Above: On Sunday, Tracie P, Franco, and I tasted seven wines with the great maestro of Barbaresco and Barolo, Bruno Giacosa (above), and his enologist Giorgio Lavagna. Photo by Tracie P.
How can I begin to describe the emotion that ran through our veins when we sat down on a beautiful snow-covered Sunday morning in Langa with Bruno Giacosa in the Bruno Giacosa tasting room in Neive to taste through the winery’s soon-to-be-released 2007s? Even the uninformed semiotician would have appreciated the myriad strata of meaning, many of them overlapping, as Tracie P, Franco, and I drew that first drop of Asili “white label” 2007 to our lips.
Above: Giorgio Lavagna, right, began to work with Bruno Giacosa in 2008 after the previous enologist, Dante Scaglione, stepped down — a move that surprised many observers of Langa wines. That’s Franco, seated to my left.
The legendary Giacosa winery has been the subject of much controversy over the last two years. In 2008, long-time enologist and Giacosa protégé Dante Scaglione was replaced by Giorgio Lavagna, who had served as enologist at Batasiolo (whose wines are made in a modern style, as opposed to Giacosa’s historically and rigorously traditional style). In 2009, Giacosa shocked the wine world when his British agent announced (in a matter-of-fact press release) that he would not be bottling his 2006 vintage because of the inferior quality of the harvest. I know of no other Langa winemaker who opted for such a drastic declassification and we spoke to many winemakers during our stay about the virtues of the 2006 vintage. (Franco and I have both written, at length, about Giacosa’s decision and how it has affected perceptions of the vintage as produced by other winemakers.)
Above: The 2007 Asili “red label” reserve (“riserva”) by Giacosa is one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo I have ever tasted.
But however fraught with anticipation, our encounter revealed that the truth was in the wines, in vino veritas, and what wines they were! In the words of Bruno Giacosa, the 2007 is destined to be one of the great vintages of our times.
The fact of the matter is that Bruno Giacosa does not release mediocre wines and the 2007s are no exception to the rule. Lavagna explained that the extremely mild winter of early 2007 anticipated the vegetative cycle and that, while harvest may have come early, the otherwise classic nature of the vintage gave the wines the tannic structure, profound acidity, and balanced fruit that make for the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo.
Here are my notes and observations from this truly unforgettable tasting.
Above from left, Barbaresco Asili “white label” 2007, Barbaresco Santo Stefano “white label” 2007, Barbaresco Asili “red label” 2007, and Barolo Rocche 2007 “white label.”
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Asili (white label)
The nose was already very evolved, offering surprisingly bright and seductive fruit. The tannin is very powerful but not aggressive and it sits in glorious balance with the fruit and resplendent acidity. The thing that impressed us all about this wine was how purely enjoyable it was — so early in its development — with notes of berry fruit accented by gentle, delicate spice.
“You can smell Asili” in this wine, said Bruno.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Santo Stefano (white label)
Very powerful and aggressively tannic, mineral notes dominate the fruit in this wine at this early point in its evolution. It’s an “arrogant” expression of Nebbiolo.
“It’s more Barolo than Barbaresco,” said Bruno.
It’s got the tannic structure that Italians like to call “nervoso” or “nervy.” Often when I taste Giacosa’s wines, equine metaphors come to mind: this wine is a powerful young stallion, nervous in the corral, waiting to show its stuff.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barbaresco Asili (red label)
The only difference between the white and red (reserve) labels is the additional cask aging. Here the nose was still very closed and the tannin very rich. The fruit was darker in character but I would attribute that to the youth of this powerful wine, which will take longer to reveal the gorgeous fruit that we found in the white label Asili.
What an emotional and inspirational moment to taste this superb wine with Bruno! As we swirled, smelled, tasted, swished, and spit, Tracie P asked Bruno if he preferred Asili or Santo Stefano. “Asili,” he said without hestitation, “is my favorite. They can say what they want, but the best Barbaresco comes from Asili.
