Marcarini Brunate - 91pts
Cascina Ballarin Tre Ciabot - 88pts
Elio Altare Barolo - 86pts
Mascarello Monprivato - Corked
Brovia Rocche di Brovia - 90pts
Scavino Bric del Fiasc - 78pts
E. Pira Cannubi - 90pts
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - 90pts
Luciano Sandrone Cannubi Boschis - 80pts
Aldo Conterno Colonello - 87pts
Conterno-Fantino Vigna del Gris - 87pts
Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra - 89pts
Luigi Pira Marenca -94pts
Bruno Giacosa Le Rocche del Falletto -89pts
Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia -93pts
The mid 1990’s through 2001 was a magical time in Piemonte, never before had the region been blessed with such a string of fine vintages. From 1993 to 2001 only 1994 was really a dog of a vintage and while 1997 and, to a lesser extent, 2000 were wildly over-praised apon release every vintage offered a wide range of fine wines. Some, like 1999 were dismissed a bit on release due to their difficult nature. Others, like 1998, had the misfortune of failing to grab and hold the attention of the press, which in this case was firmly focused on touting the greatness of the 1997 and 2000 vintages.
1997 was an extreme vintage that suffered from both extreme heat and drought, conditions that produced thick wines with concentrated fruit that wowed the critics on release, unfortunately the wines’ structure was never particularly well balanced with low acids and frequently bitter, unripe tannins. 1998 was in a certain way a close relative of 1997 but due to rains through out the growing season and a cool final month of growth the wines don’t suffer from the dual handicaps of low acids and unripe tannins that are now becoming more and more apparent with the 1997’s. None-the-less the 1998’s had the grave misfortune of coming to market just as another exotic, flashy vintage came to dominate the press, the 2000’s. Thus the wines from this fairly well balanced vintage languished on retailers, and wholesalers, shelves only to be rediscovered when their low pricing, bought as they were when the dollar was at its peak versus the Euro, made them too good a value to ignore.
From the get go 1998 was correctly viewed as an obvious vintage for Barolo. The wines were expressive when they should have been brooding. The general conscenus was that this was a vintage without “legs”, without Barolos’ typical staying power that is measured in decades. While their precocious nature remains undeniable, now that they have begun to lose a bit of their baby fat the fine structure of many of the wines has become a bit more obvious and in fact it seems that several 1998s are finally closing down a bit.
In addition to the unusual weather conditions faced in 1998 many producers were in a state of change. The dynamic nature of the so-called modernist movement, those producers used more new oak, roto-fermentors, and riper fruit for example, meant that many producers’ styles were moving targets as the shifted approaches to meet the demands of both the fruit they were given with each vintage and the demands of the market place.
The traditionalists, those left behind in the 80’s and early 90’s due to their steadfast use of long fermentations and large, neutral oak ageing vessels, were suddenly becoming en vogue again as the string of great vintages focused the wine worlds attention on the Piedmont. The irony of the situation was that these perfectly approachable, soft, almost tame versions of Barolo, the 1998’s, were not being foisted apon the wine consuming public at large but rather the flamboyant, unrepresentative wines of aberrant vintages were.
In those crazy times when 100% new barrique was de rigueur for a modernist the discerning public quickly became aware that while these vanilla laced cherry fruit bombs were an easy entry point to Barolo it was the slow to evolve, wiry, wildly perfumed wines that had been made for decades that truly excited. The wines from 1998 offered a complete Barolo experience but the dial was turned down to 8. Along with the dialing down was the end of the excesses of the modernist movement but many of them came just a bit too late as the delicacy and grace of the vintage was easily suffocated under the weight of excesses of wood, and toast.. Eviscerated wines that grabbed color and fruit from their 4 day roto-ferment , were left with a gaping hole in their centers where a soul had once been.
