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Day 4 in Piedmont: A Visit with the Master

Bruno Giacosa’s wines are all about harmony, elegance and finesse
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 3, 2010 3:00pm ET

Thursday morning dawned sunny and mild. It was a pleasant drive to Neive, in the Barbaresco region, one of the four villages that are entitled to the DOCG designation. After an unanticipated tour of the historic center, I found Bruno Giacosa's tasting room in the main part of the village below.

Bruno Giacosa

There are two Giacosa labels, one for the estate wines under Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa and the Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa moniker for wines made with purchased grapes. The estate consists of 54 acres, with vineyards in Serralung d'Alba (Falletto), La Morra (Vigna Croera) and Barbaresco (Asili). There are also two wineries, one for the reds, the other for white and sparking wines.

Giacosa, 81, is slowing down, yet still spends each day in the winery, making decisions and passing his knowledge along to enologist Giorgio Lavagna. His charming daughter Bruna handles the sales and marketing.

The Nebbiolo ages in large oak casks ranging in size from 22 hectoliters to 110 hl. Only the Barbera sees barrels, but they are 700 liters, rather than the more common 225- or 450-liter barriques. Each vineyard is aged separately for anywhere from one year to 36 months in cask.

The Roero Arneis 2010 was in tank, clarifying. It will be bottled in early February 2011 and shipped after an additional two months in the bottle. (For notes on the current bottling, I highlighted the Roero Arneis 2009 in a recent installment of What We're Drinking Now.)

Giacosa also makes very good sparkling wine. The grapes are 100 percent Pinot Noir from the Oltrepò Pavese region in Lombardy. Made in the classic method, the Extra Brut Spumante 2005 was aged 30 to 36 months on the lees and disgorged in May 2010. The fine mousse supported flavors of red fruits and citrus in a medium-bodied, creamy profile.

"What we want from our sparkling wine is something easy, something you can enjoy," explained Bruna, a self-confessed lover of sparkling wines.

There was a Rosé 2008 also, made by leaving the juice in contact with the skins up to 24 hours. It boasted strawberry and cherry notes, all light and lively, with a touch of graphite on the finish. It spends a year on the lees.

The Dolcetto d'Alba 2009 (from Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa) delivered rich blackberry and black cherry flavors from its purple hue, with good structure offsetting the sweet, round profile. Bruna described the 2009 vintage as a warm year, less warm than 2007, however, with rain at the right moments during the growing season.

By contrast, in 2010 there was a lot of rain in the spring and summer. August was colder than usual. "We didn't think we would have a very good vintage," explained Bruna, "But after mid-August the weather improved." In the end, it turned out very well for Nebbiolo.

Grapes for the Casa Vinicola Nebbiolo d'Alba 2008 were sourced from the Valmaggiore vineyard in the Roero commune of Vezza d'Alba. This rich red evoked notes of red fruits and a touch of licorice, with the soft tannins typical of Nebbiolo grown in Roero.

We followed with the Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2008, a deep, rich, blackberry-scented wine that offered iron and earth accents to its cherry and spice flavors. Its pronounced acidity was nicely buffered by the richness of fruit and texture. This is the only wine in the cellar aged in barrel; it spends 12 months in 700-liter tonneau. It comes from the Falletto vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba.

Next we tasted four Barbarescos. The Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Asili 2008 was bottled in July. It revealed strawberry and floral aromas and flavors matched to a taut, elegant frame. The Casa Vinicola Barbaresco Santo Stefano 2008 displayed cherry and licorice notes. Overall it was more fruity and dense, with substantial power. The Asili has more sand in its soils, the Santo Stefano more marl.

From 2007 came the Barbaresco Asili Riserva (red label) and Barbaresco Asili (white label), both from Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa. The former comes from the oldest vines, which average 30 years; the latter comes from vines 10 to 20 years old. The riserva exhibited beautiful fragrances of rose, violet and cherry, fine richness and silky texture, with terrific harmony and complexity. The white label was less floral, featuring cherry and raspberry aromas and flavors, richness and finesse. It was also elegant, but just didn't have the breed and length of the riserva.

