On a recent Sunday evening, the crisp fall air had descended upon New England as the sun began to set. Definitely a good weather to enjoy some good, deep red wines and earthy fare to match it. This particular evening, we wouldn’t be sampling just any old red wine–we’d be sampling some very special old red wines!
Ray & Lori Schaefer, owners of the relatively new Pairings wine and food shop in Winchester, MA, had a chance to purchase a limited quantity of Dosio Barolos from a range of vintages. They decided to invite a handful of loyal customers who might appreciate the wines to join for a “vertical tasting” of their finds–sampling offerings from the same winery across different vintages. (disclosure statement not needed here–the tasters did pay a bit to defray the cost of the wine!).
The Dosio winery is located in La Morra, in the heart of the Piemonte region that is home of this “king of wines”. For the unitiated, Barolo is a very age-worthy red wine made from Nebbiolo, exclusively in a defined area of the Italy’s northeast Piemonte region. Definitely serious wine and priced accordingly!
Anticipation filled the cool night air as the tasters began to saunter into Pairings. A refreshing Marsuret Prosecco was opened to whet our taste buds along with some good Italian cheeses–it definitely did the trick.
Then came the moment we’d been waiting for–time to reach back across the decades and taste the fruits of years that pre-dated the birth of some of the tasters! We started with the oldest, the 1964 Dosio Barolo. It was brick red in the glass. I got pine and menthol on the nose. Initially I tasted leather and a bit of cranberry, more of the leather than fruit–which had grown very faint by this time. I think many of us were ready to conclude that this was a bit too far gone, but actually it improved in the glass, particularly when sipped along with the food.
The 1971 was the consensus favorite. An excellent wine, well-balanced and good structure. The cherry fruit came through nicely, but in a nuanced way along with the earthy qualities that made it perfect to eat along with the mushroom risotto Ray made for us. It was very enjoyable from the first sip, and only got better in the glass and with the food.
I made the fewest notes about the 1985. It started a bit tight I thought, and though it improved in the glass, definitely paled in comparison to the other vintages we sampled. The 1990 was big and powerful from the first sip, and after some time in the glass opened up nicely. It was a consensus 2nd place of the Dosios we had.
We switched to a different winery for the final and youngest Barolo of the evening, the 2003 Ceretto Bricco Roche Barolo. This had the most potent bouquet–I imagined myself catching the scent of violets on a mountain top with a fresh breeze blowing. It had big flavors to match–though it will certainly improve with time, it was popular with our tasting group for current consumption.
Our informal ratings of the wines seems to be backed up by what I could learn about some of the best vintages for Barolo. The Wine Review Online cited 1971 as one of two excellent vintages of that decade, and we certainly found no cause to argue with that. They also called 1964 one fo the tops for that period. The 1990 vintage was rated a 96 by the Into Wine site, and the ’90 we tried was a strong second. The site also ranked the 2003 vintage a 90. Ray commented that you can’t put too much stock in the vintage ratings, which is probably true, but there does seem to be some correlation in this case.
I’ve referenced the food a few times, but it certainly deserves its own paragraph. It was all very fitting fare to go with Piedmont’s king of wines. The mushroom risotto was scrumptious, made with D’Artagnan dried morels, fresh crimini mushrooms, and parmigiano reggiano. Its savory earthiness was a great pairing for the wines. Yet it had a lightness to it that is rarely found in a risotto–Ray & Lori credit the Carnoli rice that the Piedmontese favor over arborio–and surely the truffle salt Ray added didn’t hurt anything. Speaking of truffles, we also had truffle butter available for spreading on some nice crusty bread. And for the carnivores amongst us, they served some delicious Italian style salami from California, Framani Nostrano.
After sampling and enjoying these Barolos and matching food, we certainly could have all gone home content at that point. But there was a surprise dessert wine in store–the 2007 Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria. I wasn’t taking notes at that point, but it was a very tasty treat, served with Comanzo Almond Biscotti.
We were sipping this lovely dessert wine and chatting about some of the special bottles behind the bar. Ray wisely convinced us that this wasn’t the time for anyone to spring for the bottle of Cheval Blanc–a $300 bottle isn’t the thing to sample haphazardly at the end of a tasting! But there was still enthusiasm for one more good bottle, so most of the tasters lingered to share a bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol. I was eager to try this after hearing Kermit Lynch extol the virtues of this winery in Adventures on the Wine Route. I wasn’t disappointed–but also was not in note taking mode at this point; instead, simply savored the wine and enjoyed chatting about wine, food and other fun subjects as we wrapped up a memorable evening.