16 January 2008

Barolo Tasting

Every once in a while I am fortunate enough to taste wines outside of my usual sub-$30 beat. Mike Whitfield, local food/wine guru and longtime family friend, gave me a call this past weekend and asked if I wanted to taste some Barolos, including those up to 40 years old. He didn't have to beg me.

Sunday we met up at the Brooks Museum of Art to join around a dozen others for a tasting of 16 Barolos ranging in vintage from 1967 to 1985, with one 1996 thrown in for good measure. The tasting was hosted and guided by Mary Lynn and Tom Cassidy, who provided a wealth of background information on the various producers and vintages. I would copy all that here, but it would become a book and not a blog post.

I'm not going to provide details on all of these, but will point out a few notes in general. The 20-year old Barolos were dark red, and still fairly bold. As they moved back to the 30- and 40-year old flights, the color got lighter and more orange, providing sort of a brick color. Most still had firm acidity. Some had passed their prime, most others were delightful. All were decanted and allowed to breathe for about an hour and a half before serving.

For those wanting more information on the Barolo region (northwest Italy/Nebbiolo grape), here's a decent summary. And here's Lettie Teague on the Barolo Wars between the traditionlists and the modernists.

The food was out of this world, and it was fun to try the different wines on their own and with the various courses. By the last course you had seventeen glasses in front of you spanning 30 years.

Flight 1:
1967 Giuseppe Marbarini
1967 Bersano
1967 Monforte Massolino Mascarello e Figlio
1967 Terre del Barolo Falletto Reserva

Course 1: grilled baby octopus with fingerling potatoes. Baby octopus is one of my favorite ingredients in the world, and I was overjoyed to see it on my plate.

Note: Drinking several wines from this year was a real treat. When those grapes were picked, my parents were in high school and the moon landing was still two years away. I like to think of the rain that fell in Italy, traveled up the roots, plumped up the grapes, and eventually found its way into that bottle. Forty years later, the voyage of those raindrops continued into my glass.

Flight 2:
1968 Ferruccio Nicolello
1970 Ferruccio Nicolello
1970 Pio Cesare

Course 2: dates stuffed with sweet sausage and wrapped with bacon, risotto, surrounded by chestnut soup. Heavenly. The sweet/salty/savory combination was amazing, and the chestnut soup was a unique addition to the dish.

Flight 3:
1978 Terre del Barolo Falletto Reserva
1978 Pio Cesare
1978 Giovanni Scanavino (my favorite, thanks mostly to the beautiful cedar chest nose)
1978 Massolino Vigna Rionda

Course 3: lamb ribeyes, ravioli stuffed with sweetbreads, spinach, and pomegranate au jus. The ribeyes were tiny but full-flavored, and the ravioli were delicate and mild.

Flight 4:
1982 Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa
1982 Pio Cesare (a clear favorite of the group)
1985 Pio Cesare
1985 Terre del Barolo Falletto Reserva
1985 Massolino Vigna Rionda
1996 Cannubi (provided an excellent younger benchmark to better understand the older wines)

Course 4: Barolo-braised short ribs with olives and gnocchi drizzled with a basil purée. By far the lightest and most delicate gnocchi I've ever eaten, and the meat was fork-tender.

Note: While I've got a few fragmentary memories of 1979 forward, the period of 1982-1985 is pretty vivid for me. Six to nine was a fun age, full of Legos and building forts and church baseball and riding bikes all day long.

I've used this phrase in the past, but sitting down with great wines over a couple of hours is an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The Brooks is hosting a number of wine-related events in the next several months as part of The Art of Good Taste 2008. These tastings and auctions are a great way to experience some fantastic wine as well as support the oldest and largest art museum in the Volunteer State.

1 comment:

Big Mike said...

Ben,

Great summation of the event and I agree the food was as special as the wine. Glad you had a good time. Hopefully we can do it again sometime.