2004 Barolo Dinner at Zucca

Friday, 10th July 2015 by Alastair Woolmer

Prompted by Antonio Galloni’s recent review of 2004 Barolo on vinousmedia.com, I decided to organise a bring-a-bottle dinner with a few friends in the wine trade so that we could taste this vintage across the board. As far as I was concerned, there was only one fitting venue for such a tasting – the brilliant Italian restaurant, Zucca in Bermondsey. Before I report back on the wines tasted, a little bit of background on the 2004 vintage…

Galloni begins his article by stating that 2004 “confirms its status as one of the all-time great vintages for Barolo… a set of beautifully perfumed, layered Barolos that are built on class and finesse”. When he first tasted the 2004s back in November 2007, he noted that “the wines were stunning across the board. I loved the aromatics, the finesse and the length in the 2004s from the very beginning…The wines were simply inspiring”. Fast forward to today and Galloni is pleased to report that “with a few exceptions, the 2004s have turned out to be every bit as brilliant as I had hoped”.

The line-up of 11 Baroli in the order in which they were tasted.

That was enough to inspire me to do something about it and, a few phone calls and emails later, I had recruited a merry band of merchants for a 2004 horizontal dinner. Between the 10 of us, we assembled a line-up of 11 wines from nine different producers. Barolo producers generally fall into two camps: the ‘traditionalists’ and the ‘modernists’ so I decided to split the producers up into these two categories and serve them alphabetically by producer. I’ve included a few brief tasting notes from the evening below (along with Galloni’s scores as well).

The big revolution in Barolo came about when a new generation of winemakers who, instead of fermenting the wine on its tannin rich skins for one or two months, drastically shortened the process to weeks if not days. In addition to this, many of these revolutionaries started experimenting with smaller barriques, made from new French oak, in favour of the larger (up to 15,000 litre) botte, made from seasoned Slovenian oak. This resulted in a much fresher, fruit-driven but concentrated and darker style of Barolo than than had been made previously - a more ethereal and oxidative style, much lighter in hue. There is no right or wrong style; it is simply a matter of personal taste.

The delicious tasting menu created especially for the event.

The Whites

N.V. Franciacorta Brut, La Montina

Originating from the province of Lombardy, from vineyards in the hills outside of Brescia, Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to Champagne as it is made exclusively from Chardonnay (85%), Pinot Noir/Nero (10%) and Pinot Blanc/Bianco (5%). Much more serious and sophisticated than Prosecco. Dry, crisp and refreshing, this was a delicious wine to begin the evening. 16 points.

2011 Soave Classico La Rocca (magnum), Pieropan (92 points, Monica Larner)

Pieropan’s flagship, single vineyard wine and quite comfortably the best Soave I have ever tasted. It is always fermented in oak and has the intensity and concentration of a white Burgundy. The 2011 has a ripe nose of tropical fruit, in particular, melons. The palate is rich and full bodied with a creamy texture but finishes crisp and full of minerality. 17 points.

The Traditionalists

2004 Barolo Rocche, Brovia (96, AG)

A lifted nose of beautiful, pure red fruit and dried flowers. Classic textbook Barolo. Ripe and juicy on the palate with soft tannins. The vibrant acidity makes for a fresh finish. Almost ready to be drunk. 17.5 points.

2004 Barolo Villero, Brovia (96, AG)

Much cooler, fresher and tighter on the nose than the Rocche. A lot more structured and tannic too but it has much more richness, ripeness and intensity. A noticeable step up and a real stand-out in the flight. 18 points.

2004 Barolo Bussia, Giacomo Fenocchio

By contrast a lot less ripe, sweet or rich on the nose. Much more rustic but also comes across a bit volatile. On the palate this is immediately drying and tannic. This is real ‘old school’ Barolo and I think this will require real patience. 16 points.

2004 Barolo Brunate (magnum), Marcarini (91, AG)

Very nice nose of red fruits with some minty notes giving it lift. Pure fruit. A bit clunky right now. Vibrant acidity and a bit chewy. Classic traditional Barolo but lacking a bit of charm today. 16.5 points.

2004 Barolo Monprivato, Giuseppe Mascarello (96, AG)

A very ripe, almost caramelised, nose with some confected  red fruits. By contrast, the palate is still quite tight and chewy. This comes across very developed for its age and I wonder if this is a faulty bottle? A real pity because, when I have tried this in the past, it’s been fantastic. 15.5 points.

The Modernists

2004 Barolo Bricco Fiasco, Azelia (94, AG)

Wow, what a difference from the previous wines! A very modern nose – rich, ripe and opulent. Very fleshy and velvety on the palate. Plush and relatively soft tannins but firmly structured. 17.5 points.

2004 Barolo Bid ‘d Big (magnum), Rocche dei Manzoni (94, AG)

By contrast, much fresher and cooler but with hints of smoke and tar. A hint of varnish too. As the name suggests, a ‘big’ wine! Very serious too. 17 points.

2004 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio, Scavino (93, AG)

Much darker, richer and riper. A very intense, almost overripe nose. A hedonistic glass of wine. Starts off ripe and juicy but finishes very tannic and firm. Dense and intense with a big, long finish. One for the future. 17.5+ points.

2004 Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata, Scavino (97, AG)

The one and only Riserva wine of the evening, this had closed up somewhat since I last tasted it in early 2014. Very closed on the nose and hard to read at this stage. Super-concentrated and muscular on the palate but so rich, ripe and intense. A monster that needs another 10 years. 18.5 points.

Barolo Lazzarito, Vietti (95, AG)

This was one of my wines of the night. A lifted and concentrated nose. Classy wine. Rich and ripe but relatively paired back compared to the previous wines. An almost saline finish adds freshness. Nicely balanced given its intensity. 18 points.

2004 Barolo La Serra, Roberto Voerzio (94, AG)

Roberto Voerzio’s wine have attained cult status and prices to match. This has a ripe, almost overripe nose . Very rich and intense on the palate but very finely structured. A very impressive wine but one that is going to need a lot of time. 17.5 points

The hills of Barolo, home to these "stunning" wines

Having tasted through a cross-section of wines, the levels of concentration, power, purity and ripeness confirmed that this is a great vintage but the wines will be even better (not to mention more drinkable) in five to ten years’ time. For me, the more traditional wines will need time for the tannins and acidity to come into balance as, stylistically, they tend to have less ‘flesh’ on their bones and can come across a bit harsh or dry on the finish. On the other hand, the more modern styles will need time for the oak to integrate as these generally come across very ‘big’, tannic and concentrated at present.

At this relatively young stage in their lives, the more balanced of the modern wines generally come across more accessible and easier to taste (and this is, perhaps, reflected in my slightly higher scores for this flight). However, I must admit that the purity and elegance of the better made traditional wines really won me over and, if I had to pick, I would say that these were my overall favourites. But both have their merits and it is the stylistic differences that make these wines fascinating.

Sadly (but unsurprisingly) there are very few 2004s around today as the wines practically sold out on release – another tell-tale sign of a great vintage. If you already own some 2004s, you can rest assured that you have bought some truly stunning wines. If you don’t already, I would recommend that you acquire a few bottles for your cellar (we have a selection available here). I look forward to revisiting the 2004 Barolo vintage over many years to come.

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