One important note: the rows that Giacosa has used historically to make his Rabajà have been reclassified as Asili and so, for the first time, with this vintage, the Giacosa previously bottled as Rabajà went into the Asili. Bruno noted that none of his wines will be labeled using the “menzione aggiuntiva” (“added mention”) Rabajà anymore.
Bruno Giacosa 2007 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (white label)
Of all the wines that we tasted that day, this was the only one that hasn’t spent any time in bottle (it was a barrel sample). The tannin is majestic and muscular at this early stage of its development. The fruit has not yet begun to emerge and its earthy, savory flavors dominated the palate. In Langa, it’s not uncommon to open wine and revisit it later in the day and the next day as well. My only disappointment at the tasting was not being able to spend some more time with this wine.
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barbaresco Asili
(white label, no red label produced)
Anyone who’s ever tasted Giacosa’s wines knows that it’s difficult not to use superlatives when describing them. Where other bottlings of 2005 Barbaresco have impressed me with how ready they are to drink, this wine was aggressively tannic, a wonderful example of how Asili is a king among crus. By the end of our visit, it had begun to open up slowly to reveal rich red fruit. But aggressive as the tannin was, it still had that distinctive Giacosa signature: never harsh, always elegant, and however powerful at first, the tannin expanded evenly on the back of the tongue, seducing you softly with its muscle while never letting you forget that it was in command of your palate.
Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barolo Rocche del Falletto
(white label, no red label produced)
We all agreed that this regal expression of the Serralunga township (from one of its top growing sites) is destined to go down in history as game-changing bottling of Barolo. Giacosa did not make a “red label” reserve from this storied vineyard in 2005 and Giorgio said it he was “nearly” regretful that they hadn’t. Whether the decision was based on market conditions or on quality of the vintage, this wine will represent a great value for the superior quality in the bottle — whatever the color of the label, Bruno and Giorgio both agreed.
Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (
white red label [barrel sample])
Nearly everyone agrees that 2004 was a superlative vintage in Barbaresco and Barolo and this Barolo Rocche del Falletto is a great example of what many consider a “classic vintage” in Langa. It is already very evolved but with many, many glorious years ahead of it. Tracie P and I certainly can’t afford to buy wines in the price point but, man, if I had the dough, this is one of the wines where I’d place my bet. (This wine is already in the market and the red label, they told us, will be released shortly.)
Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Falletto (white label)
Following the tasting, Giorgio accompanied us to lunch at Enoclub in downtown Alba, where we opened a bottle of the 04 Barolo Falletto. The wine is also still very young in its evolution, richly tannic, but with wonderfully bright acidity. It was so great to enjoy this wine with food (tajarin with sausage ragù in my case). Especially in America, we tend to fetishize Giacosa’s wines to the point that we forget to serve them the way they were intended: with food.
Here are some observations and quotes I culled from our visit (some of them might surprise you).
Above: One of the most moving moments came for me when Giorgio excused himself to return to the winery to draw off a barrel sample. He asked us to continue with the tasting and so I employed my skill as sommelier. What an incredible feeling it was to pour Bruno Giacosa a glass of his wine!
Giacosa was born in 1929 and started making wine when he was 14 years old with the 1944 vintage.
Giacosa uses large-format French Allier casks and he changes them every 8-10 years.
When I asked him what he thought of winemaking in Langa today, he said that “The wines aren’t as good as they used to be.” Today, he told us, growers are using too many chemicals in the vineyard. In his day, only copper and sulfur (“and that’s all!”) were used. He also pointed out that the region has been over-planted and that it lacks the diversity of grape varieties because people have planted Nebbiolo where only Dolcetto and Barbera were planted formerly and even in sites not suited for grape-growing. When I asked Bruno what he thought of the Barolo and Barbaresco growers association, he replied: “The consortium is a waste of time.”
