The tasting group has reformed now that harvest and the holidays are over. Our first event of 2007 featured Vietti Barolo from the Lazzarito vineyard in the Piemontese town of Serralunga d’Alba.
Lazzarito has been described at the most modern Barolo in the Vietti line up in part for its barrique aging, something I didn’t know at the outset of the tasting. The élevage became pretty obvious as we moved through the wines.
Typically I favor Barolo and Barbaresco of a more “traditional” style, with longer skin contact during fermentation and aging in large, old oak Botti that allow for the right amount of oxidation without the toasty, woody influence of young, small barrels.
Of course rules have their exceptions, and these Lazzarito wines were certainly impressive and delicious despite some obvious oak. These are wines built to age and they are clearly of high quality. I suspect time will allow the elements to integrate further, though at the $80-$100 price per bottle, I also suspect I won’t have any to find out for myself.
To start, we tried an oddity, the 2005 J.M. Raffault Chinon Blanc, made from 100% chenin blanc in this Loire appellation known for its red wines of cabernet franc. This was clean and fresh, more sauvignon in character with a gooseberry edge that seemed a little manufactured, but overall it’s nice wine. I know others who love this wine more than I do.
Then we poured five vintages of Vietti Barolo Lazzarito. We began with the 1995 and this, I hope, was damaged somewhere along the way. The color wasn’t unusual, with a rusting if slightly brownish cast. Aromatically the wine seemed tired, and even though it opened to show hints of cherries, fenel and menthol, it never lost the dead leaf, papery quality of oxidation. It wasn’t corked. In the mouth, the same story. Some drying fruit flavors with brown spices and cigar tobacco, but tannic and a bit sour. Many in the group liked this wine, but this tasted damaged to me.
Next, the 1998, with a slightly darker blood red color that still hints at rust. This wine showed a clear sweet oak aroma, but with air gained lots of interesting cherry, brown spice, cooked meat, pepper and fenel aromas. In the mouth, the wine seemed more mature in flavor than its fresh, tannic structure suggested, but this is still a baby and I think it will age well. Still, it wasn’t as good as others that followed.
Then came the 1999, slightly ligher in color than the 1998 with its own hint of rust. The wine smelled of plastic at first, but developed a deep and intense fragrance that showed similar qualities of brown spice, cherries, and a hard to define melange of earthy, meat, and leather elements. Some tasters picked up an unappealing band-aid like brett aroma, but I found this wine quite attractive overall and wasn’t put off by the slight uncleanliness. In the mouth, it was ripe, round, even plush in texture with grippy tannin in the middle and finish combined with an already delicious bottle sweetness. Greath length, just terrific modern-styled Barolo once it had a chance to breathe.
The 2000 showed the roasted quality of this hot vintage, with a similar color to the 1998 and a complex roasted sweet cherry, leather, pepper and juniper aroma, and clearly a whiff of alcohol. In the mouth, it was tannic, roasted and powerful but still excellent, more Chateauneuf du Pape-like than most Barolo and showing some heat, but again just delicious. In my subsequent research about this wine, I found a note from review Steve Tanzer suggesting that Aldo Currado from Vietti finds the Lazzarito vineyard Chateauneuf-like “in terms of its ripeness and dark fruit flavors.” Interesting, it shows here for sure. This is extreme, but I like it plenty.
Finally, the 2001 that naturally had the most youthful color of the line up with an oaky milk chocolate element that turned out to be nicer than it might sound, blended into a high toned but still rich aroma. Got that? This wine showed more typcial nebbiolo floral character than any other wine here. What a gorgeous perfume that seemed to benefit from the barrique aging. In the mouth it was tight, tight, tight, more wound than any other wine here but so impressive with red berry, even cranberry notes amid the darker, earthy profile typical of all of these wines. This was my favorite wine but it’s all potential.
In sum, these were some terrific wines that make me think a little differently about small oak aging for nebbiolo. While I still wouldn’t choose to do that myself, there’s no denying that these wines are both “modern” and clearly of Barolo and clearly of one fine site. Just wish I could afford some.