Revisiting Vintage 2000 Barolo

I had an unexpected encounter with the millennial vintage of Barolo recently. For reasons too annoying to go into here, I had to move and rearrange all the wines in my off-premises storage. In doing so, I came across a whole case of vintage 2000 wines – miscellaneous Tuscans and Barolos – that I had completely forgotten I had.

We’re in flabbergast city here, folks: Despite the Wine Spectator’s notoriously dubbing it the vintage of the century, I was never very fond of 2000 Barolo and thought it – and most of the vintage 2000 Italian crop – mediocre at best, with Piedmont wines in particular often marred by a deadly combination of over-ripe fruit and green tannins. I said at the time that for Barolo it was with few exceptions a vintage for near-term drinking (if at all), with little likelihood of any sort of long life, except for a handful of wines from top-notch producers. So you can imagine just how mixed my emotions were when I happened on this case. Treasure?  Not very likely. Trash? Could well be. Oh for my old, defunct vinegar barrel.

Well, of course I couldn’t just dump the wines, even though part of my brain told me that would be smart. So I started drinking them, beginning with the ones I thought had the best chance of showing some life. Luckily, I had four bottles of Oddero in there, one bottle of its basic Barolo and three crus. They may have been the reason I stored the case in the first place.

The Oddero family constitutes a significant landmark in Barolo winemaking history. From their primary location in La Morra – they have top-tier properties in several other communes as well – they have been making wine for about two centuries. They were among the very first producer/bottlers in the zone: They issued their first bottled wines in 1878, and they are still working the same vineyards.

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oddero family

Giacomo, Mariacristina, and the Next Generation

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The patriarchal Giacomo Oddero, a local monument in his own right, has turned the operation of the vineyards and cellar over to his daughters, Mariacristina (primarily) and Mariavittoria and, increasingly, their children. Under their guidance, cellar techniques have been slightly modernized – the cru Barolos, for instance, spend some time in barriques – but the house’s quality has never faltered.

CastiglioneThe three crus I rediscovered were Rocche di Castiglione, Mondoca di Bussia, and Rivera di Castiglione. We tried first the Rocche de Castiglione and the Mondoca, both through several courses at dinner at the home of friends. The Rocche met the challenges handsomely: still live, with some freshness and no evident harsh tannins, a decent amount of fruit and developed flavors, just enough acidity to keep it in balance – in short, one of the best bottles of 2000 Barolo I’ve tasted.

MondocaThe Mondoca, though fine for the vintage, was less pleasing: a little tired, less fresh, less complex – drinkable but clearly already past its peak. Nevertheless, I was happily surprised that both wines were definitely not inert – a nice proof that really fine winemakers can occasionally turn a sow’s ear of a vintage into a silk purse of a wine.

Thus encouraged, Diane and I went on to drink the remaining Odderos at home. Results were similar.

RiveraInitially, both the basic Barolo and the Rivera di Castiglione smelled and tasted old, seemingly well past their prime. But both opened in the glass, and once food arrived, they developed even further. The Rivera seemed fresher and fleshier and, especially with the food, showed a very nice acidity. Clearly, that was what was animating it. The – one hesitates to say “simple” – Barolo didn’t have as much acidity, so though it did show some complex, mature flavors and was quite drinkable, it just wasn’t as enjoyable as the cru wine.

There are other Barolos in that re-found case, all vintage 2000. These remaining bottles all come from producers much less accomplished than Oddero, so my hopes aren’t high. But we will taste them over the next week or two – I don’t want to drink even great Barolo every day, and these almost certainly will be far from great. But if I should happen upon a really pleasant surprise among them, you will hear about it.

Just to summarize: All four of these Oddero wines gave proof of superior selection at harvest and careful work in the cellar. 2000 was a hot, hot vintage, and the whole Alba zone was cursed with a crop wherein fruit ripeness far outstripped phenolic ripeness, resulting in high-alcohol, hot wines tasting of overripe grapes laced through and through with a bitter greenness. Most of the Barolos made that year were seriously unbalanced, flawed wines that died several years ago, and even these Odderos might have been better if I had drunk them five years earlier. Or maybe they then would have tasted green and unharmonious?  Maybe they needed all these almost 15 years since harvest to achieve even the fragile equilibrium they were now showing?  I can’t really say – but I can tell you this: If you still have any 2000 Barolo in your cellar, drink it yesterday.

 

3 Responses to “Revisiting Vintage 2000 Barolo”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom:

    Love your comment, “If you still have any 2000 Barolo in your cellar, drink it yesterday.”

  2. Joe Calandrino Says:

    As you know, Tom, the 2000 Barolo vintage was never inexpensive, so I could be philosophical about avoiding it. But I did stumble upon the Borgogno Riserva about 10 years ago and bought 3 bottles, mainly because of my sentimental attachment to the producer. I tried 1 bottle a few days after purchase and the rest were drunk up by 2008.

    The wines were all very stern and especially tannic, even for this producer. They were all consumed with roasted meats, and that really helped identify the flavor profile: austere, tar, red fruit, but overall, much ado about nothing. The best thing we could say was that they were true to type. I thought a fine effort in an off year, and left it at that. I wonder, after your remarks, if I should have waited another 5 years to taste the last bottle…alas.

    The nicest thing about your tale is that rare event when we discover something in the back of the cellar that we had forgotten. That has happened to me a few times, and I was always rewarded with something wonderful. 1988 Ch. Palmer ‘discovered’ in 2009; 1977 Dow vintage Port, also in 2009, Prunotto 1978 Barolo, also in 2009 (I moved in 2009 after amassing quite a cellar, large enough for gems to get pushed back to the wall). There are a few more, but these come to mind.

    Sorry your circumstances were less than fortunate, but I glad your Barolos were enjoyable.

    Best always,
    Joe

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Joe:

      I can’t speak to the ultimate likelihood of your 2000 Borgognos (a producer I also esteem) developing into something more substantial, but about the 2000 Barolo vintage generally I can quote a knowledgeable retailer I recently discussed it with: “When Suckling really likes something, it’s usually a good idea to avoid it.”

      Best, Tom

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