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james suckling uncorked

More Great Nebbiolos...


Posted: May 23, 2007 11:19am ET

I had dinner last night with some top red producers from Piedmont, including Luca Currado Vietti of Vietti, Alessandro Ceretto of Ceretto, Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare, and his nephew Cesare Benvenut.

Much of the conversation was about the U.S. market and how distribution continues to be a problem for all of them. They say that they have the demand, but distributors are so consolidated in key states that it’s hard to get their wines into the hands of wanting consumers. I don’t want to get into it now. But I feel for them as well as for the consumer.

Anyway, we drank three wonderful 1997 Nebbiolos, including the Vietti Barbaresco Masseria, Ceretto Barbaresco Asili and Pio Cesare Barolo. I had never tasted the former but the other two I have on a consistent basis. All were excellent and still very young with very ripe fruit and long caressing tannins. They were open and enjoyable but they had a long life ahead of them. Everyone just shook their heads when I reminded them that many people, including Piedmont wine producers themselves, said that 1997 was a vintage for early drinking and would not age.

Here are my non-blind tasting notes on the three wines. We drank them during a very good, simple dinner at a fun restaurant. called Osteria del Vignaiolo, in Santa Maria in the Barolo region:

1997 Vietti Barbaresco Masseria: Lots of plums and spices with a lightly toasted oak undertone. Full and velvety with a dense palate and lots of ripe, almost raisin fruit character. Layered and very enticing. Drink now or hold. 94 points, non-blind.

1997 Ceretto Barbaresco Asili: Love the aromas in this wine, which have evolved into white truffles and black berries. Full and very racy with fine tannins and a long, fruity, beautiful finish. Yummy. 95 points, non-blind.

1997 Pio Cesare Barolo: This was the magazine’s No. 7 wine in the Top 100 in 2001. And it is holding on beautifully. It shows aromas of tar and black berries with an underlying minerally character. It’s full bodied, with ultra-fine tannins and a long finish. Gorgeous. And they made over 6,000 cases of this! Drink now or hold. 95 points, non-blind.

Boffa also bought a bottle of his 1978 Barolo, which was a real eye-opener. The other producers nearly feel out of their chairs when they tasted it. The wine was so fresh and so complex. It was dark colored ruby with blackberry, white truffle and citric character. It’s full with black fruit and licorice on the plate, with big, thick and velvety tannins. Very long. 96 points, non-blind.

It’s very rare to come across great bottles of old Barolo like this. It’s much easier to find wines with decades of age from France. But that’s another column.

The interesting thing is that Pio Boffa thinks that the 2000, 1997 and 1978 all have a lot in common and that “they were all from very hot years.” I think his 1997 will age as well, if not better, than the 1978 and the 2000 might be better than the two.

I am really looking forward to a horizontal tasting of 1997 Barolo and Barbaresco this year ...

Adam Krieger
May 23, 2007 12:40pm ET
Just curious how it is that you feel Ceretto and Pio Cesare are "hard to get into the hands of wanting consumers" when those two producers wines are pretty much available everywhere, especially online? More likely is "wanting consumers" are less interested in their wines and more interested in the harder to find wines of smaller producers.
James Suckling
 —  May 23, 2007 1:38pm ET
May be you are right. But where do you live...Kansas City or some other place that Barolos and Barbarescos are hard to get? Or NYC or LA? I am just passing on what I heard....
David A Zajac
May 24, 2007 11:06am ET
I too question the "hard to get". Its not like trying to find DRC-RC or La Tache on release. I believe their own success has to some extent worked against them. Lets face it, between 1996 and 2001 the Piedmont had an unprecedented 6 consecutive outstanding vintages. I believe any wine district would have a hard time selling wine with that kind of a streak. Prices keep going up and people now have their cellar stocked with fantastic wine - in this case Barolo and Barbaresco, so who cares if I don't buy any more for at least a few vintages - if not quite a few. I know I stocked up between 1996 and 2000 and to be honest, I don't need any more, so I am out of the game for now.
James Scoptur
WI —  May 24, 2007 11:10am ET
I live in Milwaukee, WI and you can pretty much rule out trying to find anything older than 2002 for Italian wines. However, I went to school University of Wisconsin-Madison, and there was one wine shop there that had almost anything you were looking for, including older Italian wines. should have bought more while i was there.
James Suckling
 —  May 24, 2007 11:27am ET
I went to Madison too! Grad school in journalism and I worked at the State Journal as a general assignment reporter. I didn't drink much wine back then!
Adam Krieger
May 24, 2007 12:49pm ET
I do live in a market that is well saturated with wine...but, if you have an internet connection you can get wine anywhere in the USA. I know plenty of retailers who send wine to any state regardless of regulations.
Joel Morris
delray beach, fl —  May 26, 2007 12:40pm ET
James I was looking thru the tasting archives this am & there were no notes from Quintarelli. Do you not like his wines or is there another reason that you don't review his offerings? I love his wines as well as all your Italian tasting notes. I wish that the 2 would meet!! Thanx Joel.
Joel Morris
delray beach, fl —  May 26, 2007 12:48pm ET
James, I too have been universally pleased with my 1997's that I purchased at great prices on release thanx to your great notes. Who cares what others think??? Those 1997's (fom Piedmont, Tuscany or the Veneto) have been great on release & I am still loving them now. I am trying unsucessfully to age a few... Thanx Joel,.
Maurice Carter
June 4, 2007 5:58pm ET
The "hard to get" is very much a factor of where you live. We just returned from Piemonte, after tasting many great Barolos and Barbarescos that we, alas, will never see here. And, I heard the same comments from the winemakers. They are frustrated with our US distribution system, especially in states like Georgia, where we live.Many of these wines do not reach us. And, you can forget about buying on-line because of the state laws against it. Also, seeing the prices there, firsthand, I realize how much the markup is to the consumer by the time the select few wines do reach us (even taking into account the currency exchange and weak dollar).
Tilen
Slovenia —  June 8, 2007 1:46pm ET
Hi! Has anyone had the chance to taste the 2001 barolo Runcot from Ellio Grasso or the 2002 vintage?

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