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All's Well that Ends Well: Barolo from 2008
By Michael Franz
Sep 4, 2012
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Nebbiolo’s astonishing winning streak in Piedmont remains unbroken.  If you wonder whether I’m engaging in hype or hyperbole when employing a word like “astonishing,” consider this:  For the past century, excellent vintages for Barolo and its famously finicky Nebbiolo grape have been witnessed only once or twice per decade.  However, since 1996, excellent vintages have been enjoyed every single year--with the sole exception of 2002.  And now, having recently tasted hundreds of newly released 2008 wines from Barolo, I can declare unequivocally that the region and its winemakers somehow managed to achieve outstanding results from a growing season that once looked like a disaster.

The situation looked grim in the Barolo district in mid-June of 2008, as the region had been soaked with rain on an almost daily basis for a month, imperiling the ability of vines to flower and set fruit while also threatening the crop with an unholy trinity of oidium, downy mildew and parasites.  Rain decreased in frequency in the second half of June, but the summer remained conspicuously wet and cool.  Numerous hailstorms battered portions of the area, suggesting that Fortune had finally turned against vintners with a vengeance.

But then, beginning in late August, the late-ripening Nebbiolo crop was blessed with more than 50 days of excellent weather, enabling growers to harvest without fear of diluting rains once the grapes had reached optimal maturity.  Acidity levels are notably higher in the 2008 Barolos than in their counterparts from the hot 2007 season, which is all to the good in my view, making for wines with classic freshness that still show the richness, depth of flavor, and ripe tannins that have characterized the phenomenal run of great wines produced since 1996.

Below you will find my notes on the very best Barolo wines that I tasted in Piedmont in May at Nebbiolo Prima, an exceptionally well-run event that offers a select group of journalists and trade buyers a first look at Nebbiolo-based from Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero each year.  My reviews of the best new releases from Barbaresco and Roero were published here in July, and are available in the WRO archive.

To provide a bit of background on the tasting process that yielded these reviews, I evaluated all of the wines--blind--in three carefully conducted peer-group tastings.  Every wine recommended here was tasted at least twice, with a second evaluation performed before the identity of the wine was known to me (to assure the accuracy of my score, since order of presentation or knowledge of the producer can have distorting effects). 

In this year’s reviews, I’ve tried to render the producers’ names with the family name second in order, as is the custom in English speaking countries (but not always in Piedmont).  Many of the wines appearing below haven’t yet been shipped across the Atlantic, but almost all should arrive during the next year.

One last word, just to reiterate that I've not succumbed to hype or hyperbole:  All of the wines reviewed here earned scores of 92 or higher, but that does not mean that I didn't taste lots of wines that were flawed.  Plenty of 2008 Baroli are over-oaked or excessively manipulated or otherwise unattractive, and I haven't bothered to detail their shortcomings here simply because this article is already excessively long due to the vast number of excellent wines that I encountered:

G. D. Vajra, Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2008:  The hard-working, unassuming Vajra family is rapidly achieving aristocratic status for their wines regardless of the refreshing fact that none of them act like aristocrats themselves.  The already excellent wines have gotten even better since the terrific 2006s, and this wine definitely keeps the winning streak alive.  The wine’s core is all about bright red cherries, with terrific purity and persistence as well as a profile bespeaking exceptional balance and grace.  This is an object lesson in tasteful winemaking.  96

Marchesi di Barolo, Barolo “Cannubi” 2008:  The 2008 vintage is shaping up as the best growing season for this historic producer in years, as both the Sarmassa bottling and this terrific wine from Cannubi are marvelous.  This is slightly the more complex of the two at this developmental stage, showing deep, alluring aromas and fruit that is very ripe but nevertheless impressively pure and fresh.  The oak is admirably restrained, permitting the gorgeous fruit to shine from center stage.  Gorgeous wine.  95

Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Barolo “Nei Cannubi” 2008:  This standout wine shows Einaudi in top form, with sexy aromatic notes of toasted oak and alluring spices but very expressive fruit that effectively counterbalances the wood’s influence.  The fruit is also very flavorful, but a saline mineral note keeps it from seeming one-dimensional, and the long finish shows both sweet and savory notes.  Superb balance and symmetry here.  95