When enologist Giorgio Lavagna asked us what we thought of “biologic [i.e., “organic”] wine,” Bruno chimed in: “Biologic wine is a sham. There is no such thing.”
When I asked Lavagna if Giacosa used cultured yeasts, he said that indeed they do — regularly. Cultured yeasts, he said, were commonly (and have been historically) used at Giacosa to initiate fermentation. But the yeasts, strains developed especially for Langa, do not “dominate the natural yeast.”
When I asked Bruno when he thought these wines would be ready to drink, he said 8-10 years and in 4 years for some of them. As Giorgio pointed, it’s a matter of “cultural taste.” Where Americans and Brits tend to like these wines more when they have aged 20 and even 30 years, Italians prefer to consume them in “middle age,” as it were.
Worth checking out: Ken Vastola maintains an excellent “bibliography” of Giacosa’s wines here.
Post scriptum. Bruno suffered a stroke in 2006 and he still hasn’t fully recovered. He was perfectly lucent and conversant during our tasting but it was also clear that he’s in a lot of pain. I wish that everyone could have seen the smile on his face, when he held Tracie P’s hand and told her, “sei una bellissima sposa,” “you are a very beautiful bride.”
simply amazing, sono felice che la vostra honeymoon sia stata così grandiosamente vinosa…..
Grazie, Alessandro. :-) Ti aspettiamo ad Austin per festeggiare!
Fascinating and wonderful piece, Jeremy! I am so jealous.
As you know, I am nuts over these wines, so I have few questions.
Antonio Galloni wrote in his review: “In 2007, the white label Asili is roughly 80% juice from the old ‘Rabaja’ parcel and 20% Asili from the vines Giacosa has always used for his Asili.”
That doesn’t seem to fit with Bruno’s comment in your article about this wine “`You can smell Asili’ in this wine”.
You wrote “The only difference between the white and red (reserve) labels is the additional cask aging.” Does this imply (seemingly contrary to Antonio’s comment) that all the juice from the 2 parcels was blended, then separated for aging? I have to say this is the type of question that Bruno and the winery have been either coy or forgetful about over the years.
I love the ending to your piece!
@Ken thanks so much for the kind words and for taking the time for this. Tracie P and I thought of you that day!
I’m not sure that Bruno’s comment was meant to address the presence of the Rabajà in the wine, although it was made clear to us that the rows previously labeled Rabajà had gone into this wine. I’ll give Giorgio Lavagna a call on Monday and ask him to clarify.
I’m glad you liked the ending: it was a magical moment for both of us. :-)
I look forward to hearing Giorgio’s answer.
When I first read “Tracie P” I thought it was a typo. Then I remembered. If I haven’t said it before, as we say in Italian, Mazel Tov!!!! You make a great couple.
On the Barolos . . .
Is Bruno really making a 2007 Rocche white label? I assumed (or read?) he would make a red label in 07. So far he has not made both a red and white label in the same vintage from Rocche. Though I guess if it’s still in barrel then red or white label is still only a guess. He can change his mind.
You mention a Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Rocche del Falletto (white label). In 2004, I’m pretty sure he made a white label Falletto and a red label Rocche, but no white label Rocche. Was this from a finished bottle with a label on it or could it be the red label? I have not seen a white label Rocche on the market, only a red label on futures.
I’ll ask Lavagna about the 07 Rocche as well. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the only one he didn’t label on the bottle (it was the only barrel sample we tasted). I imagine that he’s still waiting to decide. But I’ll ask Giorgio on Monday.
The bottle (with a hand-written label) we tasted was 04 Rocche but did not say “riserva” on it, so I assumed it was a “white label.” Again, I’ll ask Giorgio on Monday.
And thanks again for all these excellent questions! I love your “bibliography” of Giacosa…
Wow, what a piece! Sometimes it’s good to be in the wine business, isn’t it?! :) Let me go make my next $10M so I can drink these wines all the time! Jeremy, I would actually love to hear your top 100 list of Italian wines (since 2000) that you would stock up on in your cellar if you had $200K to spend. Not just the specific wines, but how many of each and why (given the $200K budget). This would be valuable to wine collectors.
