The James Suckling Interview:

Act 2

The Wines:


Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino 1993

Giacomo Conterno makes two Barolos which are both from the Cascina Francia vineyard, one of the greatest vineyard sites in Piemonte. The vineyards were purchased by Conterno in 1974 and measure six hectares (approximately 12 acres.) Conterno traditionally makes the Cascina Francia in every vintage with exception of 2002 and only makes the second Barolo, Monfortino Riserva in exceptional years.


In those years, a selection of the best fruit is made in the Cacina Francia vineyard and that fruit becomes Monfortino Riserva. Monfortino Riserva is perhaps the most iconic wine in all of Barolo. The Monfortino is made exclusively with natural yeasts and the maceration last 4-5 weeks and is carried out without temperature control. Current vintages are aged 7 years in large oak barrels prior to release. Monfortino is legendary for its longevity which is not measured in years but decades.


To me the 1993 Monfortino Riserva was much more traditional in color and style. I guess you would expect that from a traditionalist. The color in the glass was a light garnet ruby. The 1993 vintage was not an exceptional year for Barolo producers; most of the Barolos are austere and have a hard edge but that is not the case here.


This wine, like all Conterno wines, is bottled without filtration or fining thus revealing the total picture of the terrior and Nebbiolo’s varietal character. On the nose there are autumn leaves, leather and dried concentrated black cherries and a nice balance of acidity and oak tannins. This wine was simply elegant and delicious. I would definitely drink it now as I thought it was the best wine of the four Barolo’s we tasted. But do not get me wrong, this wine still has 10-20 more years of age ability. WOW my eyes are wide open to Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, great even in an off vintage.


Bruno Giacosa Collina Rionda Barolo Riserva 1990

Bruno Giacosa is known for making legendary wines especially the wines that bear the “Red Label,” trademark of his reserve wines. Giacosa only makes the Riserva wines in the very best vintages and when he does make them they are legendary. Yes, legendary.


Most would say, as would I, that Giacosa is a traditional Barolo producer. But by the mid-1980’s, Giacosa began to move toward an enlightened traditional style using small French oak barriques instead of large traditional botti. Fermentation and barrel aging however remain very much within the framework of traditional winemaking, resulting in a mind blowing combination.


The 1990 Giacosa Collina Rionda Barolo Riserva had a beautiful yet light characteristically Barolo color, garnet colored turning to orange brick colored on the edges. For me this wine had an aroma of over-ripe fruit, almost like prunes and it was very pronounced. On the palette the wine had good balance between acidity, (still high) tannins and fruit. This wine was rich, dense, aromatic and fantastico. James chose this as his favorite wine and I notched it in as second place. I would drink this wine now or within the next 10 years. Cheers as always to Bruno Giacosa.


Angelo Gaja Costa Russi 1990
Angelo Gaja declassified his wines, so they are not technically Barolos. By doing so, he could add other varietals usually 2-4% to the Nebbiolo to enhance its quality and characteristics of his wines. Even though they are not technically Barolos they are almost always listed and tasted with the great Barolos of Piemonte.


The Costa Russi is the most new world of all the wines we tasted often resembling a French Chateauneuf du Pape or a big California Zinfandel.


The 1990 Costa Russi has all the tell-tale Nebbiolo characteristics. It’s very rich and has jammy black cherries, with rich oak tannins in the nose. Angelo Gaja was the first Piemontese producer to use French barriques instead of the large Botti that were traditionally used. This wine tasted slightly out of balance to me, and it seemed the oak treatment over shadowed the luscious fruit and crisp acidity that Nebbiolo usually offers. This wine was clearly a baby at 21 years of age. I would let this sit several more years, 8-10 before re-tasting. I rated this wine number 4 out of the Barolos we tasted. But remember as Verdoni says, this is a high end beauty contest and all of the wines are stunning; we are discussing the minutia amongst great producers and at the end, it’s personal taste. Some like ‘em blonde and some always fall for the brunette.


Roberto Voerizio Vecchie Viti dei Capalot e delle Brunate DOCG 2001

Roberto Voerizio produces some of the richest, deepest and most texturally beautiful Barolo in Piemonte. Voerizio is best known for his low yields. Twenty years ago the idea of green harvesting was still radical in Piemonte, a poor, agrarian region were cutting off bunches of grapes was seen as the equivalent of throwing away money. Voerizio was convinced otherwise and followed his instincts by pursuing this radical approach to low yields. Voerizio cuts bunches off his plants, to the point the rows between his vineyards are literally strewn with fruit. The bunches that remain are meticulously trimmed, particularly to the bottom and the sides of the bunch, where the harsher tannins are believed to lie. The typical triangular Nebbiolo bunch is trimmed into a small roundish bunch with yields that are the lowest in Piemonte and most of the world.


Voerizio also stepped away from tradition by using small oak barriques instead of the large botti which are so typical and very traditional of Barolo producers.


With all this said Roberto Voerizio’s Vecchie Viti dei Capalot e delle Brunate DOCG 2001, was the deepest in color of all the Barolos tasted, as expected; it is a testament to the low yields and tremendous concentration Voerizio achieves. The traditional brickish red color has been transposed by Voerizio into a glimmering dark almost ink colored wine; this is very unique coming from Nebbiolo grapes.


The nose had notes of aged balsamic and black cherry with exceptional fruit and vibrant fresh flavors. On the palate there was still a very tannic acidic quality (in a good way) that showed this wine’s youth. I think this wine is difficult to fully appreciate today, but it is beautifully made and has tons of aging potential. Cellar this wine for at least 10 more years. Just a note: when we drank this wine with food it really balanced out, if I was to drink this wine today it would be with a Hearty Roast, Osso Bucco or pasta with meat sauce and a sharp grated cheese. This wine I rated #3 for today and #1 for continued aging.


Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985

Everyone has a hallmark by which they measure things; I measure baseball by Babe Ruth, I measure women by Bo Derek in the movie 10, cars (that’s easy) a 1952 Ferrari Barchetta 512 and for Italian wine it can only be Sassicaia 1985.


I have had the pleasure of staying on the Tenuta San Guido Estate several times and each time I visit I get a clearer picture of how they created one of the greatest red wines ever made. Tenuta San Guido is located in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast about 5 miles from the ocean. The maritime weather and the excellent terrior allow them to grow some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the world. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia has won the coveted Tre Bicchieri Award 10 years in a row and I guess that tells you something about consistency.


This is the first wine that James Suckling rated 100 points while at the Wine Spectator and Antonio Galloni of the Wine Advocate followed by also rating Sassicaia 1985 100 points. So wouldn’t it be great to open this bottle and taste it 26 years later? Life is too short so we opened it up. But would it live up to our expectations????


James was afraid to taste it at first because of the wonderful memories he had of this wine tasting it from its inception and then on several occasions following its release. He did not want to be disappointed, but we all settled in and began to taste this incredible wine and believe me none of us were disappointed.


The wine had a majestic deep rich color, and fresh aromatics; I even smelled the sea. The wine had vibrant flavors on the palette; I tasted ripe plums, black fruits and casis with a balanced light oakiness and silky smooth tannins. This wine is truly elegant and deserving of 100 points. If you own this wine sip it slow I believe it has another 20 years to go.


James did make a confession: that he was sorry that he gave the wine 100 points upon release for it was better now and he could only rate it 100 plus!!!!



Enclosed are some pictures from the event, and as Warner Wolf says, “let’s go to the video tape,” you will have to wait and see the video for a full review of the interview and the tasting.


La Forza del Vino,


Comments are closed.