The pinnacle of Italian wines, nothing could be more apropos than Barolo to wrap up this series.
It often takes Barolo years to become accessible, even in average vintages, but its greatness becomes evident years after the vintage when it has had a chance to mature into one of the most complex wines made anywhere. 2004 was an enigma, though, as many of these wines, while still bambinos, are showing very well right now.
Unlike the 2003 vintage, there was no shortage of fruit in 2004. This could have posed a problem, especially since Nebbiolo can be fickle, but conscientious producers knew to keep the yields down. The wines are more tannic than the ’03 and are a little bit fleshier than the ’05s. Most I’ve tasted have brilliant acidity, which, along with tannin and fruit, helps wines age.
Serendipitously, my three favorites at the moment are from Serralunga d’Alba. The easternmost of the five communes in Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba is famous for its intensity. For many years, it was not known as a producer-based area but rather one where outsiders came to source fruit. That has changed recently as growers have started making wine instead of selling off their fruit and long time local producers have made improvements.
Since modern methods came later to Serralunga than the rest of Barolo, the exclusive use of Slovenian oak is widely practiced and extended maceration (skin contact) is still common. The latter helps promote tannin and longevity. Slovenian oak is not as powerful as French, so the caramel and toasty qualities are not present. I have no doubt that these wines will improve but, as stated, if patience is not a virtue you possess, many of the ’04s can be enjoyed now.
Schiavenza Barolo Broglio Riserva, 2004: Love at first sight is a beautiful thing, especially when wine is the object of affection. Without any expectations or preconceptions I fell head over heels for this Barolo with the initial whiff. Emitting myriad spices, cedar, tobacco and licorice, and a core of raspberry truffle fruit, this is a majestic effort. Suggested retail: $79.99
Massolino/Azienda Agricola Vigna Rionda Barolo Riserva, 2004: Founded in 1896, Massolino is one of the older grower-producers in Serralunga d’Alba. Vigna Rionda is not just one of the names of the winery but also a top vineyard sight. Massolino has close to 6 acres planted here. Remarkably accessible with bright almost juicy fruit, hints of tar and leather, and a long, piquant finish, this has an alluring appeal. Suggested retail: $89.99
Fontanafredda Barolo Casa E. Mirafiore Riserva, 2004: Given Fontanafredda’s sheer size, the quality of this wine is even more of a feat. The family has been making wine in Serralunga d’Alba since the late 19th century and today is one of the largest producers in the entire region. Interwoven with rhubarb, licorice, floral and herbal overtones and concentrated, vibrant fruit, this bottling just goes to prove that large producers do not have to sacrifice quality for quantity.
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.