Friday Night 14th September 2012, 5pm and I am standing in the walk in cellar at Buon Ricordo on a table in front of me are all the red wines for this evenings dinner waiting to have the wax removed and their corks pulled. Assisting me with this task is Nick Caraturo our sommelier and waiter for the evening who originates from Melbourne. Nick is also the NSW Sales Representative for Enoteca Sileno. One after the other I remove the wax and top of each capsule to reveal the delicate fragile old corks each requiring a fair amount of dedication and precision to remove them in one piece from the bottle and more often than not this afternoon the corks crumbled and broke rather than extracting in one piece. A quick trip to the kitchen and Sommelier Robert returned with a handful of Muslin the perfect tool for removing small pieces of cork from the wines as we poured each one off into their respective decanters. At this point in time some initial assessment was performed and all wines seemed to be in good condition albeit one or two which seemed a little musty and perhaps need some air time to smarten themselves up.
Just over an hour later and all the wines are lined up in the main dining room on the side table in their decanters with the respective bottle in front of each. The lights are dimed a little, the first of my regular guests arrive and we soon decide to have the cork pulled on the 3L Jeroboam of 1990 Ca’del Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi Franciacorta. A sigh as the cork is removed without a pop and the first glass poured to reveal a wine which is lacking in effervescence, a small amount of bubbles can be seen in the wine and a very fine stream lazily makes its way to the top however for the most part the effervescence was gone and that which remained only wanted to cling to the side of each glass as tiny bubbles. The wine on the other hand was in marvellous condition with no signs of oxidation or being past its best.
On a very long palate the wine delivered bread, citrus, biscuit, orange rind and a slightly yeasty character, soft acidity and golden in colour it was in perfect balance with considerable precision in the mouth. A lovely wine that was only let down by its lack of effervescence never the less we all managed to work our way through the Jeroboam without a single hesitation from anyone in the room right down to the very last drop. As we stood and mingled around the table sipping on our Franciacorta the waiter bought around a canapé of Scarlet prawn on Polenta that went down very well with the Franciacorta. Once seated we were served the first course: Terrina – Pork trotters, pistachio and veal, served cold with brioche which again matched nicely with the Franciacorta.
By now we had all settled in our seats and we’re ready for the only still white wine of the night which is quite possibly Italy’s top white wine the 2006 Gaja, Gaia & Rey Chardonnay. I announced the wine and reasoning behind choosing this wine. When putting this dinner together the focus was a selection of 8 Barolo from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s each wine was from a top vintage and all had come from the one single cellar in Europe. When putting together each and every one of my dinners there is a certain balance and progression to the wines and food as the night moves on. The strategy was to build in power and weight both the wines and food. This is no easy task if the main focus is 8 wines from the one varietal and style so I set about choosing some stars wines to compliment and get the night going in style. If you had only one white Italian wine in your line up how could you go past the rare and powerful Gaja Chardonnay.
This wine showed all the trademarks of its heritage, house and maker, light lemon in colour with hints of citrus, apple and spice on the nose. The palate delivered a very long and perfectly balanced effort showing hints of tropical peach, citrus, butter and spice that when paired with the baked Scallops with parmesan, cream and chervil we found the hands down winner of the wine and food match of the evening. A very good wine indeed which delivers its pedigree status proudly and strongly, a wine that Gaja no doubt is proud to call their own.
Next we move to the reds and before heading straight for the stars of the evening we first encounter 2 Barbaresco in two different styles, the first being one of the new generation of star Barbaresco from a producer well known and highly rated by one of the most powerful wine critics on the planet while the second being the old and more traditional delicate style of Barbaresco. The first wine is the 1997 La Spinetta Barbaresco Gallina, deep dark purple and inky this wine had considerable presence and while it was very big in style I could not get past the amount of Oak on this wine at its current stage in evolution. For me the Oak was far too dominant and while there was some dark cherry fruit underneath I feel it struggled underneath the Oak at present. Perhaps in time the wine will integrate better and the Oak will take less of a leading role in the wine. Regardless the wine was well received by all those who were present and some found it very much to their liking.
While 1997 was an excellent vintage the second wine from 1987 was from an uneven vintage and it would remain to be seen how well this wine would still be holding up. Light Garnet in colour with orange on the rim the 1987 Giacomo Borgogno, Barbaresco Riserva seemed a little tired and perhaps past its best. While there was some cherry and strawberry type fruit there was also a caramelised yeasty character to the wine which suggests it was probably much better drinking about 10 years ago. The interesting mention for me was how well this wine went with the grilled Quail breast with sage and prosciutto. It seemed to bring out a lovely sweet gentle fruitiness and earthiness in the wine that paired nicely with the Quail.
Moving right along we stepped up to the first flight of Barolo with the 1971 and 1969 Enrico Serafino Barolo. The 1971 was quite brown in colour with a nose of coffee, chocolate and caramel which also followed to the palate, I deemed this bottle to be not a very good example and proceeded to open a second bottle of the wine. The second bottle was a completely different beast, the nose full of dried flowers and rose, smoke, leather and dried cherry which flowed to palate with fine soft tannin, medium acidity and good depth all very well balanced and a sheer pleasure to drink.
The 1969 was also a great wine which showed mint, dried flowers, underbrush, tobacco, soft tannin, low acidity and that atypical tarriness that is often associated with old Barolo, quite simply a lovely wine and equally as good as the 71 from my point of view albeit a different wine. The Ribbon pasta with chestnut mushrooms and white prosciutto was a fairly good match with the mushroom and prosciutto bringing out the earthiness of the wines while the pasta I think did an adequate job of soaking up some of the wine already filling our stomachs. In hindsight I should also mention that there was some volatility on the nose of nearly all the Barolo and this is quite normal for these wines and the techniques employed in making them at the time.
