Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 60: a second Borgogno Barolo Riserva vertical

I owe Borgogno a considerable debt. It was a vertical of their wines that definitively helped me to understand the capacity of Nebbiolo to age positively for decades. This was well before I researched and wrote my The Wines of Piemonte. There were undoubtedly other influences that led me to choose Piemonte over Tuscany or Campania and Basilicata, the other regions on my shortlist. These included the range of major and (it turned out) less well-known varieties that it grows; its sparkling wine, both traditional method and tank method; the hugely under-regarded white wines; and probably I should add ease of travel to it and, last but not least, its sophisticated cuisine.

Nebbiolo, a truly great grape variety

However, undoubtedly a major reason was and is the genuine greatness of wines made with Nebbiolo. I love them in various phases. Young wines such as Langhe DOC Nebbiolo, Roero, Albugnano and Alto Piemonte would be my dessert island wine. If I had to drink just one wine for the rest of my life, these are wines I would happily drink every day. These wines deliver all the extraordinary purity and aromatic range of Nebbiolo without the complications of ageing: the rose to violet floral notes, the red cherry to dark plum fruit and hints of hay, green leaf, herbs and earthiness. The flavours are elevated by racy acidity and lively tannins.  But all this is just the beginning. The classic tertiary flavours of tobacco, liquorice, balsamic and perhaps even truffle are the product of long ageing in the bottle. Astrum’s London tasting of Borgogno Barolo Riserva held in 2016 helped me understand that this is a wine that can age for decades. For my notes on one wine from each of the last six decades, see my earlier post here. In November 2023, I have the privilege of a second Borgogno Barolo Riserva vertical.

In November 2023 I visited Borgogno, situated in the village of Barolo, to taste some more recent vintages. (Though ‘recent’ in Borgogno is a relative term.) The company has long had a policy of putting away large numbers of bottles, especially of its Barolo Riserva, for the long haul. Today the wine is made with selected fruit from the MGAs Fossati, Liste and Cannubi. All the fruit is destemmed and pressed. Fermentation is in concrete, post-fermentation maceration is for 40 days and the wine is aged for nearly six years in oak. In good years, 15,000 bottles are made and just 1,000 are released initially.

The vintages they chose for me to taste were 2016, 2014, 2013, 2008 and 2005, to which they added 1982.

The recent vintages

Borgogno have fun naming their Riserva wines each year. Not surprisingly, the 2016 was called Standing Ovation. It showed an outstandingly elegant and complex nose, a real finesse on the palate and very fine tannins. It fully lived up to the stellar reputation of the 2016 vintage. The 2014 was called Let’s Do It. It was a challenging wet and cool year. Many wineries did not make Riserva wines in that year and some even declassified Barolo to Langhe Nebbiolo. But severe selection and access to top vineyards meant that some did make a Riserva. The most salient feature here was the relatively slender body of the body and lightness of the fruit. But there were still cranberry-to-red cherry aromas and some early tertiary forest floor and savoury notes, accompanied by a rather drying, firmly tannic finish. After the very ripe vintages of recent years, this was Barolo as it used to be. The 2013 was called Two Popes, to mark the year that Pope Benedict XVI resigned and was followed by Pope Francis. The wine reflected its classic, restrained year: excellent fruit density, fine persistent tannins, a very savoury finish and great potential for long ageing.

Older vintages

The 2008 was perhaps the least expressive in this line up. It had a very sweet fruit core but was not that aromatic. The tannins were resolved reflecting a wine that was 15 years old. It would be interesting to see how this wine develops further. The 2005 was dominantly leather and menthol with cool fruit expression; the tannins were crunchy. If anything, this tasted older than the 1982, see below. By contrast, the 2004 showed everything you would want in an early fully mature Barolo: intensity on the nose, ripe savoury fruit with overtones of tea leaf and spice with fully resolved tannins.

To complete a second Borgogno Barolo Riserva vertical, the 1982 was a real treat from a great year. Pure garnet in colour, a remarkably fresh nose, very finely-knit ethereal aromatics, developed red fruit. A long, super smooth mid-palate, but with a fine tannic structure. Those who think that Barolo should be drunk when it is fully mature may have a point with great vintages.

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