That Tajarin al ragu di salsiccia w/Barolo ’04 is worth ten TX barbecue porn photos.
@Gary thanks for reading. If you’ve got the money, then I’ve got the time! ;-) Tracie P and I cannot afford to drink Giacosa’s wines but we’ve both been lucky enough to taste the wines on many occasions and in many different contexts. For my birthday, Tracie P got a good deal on a 99 Santo Stefano (white label) and we opened the 01 Barolo Falletto for my class at the Austin Wine Merchant. It’s important to remember that these are “benchmark” and “special occasion” wines.
@Adrian I wish you could have been in the room when the hostess asked Giorgio for the reservation name. When he said, “Giacosa,” the whole room looked up at us. I felt like I had just walked into Chasens with Warren Beatty!
Did you get to try the sparkling wine_
um, holy giacosa batman! i was sitting in that same chair (where bruno is sitting) just a few months ago listening to giorgio. although, mr. giacosa was not there- his wines were- and wow. amazing. so happy that you were able to experience that and to have bruno AND your WIFE there. too much.
you can read my impression and my tasting notes (in Italian) re Bruno Giacosa 2007 here:
I think that was a fantastic tasting and an unforgettable meeting with a great Maestro of Langhe wines
Newbie wine blogger here =) Came across your blog a few months back and absolutely love it!! Perhaps it is a bit of a Texan bias =) I hail from San Antonio!! I am currently in Dijon, France finishing up the academic portion of my Masters (MSc) in Wine Business at the ESC/Burgundy School of Business here. I will be moving back to San Antonio in July to complete my masters thesis/internship on the San Antonio Wine Industry. Anywho, I look forward to keeping up with your blog and perhaps being able to meet up in Austin or SA with you and Tracie (Congrats on your marriage by the way!) for some vino and perhaps, if you are so gracious, to interview you for my thesis =)
Thanks for sharing your wine adventures and I truly love your blogging style and wine descriptions. You are a great wine blogger role model =)
And in true Texan spirit… I loved the equine metaphor, “this wine is a powerful young stallion, nervous in the corral, waiting to show its stuff”
I think I will use this metaphor to describe myself =)
Fantastic post Jeremy-
Besides the notes, I especially found the mention of natural/cultured yeasts interesting. In a time where so many of us are dissecting how natural a wine is, it is great to hear Lavagna’s stance on yeasts and to know cultured yeasts have been used in the area for some time. It was also very interesting to me that the yeasts used purportedly do not cover up the complexity and terroir of the grape’s natural yeasts.
We will sharing a meal with friends on Wednesday and enjoying a magnum of the 00 Cappellano Pie Franco Barolo. I wrote to Augusto Cappellano asking how long he suggested decanting before our meal. His answer reminded me of Giorgio’s comment about the American’s palate vs. those in Italy. He thought the wine would show best opened at dinner but only after mentioning that it is a matter of opinion and if we enjoyed longer-aged wines then we should open the day before and decant that morning.
Thanks again for the great post and congratulations to you guys on the marriage and amazing honeymoon!
I would love to hear about that mag of Cappellano after you try it. Will you be posting TN anywhere public?
Send me your email and I’ll give you a recap of the evening. Starting with the Vouette et Sorbée Saignée de Sorbée then the 95 Luneau Papin L d’Or and then the Cappellano. Sorry for the thread highjack!
WOW!! i was wondering how you were going to top that amazing tasting with a seemingly impossible recap, but as always–you did it and well :)
what an incredible day 2B! i’ll never forget the feeling i had leaving the b&b on that crisp, white morning to go taste my new husband and franco at giacosa (followed by mascarello?!!). excitement, love, and wonder…:)
the wines were unforgettable, to say the least. that was a truly generous tasting. as my man quoted another, “quell’ospite e’ gentil…”
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