Poderi Colla, Barolo “Dardi le Rose Bussia” 2008:  This may be the finest rendition of this wine since the spectacular 1996.  It is tender and succulent, with very deep flavors that just seem to go on endlessly in the phenomenal finish.  Remarkably capable of showing both freshness and power at the highest level, this is so symmetrical that it should be enjoyable at every stage of development over a life span of 20+ years.  95

Gianni Gagliardo, Barolo “Serre” 2008:  This is a big, dramatic wine with lots of oak that gets pushed into the background by even bigger fruit.  However, this is definitely not an oaked fruit bomb, but rather a highly complex and notably earthy (but clean) wine with interesting notes of shitake mushroom and carpaccio along with pronounced minerality.  Quite simply, this is a riveting wine.  95

Rocche dei Manzoni, Barolo “Vigna Cappella di Santo Stefano” 2008:  A massive wine that manages to seem symmetrical and stylish despite its sheer size, this was among the very best Barolos from 2008.  The darkness of the wine’s color is almost scary, and that’s before a big aromatic blast of oak kicks down the door.  I was initially turned off by the assertiveness of the wood, but the fruit is so dense and powerful that there’s no doubt the balance of the oak is right, though it will take years of patience to let this wine fulfill its huge potential, which may set it alongside the terrific 2001 from this cru.  95

Claudio Alario, Barolo “Riva Rocca” 2008:  This extremely impressive and expressive wine features a big, plush, penetrating, leathery bouquet that opens onto gorgeous fruit on the palate, with almost no overt oak.  The texture is marvelously tender and inviting, and the tannins are magically soft and rounded.  This is really not a big, muscular wine, but one that still seems opulent because of its fabulously rounded feel, which permits the fruit to show very deep, satisfying, persistent flavors.  94

Elvio Cogno, Barolo “Ravera” 2008:  This exceptionally consistent wine is terrific once again in the 2008 vintage, showing impeccable balance and integration that give it a profile marked above all by purity and a sense of naturalness.  Lovely floral aromas get it off to a great start, followed by deep and persistent flavors that are framed but fresh acidity and very subtle oak.  94

Angelo Germano, Barolo “Mondoca Dardi” 2008:  Impressively dark color is very promising, and this wine delivers the goods in many other respects as well.  The fruit is quite ripe and expressive both aromatically and in terms of flavor, showing a plum note as well as suggestions of both red and black cherries.  In overall terms, the wine is dense and deep and very pure, with moderate oak indicating minimalist winemaking that makes sense given the sheer deliciousness of the fruit, which will need a little time to develop secondary characteristics but has terrific inner strength.  94

Marchesi di Barolo, Barolo “Sarmassa” 2008:  This is a “showy” wine featuring lots of fancy oak, but there’s such depth and drive in the fruit that it never seems remotely imbalanced.  Complete and quite complex despite a lot of power, and pure too despite all of its complexity, this is simply outstanding.  94

Virna Borgogno, Barolo “Cannubi Boschis” 2008:  Both this wine and the “Preda Sarmassa” bottling from this producer are terrific in the 2008 vintage.  This shows savory aromas and flavors recalling mushrooms, tobacco leaves and carpaccio, along with subtle spice notes from finely integrated oak.  94

Virna Borgogno, Barolo “Preda Sarmassa” 2008:  Every bit the equal of the superb Cannubi Boschis from this house, this wine shows many of the same savory qualities and then layers on even more minerality that is almost saline in character.  Deeply and persistently flavored, this is already highly expressive at this early stage of development.  94

Andrea Oberto, Barolo “Vigneto Rocche” 2008:  This wine was sensational in the 2007 vintage, and though the 2008 is a bit more reserved, it likewise is explosively fruity and already sufficiently developed to enjoy with food.  Impressive in every respect, it is especially strong in terms of texture, with exceptional balance between soft fruit and grippy tannins.  94

