This of course is all conjecture based on bottles of wine stored who knows where tasted years after they were bottled, but what I can say in all honesty is that these wines simply did not seem to be what they purported to be. One can’t blame Baldo, who upon taking control of the winery in 1970 after years of neglect was thrust into an unfamiliar role. While Baldo will always be remembered as one of the great stalwarts of the traditionalist Barolo producers, he will also have to be remembered as a risk taker and a pioneer. It’s not a giant leap to take; imagining him playing with wines trying to make something better than what had come before.
One possible clue to what may have happened here lies in Baldo’s formative years as a winemaker in Eritrea. Perhaps it is surprising to learn that not only was Theobaldo born in Eritrea, but he lived much of his life there, and even learned how to make wine there, from rehydrated raisins. Could some raisin wine have been produced and added to these vintages of Cappellano Barolo? It seems a likely, and rather benign explanation to me.
Whatever the case, something went on at Cappellano that allows one to break down the wines into at least five distinct periods, reflected to a certain degree in the labels used during those periods. While I can’t say what periods these vintages span, I can say that certain groups of wines fall into these distinct periods.
From this tasting I can conclude the following:
1935 and 1947 seem to be from a time when the wine was not classically Barolo
1958 through 1970 seem to be classic Barolo
1974 through 1980 seem to be off by varying degrees
1982 through 1990 show a return to classic style, though with a rusticity expected of the period
1995 and onward, the wines seem to move from strength to strength reflecting Cappellano’s maturation both in the vineyard and in the cellar.
I of course could be wrong here, but I would be surprised. I’ve included a set of photographs of the earlier wines just to illustrate how deep and richly colored some of these ancient wines were, in contrast to the wines of the second period that separates them. Once again, I want to stress that I believe these wines were ‘improved,’ not that there was an effort to cheat or deceive anyone here. Today this may not fly, even in Brunello, but in Italy, in the near and distant past, this was not an unusual occurrence.
Today’s Cappellano wines are undoubtedly made by the book, and they can be something quite special. I’ve put many down in my cellar and expect the 1999s and 2004s in particular to be spectacular, with the 2007s on my very short list of Barolos worth buying from that vintage. Be that as it may, there remains what will very likely prove to be an unsolvable mystery here. This is part of the joy of cellaring, collecting and drinking wine. Experiencing the change through the decades, safely removed from the difficulties of the day allows one such as myself to do this bit of armchair sleuthing.
I believe my notes speak for themselves here. In general I felt that the wines showed quite well, too well in some cases, but in general I was happy with many of the wines and would love to try them again to see if my experiences are replicable.
Before I get to the notes from the vertical tasting allow me to share my notes on the 2007 Cappellano Barolos. As is always the case, I’ve refrained from assigning point scores to the Cappellano wines. Theobaldo Cappellano asked journalists not to do so.