Before I get bashed for being a modernist basher let me state that I have enjoyed wines from each producer in today’s line-up and several of the so-called modernist sin today’s line-up faired very well indeed! I am against certain aspects of winemaking that rob a wine of its life, it’s aromatics, and it’s soul. Especially with Nebbiolo, a vibrant, aromatic variety! I am an unabashed Traditionalist in many ways but I cannot deny what is in the glass. Luigi Piras’ Marenca for example towered above almost every other wine tonight and was breath taking in its authority and power. so good results can be achieved with pretty modern techniques, but it’s rare.
I will let my notes speak for themselves. Perhaps some others who attended the tasting will offer differing views, though much of the discussion around the table touched on similar points. I included wines that I thought I might not like as an exercise. I knew I had not liked them in the past but was unsure why. Did I not like them because I wasn’t supposed to like them, they do after all represent what we are not supposed to want. Or did I not like them simply because they were not very likable? Now granted the assembled tasters had decidedly old-world, traditional palates but that does not account for the positive showings by half the modernists. To hear my fellow tasters unanimously pan the same wines, and remember these were tasted blind, just confirmed my suspicions. These are just not wines for me.
The wines were blind tasted in flights of 3 organized roughly by commune. The wines were opened several hours before the tasting and then double decanted just before they were taken to the restaurant.
Flight 1 - La Morra
Marcarini Brunate -
This opened with a fine nose immediately offering up perfumed notes of cherry, scorched orange rind, floral notes and sandalwood with top notes of mint and a touch of funk all over a bed of mineral rich clay. In the mouth this is very bright, with big acids. It’s a touch austere with lovely wild cherry fruit and slightly rustic tannins adding a bit of grit to the texture. Real nice length on the finish with subtle pomegranate and stronger raspberry tones and a crisp, focused citrussy finale. This is very friendly and complete tonight with great aromatics but could use a bit more complexity in the mouth. 2008-2018 91pts
Cascina Ballarin Tre Ciabot -
This relatively unknown producer is based in La Morra but this is in fact a blend with most of the juice coming from La Morra but a part coming from the villages of Verduno and Monforte. Reticent on the nose with a classic profile featuring sweet cherry fruit, cigar ash, a touch of tobacco and a menthol top note. With air there is a disconcerting bit of burnt rubber and a growing note of light oak, probably Slavonian, before the fine rose and tea notes blossom. Softish in the mouth with refined tannins this has tight, meaty mouthfeel with a tarry core of fruit. While I catch a touch of roasted fruit here there is also a counterpoint note of fresh herb adding freshness, the finish is a touch short but this is a solid, interesting bottle of Barolo. 2008-2016 88pts
While opening slowly this is obviously woody but with nice floral tones. There is bittersweet chocolate here over dark fruit with touches of waxiness and earth. The perfumes tend to drift away as notes of lilac and earth are replaced with oaky coffee tones but the deep florality struggles mightily to reassert itself. Sweetly fruited in the mouth with fine balance and good focus this none-the-less has a touch too much oak. The plush texture is pleasant and the fine tannins polished but the overall feel of the wine is a bit too matte and lacks a bit of juicy liveliness. Solid but a bit muddled. 2008-2018 86pts
Flight Two - Castiglione Falletto
Mascarello Monprivato -
This was corked and it was a shame as this wine is a gem. Even through the TCA contamination, which was obvious on the nose, one could sense the fine balance and great fruit on the palate. Perfect bottles of this wine have ranged in score from 88-92 pts.
Brovia Rocche di Brovia -
This really had great aromatics with liquory wild raspberry fruit, smoky, mossy grace notes and a penetrating perfume of dried flowers and oily herbs with notes of thyme. Offering up a very nicely integrated mouthfeel and plenty of leather and mineral tinged red fruits on the palate this was rich yet elegant with good length on the finish and very fine, ripe tannins that added richness and weight. A very solid effort that could use a bit more depth on the palate. 2008-2020 90pts.
