Traditional Barolo: “Why Change?”

Yesterday Sharon and I were lucky enough to attend an amazing vertical of Barolo and Barbaresco held at Bar Boloud, on New York’s Upper West Side. The tasting was put on by importer Doug Polaner, who personally donated some of the older bottles from his cellar. He was accompanyed by Paola Rinaldi, winemaker at Fransesco Rinaldi since 2002, and her oenologist Fabio Gemme. They were joined by Luca Roagna, the young leader at Roagna Azienda Agricola I Paglieri, who lead most of the discussion.

Along with their American importer, Rinaldi and Roagna share a steadfast commitment to traditional winemaking that has lately been challenged in Piedmont. Once a region characterized by large, old oak botti, incredibly long maceration periods and long cellar aging, many producers are allowing a market driven by instant gratification and high scores to affect their winemaking. Last month’s Decanter magazine included a fascinating article highlighting some of these producers, namely Enrico Scavino. The modernists of Piedmont have introduced new oak barrels and shortened maceration periods to soften the fierce tannins of Nebbiolo. While these new wines are unquestionably more approachable than those made in traditional wineries, the verdict is still out as far as their ageability is concerened.

Tuesday’s tasting left no question about the long-lived wines from two of Piedmont’s most traditional firms or their conviction to remain that way. “Why change?” asked Luca Roagna. “Ten years ago it was a vanilla market,” he explained in a direct jab at the effects that new French oak barriques are having on the wines of his modernist neighbors. “Now it is a natural market. Roagna doesn’t change.” While Luca doesn’t feel pressured to become certified organic, like all good winemakers he never douse his vines with chemicals. “We don’t want to kill the people who work for us or our families,” he joked in broken English. But the smile faded from his face when he concluded “If the soil has no life, the wine will have no life.”

The following are my tasting notes for the Rinaldi wines. I will follow-up with a post on the 3 Roagna flights later in the week.  I invite any comments, challenges or additions.

RINALDI FLIGHT ONE

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2005: A really dense nose with a deep core of red cherry fruit is supported by a fresh floral quality, reminiscent of rose petals. The palate displays the same core of fresh, red fruit. Massive tannic structure and beautiful acidity point to a wine that will age for decades in the cellar.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio 2005: The nose is a bit more open than the Brunate displaying an herbal spice, red fruit and dried roses. The tannins are riper, rounder and more approachable on the palate. Great acidity, like the Brunate.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2004: The nose is really shut down and not revealing much. All of the wines in this flight need years to show their best but none more than this. Bury this in a dark corner of the cellar and try to forget about it.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio 2004: That is much more revealing than the Brunate 2004. Ripe cherry fruit and cinnamon sticks on the nose. The fruit on the palate is very ripe and there is a faint note of red apple skin. This too will be a great candidate for the cellar.

RINADLI FLIGHT TWO

[Note: The now common practice of bottling single vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos is a modern phenomenon. Rinaldi didn’t begin the process until 1982.]

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 1996: I don’t love the nose. It’s pleasant smoky notes must compete with BRET, which is even more apparent on the palate. This is my least favorite wine of the tasting.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Cannubbio 1989:Paola describes 1989 as a hot, dry vintage. The wine is just beginning to show some secondaries, including leather, smoke and a distinctive cured meat aroma. There is still fresh fruit on the palate but it is fading, a transformation that will bring more beautiful secondary flavors to the wine. The palate displays soft tannins and bursts of acidity. That is delicious.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo 1971: That is a gorgeous nose, truly the standout up to this point. Sweet cherry fruit, dried violets, tobacco smoke and roasted strawberries waft from the glass. The palate is even better!! There is still an incredible amount of strawberry fruit left along with a roasted, spicy quality that is reminiscent of bacon. Beautiful balance of acid and soft tannins. That is an amazing wine.

Francesco Rinaldi Barolo 1964: The color was the first thing that struck me about this wine as it was incredibly dark and youthful. The nose followed suit with lots of fruit and very little secondary development. The palate showed more aged flavors of smoke and earth but also displayed a massive tannin structure. The youth of this wine is incredible. It drinks much younger than the 1971 that preceded it.

Please come back and view the Roagna notes later in the week.

Will Sugerman (will@amantivino.com)

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