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17 Vintages of Bruno Giacosa

A vertical tasting of the master’s Barbaresco and Barolo riservas illustrates a transparency that reveals vintage and vineyard character
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 4, 2013 1:40pm ET

Bruno Giacosa is an icon of Piedmont. A guardian of the traditional style, he has made benchmark Barbarescos and Barolos since 1961. I recently had the opportunity to taste 17 vintages of Giacosa's Barbaresco Asili Riserva, Barolo Falletto Riserva and Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva spanning the years 2008 to 1967.

Hosted by Bruno's daughter, Bruna Giacosa, and Mannie Berk of Rare Wine Co., the dinner held at Del Posto amply demonstrated how Giacosa wines age, as well as their affinity for food. The vintages back to 2000 came from Giacosa's cellars; the older wines from Rare Wine Co.'s library.

Bruno Giacosa's first vintage was 1961. He purchased grapes from Barbaresco and Barolo, whose vineyards he had walked over the years with his father, a grape broker and wine merchant. The Giacosas sold the wine they made in bulk, but Bruno wanted to bottle the wines, a practice that Casa Vinicola Giacosa had stopped in 1929.

The early wines were blends, but Giacosa soon began to focus on individual sites. The first vineyard-designated label was the Barbaresco Santo Stefano 1964, followed by Barolo Colline Rionda 1967 and Barbaresco Asili Riserva 1967 (we had a bottle of the latter in the tasting, but alas, it wasn't in good shape).

Though he followed traditional methods, Giacosa wasn't afraid to change his winemaking, first replacing cement vats with stainless steel tanks and then his Slavonian oak casks with 55 hectoliter and 110 hectoliter French oak casks.

Simply put, the wines are ethereal. Graced with alluring floral, fruit and spice flavors, Giacosa achieves a textural component and complexity in his wines that few in the Langhe can match. They are elegant and light in weight, yet have flavor intensity and a firm backbone of acidity and tannins.

The first flight consisted of the Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2007, 2004 and 2000, paired with truffled beef carne cruda, Parmigiano Reggiano and watercress. Giacosa purchased grapes from Asili until buying vines there in 1989. The '07 revealed primary fruit flavors of strawberry and cherry accented by flowers matched to a silky texture. It's rich, a result of the warm weather that year, with refined tannins and excellent length. The '04 was losing some of the flush of youth, showing hints of tobacco and underbrush and assertive tannins. Long and complex, it should age well. My favorite of this flight was the 2000 (from magnum), showing a bouquet of spice, truffle and underbrush, well-integrated cherry flavor and a rich, powerful frame.

Next up were the Barbaresco Asili Riserva 1996, 1990 and 1967 vintages, matched with veal and pork agnolotti dal plin. Austere and linear, the '96 was darker in color than the 2000, with spice and underbrush notes enhanced by its vivid acidity. The tannins were refined, but this is set for the long haul. The 1990 was simply gorgeous, full of sweet cherry, rose and spice aromas and flavors. Still very fresh, it offered terrific balance and a mineral finish. Unfortunately, the 1967 was not a good bottle, with a eucalyptus aroma and dry, astringent finish.

Moving from Barbaresco to Barolo, we dove into five vintages of Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva. Giacosa purchased 25 acres in the Falletto cru in 1982, the first vineyards he owned. Le Rocche del Falletto is a rocky portion of the cru at the top of the hill, with Giacosa's oldest vines, 30-plus years old. It sees an additional six months in wood and one year longer in bottle than the Falletto White Label. The 2008, 2007, 2004, 2001 and 2000 (from magnum) represent all the vintages of Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva made to date. The first vintage was 1997, but not designated as riserva.

Both the 2008 and 2007 Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva showed plenty of primary fruit flavor of cherry. The '08 was elegant, firm and linear, with licorice, spice and tar notes, while the '07 was richer and more open initially, before closing down on the finish. It was very pure, with floral and tobacco accents.

Both the 2004 and 2001 were firm, austere and classically proportioned, with assertive tannins locking up aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry, rose, licorice, tobacco and tar. I gave the edge to the '04, but the '01 is close in quality.

The Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2000, like the Asili Riserva 2000, was showing beautifully. Rich and focused, it offered a beam of cherry, with hints of rose and mint, well-integrated tannins and a long finish. I found it delicate for the vintage. This group of wines was matched with Vacche Rossa risotto, made with vialone nano rice and aged Parmigiano from the Reggiana breed of cow.

The last flight of wines was the Barolo Falletto Riserva 1996, 1990, 1989, 1986 and 1985, plus a Falletto Riserva Speciale 1971. It was split into two groups, the first three with a broiled veal chop garnished with veal speck, smashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and Barolo fondo; the second with artisanal Piemontese cheese.

The Barolo Falletto Riserva 1996 showed more menthol, licorice, tar and underbrush flavors than fruit, backed by a muscular profile. It was austere in a good way. The 1990 had a core of sweet cherry, with tobacco, leather and spice and a real juicy quality. The 1989 seemed fresher, yet showed more mature notes of tobacco, leather and spice and a dense, sinewy structure.

The 1986 and 1985 both exhibited more mature elements of autumn leaves, underbrush, tobacco, tar and tea. Both were beginning to show some dry tannins. There was a question at our table as to whether they were the best examples of the two vintages.

The Falletto Riserva Speciale 1971 was another story. Fully mature, it evoked floral, dried berry and tar bouquet and sweet fruit flavors, all on an elegant frame. It was complex and long, a terrific Barolo.

What struck me about these wines is that the winemaking was transparent. We were experiencing the personality of each vintage superimposed on the character of the vineyard. It made for a fascinating tasting.

Eddy Schuster
Brussels, Belgium —  November 24, 2013 4:31am ET
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