In the Piedmont region of Italy, the undisputed king of wine grapes is called Nebbiolo. The best south-facing slopes of winegrowing hills are reserved for this late-ripening grape, which produces uniquely perfumed, dense, long-lived and often compelling wines. Specifically, the areas of the Piedmont called Barolo and Barbaresco can claim mastery of the grape, and beginning with 1996, have enjoyed an unprecedented string of great vintages.
While not difficult to find, the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco can be pricey, due to their limited supply and strong demand. Values can definitely be found, but you may have to visit multiple wine shops if you are on a modest budget.
Often there is no real relationship between a wine's price tag and how well it performs in a blind tasting. The winner did not fit into this category. While the second and third place wines were separated by only one point, the winning bottle outshined by a big margin, with only one taster giving it less than the top mark. Still, every wine in the Battle of the Barolos and Barbarescos showed very well, and I took almost nothing but positive notes.
First Place: Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche Brunate 1997. Piercing nose of sweet berries, smoke, cola, cedar, roses, and currants. Ali suggested it smelled of "black cherry jello". Strong attack, with dense, powerful flavors including dried herbs, dark fruits and pepper. Andy said, "it explodes in your cheeks", while Kristin announced, "I could totally just down this". Stephen described the taste as "elusive", and many craved a steak with it. Youthful tannins, but were not out of balance. Ali held the lone dissenting opinion about this wine, while everyone else gave it their top ranking. The only wine of the group above 14% alcohol. Received 26 total points. About $70. David's bottle.
Second Place: Cantina del Pino Barbaresco Ovello 2000. Bright cherry, inky nose, laced with flowers. Most openly fruity of the group, but not as complex. Soft, pleasant texture carried flavors of red raspberries and currants. Received 18 points. About $40. Ali's bottle.
Third Place: Cabutto Barolo Vigna La Volta 2000. Perhaps the most fragrant of the night, with a brighter profile of pomegranate, mint, cranberry, grass and burnt sugar. Pretty, not as tannic as Ceretto, with a softer, elegant quality. Kristin suggested that it was "like velvet on the tongue", and Stephen thought it was "pillowy". Long finish. David thought it was an outstanding value for a Barolo, and was Ali's favorite of the evening. Received 17 points. About $40. Andy's bottle.
Poderi Colla Barbaresco Tenuta Roncaglia 1995. The aroma reminded tasters of Sambuca, with pronounced black licorice, sweet honey, raspberry jam, celery and herbal tea. Soft, with flavors of orange rind, red apple, licorice and berries. Good wine, but not as concentrated, and slightly tart. Received 5 points. About $40. Stephen's bottle.
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Tortoniano 1998. Shy, and closed on the nose. Ali commented that it was more vegetal than fruity, and Stephen suggested that one had to taste it to smell it. Ali said, "the wavy lines are all over the place". Tasting of flowers and tar, Stephen described "roofing shingles". Relatively long. Received 5 points. About $42. Kristin's bottle.
OCTOBER 2004: BATTLE OF THE BAROLOS AND BARBARESCOS