So there I was, dining at Guido da Castigliole, a restaurant in the wine cellar of Ralais San Maurizio Hotel del Monastero, a gorgeous monastery turned hotel I was staying in during my time in Piemonte, the northwestern wine region in Italy, famed for its white truffles, cheese, but mainly… its wine. Given the honored, but always slightly nerve-wracking, duty of choosing the wine, I began to peruse their extensive selections of Barolos and Barbarescos. Choosing a wine does not always make me so anxious, but to give you a better idea, I was one of three in a meeting with Jonathan Vaughters, director sportif of Garmin Slipstream procycling, and Angelo Zomegnan, director of the Giro d’Italia. Not only that, but Mr. Zomegnan knew his country’s wine. When I alluded to Barbaresco, he simply said, ‘Eh, it’s okay.’ Say no more. That was code for ‘go Barolo’. And so I did.
I decided on a wine my colleague and well-known Master Sommelier, Richard Betts, suggested I try if I had the chance by Serralunga producer Bruno Giacosa. No time seemed better to heed that advice. I decided upon a 1998 Giacosa Falletto Barolo, as this was a year that fell in between the famous six-year vintage stretch for the region (1996-2001). I figured this would likely be starting to drink quite well.
My instincts we right. This beauty was just beginning her life.
Nebbiolo, one of the most frustrating, fascinating varietals, really thrives in Piemonte. The dense fog and temperature differentials make it a perfect climate for this late to ripen grape. To me, Nebbiolo is that tough love mother of five boys. She is a bit hard to get to know, rough around the edges at first, strong exterior, angular, stubborn, steadfast, and firm in her ways. Her personality comes off a bit restrained. She insists upon respect without using the words. With age, however, she softens… her center loosens and at once a melodious string of notes can be heard.
With a little time in the bottle, this forceful, tannic ’98 Giacosa was able to soften up. It was coming together and presenting a classic bouquet of dried rose petals and tar, the dead ringer characteristics of this noble grape. The fruit was full, the spice lingered, and the finish would not fade well in to the third or fourth minute upon swallowing. It has only begun its life of drinkability… only begun to share its song with the world.
All were more than pleased, so I was relieved… and utterly grateful for this rare opportunity to be in the heart of the region with a grape that has mine.