Monday, March 20, 2017

A comparative tasting of some old Barolo wines

On March 11 this year we held a comparative tasting of some old wines from the Barolo DOCG, in northern Italy:
  • 1988 Marchesi di Barolo
  • 1985 Marchesi di Barolo "Cannubi La Valletta"
  • 1971 Alessandria Luigi & Figli
  • 1971 Fontanafredda "Vigna La Rosa"
  • 1964 Alessandria Luigi & Figli
  • 1964 Fontanafredda (La Grande Annata)
  • 1964 Cantina Terre del Barolo
None of these are top-of-the-line wines, but they are all from top vintages, so it seemed interesting to see how they have fared over the decades.

The seven wines compared, in tasting order left to right

Six of the seven wines were still in good condition, but the remaining wine had oxidized into a sherry-like form. The oldest wines were past their best, although still very interesting, with their aroma being much more complex than their taste. There was rarely a long aftertaste in the older wines.

The wines were opened at noon, for the tasting at 7:00 pm. This followed the François Audouze method, in which the wines are opened but not decanted. Instead, the bottles are lightly recorked if they smell okay, but otherwise are left open for slow breathing. This "slow oxidation" approach was apparently insufficient for these wines — they all still had fairly closed noses when poured, but opened up with time in glass. This was especially true of the five oldest wines.

All of the wines had considerable amounts of sediment. For most of the wines this had settled to the very bottom of the bottle, as they had been standing upright for several days. However, for the two 1971 wines there was some very fine sediment still suspended in the lower quarter of the bottle

The wine glasses in the same order as above

1988 Marchesi di Barolo

Still a dark orange-purple. Early on, the taste was stronger than the aroma, the latter being of sweetish plum, with an alcohol lift. Later on, an aroma of vegemite (or marmite, for some of you) appeared. In the mouth the tannins were still in evidence, along with citrus, although the overall sensation was of somewhat sour plumminess.

1985 Marchesi di Barolo "Cannubi La Valletta"

More of an amber color than the previous wine. The aroma was much stronger than the taste. Early on this aroma was of dark chocolate, fig and barnyard, with an alcohol lift and a slight oxidized tang. Later, this became more fruity, along with some honey. The mouth was still rather drying, with a taste of toffee or muscovado. By consensus, this was the best wine of the evening.

1971 Alessandria Luigi & Figli

This was a paler brown, with fine suspended sediment in the lower part of the bottle. The initial aroma was very muted, with some sweaty horse detectable, along with a slight alcohol lift and some oxidation. The aroma developed somewhat during the evening, although remaining muted, with finally a distinctly smoky tang. The taste remained muted, being rather cheesy (in a good sense), along with apricot.

1971 Fontanafredda "Vigna La Rosa"

Slightly paler than the previous wine, with fine suspended sediment (but less). The aroma was distinctly of rubber and tar at first (without alcohol or oxidation), but this eventually blew off, to be replaced by roses. A muted strawberry taste was evident, although still mouth-drying and somewhat acidic.

1964 Alessandria Luigi & Figli

This wine had oxidized into a very nice dry sherry. Very pale brown, almost yellowish, with a slight fine sediment. The aroma was of honey, and the taste distinctly of apricot.

1964 Fontanafredda (La Grande Annata)

This was the most surprising wine of the evening, leading to some accusations of tampering. This seems very unlikely, given the price paid for the bottle. The cork was seeping very slightly when the wine was delivered, a month before the tasting.

The color was a bright reddish purple, with only a slight paleness at the edge of the glass; it thus looked much younger than its label. The aroma was initially of plasticene, followed later by flowers (roses), honey and a bit of dark chocolate. At first there was no distinct taste, but eventually red currants and cherries (with kernels!) appeared. The aftertaste remained short.

In defense of the wine, I note that in 2011 Jancis Robinson apparently reported an authenticated 1954 Lopez de Heredia "Vina Tondonia" (Rioja) wine as still being "bright crimson".

1964 Cantina Terre del Barolo

This was the only 1964 wine to look and behave as expected. It was a pale brownish purple, but not as brown as either of the two 1971 wines. The aroma was slightly oxidized (but not alcoholic), showing mainly vanilla. The taste was of plum and prune, with a touch of cherry and strawberry. The aftertaste was still astringent.

This bottle had the only cork that was not tightly wedged in the neck; indeed, I ended up (inadvertently) pushing the cork in rather than pulling it out.

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