Scavino Bric del Fiasc -
My notes read Barrel, Barrel, tar, earth, spice coffee, and pancetta so it wasn’t all bad but really this was smothered with oak. In the mouth it was big, plush and dumb. Sure it’s extracted and packed with tannin so it gives the appearance of having something going on but there is no depth here, just weight and while the vanilla tinged cherry fruit might appeal to some it is just not what I would want to drink. You can buy better wine for under $10 Because of the extraction and tannins this will enjoy a very long life and very likely will be better in 10 or 15 years but it will never be what I look for in Barolo. 2015-2030 78pts.
Flight Three _ Barolo
E Pira Cannubi -
This was very perfumed and while there is an immediately noticeable dose of oak here it doesn’t kill the high-toned and very intense fruit. Really lovely and fruit driven and the gentle toast only adds some spice and sweetness. The lovely acids in the mouth keep this lively and bright and with it’s fine focus the deep core of sliced cherry fruit moves from the mid-palate to the cleansing finish. Lingering red fruits are clear and bright and this has fine focus and balance. Excellent modern Barolo 2008-2018 90pts.
Bartolo Mascarello -
The high-toned nose is lively and layered with black cherry fruit and notes of prosciutto, tar, and dried herbs/grasses. This is nicely plump in the mouth with excellent depth of tarry, earthy fruit and a fine, lingering sottobosco note. It’s a bit youthfully clumsy at first then attains fine balance with an easy, gentle character. The fruit is subtle; the complexity is fleeting at times with notes of tea and licorice weaving in and out. Lacks a bit of depth and follow-through on the finish though. 2008-2016 90pts
Luciano Sandrone Cannubi Boschis -
This has subtle but decidedly woody notes on opening then a sweet candied core that recalls root beer and black berry soda with an edge of animal fat. It gains some nice complexity with note of sweet herbs, vanilla, and a spicier, pancetta tone. While one could say this is suave and sexy in the mouth with its slick, polished feel the loose structure and nutty, cigarette ash laced fruit lacks depth and complexity. This is very approachable and lacks the structure and general fruit one should expect from Barolo and while drinkable fails to elicit any happiness. A well made but dead wine. 2008-2012 80pts.
Flight Four - Monforte
Aldo Conterno Colonello -
Sweet and a touch beefy on the nose with spicy licorice tones and a gentle touch of woody/vanilla underlay. This gets a bit weird as bay leaf tones are joined by a strong buttery element and a bit of a cognac tone. Though round with good acids in the mouth, this is a bit muscularly styled with tannins that are a touch rustic though there is nice dark fruit here and a fine note of emerging porcini that leads to a moderately long finish. A solid but uninspiring effort 2008-2014 87pts
Conterno-Fantino Vigna del Gris-
This opened with huge soy, Asian spice and beef bouillon tones but freshened admirably with air though remained very evolved with a distinct Ramen noodle character. Austere and strict in the mouth with lots of tannin in a very focused package that offered nice length to the bright, astringent lingonberry fruit with a tinge of truffle emerging on the finish. What is happening here? This wine deserves some more time to evolve and may even be slightly damaged and thus not entirely indicative of it’s potential but the nose lacks enough freshness to give me little confidence for any extended cellaring, but it is fairly complex. 2008-2012 87pts
Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra -
Powerful, sweet and spicy on the nose with integrated oak, very expensive smelling and while there are high, perfumed notes it’s a bit blunt and raw on the nose. Plush and opulent on entry and absolutely packed with extract, polished tannins, and rich fruit. The tannins clamp down on the finish though the intense plum and dark berry fruit fights through on the finale. While massive this retains fine balance and has solid potential for substantial improvement in the cellar though it will always remain a very particular expression of Nebbiolo 2012-2026 89pts
Flight Five - Serralunga
Luigi Pira Marenca -
This is just lovely on the nose with intense notes of wild flowers, lingonberries, balsamic incense and medicinal roots. There is a touch of warm toast buried in the fruit but the powerful, muscular aromatics of black cherry and menthol easily balance it out. On entry the tannins are noticeably sweet and fine and support complex red fruits that recall plum and red apple skins that segue to a deep, fruit driven mid-palate with classic red cherry fruit. This finishes with excellent length and turns a bit more minerally with cherry pit notes and a fine finale of bitter licorice. A powerful wine still very youthful but with impressive balance! 2008-2024 94pts.
