by Franco Ziliani

One fact above all others affected the evaluation of the 2005 Barolos shown at the 2009 Alba Wines Exhibition. I am not referring to the extraordinary news I reported in my article on the 2006 Barbarescos (WFW 25, p.22), namely Bruno Giacosa's odd decision not to bottle Barolo or Barbaresco from the 2006 vintage. Rather, what was striking was that although we were fortunate to enjoy an outstanding representation of Barolos-fully 155 wines-many top producers were notable by their absence.

Whether the reason was wine not yet bottled, or a boycott due to mistrust of the event and an unwillingness to expose oneself to the Russian roulette of a blind tasting, the non-participants included the likes of Elio Altare, Bruno Giacosa, Conterno Fantino, Domenico Clerico, and Roberto Voerzio.

Since absentees get the short end of the stick, it is only right to devote our attention to those who showed up, and the first observation to be made is that the 2005 Barolo has all the right stuff. The fabric may be a tad rough, indeed worlds away from satin or silk, from the natural roundedness and immediate appeal of wines easily enjoyable in their youth. Nor do we find here the massive substance and smooth tannins of the 2004 Barolos. Rather, we have sturdy character; very present tannins; and rough edges here and there. A nervy acidity also characterizes the better 2005s, of which there is a generous number, and they are spread through all of the villages.

Away from the Massif Central

At least one clear and positive trend emerged. From the staunchest traditionalists to the most tireless of innovators, via the omnivores who love both old and new, everyone agreed that there were fewer extreme, excessive, paradoxical wines marked by the intolerable prevalence of new wood, despite a few stubbornly oaky bottlings.

A more mature and informed use of barriques was clearly evident; the barrels were not always new (the economic crisis has also slowed the purchase of new oak), and were often third and fourth use, while the new wood seemed to have been toasted in a more relaxed fashion. Even producers whom one would have thought of as life-long modernists have embraced the increasingly popular and salutary habit of using larger casks, especially botti (of Slavonian or French oak) with capacities of 15 to 30 hectoliters.

The reason for this shift is the growing number of consumers who prefer wines that smell like Nebbiolo and not like the forests of the Massif Central. Many wines showed better balance, better drinkability, and a more marked Nebbiolo character than one would have found in the recent past. Although differences certainly remain between the traditionalists and the equally steadfast innovators, the gap has begun to narrow. This new topography suggests that producers have begun to pay heed to factors that should always have been priorities: the terroir, the vineyard, and careful vineyard management-elements that make all the différence.

Ambitious new-wave wines that were not always to my taste in the past I found myself enjoying enormously. I am referring, for example, to wines from Marziano Abbona, Gianfranco Alessandria, Eugenio Bocchino, Michele Chiarlo, Cordero di Montezemolo, Damilano, Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Gianni Gagliardo, Gemma, Giacomo Grimaldi, Andrea Oberto, Marengo, Mauro Veglio, Rocche Costamagna, and Sandrone.

A run through the villages

As for performances village by village, their classic elegance and smooth, mellow tannins brought out the best in wines from Castiglione Falletto: Giacomo Fenocchio's and Livia Fontana's Villero; Vietti's Rocche; and Franco Conterno's Pugnane. There are solid showings from Barolo itself, made by Bartolo Mascarello and now daughter Maria Teresa; Giuseppe Rinaldi's San Lorenzo and Brunate Le Coste; and Brezza's Sarmassa. In La Morra, there is Francesco Rinaldi's Brunate, and in Novello, Elvio Cogno's Ravera. But overall, I think that in a gutsy vintage such as 2005, it is the villages of Serralunga d'Alba and Monforte d'Alba that really shine, with their extra complexity and personality. Here we have wines that are still very young, and therefore highly spirited, their exuberance needing a bit of the riding crop. But they are dense, impressively structured, and full of promise.

The honor roll includes those I've always considered classics as well as those who have revised their modernist approach, with lengthier macerations and maturation not only in barriques or tonneaux but in larger casks, which allows the grapes from noble vineyards to express themselves more eloquently than they could previously. In Monforte d'Alba, the wines from historic Bussia generally impressed me most: Silvano Bolmida, Poderi Colla, Giacomo Fenocchio, Fratelli Giacosa, Monti, and Cascina Sciulun. Then there is Campo dei Buoi from Costa di Bussia, Aldo Conterno's Colonnello (also from Bussia), and Ruggeri Corsini's Corsini.

Passing over to Serralunga d'Alba and going up a few more notches in terms of flavor, complexity, and controlled power, I want to pay tribute to a pair of fantastic bottlings by Ettore (Sergio) Germano-his Prapò and Cerretta. Among the other outstanding wines are the following: Brovia's Cà Mia-Brea, Eredi Virginia Ferrero's San Rocco, Fontanafredda's Serralunga, Gemma's Colarej, Bruna Grimaldi's Badarina, Cascina Luisin's Leon, Paolo Manzone's Meriame and Serralunga, Massolino's Parafada, Luigi Pira's Vigna Margheria, Guido Porro's Vigna Lazzairasco and Vigna S Caterina, Rivetto's Serralunga, Gigi Rosso's Arione, Giovanni Rosso's, Schiavenza's Broglio and Prapò, and Giovanni Sordo's Sorì Gabutti.

These are 2005 Barolos with all pennants flying, and I recommend them wholeheartedly. They are all capable of arousing over time the same strong emotions that they stirred in me as I tasted them in their youth.