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A Hard but Right Decision

Posted: Apr 22, 2009 1:07am ET

It’s a courageous thing to do, and I can’t think of many wine producers who would do the same. I was at the 80th birthday of Bruno Giacosa, the legendary winemaker of Piedmont, about a week ago and he told me that he wasn’t going to bottle his 2006 Barolos or Barbarescos.

"I just don’t like the quality of the wines," he said, as we ate lunch and drank some of his fabulous Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto including the 100-point 2000. "I just don’t like the way they are. They are not good enough for me. So I am not going to bottle them."

I asked Bruno if I could taste a couple samples of the reds he was not going to bottle, and he agreed. I tried at the winery a 2006 Barbaresco Asili and 2006 Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto. The Asili seemed a little jammy and dull but very good nonetheless. The Le Rocche del Falletto was near outstanding quality with focused fruit and bright acidity but a little dry on the finish. This said, they were not up to the usual glory of Bruno Giacosa’s reds.

I tasted some 2005s of the same wines and they were much more refined, focused, structured and pure. There was no comparison.

Giacosa is a perfectionist, even at 80. He walks with a crutch now, but his heart and passion is 100 percent for making great wines. The legend lives, and he lives by his love of great Nebbiolo.

This is not to say that the 2006 vintage in Piedmont is not an outstanding one. I think it could be, although I don’t think it is on the same level as 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001 or 2000. I have tasted many outstanding 2006 Nebbiolos from barrel in wineries. And I will be tasting the 2006 Barbarescos in bottle very soon. So stay tuned.

But when a winemaker decides that his wines are not good enough to bottle and sells them in bulk, that’s a serious decision, and a costly one considering how expensive Giacosa’s Barolos and Barbarescos are. But great winemakers should always follow their instincts and passions—that’s why we pay a premium for their wines.

David A Zajac
April 22, 2009 10:35am ET
Good for Bruno, he is obviously a class act and his wines ARE the best in Piedmont - for a reason, quite simply, as this inidicates, he is a perfectionist.
Tom Hudson
Wilmington, Delaware —  April 22, 2009 10:35am ET
Wow, what a class act.
David Nerland
Scottsdale —  April 22, 2009 10:52am ET
Bruno is the Master.
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  April 22, 2009 3:13pm ET
Very impressive. Not just Bruno's character and the fact that he is more concerned with what his name represents as opposed to money, but having lunch with him must be a real treat.
James Suckling
 —  April 22, 2009 3:25pm ET
Matt. Bruno is a man of few words. But he loves to talk about wine. I have learned so much from him over the years.
Farhana Haque
Queens, NY —  April 22, 2009 4:39pm ET
I'll take it off his hands. :)
Scott Mcdonald
Chicago, IL —  April 22, 2009 6:40pm ET
James,Didn't Bruno recently hire a new winemaker? What was the new winemaker's first vintage and do you or Bruno think that that change has anything to do with the quality of his 2006 wines?
Tom J Wilson
Canada —  April 22, 2009 7:54pm ET
It is a very hard decision; but no one more then him knows why the wines are like that!We hope this is the last bad vintage, otherwise we can think the divorce with Scaglione start to show the results.Happy birthday Bruno, and all the best to Bruna...
Nick Gangas
April 22, 2009 9:48pm ET
Dante left after the 07 vintage I believe.
La Quinta, CA —  April 22, 2009 10:28pm ET
As I recall the new winemaker is from Batasiolo. Which I love their wines, and the owner, Fiorenzo Dogliani. He is an incredible man. Obviously he was smart enough to have a great winemaker, who was lured to make a great cult Piedmonte wineries wines!
Markus Jelitto
Geneva, Switzerland —  April 23, 2009 4:11am ET
Bold decision..I guess with 80 one is more concerned with legacy than money generally. Would be interesting to know why the wines turned out substandard. James, any idea when you'll post the first Barolo 2005 critiques? I tasted handful recently and they were very seductive, elegant, and slightly "sweeter" than the 2004s.
James Suckling
 —  April 23, 2009 5:03am ET
Hey Markus. I am tasting blind the 2005 Barolos now in my office. It's a lot of work but you are very right in your impressions with the vintage. The wines are fruitier and sweeter than the 2004 and more aromatic as well. It's like comparing 2000 to 2001. I guess the problem in 2006 for Bruno was that he was very ill then, and things went slightly wrong in the cellar. But I can't say for sure.
Jeffrey Alle Cassetta
Ada, MI —  April 23, 2009 9:30am ET
James, why wouldn't he just declassify the single vineyards and produce more generic Barolo and Barbaresco?
James Suckling
 —  April 23, 2009 10:02am ET
I asked him. He doesn't want to. He is taking the high road.
F Javier Requena L
April 23, 2009 11:19am ET
Well, maybe i could buy a barrel of each of these 2 wines (2006 Barbaresco Asili and Barolo la Rocche del Falleto) at a very attractive price.Do You know if i can do it???: i'd really be interested in... even if it is not as good as in 2005 or 2004.Best wishes from Madrid,Javier
James Suckling
 —  April 23, 2009 11:23am ET
Should he send the barrel through the mail or Fed-X?
Gabriel Enning
Sweden —  April 23, 2009 1:13pm ET
"Should he send the barrel through the mail or Fed-X?"Maybe by email, like this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRL1SeTJ1rk
F Javier Requena L
April 23, 2009 4:04pm ET
Hey!, i was talking seriously. I just asked James if You think Mr Giacosa could be willing to sell a barrel (300 bottles) of each 2006 "generic" Barbaresco Asili and Barolo Rocche del Falletto to me or to someone else. I even do not need a Barbaresco/Barolo label, just something to help me to distinguish each bottle from the other. Am i crazy just for ask this?.
F Javier Requena L
April 24, 2009 6:33pm ET
(AGAIN)Maybe it looks like a funny question, James & Gabriel, but i was talking seriously. I just asked if You think it could be possible to buy Mr Conterno 1 barrel (300 bottles) of each declassified wine (2006 Barbaresco Asili and Barole Rocche del Falletto). Best.
James Suckling
 —  April 25, 2009 3:19am ET
No. Besides he doesn't use barrels. He uses botte that are at least 30 to 40 hectoliters each. That's about 40,000 bottles. Should I give him a call?

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