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Dinner with the Maestro

Posted: Jun 14, 2007 1:48pm ET

Last night was a tsunami of bad corks. I was having dinner with Bruna and Bruno Giacosa in region of Barolo in the restaurant of Belvedere in La Morra, and it seemed at first that just about every bottle we ordered had a cork problem.

I wanted to crawl under the table at one point.

First, we ordered a non-vintage Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne Première Cuvée. I thought it was okay, but Bruno insisted that the cork was not right and it tasted a bit musty. I was not about to argue with the maestro … So we ordered a bottle of  Jacquesson Champagne Cuvée nº 731. Bruno liked it better, but I thought it was a bit musty as well. I think both bottles suffered from being left in the refrigerator for too long and the corks became musty.

Anyway, Bruno wanted to drink a 1997 Barolo from someone other than himself and I picked a Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne. I know this wine and it is a knockout. I have had it three times in the last year and it is so refined, silky and caressing with wonderful berry, Indian spices and cedar aromas and flavors.

So a bottle was brought up from the cellar of the restaurant and decanted. CORKED!  Really badly corked. Smelled like wet cardboard. So we ordered another bottle. THE SAME!

The waitress looked a bit worried when we said that we wanted another bottle. So she went into the kitchen and returned saying they didn’t have any more.

"Those were our last two bottles,” she said with a nervous smile. YEAH. RIGHT …

"Better that way,” I said, only half joking.

Anyway, we decided on a 1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio, and the wine was a knockout. It was rich and powerful still, and so, so fresh with plum, chocolate and light vanilla character. It has a long life ahead of it. 95 points, non-blind.

I told Bruno how I couldn’t understand that some people, particularly the Italian press, said that the 1997 Barolos should be drunk young and they wouldn’t age. I always said the opposite. It’s a great year, with lots of structure for aging.

Giacosa smiled and shook his head back and forth in disdain. “The 1997s are great wines and have a long life a head of them,” he said.

I think the same for Bruno Giacosa. He is 79 years old and looking very good, especially after being very ill about a year ago. He has a long life ahead of him still and many great wines in the future. He is one of Italy’s great winemakers and a legend in his own time, especially in Piedmont.

Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  June 14, 2007 3:38pm ET
James, before going into a cork discussion...when do you see the 2003 Barolo's hitting the market? What's a 2003 Barolo that I should not miss?
David Nerland
Scottsdale —  June 14, 2007 3:43pm ET
Wow, what an opportunity to have dinner with Bruno! Surprised he didn't bring a 96 from his cellar. How was the food?
June 14, 2007 4:17pm ET
James, for once I have to agree with you Voerzio's 1997s are spectacular! and yes Bruno is looking great I had dinner with him last year and he spoke of his illness and working on recovering, and becoming stronger! 1 question? was the Voerzio in a magnum?
Vincent Kan
Toronto, Canada —  June 15, 2007 1:50pm ET
James, what's your opinion on synthetic cork and screw caps then?
Geronimo Dotel
dominicanrepublic —  June 15, 2007 5:37pm ET
Dear James,I think the 1997 vintage is really one of the best of the past decade.I recently opened a bottle of 1997 Barolo Massolino Margueria.There was opulence in the fruit, tamed tannins and a long silky finish.However,I think the wine has enough fruit to last another 6 to 7 years.By the way,I asked you the other day if you have tried the 2003 Chianti Classico Riservas of Ruffino Ducale Oro and Banfi? I have not read any comments on the wine from you.Thank you!

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