A friend opened a bottle of 1995 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo for dinner last week, and it was fabulous.
Properly chosen, red wines such as the Italian kingpin, Barolo, can be sensational when 20 years old. This one was even better for the way it was handled.
Santa Rosa wine collector Bob Andrews knows his old wines well, and he knew this wine would need hours of aeration.
So he decanted it at home early in the day, then put the wine back in its original bottle and pulled the cork a second time at a local restaurant. Not many wine collectors know their wines this well.
Though I truly enjoy younger wines, there is a lot of enjoyment from a properly aged red. They may lack some of the fruit of youth, but the complexity you get is amazing. For that purpose many people buy cabernet and Bordeaux — notably, those seeking a red wine to lay away for the 21st birthday of a son or daughter, from the birth year.
The problem with this is obvious: Often it’s not possible to tell early on which producer made a wine structured properly to age 21 years. Some wines age better than others. The saddest thing is to pick the wrong wine, one that at age 21 is faded and lacks any charm.
One wine that usually pleases at age 21 is Barolo, which Andrews proved once again with his 1995.
Barolo is made from the Nebbiolo grape, which typically makes a hard, tart, compact wine that when young tastes interestingly of roses and tar, black cherries and earth, and probably offers the most astringent mouth feel of any fine red wine.
Because Nebbiolo is so tannic when young, it is hard to judge. One can only guess at how such a wine will taste at age 10, 15 and 20, but from my experiences, a properly made and well aged Barolo or its cousin wine Barbaresco are among the most consistently pleasurable old wines.
Even storied Bordeaux, with its grand traditions dating back to the mid-19th century, rarely has the power to deliver this much flavor at age 20 and 30.
Barolo is arguably Italy’s “top dog” red wine, even though the region didn’t begin to make wine with much consistency until the 1950s. Before that, the region was still making wine rather rustically, and thus a number of the wines aged rather unevenly, and some were downright musty.
However, by the early 1960s, the best producers were cleaning up their act. One of the most exciting wines I ever tasted was a 1964 Barolo from Marcarini.
I have had Barolos from the late 1960s and mid- to late-1970s, and when the wines are from good houses and good vintages, they are a true joy to consume. A few of the traditional producers who do a great job include Aldo Conterno, Ceretto, Vietti, Bruno Giacosa, Renato Ratti, Marcarini, Mascarello, and Voerzio.
The main problem with these wines is their rock-hard nature when young. Some believe that the wines ought to be made less hard and astringent, so they can be consumed earlier, at age 10 to 20.
To test that theory, in the 1990s a number of young winemakers, called the innovatorre, explored a more modern style. The wines were still rigid when young, but they showed a bit more breadth and accessibility at an even earlier stage. The upstarts included Elio Altare, Sandrone, Scavino, Manzone, Clerico and Boschis.