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.”