We finished with three Barolos, all from Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa. First, Lavagna poured the Falletto 2007. Its deep nose of black cherry, plum and spice gave way to licorice and eucalyptus flavors on the palate. An intense red, it showed power and persistence, evident by its long finish.

The Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2007, from 30-year-old vines at the top of the Falletto vineyard, boasted more graphite and iron aromas and was immediately firmer and tighter, with mineral core and greater finesse than its brother. For comparison, we tasted the Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2004. Wow, what perfume! It was amazing to see how this has developed with an additional three years. It oozed truffle, floral, strawberry and raspberry aromas. Still tight and unyielding on the palate, it was nonetheless packed with sweet fruit and very long.

"Between 2004 and 2007, I don't know which is the best," mused Bruna. "We are so happy with both."

Indeed. Both vintages are going to make Nebbiolo lovers very happy too.

Jeremiah Morehouse
Sacramento CA —  December 3, 2010 6:15pm ET
Ah how i wish I could go visit this winery while currently in Italy, they have always impressed me with their quality and history.

Jeremiah Morehouse
Marc A Dibella
Hartford, Connecticut —  December 6, 2010 1:37pm ET

Thanks for the blog entry. Always interested to read about what's going on in Giacosa's cellar, and looking forward to your review of the '07 vintage. Glad to hear you had an "open" bottle of '04 Rocche Falletto Riserva. It showed beautifully @ the WS Grand Tasting in NYC last year, however the one I had last month had shut down for what should be a long slumber.
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  December 6, 2010 9:18pm ET
I have been following your Piedmont tour with interest, as it is my favourite wine region. We visited Giacosa on our spring tour in April and despite all the fame and well-deserved reputation, it was a disappointing tasting. We tasted, in order the Arneis 2009, Val Maggiore Nebbiolo d'Alba 2008, Barbaresco 2005, Santo Stefano 2007, Asili 2007, Barolo 2005 and Barolo Rocche 2004 Riserva. My overall impression was that the wines were perhaps still too young as there was a persistent dryness that suggested they would have been better tasted with food. A fellow merchant suggested that wines can just have a bad day and not show well at a particular time (or phase of the moon). Given Giacosa's sterling reputation, especially among fellow producers whose opinions I respect, I was left at something of a loss. Have you experienced such?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  December 13, 2010 11:53am ET
Jeremy, I would say that the 2007s we tasted, particularly the Barolo, were still tight and closed. You get an idea of the fruit, but the structure is evident on the finish. That's why it is always instructive to taste an older vintage or two, to see how they develop.

It's true that wines can show better on different occasions. Red Burgundy can go onto a shell a few years after bottling. I know of growers and merchants who also look at the biodynamic calendar, which indicates the days that certain work should be preformed in the vineyards or cellar.
Tamara Hampikian
Naples —  December 22, 2010 2:20pm ET
Been waiting all year for the 2006 Barolo reviews and all we have is a total of 21 wines. Disappointing. What gives?
James R Biddle
Dayton, OH —  December 27, 2010 2:07pm ET

Good entries--not to be greedy, but I hope you have more to come????
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  December 27, 2010 7:31pm ET
James, There will be more. Got busy upon my return to New York and now on vacation. Will do my best on the blogs, plus upcoming magazine content.
Rob Freelen
SF, CA —  January 7, 2011 7:02pm ET

My friend is celebrating a very special occasion and I was going to recommend a 2003 Italian wine, possibly a Giacosa. If one sticks out, will you give me your very favorite wine from the 2003 vintage (Italian or otherwise)?

Many thanks,
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  January 10, 2011 10:10am ET
Rob, I wasn't reviewing the Italian wines from the 2003 vintage, however, among the highly rated labels were Gaja's Sperss and Conteisa, Petrolo's Galatrona, Solaia from Antinori, Setti Ponti Oreno, Tua Rita Redigaffi and Valdicava's Brunello.
Adam Krieger
United States —  January 17, 2011 9:50pm ET
Hi Bruce,

A bit off topic but when can we expect something on 2006 Brunello? Seems like they are going to be excellent.


John Reeves
Texas —  January 31, 2011 11:58am ET
Second that .... when is the 2006 Brunello report coming ?


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