and yielding to light notes of astringent red fruit and a lovely dried thyme tone. This has really sweet fruit on entry with polished tannins and airy red fruits. At first this had a sexily supple mouthfeel with rich red fruit and great length but it lacks a bit of precision and gets a little muddy across the back end before leading to the finish which is just a touch coarse. There are masses of fruit here but this does trade some precision for that richness. Still excellent. 2009-2017 92pts.
And then we had the chance to revisit the 1989 Vietti Barolo Rocche. Last year's bottle was absolutely great, open and giving. This bottle started out with a touch of jammy raspberry on the nose and smelled very taut and sinewy with slowly growing notes of berry fruits, iron, turmeric, fenugreek and a touch of green anise seed. In the mouth this was zesty, precise and incredibly well balanced. A bit closed and decidedly youthful this bottle none-the-less thrilled with it's balance and vibrancy. It opened somewhat over the course of the evening revealing a nice floral tone with hints of rosehips and dried raspberry fruit. The finish is long with a lovely stony minerality and echoes of used pipe and soil. This is going to be a fantastic bottle when it's mature. 2010-2030 96pts and going to improve!
Our next bottle was the inaugural Vietti bottling from an excellent vineyard in Serralunga. The 1989 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito offered up a curious nose that combined rather evolved tones of chocolate, earth, old leather books and salted Japanese plums with a very subtle acetic whiff adding lift and a deceptive freshness. In the mouth this is dark and brooding with great acids but intense tannins. It's a dark, muscular, very masculine wine with dark fruit edged in bitter fudge and deep licorice tones but it does not have the fruit to outlast these strapping tannins. The finish is very long and lightly medicinal with more licorice but at the same time almost painfully tannic. For the masochists out there! I don't know if you should drink this now or wait, either way it'll have issues! 89pts
We came to our final bottle of the Vietti line-up, the 1989 Vietti Barolo Riserva Villero needing to end on a high note. The nose quickly turned things around! What a seductive nose, absolutely fresh with wonderfully ripe red cherry fruit, and soft subtle perfumes of herbs, flowers, menthol and sandalwood. In the mouth this saw simply silken elegance. The tannins are polished; they are like tiny buckyballs in the mouth forming a virtually seamless presence that tastily completely engulfs your mouth. There is lovely fruit and a huge rose element but that texture is phenomenal. I expect this to age rather slowly but I'm not sure it can get any better than it is now. 2009-2019 96pts
We did have one other bottle on the table, a 1989 Cavallotto Riserva San Giuseppe and being the wine geeks that we are we wasted little time in reviewing it for, umm, your pleasure. This really has a wonderful nose with intense aromatics of tar, earthy, smoke, oystershell, licorice, coffee and roses. In the mouth this is very smooth yet packed with tannins. With air the tannins become a touch abrasive giving this a bit of a rustic feel. The flavors are slightly evolved with a nice core of chunky cherry fruit and a dense, lingering finish but this was outclassed this evening by the Vietti line-up. 2010-2022 90pts
We ended our evening with a 1971 Baumard Quarts de Chaume. Showing fairly freshly on the nose this had notes of exotic flowers and mint over quincy fruit with a lanolin edge. In the mouth there were notes of golden raisins and blond tobacco. This was curiously both soft and steely with not much fruit left. I returned to the dregs of the Barolo instead!
Luca, thanks to you and all Piemontese producers for doing so much to make us happy!
Photos by Brad Kane
Gregory Dal Piaz