Angelo Germano, Barolo “Mondoca Dardi” 2008: 
Impressively dark color is very promising, and this wine delivers the goods in many other respects as well.  The fruit is quite ripe and expressive both aromatically and in terms of flavor, showing a plum note as well as suggestions of both red and black cherries.  In overall terms, the wine is dense and deep and very pure, with moderate oak indicating minimalist winemaking that makes sense given the sheer deliciousness of the fruit, which will need a little time to develop secondary characteristics but has terrific and inner strength.  94

Paolo Scavino, Barolo “Bric dël Fiasc” 2008:  This is a very serious wine showing deep, dark color and excellent concentration, both of which seem to indicate admirably low crop yields.  Although it is already very expressive and deep in flavor, the fruit shows some restraint as well, with fine freshness and purity suggesting that the fruit was picked when perfectly ripe.  Oak is present but already quite well integrated, and in overall terms this is a complete and very, very well made wine.  94

Franco Conterno, Barolo “Pugnane” 2008:  This distinctive wine shows lots of personality, starting with sweet aromas recalling baking spices that lead into flavors that likewise show an alluring sweetness but also appealing savory notes and interesting leafy accents.  94

Cavallotto Tenuta Bricco Boschis, Barolo “Bricco Boschis” 2008:  Very dark and dense color and a thick, glass-coating appearance indicates what is in store from this wine, and from the glass it delivers the goods, with notable oak backed by masses of layered fruit.  It will need time to have a chance to become more complex, but this already shows huge fruit and very impressive potential.  94

Renato Ratti, Barolo “Conca” 2008:  Based on its exceptionally dark, deeply pigmented color, this wine stood out before I could even get my nose in the glass.  It followed through with excellent concentration and a very ripe profile, with fruit character that was just shy of stewed in character.  Dark fruit tones are sweet and opulent, and the notable oak framing is not overdone but rather just about perfect as a counterpoint for this remarkably rich wine.  94

Mauro Molino, Barolo “Vigna Conca” 2008:  This is one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted from Mauro Molino, showing terrific density and great power and persistence of flavor.  There’s plenty of structure to firm up the overall impression, but a superb abundance of fruit at the core of this wine is the real story, and quite impressive in the context of a vintage that is considerably more restrained in this regard than 2007 was.  94

Josetta Saffirio, Barolo “Millenovecento48” 2008:  This striking wine was the most deeply colored and flavored of a flight of very big wines, and yet its impressive power and intensity was not purchased at the price of over-ripeness or any harshness from over-extraction in the cellar.  The wood is likewise restrained and, considering the sheer beauty of the fruit in this wine, respectful.  94

Silvano Bolmida, Barolo “Vigne dei Fantini” 2008:
  The first word in my notes from the blind tasting was “Yikes,” and here is why:  This shows a huge, sweet, spicy nose and backs it up with amazing intensity and persistence of flavor.  There is plenty of wood in evidence, but the fruit sweeps away every other flavor component, showing just a touch of heat in the finish.  This is a wild ride.  94

Franco Conterno, Barolo “Bussia” 2008:  This is a charming wine with a lot of sneaky power concealed beneath its considerable charms.  Ripe and rounded and faintly reminiscent of black cherry liqueur, it shows accents of flowers and spices and a soft, sexy finish.  94

Simone Scaletta, Barolo “Chirlet” 2008:  A traditionally-styled wine featuring alluring scents of flowers, saddle leather and spices, this follows through with tender, deeply flavored fruit that is framed by fine-grained tannin.  Very ripe in character, but picked just in the nick of time to retain freshness and balance.  94

Armando Parusso, Barolo “Bussia” 2008:  This will take a little longer to come around than this bottling did in 2007 or even 2006, but the material is very strong.  Some aggressive notes drawn from new wood will take time to integrate with the fruit, but the dark, massive core of the wine is quite clearly up to the challenge.  93+

Paolo Scavino, Barolo “Monvigliero” 2008:  Notably deep color, this is impressive on looks alone, and the deep, sweetly fruity aromas are even more alluring than the wine’s appearance.  Ripe, rounded, textured palate impressions are more appealing still, and though this will need a few years to develop secondary aromas and flavors to lend it additional complexity, it is as safe a bet to achieve that as almost any Barolo from 2008 that I have tasted.  93