It was now time for the second flight of Barolo and while many of us were still discussing the Serafino the trio of Marchesi di Barolo, Gia Opera Pia were placed one by one on the table in front of us. First up was the 1971 and again this was not a good bottle in my opinion which left me a little bewildered as I have had this wine before. Previously it was a rich powerful almost port like wine with incredible length and presence, tonight it certainly was nothing of the sort. Next was the 1969 which was just heavenly, garnet in colour with amber/orange edges. On the nose pretty rose, tar, truffle, a hint of liquorice, some tobacco which flowed to the palate with fairly resolved tannins leaving a silky smooth finish. This wine while full bodied was so easy to drink needless to say I think most people found themselves finishing this wine the quickest of all 3 in the flight and was likely voted the favourite of the flight.
The 1967 was a different wine again, very closed and tightly wound with quite a lot of tannin giving the wine an austere finish. Full bodied and dense this wine was pitch black and apart from some subtle violet and underbrush the wine seemed abundant with tar not only on the palate but in the thick texture of the wine. A wonderful experience from a 45yr old wine. The dish of Rabbit stuffed with chestnuts, chicken and rosemary was a very classical dish with a rich sauce that again went very well with the old Barolo. I cannot help but wonder if the 67 required more time in decanter to show its real potential or if this was just a robust and austere wine that may never show anything more than it did on this occasion. I should point out that these wines had now been in decanter approximately 4 hours.
The third and final flight of Barolo was about to start with so many different perceptions already rounding the table on the wines already served it was evident the idea in bringing these old Barolo together side by side was a very interesting exercise and great way to compare the wines. The 1985 was first and what a powerful and deep wine, it penetrated the palate with loads of tar, cherry, briar, truffle and earth on a long full bodied and velvety finish carried with some very evident tannin that kept the wine dry and BIG. A great wine with many years ahead of it.
Then the 1971 and again this bottle was just not a good example when compared to prior 1971 Barolo that I have been fortunate enough to experience. It was quite musty and yeasty with possible signs of some oxidation to the wine (that is now two 71’s in a row not showing well). I put it down to bottle variation and I think most people would agree that this is one of the problems associated with old wines. There is a saying amongst the wine fraternity: “There is no such thing as great old wines, only great old bottles”. The 1964 should also have been a highlight however looking rather brown and little cloudy this bottle also may not have been in perfect shape. Strangely when first opened and tasted the palate was sweet, rich and very very long which lead me to believe this would be an outstanding wine regardless of the colour. In this instance perhaps it was a case of not a perfect bottle and too much air time allowing the wine to deteriorate somewhat as it had been in decanter for over 4 hours.
To sum up these were very traditional wines made in a style which has close to disappeared today and we must remember in tasting these wines they will not show like many of the Barolo being made today or even 15yrs ago. While for the most part they all shared the atypical elements associated with old traditional Barolo, each and every wine had its very own personality. There was no doubt each personality that has developed over the decades of cellaring is tantamount to the skilled wine making and vintage conditions that prevailed in each of these years. I believe there was a reasonable amount of style in the wines of each producer to say that they were trying to achieve a fairly consistent Barolo each and every year. The two 1969 were perhaps the greatest evidence of vintage specific personality as we found a number of similarities in these wines although they were from different producers.
There was also a surprise wine which was a 1997 Aldo Conterno Barolo which while still young and tannic was beginning to show some age and bottle development. This was a very good wine made in a more modern style which to me still showed a fair amount of tannin and spicy oak. There was also a second wine that was opened as a contribution to the evening in respect of the poor showing from a few of the wines and that was a 2006 Guiseppe Mascarello Monprivato Barolo. This was a stunning wine even though it was young and tannic it had a beautiful pretty nose of Rose, fresh flowers and red liquorice which followed to the palate with a fair amount of tannin yet with such poise and elegance on a very long chewy finish and all the while with such superb balance. These two wines completed a look at 50yrs or 5 decades of Barolo.
To end the night in style I had chosen the 1997 Dal Forno Romano, Recioto della Valpolicella a wine that many have described as a rare and profound experience that has been very highly rated over and over again by critics and wine enthusiasts alike. This wine did not disappoint and took the finale to an even bigger high, raising the bar once again as the night came to a close. My notes are limited on this wine other than to say it was a great wine of obvious pedigree. It had freshness and raw power and was unlike any sweet style red wine I have ever tried before. All I can say is if you get the chance to try this wine I recommend you do, it as it is nothing short of a masterpiece!
Once again I would like to thank all who attended particularly my regulars who time and time again put aside some of their time to assist in the overall completeness of the evening and help to welcome our new friends to the table for the very first time. I would also like to make special mention and welcome to the new friends who joined us for this Italian wine journey, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance and meet you all for the first time. I hope you were able to understand the wines and not deterred by the poor showing of a couple of the wines on this occasion. I hope you were able to take away as much enjoyment from evening as my regulars do and I hope to see you all again at one of my dinners in the not too distant future.
I would also like to thank Gemma and Armando Percuoco, the kitchen team and all the staff at Buon Ricordo for helping to make this night such a success. Special thanks to Nick our waiter and sommelier that did a wonderful job needless to say he was run off his feet for most of the night. Special thanks also to Carey for the photographs on the night, Tim for the research and tireless effort put into each of the souvenir booklets. Last but certainly not least, Jeremy from Enso Photo for his time in setting up and taking the superb photographs of each of the bottles of wine.
Also a special mention and thank you to Treasury Wine Estates for supplying the Riedel glassware for the evening (over 200 glasses).