November 2009 – Ten Years After Barolo & Barbaresco Tasting: 1999 Retrospective

Across the board the ‘99s are impressive in their consistency and level of freshness and sweet, succulent fruit counterbalanced by their staunch structure buttressed by suave, sweet tannins. Many of the wines were underestimated on release and I’m beginning to believe this vintage, in an overall sense, will outshine most, if not all other vintages of the ‘90s in terms of charisma, consistency of quality and sheer magnificence. Surprisingly, only the Clerico showed signs of being shut down. If I had known so few would be closed for business, I might have been inclined to taste some of the other big guns of the vintage like Conterno’s Barolo Cascina Francia, Mascarello’s Monprivato and Giacosa’s Barolo Rocche del Falletto.

A variety of Champagnes and whites were consumed as a precursor to the main event, along with a flight of single vineyard Royal Tokaji Co. 6 Putton Tokaji(s) as a dessert course, including the legendary 1999 Mezes Maly, but my notes will focus on the main event.

Flight #1
1999 Moccagatta, Barbaresco, Bric Balin (RT91) Slow O’d for the day, then decanted about two hours prior to serving. Bright ruby garnet, the bouquet reveals sweet red cherry, white flowers, spice and soft, but not overbearing oak. With time in the glass a mentholated cherry liqueur character develops, while in the mouth the texture is firm and delineated with ripe fruit, nice acidity and grippy, slightly drying tannin. Almost feels a bit 1996-ish on this evening. Drink 2026-2034+

1999 Giuseppe Cortese, Barbaresco Riserva, Rabajà (RT93+) Slow O’d for the day, decanted less than an hour prior to serving. Cortese’s Rabajà Riserva dials things up a few notches with its profound ripeness and added complexity, not to mention its additional structure. Here the fruit is sweet, dense, and impressively rich, yet it maintains its freshness – a hallmark or the vintage? As it unfolds in the glass classic terroir-driven notes of loam and truffle add interest. Just beginning to show early signs of tertiary development but remains a good 3-5 years from early peak drinking where it should hold for at least a decade. Fabulous stuff, despite the premium price of Cortese’s Riserva, I believe it is worth it. Drink 2014-2037+  

Flight #2
1999 Castello di Neive, Barbaresco Riserva, Santo Stefano (RT95) Directly decanted into a clean bottle in early morning, corked for the day and then served directly from that bottle. Omnipotent on the nose, rich, dense and layered with sweet, ripe red fruit infused with black tea, rose petal and sweet cherry. The mouthfeel is enveloping, yet precise, carefully dosed with laser focus in every way. Gorgeous acidity to buttress the deeply ripe dense fruit combines beautifully with sweet, suave tannin to complete the overall impression of complexity, there is great persistence on the palate. A captivating and powerful Santo Stefano with a future that will be exciting to witness. My favorite Barbaresco of the night and my #2 Wine of the Night. Drink 2014-2040+

1999 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, Santo Stefano (RT95) Slow O’d for the day, then decanted about two hours prior to serving. Of the night’s entire line-up, this was the only wine to show a more advanced color with its classic garnet hue, although those who follow Giacosa know this is somewhat typical for a relatively young Giacosa. The contrast to the Castello di Neive could not be more notable, as signature Giacosa notes of ripe fruit, brown sugar, sweet spice and hints of fennel initially dominate the bouquet. As it opens in the glass its complexity picks up with orchestration in the form of truffle, dried rose petal and faint goudron chiming-in. The overall feel is one of majestic opulence as it shows a softer texture with less verve than the other ‘99s. Still, a classic and delicious Santo Stefano with its best years ahead. Drink 2012-2039

Flight #3
1999 Clerico, Barolo, Ginestra, Ciabot Mentin (RT93+) Slow O’d for the day, then decanted about two hours prior to serving. Moving from the Barbarescos to the Barolos highlighted the more masculine side of Nebbiolo, especially with the structure of this Monforte behemoth taking control of your senses. Massively proportioned and seriously mentholated, layers of black cherry, eucalyptus and rose petal lead the charge. With time in the glass a vein of minerality punctuated by well-integrated, lightly toasted oak shine through. A few more years in the cellar should allow for a more harmonious integration. On the palate it is a bit stingy, showing enough compact elements to suggest it remains somewhat closed right now. Great potential here, but in need of another 5-8+ years of bottle development to shows its potential. Drink 2017-2040+

1999 Elio Grasso, Barolo, Ginestra, Case Matè (RT94+) The contrast between Clerico Ginestra and this wine was notable, but it could be argued the similarities, given the same vineyard site, were greater. This said, from first sip it is apparent the fruit and tannins are riper in the Case Matè with a bouquet that hints at sappy black fruits, tea, sottobosco and hint of brown sugar. Tremendous balance on the palate with mouthcoating fruit, perfectly dosed acidity and sauvé, uber-ripe tannin. Has a great future ahead and for my palate is showing better tonight than the Clerico, but it may be the other way around down the road. My #3 favorite of the night. Drink 2014-2034

Flight #4
1999 Sandrone, Barolo, Le Vigne (RT92) Slow O’d for the day, then decanted about two hours prior to serving. As Sandrone aficionados would expect, this is the most darkly hued wine of the night and also displays the greatest level of ripe fruit. The initial in-the-glass suggestion is one of forwardness/approachability, but with time to unwind the structure, which is hiding behind the concentrated fruit, begins to show through. Black fruits & tea underpinned with spice, menthol and a healthy deep floral aspect dominate the bouquet. The palate weight is all about finesse, but I find the atypical richness a bit out of context with the night’s other contenders. Drink 2014-2039

1999 Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Cicala (RT95+) Slow O’d for the day, then decanted about an hour prior to serving. Wow, things just got really exciting; the ’99 Cicala is showing fireworks tonight with its stupendously classic and complex Bussia bouquet laced with ripe red cherry fruit, sottobosco, black tea, rose petal and violets. Amply robust in the mouthfeel too, the level of completeness is impressive as a ripe tannic finale’ brings it to a dramatic, long closure. A seriously impressive Barolo with a long, brilliant future ahead, but already drinking well. This was my WOTN, how am I going to keep my hands off these? Drink 2014-2039

1999 Cavallotto, Barolo Riserva, San Giuseppe (RT94+) The 1999 Aldo Conterno Cicala is a tough act to follow, but the Riserva San Giuseppe delivers a marvelous Barolo experience with its ripe, sweet core of dark Nebbiolo fruit, spices, tobacco and violets. With time in the glass this really takes off revealing great depth and structure unpinned by a sleek streak of calcareous minerality. I’m a big fan of this Barolo and glad I went deep on the ’99, both in 750 and magnum. Both this and the Cicala appear to be fairly close to the earliest stages of peak drinking but will no doubt benefit from at least a few more years in the shadows of the cellar. Hot damn, this is a beauty! Drink 2014-2039