The line-up we did enjoy was in fact extensive, reaching back to 1935, quite an achievement in its own right. What was even more surprising an achievement was the condition of the oldest bottles, rich and still tannic in the case of the 1935, perhaps a bit too rich and a bit too fresh. It’s a challenge to assess old wines, old Barolo in particular. Barolo was not really a collector’s wine until fairly recently, so these ancient bottles tend to have suffered to some extent or another over the years from mistreatment, making the condition of this particular bottle even more surprising.
Somehow this bottle lasted through the years of war, poverty and neglect to emerge from the bottle on this evening late in 2012 in remarkable condition, unless of course it didn’t. There is always a chance that this was an outright fake. Recent developments have certainly proven that being fooled by fake wines is neither infrequent nor uncommon, even for experts. I would have to say that this 1935 Barolo had something about it that lead me to believe that it was not exactly what it appeared to be, though I have my doubts that it was an outright fake.
Rather, I expect this was only partially what it did not appear to be, and it did not appear to be 1935 Barolo. There are two easy answers here, either the wine was reconditioned along the way, certainly possible but not the likeliest answer in my opinion. Rather, I believe that this wine might have been “improved” before its original sale. Now before anyone gets up in arms, I am not implying anything nefarious here. What I do believe happened was that the producer, at that point in time Giuseppe Cappellano, might have felt that he would be offering his customers a better wine if it were made richer and brawnier with the addition of some richer and brawnier wine.
You might ask why I would suggest such a thing, and it would be a fair question. The simple truth is that later in the tasting I encountered a similar set of wines. The 1974 and 1978 Cappellano Barolos also came across as unusually rich, and deep with youthful color for traditionally made Barolos in their mid-thirties, and the 1979 impressively outperformed the vintage as well. What could have caused such a thing to happen? Knowing what little I know about Baldo, his free spirit and drive to produce something better, and not necessarily in line with the accepted wisdom of the day. Perhaps he looked to the past, perhaps aware what his father’s uncle Giuseppe had done, and made his wine better.