Bruno Giacosa Le Rocche del Falletto -
Sweet smelling at first though showing a bit more obvious alcohol than most of the wines tonight this has a nice core or tarry spicy fruit that is powerful with edges of pipe tobacco and a touch of smoky peat. Again a touch hot in the mouth with red currant fruits, a touch of red apple skins, a bit of a roasted meatiness though with great depth and lovely acids that drive the fruit into the longish finish which ends with a bit of red hots and again curranty fruit. A lovely bottle of Barolo though the tannins appear to be a bit soft and that pesky note of alcohol was a bit bothersome. 2008-2018 89pts.
Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia -
Deep and intense on the nose with strong anise and tar tinged sweet dark fruits. Real complexity here with layered notes of medicinal herbs, leather, prosciutto, and spice notes over that core of precise fruit. In the mouth the fine round tannins are young yet silky giving the wine unusual elegance. Though the intense frutti di bosco and seared red cherry notes are deep and rich the intense inner mouth note of drying roses offer great lift. Mineral and smoky tones add complexity and length on the finale which is a bit bracing and belies the generally strict character of this wine. The tannins are just a bit austere; a good thing for me, but the fruit buffers it perfectly. Very complete and while excellent this is youthful and will benefit from additional cellaring 2008-2025 93pts.
So what if any conclusions can one carry away from this event? Well the wines continue to show well but perhaps not as well as they had just a year or two ago. The best wines are travelling from the bloom of youth to the sagacity of middle age, always a tough transition and continue to be good values. If one finds well stored for examples at good pricing are worth acquiring but I would not go out of my way, with few exceptions.
It is a vintage that in all likely-hood will one day be thought of as the equal to the over-hyped 1997, but that is perhaps damning with faint praise. That is not to say that these wines are better than the 1997’s or even their equals. The finest 1997’s will be great wines but the vintage simply lacks any semblance of the consistency one finds with 1998. That is not entirely a compliment though because as I stated earlier these wines are an 8 on a scale of 1 - 10. They lack the extra depth, richness and complexity that would elevate the vintage to being great.
I liked the wines, I really did, but I can’t see mush upside potential to cellaring the vast majority of these wines. They will make relative bargains on restaurant wine lists of the foreseeable future!
1998 Ten Year After Barolo Blind Tasting
- Reply by Eric Guido, Oct 17, 2008.
Another great article. You've familiarity with the topic is great. This is the kind of stuff that I wish I could find in the publications. I'm not an owner of much Barolo from 98 but have enjoyed a few over time.
Ouch on that Bric Del Fiasc but from Scavino's I've had from this vintage I can certainly understand. Great to see that you enjoyed the Cascina Francia so much. Looks like the modernists really did show poorly here.
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 20, 2008.
There are modernist and then there are modernists. Both the Piras certainly fall into the modernist camps but they still are trying to make an expression of nebbiolo. Scavino and Sandrone seem to be trying to make another wine entirely and have managed to obscure the character of the grape. As time goes by each producer has emerged with a fairly well defined style. Some have moved beyond the excesses of the 80's and 90's, some have chosen not to. I'm not saying one style better than another but I certainly like one much more than the other!
- Reply by Nicolai Soegaard, Oct 21, 2008.
Great article, Greg. Very interesting notes. I'm glad to see Cascina Francia do so well. Unfortunately I only have two bottles left. I last tasted one in January, and unfortunately there was something wrong with the bottle.
