Last week I had the opportunity to taste some amazing Nebbiolos from the cellar of Luigi “Gino” Veronelli (1926-2004). “Gino was an Italian journalist, philosopher, gastronome and intellectual. He is remembered as one of the central figures in the appreciation and promotion of Italy’s gastronomic heritage. Veronelli was the first to express views that would later achieve general currency and the protagonist in battles for the preservation of diversity in the fields of agriculture and food production. To this end he contributed to the development of Italian appellations of origin, fought alongside local administrations and offered his support to retail producers. His wine collection was an impressive 80,000 when he passed away.”
Here is the line up from the tasting and my notes.
1970 Riserva, Produttori del Barbaresco
1971 Riserva Santo Stefano, Castello di Neive
1978 Santo Stefano Riserva Speciale, Bruno Giacosa
1964 Giacomo Conterno
1970 Monprivato, Mascarello Giuseppe e figlio
1974 Brunate Riserva Selezionata, Rinaldi Giuseppe
1978 Bricco Bussia Vigna Cicala, Aldo Conterno
1967 Gaja Barbaresco
On first inspection the wine was full of fine black sediment with a low intensity maroon core and a caramelized peach rim. More brown than orange. The fragrance is initially black licorice and rich balsamic and after a swirl bitter cocoa and stewed mushrooms with the nuttiness of malted barley in a brewery. The nuttiness changes into almost a Nutella spread. My first sip was brilliant with the acidity of a tangerine dried in potpourri my tongue feels like I just ate cinnamon candy. The tannins are still vibrant, but well incorporated and it finished with a candiesque almost bubble gum sweetness. The acid is really intense, almost blowing everything else out and the alcohol is lingering in the finish. My mouth taste and feels like I just ate a handful of really acidic earth and that continues for at least half a minute.
1970 Produttoi del Barbaresco
No sediment in this glass. The color is surprisingly almost identical to the 67 Gaja. The nose is quite different with an intensity of a room used to cure salami. I smell chorizo and bressaola still hanging with all of its mold and sweat. And thick slices of mortadella. The wetness of a forest floor after a rain in autumn and dried hay that sat in the barn all season. Cocoa and cola peeks out after a swirl and a gentle kick of caramelized alcohol resonates from the glass. When I put the wine in my mouth I am assaulted with tannins and an almost quinine/tonic flavored strawberry jam fills my mouth and on swallowing my mouth tastes of menthol. With the exception of the tannins the wine feels light weight in my mouth and the overall flavors are all very naturally earthy and pleasant. And the acidity is certainly prevalent leaving me salivating and wanting more.
1971 Castello di Neive
There is a medium amount of fine dark sediment just in the bottom of the glass and the color is spot on with the previous two with one huge difference. The wine is really cloudy, like an unfiltered milky cloudiness. The nose is of those brandied cherries from Spain and cinnamon sticks with some black licorice and sweet roasted carrots. There is also a meatiness to this wine but of roasted hen stuffed with tons of rosemary, tarragon, and sage. And a sweetness to the nose of a toasted honeycomb and star anise. A little touch of raspberry jam and strawberry leather are peeking out from the savory herbs. The initial sip is rich with the brandied cherries, but way more brandy than cherry. A lovely black licorice is carried through the mid palate and it finishes with dried apricots and peaches. There is a sweetness to the fruit that is accentuated with an overwhelming amount of alcohol. The tannins and acid are both in check but overwhelmed by booze.
1978 Bruno Giacosa
No sediment and I am looking at a maroon core with a bruised peach rim and overall hue of brownness to the wine. There is an aftershave cologne alcohol and menthol redolence, combined with cigar tobacco and cola. The wine reminds me so much of how my dad smells that it is almost overwhelming. After swirling for a bit I get hints of smoked wild spicy turnip and radish greens and orange Cointreau. When the wine is in my mouth it feels like I licked the inside of the cigar box I was smelling earlier, and the only thing I can think is how the hell are the tannins still so huge?! This wine is fighting back. Brambles and stemmy raspberries on a sprig of violet potpourri show themselves and cola and caramel are intense. I am searching for saliva for minutes.
1964 Giacomo Conterno
Tons of sediment, red sediment! And a caramel color from the core to the rim. A fruity and piquant Serrano pepper rolled in bitter cocoa is initially jumping out of the glass. Rich saba and caramel candies are followed up with fresh white flowers and baby powder perfume. These are the softest, velvetiest tannins so far and my mouth taste as if I just ate a chocolate covered cherry. There is hint of turned earth, milk chocolate, black licorice and a menthol freshness which all falls off the palate almost immediately. Those few seconds were really nice.
1970 Mascarello Giuseppe
Loads of black sediment! And a rich earthy brown color throughout the wine. There is an intense perfume of Easter lilies and blooming roses with soapy lilacs and fresh eucalyptus, and then more rose. There is a nuttiness of roasted hazelnuts still in their shell. It tastes of cherry juice and cinnamon with rose and bergamot. I could as well have been chewing rose petals with baking spices, and there is a bit of earthy white truffle sliding through my palate. The cherry fruitiness is juicy and fresh and the acidity is cleaning up all of the tannins previously left on my palate. It feels so refreshing. This is the wine of the night!
1974 Rinaldi Giuseppe
Large and small chunks of sediment are mingling with bits of cork all swirling around a slightly maroonish brown core. It smells of rich buttery caramel corn that has a few burnt kernels mixed in the batch. After a swirl, I can smell brandied cherries and strawberries in cream. There is a hint of earthy truffle and wafts of blueberry and raspberry fruit. It taste like dried berries and raisinated grapes and prunes. Almost like licking the inside of an empty box of dried fruit. Dried apricot notes and cinnamon tannins last for almost a minute. Again the acid is juicy and intense but so are the tannins and the alcohol. The fruit is all still in tact.
1978 Aldo Conterno
Large chunks of black sediment settle into the base of the glass. A peachy brown rim flows into a maroon center and I can smell chanterelle mushrooms from a foot away. The aroma of the dusty old couch that sits in the basement blows of after about a minute and the richness of a caramel and peanut sundae with intertwining red and black licorice envelopes the glass. And then all I smell are over ripe strawberries. Tannins, acid and alcohol all fight for attention and the fruitiness of strawberry pie, fresh kiwi and tangerine are bursting on the scene. Cinnamon candies finish, with some stewed apricots and truffle lingering for almost a minute. All of the fruit is so vibrant and fresh and so is the booze.
Aldo passed away last night, and as I type this note, I cant help but feel emotionally overwhelmed by the importance of these wine makers and their wines. Even though I did not know Aldo, I feel like I had an experience with his wines that made me understand his philosophy. He was brave and innovative in a time when no one else stepped out of the box. Thank you Aldo.
There was a bit of shock and awe when I finished tasting the Nebbiolos. I was amazed at how well they held up over the past 40-50 years. The Barbarescos were overall more earthy and secondary while the Barolos held much more fruit. None were lacking in acid and the tannins we shocking in some. The 1970 Mascarello Giuseppe was a knockout and I can almost still taste it if I close my eyes.
This was a day I will never forget and I want to thank the wonderful producers who made these wines with such attention and intention in a time where their wines were not held in the regard that they are today. They made these wines because they loved the land and the grapes. Making wine was a lifestyle and it was in their blood. And thanks to Gino for seeing the importance of Italian food and wine early on and lovingly preserving these bottles. I would not be in Italy if you had not fought.