Vintage Retrospective: The 1985 Barolos and Barbarescos
The subject of evaluating and rating vintages is one of the
favorite topics of discussion among Piedmont lovers, so the opportunity to
taste sixteen of the best 1985 Barolos and Barbarescos with a group of hardcore
New York Nebbiolo fans made for a truly special evening.
Many insiders describe the 1985 vintage as a turning point
for the wines. According to Luciano
Sandrone “1985 was in many ways the first ‘modern,’ hot vintage. The Barolos were uncharacteristically open
from the start and have remained accessible.”
Giacosa enologist Dante Scaglione says “1985 was the first vintage in
which we had wines with very high alcohol.
In fact, we wouldn’t see such alcohol levels in our wines again until
2003. I view 1985 as a vintage that is
ready to drink and one which will not be especially long-lived going
forward.” Roberto Conterno had a
slightly different take commenting that “I wouldn’t necessarily say our wines
were accessible from the beginning, however today the 1985s are very expressive
and it is a great vintage to drink today.”
Because of the hot growing season and early appeal of the
vintage, some have predicted that the wines would not age well. For the most part, I was amazed at how well
these Barolos showed. Many of the wines
displayed lively color, with rich, sweet fruit, and enough underlying structure
to provide balance. While the wines as a group are mature, any suggestion that
they are falling apart is simply not borne out by this tasting. How long will the wines last? That is a hard question to answer, since
provenance is such a huge variable, but I think it is safe to say that for many
of these wines well-stored bottles have another decade of life ahead, and
perhaps more. These 1985s offer great
drinking today in a more accessible, softer style than either 1982 or 1989, the
other two great vintages from the 1980s.
Unfortunately we also had a few bad bottles, which I suppose
is to be expected in a tasting like this, although the percentage of
corked/cooked bottles was higher than we would have liked (around 25%). When these wines were first released fifteen
years ago there simply wasn’t the kind of attention to temperature-controlled
shipping that we have today and several wines appeared to have been damaged by
excess heat at some point in their lives.
The biggest lesson here for consumers is that there is no substitute for
buying these wines on release and cellaring them. Doing so is the only reliable way to minimize
the possibility of some very expensive disappointments at a later date.
The wines were double-decanted and served blind in flights
of four. The identity of the wines was
revealed only after all of the wines had been tasted and discussed. Tasting these wines blind with a group of
passionate and knowledgeable Barolo fans was a great learning experience, but
also a humbling one. Mature Barolos are
wines of extraordinary complexity and can fool even the most seasoned palates,
as we would be reminded throughout the evening.
After the formal tasting was concluded, we enjoyed a
delicious dinner, and finished off what was left of these spectacular
wines. We also tasted Prunotto’s 1985
Barolo Bussia, which was fresh, youthful, and delicious, although it didn’t
quite reach the level of the best wines on this evening. A great bottle of Bruno Giacosa’s 1986 Barolo
Riserva Falletto followed, and it was one of the best wines of the night,
prompting some of the tasters to wonder if this producer may have been more
successful in 1986 than 1985. The
evening closed with the outrageous 1983 Recioto from Giuseppe Quintarelli. While I don’t have enough experience with
this wine to put it into the proper context, I will say that it was
breathtaking for its complexity, balance, and sheer appeal. At age 22 it appeared to be magically
youthful, and my sense is that this is a wine whose aging potential is to be
measured in decades rather than years.
Mascarello Barolo—Medium red. What a way to start the evening. Mascarello’s Barolo offers a beautiful nose
of spices and menthol that is just starting to reveal more evolved notes. It is dense on the palate, with suggestions
of rich red fruit, menthol and cocoa balanced by noble tannins which provide
just the right amount of balance, and closing with an extraordinary finish that
conveys a sense of freshness. A terrific showing. 95 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Giuseppe Rinaldi
Barolo Brunate Riserva—Medium red.
The Rinaldi appears to be more evolved, with suggestions of leather and
tobacco on the nose. It is an accessible
wine that offers notable concentration in its rich, ripe red fruit flavors and
soft, velvety texture, with an indescribably beautiful, ethereal finish that
makes me want to taste this again and again.
Perhaps fooled by this wine’s super-rich, sweet fruit, I guessed this to
be a modern Barolo…and I was not alone.
One of the most surprising and enjoyable wines of the night. 96 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Altare Barolo
Arborina—Lively red. This wine
stands in stark contrast to the other wines in the flight. It is also one of the revelations of the
evening. Altare’s Barolo surprises for
its incredibly fresh, attractive nose of roses, spices, vanilla, and toasted oak. It is a lush, concentrated, fruit-driven
Barolo, with generous amounts of dark red cherry, tar, and menthol
flavors. Still somewhat backward, it is
also one of the most youthful wines of the tasting. While today modern and traditional styles
have begun to converge, tasting these four wines side by side gives a very
clear idea of how shocking the modern Barolos must have seemed 20 years
ago. A great effort. 97 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Marcarini Barolo
La Serra—Medium red with orangeish tones.
