2001 Ten Years After – an entertaining evening of Barolo and Barbaresco

The following comes from a November, 2011 tasting held in the Colorado Front Range. It was a truly great night of Nebbiolo interwoven with moments of sheer grandeur and others of mind-boggling disappointment. This is a seriously structured vintage and there wasn’t a wine I would characterize as entering its prime drinking window for a bare minimum of an additional 5-10 years in the cellar, most taking longer to reach full tertiary maturity. 2001 could be characterized as reminiscent of 1989 or 1996 vintages, but one can easily understand that a far higher level of average vineyard management, winemaking skills and technology existed in 2001.

Recalling the recent controversial Decanter article in which they did a Ten Year Retropspective on the ‘01s, which significantly writes off the vintage characterizing many of the wines as going into decline (aka Over the Hill), my impressions could not be more different. Best I say that 2001 is shaping up to be an extraordinarily classic vintage delivering superb balance of ripeness, structure and verve; a vintage for the ages.

Flight #1
2001 Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo, Storico-Liste (RT94+) With a bouquet is built on a darkly fruited, thumping bass note of black cherry and soprano notes of cedar & balsamic resin, this is pure, clean and complex. In the mouth it is enveloping and broad in its fruit bandwidth, but with time shows increasing delineation cut in a classical, traditional character. Firm and tannic on the finish, this was a great surprise for everyone who had not previously had a bottle of Borgogno’s single vineyard Liste, but those in the know already understood this is a great, under-appreciated bottling, one that deserves a place in every hard core Nebbiolo addicts’ cellar. Stunning wine with artful oak integration, while it may have started with a certain reliance on its heft, it certainly opened with time in the glass to reveal a convincing level of elegance and detail. Drink 2016-2036+

2001 Conterno-Fantino, Barolo, Sori Ginestra (RT94+) If there was a chameleon of the night, it was this, a wine that morphed and ebbed and flowed in notable fashion throughout the course of the evening. Classic in its expression of the Ginestra vineyard with firm red cherry and rose petal, a fine streak of limestone minerality and wisps of fall forest scents that lend depth of character. Another categorically beautiful bottle but marked with a bit more approachability than the others, likely due to it having been opened earlier than the other bottles. Absolutely terrific, I’m pleased to have a nice stash in the cellar. Gorgeous oak integration, fabulous depth of fruit and complexity, a very fine Sori Ginestra. Drink 2016-2036+

2001 Aldo Conterno, Barolo Riserva, Granbussia (RT95+) Full Monte Elixir! Action packed with a level of succulent fruit that transcends any of the other wines this evening. The density of fruit is accentuated by incredibly bright, fresh acidity and a firm finish, yet the amazing amount of fruit all but hides the firm, fine grained tannin finish, moving it from foreground to background. Showing the youngest and least developed of the first flight (perhaps even the youngest feeling wine of the night), with time in the glass the fruit darkens, becoming richer, more provocative and laced with anise seed and dark red fruits, showing an almost liqueur-like texture. I find myself very attracted to this great bottle, but this will require another decade+ in the cellar to show its true potential. Drink 2021-2041+

2001 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva, Rabaja (RT91+) This was both the lightest in hue along with the lightest in body weight of Flight #1 (and of the night), showing elegant strawberry fruit and dried rose petal, a surprisingly light palate weight, and a fierce finish defined by mouth puckering tannin and bracing acidity. Firm n’ fit with nary a single gram of excessive palate weight, this Rabaja needs a whole lot of cellaring to put a few pounds on its currently anorexic skeletal frame. Time will reward but for now I suggest steering and saving it for a better day. Drink 2021-2036+

Flight #2
2001 Scavino, Barolo, Bric del Fiasc (RT95+) Once again Bric del Fiasc makes a major showing with its dark, eucalyptus laced fruit and profound frame of crushed limestone minerality. The level of consistency with this bottling is impressive and with this 2001 Scavino has once again smacked it out of the park! With time in the glass deep, black cherry fruit echoes though the wine as an acidic embrace and a firm tannic French kiss remind one just how bright the future is for this bottling. Total Rock Star, but you guessed it, it needs lots of time! Drink 2021-2041+