In regards to Le Rocche from Giacosa, do you think it was a representative bottle? - I would have thought it to deserve a better rating than 89 points...
BTW I love your notes on the modern bottles. Your view on these wines really made me smile. I don't think I have ever seen Cannubi Boschis get 80 points. I tasted 88, 89 and 90 Cannubi Boschis earlier this year, and while I found them deserving a better rating than 80 points, I was not at all moved by this style of Barolo. It is very sexy Barolo, but not what I want from a bottle of Barolo. I prefer the more classic stuff.
I haven't tasted much Altare from 98, but normally I really like Altare's wines. I think he is superb at capturing the elegance of nebbiolo. I will visit Altare in exactly two weeks from today - can't wait :-)
Speaking of 98 nebbiolo, I have been invited to a tasting of 98 La Spinetta vs. 98 Gaja. These are not my normal favorites, so I'm curious to taste their wines 10 years after harvest.
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 21, 2008.
Thanks Nicolai, I don't think the Giacosa was an off bottle, perhaps a difficult time for the wine but perfectly correct. I too have had the 88,89 and 90 CB. The 88 is fairly brilliant modern barolo, the 89 less so but with goos fruit, partially obscured by oak. The 90 less successful with heavier fruit obscured by oak.
It is sexy wine but Barolo for me should be austere, tannic, earthy, balsamic, complex, and high-acid. These other style are leaded, heavy and dead. Altare can be very successful, I agree and even his early wines have shown a deft hand. Of course the bottle we had was only his Normale so I wouldn't have expected too much and it would not have been fair to the Narcarini and Cascina Ballarin to pit them against the Brunate or Arborina.
The vintage, 1998, was never one of my favorites but obviously there are some fine wines to be had. I hope you enjoy the La Spinetta v Gaja. You are a brave man!
- Reply by MartinPetersen, Oct 23, 2008.
Great read Greg. It so happens that me a my tasting group will be doing a "ten years after" tasting this Saturday with approx. 25 barolo from 1998 so this came in handy. I know that compared to me you're a tough grader but from my past experience with eg. 1998 BdF I can certainly say I recognise your description of this wine. In a tasting of BdF from 1983 to 2001 (14 vintages) that I arranged 18 months ago the 1998 was by far the weakest barolo - but it was very sexy....
Our lineup from 1998 Saturday includes a broad selection of the so-called modernist and traditionalists so this will be great fun, as it seems your tasting was. I'll try to report back some time next week.
Regarding Sandrone: I was tasting CB 88/89/90 with Nicolai in May and as with Nicolai none of these bottles rocked my barolo-world although I do find them enjoyable. The 1988 even had a bit of the austerity that you obviously like. I think it will be very interesting where these wines go from here as it will be interesting to follow a number of the more modern producers wines from the '99 and 2001 once these reach an age of let's say 15 years. Just had a bottle of Bdf 1990 to days ago and boy - no doubt that this was a fine barolo after it had had some air. My last glass really showed the tannins of this wine.
Geez - I'm getting all thirsty now. First I'll register the wines I bought today in CellarTracker, then carry these into my cellar and finally serve myself a glass of proper nebbiolo.
Greg - again thanks for taking your time to write up this excellent report.
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 23, 2008.
Long time no hear. I thought i had seen you join up but I couldn't be sure it was you.
Sexy but week, sounds like a model I know. It was a very tough wine for me and the group I tasted it with. No one liked it and it was blind so the wine was judged fairly. Of course the entire group has only Giacosa, Mascarello, Conterno et al in their cellars! Not quite but you get the idea.