Mario Gagliasso, Barolo “Torriglione” 2008:  I regard 93 as an absolutely outstanding score, and yet this wine’s rating would be even higher if it did not seem faintly volatile and curiously over-developed for its age.  Nevertheless, it was one of the most dramatic wines of the hundreds shown at Nebbiolo Prima in 2012, exhibiting floral aromas, ripe red fruit, savory accents recalling carpaccio and wild mushrooms, and saline minerals that lend special interest to the finish.  There’s plenty of tannin in the mix, but successive waves of fruit hold it at bay quite effectively.  93

Crissante Alessandria, Barolo “Galina” 2008: 
This striking wine features a fabulous bouquet of earthy notes recalling damp earth, mushrooms, autumn leaves and fresh meat.  The fruit is open and sweet with faintly stewed notes, yet there’s notable acidity to freshen the overall impression.  This is a terrific rendition of a rather traditional style.  93

Marco Curto, Barolo “La Foia Arborina” 2008:  This shows beautiful color in both its shade and concentration, followed by open aromas with fresh, red-toned fruit that really rings true to the Arborina cru.  Accents of fresh flowers and new saddle leather are very appealing, and the fresh, vivid character of this wine will prove very pleasurable whether it is enjoyed young or in its full maturity.  93

Poderi Ruggeri Corsini, Barolo “San Pietro” 2008:
  Impressive and yet tasteful at once, this shows deep color and full body, but its structural components are so well integrated and its aromatic and flavor elements are so harmonious that it truly seems like a refined and even complete wine--which is very noteworthy at this early stage in its development.  93

Renato Ratti, Barolo “Marcenasco” 2008:
  Pietro Ratti turned in a terrific performance with his Barolos in the 2008.  This bottling shows dense pigmentation and impressively deep aromas and flavors rooted in dark-toned fruit.  Wood influence is subtle on the nose and more prominent on the palate, but she sheer energy of the fruit prevents any drying in the wine’s finish until the fruit has made a very lasting impression.  93

Vietti, Barolo “Brunate” 2008:  Still rather undeveloped, this brooding wine is packed with power and potential.  Dark color and impressive concentration show its seriousness, and relatively restrained oak lends attractive accents.  93

Brezza, Barolo “Bricco Sarmassa” 2008:  This is a very impressive wine, but it impresses less on the basis of sheer power than by its complexity and class.  Aromas are subtle but clearly defined, showing notes of wildflowers, eucalyptus, baking spices and ripe, red-toned fruit.  Oak is admirably restrained, permitting the admirably pure fruit notes to shine.  93

Mauro Veglio, Barolo “Castelletto” 2008:  Mauro Veglio’s wines are all supremely individuated from vineyard to vineyard, and this rendition from Castelletto is packed with powerful flavors and superb linear drive.  Spicy balsamic accents are very appealing, and the finish is sweet and supple despite the presence of abundant tannins.  93

Damilano, Barolo “Cannubi” 2008:  Quite ripe and soft for a 2008 rendition of Barolo from Cannubi, this is supple and soft, with just enough acidity to keep it in fresh form.  Much of the wine’s structure is derived from oak tannins, which are quite notable but very nicely tuned to the weight and character of the ripe fruit.  93

Casa E. di Mirafiore, Barolo “Paiagallo” 2008: 
This supremely sexy wine is ripe and rich and soft in texture, with luxurious fruit recalling red berries above all, but showing darker nuances as well.  Wood influence is quite subtle, which reflects very good decision-making in the cellar, as the fruit in this wine definitely deserves to hold center stage.  93

Bric Cenciurio, Barolo “Coste di Rose” 2008:  Floral and feminine, with very expressive red fruit notes recalling cherry and raspberry, this lovely wine is actually more suggestive of Barbaresco than Barolo.  Bright acidity and excellent inner energy make for a striking tasting experience, and though this is already a delicious, invigorating wine, it will surely become even more complex and interesting over the course of the next five years.  93

