Ask The Angels (Dec. 21, 2022)

There's a small window of opportunity to taste young Barolos before they shut down on you, an effect sometimes extended in a vintage like 2017. We were lucky indeed to taste two of the all-time great Barolos in that sliver of opportune gift offered by the world. 

Comm. G.B. Burlotto, Monvigliero, 2017

This is the wine that put the village of Verduno on the map and drove the prices of all the wines from the village, and this cru specifically, sky high. Burlotto was a famous name for generations, but what has made the house so special in recent years is the work of one man, Fabio Alessandria, who crafts wines of utter elegance, especially the Monvigliero. The Monvigliero is one of the few wines I've tasted that I felt marked by genius. No other word can describe it better, although surely elegance, beauty and magic are also apt. I tasted the Monvigliero 2017 in autumn 2021 at the winery and it took my breath away, one of the few wines that literally had me look up, recollect my thoughts and utter a "wow". And it's no less a wow wine today. The effect for me was even more intense, because I drank it and the rest of the wines below with two friends, which allowed us to follow its development over the course of a few hours. It started out no less beautifully than last year, with a fragrant, complex nose, redolent with red fruit and exotic spices, the palate defined, but not constricted, by elegant tannins. 

I don't really know how to define the term "feminine wine" but I know it when I drink it. For the first hour, the texture was floral without the wine smelling of flowers, the wine's form suggesting, to me, the shape of an orchid.

But that was only phase one. As the wine aired, the nose and palate took on aspects of earth, minerals and rust. But not in a rough way. The form still had that same elusive form, belying its 14.5% ABV, carrying a precise complement of flavors. It did change enough so that we all felt that we were getting two wines for the price of wine in the same bottle, a yin-yang of a wine.

Bartolo Mascarello, Barolo, 2017

You can break down a wine's structure, aromas and flavors to the bare atoms, but will that really convey beauty? Like the Monvigliero, this is a wine that eludes simple descriptors and is unadulterated magic. Bartolo Mascarello, of course, is the one of the classic names of Barolo, and the firm makes only one Barolo, no crus, no Riservas, just a blend, year in and year out. This, too, is a wine of elegance and finesse, with nose and palate equally complex and captivating, showing red fruit and minerals, hints of herbs. The tannins are dustier and the overall effect is more masculine and muscular, just slightly more down to earth than the Monvigliero. The Mascarello is the Sistine Chapel, the Monvigliero is the actual angels.

Because I was so enchanted by the magic, I forgot to mention how tasty these two wines are, and also the next one. I always feel that Nebbiolo actually has other flavors in store in its tannins besides bitter ones.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva, Paje, 2008

I love Barolo and Barbaresco, but admittedly few samples are as stratospheric as Burlotto and Mascarello. The basis for Piedmont's reputation is actually based on the more mundane wines, although that's a relative term. This would be the wine of the night on many other occasions. Produttori, like Burlotto and Mascarello, shows how important tradition is. Tradition is what kept standards at Burlotto high in the first place until Fabio's genius took them a step up. Tradition is what allowed Maria Teresa follow her father Bartolo's footsteps so seamlessly at Mascarello. Explaining how a cooperative managed to maintain high quality for over half a century has to allow for people skills as well as wine know-how.

This is the manliest of the three. See what we did here? We pitted the most ethereal Barolos against a Barbaresco to mar the common paradigm that says Barolo is King to Barbaresco's Queen.

This is no less complex than the Barolos, but it does go from point A to point B in a straight line. The nose is wild, tarry and minty, the palate shows good grip and texture. I suppose the texture is the differentiator. You just notice it less in the Barolos, because the balance is so perfect.