The Magnum Society of Wellington met for their 42nd AGM a few weeks ago. That same night they also took a look at the 2004 vintage from Barolo and Barbaresco. I was an invited guest to the Piedmont tasting led by John Comerford.
The Magnum Society is described by Raymond Chan as Wellington’s premier wine enthusiasts’ club. Geoff Kelly is able to expand upon this by elaborating on the societies beginnings in 1972, “It came together as a result of wine tastings and classes presented initially by John Buck now of Te Mata Estate, and continued by Michael Morris, a co-founder with John of Te Mata. Society activities have continued to centre on tastings of classic wine styles from around the world, and the keeping of a cellar to facilitate the tasting of such wines when they have some maturity.”
John Comerford started by introducing the vintage – “2004 in Piedmont has been characterised as one of the best vintages ever, the vintage of a lifetime even. Cool spring temperatures delayed flowering and ensuring an abundance of fruit. The remainder of the season was dry and warm allowing grapes to ripen gradually resulting in a perfect balance of phenolics, acidities and sugars.”
When looking at these wines there is a single theme that comes back again and again – that at ten years old, these wines are just babies. Most of them are still going through teething problems and although they are bursting with potential they will bring far greater enjoyment at some stage in the future. This can be seen when looking back at the comments made by others on the night as well as looking at my own notes. A single wine can be at once described as lacking personality and in the next breath being a fruit bomb with quite intense expression. There were two bottles of each wine and so the experience was going to be divided throughout the group depending on if you got bottle A or B of each wine. But even within my own notes there was a huge range of experience seen in these little glasses. Some were shy and slow to open but once they did they were rather powerful. Others were upfront and possibly a bit overwhelming but then with a bit more time in glass that could all blow off leaving a tighter underbelly to the wine. I would love to see most of these again when they’ve matured into themselves some more.
Spoiler alert: the 2004 Clerico Barolo Ginestra was crowned wine of the night, followed closely by both the 2004 Gaja Barbaresco and the 2004 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Vigna Enrico VI.
The wines comprise:
2004 Gaja Barbaresco
Historical cost/bottle $255
Gaja is a family producer fronted by Angelo Gaja, the great-grandson of Giovanni Gaja who founded the label in 1859. This makes them one of the oldest producers in Barbaresco. When Angelo took over the company he began to revolutionise wine making in the region and he is considered a modernist in a traditional region. They are flamboyant and successful with very high prices to match. Gaja Barbaresco DOCG is the flagship wine from Gaja as 100% Nebbiolo from 14 vineyard sites across 100 hectares within the Barbaresco zone. The 2004 Gaja Barbaresco would have spent 14 months in oak barriques, mostly new. Gaja has also since diversified into Brunello and Tuscany.
There was an expectation that the Baja would be one of the highlights of the evening. This is why wines should be tasted blind, the prestigious name paired with an intimidating price tag can attract both praise and criticism before any product is even sampled. By happy coincidence the wine lived up to it’s reputation. Collecting more gold awards than any other wine on the night. The palate was better prepared to show-off its beauty with the nose being a bit shut down. There was a general sense of tar and strawberries on the nose with more clearly defined flavours of liquorice, cinnamon spice, dried roses and chocolate on the palate. Very richly textured, the tannins were very forward and smooth with a bit of sharpness on the finish. It’s expected that this wine will just keep improving.
2004 Sottimano Barbaresco Reserva
Historical cost/bottle $139
The Sottimano family winery was founded in 1975 by Maggiore Sottimano with the purchase of the cellar and vineyards in the Cottà area. Now run by Rino Sottimano the estate has expanded to include other prestigious vineyards in the area, including their top tier Currà vineyard, for a total 18 hectares. All wines are produced from very low yields, the 2004 late release reserva produced only about 175 cases. The wines spend 24-30 months in French barrique maturation, 25% new. The trend at Sottimano shows a move towards more natural processes with the vineyards being treated using eco-friendly products.
In preparation for the tasting I looked at the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco. Barolo is the older of the two and traditionally carries with it the better reputation, especially when it comes to ageing. Barbaresco soils are richer in nutrients, which puts less strain on the vines and they’re generally characterised as having lighter tannins and therefore less potential for ageability. Where Barolo is tar, Barbaresco is rose petals. The roses were definitely there and although looking back at my notes I wouldn’t call this a pretty wine (as I expected from Barbaresco), when seen alongside its peers, it’s one of the more handsome wines for sure. The wine opens with a lot of primary aromas and a dominant oak character. My first impression of the Sottimano was that the wine was very youthful with clean notes of sour cherry and plenty of roses. Later impressions, having cycled through the flight a few times, had far more evolution coming through with descriptors like dried herbs, oregano, dark brambly fruits and underbrush, still the oak continues to dominate. The tannins are huge with a silky texture but a noticeably lighter body.
