The Joy of Good
About five years ago, a collector sold several boxes of aged Italian wines to us at the Wine Connection. I bought a few bottles for myself and took most of them home, where they were soon served and enjoyed. However, a couple of those wines got misplaced into a box that ended up in the deepest, darkest corner of the temperature controlled storage at the shop, in a cramped little space that resembles Harry Potter’s bedroom under the stairs. A co-worker discovered them and I was recently reunited my wines. One of these was the now 12-year-old 2008 Boroli Barolo.
Boroli is not one of long established older producers, but since their founding in the mid-nineties they have purchased significant parcels in four excellent historic vineyards or “Crus”. As soon as I got it home, I checked out Boroli’s website, which contained detailed notes on all of their wines. Their vintage assessment for 2008 was “Good”.
With plenty of wine to sell, self-criticism has never been the strong suit of the wine trade. Rather like the cup size inflation practiced by Starbucks, winery assessments of their vintages generally start at “Good”, moving up to “Very Good” or “Excellent”, perhaps “Classic” or even, if greed and enthusiasm get completely out of hand, “Vintage of the Century”! And what of disastrous vintages? The Bordeaux wine trade coined my favorite term for this, calling such “a useful vintage”. Useful here meaning “stuff we still have to sell”.
Putting aside such “useful” years, what are we to make of “Good”? Challenging conditions are those where winemaking skill and experience really count and the diligent winemaker is rewarded with success under the same conditions in which others are disappointed. In top vintages, any one can pick winners, but to the savvy wine lover, the modest assessment of “Good” signifies that overall results were uneven and that careful picking and choosing is called for.
Case in point, the 2008 vintage in Northern Italy’s Piedmont region, home to one of the country’s most sought after red wines, Barolo. A cool, wet spring led to mold problems, such as downy mildew and odium. Then in August, strong winds and hail ravaged the crops in some prized vineyards, while sparing others. Warmer harvest conditions in September ripened the surviving grapes, but very careful picking was needed to select only the healthy fruit.
When the 2008’s were released, four years later, most reviewers commented on the strong, often astringent tannins in many of the high-end single vineyard wines. Patience in the cellar was going to be needed and several noted pundits recommended selecting from the basic entry-level wines, those made by blending multiple vineyards and sold at more modest prices.
Top critic of Italian wines, Antonio Galloni, praised this wine in 2012, observing that hail had forced them to blend the best of their fruit into a single wine.
“For that effort, Boroli has been rewarded with a gorgeous wine endowed with serious weight. Licorice, tobacco, smoke and camphor are some of the notes that are layered into this expressive, nuanced Barolo. Intense layers of flavor build to a rich, powerful finish. Drink 2013 - 2023.”
Several nights ago my wife and I opened our bottle. Like Galloni’s review, the wine was indeed rich and powerful, with a big mouthfeel and plenty of dark blackberry fruit. It also showed the complex aromas and flavors that are the result of bottle aging. The passing years had resolved and smoothed the tannins and added nuances of dates, leather and a balsamic character that was a lovely match for the rack of lamb that we had prepared. With more airtime, the wine developed and continued to change, seemingly with each new sip, finally showing what my friend Dore calls “hemoglobin”, a savory blood-like character that may sound weird but tastes terrific!
The overall impression left by the wine was of a quality that far exceeded the modest price that I paid some years ago. The fact that I had forgotten that I even owned it made it seem almost like it had been gifted to me! The vintage may have been merely “Good”, but the wine went way beyond good, it may even have been this week’s Wine of the Century!