Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 15

15 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Cue the expletives. They put a BAROLO in this thing?! I’m not sure what else to say about such unbridled generosity. I love Nebbiolo for many of the same reasons I love Pinot Noir. The grape shows a remarkable fidelity to site, an otherworldly ability to decode the land into delicate, haunting aromatics that evoke the classic descriptors of “tar and roses”. The grape is shockingly pale of hue considering its reputation for both ferocious tannins and high acidity. These traits mean that the best Nebbiolo ages well, its fruit aroma a discreet red rather than an opulent black. Pinot and Nebbiolo are like yin and yang, two sides of the same viticultural coin, and Nebbiolo itself embodies a duality… It is a giant, yes, but a genteel, cultured one, like a Japanese oni steeped in the Bushido code or Atlas bearing all of Piedmont on his broad shoulders.

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This Barolo is not an entry-level bottling, but instead hails from a single vineyard, Rocche dell’ Annunziata in La Morra, one that many consider to be amongst the top 10 sites in the entire Barolo DOCG. This site is said to yield “feminine” and graceful Barolos, characterized by a particularly prominent floral perfume of violets and roses, dark red fruit, brown spices, and tannins that skew towards fine and “silky”. These wines can be enjoyed relatively early but still age with an elegant poise. Vintage reports suggest that 2012 was a cooler year, with many ups and downs weather-wise that yielded a similar variability in the wines, although generally they can be described as mid-weight and fresh, with some a touch on the slender side.

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This producer, Rocche Costamagna, seems to fall closer to the “traditionalist” camp as far as Barolo is concerned, emphasizing the preservation of regional character. Then again, their wines seem more accessible than some of yore, sips that might need 20 years or more (!) to tame. The battle between traditionalists and so-called “modernists” got so intense that wine writers coined the phrase “Barolo Wars”. To provide a crude capsule summary, the former felt that Nebbiolo’s nuances are completely obliterated by new oak and that only the old ways can yield a true Barolo character, with the modernists doing little but chasing scores by creating vanilla wines (metaphorically and to some extent literally… New oak and nothing but new oak!). The latter felt that the traditionalists were atavistic dinosaurs who used filthy old equipment to yield backward concoctions full of barnyard character, hardly a signature of the variety. My own sympathies lie closer to the traditionalist side, although admittedly I derive limited pleasure from wines that smell more like what happened during vinification than they do varietal or regional character. Eventually a detente resulted, and the Barolo Wars were probably a positive development when all was said and done: the traditionalists improved their cellars, and the modernists took a step back and ultimately agreed that Nebbiolo’s charm can be too easy to obfuscate. Both sides made improvements, and today’s Barolos often split the difference. Case in point. This wine macerates for two weeks and then spends 24 months in 30-hectolitre Slavonian oak casks, followed by another year in the bottle before release.

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Cork Rating: 6.0/10 (Diam sporting a nice coat of arms and the appropriate verbal data.)

This just appears to be entering its drinking window. Do yourself (and the wine) a favour and give it time to open up. This is rather closed off initially, as one might expect a young Barolo to be, but it does reward patience. I am not big on decanting and think the practice is overblown, particularly for old wines, but here I bit the bullet and let things aerate for two hours. My initial impression is dominated by some lovely Rocche dell’ Annunziata floral character: Roses and lilacs, to be sure, but also iris, dried lavender, and bluebells. I could smell these wispy sprites all day, but alas I have an analysis to provide. There’s a core of strawberry sauce, fresh raspberries and pomegranates, Bing cherries, red fruits galore with a whisper of black plums. At the very top of the aromatic edifice, just above the flowers, is liquorice candy, red and black Twizzlers. I guess I should take a sip. Brand new leather, something between mushrooms and truffles, Coca Cola, red chilli flakes, pipe tobacco, pastrami, cedar, incense smoke, cinder blocks, carbide sandpaper. Lawdy mama. This is bright, optimistic, even fun for a Barolo. There is little in the way of serious darkness, with anything brooding and tarry replaced by a woodsy halo of oregano essential oil and mentholated cigarettes, a streak of quartz-like minerality like buckshot peppering a hide of red fruit leather. The tannins are not savage, yet they remain bristly and frangible. I’d like to check back in around 2023 or so.

90 points

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