Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Barolo

Considered to be one of the most noble wines of Italy, Barolo lays claim to the title “Wine of kings, and king of wines.” The wine, named after the Barolo commune from which it originates, is made from the region’s heavily-grown Nebbiolo grape, a dark blue, highly tannic variety that can yield an incredibly powerful wine to the senses.

Barolo can be a hard wine to make, and that can account for its relatively steep price and slim availability. Perhaps it is the latter two factors that influenced our evening of tasting this noble grape when five of us got together on a recent Thursday.

There’s something noble about Barolos, alright, and you often notice it right away in this wine when it’s aged five years. All sorts of color gradations appear, from deep violet to inky blue-black to orange around the rim. Aromas of leather and pine tar permeate the senses, with a hint of roses. I had advised my guests, in preparing for our tasting, to uncork their wines 24 hours ahead and let them breathe overnight, then stopper them in the morning. Two of my guests, I believe, had let them breathe the entire 24 hours. Despite this, some bottles expressed a little funkiness that largely dissipated upon swirling our glasses for 15-20 minutes.

Yes, one must be extraordinarily patient with Barolos, whether winemaker or wine drinker. Because we had been patient with the wines’ oxygenation process, all bottles were very drinkable, with a high degree of collective satisfaction in their taste and body profiles; overall quality was scored moderately, and we feel that aging would only improve all five wines.

Our group also enjoyed pairing our Barolos with two cow’s milk cheeses, namely a mature Fontina, a hard cheese with a mild, somewhat nutty flavor while at the same time rich, herbaceous, and fruity, and a fresh Piave, which exhibits a dense texture and imparts an intense, full-bodied flavor.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my opinions about each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
+3 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60
-1 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-2 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36

Winehiker’s Ranking

17 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
14.5 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
13 pts. 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60

Note that of the five wines, there were two pairs of two that were of the same label; I alluded to this aspect earlier as being a major factor in the night’s tasting. Yet while the scoring of these five wines exists in a fairly tight range, there’s quite a fractious disparity in each of the above rankings when you take the similar labels into account.

While I can sometimes forgive the group for a disparity in scoring two of the same wine, I find it difficult to allow myself the same courtesy. The funny part (“funny peculiar” that is, not “funny ha-ha”) is that while the Rivettos scored similarly in the group rankings, I scored them moderately differently on aroma, balance, and finish, but just enough to gap them by 3 points. The group, on the other hand, scored the Damilanos quite broadly; these took both first and last in the group scores.

Why such puzzling differences?

We decided to perform a “taste-off” of the two Damilanos to more assiduously determine the differences. My own score sheet had suggested from the first pass that aroma, acid, and finish were the main issues, and that’s what they turned out to be. The Damilano that we had favored scored well on second pass, with aromas, acidity, and finish characteristic of a fine wine; the wine from the other Damilano bottle had not quite let go of its off-putting “dirty socks” smell, and seemed much more acidic on the finish.

Not surprisingly, then, we began to examine where we bought our wines. Both had been purchased at Beverages & More, one in Redwood City and the other in San Jose. We speculated that these wines had either arrived in two separate international shipments, or one bottle had been filled from near the top of the barrel while the other had come from near the bottom. Quite possibly storage and transportation issues allowing prolonged exposure to heat were the cause.

I invite my readers to comment on possible additional factors that may have influenced these two inconsistent Damilano bottles.

These circumstances, though they make for interesting discussion, can certainly offer quite an education to all who would learn more about wine. Certainly you could truly enjoy the products of one winemaker for years only to taste a bad bottle that you had already promised your friends would garner high praise.

Conclusions and Recommendations
So, if I were to offer conclusions here, it would be: don’t go to a large chain store to buy imported wine if you can avoid doing so; don’t discontinue your wine club membership because of one bad bottle.

And my recommendations? Keep right on enjoying glass after glass of Barolo. But shop around first for imported wine at a reputable wine merchant that offers a wider selection than the BevMo chain.



3 thoughts on “Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Barolo

  1. Pingback: All Hallows Links | Winehiker Witiculture

  2. Barolos, and most commercial wines, are rarely bottled directly from the barrel. More likely, several barrels are “assembled” or blended into a tank, then the bottling takes place. In fact, barrel selection is what often determines which barrels make it into the normal, or riserva, blends.

    The differences in the 2 bottles could have resulted from shipping or storage conditions, or variations within the tank. More likely, however, they were from different bottlings, which obviously involved a different blend of barrels.

    The rules for Barolo specify that the wines be aged at least 3 years in wood for a normale, and 4 years for a riserva. Most Barolo producers traditionally have used larger barrels, though some of the more modern houses are going to barrique, or smaller (typically 225l) barrels.

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