It's funny but I traded posts with Nicolai about the 88-90 trio just yesterday or so. I am very fond of Sandrone's 88, one of his most successful bottles for me, I even rated it ****/5 in the old Dal Piaz scale, it would translate to a 92-93 most likely. I do not think the 98 will evolve so well. I do have a few bottles of these wines, ie sandrone, scavino, clerico, etc from many vintages and will give them the benefit of the doubt for now but I hold little hope than any but few will evolve into something I look for. Good luck with your tasting. I am looking forward to your results. I know each tasting will have a different panel, different bottles, and different results but there will be some similarities i think. Have you found any L Pira for your line-up. That Marenca was a true revelation. I might have rated it higher if I had some in my cellar and was not looking for a few bottles! I joke of course
I hope you might consider adding your report to the snooth forums. i think your take on these wines would be a great addition for our readers! Please consider it.
Martin, I have known of you for several years now. It is time we try and plan something, either here or in Europe. Either place I am sure we could find a nice group to enjoy Nebbiolo with. I look forward to that time.
- Reply by MartinPetersen, Oct 23, 2008.
Greg, thanks for your comments. Our line-up Saturday is as follows
Altare Barolo Arborina
Azelia San Rocco
Azelia Bricco Fiasco
Brovia Ca Mia
G. Conterno Cascina Francia
A. Conterno Cicala
R. Voerzio Brunate
R. Voerzio Cerequio
Vajra Bricco del Viole
E. Pira Cannubi
B. Giacosa Falletto
B. Giacosa Rocche del Falletto
G. Mascarello Monprivato
P. Cesare Ornato
F. Roddolo Ravera
L. Pira Marenca (MG)
L. Pira Rionda
P. Scavino Rocche del A.
P. Scavino Bric del Fiasc
In case you are interested in notes on any specific of these please let me know. Normally I do not take notes at tastings but of course I make mental notes of my impressions of each wine. The group of tasters are quite competent but do have mixed preferences when it comes to style. My own preferences are quite traditional as Giacosa, G. Mascarello, Vietti Villero Riserva and Bartolo normally are safe bets in my world. Funny enhough G. Conterno Monfortino has never touched me but I really like CF as I do like more modern stuff like Altare (with some age) as well as L. Pira. A friend of mine arranged a complete vertical of L. Pira Rionda this spring and the 1998 stole the show on that occasion - with the rare and raved-about '97 being nothing but a shadow of its reputation.
I too would really like to meet you in person and taste some good nebbiolo. I know Denmark is a bit of the beaten track so it is probably more realistic to meet in NYC ofrPiemonte some time. I usually go to Piemonte twice a year so maybe in 2009, if we are capable of some coordination?
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 23, 2008.
Wow martin, That is quite the list. I am most interested in the groups opinion of the L Pira Marenca and the Giacosa Rocche, which were the two surprises of our evening. The E Pira Cannubi showed very well for us, perhaps a bit better than expected. For everything else I would be interested but perhaps less. Strange that you've only Vietti Castiglione, no Crus? I guess the line must be drawn somewhere.
We will meet then. Somewhere and sometime but it will be done. I hope you return to these pages. It is a pleasure to see you here. Now I will go track down a bottle or two of the Pira Rionda 98!
- Reply by MartinPetersen, Oct 23, 2008.
Greg, just learned that due to a "no show" from one of my friends (his wife will probably give birth during the weekend) we will not have Scavino Rocche del A. and Azelia Bricco Fiasco for the tasting. Apart from that - the list is now confirmed. When it comes to Vietti - well, the concept of the tasting is that a year in advance we consolidate a list of wines for the following years tasting with the wines already in our cellars and then we try - sometimes harder, sometimes not so hard, to track down a few bottles to fill the gaps. Last year we had 38 barolo from 1997 which we found was a bit to much so therefore less enthusiam has been put into collecting the missing and most interesting bottles this year. In 1999 we will most probably easily reach 30 different wines again as we have more of this vintage in our cellars. 2000 will then again be a smaller selection and 2001 will probably break the record.
Enjoy your hunt for Pira Rionda '98 - that is normally a hard bottle to find.....