The nose is evolved and slightly oxidized. Stewed prune, earth and meat flavors dominate
this fully mature wine, which has seen better days. 80 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva—Medium red. The Santo Stefano is one of the most complete
wines of the evening. It shows and
outrageous, well-delineated nose of alcohol, roses, tar, licorice, and
macerated cherries that continues to open in a never-ending display of sensations
and aromas. Deceptively medium-bodied,
the Santo Stefano is packed with masses of concentrated dark fruit, with superb
length great overall balance, closing with a fresh finish that suggests it will
continue to provide much enjoyment for years to come. Some tasters, myself included, mistook this
for the Barolo Falletto. 98 points/drink
now-, tasted 10/05.
1985 Bruno Giacosa
Barolo Falletto Riserva—Cloudy medium red.
The Falletto shows a delicate, mature nose of spices, tobacco, and
fruitcake. It is ethereal on the palate
yet also massive and dense, with plenty of stewed fruit on a long, sustained
frame with good grip and a long finish.
This is an enjoyable wine, but it is also more advanced than I would
have expected, and does not appear to be a great bottle. 92? points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Angelo Gaja
Barbaresco Sorì Tildin—Very dark ruby.
The Sorì Tildin presents a stark contrast to other wines in the flight
in its super-ripe, concentrated style.
The aromatics are somewhat muted.
This seems to offer outstanding potential, although the fruit is
dominated by an unyielding wall of new oak.
Every now and then spice, tar and licorice nuances emerge, but my
overall impression is of a wine imprisoned by an excessive amount of oak. 92 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Brovia Barolo
Monprivato—Dark ruby. Brovia’s
stunning, youthful Monprivato is another of the evening’s highlights. It shows a potent, alcoholic nose along with
layers of dark, concentrated fruit that coat the palate. Readers who enjoy a more masculine,
authoritative style will love this intensely satisfying, rich, full-bodied
Barolo. A wine I came back to often
during the evening, this is a fascinating as well as engaging effort. Although it shows very little typicity of
Monprivato, (I thought it was Monfortino) it is an astonishing effort
nonetheless. 97 points/drink now-,
1985 Giacomo Conterno
Barolo Riserva Monfortino—Conterno’s Monfortino is a soft, accessible wine,
showing notes of macerated cherries and alcohol on a medium bodied frame with
fairly good length and freshness.
Unfortunately we didn’t have great luck with the Conterno wines and this
bottle was not representative of what this tremendous wine usually offers. (see Issue 3 and 4) 92 points/drink now-,
Mascarello Barolo Monprivato—Medium red.
Monprivato comes across as understated, as no element of the wine in
particular stands out. The nose is
beautiful, but not especially expressive.
On the palate though, this wine really blossoms, displaying much
delicate, sweet red fruit with tremendous harmony and superb length. It is delicious today, but shows a fair
amount of tannins and overall structure which suggests that well-stored bottles
will provide much drinking pleasure for another decade or more. An astonishing wine for its sheer purity and
elegance, it is also much more typical of the Monprivato vineyard than the
Brovia wine tasted alongside it. 96
points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Vietti Barolo
Rocche—Medium ruby. The Rocche is
another stunning wine which seems impossibly young in its beautiful, fresh nose
of roses and spices. It offers plenty of
sweet, concentrated fruit with much harmony and superb length in a style that
bridges traditional and modern. A
compelling effort. 95 points/drink now-,
1985 Aldo Conterno
Barolo Granbussia—Dark ruby. The Granbussia comes across as a bit more
evolved, with a nose that suggests spices and stewed fruits. The tannins are mostly resolved, and this
wine is soft and expressive in its rich prune and plum flavors, with terrific
overall harmony. It appears to be a wine
to drink sooner rather than later. 94
points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Luciano Sandrone
Barolo Cannubi Boschis—Dark ruby.
Sandrone’s Cannubi Boschis is spiced on the nose, with suggestions of
toasted oak, vanilla, and menthol. It is
utterly irresistible, showing tremendous purity and vibrancy in its ripe sweet
fruit, with superb length and a clean, fresh finish. A wine that marries modern tastes with
classic structure, Sandrone’s 1985 is a superb Barolo which has aged
gracefully, but still has much prime drinking ahead of it. 96 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05
1985 Ceretto Bricco
Rocche Barolo Bricco Rocche—Dark ruby.
Ceretto’s Bricco Roche shows somewhat evolved notes of tobacco, leather
and beef bouillon on the nose. It is
rich and dense on the palate, with plenty of stewed fruit flavors in a
delicate, classic style. A very beautiful
wine with a great sense of proportion, and which is at maturity today. 93 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05