Last Wednesday, I attended a Winetasters Society of Toronto tasting featuring Barolos from the 1997 vintage. When first released, the 1997 Barolos were highly praised by many critics for their ripeness and approachability at such a young age. It was interesting to taste these wines now at 12 years old, but I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. I have fallen in love with many Barolos in my life, but I can’t say many of these even made my heart skip a beat.
The 1997 growing season in the Barolo region in Piedmont, Italy was hot and dry. The hot, dry weather started in early January and continued through to the harvest. Budding was 20 to 30 days earlier than usual. Rain in June replenished depleted water levels and July, August, and September continued to be hot. The water supply was again replenished with occasional rain storms in August.
As a result of the weather the Nebbiolo grapes had uncharacteristic low acidity and high sugar levels which produced atypical Barolos with overripe flavours and aromas. While Wine Spectator gave the vintage a near perfect score of 99 out of 100, the growers and producers don’t consider it to be such a great year. Danilo Drocco, winemaker for Fontanafredda says that the 1997 vintage is not a great vintage and is not for long aging. In fact, Fontanafredda bottled only about half of its normal production in 1997. Click here for notes on the Fontanafredda Serralunga d’Alba Barolo Vertical Tasting.
From what I tasted the other night, I can see that the wines are not aging as gracefully as Barolos of some other vintages (1990, 1999). A word that keeps coming to mind when I think about the wines is “muddy”. There seemed to be a lack of focus and purity in the wines, and the beautifully complex aromas of rose petals, violets, spice, red fruit, and tar, typical for Barolo, were not evident in many of them. Now, don’t get me wrong, these wines weren’t bad (in fact some were very tasty), many of them just weren’t what I expect a Barolo to be.
My favourite wine of the tasting was Giovanni Corino Vigna Giachini Barolo. Vigna Giachini is a vineyard in the La Morra area in the northwestern section of Barolo. Wines from this area are usually very aromatic and perfumed. The 1997 has intense aromas of black licorice, dark fruit, spice cake, and tar. It has a velvetty, mouth-filling texture with flavours of spicy dark fruit and a lingering finish. I thought this wine was the most complex of all of them.
Fratelli Revello Barolo 1997 was my second favourite wine of the tasting. It was a beautiful mahogany colour with pronounced aromas of black cherry, strawberries, licorice, spice, and….rose petals and violets. The wine was quite concentrated with firm tannins and good acidity. Flavours of spice, cherry, and roses filled the palate and the finish was long and pleasant.
The next several wines are in no particular order.
M. Marengo Brunate Barolo 1997: Brunate is also a directly south-facing vineyard located in the La Morra region of Barolo. Many producers make denser than average wines from this site, but I’m afraid this isn’t one of them. This wine had medium intense aromas of chocolate, licorice, earth, and stewed dark fruit. I found it a bit thin on the palate – almost watery. There were flavours of cherry and dark fruit and fuzzy tannins.
Fratelli Revello Vigna Giachini Barolo 1997: This wine seemed very closed at the moment, but I could pick out aromas of earth, mint, and a somewhat savoury note. The spicy palate had a smooth texture with an almost salty finish.
Azelia Barolo 1997: Aromas of licorice, chocolate, tea, plum skin, and orange peel. There were flavours of silky red fruit, but the length was disappointingly short. It just disappeared.
Mauro Molina Barolo 1997: A very spicy nose of cloves and nutmeg, dark fruit, roast beef and a slight barnyardy character. This wine had higher acid than some of the others giving it a more angular texture. Lots of spice, dark fruit and earth flavours on the palate. I liked this wine.
Seghesio La Villa Barolo 1997: Spicy aromas of allspice and cloves, coffee, and rubber. Big, fuzzy tannins on the palate with flavours of stewed dark cherries and chocolate.
Mauro Veglio Vignetto Arborina 1997: A distinct rubbery, band aid note with aromas of licorice, chocolate, and coffee. On the palate it had an angular texture with tart red fruit. Unfortunately, the band aid flavours followed through onto the palate and lingered too long on the finish.