2001 Cavallotto, Barolo Riserva, Vigna San Giuseppe (RT94) The character of the VSG is defined by superbly transparent, opulent, richly nuanced, mentholated fruit, dark, rich and showing hints of meatiness. Super focused and delineated, the echoing dark fruit builds a strong sense of purity. Reminiscent of the equally impressive 1999, a seriously firm finish completes this very powerful Barolo. In need of at least another 8-10 years to reach early peak drinking, patience will reward at a level just short of winning the Lotto. A damn fine bottling with enormous potential. Drink 2021-2041+

2001 Vietti, Barolo, Rocche (RT96+) Yowsah, what a turn of events with its brooding black fruits and mocha woven into a fabric of crushed rock. Very mineral, perfectly ripe and stratified with precise layers of complexity, this is definitely not a wine for fruit flies. Every dimension echoes greatness, it would appear this underrated wine continues to gain momentum from additional cellaring. Graceful in every measure with super silky, firm tannin on the finish and invigorating acidity. Very serious and very impressive, my favorite wine of the Flight and one of my top three of the night. Drink 2021-2046

Flight #3
2001 Giuseppe Mascarello, Barolo, Monprivato (RT Not Rated) The lightest hued Barolo of the night, super mentholated, high toned and laced with chalky, shrill notes. No matter how much time in the glass, this never fleshed out, nor gained an iota of interest. Hard, closed and defiant. Judgment deferred for a number of years down the road. Those who follow Monprivato know it is a wine with a reputation of being fickle in its youth, especially in structured vintages. I remain confident we found Monprivato to be in that off mood this night, it just needs lots of time. It may just rival the superb ’89, ’90 or ’99 someday, but that day is down the road. Drink 2021-2041+

2001 Pio Cesare, Barolo, Ornato (RT Not Rated, Flawed bottle) Despite the initial impression of ripe dark fruits with a spicy earthiness, impressive depth and great character, Ornato shows a knarly streak of out of whack volatile acidity that seriously distracts from the overall quality. Clearly a flawed bottle, judgment reserved.

2001 Giacomo Conterno, Barolo, Cascina Francia (RT Not Rated, Flawed bottle) As if to add insult to injury, Cascina Francia shows almost nothing on the nose but high tone, uber harsh volatile acidity. Absolutely horrible, obviously a very off bottle, for which we all groped for the reason. I had one on release that was stunning, but this is now closed down. Give it some cellar time. Drink 2021-2041+

Flight #4
2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, Santo Stefano (RT96+) A total sex machine with its Giacosa signature brown sugar n’ caramel notes taking center stage, which is somewhat surprising given its mere decade of development. I typically expect those characteristics to emerge with a good two decades of bottle age. The more time this spent in the glass, the more alluring it became. Almost irresistible in its appeal and very hard to keep one’s hands off the glass, this just kept getting more and more exciting with time, but toward the end the wine’s structure began to take over with firm tannin and acid making its presence known. Stunning, I liked it a good bit more than the Asili that followed. Drink 2016-2041+

2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, Asili (RT94) Where the 2001 Santo Stefano showed accessibility to its decadent fruit, the 2001 Asili starts off in an awkward place, showing absolutely none of the elements that made the Santo Stefano so attractive. A bit stern and showing mostly mineral and structure; with time in the glass its bright, firm red fruit begins to emerge with notes of chalkiness making it to the front. While the purity of fruit is impressive, I can’t help but think we didn’t quite catch this youngster in a not-so-showy mood. Still, there is great potential here, just keep this living in the cool shadows of your cellar until at least the early 2020s. Drink 2021-2041+

2001 Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco Riserva, Rabaja (RT98+) The star of the night, the already legendary Rabaja Riserva, shows up in full celebration mood. Like a Testarosso that has just pulled in, one can simply not ignore the captivating allure of its extravagance and persona. It’s a Nebbiolo magnet; ripe, delineated, layered with intensity and complexity, and always showing those beautiful red fruit notes with a classic brown sugar accent that routinely defines Giacosa’s Riservas. Amazing in every measure, like hitting the Power Ball, well, almost. If you’ve got this in the cellar you’ve got bank. If you don’t, find some friends who do or buy some! Drink 2021-2046+

Flight #5
1963 Croft, Vintage Port (RT95) This vintage port is one of the sleepers of the profound 1963 vintage and on this eve completely overdelivers. A hue built on pale, translucent garnet this elixir wafts up hints of caramel brown, smoked figs, toasted hazelnut, hints of chocolate and caramel, dried ginger, marmalade, and dried apricots. The complexity is impressive! The palate is elegant and light on its feet yet it throws an underlying powerful punch of dried fruit throttled with alcoholic lift. Drink now-2033+