A savage decade saved by Barolo

chanelview1.jpgBefore we get started with the new year let us reflect on the wine trends of 2009. [ed. New Year view from Malibu coast Jan 2 2010]
Mega trend #1: the rise of terroir in the USA. All of a sudden pockets of winemakers have discovered the meaning of wine that reflects a region instead of a style. First on this list are the small lot Willamette Valley producers of Pinot Noir and other vinifera. If you want to see and taste the best of these wineries and the general movement to smaller and better you should consider attending the 2010 Portland Indie Wine Fest (sometime in May).
Mega trend #2: the diminution of wine Parkerization goes hand in hand with the upswing in terroir consciousness.
Mega trend #3: general growth in all things local from wineries in Malibu and regions south of Salem OR to neighborhood retailers that feature value driven quality wines domestic and international. Let us hope this continues.
Mega trend #4: the collapse of the trophy wine market. While it may seem we are delighting in the misfortune of others, such would be the case, selectively. Hooray for winecommune.com and winestilsoldout.com. If we can root against the Dodgers and Bruins in support of the Angels and Trojans then we can also root against Big Ticket Monster Cabs, ridiculously expensive Aussie Syrahs, and root for the success of Tablas Creek (showing how a “large” producer makes the terroir commitment), McKenzie-Mueller (Carneros true), Uvaggio di Giacomo (proving terroir sourcing works) and Malibu Sanity (vision and just enough madness). We smile every time we get an email from a local retailer announcing they are offering another Cult Classic at 60% off. And if you love Cabernet (because these are almost exclusively Napa Cabs) then your day has arrived…fortunately along with the presence of more low alcohol, well balanced wines from France, Italy and Spain. Now, if we could see something like this from Burgundy and Barolo?
2009 closed with a flurry of Barolo wines from the early to mid 1990s that needed to be opened. These were purchased between 2001 and 2003 following a trip to Piemonte. Barolo is a great wine that is tough to peg and time. The devotion to terroir has always been paramount. The flavors are unique among wine. Fungi and truffle flavors are not unusual; veggies are. Fruit ranges from cherries to plums. Many people find Baroli and Burgundy wines share similarities in style if not flavors. The only intra-regional conflict of note is the break between new and old styles which can be fairly summarized in whether to use oak barriques or the traditional cement vats or Slovenian oak barrels (the latter are rarely changed). In some houses both approaches can be found wherein Dad is traditional and the “kids” are modern (e.g., Ciabot Berton). Marc de Grazia Selections has one of the largest catalogs of Piemonte wines as well as wines from other regions in Italy. Perusing his catalog is worth a look just to see how many Barolo producers there are and how many of the less renowned ones we seldom see. Barolo were pricey when we bought them, even more so now. You will never see a decent Barolo U20. Some of the wines tasted below are still available for a price not much more than a notable Burgundy. Labels do not always match the vintage but in most cases they match the vineyard and the color scheme.
2008 Domaine de la P√©pi√®re “Vieilles Vignes” Clos des Briords Muscadet S√®vre et Maine Sur Lie
$15: Louis Dressner import, crisp, green apples. Could have had a bottle of this every time we walked into another holiday party and not gotten tired of it. Brightens the palate. A refreshing U20 wine at 12%
VEGLIOBaroloCastelletto.jpg1996 Mauro Veglio Castelletto $55: Dark red brown color. Meaty alcohol nose. Spicy in the mouth. Tannic. Opens to a juicy, dense dime bag of dark blueberries and mushrooms. The wine is tight needing 90 minutes to open up. Then it is lean and masculine and still needs time. Like most of these wines, it is a Marc de Grazia Selection. Mauro Veglio, along with Clericao, is one of the new breed winemakers from Monforte d’Alba. This was the first vintage where he held the reins. 14%
1995 Elio Altare Barolo $125: This has all the advance rep; great producer in a very good vintage that was first in a string of seven vintages. Should be a runaway winner. But that is rarely the case with Barolo; more so than any other great red wine. The wines are finicky and this shows all that reticence to blow you away.The nose is lovely if somewhat muted. There is fruit but the wine is tight, so all is elusive. altare96.jpgWe decide to aerate with the “device”; how handy. The wine opens immediately but is still reserved. This is like preparing an abalone for the meal! Even the cork is a bear to pop at 2.5 inches long. Now the wine is intensely focused. The tar and roses show, especially the tar. Slowly she disrobes and shows all the charm we had hoped for. By the end of the evening the wine is gone and the memories are only of pleasures hard to describe. 13.5%

1996 Elio Altare Barolo
$80: More red than brown color. Doughy nose. Plump and less rustic than the Veglio. Opens up with 30 minutes. More Burgundian in style, more fruity but still intense and focused. Very elegant and deep flavors. Loved this wine. 14%
1995 Revello Fratelli Barolo Vigna Giachini
$70: Dark red color. Balanced, delicate Nebbiolo flavors. Not rustic. Ripe and fruity for a Barolo. La Morra vineyard and winemakers which usually indicates a softer wine. 13.5%
1993 Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra
$106: The vintage had the misfortune of being a good one followed by a mixed one (1995) that was followed by two great ones (1996 and 1997). So when we tasted a lush and generous wine that showed beautifully from the cork pull to the end we were very pleased. No holding back with this wine. It was friendly and enchanting from start to finish. Barolo wines can be so wonderful if you catch them at the right time. The fruit is unique giving a might to middle weight wine with delicate flavors that have a wide range of exotic sweet and savory styles. Instead of barnyard or gaminess they show fungi and mushrooms. They are always more elegant even when the winemaker’s hand is less formal. Clerico is a recognized master winemaker so his wines should be wonderful in any vintage. 14%
Piramarenca99.jpg1996 Pira Barolo Marenca $40: The perfect contrast for the 1993 Clerico above. This wine is rustic, ornery, petulant! It is horrid when opened. No fruit, no grace. Tighter than Urban Meyer’s physician. More Woody than the legendary Ohio State coach. Everyone finds it absolutely disagreeable. But nobody can quite give it the em>bacio di morte and say it is a flawed wine. Bring out the “device” and aerate it! But wait 45 minutes. And he began to show some style and fungi flavors. The wine continues to open the entire evening growing more lovely with every half hour. It was more simple and direct, not quite as elegant but in the end showing that 1996 was a great vintage even for the most reluctant houses. 14.5%
Happy New Year!

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