Cascina Bruciata, Barolo “Cannubi Muscatel” 2008:  This producer turns out superb Riserva wines, but this bottling demonstrates great skill with a more conventional ageing regimen as well.  The fruit is very ripe but just short of stewed in character, with predominantly red tones but some suggestions of black fruit around the edges, which are tinged with oak that is subtle and very well tuned to the weight and energy of the fruit.  93

Stroppiana Oreste, Barolo “San Giacomo” 2008:  Toasty, smoky aromas get this off to a striking start, and any suspense about whether the fruit will be up to the challenge of counterbalancing the oak is dismissed immediately upon sipping the wine, which is amply endowed with rich fruit.  Leafy, mushroomy complexities lend added interest.  93

Cascina Chicco, Barolo “Rocche di Castelletto” 2008:
  Sweet aromas of cherry liqueur are just about as alluring as they could be, and the wine’s flavors are exactly as sweet, supple and sexy as you’d guess from the aromas.  The finish is long and elegant, which is not to say that the wine isn’t intense or deeply flavored, but rather that the purity and naturalness of the wine is its leading impression.  93

Poderi Einaudi, Barolo “Costa Grimaldi” 2008:  I love the wines from this estate, and they almost always show very well even when I’m tasting blind and any favoritism is impossible.  This shows plenty of toasty oak and a light minty note underneath, followed by flavorful but focused fruit and a firm finish structured by spicy oak.  92

Silvio Grasso, Barolo “Bricco Luciani” 2008:  This excellent wine shows lovely color and a sweetly fruity bouquet, but the real fireworks show on the palate in the form of open, engaging flavors and ripe, rounded texture.  The finish is alluringly supple and admirably persistent.  92

Damilano, Barolo “Liste” 2008:  Quality has been surging at this estate in recent vintages, and this wine shows that the trend continues.  Fresh and pure, the fruit for this wine was clearly picked at perfect maturity, and the restraint shown with oak influence permits the delicious fruit to shine.  92

Marco Curto, Barolo “La Foia” 2008:  A big, ripe, highly expressive wine, this shows sweet red cherry fruit with an interesting backnote of mint.  Oak is minimal and the tannins are supple and fine in grain, and consequently the finish is soft and persistent.  92

Marcarini, Barolo “La Serra” 2008:
  Strikingly big, deep and earthy by comparison to recent vintages of this wine, this shows excellent complexity and abundant character.  Floral aromatic accents are especially interesting in the company of leathery notes, and the finish is firm but cushioned by the sheer abundance of fruit.  92

Marziano Abbona, Barolo “Pressenda” 2008:  This modern-style Barolo shows expressive ripe fruit and lots of smoky, spicy oak, but thankfully the balance between the two is so deftly orchestrated that the fruit isn’t overwhelmed but rather supported and augmented.  Very well made.  92

Pietro Rinaldi, Barolo “Monvigliero” 2008:  Stylish and yet very satisfying at once, this shows exceptionally interesting aromatics with notes of lavender, menthol, and autumn leaves, followed by deep flavors recalling red cherries and dark berries.  Rounded and generous, with restrained wood, this is already delicious but will improve for years to come.  92

Mario Marengo, Barolo “Brunate” 2008:  This is a big, masculine wine in all respects, showing powerful fruit and meaty complexities recalling carpaccio.  There’s very little overt wood to obscure the sheer muscularity of the fruit.  92

Castello di Verduno, Barolo “Massara” 2008:  Fresh, fruity aromas rise from the glass, showing dark cherry notes edged with a tasteful touch of spicy oak.  Firm but not astringent thanks to very fine-grained tannins, this is an exceptionally well-made wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared to improve for up to a decade.  92

Rocche Costamagna, Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2008:  This is a lovely, feminine release from this famous cru, showing soft fruit that is predominantly red in tone and delicate, nuanced aromas with floral and leafy notes.  Tannins are fine in grain, making for a wine that seems symmetrical in all important respects.  92

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Comments or Questions?  Write to me at [email protected]