And from Barolo
2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra
Historical cost/bottle: $139
Very much a modernist producer the Domenico started as a smallholding initially at Mt Forte with 21 hectares. The focus was on grape growing but quickly shifted to winemaking. Today its most prized site is a 5.5 hectare Grand Cru site at Ginestra with a SE aspect and low yields with an annual production of about 2000 cases. During vinification the grapes are macerated on the skins for 10 days in a rotary fermentor that helps to expedite the pumping over process thus taking the fermentation forward and thereby increasing the colour extraction. This is finished off with a 24-30 month fermentation in French barriques, 80% new, 20% used once.
This wine was very adequately summed up with, ‘this is a wine for the future.’ My notes reflect something very similar, if less eloquent. Very deeply coloured with prominent tannin and acidity the structure and balance of the wine is very sound and it will easily live to shine another day. Focused, sharp, substantial. The perfume was coiled up tightly, with only hints of the future beauty to be held in the wine. That the tannins aren’t overwhelming is the only indication that there’s fruit on the palate. This wine was named wine of the night. Looking at what others were saying about the wine at the time, this award is a testament to the vast potential held by the Ginestra.
2004 Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Vigna Enrico VI
Historical cost/bottle: $110
Cordero di Montezemolo is a modernist producer principally in La Morra that was held continuously through 16 generations, from 1340 until 1941, when one branch of the family tree ended and was passed to the closest eligible heir Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo the father of the current owner Giovanni Cordero di Montezemolo. The Barolo Enrico VI comes from a single small holding with only 2.2 hectares sitting at an elevation of 310m. The wine undergoes a 6-10 day maceration in stainless steel with an additional 10-12 days of fermentation before spending 24-26 months in small French barrique where it undergoes malolactic fermentation.
The wine opens with sweetly perfumed cherries, roses and plum. The fresh and primary aromas mature nicely in the glass to reveal tar, forest floor and some earthiness. The Enrico VI is quite soft and smoothly textured, lighter bodied with prominent, drying tannins and a rich finish. Well integrated with an elegant blend of cherry, plenty of florals and more savoury flavours on the palate. The more I see it the more I like it, understandably it ranked in the top three on the night. All seems very classically Barolo that will continue to age well.
2004 Marcarini Barolo Brunate
Historical cost/bottle: $79.99
Marcarini has been a family owned estate with five generations of winemakers since 1958. They are a traditionalist producer ageing their wines in Slovenian oak, however, the wine will show negligible oak flavour, instead the medium-sized oak barrels allows for a slow oxidation. The nebbiolo grapes used to make the Brunate come from 4.5 hectares in the La Morra and Barolo zones sitting on a SSW aspect at a 315m elevation. The wines are moderately priced.
The Brunate wasn’t having the best night as it was showing oxidation over any kind of fruit or florals. There’s too much oak that’s spiking out from the oxidative elements. Beyond this, the wine is lightly coloured and thin bodied with unevenly high, drying tannins. I can find chocolate and tar when I go looking for it but it’s largely uninteresting. It sticks out like the sore thumb of the tasting. Those who got a different bottle saw enough fruit to help the wine recover from it’s less attractive qualities and many still scored the wine silver or higher.
2004 Veglio Barolo Rocche dell Annunziata
Historical cost/bottle: $98.66
A young modernist producer with a family farming history. The farm encompasses 12 hectares in total, the 2004 Veglio Barolo Rocche dell Annunziata tasted is from Rocche at 0.5 hectares. This is one of three crus of Barolo in La Morra with a SSE exposure and an altitude of 300 meters above sea-level. There’s an annual production of approximately 150 cases. The grapes are macerated on the skins for 7-10 days in rotary fermenters, after the primary fermentation the wine is put into French barriques, 80% new for 24-30 months. It is then bottled without fining and filtration.
The colour is one of the darker and fuller ones. The wine shows a soft red plum perfume with something a little candied. The wine is showing some decay. There’s a heavy, drying tannin character with a pronounced smoky quality from the oak. Roses and violets on the palate with hints of tar . Others saw volatile acidity, but this must have been from the other bottle as I didn’t find that at all. Most of my descriptors show a very medium wine, medium body, acidity and length, medium aromatic and flavour intensity. A pleasing wine that deserved its majority silver rating